Jul 13 2012

Rain Rain Rain

As I stare out of the study window at the relentless rain I realise that no sooner had I celebrated the gloriousness of May sunshine lighting up the scarlet Embothrium against an azure blue sky than the heavens opened. It has rained almost continuously ever since.

Rain, rain, rain, not Raining Sideways, not the sideways rain of summer that drifts gently in a delicate curtain across the valley refreshing crops and clearing the humid summer air. No, just a straight forward, straight down deluge which has brought devastating flooding all across Britain; no sun, no break in the cloud, no comforting summer warmth, no uplifting glow of sunlight,  just grey skies, low temperatures and Rain.

Donkeys get fractious in their big barn day after day eating straw instead of wet grass. Desert animals by origin, they don’t do well outside in wet weather unlike the sturdy ponies on the moor. Shorn sheep shelter with their fat lambs in the hedgerows and the chickens vote with their feet and stay inside. Cats race round the house playing rough games instead of hunting in the fields. Even the dogs give me a funny look when I suggest a walk over the hills in the rain.

Next weekend, July 21st and 22nd, seven beautiful village gardens will open their gates to visitors for the National Garden Scheme. It seemed such a good idea planning it with Marina all those months ago in the warmth of a gentle autumn sun. Little did we know what nature had in store. Now all we can do is pray for two dryish afternoons.

Dittisham is such a beautiful village. It overlooks the widest stretch of the River Dart just three miles upriver from Dartmouth.  In the past, it has always been protected from the worst weather by rolling hills and the temperance of the Gulf Stream; a gardeners paradise. Thatched cottages with gardens filled with all the old fashioned favourites, look out across the river to Dartmoor in the distance. There are modern gardens too with contemporary planting, one even now under construction.

Terraced gardens cling to the hillside, and cream teas will be served on the sweeping lawns at Middle Meadow. The famous Dit’sum Plum orchards flourish still and Agatha Christie’s house, Greenway, is to be seen amongst the trees in the distance across the water on the far bank. Without doubt it is the perfect setting for a beautiful summer afternoon walk; I will hold the faith that the rain will cease.

It did stop briefly for our open days here at Bramble Torre recently. After frantic preparations dashing out between showers or simply getting soaked again and again, we managed to be ready to open despite the weather.

Grass was cut, edges trimmed, beds weeded, planting out completed but, best of all, my tiny new Parterre was completed in the nick of time. Well, a grandiose name for my small space, but never the less a little terrace of box hedge, narrow paths and gravel all beautifully laid out by Stephen who somehow managed to replicate the picture in my head. A huge old stone roller, a relic of the days of horse drawn farming, was moved in the manner of Stonehenge across the garden to form a centre piece upon which to display a little Bronze Bird by Bridget McCrum.

Despite all the hard work I was still far from optimistic that anyone would turn up and risk a soaking just to look at our horticultural efforts. I was wrong. We had two dry afternoons and the visitors flocked in.

Warmed by the sun, buds unfurled their damp petals.

Water lilies, so unceremoniously divided and replanted by me last winter, suddenly exploded into a mass of waxy white flowers, foxgloves and delphiniums stood to attention beside spiky verbena bonariensis. A bank of blue geraniums nodded in the gentle warmth. Hostas and Solomon Seal stood up against the slugs.  Even the roses, weeks late, began to flower at last. And strangely the afore mentioned embothrium held onto its scarletness weeks later than usual and added to the cacophony of singing colours.

The vegetable garden tried to put on a brave face. Despite neatly strimmed grass and crisply trimmed box hedge, it is struggling. Sweet peas still cling reluctantly to the bottom of their wigwam, flowering feebly. Beans refuse to move due to extreme low night time temperatures. Sweet corn is on a go slow and courgettes seem to have shrunk into the ground, smaller indeed than when I planted them out. Only majestic old Cavalo Nero and huge red cabbages thrive between the giant leaves of Inula and horse radish; a very strange year indeed.

But despite all this everybody enjoyed themselves, delighted, they told me, to be out in the sunshine at last.  Cream teas, donated by The Anchorestone Café and the Dartmouth Dairy, flew off the shelf with the help of a band of wonderful helpers, despite outdoor seating and a stiff breeze; and we had no rain!

So all in all sharing our beautiful village and raising money for Macmillan, Marie Curie, Help the Hospices and Cross Road Care through the NGS is indeed very worthwhile if a little nerve wracking this year.

We won’t let any sort of Rain, Sideways or vertical, beat us!

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