This week, I should have been madly dashing up and down the avenues of the temporary showground that appears in the gardens of the Royal Hospital Chelsea every May; I should be chasing round Ranelagh Gardens and through the Grand Pavilion, back down Main Avenue and then doing it all over again, to make sure I don’t miss one single delicious detail of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Because of COVID-19, of course, I’m not and I’m missing it very much indeed. While the RHS and friends have pulled off an extraordinary feat by creating a virtual Chelsea Flower Show for us to enjoy online in just a matter of weeks, I know I’m not alone in missing the reality – the trees, the plants and flowers, the people, their chat and celebrating the results of their sheer hard labour; the creativity and the perfection, the genius, the magic, the heat/the wind and the rain and the glorious smells; the surprises, the disappointments, the knowledge, the ideas, the craft and the expertise.
With everything crossed, I’ve no doubt the Show will be live once more in the Chelsea Pensioners’ back garden next year. In the meantime, garden-loving friends have been sharing with me pictures and thoughts of what their own outdoor spaces particularly mean to them this week.
‘Most people who are fortunate enough to have gardens of their own will have found that lockdown has brought them both more opportunity and greater incentive to spend time there, and their plants have benefited from the extra care that has come their way. In my case, I am happy to record that this extra care has produced a slightly counter-intuitive result, in the shape of the rewilding of a space which I had for years disciplined into conventional orderliness, with pots and planters thoughtfully disposed around a gravelled yard.
‘Lockdown has prompted a less peremptory, more contemplative approach to the management of this small area, and fine weather has encouraged a proliferation of self-sown species including foxgloves, wild iris, miniature fennel, aquilegia, borage and comfrey, which, amazingly, have shown a remarkable capacity for grouping themselves in attractive shapes and combinations.
‘An additional result, a bonus of the first value, has been a notable increase in the resident bird population: the pigeons, sparrows and blackbirds which formerly ruled the roost now share it with dunnocks, tits and wrens, and I have just come in from a spell in my garden chair where I was joined by a robin which chose to perch on my knee.’
‘Our garden has been and continues to be a vital refuge for me and indeed the whole family during the Lockdown. Particularly for me, as I am on the Sheltering list and so am officially housebound until the end of June
‘We are so lucky to have the space as it is being used for a variety of things: exercise, impromptu meals and picnics, croquet competitions, fundraising runs, relaxing, reading, gardening, kitchen garden tending and growing, fresh air, listening to the cuckoo and other birds, chatting with neighbours over the fence and so on.
‘Surprises, there have been many, from finding out the differences between a perennial and an annual sweet pea and reading weather forecasts correctly to keep the bean crop and dahlia plants safe until the frosts have passed, to finally having the time to remember to cover the hydrangea with fleece before frosty nights and discovering just how sweet the leaves of the over-wintered swiss chard crop still taste (we’re not wasting a thing!).
‘Problems have been remarkably few and usually involve a job started but never finished (painting windows, planting up pots, treating the lawn) because a vital ingredient has run out…paint, necessary soil improvers etc.
‘The benefits have been varied and all good, from the village WhatsApp group that has been invaluable for buying plants and compost (all our purchases have helped to save a local family-owned garden centre from going bust) to making do and moving plants around, and stretching Best Before dates not just with food but with old seeds too and finding that most are thriving. We’ve also decorated the garden with homemade bunting, creating new living spaces to enjoy, and discovered the joys of Gardeners’ World on Friday evenings; it’s become a real highlight of the week for us and for our eldest child, who is enduring in London with only the parks for her outdoor space.’
‘A monstrous potato-tree provides a purple portal midway down my narrow, city garden. Beyond it lies my vegetable plot with its onions, tomatoes and French dwarf beans. Planting, weeding and watering fills time profitably, yet relaxing nearer the house, amongst a jungle of flowering shrubs, giant clumps of arum lilies and a sunny pond full of tadpoles, is deeply soothing. And oh, what joy my pond has given me. Frogspawn, then tadpoles and now, sprouting legs; I’ve become enthralled. I lose myself in watching their movements, seeing in their metamorphosis, a symbol of progress: from Lockdown to FREEDOM.’