Thursday, 23 April 2015

Book Review - The Irish Garden

I was very pleased to receive a copy of the The Irish Garden, written by Jane Powers and photographs by Jonathan Hession, to review. 
This is a hefty book, it is has to be described as weighty and this is in every sense of the word.  Not wishing to push this analogy too far but it is not a coffee table book, well, unless you have a reinforced coffee table that is.  The size of the of the book is not an irrelevant detail, it would not have worked in a smaller format quite so well; the photographs are shown to great effect at this size and the quality of paper means that they have reproduced well.  Jonathan Hession's images portray the atmosphere of the mild moist climate and quality of light that are the leitmotif that runs throughout the book.  They are the sort of photographs that make you need to stroke the page so that you can absorb just that little bit more from them (or is that just me?)

The Irish Garden is divided into sections, including:  Grand Big Gardens, Romantic Interludes, Painting with Plants, Fields of Dreams, Follies and Fancies and Good enough to eat.  The sections lead you on into the book willing you not to put it down just yet.   The gardens range from the grand to the not so grand, the old to the modern.  There are follies and allotments and several botanic gardens covered in great detail.  The narrative flows well, it is interesting and very informative.
The real joy of this book for me is that it is so much more than a standard pictorial guide to gardens; it shows us how the history of the island is reflected through its gardens and landscapes.  The stamp of colonisation, the effects of unrest, a visit by a high ranking Nazi general and the potato are all present and pertinent to the landscapes that are described.  This book fed my love of gardens,  photography and well researched, intelligently written histories.

This is one of the most interesting garden books I have read in a long time and I do not say that lightly.  Even if you think you might not get around to visiting these gardens, the stories and social history makes it an enthralling read.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and can recommend it without hesitation.

The Irish Garden  published by Frances Lincoln  2 April 2015

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Abbey House Gardens, Malmesbury

I recently visited the inaugural Gardens Illustrated Garden Festival that took place in Malmesbury in the middle weekend of April.  The weather gods were feeling kind and the sun shone all weekend.  I arrived on Friday lunchtime so I could go on one of the tours of the Abbey House Gardens that neighbour the Abbey.  The tours were specially laid on as part of the festival and I was determined not to miss out.  To be able to be guided by one of the owners, Barbara Pollard was a real treat.
There is a lot of fantastic sculpture in the garden.  This piece greets you as you enter, it is very striking.
Barbara's love and enthusiasm for the garden was clear.  Barbara talked of the history of the house and garden and how it had informed their planting.  Whilst Barbara said she was not an expert, she is clearly very knowledgeable and knows her garden well and how the plants in it behave.
The topiary hedges are immaculately clipped.
I have always loved this knot garden, it makes my own efforts look pitiful but it does give me something to work towards.
In the top part of the garden there are a lot of yew hedges, they make a wonderful dark backdrop for the planting.
It is currently tulip time, the tulips were looking amazing, there are thousands of them and they make quite a spectacle en-masse.
Close up they look rather special too.  As the tulips go over the roses take over the display.  I had not been at tulip time of year before so it was wonderful to see them.
The eye is led along paths,
views open up and lead you forward throughout this skilfully designed garden.
The herb garden is in a hot part of the garden, even on a spring day this part of the garden is warm.  The arches replicate the arches of the Abbey next door and this makes a really good space.
The sound of water is everywhere as well, this extravagant set of fountains is a joy to find in this hot part of the garden.
and the sculpture that is found at almost every turn, even when in bits, sets just the right tone.
The colour is not just from the flowers, this acer by the front door is a wonderful flash of red.
This weeping silver pear tree is a great specimen too; making a great ball of silver.
In the dell on the other side of the house there are many joys, but this forsythia has to be one of the most unexpected.  This is a shrub I rather like even though I know many hold it is disdain; but look at it, living here in a natural setting released from its suburban chains.
You may have noticed I like this garden, I have happy memories of visiting it previously and it remains a special place.  There is much more to the garden than I have shown here, this is a just a flavour of what it has to offer.

The tour was a good start to the festival and I was very glad I made time to revisit and I hope that I will return again in the not too distant future.  I shall write more about the rest of the festival in a future post.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Book Review - Outwitting Squirrels by Anne Wareham

It is hard to pass by a book that promises 101 cunning stratagems to outwit squirrels and other garden pests and nuisances.  Anne Wareham's latest book, published by Michael O'Mara Books Ltd on the 23rd April 2015, makes just this promise so as a gardener who is often on the losing side of the battle of these fur-tailed rodents, it had to be investigated.

Anne Wareham is a writer and a garden-maker who has created Veddw House Garden with her husband Charles Hawes.  If you have read any of Anne's other work then you will know she has a practical and no-nonsense approach to gardening.  Outwitting Squirrels fits right into this mold being informative and also that pleasant amount of being amusing without appearing to try too hard.
The squirrel on the cover is a dashing fellow with top hat and villainous moustache.  He is, of course, in part 1: 'Outwitting creatures great.... (you may guess that part 2 is entitled  .... and Small).  Many nuisances are covered in this book, from squirrels, rabbits, cats, slugs and snails to insects, snakes, algae and bracken.  The final section is called 'Outwitting humans' and looks at  topics such as legislation, edges, experts, rain, people and wind.

The book covers just about everything that might annoy you whilst gardening.  It offers suggestions on how to deal with them plus a helpful summary at the send of each chapter of do and don'ts.  For instance with rabbits in the dos Anne tells us to get on with our fencing and in the don'ts: don't bother with bunny resistant smells and plants.

Anne talks to us about weeds we might want and how instead of trying to fight them how we can embrace them.  Now a weed is generally in the eye of the beholder and one person's wanted is another person's most-hated.  Anne does not tell us how to encourage but she does talk about mulching to prevent.  When talking of wind Anne tells us not to cut down trees that might be a wind break, to make sure our fences are strong and best of all "Sod the wind, grow grasses".  I can agree with this sentiment as my prairie borders look wonderful as the breeze winds through them.

The section of people talks of young children running rampant around your beloved garden, of high hedges, unwanted noises and unwanted advice.  We all get plenty of advice of what to do and what not to do and I doubt you will be surprised when you get to the part where Anne gives advice about listening to advice.

I enjoyed reading this book immensely, more than I expected to as I can find advice books patronising and comic gardening books quite tedious.  Anne's voice from her first book 'The 'Bad Tempered Gardener' can be heard strongly in this funny, at times slightly tetchy, book.  It will give you advice and it will strike a chord as you read the things you have tried and failed to rid yourself of a nuisance.  It will not solve all of your garden problems but as you drink your tea or sip your glass of wine after a day in the garden it will make you smile.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

A pocket full of seeds

At last, the season has well and truly turned, frost is not such a threat (not impossible, but less likely) and the soil is starting to warm up.  Apparently farmers in th'old days used to test the temperature of the soil with their bare bottoms to gauge if it is was warm enough to plant yet.  Only a cynic might think that this was an excuse for when they got got caught, caught short, in the fields.  You will be relieved to know (but no where near as relieved as my neighbours) that this is not a practice I have tried.  I have, nonetheless, commenced sowing.
I sowed a few packets of seeds a couple of weeks ago and the propagator is now in full swing.  There are few things as magical as a propagator as they encourage seeds to zoom into life.  Today was a 'sow in the greenhouse' and 'direct sow outside' day.  It is not the last of the sowing days, but it is the peak time.  As you can see I had Esme helping me, she was on Bruce's bed but thankfully he did not notice.

Seed sowing is always a voyage of discovery, when I start to sort through the seeds I find the ones I have completely forgotten about.  I also find the ones I thought I had forgotten but thankfully had not.
I find the paper bags like this one that contain a nameless seed pod.  Whilst the pod is nameless I do know exactly where it came from as it was from a plant my daughter bought last year from Crug Farm Nursery.  It is a nice plant and if these seeds germinate I shall be very happy and I shall make the effort to find out what it is.

This year I have direct-sowed more seeds into the borders than I usually do.  I am hoping that this will be successful.  In the past I think I have cossetted seeds that did not need cossetting and I suspect I have ended up with inferior plants because of this.  I will report back on how successful this has been.
After a day of sowing I end up with a pocket full of seed packets.  I do this so that when I sit down at the end of the day I can record what I have sown, where and who I bought them from.  I can keep track of how things have done, I will record the successes and failures and this will inform next year's seed list.  After emptying my pockets of seed packets, I usually find I have a pocket of mixed remnant seeds, this does not make me so happy as I would rather have sowed them.

You might be wanting to ask what have I sown, well lots of stuff.  Mainly annuals. some very ordinary and some (I hope) a little unusual.  If the expected stars do become stars I will let you know.
There is only one thing more exciting than sowing seeds (ok, lots of things, but in relation to seed sowing I mean); and that is the moment they germinate.
All these potential blooms for later in the year, these little green sprouts just bursting with potential.  Let the season commence!

Friday, 10 April 2015

A meandering of muscari

Way back in October I wrote a post about planting 100 muscari in the Wild Garden.   I explained in my original post that I had been hugely influenced by various plantings from visit to Evenley Wood, a visit that was almost a exactly a year ago so it is no huge surprise that what inspired me then is in flower now.
I shall start by looking at the hyacinths that I bought and planted outside.  As explained in my post about Evenley Wood I really cannot abide hyacinths inside the house, the smell is too much for me, but outside I find them surprisingly charming and I must say that the splash of colour that these have brought to the garden can only mean one thing....
next year I shall have to plant more,
yes I shall need more.  The pink and the blue have just been fantastic and I am very very pleased with how they look.
This is the Daphne mezereum I bought from Evenley.  These can be tricky plants to make happy and they dislike disturbance so I had not expected much from it in its first year.  Actually, let me correct that, I expected it to die.  They resent disturbance, so at best it should have sulked this year apart from the fact it has been dug up and replanted twice since its first planting this time last year.  I moved it to a place of safety when the Great Tree Debacle was in progress but I never expected it would recover.  Anyhoo - its looking remarkably well now and I am not digging it up again - promise.
The anemones in the Wild Garden have been seeding around and this year is a very good year for them.  They appear to be largely guarded by cats.  Bruce oversees this blue clump and
Esme thinks that this white clump sets off her fur rather well (say hello to Esme, its her first time in the blog, its the first time she's sat still long enough!)

and what of the muscari I hear you cry?
Well it is no stream of scilla a la Evenley as yet, but it is a meandering and...
it is making me happy.  I shall buy some more and add to them in the year and I am hoping that they will also bulk up of their own accord.

So in terms of having some inspiration, making and then executing a plan, I would say it is a success.  I shall now meander through my muscari.