July, 4

Getting Away From It All

Like many folk, we’ve barely spent a night away from home since the New Year. I love The Watch House with all my heart, but being there is not a holiday. Everywhere I look there’s a job to be done: a plant to be watered, a bulb to be planted, a wall to be painted or papers to be sorted. It is not relaxing to be taunted by tasks wherever one’s eye settles. I cannot rest until everything has been put in order, added to which recent storms have decimated both gardens and the allotment.

There is enough work to keep us both busy for an eternity, but just for now it can wait.

Recent storms have advanced autumn by about a month

Our plan was to have a ‘proper’ holiday in September. That was then pushed half into October. As soon as it began I came down with flu; I knew it was coming the minute I boarded the train back from London on Friday night. Hence the first week was spent either sleeping, moping around, getting frustrated or over-exerting myself, delaying my recovery even further. As I improved, The Beau then developed symptoms, so all-in-all week one of our break was not a success.

Although we are on holiday we’ve enjoyed helping our hosts with their clifftop garden

Nothing other than a legal restriction was going to prevent us coming to Cornwall – we even made plans to circumvent that had the situation arisen – and now we are here we are glad we were steadfast in our resolve. After just one day we both feel happier and more relaxed; the dogs are in their element. There is nothing that must be done and just enough that could be done, which is how I like it. Where we are staying, in a croft-like space near Gunwalloe, there’s a stove, a simple kitchen, a cosy bed and enough books to keep us occupied for years. If we were not in such a beautiful spot, close to so many friends, we would not care to venture out.

Our home from home for the next few days

Today we paid a visit to Trebah, a garden about which I have always had mixed feelings. The location on the Helford River is sublime of course, and the collection of mature plants, mostly woody ones, is stupendous. However Trebah lacks two thing for me – the personality that’s bestowed on a garden by a living creator and a certain level of attention to detail. It’s perhaps rather harsh to make judgements on the latter in any open garden this season, given what a struggle it has been to keep any enterprise going through the pandemic. Nevertheless we thoroughly enjoyed our visit, even the rain showers that added to the jungly atmosphere, and will doubtless be back again soon. (I think a springtime visit may go some way to improve my impression of the place.)

Back at Chyanvounder, which translates from Cornish rather disappointingly as ‘house on the lane’, I am relishing having time to read. I finished Tim Richardson’s freshly-baked account of Sissinghurst on day one and have started Arthur Parkinson’s ‘The Pottery Gardener’. Both are excellent reads.

Enjoying endless hours in front of a roaring stove

From our host’s extensive library of vintage titles I plucked Margery Fish’s ‘Gardening on Clay and Lime’ (1970) and Stuart Dudley’s ‘Taking the Ache out of Gardening’ (1962). Frequently such elderly books become dated, not only in their language but also their advice, especially where machines or chemicals are involved. Margery Fish’s advice is expert and utterly timeless, whilst her writing style is concise, opinionated and approachable. ‘Gardening on Clay and Lime’ reads as well now as it did fifty years ago.

‘Taking the Ache out of Gardening’ might almost be considered ahead of its time, advocating the principles of ‘no-dig’ gardening within the first few pages. Mr Dudley lays out his ‘Magna Carta of streamlined cultivation’: no inversion of the soil, all fertilisers and manures in the surface layer and deep cultivation simple and seldom (if ever). This is why I enjoy rescuing old books – they are generally cheaper, better informed and less tainted by celebrity than anything one finds in a bookshop today. TFG.

Cyathea medularis (black tree fern) at Trebah, Cornwall

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