New year

Twelfth Night was yesterday. Decorations have been put away, lights switched off, front doors defoliated. Green plastic boxes stuffed with cards and crumpled wrapping paper line the bin day morning pavements, jostling for space with the relics of Christmas trees past. The holidays are done and dusted, and January is upon us.

They call it new year. We know this is wrong, that this is still a time for reflection on the year that has gone, that – ordinarily – we have dark, cold, grey weeks ahead of us before we welcome in the new season with the noticeable lengthening of the days and the rising of the sap. For Pete’s sake, it’s the middle of winter still. Who decided that this thing – this turning up of the calendar – would occur with such indecent haste, so soon after the turning of the year? There will be sound and sensible explanations for it – good reasons why they decided to declare the new year in January. But they’re not our explanations. Not my reasons.

So not yet, for me at least, a period of looking forward, though this is not far off now. Each day this week the post has brought another seed catalogue, even – joy! – some seeds. But I’m saving these a while. Just now, I’m taking stock, reviewing the catalogue of photos from the past twelve months’ gardening, wallowing in what went well, and noting down areas for improvement.

We gardeners get to make dreamy spaces. Here is one; the brief – make us a prairie garden where the veg patch was. Only with tree fruit. And soft fruit. So I did, pausing only to wonder if this kind of garden was A Thing, before realising that it didn’t really matter either way. That’s one of the benefits of having your own garden – you can make it what you will, according to your time and resources.

First I lifted, and barrowed, and tidied. There were a lot of paving stones. Then I began to carve new beds from the lawn – for the first hour or so, this is as satisfying and effortless as drawing with a fat, brown crayon on a huge sheet of green paper.

After a while, you begin to feel it, in your shoulders, down your back, in the tightness of your thighs and forearms. The turfing iron became my constant companion – so much better than a spade for this job – until one day I suddenly lost the knack, or so I thought, until I realised all that was needed was for me to rekeen the edge of the blade.

And day by day, the new garden began to take shape, turf lifted from one area relaid, rolled and watered to fit the contours of the new design, until the veg patch was no more than a memory.

There are situations in which a rotavator is a useful machine, though not as many as you’d think. This wasn’t one of them. The plan was always to mulch heavily, digging being called for only in the excavation of holes in which to put the plants, which began to arrive now in number. We’re fortunate to be only a few miles from How Green Nursery and, though by this time they were frantically busy with work for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Simon was able to fit me in between delivery runs up to London.

Grassy. A barrow full of Deschampsia and Miscanthus.

And then, the rabbits arrived.

In fairness, the rabbits had been there all along. We knew this, which is why we’d taken pains to consult lists of appropriately rabbit resistant plants. The rabbits clearly hadn’t read the same lists. 

Rabbit-munched – Rudbeckia

Tough stems of Verbena bonariensis and Eupatorium maculatum, the hairy leaves of Rudbeckias and Echinaceas – all fell before the lapine hooligans. Grasses fared no better, the flowering tips of Deschampsia 'Goldtau' clearly being delicious, while not even Stipa gigantea got out of things unscathed. The plump flowering buds on Leucanthemums, left completely alone elsewhere in the garden, were demolished almost as soon as they appeared. A handful on our planting list were clearly unappetising; Actaea simplex 'Brunette', the scented foliage of Achillea 'Gold Plate' and Phlomis russeliana among them.

Rabbit-proof – Achillea

A regularly applied spray of chilli and garlic was found to be more of a seasoning than a deterrent. Green mesh structures appeared; a variety of forms made of plastic and wire, all pressed into service as the first line of defence against the rabbits. These were more successful, if unsightly – although the green colour went some way to mitigating the visual noise, they still intrude to a degree. But it’s a small price to pay and, as the plants mature, will become less of an issue.

Mesh, top right, protecting a clump of Deschampsia cespitosa 'Goldtau' from hungry rabbits

That was Year One. The new year brings into prospect the increased resilience of a more mature planting with established root systems, though I’ll still need to keep a watchful eye for damage. Good, solid and tough plants is what I want here – well tended, but not pampered or over-fed. We have a few backup plans, too, the least drastic of which involves planting a sacrificial crop close by, whilst at the other extreme...well. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that, for the sake of the rabbits’ 2016.

Your turn: what were your gardening highlights of 2015? Share the highs and lows with me on twitter, or in the comments below.