Friday, 4 June 2010

Stoned in Paradise and other gardening issues

Try kicking this 'rugby ball' and you'd end up with a few broken toes

Playing with those pebbles on the beach at Budleigh Salterton during Gala Week is all very well, but back in the garden they're not such fun.

I moved to East Devon to grow ericaceous plants like this fine 'Blue Peter' rhododendron

As I've mentioned before, this little corner of woodland Budleigh Salterton where I eventually settled in retirement is called Paradise on old maps, so growing things seems a natural activity here.

This 'Hugh Koster' rhododendron is another of my favourites

But it's not all that easy. It may be called Paradise but I'm sure that when Adam was put in charge of the Garden of Eden he didn't have to cope with all the little horticultural issues that we have to deal with.

A small but growing Budleigh pebble beach in a corner of my garden. All quite legal. Budleigh Salterton beach pebbles are a different matter and can't be removed

For a start there are the pebbles. The Pebblebed Heaths sound romantic and I got quite carried away at dreaming of ancient fire-worshipping rituals being carried out by our Bronze Age ancestors just a mile or so inland from the coast. But that triassic riverbed which apparently stretched from Brittany to Birmingham thousands of years ago means that when I stick my fork in the ground nine times out of ten it hits a pebble (more like a boulder) which often turns out to be the size of a small football like the one in the picture above. So in an attempt to prepare a vegetable patch complete with soft and yielding dark tilth to grow happy carrots and lettuces I've been spending a lot of time sieving soil and creating not just pebble towers but small hills and pathways in hidden corners of the garden.

Then there's the moss, which apparently is the inevitable consequence of acidic soil and shade in Devon's damp climate. I try hard to emulate my US friend Mossin Annie in her theory that moss is best , but every so often I think that quintessentially English greensward look with stripes and no weed in sight. Needless to say, that can only be achieved by regular dosing with chemicals which will turn out to give us all horrible tumours and grandchildren with missing fingers.

Repairing badger damage to the lawn is an early morning task before the soil dries out

And even if the lawn ended up looking as green and as well tended as East Devon's golf course the badgers will soon put paid to that little fantasy. Almost every morning at present I'm out there filling in the holes and pushing back the grass/moss like an enraged parent dealing with the aftermath of an all-night teenage party.

Yet even while stamping down the turf you think how much fun it would be to see the mysterious black and white furry creatures suddenly emerging from the wood and nosing around my lawns in the moonlight snuffling and scuffling as they greedily search for worms or whatever delicacies that badgers are after. And they were there before me after all.

I won't dwell on the deer, rabbits, predatory birds, moles, slugs and snails and other woodlanders who are no friends to gardeners. Not so long ago I found a squirrel at the bottom of my wardrobe.

Yet in spite of all these little setbacks and the pints of sweat that I've lost pushing wheelbarrow loads of pebbles around the garden in this rustic corner of Budleigh Salterton, it's spectacular treasures like these crowds of acidic-soil loving azaleas that make a true vision of Paradise at this time of the year. And the wonderful blossom on the fruit trees a month ago could mean that the apples are going to be especially delicious.

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