Now that's magic: How to distract the eye from end-of-year malaise
Sunday 23 October 2011
It probably doesn't happen to, say, Linda Evangelista, but most of us do have days where we wake up, look in the mirror and just want to weep. Even if the hair is half-decent and the wrinkles aren't too gouged, the sight of the same old face, with all its disappointing familiarity, leads to teary thoughts of mortality. Or at least major plastic surgery.
The phenomenon also extends to gardens, where October can bring on a whole rash of self-critical pondering. Green acres of positive mental attitude will not prevent a heart sinking fast on contemplation of the pathetic reality outside. The summer has passed; all uncompleted jobs now roll over to next year. Far from feeling like relief, instead there is a deathly clinging sense that a gardener will never, ever be free. Or even finished.
When the malaise hits, though, there are still tasks worth attempting. Tackling the areas that will be the most visible over the next few months is a high priority. In autumn we all spend more time inside the house, looking out, so target areas such as window boxes, front gardens and the view from the sink where you wash up.
Front gardens are a whole other problem. If you are a minimalist, you might enjoy my neighbour's solution: a single magnolia tree, which will flower in early spring, surrounded by white pebbles laid over weed-proof membrane. The grey trunk of the tree with its soft furry buds cheers every morning of the new year, and the whole effect is smart and clean. On the other hand, as a non-minimalist myself, I'm growing more than 200 tulip bulbs. In a mix of colours I may come to regret.
One of the best gardening techniques is simple magician-style distraction. Plan an eye-catching basket of winter bulbs for the centre of your garden table, and move it into your direct eyeline from the house. Choose something that flowers early, such as hyacinths, with astonishing colour and fragrance – "Woodstock", for example (three bulbs for £2.70, avonbulbs.co.uk) – then overplant the bulbs with cyclamen and ivy for some colour and foliage over the winter. (Cyclamen hederifolium are already in flower, and are very pretty: £5.99 a pot, crocus.co.uk.) Or trail tongues of ivy over the edge of the seat of an outside chair – a little display to draw the eye away from problems elsewhere.
Finally, keep an eye on the detail. Hellebores are some of the best plants for this time of year, with their beautiful, odd flowers, but they have a bad shoegazing habit of turning their heads downwards. They need to be somewhere you can actually admire the blooms – on a doorstep, on a window sill, or right outside the back door. Once they have finished flowering, you can plant them somewhere they will actually like, but in the meantime, drink them in. You may even find yourself smiling in the mirror.
1. Viburnum Bodnantense
My mum swears by planting these near dustbins. Then at least you get a lungful of perfume as you carry out the wintry rubbish. Flowers from November. £12.99, crocus.co.uk
2. Magnolia Stellata
A smaller magnolia with bright-white, star-shaped flowers, to lift your spirits on dark days, from February. £19.99, crocus.co.uk
3. Hellebore Harvington Lilac
Suitable for a large container, with huge pale flowers from February. £9.99, crocus.co.uk. Underplant with Iris reticulata "Harmony" for a simultaneous show of tiny dark-blue drama. £3.20, avonbulbs.co.uk
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