I have been called away for a week of work in the States. One longstanding project on the west coast where we are already in summer and a new landscape on the east coast where I will be stepping back into earlier spring. Work is not a word that suits an exciting few days of making things happen, but even so, it is a small torture to leave in this week that sits so very definitely between spring and summer. A time marked in our landscape by lanes narrowed with cow parsley and creamy clouds of hawthorn stepping through the woods and marching down the hedgerows.
In Japan the year is divided into 72 seasons each lasting about five days and the principle applies here too, if you make the time to look and take in the many shifts and changes. Five days for the buds to suddenly be in evidence on the Malus hupehensis, five days for the buds to break and the tree to cover itself in five more days of the purest white blossom. In that time the blue Iris hollandica planted alongside them have been joined by a sea of yellow catsear. Standing under the trees this morning I drank in the spectacle and noted the first petals falling. It will be five more days, the time I am away, for the blossom to drop and dim into the burgeoning green of summer.
Before leaving I walked the garden to take in the energy that is now. This handover of seasons. The first of our Benton iris opening in sequence and with such anticipation. First ‘Opal’, then ‘Strathmore’, ‘Susan’, ’Olive’ and this morning ‘Lorna’. Buds for tomorrow and the days yet to come that I will not witness breaking, but will return to see at their peak. An energy so very different from today’s, which is of arrival and togetherness.
Moving on, I spent time with the tree peonies and their zesty perfume which catches along the path. It will be gone by the time I return, the bronze in the new foliage flattening to green. The Paeonia x emodii ‘Late Windflower’ are at their height right now, the first flowers just starting to fade, but the first shiny flowers on the Paeonia peregrina and buds to come should hold enough for me to witness the full blaze when I return.
A red not unlike the first flash of Tulipa sprengeri. The intensity of looking making me wonder should the two be paired. I have seedlings of both waiting up by the frames. A handful of young peonies to make a colony around the mother plant and the 2019 sowing of the tulip, which are now ready to go out into the garden. I sow a batch every year for exactly these revelations and five years from seed should see the first in flower. Next year should see the two combined if I’m lucky.
Looking hard, to take things in for time spent away is a concentrated exercise. The fringe catching the light on the Silene fimbriata and noting that, yes, one day, when the Clerodendrum is bigger, they will be good with the darkness of its unfurling foliage. Beneath the mulberry, epimediums under the racing away Polygonatum verticillatum, which this week are at their most shun, the Japanese term for something at its peak and full of life force. They will pass full reach by the time I return, the tips arching as they put energy into flower.
The Camassia leichtlinii ‘Amethyst Strain’, which I grew here when the main garden was trial and stock beds, have returned to confirm my suspicions that they would seed in the open ground of the garden and become a menace. I love this strain of in-between colours – grey pinks, slate blues, smoky mauves, ivory whites and creams. I have a row of seed-raised plants against the barn, which I’m growing specifically in order to harvest the seed and throw it onto the bulb banks. I’m hoping the yellow rattle should diminish the strength of the grass to allow them to live in balance.
In a week I will return to the gaps in the beds having grown in and the weeds we haven’t found left behind to falter or get a grip under cover. The most ephemeral plants like Lathyrus aureus are over almost as soon as they have started and the glimpse I had this morning will have been my last until next year. It has been a rush to stake and get the last planting in before I go. Gapping up where the winter has done for the salvias. I leave Huw and John with a job list to keep things moving where they need to be and to try to hold things back in the polytunnel where the cobaea, ipomaea and tomatoes are already straining to go in the ground. Next week, the tipping point will have been reached for sure. The start of summer and the first week here in which we can turn our backs on the fear of frost and look to the garden rushing with the lengthening days towards dog roses and tall meadows and the cow parsley at its fullest and most voluminous reach.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 20 May 2023