Just to put your hands into a bag of peat and give it a good squeeze has to rank amongst the most sensuous pleasures known to man – well, certainly a man that doesn’t get out very often! As a young ‘horticultural apprentice’ in my parents’ garden, I used it liberally to improve the soil in the borders and any new plant would have at least half a sack added to give it a good start in life. In fact, I’m surprised that, after all my digging, their garden didn’t evolve into the first man-made peat bog!
How things have changed. Once upon a time you could pop along to the garden centre and pick up a tin of creosote and some DDT, along with your good old peat, in order to tackle the weekend’s jobs. It’s probably fair to say that the only bogs of interest to us in those days were of the porcelain variety and any critters who had the temerity to chew on any of our geraniums would have the full arsenal of our “endorsed by Saddam Hussein” sprays unleashed upon them. Now garden centre shelves in Walmley, Sutton Coldfield, are, quite rightly, full of green and organic products that will only give greenfly a mild headache or tummy upset – just enough to put it off nibbling your plants and try the ones next door instead. Equally, the outside pallets of composts now offer a bewildering array of mixes, but with the overwhelming message that if you pick up anything that is not carrying the peat-free or, in the worst case, reduced–peat logo, you will be labeled an environmental vandal. Soon they will be offering brown paper bags so these “Peatists” can wrap their offending products discreetly to hide them from the prying eyes of the environmentally enlightened masses…..
But, should these Peatists be vilified for using what is, in effect, a natural resource covering vast tracts of Russia and Canada – especially as it has now been classified as a renewable biomass product by a UN advisory body? In our country, at least, there seems little excuse for pillaging acres of sedge peat that will take lifetimes to replenish – at a growth of 5mm a year it doesn’t take the mathematical ability of Carol Vorderman to work out that you and I, or indeed our children’s children, will not live to see these areas regenerated. Leave it to nature and the odd (very odd!) bog snorkeler to enjoy……
The startling reality, aside from all its aesthetic and tactile qualities, is that peat has very little that it can add to our gardens that we can’t produce ourselves in our compost bins. If you haven’t the space, time or energy to do your own composting, then buy composted green waste as it is every bit as good as peat based soil conditioners – you only need to see the numbers of worms it contains! Peatists and the large commercial growers may argue that peat is a much easier and consistent product to work with – but what they can’t argue with is the “peat-miles” involved and that peat extraction is now as environmentally acceptable an activity as chopping down the rainforests or dumping all our rubbish at sea.
Personally, I love the stuff; you can burn it, grow plants in it (if you have to) but, most importantly, it adds that all important flavour to a single malt whisky – so call me a Peatist if you want to, but keep putting your leftovers in the compost bin while I pour myself another shot of Laphroaig.
Garden Consultant and Connoisseur of the ‘Black Stuff’
The other day I had the great pleasure of surveying a lovely, untouched garden surrounding an equally lovely Georgian house in a beautiful village. The house is just about to be sympathetically restored and I’m going to (hopefully!) make sure the garden does the result justice. As it sits in a conservation area and the locals are taking a justifiable interest, I did a bit of market research as to any possible features they consider worth retaining. Virtually every one I spoke to said that ‘ye olde Privy,’ sat in the far corner of the plot, was fantastic and should be spared any clearance that may be needed – which only confirmed my own feelings on these iconic (and very useful!) garden features.
Thankfully, there seems to be a very benevolent movement (please excuse any further unintended puns of this nature!) towards the retention of these, once absolutely essential, facilities. Most of them have now taken on a secondary role as a tool store or simply somewhere to shove all the kids’ clutter. I couldn’t even see inside the privy in question as the key had gone walkabouts so it was impossible to confirm if it was still sporting the original seating arrangement. I did, however, find the exit from the “long drop” which goes straight into the lovely trout stream which runs through the plot. No doubt the trout and eels which were flittering around my Wellies were pleased when the village finally got itself on main drains in the 1960’s!!
InAmerica, privies were called “necessary houses” and were often highly decorated. Paintings of the period when their use was commonplace show them often styled in the same way as the house with Greek portico facades, some even topped with a bird house! Thomas Jefferson designed octagonal brick privies with domed roofs to echo the main house which made them look like elegant pepper pots. In good old Blighty we tended to take a more utilitarian view of the privy, but it was interesting to note that when Mr Crapper kindly invented the flushing loo there were a great many folk who lamented losing the nightly ritual of freezing your nether regions off at the bottom of the garden.
Personally, if I inherited a privy in any of my gardens and I had a bit of spare cash I think I’d be tempted to re-instate some plumbing and actually “bring it back to life.” Not only would it be very useful for comfort breaks whilst gardening, it would also be the perfect hideaway – second only to the shed. Imagine being sat there with your torch reading back copies of Gardeners World with just the resident spiders for company while the wind rattles the door on its hinges?!
All of which brings me back to my privy, which is now going to have pride of place in the new design of the garden. It is not a thing of beauty and I doubt that throughout its 152 year existence it’s ever been given any sort of makeover. As the client is keen on using it as an alternative to a shed, it’s going to have to have a path leading to it and some electrics. To reflect its former use I’m thinking of utilizing one of the plain brick walls for a suitable water feature – I think I’ve got the perfect one in mind which will look great with the right planting to compliment it. The idea will be for a continual flow of water into a container which will give the appropriate sound effects but without the aromatic qualities you would normally expect. I’ll post some pictures of the final solution later in the year so you can all see ‘The Privies Progress’!
If you’ve got an interesting privy then please let me know as I’d love to come and have a look or, even better, if it’s still working……………..!!
Gardening article provided by Walmley Pages, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public
A Golden Opportunity…Tinged with a bit of Green!
Welcome one and all to my collective mourn-in! If you were the proud owner of a beautiful Bay tree or flourishing Phormium, the chances are you are resigned to the fact that it is now as dead as the Monty Python parrot. Owners of Cordylines, Ceanothus, Abutilon and any other exotics will also be lamenting their losses but, if it’s any consolation, I was also caught with my trousers down. I am now bereft of a much admired Nerine collection and one of the finest shrubs I have ever had the pleasure to grow, Coronilla glauca.
The prolonged permafrost we endured during this mother of all winters killed our plants from their roots up and, bearing in mind their Mediterranean origins, it is not surprising they keeled over. Unfortunately, with the unpredictability of theUKseasons these days, there is always going to be a risk in leaving any borderline hardy plant outside through the winter. Ideally we would all have dug up our little treasures and cocooned them in a nice greenhouse for the winter, but clearly this is not feasible for most of us. I know a lot of people tried wrapping their plants in ‘fleece’ specifically made to protect plants from frost damage but all it succeeded in doing was maintaining their frozen state!
Before we all give up on our gardens altogether, let’s look at all the positives and embrace the opportunities that this horticultural death and destruction brings. Firstly, with the judicial use of a shredder you can feel quite rightly satisfied that your plants are living on, albeit in a finer and less attractive manner than before. Secondly, and arguably most importantly, it provides a fantastic opportunity to change and revitalise your garden. Opening up new spaces and vistas lends a whole new aspect to the garden and, whilst sad, the loss of a large dominating plant can be an excellent catalyst to kick-start the garden change process. Obviously you could just replace your dead parrot/ cordyline with another one, but why not look to pastures new? Maybe now is a good time to put in that pond you’ve always wanted, the vegetable and herb garden that could help cut the family grocery bills or simply more space for the kids to enjoy some fresh air?!
Whatever you decide to do, take some time and advice as to the best solution for you and your family. There is a great temptation when you have some glaring gaps in your borders, to simply do a ‘trolley dash’ round the alluring displays at the garden centre. If all you want to achieve is a window dressing of your garden then that’s fine, but if you want something more lasting that is not going to be a wasted investment then you really ought to consider having a professional review of what can be achieved. In the same way you wouldn’t normally fit your own kitchen without some expert help, your garden will always benefit from an expert plan of action to bring out its full potential. It may not be necessary to commission a full design of your garden; simply changing planting plans and revitalising existing borders could make all the difference between a struggling display and your very own littleChelsea!
Now is the best time to take some decisive action – we are coming up to the prime planting season and if any hard landscaping needs to be carried out, then this needs to be done first. Equally any ponds or water features should be installed as soon as possible together with outdoor kitchens for those wishing to take advantage of their own home grown veg! Personally I’m looking forward to seeing my new wild flower lawn come into it’s own in the next couple of months –I decided to practice what I preach and take it as a golden opportunity for change!
Garden Consultant and Change Specialist!
Gardening article provided by Walmley Pages, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public.