When Russell was a Sprig, during the war, the front garden was taken up by an Anderson shelter but afterwards, his parents reshaped the area with crazy paving around three circular flower beds. Beyond those, there were long narrow raised beds, faced with flint and, behind those two, there was an elm hedge, with a big elm tree in the middle. This all died of course, in the first sweep of Dutch elm disease and had all been removed by the time I first came to the house. There wasn’t a hedge or a tree there at all and there still isn’t, for a reason I’ll come to later.
When Russell and his older brother and sister were in their teens, Pa and Ma had a tennis court put in – this would have been around 1950. The land was taken out of the four acre field between the garden and the road and a privet hedge was planted on two sides against the field. On the other short side, there was a small lawn and the ‘tennis court hut’, a summer house where all the equipment was kept and where people could sit to watch others play. Pa and Ma would have been in their mid fifties themselves, quite sporty and active and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d had tennis parties with their friends, though I don’t know for sure.
By the time we moved in, the court was long disused and grown over, but the bricks around the edge were still in good condition and the upright irons that had supported the fence were still there. The fence itself was gone. After a year or so, we had the court relaid, but we couldn’t also afford new surrounding netting, so we just chased a lot of balls into the field. Then we had the bright idea of buying fruit cage netting, which was a cheap substitute until we had a dog who kept running into it and breaking it. In the end, we had to bite the bullet and get proper mesh, which we put up ourselves.
Pa and Ma had roses in those three circular beds, but they were old and sickly by the time we moved in. It’s a very sunny, dry spot and gets all the south and western sun. The soil is sand over gravel. We took out all the roses (and planted them elsewhere, we didn’t have the heart to throw them away) and I got the Bressingham Gardens catalogue, which was fabulous. The nursery is nothing now, it used to be owned by the Bloom family, who raised a lot of plants and bred many new varieties. Eventually, it was bought out and nothing is grown there now, it’s all bought in and it’s like any other place to buy plants and expensive garden stuff – no better or worse than any other, but nothing like the old days. Anyway, I spent a week or two choosing what to buy. My criteria were, interesting foliage, mostly evergreen, thriving in hot, sunny conditions and poor soil and no more than 4 feet tall in maturity. Much of what I planted in one bed is still there, though the other bed was finally taken over by eryngium after everything else finally died and the central bed never thrived – I discovered in the end that a seam of almost straight gravel runs through that, it’s hard to get anything going without lots of watering.
Some years later, we got fed up with weeding the crazy paving, took it all up and laid several inches of gravel over sheets of black plastic, though we cut holes to plant things. Now, the area is quite neglected and one of the projects for next year is to enliven it. It’s okay, but there’s a lot of vetch that keeps cropping up, ground elder and, unfortunately, brambles.
Regarding the hedge, Russell and I wanted to replace it and we agreed on a beech hedge. But I wanted green beech and he wanted copper beech and we never could agree on which. So it was never planted. I’m glad though, actually, it would have darkened the house unless cut quite low.