Sunday, 20 August 2017

Austin: the epoch ends

Earlier this week I had to say goodbye to Austin, who was the eldest of my four cats.  Austin, named after Austin Powers by my children, has always been a challenging cat.  Nothing has been ordinary about the eighteen years of her life.
Austin was dumped in a plastic bag with her brother Lawrence in a local Safeway car park.  I had been thinking of getting another kitten at that time so when I heard about the dumped litter I went along to the local cattery to choose a kitten.  One kitten, singular.  My children came with me and we quickly chose Lawrence as we wanted a black cat.  This would have left a splodgy kitten on its own, so home with us she came, the wonderful Austin.  We were told they were both male, subsequently we discovered that Austin was in fact a she, but we never changed her name as it suited her so.  For years we always referred to them as 'the kittens' until it became apparent that they had really grown beyond that point.

So the children grew up with Austin, Lawrence and the indomitable Geoffrey.  Austin loved Geoffrey even though he treated her rather meanly.  When I moved to Leicester she had a brief crush on a cat that moved in with us at that time called Matt.  This was short-lived as he cared not a jot for her, so she decided to scorn him and returned to her first love, Geoffrey.
Austin hated moving to Leicester, she hated the house we first lived in when we arrived here and refused to come into the house.  Even when she did come into the house she hid extremely well so that the only sign I knew she was in the house was that food kept going and the cat litter was being used.  Austin was always a good hider.  Austin was always a very good judge of character, a really good judge.  Part of why she hated the move the Leicester so much was the reason why we moved.  Once that reason was no more she settled better but still thought I was a bad person for not listening to her in the first place.

When I moved to this current house Austin was a little happier.  When my son moved here she was over the moon.  Austin loved my son very much, nearly as much as she hated me for moving her to Leicester.  After a couple of years when my son moved out she decided she had to put up with me as I was the best she had left.  Austin never practised flattery and had in practice sulked for nearly seven of her then fourteen years of life.  I am not sure if she could remember why she was so cross with me, but this is a cat that could hold a grudge.
Time moved on and a few years ago Geoffrey died.  I worried hugely that Austin would not cope but after a brief period of unsettlement she seemed fine.  A couple of years later though and Lawrence died and Austin plunged into despair.  I have never seen a cat grieve before.  She used to cry in the middle the of  the night, it was heartbreaking.  She never really recovered.  She got more and more fragile, dementia set in and her kidneys and thyroid started to stop functioning well.  The more unwell she became the more she began to rely on me and want to be near me.  She became pretty much a house cat, rarely setting paw outdoors and stayed almost always on the sofa.

Things did not improve, earlier this year I went away for a few days and when I returned she had forgotten me completely.  She was actually terrified when she saw me, it was incredibly upsetting.  Then last week after years of not really going outside at all, she started going outside.  This really worried me, it was such a change in behaviour, I thought that this was a bad sign and indeed it was.  What has surprised me most was how badly Bruce, Esme and Flossy have taken her loss.  I thought they would hardly notice as they never really bothered with her at all.  Austin held court in the lounge and she did not really allow the others in there.  They have been upset all week and clearly miss her hugely as do I, the sofa is suddenly too big without her.
So farewell Austin, the last of the cats that my children grew up with, the last of my cats that connect me back to the city of my birth.  It is indeed the end of an era, the Austinian epoch is over.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Pelagoniums, ivies and ferns: it must be Fibrex Nurseries

Recently the All Horts group arranged a day out at Fibrex Nurseries.  This nursery has been on my 'must visit' list for some time and so it felt like destiny was giving me a push in the right direction.  The right direction turns about to be relatively close to Stratford upon Avon and around one hour from home.  It was then further planned that we would move on to Hidcote which is around 10 minutes away.  This sounded like a fine day out to me so I agreed to go.
Fibrex is family run business and  home to the National Collection of Pelagoniums and the National Collection of Hedera.  They also sell a wide range of ferns, begonias, perennial geraniums and some amazing hibiscous and conservatory plants.
Heather was our guide for the day and we started off being talked through fern propagation.  Sadly fern spores are now well understood and the Victorian belief that fern flowers and seeds were invisible is now known to be unfounded.  This is sort of a shame as it was believed that if you ate the invisible seeds they would make you invisible, hence the amount of fairies living in ferny dells.  I decided not to tell the fairies that spores are a known thing, one wouldn't wish to disappoint them or make them vacate the bottom of the garden.
The fern spore collection process is just getting started.
We moved on to where the pelagonium cuttings were being rooted.  They take up to 1000 cuttings a day in the cuttings season.  We were told that it was best to take the cutting in the morning, let it dry for a couple of hours and then pot it up.  My success with pelagonium cuttings is variable so I shall give this a go.
We spent a lot of time admiring the pelagoniums.  This is a zonartic pelagonium which is a new kind of pelagonium and the product of decades of cross-breeding.  They come in a range of yellows and creams and pinks.  These will be available to order soon.
There are so many different types of pelagonium, there are more than one national collection but Fibrex is the only nursery to have the national collection of all of them.  We were told it is the largest collection in the world, impressive or what!
I could have spent several hours just looking at them, admiring them and coveting them.  One of the most important pieces of information Heather shared with us is that pelagoniums should be kept at above 7 deg.  If you keep them above this temperature then they should get through the winter.  I bring mine into the conservatory to over winter them and in future I will make sure I definitely do this.
We moved on to look at the hedera (ivies).  We walked around the poly tunnel and I found myself uttering words I never expected to: 'ooh look at the amazing ivy'.  If, like me, you have rampant dark grim ivy wandering around your garden, it is rather good to be reminded that ivy, like all plants, has its beauty and some of the varieties were truly stunning.
Then it was into the begonia tunnel.  These big blousy blooms are just incredible.  I have many begonias but not any like this.......... yet............
Then it was hello to the ferns.  So many ferns, so many beautiful ferns.  There was a time when I thought ferns were dull and just sat there being green.  Now I look at the different shapes and forms, I admire their shades of green and the emergence of their fronds, I am a fern convert.
Mmmmm ferns.
and of course a box of delights came home with me.  Four pelagoniums, one ivy and one fern = happy happy.

In the afternoon we wandered on to Hidcote where we were given a tour by All Horts member and gardener at Hidcote, Tom.  Tom proudly showed us around the gardens and talked us through some of the many changes that are happening to restore the gardens to be more like they were when Major Johnston created it.  I last visited Hidcote last November, after a gap of several years.  It was good to see it in the growing season.
We had a really good wander,
there is much to see and love at this garden,
we spent a lot of time in the hot house in the kitchen garden.  I am still in spikey/succulent mode at the moment.
We had the most wonderful afternoon.

A massive thank you to Heather and Tom for looking after us and giving us so much of their time.  Thank you also to All Horts for another wonderful day out with such good company.
Just to round this off, whilst I am talking about being still in spikey mode - this is pelagonium Little Spikey, how could I leave such an adorable pelagonium behind at the nursery?  I am pretty sure that this pelagonium is the equivalent of L'il Sebastian.

Wordless Wednesday - Tom

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Plant Review - Hopes Groves Nurseries hedging

I was contacted a few weeks ago and asked it I would like to trial some of Hopes Grove Nurseries hedging plants.  I had a look at the website and decided to say yes.  The plants arrived quite quickly and were packed with care.
I unpacked them and was pleased with their condition.  These are potted plants, not bare root as it is too early to be planting bare root hedges just yet.  Because they are potted they can be planted at any time, though of course they will need watering until properly established.

The plants received were:

2 x Dwarf Box
2 xYew
2 x Euronymous Golden
2 x Japanese Golden Holly
1 x Box

Then I had to decide where I was going to plant them.  I had an area in mind when I agreed to trial the plants.  I have been thinking about starting a new area for the garden and this hedging pack was a good start to the new plan.
I set the pots out in the garden and then left them for a week.  I had to keep watering them as the weather did get very hot, but I wanted to keep walking around them and thinking about whether this really was the right position for them.  I often do this with a new area in the garden, I want to view it from different angles and get used to seeing them in position.
Then it was time to plant them.
They are going to make a low, knitted together hedge just to one side of the Wild Garden, just before it really gets into the wild area.  I have gently clipped the very top of a couple of them to help them bush out.  I am not intending letting the hedge get over 30 centimeters tall.
The more eagle eyed of you might wonder why I have planted them around a rather wind-burned acer.  The acer has been put there to recover as it is very sheltered in that part of the garden.

This area will be developing over the next year.  This row of hedging plants has settled in quickly and I am really pleased with them.  The recent rains have helped settle them in and after a couple of weeks they are looking very good.  I happily recommend them.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

What to look out for from Mr Fothergill's next year

I was very pleased to have been invited to go along to Mr Fothergill's press day, which is an annual event and one that I always look forward to.  Not only do we get treated to a guided tour of the trial grounds, we get to know all the news for what to look out for in the future.

2018 is the 40th anniversary of the founding of the company, which remains a family business.  They are entering their anniversary year in style with the announcement that they have purchased the well respected tool company, Darlac.  The purchase has come about through the retirement of the founders and owners of the company.  Darlac will remain a stand alone company but does add a new perspective to Mr Fothergill's.
I also have to mention the new Optigrow vegetable range that Mr Fothergill's is launching from January 2018.  This range is of 'pre-germinated' seeds.  Now I am not going to pretend to completely understand the science of this, but as I understand it the seeds are encouraged to start to germinate (but not in a way that you can see any change to the outside of the seed) and then redried.  Then when you start to grow them they are ready to leap into action.  The seeds apparently lead to good strong healthy plants that perform well for all their life time.  There are no chemicals involved in this process, only air and water.  I found this really interesting and I look forward to trying some of these seeds when they are available.

Here are some of the exciting things you can look forward to from Mr Fothergill's
A new sweetpea called Lady Salisbury was named by Lady Salisbury.  Lady Salisbury is herself a keen gardener and a patron of  Capel Manor College.  It is a grandiflora sweet pea and highly scented.  We were given some seeds and I am looking forward to growing it next year.  It will be in the shops to buy from January 2018.
Another new plant being named was Verbena Scentsation, This plant was discovered by BrianTalman, who works at Mr Fothergill's and can be seen here naming the plant.  He noticed a strong scent when out on the trial grounds one day and after some careful sniffing, found the plant where it was coming from.  A few years later and selected breeding has led to this marvellous plant.  We all passed the plant around and I can confirm it does have a clear lovely scent.  Apparently it will flower from June to October so that is a very good value plant.  I am looking forward to growing this next year.

We were shown where it was growing in the trial grounds and the scent greeted us even on this damp dull day.
We were told that next year is going to be the year of the marigold.  I love marigolds so being encourage to grow them is not going to be a message I will resist.  These little beauties came home with me and I am really looking forward to growing them.  Just in case you are conufsed, Johnsons is a Mr Fothergill's brand.
I always enjoy the stripes of marigolds in the trial grounds.  The day I visited it rained a lot, when I say a lot I mean torrentially.  It paused very briefly when we were out in the trial grounds and despite these conditions just look at the colour and cheerfulness these give.
Next year is also going to be the year of the pepper.  I routinely grow chillies but next year I will be growing these coloured peppers as well.  I am rather excited about this and a little anxious as I do not usually grow peppers.

After walking around the trial polytunnels I came away deciding that I needed to be more adventurous in my vegetable growing.

So this packet of little aubergines came home with me as well.  Wish me luck!
We were also introduced to the new RHS range from Mr Fothergill's.  These are all seeds that have been awarded the RHS AGM and also most of the flower range are rated as being good for pollinators.  I made sure I can home with these Convolvulus, they really caught my eye in the trial grounds and I knew I wanted to give them a try.

The trial grounds are always very inspiring.  It is like a voyage of discovery wandering up and down the rows of flowers and vegetables, looking at what is doing well and maybe not so well.  Despite the rain everything was holding up very well.
There are all sorts of flowers growing there:  annuals and perennials.  Most are grown as single types in each row, though they may be combined in seed mixes before they go on sale.  Apparently they are mixed in cement mixers, very clean cement mixers, but cement mixers none-the-less.  I loved the image this put into my mind.
The grounds are also alive with insects, as the rain paused the bees rushed out to enjoy the flowers.
The staff at Mr Fothergill's take part in various challenges through the year, this year one of the challenges was to create wildlife-friendly patches.  I loved this one with its bug hotel.
We also visited the vegetable trialling area.
This raised bed is full of the new David Domoney 'Get Growing' seed range which is aimed at people who are new to vegetable growing.  It is a collection of 56 straight-forward varieties of vegetables with jargon-free instructions and known to be good to grow.  I liked this idea that instead of the rows and rows of different varieties that will just boggle the mind of many who are tip-toeing into the world of grow your own, they can gain confidence from trying something they can see what it is and be confident that it will perform.
I was very inspired from my day at the trial grounds.  I came home with these to grow.  I do love a good yellow courgette and the pale climbing french bean is something I have discovered this year and want to grow more of.
and of course there will be poppies.

I had the most marvellous day at the Mr Fothergill's Press Day and I must thank all the team for making us all feel so welcome and sharing so much of their time and knowledge with us.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Tree following August 2017 - Phantasmagoria

The past few weeks have been a mix of extreme heat and then we have had quite a bit of rain.  Whilst Quince Major is now well established, Quince Minor is still in its first year in the garden so I have taken care to give it a bucket of water every now again.  Yes, a bit like it is a bit like giving a horse a drink, except I would not have poured the water over the horse's feet and I don't have a horse.  I have no idea why I started this horse line of thought....

As a result both trees are still looking quite good.
Quince Major is putting on lots of new growth.  These shoots must be a good eighteen inches long.
Quince Minor has not put on so much growth, about five inches I would say, and it has struggled a bit in the hot weather, but it is keeping going and I am hopeful that next year it will feel more settled and start to put on some serious growth.
I stood in front of the trees for a while whilst contemplating this post.  I walked around them a couple of times and I went to admire the new growth on Quince Major again.  Its branches are a little droopy with weight of leaves and I lifted one a little to make sure it was not caught in the near by nettles.  As I was doing this something caught my eye.  I thought there was a bird sitting in the tree.

I moved my head so I could see better and a small furry creature was indeed sitting in the tree.
I did a double-take.  How could this be? Was it what I thought it was?
I mean, if it looks like quince could it be a quince?  My astonishment at this discovery knew no bounds,  I really thought I might be hallucinating.  I even wondered if some bright spark had got into the garden and stapled one to the tree. No, this was a real bona fide, quince growing on my tree.  For those of you who have seen the film Zombieland, just imagine Tallahassee finding a twinkee, that was what it felt like.
I dared not touch it in case it fell off.  I looked to see if there were more but no, this is the only one.  The Highlander of the quince world (there can be only one.....)

I have no idea how I had not noticed this quince before, but there it is, the Quest for a Quince is over.  Buying Quince Minor clearly worked as a threat as it made Quince Minor get its act together.  It was not through cross-pollination of these self-fertilising quinces as Quince Minor had no surviving blossom following the frosts.

So I hereby give you notice; I will complete the year following the quinces, but next year I shall move on and find a new tree to bother.

More trees being followed can be found here courtesy of Squirrelbasket.