I’ve been catching up with my other garden this weekend. This garden – which backs on to one of the (very) minor tributaries of the Yorkshire Ouse – is part of a long patchwork strip of public and private green space. Established, suburban gardens run down to semi wild public open space, either side of the narrow beck. Two small copses on the public side of the fence are supplemented by long established oak, ash and willow trees in various gardens, some predating the 1930s houses. As far as the local wildlife is concerned it’s one extended habitat with a wide variety of different niches.
For a couple of nights I’ve fallen asleep to the hooting of tawny owls and the wind in the trees, waking early to a richly varied dawn chorus. The blackbird’s song isn’t much different to the one that wakes us in Paris but here, just a mile from the centre of York, that song is overlaid with the voices of thrushes, dunnocks, robins, wrens, blackcaps and other birds I can’t start to identify. When the sun comes out the ceanothus bushes are buzzing with bumble bees, a dragon fly darts over the pond and a blue tit splashes in the bird bath. Dozens of tiny, baby spiders venture out from a nest between the slats of the garden table until a gust of wind sends them all scurrying back into a dense ball.
While we are living in Paris our lodger looks after the house and garden in York. She mows the grass, pulls out the more conspicuous weeds and enjoys sharing the garden with friends and family but, probably wisely, doesn’t venture far into the borders. Between my six weekly visits the garden is cared for but not fussed over and pretty much goes its own way.
Last summer my (more frequent) visits were dominated by trying to catch up with the weeding. Now I’m around less often, the stronger herbaceous plants have filled up bare patches in the borders and forget-me-nots and Welsh poppies have stitched the whole together. My first impulse is not to start weeding but to take stock, admiring unexpected plant combinations and enjoying the buzz of insect life.
Of course I soon find gardening work to do, un-picking the ground elder that weaves its way through all the other plants, opening up paths and steps by cutting back overhanging vegetation, dead heading tulips. But I leave teasels self sown among the day lilies, the delicate wild geranium, herb Robert, threading through it’s cultivated cousins and cow parsley billowing under the apple trees. I’m scolded by wrens and blackbirds if I linger too long in ‘their’ territory. I’m not really in charge here any more.