Sunday, 23 November 2014

Out with the old

Garden shoes/boots are a key piece of gardening kit.  Above all else when I talk of constant companions in the garden, the shoes I am wearing are pretty much a constant.  For many years I have had these trusty gardening shoes.  These are not proper gardening shoes, bought with that purpose in mind.  They were originally just a pair of shoes I wore fairly often but I gradually fell out of love with them.  I am not sure why they began to displease but once I had the thought in mind that I did not like them then I felt they needed a new purpose in mind.  They were promoted to be my gardening shoes and whilst I am not sure how long they have held that honour, it is a good seven or eight years I reckon.
In truth it is clear they have seen better days.  The side seam has gone on both shoes, they were once suede but you cannot tell that any more and they also show paint spots from the shed painting earlier this year.  They gave up being waterproof a while ago and that has been their downfall.  I can stand most things but cold wet feet is not a happy thing.

I have been looking at replacements for some time but somehow could not settle on what I wanted to get.  Then the other day a gardening friend came to visit and as she took her boots off to come into the house I remarked how nice I thought her boots were.  There was a brief  discussion and moment of admiration and the name of a website changed hands.

Even then it took me a week or so still to get around to ordering the new boots, but one soggy footed day in the garden too many and the die was cast - there had to be new boots.

Colour choice was easy, if red is in the choice of colours then red it will be.  A click later and the boots were finally ordered and delivered in time for the next weekend of gardening.
They are waterproof (hurrah) and dry (hurrah)
They can be artfully arranged, (that's as artful as I can get)
and they fit.  Even though it has been far too wet to garden this weekend, the ground is totally saturated, a good wander around the garden in the new boots led them to be declared a success,
I now need some decent gardening trousers!
There was even a small, but distinct, happy boot dance.

There should also be a song, this did take some thought as really I knew only Nancy Sinatra would do - this is one of my all time favourite songs and videos, but
....I felt that another contender had to be included as I kept thinking of one my favourite albums from back in the day - what else could it be but 'New Boots and Panties' (1977 Ian Dury) and probably my favourite track off the album and one of the first singles I ever bought for myself which is:
and my old boots - well, they are now in the bin, discarded, unloved and just a fading memory.  Totally replaced by the new red boots.  They do not rate the veneration of Gertrude Jekyll's boots, they are not worthy of the Leaping Beryllians to jump in honour of.  No they are just now sad cast-offs, destined for the rubbish tip.  I almost feel a twinge of sorrow for them but then the red new boots wink at me again and the old ones are promptly forgotten.  Such is life.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Cape Aloe

It is so hard to write anything about an aloe without making reference to 'Allo 'Allo, but I am not going to any further than just that.  I have acknowledged that the joke is there waiting to be made, but I am walking away from it with great restraint.

Moving swiftly on.  I have been very lucky to be asked sometimes to trial plants and whilst I obviously like receiving plants I already know and love, I have written previously about how much I enjoy being challenged to grow plants I have not previously considered.  This does not mean I just greedily accept any plant, if I am not interested in growing it at all I will say so as it would be a pointless exercise for all concerned.  I was recently contacted by Jersey Plants Direct to see if I would be interested in receiving a Cape Aloe plant, I thought about it quite a bit as these are not plants I have much experience of.  I decided to say yes as they are a plant I like and it seemed a good challenge.
The plant arrived very well packaged.  I particularly liked the addition of the terracotta pot and saucer.  The plant was separate from these in a plastic pot which meant they could all be individually wrapped and arrived safely in good condition.
The plant itself is a good size, was in nicely damp compost and came complete with leaflet and label.  The leaflet explains the history of using aloe gel and also how to harvest and store it yourself from the plant.  There are also some nice disclaimers about if you do use the gel then it is at your own risk.  Always better safe than sorry!
I really liked the label, it was nice and clear and told me quickly all I needed to know.  Whilst I can grow things relatively well in the garden (apart from the things that die - shush), I am generally not a good house-plant grower; except I have been improving on this.  The past couple of years I have been growing things indoors far more successfully, mainly because I have been taking it more seriously and thinking more about what I am doing.  I am hopeful that this aloe will thrive and I am immensely grateful to Rosie for sending it to me.  Thank you.

Sunday, 16 November 2014


Autumn and winter is a time of bright sharp cold glorious days and those grey, dampish if not torrential rainyish, cloudy days.  Both have their values, the greyness has to be embraced the same as the bright days, even though I can find that hard to do.  It seems easy to just stay inside and let the damp and the grey do its thing but if I get outside into the garden I generally find I can get lots done and feel a sense of achievement I had not expected for that day.
As long as it is not pouring with rain, or frozen solid, every day no matter the season is a potential gardening day and depending on the time of year will depend on what I might want/need to do.  Quite often I wander outside not exactly sure what I am going to tackle but knowing that after my compulsory circuit of inspection of the garden something will be demanding my attention.  The other day was just such a day.  It was grey, a bit blowy, but mild with a hint of damp "its going to rain soon" in the air.

I did my inspection, which usually involves a pair of secateurs in my hand and the first task that presented itself to me was the cutting back of the large wild rose in the Conservatory Border.  This rose is totally in the wrong place and every year I cut it back hard.  Every year it grows huge again and I sometimes think I should move it.  I decided today was the day, the rose decided that it was not the day.  After a bit of digging it became clear that this brute of a rose was not going anywhere in a hurry.  I replaced the soil I had removed, said I was sorry and watered it back in.  Another time maybe.....
I now needed to do something more definite.  There was a task I have been considering for some time since the great tree debacle earlier this year which was to remove one of the large overhanging branches of the horse chestnut tree at the top of the garden.  It is a fine tree though quite badly damaged by having the (now stumpy) poplar tree fall on it in ever increasing chunks.  The damage has opened up the tree but has made it look unbalanced.  It has also meant I have stared at it quite a bit and I became convinced that this particular large branch was going out over the garden too much and had to go.  So I fetched a ladder and my trusty pruning saw and I started work.  As often happens I got part way through and wondered whether this was actually a task too many, something I might not be able to do.  The branch was a good eight inches in diameter and was proving more resilient than I expected.  Once sawing however, one can hardly stop and hope for the best.  I had to keep going and thankfully it did finally part company from the tree.  I tidied up the wound and now have a pile of logs at the top of the garden that will hopefully rot down for wildlife.  I was very pleased with this job.
I then decided it was time to relocate the Pin Oak into its forever home in the front driveway.  This tree has been living the veg beds since earlier this year.  I love this tree very much, it has been stunning all year and is one of the best 'whim' purchases I have ever made.  I also planted a small Amalanchier taken from a rooted cutting into the driveway to keep it company.

I was now on a planting out roll so out into the Wild Garden went a Halesia Carolina bought a few weeks ago.  Then with the mood really upon me I decided to relocate the Liquidamber tree that has been struggling where it is currently located.  Now I admit I fear this might be tree-murder.  I am not convinced it will survive this move but then I am not convinced it was going to survive where it was anyway.  It was definitely not thriving.  I bought this tree a good three years ago and originally planted it where the Four Sisters are now.  When I relocated the Carol Klein acer to be one of the Four Sisters I swapped its place with the Liquidamber.  This was a big mistake and, to be honest, an obviously stupid mistake.  I was moving the Carol Klein acer because it was unhappy where it was, it must be a bit of a wind funnel in that part of the garden and the acer was not happy.  The Liquidamber has been equally unhappy in that place and I do not want to lose it.  This is my second Liquidamber, the first fell victim to a brushcutter incident about six months after I moved into this house.  I had planted it as an early settler to the garden and it was a beautiful specimen and was growing really well.  I was clearing some of the undergrowth around it one day and accidentally got carried away and cut it down too.  I was very upset by this and got rid of the brushcutter as I decided I was unsafe with it.   So the relocated Liquidamber has been moved to close to where the original one was planted.  It is definitely a better spot and I am hoping that it will now survive and thrive.  You may be relieved to know I have not planted anything else in the windy spot, I think I have realised now it is not a good planting position.
After all this I sat back, drank tea and looked at the sky.  The light was starting to go, they greyness was getting greyer and the clouds were looking more like rain was on its way.  Even though it had been quite blowy it had been a good productive day and I felt like the garden progressed; I had embraced the grey.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

A wander around Stoneywell Cottage, Ulverscroft

Stoneywell Cottage is the first house for the National Trust in Leicestershire and the nearest one to where I live.  I was rather excited to read about it when it was first announced and when the chance came up to go and visit I eagerly agreed.
I am not going to go into too many of the  details of the house, it was designed by Ernest Gimson (architect and furniture designer) for his brother Sidney and family as a summer home.  The Gimson family were Leicester based engineers and owned a large foundry in the City.  It is a fine example of an Arts and Crafts cottage and contains many beautiful examples of furniture.  The National Trust in agreement with the last owner have largely furnished it as it looked in the 1950s as that is when the last owner felt it was in its heyday for him.
The house is in the most beautiful landscape and nestles perfectly.  It does not jar and seems to flow almost out of the rock that surrounds it.
The house is surrounded by heather and bilberries.
The heather was fantastically beautiful, ignore that grotty stunted stuff you see in garden centres, this was heather running wild and free and looking amazing.
The paths and planting curve around the house with a wonderful fluidity.  You could see a designers eye in the effortless yet clearly not accidentleness of it all.
There was a pretty little walled orchard.  There were many dry stone walls all around.  They are an important feature of this landscape.
As we walked along we were stopped in our tracks by this heather covering this dry stone wall.  We had to get closer and admire it more.
Only to discover it was not heather at all, but a delicate pale persicaria.  How beautiful is this?
The garden contained many acers and this flaming Liquidamber.
We worried a little at the state of this large rhododendron, it looked like something had tried very hard to kill it.  It might be some sort of virus, it might just be wind-damage or drought, but it looked very poorly in places.  Thankfully there was also some new growth and buds ready for next year.  I shall keep my fingers crossed for it.
In many parts of the garden was this rather find little plant.  It clearly spreads well and we wondered what it was.  It looks related to a Bergenia, but also we thought a little Asarum-like.  We decided it was some sort of composite cousin.  If you know what it is please tell me.

There was much more to see apparently the daffodils in Spring are a sight to see.  There were many camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons as well.  I will be definitely returning.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The withering

The first serious frost has visited.  That one, you know that one, that one that happens when even though you've been expecting it, it's still a surprise when it arrives.  It is the time of The Withering (this is a bit like in Highlander with the Quickening, but colder, less lightening effects and a lot less swordy).

The effect of this first frost is quite dramatic.
The once bright zinging zinnias are a soggy mess,
The cosmos is past it,
it has the transclucent pallour of death about it.
The gingers look limp,
the chrysanthemums have lost colour and shape,
The dahlias are demonstrating what 'blackened by frost' means.  Most of them will be left in the ground to survive or not, I may try and store some of the most expensive ones.  I shall decide this soon but in recent years I have failed quite spectacularly to keep stored ones alive.  They seem to last better in the ground.
Poor withered, bleached out looking things adorn my garden.
Some have just given up and flopped.
The tithonia has drooped.  Yet with all this going on, all is not lost.
There are buds on the Camellia rosthorniana 'Cupido'.
There are new Eschscholzia growing,
and new marigolds,
The Clematic cirrhosa 'Freckles' is flowering,
This Coronilla valentina ssp. glauca 'Citrina', bought last year, has flowered and flowered for weeks.  It has the most wonderful scent which can really be appreciated now most of the other plants around it have died down.
I shall finish with the Edgeworthia, a few leaves have fallen following this frost.  I am now focussing on whether it will get through another winter.  I am hopeful that it will as it has grown well this year.  I am also staring into the centre of the leaves wondering if that is a flower bud I can see forming for next spring.  Oh what a joy that would be!

This first withering frost spells the end of some plants there are, as always, the signs of continuation and hope for next year.  If I was a fan of Disney I might start muttering songs about the circle of life, so you can be grateful that I am not.