Monday, 26 September 2016

Revamping the front garden

Just in front of my house is a small border, probably around 3 feet deep and 5 foot long.  It is quite a warm border but it suffers from the dry margin that the house creates.  When I first moved into the house it was dominated by a large lilac, a red rose and a ceanothus.  Now I like a good ceanothus but this one was too large and was blocking out light from the window.  I gave it a drastic prune and it responded by drastically dying.  This was no great loss and I resolved to replace it elsewhere in the garden, nine years later I still haven't got around to this.

I have planted odd bits in this border, some to better effect than others.  There is now a climbing Gertrude Jekyll rose by the door which is a pure delight.  I also planted a white japanese anemone that winds its flowers through the red rose and works very well.  A couple of years ago I planted some fuchsias and hellebores in the border and they have also worked well.  Finally there is a myrtle by the front door.  This is important, if you plant a myrtle by the front door it means you will always return home safely (apparently/allegedly).
The border though suffers dreadfully from couch grass.  No matter how much I weed, and I do often, it romps around.  It has smothered various other attempts at planting and so I decided enough was enough.  Yes, dear reader, I glyphosated it.  What what you say!  This is not a good thing to do, well no it isn't but needs must when the devil drives.  It is not near any food growing and, quite frankly, for me it was the best solution (no pun intended) (well, maybe a little).

A few weeks ago I also took some divisions of various plants in the back garden.  I had determined that this revamp of the front garden would not cost me any money.  I potted up the divisions and lo and behold they sprouted quite well.
There are some astrantias, euphorbias and some hesperanta.

It was time to clear the detritus from border and replant.
I can tell you are peering at the photograph. I admit it does not look much better yet......
.....but I have faith that it will.  Whilst I vaguely think that revamping ought to involve vampires, in reality I think I have given this border some bones from which I can now build on.

Time will tell.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Irritating Plant of the Month - September 2016

This month I am irritated by Ricinus.  What what! you say, careful now, that plant is more than just irritating it is exceptionally poisonous.  Fear not, it is just giving me mild annoyance, nothing more sinister.
So what is this plant doing to annoy, well annoy is too strong a word, it is in truth mildly irritating.  I have three or four of these currently in my Exotic Border.  I love their spikey seed heads but what I really wanted was some big foliage and some height.  Instead they are about 12 inches tall.  The foliage is good, I like the colour.
They are rather lovely, I am being picky but, well, they are just shorter than I'd hoped.  As ever there is always next year to try again.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Kelmarsh Hall Dahlia Festival

I was invited to go along to the recent Kelmarsh Hall Dahlia Festival that took place over two Sundays in September. Kelmarsh is about thirty minutes from where I live and very easily accessible from the A14/A508.  I last visited there around ten years ago and knew I was due a return visit.
The gardens are mainly the product of Nancy Lancaster's vision and her work with Norah Lyndsay and Geoffrey Jellicoe.  These three people shaped the garden as it looks today and the trust that now owns the house and gardens aims to continue these gardens as they would have.
Nancy Lancaster is reknown for leading the 'English Country House' look, she liked her gardens to be soft, billowing and nostalgically romantic.  The above photo is of the Fan Garden, that allegedly Norah Lyndsay marked out with a wave of her parasol.  It is full of old English roses.  The field beyond hides a buried medieval village.  Nancy had this view cleared of some farm buildings that she  felt spoiled the view to the church.  Local tales also hinted that she might have wanted to move the church too, but that did not come to be.
Close by the Fan Garden is this intriguing arch in the hedge.  They have recently found some steps leading down into a small enclosed area which they believe was the site of a scented garden.  They are going to try and recreate the idea in this space, which is all rather exciting.  Unlike some country house gardens, they have few records of plant lists.  Nancy did leave a journal that does record some of the plants she used and this is used for reference often, but they do not have detailed plans.  The main pictorial record they have are black and white Country Life photographs.  Useful in some ways but it does mean guess the colour.
As you walk around the gardens there is topiary and hedging everywhere.  It has 'good bones'.
There are also some wonderful herringbone paths,
and a very yellow long border.  This border was fantastic, I love yellow in the garden and I thought this was a joy.
The dahlias are grown in the Walled Garden.  It is a huge space, full of colour.  The Dahlia Festival was made up of various events including a tour by the Head Gardener Josh Coyne, a talk on the Dahlias at Kelmarsh by the garden consultant Michele Hickman.  Michele also gave a dahlia clinic in the afternoon and there were flower arranging demonstrations from Emma Wright.
The Walled Garden is split into sections with the dahlias dominating probably about one half of the very large space. Michele explained that dahlias first were grown at Kelmarsh by a previous head gardener who used them for cut flowers in the house.  This meant they built up quite a collection which was then added to by the author Andy Vernon who donated some of his collection.
Now there are many, lots, loads of them.




Almost every colour shape and size you can think of is there, all mixed in well with perennial planting.  Michele gave us tips on how to keep them alive over the winter, but observed that whether you lift them all or leave them in and mulch them there is no perfect way of guaranteeing survival.  This was very reassuring for me as I always lose a couple.
There were even some hiding in this little out of the way area.
I thought it quite unusual to see a dogs' graveyard in the walled garden.  I have seen many such dog headstones but never in a walled garden before.
I liked the lettuce and annual aster section very much.
Outside of the walled garden is this wonderful scent garden.  There are roses and scented pelagoniums and the scent is amazing.
I love these yew hedges with their skirts lifted.  I remembered them from my previous visit and I think they are a great feature.
To the front of the house are these rows of pleached trees.  I remembered standing looking at these for ages last time I was here and they are, very truly, the direct inspiration for my pleached hornbeams.  It was after studying these ones closely I decided I would give it a go.
and this cheeky robin was fluttering around the tables near the tea/coffee/cake sales.  Clever robin.

Kelmarsh is a great garden that is currently in the process of being revamped.  I am hopeful they will not mind me saying, but you can see that there is work in progress in the borders.  It is a real challenge to revamp a garden that is open to the public and I actually quite like seeing a garden that is not completely perfect.  It makes it feel more real.

I loved Kelmarsh, I remembered how much I loved it last time I visited, I berated myself for not visiting sooner and I will not wait another ten years before returning. Next year's Dahlia Festival might be a must-do visit.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Update Product Review - Gtech Cordless Lawnmower

A couple of months ago I wrote a product review for the new Gtech Cordless Lawnmower.  At the time of writing I had two unfinished thoughts that I mentioned.  I mentioned that having two batteries would be my natural preference as to cut all my lawns I needed more than forty minutes worth of power.  The very nice people at Gtech sent me a spare battery, which was kind of them and I am very grateful.  I am now a two flux-capacitor household!  Having two batteries has made the lawnmower an even better experience to use.  I am also going to suggest after using the mower now since June, that I think the batteries sort of mature.  They seem to last longer after a couple of charges.  Before you all fall about laughing and say that such a thing is not possible, I suppose I might just be getting better as using the mower effectively - either way I think it charges better after a couple of goes.

The big question I had in the blog was how would the mower manage with the big mow in September when I mow the Wild Garden.  Well, the big mow is now complete.
The Wild Garden makes up about a third of the garden.  I allow the grass to grow and I mow paths through it.  This year I planted some yellow rattle in it to weaken the grass and this has meant it was not quite as tall as usual.  There are also some perennial geraniums, nettles, thistles and other wildflowers/weeds that provide a great place for wildlife.  Before I can mow this area I have to scythe down the tall weeds/nettles; then I can give it a mow.
It is quite a challenge for any lawnmower.  The Gtech, as previously observed in my review, can be a bit sensitive to grass height so I wondered if it would cope.  I set it at its tallest cutting height as that it what I have to do with my other electric mower.
It coped, it coped well.  It did take a battery and three quarters to do it but I was very pleased with the result.
The next step is I will mow it all again next week on a lower cutting blade.  I only mow the whole garden two or three times a year and I think the two batteries will be needed both times.  I am really pleased with how the mower has worked and the recommendation I made before is confirmed.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

A welsh rock garden

As regular readers will know I spend a fair amount of my time wandering around North Wales.  This most recent visit saw me staying somewhere I have not stayed before.  Admittedly it was probably only a half a mile from where I last stayed, but that half mile was upwards, I was pretty close to the top of a rather large hill.
The view to the front of the cottage was straight across the estuary towards Harlech.  This rather grey rainy picture sums up the majority of this holiday and whilst I would have liked more sunny days, It did not stop me from having fun.

The garden to the front of the cottage was rather good but it is the rear that I am going to write about today.
This sheer rock face was about 12 inches from the rear of the cottage, there was just enough space for me to walk along behind the house.
Various plants were growing in the crevices.
I just loved the ferns and the foxgloves.
Where-ever there was a chance for something to grow there was something popping up.
I really do not like the smell of herb robert, but you have to admire its tenacity.
Where light fell, something was growing.
All stretching upwards, some going the long way around.
There was lots of this navelwort, (I believe it is called navelwort as it is a cautionary warning to keep your bellybutton dry and fluff free).

It might not have been the most expansive view I have seen through a kitchen window, but I think it was one of the most fascinating.  I would love to see it change through the seasons, just think of it icy, snowy, rainy and sunny.  Think of it in Spring when the growth starts to appear and in summer when the foxgloves start to flower.  Great gardens are those that fascinate and inspire and this was such a garden.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Norbury Knot Garden

I had reason the other week to visit the Church of St Mary and St Barlok, near Ashbourne in Derbyshire.  I do not visit churches very often but I do find them intereting.  The church is very old, it has its origins in Saxon times and has been little altered since the sixteenth century.  It is a fascinating church and well worth a visit.  If you are a George Eliot fan there is a strong connection as her father and paternal grandparents are buried there.  Try as I might, I cannot find out anything about St Barlok.  St Mary is the mother of Jesus (just in case you wondered.  I knew his mother was Mary, I suppose I should have realised she would be a saint).

 Adjoining the church is the Old Manor, which is owned by the National Trust and is apparently available to rent as a holiday home.  Because I am a dull sort of person, before setting out on the journey I had carried out a bit of research into the area and found that the Manor has a rather nice knot garden.  So, as is my usual habit, I dragged an unwitting party of people around the garden before we could go for lunch.
The Manor is not as large as many you might see but is beautifully proportioned.
At the front was this lovely little summer house with some topiary in front.
Ignore the weeds, this is a great piece of topiary and very easy to achieve in a small space. I liked it.
There was a nice bit of planting to the side as well.
Around to the back of the house and there are more herbaceous borders that had that 'late summer I've flopped a bit' look, which was still a good look.
The gates led the way to the Knot Garden.
Gosh, just gosh.  It was not huge but it was really worth seeing.  If you want inspiration for a Knot Garden this was a great example.
It was great to see teasels used in this very formal setting.  I have a huge fondness for teasels as they remind me of my grandmother who allowed them to romp around her garden.
There was some nice topiary and what I assumed was a covered well.
To the rear of the Knot Garden is a medieval hall.  Inside was an old smoking machine and a large oven that went across the wall.  I wondered if it was used to bake bread for more than just the manor as it was so large.
These small window boxes are on the hall window ledge.  The contents looks a bit salady/herby.
We wandered on further down the path that leads you on, until we found this incredible view which I think is across the Dove Valley.  It is a valley, there is a river at the bottom, it might be the river Dove.  (I know there is a river Dove, I am just not 100% certain if this river is the River Dove).
Looking out over this view was this beautiful little summer house which was dated 1973.
As we walked back to our cars we passed through this grove of pines.  This is clearly a garden that was laid out by someone who loved it and loved plants.  It was one of those 'I wish I had visited in its hey-day' moments. Bearing in mind the nice summer house was 1973, its hey-days were not that long ago.
and just as I was saying, "there really should be an orchard somewhere", we found it.  Well, possibly the remains of it.

It was an unexpected element to the day and an extremely pleasant one.  The Knot Garden is a real joy and if you are out that way it is worth checking the opening times and stopping off.