The Darling Buds of May at Laurel Cottage
The man is the book; the book is the man. This incontestable truth, which I often repeat to myself, I claim to be as true of gardens as it is of authors and their books. As a man is, so is his garden. He is a reflection of it. And it of him. For this reason, whenever I am asked how I planned my garden, I always reply, “I didn’t. It evolved.”
So said H E Bates in his book “A Fountain of Flowers”.
He later included praise following a visit from a garden professional.
“I loved your garden because it gave the feeling of being loved.”
We came to live in Laurel Cottage to witness a love affair. Diddley was already here, briefly, from her earlier life. Bobby reluctantly, as he had lived in a bigger house with a garden he adored. Here at Laurel Cottage there was no room for his beloved greenhouse. No room even for a lawn. The tiny front garden was dominated by a ghastly garage, drive in, brick walls and iron gates.
No – the romance would take them somewhere new.
Suddenly one morning he had a flash of inspiration. “Let’s live here and I will transform the house and garden.”
Diddley was over the moon. “Do what you like, as long as we stay here and are happy. Just one thing. The garden can only have white or ivory flowers.”
What followed is unbelievable now. Already in his mid fifties, he had a burst of energy over three years that did indeed transform both house and garden. The garden being the most dramatic change. Everything was knocked down in the front garden to restore it to a cottage garden. The car was consigned to the road.
The slabs of concrete paths and patio front and back all broken up. Few plants survived the revolution. A year-old Wisteria and a white Montana Clematis in the front. An unruly Clematis Armandii in the back. In came a Victorian brick path, constructed from 150 year-old reclaimed wire cut bricks from a demolished Cheltenham town house. From the Cotswolds.
“Can it be curved herringbone?” Diddley asked.
Picket fences and pergolas too. Nothing else was planned. Plants arrived from holidays. From whimsical moments. And an obsession with him at garden centres and nurseries. Over twenty three years, far more have disappeared than stayed.
And finally, his battle with Ground Elder has reached a compromise following years of trying every remedy known to man. If it annoys him, he pulls it up. Otherwise it is a welcome green backdrop. In old age we have to pick our battles carefully and live in harmony. Living for today.
So here we are. It’s May once more. The month that Diddley adored above all else. Starting on Mayday itself, with the traditional pub ‘lunch’ with old friends. ‘White and ivory’ succumbed to every colour under the sun. Diddley herself succumbed, leaving us and a garden we love to the forces of nature and Bobby’s declining energy.
Even the White Montana succumbed. Leaving an opportunity to change the garden once more.
The title of this story brings back thoughts of a television series. Itself a product from H E Bates original stories of the Larkin family. Ultimately, it’s an excuse to once again treat you to Sonnet 18:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
The Darling Buds of May at Laurel Cottage
“To thine own self be true”
“Blimey. More Bleedin Shakespeare!”
Diddley wore these words engraved on a ring. Itself on a necklace. If we follow the true loves of Diddley and Bobby, we would travel beyond the confines of a little garden. Stroll down country lanes. Across meadows. Alongside streams. There we would find the true Darling Buds of May. In Diddley’s eyes the wonderfully exuberant, frothy clouds of Cow Parsley. And who could argue with her.
Many of our readers like the musical interludes. Some have expressed their love for Dire Straits. (The band, that is). So here is a track we think suits this story admirably. “Ticket to Heaven”.
Lighting a Candle for Diddley