My second rented garden was almost on the banks of the River Wye on the English Welsh border. Sand martins excavated holes in the crumbling overhangs of the banks and swans sometimes misjudged their flight over the bridge and landed inelegant and indignant in the midst of the traffic. Curlews picked over the drift wood of the broad river and king fishers flashed jewel bright over the green water.
I was there only for a winter and a spring. It was just long enough for me to be delighted by the masses of snowdrops that appeared and diligent enough to start waging war on the ground elder that pushed its way up everywhere. Appropriately yellow Welsh poppies flowered between the paving stones and I collected their seeds to take to my own first Welsh garden in the summer.
The first garden and until quite recently the only garden I owned, was oblong and uninspiring apart from one magnificent inhabitant: my oak. The oak was a surprising remnant from the farm land or wood land that had been lost to build our bungalow. It was entirely out of proportion to the little suburban plot I owned and it was utterly magnificent.
I dug flower beds along the lawn and grew tansy and bear’s britches. Fox gloves loved the red sandstone soil and appeared everywhere and I adored watching fat bumble bees push their ways into the speckle lipped flowers. I grew a buddleia to attract the butterflies and killed it by pruning it too hard. I grew a Russian vine and nearly lost a fence because I couldn’t prune it fast enough. My roses got blackspot in the wet Welsh weather, my drive grew a forest of moss and my lawn turned easily into a meadow by planting wild flowers in amongst the grass and only mowing it once a year, much to the neighbour’s dismay.
The Welsh poppies absolutely refused to germinate and no appeal to their patriotic duty convinced them to grow, but the oak grew slowly, but surely each year.
Grey squirrels loved the acorns and also the peanuts we put out for the birds. One particular squirrel would follow a trail of peanuts cross the lawn and into the sitting room through the French windows. My father was visiting one summer afternoon and was surprised to look up from his newspaper to see Charlene the squirrel, sat comfortably on the carpet watching the television with him in the sitting room.
The oak tree is still there and I have made sure it has preservation order on it to protect it from the tidy minded. The garden alas has now reverted to plain lawn and all the flowers I planted are gone. The poppies seeds still refuse to flower, but the warm wet Welsh weather has kept the drive sstill lushly carpeted in thick green moss.