As a native Californian I grew up with the threat of drought looming over us. I remember learning water-saving rhymes as a child, and dad putting bricks in the toilet cistern to save precious water. I also remember our dry, golden brown landscape constantly under threat from a thoughtless cigarette tossed out of a car window, its smouldering end bringing catastrophe to the land and destroying the homes of those who lived on the fringes of development.
When I came to England my eyes seemed flooded with green: fields and fields of it! It was as if I had drunk my first glass of water after a ten mile hike through the desert. England is a land of plenty, plenty of water that is, and this winter has seen our “cup runneth over”. Can we have too much of a good thing? Maybe, especially if we are not prepared for it.
I think the only thing that is certain in our rapidly changing climate, is that nothing is certain. We may feel like victims of circumstances out of our control, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our best to prepare for it. Aside from common sense measures such as keeping drains and gutters clear, it is advisable to postpone heavy digging or even standing on our soil until it is dry enough not to squelch under our boots and cling to our spades. This can compact the air pockets in soil that plants roots depend on for respiration -potentially causing them to die.
Drainage could be considered a dull subject but I foresee it as an opportunity to be innovative with design while repairing some of the damage to our environment and providing conditions for growing beautiful plants – create “rain garden” for example, or incorporate “swales” in the garden.
A simple rain garden is achieved by creating a shallow basin with a ‘berm’ surrounding it. The drainage outlet should be lower than the sides of the ‘berm’. If you allow the exiting drainage to empty into the basin which is planted with moisture/bog tolerant species, this helps to infiltrate excess water into the water table whilst providing a veritable oasis for wildlife. A drainage ‘Swale’ is a shallow sided ditch dug into the soil that captures runoff, much the same idea as the former but usually for directing the overflow to another body of water.
My first month has been largely about getting to know the place and the team. We have been organising things so we can work efficiently. We have also been busy booking our new season of garden talks: Lunch and a Lecture.I’m very excited to announce that Charles Dowding will be visiting to speak about ‘no dig’ gardening. I first learned about no-dig gardening when studying for the RHS Certificate in Horticulture. We mostly learned that no dig was a convenient way to grow vegetables in raised beds. This is of course true although when you read Charles’ books you learn that not digging our soil has incalculable benefits including vastly reducing germination of annual weeds, to increasing yield. He hypothesises that when we dig the soil, we destroy communities of micorhizae fungi and many other soil organisms that help to make our plants healthy. He will share with us his decades of observation and great wisdom on the art of growing organic vegetables.
We are also being treated to a talk by the celebrated Graham Gough of Marchant’s Hardy Plants. I have been fortunate enough to work under him at his nursery. He has an incomparable knowledge of plants and Propagation. All of the plants for sale at his nursery are grown in the gardens at Marchant’s and are propagated in a couple of small polytunnels. As well as being a powerhouse of propagation he is a designer with a keen eye for the sublime, using plants to enhance a garden’s sense of space.
I am excited to have these guest speakers and very much look forward to the coming year.