Thursday, 23 March 2017

Irritating Plant of the Month March 2017 - the hyacinths

I nearly could not think of a plant that was irritating me this month.  I almost decided to give this month a miss (my blog, my rules), but then when I thought about it I thought of a plant I could name and shame, except possibly not so much of the shame really, more of a mild tutting at.

I present to you......
.... the hyacinths I planted in the Wild Garden a couple of years ago.  This one is Peter Stuyvesant, rather fab isn't it?  I actually cannot bear hyacinths indoors, I find the smell suffocating; but when visiting Evenley Wood back in 2014 I was reminded how I love them outdoors.  I used to have some in my garden at Nottingham and it was a nice memory to return to.  So I duly purchased some hyacinths to plant the next autumn and they flowered reasonably well the following spring....

.... and then disappeared.  I thought they were dead.  I looked for them but nothing appeared so I mourned them briefly and moved on.

This year, pop, there they are.  Not all the ones I planted have reappeared but a few have.  Enough to encourage me to buy some more.  At least this time I will know not to give up hope in year 2, they clearly like a sulk.

So why are they irritating if they have flowered this year?  Well where were they last year?  That is why they are being tutted at but also gently encouraged as I am very pleased to see them.

What plants are currently irritating you with their behavior in your gardens?  Do let me know.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Book Review: Urban Flowers by Carolyn Dunster

or to give its full name: Urban Flowers creating abundance in a small city garden.  I was asked if I would like to review this book and I happily said yes.  Whilst I currently have a fair-sized garden for an urban environment I have lived with much smaller gardens in cities/large towns for most of my life.  There are  lots of books written about gardening small spaces, but this one offers far more than most.
This book packs a lot of information into not that big a book.  Carolyn begins by talking about her own gardening origins which is a really nice touch.  There is something about the gardens we have grown up in, they are part of what has shaped us whether they be grand, small, a backyard or a balcony.  Carolyn quickly takes us onto to look at how planting in the urban environment matters and how to evaluate our own urban environments.

The book takes us through gardening basics such as understanding our soil.  I like Carolyn's descriptions of soils as they are easy to understand and not too complicated.  There are also good descriptions of perennials,  bulbs, tubers and annuals etc. Carolyn makes no assumptions as to level of knowledge and also does not patronise; this is very welcome.  There are boxes in the text of hints and tips, such as buying potting compost and these are good common sense tips.

The book works when discussing small spaces.  It is a frequent bug-bear with books that claim to cater for small gardens as to how small is small?  Carolyn describes working with really quite small areas.  Many of the projects Carolyn discusses involve containers of all different shapes and sizes.  Some are as simple as what you can place on a table or hang from a wall.  There is a real feeling that there is something you can plant where-ever you are living.

There are chapters about different styles of gardens.  The photographs by Jason Ingram complement the text perfectly and add to the inspiration.  Just when you think what is left to talk about in the book, Carolyn takes us into different colour combinations and gives us examples of plants we might like to try.  There are also small projects that can be used to enhance very small spaces.

I liked this book a lot.  I was amazed at the amount of good information and advice that was packed into it.  If you have a new garden it would extremely useful and for the more experienced it gives good advice and ideas.

Urban Flowers is published by Frances Lincoln.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Product Review - Forest Whitby Arch

A few weeks ago I attended the Garden Press Event.  This is where companies can show off their new products to garden writers and it is very much where they are hoping that things will catch your eye.  It is a bit like being a kid in a candy shop as there are many wonderful things to look at and talk about but one thing in particular caught my attention:  The Whitby Arch made by Forest.  I walked past it several times, I stroked it a few times and I could be heard to say "it will be mine, oh yes, one day it will be mine"*

As soon as I got home I measured up the space where my previous rose arch had occupied.  It had finally met its end after one storm too many this winter.  Measurements taken I then looked into where I might get the arch from.  I quickly found that Garden Site, who I have previously reviewed products for, sold the arch.  An email or two later and the deal was done.  I have to be transparent with you and say that I was given the arch to review, I did not buy it.
One reason that I like to work with Garden Site is that delivery from them is very easy.  They turn up when they say they are going to and left the arch where it was easy for me to move into the garden.  You will note that the arch quickly found Esme approval.
The arch was unpacked and moved to where I needed to start assembly.  The instructions are fairly minimal but they are sufficient.  One thing they state clearly is that this is at least a two person job and I can confirm that it really is.  
After a couple of hours I had reached this stage.  The instructions said place the sides in position and then sort out the top.  I had to enlist help when I got to this stage and we soon concluded that this method was not working well for us.  It was also definite, as suggested in the instructions, that this arch needed proper anchoring. So I wandered to off to find some ready-mix concrete and we agreed we would meet up again in a week to complete putting the arch up.
Meanwhile Esme continued to explore the arch....
and Flossy thought it was worth checking as well.

A week passes, ready-mix concrete is purchased and I also bought some stronger bolts to hold it together.  The bolts supplied are probably fine, but I was not quite sure of them and I wanted this arch to be right.  I also took about six inches off the height as the instructions said this would help stabilise it.  I put the arch together as one piece and then it was really quite simple for the two of us to lift it into position.
Ta da!  the arch was up!  I braced it with a rake and a hoe (garden tools are so useful), concreted it in and left it to set hard.

Another week passes, no it did not need a week to set, but as I work during the week and it is not properly daylight when I get home this time of year, gardening only happens at weekends.  
It looks as beautiful as it did at the show and it is completely stable.
Esme says it is solid enough for any cat to make full use of.
and it makes me happier than a garden arch should be able to.  I also like it that it is called the Whitby arch and that its shape is based on the whalebone arch at Whitby.  I am very fond of Whitby and I have stood by that arch many times.

When standing here looking at the garden through it to the Portmeirion bench at the top of the garden, I realised that this was a shape that I clearly have an affinity for.  It is now a repeated shape, which if I was a designer I would say was totally deliberate, whereas it is just serendipity at work again.  
I am hugely grateful to the nice people at Garden Site for providing me with this arch.  I can genuinely recommend the arch and Garden Site's service.  

The arch is made from pressure-treated timber to protect it from rot for fifteen years.  

I am also hugely grateful to the Cynical Gardener for giving up her time on two weekends to help me put the arch up.  Her advice as always was extremely useful and any excuse to have a catch up and a chat is a good one.

*with due respect to Waynes World/Mike Myers

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Prairie Haircut Time

It is the time of year when the Prairie Borders have their annual hair cut.  This is a definite sign of spring for my garden, but it is also the start of the period when these borders look at their worst.

Before the haircut they look like this:
The borders consist of Stipa tenuissima, Stipa arundinacea (which is now apparently Anemanthele lessoniana) and verbena bonariensis.  There are a few Vebascum bombyciferum as well dotted through.  All the plants were grown from seed and I weed it carefully to stop other self-seeders from wandering in.  All through the winter they give movement and structure to this part of the garden.  When rained on, when frosty, even if we get some snow I think they look good.  Even the dead echinops stems give height and colour and provide winter sleepy-places for insects and wildlife.

I began planting out this area way back in 2011, a few years after I came to live here.  I wrote about their origins here.

Once the weather starts to warm a little and there gets to be a flush of green in the stipa tenuissima showing it is starting to grow again, I know it is time for its haircut.
This hand sickle from Burgen and Ball is the tool of choice for this task.  You can see it is a few years old now and it makes light work of the grass cutting.  I usually twist the S.Tenuissima around and then saw through it close to the base.   It is a very satisfying way of spending time in the garden.
As the work progresses the borders start to look really quite grim.  There is no disguising this.
It also creates lots of composting material.  I like to think that all the nesting birds in the area have lovely stipa-lined homes.
Even Esme gets interested in the process.  As I am cutting the grasses back I am always delighted to find how much the wildlife love these borders.  I had worried they might be a bit of a monoculture and not very interesting to wildlife.  In the summer they are alive with bees and butterflies, particularly on the echinops but also in the grasses as well.  As I was working on this day I found several large bumble bees.  I am not sure if they nest in the borders or what, but I had to be careful to work around them.
Several hours later and it is all done for the year.  Like I said, it is not looking pretty, but I don't mind this.  Not every part of my garden is at its best for every part of the year.  The Spring Border is at its best now (clue in the name),and in September I will be looking more at these Prairie Borders and thinking that the Spring Border is way past its best, c'est la vie!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Book Review - The Deckchair Gardener by Anne Wareham

I was delighted to be sent a review copy of 'The Deckchair Gardener',  Anne Wareham's latest book which follows on from The Bad Tempered Gardener and Outwitting Squirrels.   It is subtitled: 101 cunning strategems for Gardening Avoidance and Sensible Advice on your Realistic Chances of Getting Away with it.  My first advice when starting to read this book is start at the beginning.  I say this as if, like me, you have a tendency to flip into a book, read a few pages, flip again and read a bit more, you will not get the best from this book.  If you do start at the book you will by the end of page one be aware that Anne says that this book is not for the keen gardener but for the more reluctant.  This book is aimed at those who have little time, little knowledge, a big garden, or just not really a lot of interest...... except.....except.....
Very shortly into the book I found I was quickly agreeing with much that Anne said and had also learned at least one very useful tip.  I could tell you the tip couldn't I?  but then you might not buy the book and then Anne would not be happy.

Whilst regular readers of my blog will know that I fit the description of keen gardener, I also have a full time job and gardening has to fit into weekends, evenings and the odd day off.  Time matters to me and I cannot spend ages faffing around doing the unnecessary.  There is much in this book that I could identify with and even justified some of what I have thought of as my lazier habits.

Now Anne and I do not agree on everything.  Anne encourages you not to sow biennials because 'life's too short', but I enjoy a good biennial.  Anne's opinions on lawn care, which is to do as little as possible, coincide totally with my own.  Things that I worry about, like getting my apple trees pruned, Anne says just don't.  She never has and her trees are fine.  Now I am still looking a little anxiously at my over-large Bramley tree but really this is missing the point.

Anne's point, as I see it, is don't listen to the gardening magazines and tv programmes giving you lists of things to do, they are just enjoying themselves making lists.  Don't do what you do not think looks right for your garden and don't just put up with things because that is the way the garden looked when you moved in. Anne gives one very important piece of advice, no two gardens are the same and what works in one will not always work in another.  Anne both cites expert advice and tells you why expert advice might not work for you.

The book is written in an authoritative and good-humoured way.  Anne has a clear voice when she writes and her strong opinions are plainly put.   I like the illustrations by Kate Charlesworth which are simple and amusing.  There are 'deckchair tips' littered through the book, some of which are humorous and others which are genuine pieces of gardening advice.

Did I enjoy the book?  Yes I did.  At times I agreed with it, at times I disagreed (wisteria is a great plant!) and at times it made me smile in recognition.  I think the book will give courage to those who want to garden but feel overwhelmed by the experts and advice that bombards them.  I think that more experienced gardeners would find it amusing and actually any book that makes you question your general way of doing things cannot be a bad thing.

Oh, and do you remember that 'song' from back the in day that was advising people to 'wear sunscreen'?  Well for Anne's version just think of one word...... mulch.

The Deckchair Gardener is published by Michael O'Mara books.