The Original Planting of the Garden
In the first place the garden was full of ivy. Not ordinary Ivy but a special sort of North American ivy that has jungle-sized leaves and growth habits. A neighbour once came to apologise for having planted this about 20 years ago, but it’s too late now. It is rampant and has formed a thick dry carpet of roots and creeping stems about a metre deep on top of the crumbling bank. I had no idea what the actual land looked like before I started ripping this growth off from it. Initially I made the mistake of working and working without any thought for what I would do with the material harvested from the pruning I was doing. I was left with piles of tangled prickly garden waste at the end of the day, then at the end of the week. These days I chop and trim the waste as I go along, having learnt my lesson from dealing with a seasons worth of damp black ivy and brambles that had been left too long. The smell of this ivy when you rip it up is rude and nasty. Embedded within this ivy, so deeply that it was invisible to the eye was an old shed that the first owner of the property (an alcoholic, according to local legend) built for himself and perhaps his dog.
The other smelly growth is the geranium, a rapid-fire speed-creeping geranium, but this has the benefit that it keeps the soil clear of other more pernicious weeds and is easy to pull out. It spreads via underground tubers and covers the ground rapidly once established. The smell is like none other and if you have been working with it, the clothes you have worn will retain the geranium odour until next washed. An enveloping smell.
The Ferns constitute one more large proportion of the garden’s natural flora. They love it. Large and well established ferns grow at any height, and upon investigation are found to have substantial root balls so dense that they are impossible for me to move, and which upon overnight consideration I decided to leave as they obviously play a large part in supporting the bank and its boulders. An interest in ferns has led to the purchase a number of old books with lovely plates to pore over in brief breaks from the labour
Ferns are intimately tied up with the history of the area I live in, the South Pennines, through the endeavours of the handloom weavers in the field of natural history. These working class naturalists (described charmingly in the book ‘Scientists in Humble Life: The Artisan Naturalists of South Lancashire’ as ‘a remarkably and imperfectly understood phenomenon in the social history of south Lancashire, the working class naturalist) – were responsible for the discovery and recording of the natural environment around Manchester, ranging far and wide on foot in search of plants, insects, fossils and rocks. Lancashire handloom weavers, for some reason also concentrated on the cultivation of ‘giant if not always tasty, gooseberries’.