Birthday surprise

I woke yesterday to the sound of seagulls – these days more an indicator of proximity to rubbish than proximity to the sea but still evocative of my years in a convent school in Llandudno, to which they formed the constant soundtrack, sometimes mixed with the bleating of the wild goats on the Great Orme that came down when the weather was cold to nibble on the nuns’ underwear hung out on the clothes line at the top of the steep garden. Then I went out to the roof terrace to enjoy my morning coffee and inspect the night’s growth.

pink flower no 2

a pink greeting


About three weeks ago, the work was finally finished on my small back yard and larger roof terrace so I have at last been able to garden again: a great solace. The first priorities were to get some climbers started up the trellis in the yard, to plant some things with fruits and berries for the birds, and some tomatoes, peppers, french beans, salad greens and herbs for me. Then I started on the task of sorting through the contents of the twenty or so pots that came with me from Ferntower Road and have spent the last two years being shuffled about by builders who could barely control their annoyance between various locations in the bare shaded concrete yard and on the baked asphalt roof (including, at one point, being stacked vertically on top of each other). If nothing else, this has converted me to the merits of plastic pots. Many of the terracotta ones got broken, although i was able to save some of the contents by dumping them into plastic bags.
The results of this process confirm all those cliches about how nature abhors a vacuum and a weed is merely a flower in the wrong place. The varied and intricately inter-entangled life now flourishing in those neglected and overcrowded pots is quite astonishing. Some plants had obviously seeded themselves even before they began their 500-yard eastward journey to Dalston: now triumphantly flowering biennials like a foxglove and a cheery yellow snapdragon; perennials like euphorbia, geum and an obnoxious Japanese ornamental grass I could never quite get rid of; and some prolifically self-seeding annuals like nasturtiums that have battled the aphids to make it through several generations. Some plants that were actually meant to be in the pots survived the neglect and man-handling much better than others, particularly the nemesias which colonised a number of neighbouring pots as well as their own. The clematis armandii found it all too much to cope with but the wisteria not only survived but left little offspring in other pots as well. It is now scampering up my front wall at great speed, so happy to have its roots back in the ground again.
The only way to separate the contents of most of these pots is to empty them out and work one’s way up from the bottom of the matted root-mass with one’s thumbs so that individual plants can be prised apart and given new homes in fresh soil. It is a slow task that will probably take me much of the rest of the summer to complete. Last thursday I tackled one pot that seemed past praying for: all that was visible on the surface was that horrible ornamental grass, a tangle of clover, crow’s foot (which is one of my favourite weeds, so cheerful and accommodating and easy to pull up, but i have plenty of it elsewhere so it is dispensible) and some very invasive and mildew-prone michelmas daisies. I was just about to dump the whole lot into the garden waste when I noticed, right at the bottom of the pot, a small pointed bulb. I rescued this and shoved it into the nearest container.
Yesterday morning, in my garden inspection, two days later, I noticed that this had already shot up a delicate pink spike. By lunchtime, this had opened into the pink flower shown here
pink flower

my birthday surprise


I do not remember ever having seen it before or planting it. I do not even know what it is. It could be some sort of crocus but I have never known one before that has pushed itself up without a few needly leaves. The way the flower has come up all on its own and trembles in the breeze reminds me a bit of those indomitable white lilies one comes across on duny beaches around the Mediterranean, above the sea line. The most likely thing I can think of is a colchicum, but they flower in the Autumn. Could it be that my moving it from the bottom of a pot to a point near the surface tricked it into thinking it had accomplished three months travel up through the soil to the sun in a single day? Whatever the explanation, it was the most lovely birthday surprise!

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