Wells Voice Article August 2023

Photo: Senecio jacobaea in the border (PH)

‘I will now amuse the Fleet with a signal'. So spoke Nelson on the poop deck before the great naval battle commenced. Not everyone below nor those above decks were amused. Admiral Collingwood aboard HMS Royal Sovereign grumbled, 'I wish Nelson would stop signalling. We know well enough what to do'. It was, of course, the most famous message sent in naval history viz 'England confides that every man will do his duty.'

But it was not his last. Before a shot was fired, Nelson's final command was 'Engage the enemy more closely’. A slogan in fact adopted right across the services in subsequent battle grounds. Some gardeners regard their cultivated patches as some sort of battle zone. Pests to be exterminated, weeds to be eradicated, stripes on the lawn and all under the thumb of the householder. Others take a different approach. One of the most popular speakers to the Gardening Club has been the botanist and lecturer at Oxford and former Director of the Oxford Botanic Gardens, Timothy Walker. One of his talks is entitled 'On top but never in control'. Which seems to me to sum up what most of us meet when we pick up the garden fork. Yet all is not lost, I tell myself. Many of us have adopted and adapted Nelson's advice this year and have 'engaged with Nature more closely'. The garden has matured, I tell myself. Apart from the usual amounts of soapwort, enchanter's nightshade and wood avens, there have been one or two interesting encroachments. Yes, the grass has grown long and straggly and a few brown butterflies flutter through it. Ragwort, complete with those handsome wasp-striped caterpillars of the equally handsome cinnabar moth has infiltrated the border. What is more my wife called it a splendid addition to the planting scheme, so there it stays. Were it an introduction from the slopes of the Nepalese mountains and sold in garden centres, we'd be queuing for it. The lovely shrub rose Souvenir de St Annes with its pale pink translucent blooms has been surrounded by a circle of nipplewort (You didn't expect that, did you?) A bit of a colour clash but we had to wait to see what happened. All these gate crashers have made the garden more interesting, and we might pay for it later though I'm happy with the ragwort as there are not many horses grazing in the Bath Road.

If we can stop worrying about the garden, let Nature do what Nature does (within reason, of course) we can leave the anxieties to others in August and visit other people's plots. We next meet as a club in the Town Hall on 14th September 2023 at 7:30pm to hear the award-winning journalist and gardener Sally Nex. Pip.