Helen Peacocke reveals how she transformed a wilderness into a delightful rose garden with a tale of Cadfael & the Rambling Rector. Visit Eynsham in Bloom; collect her seasonal recipes; visit her dog-friendly pubs.
It is difficult to pin-point the exact moment my garden in Acre End Street, Eynsham turned into a jungle - but it did. Suddenly the lawn vanished. In its place an unkempt area of weeds tall enough to hide a tiger or two.
Flowerbeds that once boasted fragrant collections of herbs disappeared under a tangled mass of woody sage bushes, twisted shoots of ivy wrapped themselves over the wall, and the path dropped out of sight completely.
It was a mess and I was ashamed, mainly because I'd failed to notice that exact moment of transition from garden to wilderness. I had to bite the bullet and start the garden all over again.
But where to start and what to plant? The name of the cottage finally determined that. What else can you plant in the garden of ROSE COTTAGE apart from roses?
And so began the extraordinary task of selecting the rose bushes, which arrived by mail as bare-rooted plants clothed in brown paper shrouds and bound with string.
Foxgloves, campanula, pansies and hollyhocks were also chosen to complement the roses and create a cottage garden feel.
And all the while, throughout the various changes, the robin looked on. The blackbird too. Both surveying the scene, waiting for my fork to expose yet another worm.
Then, as May gave way to June, the moment of truth approached - but had I got it right? Would William Lobb, a rose chosen for his heavily mossed buds and large purple-magenta blooms, be happy on his own at the bottom of the garden? Or should I have given him some female company - Gertrude Jekyll, perhaps?
Would Capitaine John Ingram, considered to be the most charming of all moss roses, accept the crumbly conditions of my soil and provide me with the purple blooms I required, or would this arrogant gentleman turn dark crimson and throw my colour scheme of pink, white and purple into complete chaos?
I was told he could turn from purple to crimson if soil conditions or weather don't agree and chose the classic damask rose Comte de Chambord instead, which, having flourished in English gardens since 1863, would provide a constant supply of deep pinkish-lilac flowers throughout the summer.
Then there was Paws, a short bushy shrub. Ordering this highly perfumed beauty seemed a good idea at the time - I wanted to pacify the dog, provide him with a link with the newly created garden on which his paws were now banned.
I was confident that Reine des Violettes will be happy. This beautiful queen, who bears few thorns, was planted just a few feet from The Prince, known for his fragrant royal purple full-rosette blooms. They would certainly make good bedfellows.
But should I have planted them quite so close to Brother Cadfael? Reliable highly perfumed chap though he is, he needs space to develop naturally. Would he hold back if their antics embarrassed him? Turn towards the wall perhaps - ashamed to watch their friendship develop for fear that hybrids will emerge? Such things have to be considered.
Tuscany Superb was certainly given enough space and privacy to allow his velvet blooms to emerge in full strength, so was The Rambling Rector, who has an entire lawn and an apple tree in which to declare himself. When a fellow is described as a rampant climber renowned for vigour, he has to be respected. Space he needed - space he was given. He rambled immediately as one possessed, having accepted the challenge of reaching the top of a 20 foot tree, while thrusting out small branches near his roots on which small cream blooms formed perfectly. What a sight he's going to be in a couple of years.
Then there's: Pegasus, Carefree Days, Cider Cup and Silver Anniversary, would they get on with William Morris, planted nearby?
Sally's Rose would definitely flourish - I had no concern about a rose which shares the name of a much loved and very tenacious friend who knows how to fight for her own space. Others such as Sweet Dreams, Flower Power, and Peace will settle too - of that there's no doubt. And Albertine, (a gift from Oxfordshire's leading rose grower, Robert Mattock), a rambler known for her superb double pink flowers, vigour and strong constitution, who snuggled into her corner by the shed immediately.
The late arrivals Picasso, the first of Sam McGredy's hand-painted roses and his companions Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne and Grimaldi who travelled from Delbard's French nursery to bloom in my garden could have been a problem particularly as I don't speak French - but even that's been sorted. I've planted them close to Reine des Violettes, who understands where they are coming from.
With all the roses in place - all I could do was wait.
It was when I noticed fledgling blackbirds swooping round the garden and banging snail shells against the paving stones I knew I'd got it right.
Bartholomew Players’ latest production takes the stage on 26-9 November. Paul Stammers introduces and reviews.
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