In the mid 90s a lady called Nell commandeered a strip of ground on my parents’ nursery. She’d been a customer of theirs for years, and the community garden she shared with her neighbours was being reclaimed by the local council.
Nell was a quietly tenacious woman in her late seventies. Unfazed by the council’s decision she uprooted her entire garden and replanted it alongside one of my parents’ glasshouses. Once the job was done, she kept coming back. She walked the four mile round trip from her flat to her new garden almost every day until she died in 2001. Old Nell, as we fondly called her, became part of the family. And her coffee and walnut cakes became the stuff of legend.
For more than ten years Nell’s garden has been left to its own devices. But when we visited my parents on Mother’s Day, Mum sent me out there, spade in hand, to see what I could find.
It turns out many of Nell’s perennials are still thriving – they’re just long overdue a lift and divide. So I enlisted my Dad and Steve to help and we came away with quite a haul.
There was a wonderful collection of hellebores right at the back of the garden. They are healthy and vigorous with masses of flowers. We only took two for now as I’m not quite sure where I’m going to put them.
Several dense clumps of snowdrops were just going over. Actually, dense is an understatement. One clump filled an entire crate once it was separated out. While I was digging I was half afraid I’d unearth a skeleton; Nell was known for picking up run-over cats and burying them with a handful of bulbs.
We found some more bulbs behind the hellebores. They have snowdrop-like leaves and the buds have a pinkish tinge. No idea what they are, but they look pretty. I’ll try to identify them once they open.
Dad knows I have a thing for peonies and found this beastie for me:
It really needs to be divided and, according to the RHS, this is best done in the autumn. I’m going to give it a go, but I doubt it will forgive me on time to flower this year.
We also have armfuls of cowslips and sedums. And Steve couldn’t resist a patch of monstrous rudbeckia. Judging by last year’s stems they’ll grow to a good seven foot. Who knows where they’ll go, perhaps they can plug a few gaps in the hedge.
Old Nell was quite a character and I remember her with much affection. I think she’d be glad to see her plants being given a new lease of life.