I worked with some urgency in the garden yesterday, expecting today’s rain. Even after all the heavy labour last summer, the main focus so far this year has been clearing the space. The old root systems from the invasive plants were persistent: despite digging up mounds of them well into last autumn, I still found root crowns of Rubus fruticosus this year, tucked amidst the rubble, like dormant hearts waiting for the spring.
However, yesterday was something of a turning point, as I finished most of the regrading. Last year’s weeding left the space uneven, and the mounds of earth and brick fragments were beginning to succumb, again, to the threat of cleavers and bindweed. Initially, my plan was only to level out the strip of land by the north wall, so that I could plant vegetables in its sun-drenched shelter: grass seed only, I thought to myself, for the barren and shadowy corner which, stripped of its brambles, almost looked sadder, now. Last year, at least, pulsing with life and gleaming the alien green of the primaeval jungle, it felt purposeful, although malevolently so. I’d hacked through it like a fairytale prince without thinking about what I’d put in its place.
The idea to plant wildflowers was the culmination of a few different trains of thought. I was completely enchanted by the wildflower meadow at Lady Margaret Hall last year, and, knowing their tolerance for poor soil, thought about planting wildflowers in that barren corner. However, covering the ground completely didn’t seem like the best idea – leaving a significant area inaccessible could lead to a stealth invasion of weeds. Putting in flowerbeds was a possibility, but wildflowers don’t lend themselves to that kind of constraint. Eventually, I hit on the idea of planting the flowers amidst winding pathways. I’d been thinking about labyrinths as a meditative tool – I loved the idea of building one, and there were plenty of broken bricks with which to mark out a pattern.
In order to make use of the uneven ground, I planned to create a path that would gradually rise as it reached the labyrinth’s centre. However, it was impossible to make it work with the ground as it was, and eventually I had to spend hours hauling soil and rubble around, trying to build up the centre and level out the lower path. The best way to go about it was to work on digging out vegetable beds simultaneously, and to move that earth bucketload by bucketload to the other side of the garden. There was also a huge pile of turf to deal with – the brambles had rooted vigorously underneath a lot of the grass, so it had to come out. I flipped the turf upside down, and stamped it hard into the earth, to build up some height.
Once that was done, I turned my attention to the northeast corner, which badly needed weeding and levelling. The shade from the apple tree drifted across the corner as the afternoon wore on, and it occurred to me that this should be a space for a table and chairs and some flowers. I’m determined to have lupins, even though it’ll be another year before the ones I’ve just planted bloom – however, I’ve also started some sunflowers, pansies, and nasturtiums. This morning, in the pouring rain, I rescued them from the garden and brought them indoors so that they can germinate in slightly calmer conditions – however, I lost my labels in the process, so I’ll have to wait and see what comes up where.
The rain is forecast to go on for the next few days, so it’s good to have finished the heavy work. All that remains of the landscaping is to finish edging the labyrinth, and then to dig out a flower bed. That won’t be too difficult, though, as all the soil in that corner has been thoroughly cleared. When the sun comes out again and the flowers begin to emerge, the garden will be well on its way to becoming a peaceful haven, rather than a construction site. It’ll be good to be done with the aggressive intervention, and to let the sun and rain do the hard work of coaxing plants from the soil.