A shady sanctuary

I am suffering from iritis. I have not, as the name may suggest, suddenly developed an irrational desire to avoid the Iridaceae family at all costs, nor do I break out in an itchy rash when faced with the species. On the contrary I am enchanted by the depth of colour and intricate markings that nearly all iris flowers display. It’s my own iris that’s the problem; not the ones in the garden, I trust they are behaving themselves, it’s the one in my eye that’s not.

I won’t bore you with the details but, needless to say, getting smacked in the eye by the branch of a large, established climbing rose bloody hurts. My battered iris is taking time out to recover and, thanks to the twice daily dose of pupil dilating drops, looks like its been out partying all night.

Like a stuck shutter on a camera my eye is letting in too much light and the glare of this glorious spring sunshine is proving too much. I spent a few days whingeing, scriking and moaning then realised it wasn’t helping and decided instead to make a few alterations to my daily day.

A recent extension to our house has increased the amount of shade in an already shady, north facing back garden and it’s been making me fractious. Now I have discovered this neglected gravel courtyard, that sits in the permanent shadow of the house, is the perfect place to escape the glare of the midday sun; it has become a calm and peaceful sanctuary.

Recent musings, whilst perched on a shady step sipping tea, have resulted in a decision to fill this space with all sorts of plants; plants that wont just tolerate shade, they will positively thrive in it. Already mentha requienii, more commonly Corsican mint, is creeping in. This tiniest of mint loves a damp shady spot and soon spreads across pathways and over stones, releasing its fresh, cool-mint fragrance when trodden underfoot. Soon it will be joined by plantings of ferns, ivy, tiarella and alchemilla mollis; I adore alchemilla especially after it has rained; droplets form in the dips of the leaves making tiny mirrors for the faerie-folk that will surely dwell in this part of the garden.

Soon I will be visiting another place of enchantment when I go to my favourite bluebell woods. These are not listed in the Saturday supplements under ’10 Best bluebell walks’, they are not advertised to all and sundry and I’m glad. Go on an organised walk through the woods with a group of perfect strangers and you’ve lost the magic, killed it stone dead. Instead I urge you to run from the hurly-burly, mercantile world of nature tourism and find your own secret place; a place where the trees whisper to one another and a silver ribbon of water trickles and trips across the forest floor.

For now my crepucsular activities continue down on the plot; beetroot and parsnip seeds are sown as day fades to dusk. In the half-light the rhubarb looms large and I pick several juicy stalks. Sweet Cicely, growing nearby looks lush and flavoursome.  Squeeze the leaves and you will release the unmistakeable scent of aniseed, a flavour that turns to sweetness during cooking.These two plants are best friends; add a handful of leaves to stewed rhubarb and you can halve the amount of sugar needed in a delicious crumble.

Sweet Cicely can be found growing wild in hedgerows but try and propagate it at home and it’s a different story unless, of course you don’t want it and then it will self-seed prolifically all over your plot. The young leaves look very similar to cow parsley and, more worryingly, hog-weed which is deadly. My advice is to cultivate a Sweet Cicely in your garden, it’ll last for years and may, if your lucky, set seed.

I have been lucky ( not with the Sweet Cicely I still only have one plant) I haven’t suffered any permanent damage to my eye and in a week or two it will be just fine. Until then I will wander about in the half light, enjoying the peacefulness of the evenings, engulfed by nature that never fails to fill me with an extraordinary sense of well-being.

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2 thoughts on “A shady sanctuary

  1. Sarah told me you write beautifully, and you do. Hope your eye recovers soon and you can enjoy the sunny side of the street (and your garden) again. Till then, enjoy the shade, and the bluebells. x

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