I’m no gardener, really. My little courtyard, which catches the sun for only a few hours every day, has seen a mishmash of trials and errors over the last decade. Now, I’m happy if the night-scented stock and cornflowers that I sow every year actually flower, if my honeysuckle and mock orange bushes both blossom and smell sweet, and if my purple-leaved maple tree turns scarlet in autumn.
Most years, one or more of these essentials disappoints me. The maple usually shrivels up. Mock orange flowers make an appearance or not, as the whim takes them. Worst ever, in the relentlessly rainy summer of 2012, no cornflowers germinated at all, I counted just four valiant night-scented stock flowers, and the numerous honeysuckle blooms were scentless in the cold, damp air.
I have only ‘a bit of earth’, as Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden might describe it. There’s a flowerbed about 3 x 7 feet, a corner plot that used to be a small sludgy pond, another tiny rectangle with trellis for the honeysuckle, and a scattering of pots. It’s tempting to cram these spaces full of my chosen plants, but, given that my choices often fail, I’ve learnt to enjoy the surprises. A lemon balm bush once sprouted from nowhere, and last year a packet of Californian poppy seeds produced one frilly-edged pink specimen among the rather boring smooth yellow and cream petals.
This winter, I noticed a low-lying bunch of leaves quickly spreading near the wall in the main bed. I had an idea what they might be, but wasn’t sure, so I dug most of the plant out but left a few leaves behind to see what would happen. Eventually, one tiny flower emerged on a thin stem from the foliage—a guest violet.
Some years ago, I planted violets in a different part of the bed, but either they died or I pulled them out to make way for some other experiment, and they were forgotten. But underground, in their own time, they’d found their way to a spot where they could give themselves another chance.
So 2014 has begun with some good signs. Not only do I have my surprise violets, but the new white hyacinths and white anemones that I especially wanted to succeed have done so (for this year, at least). And now it’s time to sow some seeds and remember to water the maple tree…