Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Timing - Born In Time

Drying yellow leaves are fluttering down in the gardens here in south east Kent.  The spring drought dried the soil out deep deep down and there has been little replenishment.  Recent rains have not come our way.  My heart sinks into my boots.  Few things are as distressing to me as a lengthy waterless period.  I know people go through this all over the world, that they have to watch their crops and animals shrivel and that nothing we British gardeners have to bear  in the form of drought can be comparable.  But even this much is a premonition of death.  I find it hard to settle; projecting into the future doesn't feel possible while we're waiting for rain.

In a wetter year, there is a heavy darkness about trees in August.  In this one, especially on this heavy soil, there is a tinge of yellow and a sad droopiness overlaying all.  The leaves shrivel on the stem, roots lose their way in the cracking soil.  Early rank unthrifty growth, made on the badly drained soil even as the drought bit in April, quickly turns pallid and flimsy.  It was the unnatural earliness of that dry period which has left its legacy, way into the later part of the year and despite rainfall in June.

A thick cuticle is a reasonable protection and I do love a small glittery leaf.  Even now, I can lope quietly round my garden, resting my eyes on the unperturbed greenery of myrtle, pittosporum Oliver Twist, sarcococca and vinca minor (pictured).

Even the small euonymus microphylla gives me pleasure. 

That extraordinary wiry self-clinging personality, muehlenbackia complexa, gives a good account of itself under these conditions, just be ready with the shears in case it actually comes after you.

Below is a small selection of this type of leaf.  I've been charmed by these plants and the jaunty stance of each individualised leaf so often.  To me they don't have the plastic look of the larger-leaved, brighter green  broad-leaved evergreens, they're cheerful in shade because of the glitter and humble in sun because of the darkness.  They radiate a quiet energy.  Many people find this affection hard to understand but Penelope Hobhouse always championed these plants and her garden at The Coach House was an absolute festival of the interesting evergreen shrub.  Closed now unfortunately, and I'm not sure if she ever wrote a real testament to her own taste but On Gardening and Natural Planting are still excellent reads.

Bob Dylan song of the day is Born in Time.  Some people think it a bit of a throwaway pop song.  It may be, it's certainly one of the few Dylan songs you might conceivably break into a dance to.  My musings about early drought  link to what I hear in the song, which seems to be about time-bound conjunctions that fail as time moves on.  Naturally Dylan appears to be mourning a scheming beauty, for whom, once, the time was right, but that is true of gardening too.  We schemed for beauty didn't we?  And it's all gone wrong, leaving us with just the glittering leaves that were armed against the depredations of drought.  By now, no-one feels much like endless water-carrying and hosing.  We'll just wait till it comes right again.

But there's another connection.  Born in Time is set against record-breaking heat, shaking streets and the rising curve where the ways of nature will test every nerve.  Exactly!  Don't get me started on climate change, but isn't he right there, warning us and reminding us, his voice rising immediately after, not on the rising curve (because it's a curve you see, and he wouldn't want to be too obvious), and the whole song kind of lifting you along on a wave of time.  That's what I need, to be lifted on, to the point when it rains.

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