It does not feel like only a few weeks since we were planting three silver birches in the new front border. While a lot has happened in the world, for me the main events have revolved around staying at home and maintaining social isolation, which are coincidentally two of the key requirements to getting your garden looking good.
I started my lockdown exercise regime by giving my back and shoulders a good workout, digging the tangled roots of shrubs and ash saplings from the front border. It was the only way I was going to get the ground ready for planting, after the chances of getting a stump grinder slumped from minimal to zero.
After four days of digging and hacking the job was done. It took four days, but I did not work solidly all that time. There were regular breaks for light comic banter from passers-who kept informing me “that looks like hard work”. No shit Sherlock. Whether they thought it really was hard work or whether they were commenting on my bedraggled, sweat-stained appearance giving the impression of hard-work, is a moot point. But I responded with some amusing quip which rapidly turned to irony and then sarcasm as the tide of village humanity rippled its way past us on its daily release from quarantine, with no one able to resist the urge to state the bleeding obvious.
Staying within the confines of my property, though, I have managed to plant up the border, which I am creating as a memorial to Our Boy. As a reference to Josh’s favoured football team I am designing it in the colours of Spurs – the team Josh was saddled with supporting as a baby when his uncle Richard inundated him with all the kit when he was barely a week old. So the planting will be mostly white and blue, although there might be some lilac in there – as a nod to the away strips of 99 and 03 (and this season’s training top).
“Design” is a word I normally hesitate to use in my gardening. Mostly I bumble around and throw stuff into raised beds and borders on a whim, but this was going to take some planning. Your average TV horticulturalist makes it look so damn easy, and when you take a look at the design sheets from Piet Oudolf for the garden at the Hauser and Wirth Gallery up the road, they are like works of art themselves. But I have to start somewhere, so after browsing books on the subject and surfing the internet for “tall hardy perennials” I came up with the semblance of a ‘Spursy’ plan.
Making up my squad of plants was not easy. Like any good manager, I had cleared out a lot of the dead wood that I discovered when I moved in and started the re-building from the ground up. Continuing the Spurs theme, I knew I would not be able to afford any top performers, already at the peak of their cycle, so I shopped around for a few bargains. Which I duly found. One source of quality plants was over in NI, at Ballyrobert Gardens who supplied a number of decent looking plants. It feels very right that there is a Northern Ireland connection in Josh’s garden. I have no doubt he guided me that way. Here’s to you, Anya – not to mention Josh’s former colleagues at Hope Academy.
So, what plants are in the Tottenham terrain, you ask? Well, we have a number of delphiniums which grow tall and elegant but have a habit of falling over. Those who remember Jurgen Klinsman’s days at White Hart Lane will agree this is apt. While I would hope that all of my bought-in plants will be successful, having done my research on them, looking up their statistics on the RHS website and even taken time to view them at other gardens, I doubt that all will deliver what they promise.
In addition to the plants I bought, I have a number of home-grown candidates that I am growing from seed – my academy players, if you like. I have high hopes that the Echinacea White Swan seedlings might prove to be my Harry Kanes, though only time will tell. But I live in hope: one cannot help feeling proud when it is one of your own that performs so well up front.
At the moment, like the current Tottenham team, the border looks dull and lifeless, lacking spark or imagination. But I am hopeful that, in time, it will be more “Poch” than “Jose” in style. I imagine that some of the combinations of planting will work well together with good cohesion and synchronicity, while at other times and in other parts, it will be shambolic. And while I expect it will do well for much of the summer, it will no doubt fade by the end of the season.
To be truly Spurs-like I guess the border should be easy on the eye and unlikely to win any silverware. But don’t judge me on this season alone. This gardening game is a marathon, not a sprint. We take each plant as it comes. We do not look too far ahead but we will give it one hundred and ten per cent.
But I would not want to be judged on just one season. The pundits should only judge me after two years, by which time, perhaps, Josh’s Border – the “Spursy Bed” – might have clinched the Village Champions League title for best in the parish.
It will have been worth all that “hard work”.