Bodfach Hall Gardens - 2010
Well, what a year it's been.
I am sure we're not the only ones who have lost precious jewels in the harshest of winters since the mid-eighties. Our lush cordylines on the South Terrace were decimated, agapanthus, normally hardy here if well mulched, shrivelled to sogginess and bay trees scorched brown with the continuous, unforgiving sub zeroes.
Sad though it is to lose old, and new, friends, it only serves to make one admire more the tenacity and sheer determination to live of the garden's survivors. The excitement as we hold our breath, waiting each day for signs of life to break through the crusty earth, from the first snowdrops to the pink spears of paeony shoots, breathing a sigh of relief as each is carried to the safety of spring warmth. But then, what? A sudden shock of cold and everything is either put on hold or cruelly nipped in the bud and we find our insecurities returning.
Such is the risk and pleasure of being a gardener - the pain and excitement in equal measure, but always ultimately the thrill nature gives with all its generous, though unpredictable, exuberance.
There have been some steep learning curves, too. Last year we continued planting up the iris beds with a kaleidoscope of colourful irises to form a focus for the framework of Iris 'Jane Phillips' surrounding them. In an attempt to refresh and improve drainage in the heavy clay soil of the existing bed, large amounts of compost and composted bark chippings were dug in last summer before planting 120 super-healthy irises.
They all failed. I dug them all up, refreshed the soil with more luscious compost, put them back. Still no luck. I thought they needed more watering. Persevered with that. More failure - only rotted and shrivelled rhizomes remained. So much time, hope and devotion spent. What was going wrong? A recent and serendipitous meeting with an iris expert at this year's Chelsea Flower Show gave immediate answers: they were being 'killed with kindness'. By adding the bark chippings and copious amounts of compost, I was creating the perfect conditions for the roots to rot - we would have been better off just digging over the clay and popping them in. How maddening. I'd always done that in previous gardens (short of time, lack of a plentiful supply of compost) and they'd thrived, year after year, with very little aftercare (some might even say neglect). What was my lesson? I think it is this - why change what you know works? Of course, we're all obsessed with soil preparation, but sometimes you can try too hard.
The silver lining to this cloud is that we can reverse the process of rotting simply by adding grit around each failing iris, so if you come next year I hope you'll be able to see what I wished for you to see this year - a sea of colours, bobbing above those beautiful sword-like leaves. But at least the 'Jane Phillips' survived - a few may even be in flower to release their delicious perfume by the time you read this.
If a harsh winter and overworking of the subsoil weren't enough adversaries to the cause, the final and most brutal of all has been the voracious appetite of Bodfach's rabbits and squirrels. There are few things more soul destroying than to see a favourite plant coming through the trials of winter only to be gobbled up in its infancy by our furry enemies. I have compiled a (sorrowfully short) list of plants they have thus far left alone: hemerocallis, alchemilla mollis, foxgloves, mature lavender (keep young plants out of reach), dahlias, paeonies, ragged robin, crocosmia, sweet rocket, tellima grandiflora, bamboo, ferns in all their varieties. Sadly neither that gruesome weed which looks like an elephant's ear nor ground elder make it onto this list. But hey, if we didn't have those, we'd have nothing to complain about apart from the weather, would we? This year, however, the weather has kindly held back the rhododendrons which will, hopefully, be at their very best for you today.
Lastly, may I just thank our wonderful team of gardeners - Phil, Geoff, Alec, Eleri and Skip, without whom this little corner of Wales would be a little less elysian.
Maggie Baynes (May 2010)