“No garden, however small, should contain less than two acres of rough woodland.” Lord Rothschild
One might have thought, and I certainly did, that wildflowers would not only be entirely right for our school garden – young children, bees and butterflies; don’t they all go together? – but also easy. I would merely scatter the seeds I’d purchased from the experts (Scotia Seeds of Brechin) and lie back. Nature, being nature, would then distribute her largesse and, where once was nothing but barren earth, would become a rainbow meadowland of fragrant remembrances from my country childhood.
Alas, I have discovered that nature, like the children in the school perhaps, benefits from a little guidance. If left to her own devices, the thugs take over; the dandelions, the docks, the nettles, not to mention that pernicious subject of my earlier blog, Bishops Weed. These plants, while no doubt possessing their own worthy characteristics, do not belong in a school garden. They do not please. They do not bring peace to those whose eye falls on them.
The thugs therefore have to be dug out and turned into compost. This is for the greater good even if not for the thugs own personal benefit; that is to say for the advancement of their own genetic material. As compost, they will advance the genetic material of other species, which is a boon that that may only become clear to the dandelions and the docks as they advance through later cycles of their spiritual development.
Also, while on the subject of nature’s largesse, I think I should mention toxicity. Not all plants are as mild as they seem. Take the buttercup, for example. What a simple, yet utterly delightful, flower it is – but, so I am led to believe, toxic. Many plants are, but why? Because there’s a war going on out there. It’s called guarding my own patch. The plants rub shoulders with each other so it’s a way of saying to a neighbour that’s getting too close, ‘Hey, step away, my friend, I have a stun-gun in my handbag.’ Well, as in Chicago, so in my back yard.
Still, I forgive the buttercup its toxicity. With simple precautions, we can live with it. I have suggested to Natasha that the children should wash their hands when coming in from the garden. She assures me that’s standard practice and was even before the current obsession with hygiene.
Toxicity apart and, with a bit of management, the wildflowers are a delight. This is not only because of their intrinsic beauty and because of the bees and butterflies they attract, but because they are in a constant state of flux. Flowers spring up and pass away, here one year and gone the next. It’s all so surprising and unpredictable. In our first year (2015), we had a profusion of oxeye daisies and the garden was predominantly white. Now there are very few oxeye daisies and the garden is predominantly yellow with buttercups, Lady’s Bedstraw and Bird’s Foot Trefoil, aka Eggs and Bacon. (You’ve got to love the names!)
What causes this constant rising and falling, I don’t know. The garden seems to have a mind of its own. I’ve tried to introduce wild poppies from both packet and collected seed. The garden wasn’t having it. Not one poppy. We had some red campion which I loved and tried to encourage but this year, hardly any. The lovely cornflowers of last year are now sadly no more. Perhaps they will come again.
I should make clear that the school garden is not just wild flowers. We have two plum trees (but not a single plum), two apple trees (no complaints there), a eucalyptus and a eucryphia (which might, one day, be huge but aren’t now), two climbing roses that grow up a wall, a honeysuckle, two clematis, which compete for room on a trellis, and four plots given over to vegetables.
The vegetable plots are small and usually tilled, planted and groomed by a combination of the children and Paul, who like me is a husband-turned-gardener. Paul and I are the school’s outdoor staff. We respond to every instruction with total obedience and all the competence we can muster. Our competence may not always be overwhelming but we comfort ourselves by knowing we’ll never be sacked – who else could they get for the money?
This year because of Lockdown there have been no children during the growing season and no Paul. I therefore have taken over the vegetables. I have planted various kinds of bean: runner beans, broad beans and French beans. I like beans. I’ve also put in peas, carrots, beetroot, spinach, radish and lettuce. The spinach and radish bolted as soon as they reached maturity, thus following in a long tradition which I hope our children won’t follow. The lettuce died after being thinned. It has been re-sown so I’m hoping for better luck this time. I’m also quietly hoping that most of the veg will be ready for eating before the children come back in August. It’ll be touch and go.
Let me finish with the wildflowers. I have been debating when to cut them back. It’s desirable, in principle, to let everything seed before cutting but the garden’s becoming impenetrable and the children are returning to school in August. Something has to be done. Here’s the plan. I’ll cut half of it back, quite low, to encourage the smaller plants next year – the cowslips, primroses and the like – and I’ll make paths through the uncut half.
Now, where did I put the scythe?