Life is not a rehearsal

PUBLISHED: 14:46 27 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:50 20 February 2013

Winter Aconite

Winter Aconite

Plan ahead to give yourself things to look forward to, says Sir Roddy Llewellyn. It will help you through the future doom and gloom that we a constantly being reminded of.

Plan ahead to give yourself things to look forward to, says Sir Roddy Llewellyn. It will help you through the future doom and gloom that we a constantly being reminded of.

What a delight that we experienced some proper winter weather for a pleasant change. Farmers and gardeners alike were thrilled: clods on rough-dug fields and plots were broken down by continued freezing temperatures, and alien insects, blown onto our shores by the last decade or so of mild conditions, will have been halted in their path. So rejoice and be glad that the English weather has been behaving more in character.

It won't be long now before the aconites start to flower with a show of ground-hugging buttercup-like blooms; and what a joy they are to behold, a true sign that daylight hours are on the stretch. About 100 years ago there lived at Gravetye Manor in Kent a great gardening hero of mine. This was William Robinson, who proved to be a strong influence on another eminent horticultural figure, Gertrude Jekyll. It was he who set the trend for abandoning Victorian formality in favour of a more naturalistic style. When planting bulbs he used to throw them from the sack onto the ground and planted them where they fell. Serried ranks of flowering bulbs soon became increasingly unpopular. The famous Bluebell line in Sussex, a stretch of railway that entertains steam trains of yore along with restored stations in Victorian style that line the route, is so-called because Robinson is reputed to have thrown bluebell bulbs out of the train window as he rattled along.

This may appear to be a strange way of planting bulbs, but they are clever organisms. If thrown onto a friable soil surface most bulbs will literally bury themselves by hauling themselves down into the soil with their contractile roots. They will also readjust themselves if planted askew. Of course the existing leaf litter on the tree-lined railway line must have helped.

A wise friend once told me that "life is not a rehearsal", and so I intend to pack in as much as I can before it is too late. I'm 61 and remain an active gardener although assorted body parts like joints, muscles and tendons play up from time to time. Gardening is, I'm sure, an excellent way of maintaining a fitter and better 'oiled' body as it were, as I am always stretching, lifting, and generally running about. (I have a push mower which proves to be marvellous exercise). However, as every year goes by I do know that I shall become less active physically, and that is unavoidable. Determined as I am to die in my present house I am planning my new garden so that it does not prove to be too high-maintenance. Very few of us, irrespective of age, can afford to employ a gardener today. Knowledgeable ones are like gold dust.

I remember Carol Klein, one of the stars of BBC Gardeners World, telling me how much she dislikes lawns. I know she tries to cram as many plants as possible into her Devon garden, but not every gardener strives to amass such an eclectic collection. There is no doubt that lawns are much lower maintenance than borders and so I plan to create as large an area of lawn as possible.

You may feel the need to grow start growing your own vegetables in over-priced Britain. This subject crops up regularly in the media these days, but what is seldom mentioned is that vegetable and fruit gardens are very high-maintenance, and that is something you must understand before you embark on self-sufficiency. When you come back from a hard day in the office, you do not necessarily feel like attending to your plot. One of the best bits of advice I can give you is to start on ground that is free of perennial weeds and to invest in a swoe, a hoe that is similarly shaped to a golfing iron and capable of yanking out a weed from the most inconvenient of places.

I am about to start building my new vegetable plot and will keep you informed about its creation and upkeep. What I do know is that it is going to consist of a series of raised beds contained within one foot (30cm) high treated boards stabilised with wooden pegs. I always try to plan ahead to give me things to look forward to.

Our condolences go to Sir Roddy on the death of his brother, Dai. He now inherits the baronetcy and becomes Sir Roderic Llewellyn, 5th Baronet of Bwllfa, but tells us he is quite content to be called Sir Roddy.


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