Gardening crazy

Christmas plaque showing textFor Christmas, my Mother-not-in-Law gave me a small wall plaque reading ‘A garden is a thing of beauty – and a job forever’. How well she knew me … and how right she was! Spring is now more than sprung and, despite being run off my feet with Kovaci, I took full advantage of the great growing conditions. It all started behind The Little House, at the beginning of April. 

A garden to be proud of

The Little House lies at the bottom of our plot. It has its own private garden at the rear with views across the old vineyards to the forest beyond. It should be an attractive cottage garden – but it wasn’t. Its spreading albizzia tree, covered terrace and lawn were fine, but its rockery wall and flower bed were overgrown, neglected and boring.

Overgrown Little House backgarden last summer in IstriaMy excuses were manifold and irrelevant. Hidden behind the Little House, the garden doesn’t give me the nagging visual reminders the rest does – and there’s plenty to be getting on with elsewhere. So it was very much the case of ‘out of sight is out of mind.’ It’s also a long(ish) walk from the house, so I never just wandered past accidentally, triggering a spurt of guilt-fuelled weeding. Finally, when guests are there, I try to intrude as little as possible. I’d taken to calling it ‘Eeyore’s’ – as in Eeyore’s dark and gloomy patch (You probably know that’s from Winnie the Pooh, but did you know ‘Eeyore’s’ also an anagram of ‘eyesore’, very appropriate in this case – P). It was embarrassing and it was time to do something about it.

The fault lay primarily with a south-facing prunus hedge which had grown too large, blocking the view and a lot of sunlight. It also wasn’t helped by a rampant, ground-covering euonymus. When the bed was first planted, I wanted a low-maintenance space with minimal weeding. Completely blanketing the ground, the euonymus delivered just that. The only problem, it was boring, with not a patch of colour or flower in sight.  

Every year, I’ve tinkered with this flower bed, adding colourful annuals and new perennials. But with the ever-growing prunus, nothing did well: there simply wasn’t enough light. After six years, it was time to start afresh.


Major make-over …

Piles of prunus clippings in IstriaWork started in early April. With the Saturday help of the Gardening Elf, I cut the prunus hedge back to mere stumps. Of varying heights, these will re-green and, if kept pruned, should form a gentle backdrop rather than the major sun-screen they turned into. Then we started ripping and digging-out the ground-smothering euonymus and ivy. Next, three-quarters of a large compost bin were dug into the compacted soil to try and reinvigorate it. And then the fun started – I went shopping.

Clearing the euonumous & Ivy in bed in IstriaI’m lucky that my closest Istrian friends also run a nursery (plants not children!) and many of my plants come from their greenhouses (Vrt-Express). For those more unusual additions, Porec also has two garden centres: long-established Ures and recently arrived MBM; and then, there’s always the market.

I started off sensibly, window-shopping and planning – even if you stick to small, cheaper plants, the price mounts up, especially when you’re replanting on the scale I needed to. Shopping in earnest started with Porec’s annual plant fair, in the second week of April. Load after load of plants piled onto the terrace, awaiting the completion of the digging. The flower bed absorbed them, went ‘gulp’ and demanded more. The wall was equally as enthusiastic. So the shopping went on and on … and the ‘accidents’ started happening.

Marguerites & marigolds make a pretty wall bed in IstriaYou know how it is. You go into the shop to buy one thing and come out with something totally different, at twice the price. In the early spring we’d moved the laburnum from the banked bed, where it was struggling, out into a sunny spot in the lawn. It looked fantastic in its new home, but left a gap, so I went into Ures to buy a berberis and came back with a car-full, including a gorgeous pink kolkwitzia and a variegated weigela. Being late-spring flowering, neither were suitable for behind the Little House, where I needed summer flowering plants.

Expecting an explosion from P over my latest shopping extravaganza (‘can’t you grow everything from seed?’ and so on), I left them on the terrace and snook inside for a coffee. “That’s lovely,” said P – the man who’s gardening vocabulary is limited to ‘tree’ and ‘flower’, and once declared astro-turf and concrete were good gardening ideas – “It would look lovely in the front garden.” Maybe there’s hope for him yet. (Don’t bet on it, I was just being tactful – P.)


… spreads all over

Replanted flower bed behind Little House in IstriaSo, as well as re-developing the Little’s House’s garden, I’ve also been planting left right and centre all over the main garden: a fuchsia here, a lavender there; just a few verbena and a dash of marigolds and marguerites. And then there’s Brnobici – another neglected garden, now revitalised (P – I thought it looked fine, but I’m no gardener and apparently my standards aren’t high enough. So I just have to provide the money).

All the garden centres now know me by sight, their cash registers start going ‘ker-ching’ as I arrive, and my gardening budget is long since blown. (Ahh … so she does realise we’re not eating for the next month – P.) The weeds have taken advantage of my distraction to proliferate, but I’ve had fun. My conscience is now clear: the Little House now has a colourful garden I’m proud of (or will do when everything’s grown a bit larger) and the rest of the garden looks magnificent – but just don’t look too closely at those weeds…  I guess it’s true, a garden is a job forever.

 Exquisite kolkwitzia and pretty weigela in Istria

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