I think there must be something seriously wrong with me, because when I wake up to the sound of rain on the plants beneath the open bedroom window, it gives me far greater joy than the sun streaming in the same east-facing casement. Maybe it’s because I know the garden will receive adequate moisture today and the rainwater butts will be full once more, but it’s more likely the smell of wet earth, the fragrance of roses, lilies and honeysuckle that always put up a much better performance in the rain, and the glistening drops hanging from every leaf and flower like crystal earrings.
It was so this morning. We haven’t have to endure another 1976 after all, as the heatwave (or heatwaves, as there have been two in our part of the country this summer so far, separated by thunderstorms and heavy showers, finally disappeared over last weekend.
Between the summer warmth and the wet winter, everything has put on a prodigious amount of growth. Going back to our bedroom window, the magnolia in next door’s garden which effectively blocks out about sixty per cent of the light, must have put on about 60cm since the storms of a couple of weeks ago. This magnolia has grown to about five metres in just over ten years and should never really be there. I designed the shrubbery in which it grows for our neighbour to be as labour-saving as possible; the magnolia should have been the hybrid ‘Jane’, or if this was unavailable, ‘Susan’, giving a focal point of height in what was a fairly low border.
Our neighbour took the plant list to a local garden centre; she planted up the border according to my plan, and as one young magnolia looks very similar to another, I didn’t question that this was the right variety. It was only when it set off at a gallop that I began to wonder. At first I thought it might be the fertile fen silt it was growing in, assisted by a ground cover of landscape fabric and pea gravel keeping the moisture in, but as seasons came and went, it became more and more apparent that she had been supplied the wrong variety.
Large magnolias such as this don’t prune well. They produce even more growth to replace that which was removed, and trimming just removes the flowering shoots, at least for a year or two, and turns them into big, leafy, uninteresting specimens.
Up to now, we have saved the whole shrubbery from being engulfed by this rogue by removing bottom branches to raise the crown and let in some light and air, and taking out whole spreading side shoots to keep the monster as compact as possible. I made our neighbour aware of the fact that she had been wrongly supplied, and she has asked me several times if I thought she should have it removed, but I have always advised that it would be such a pity to take out such a magnificent tree, which blooms profusely every spring, usually the first indication of longer days and warmer weather to come.
But as I sat up in bed this morning, drinking my vital morning cuppa, I realised that the tree has beaten us all. It seems unlikely that the tree can be kept a manageable size by careful surgery, and my feeling is that it should now be left to its own devices, at least in the short term. This might mean that the shrubbery will eventually have to be redesigned, but a garden is never a static thing and maybe the next instalment for this piece of ground is to make the tree the main feature, and rethink its surroundings. This won’t be necessary for a year or two, hopefully, as the rest of the plants still look good.
It doesn’t bother us, even though its spreading limbs march ever onwards towards the side wall of our cottage; at least it blocks the glaring, horrid, orange street lamps that otherwise disturb our sleep, and protects the rooms on that side of the house from the searing midsummer sun from sunrise till noon. Most plants, even accidental ones, have their uses.