Monday, 19 February 2018

Product Review: Earthcycle Compost Soil Conditioner and Cow Compost

I was asked some weeks ago if I would like to receive some samples of compost from Earthcycle.  As I am sure you would hope from a company with such a name, their composts are organic and peat-free.  They are a family-run concern (I like family-run businesses), and are based in West Sussex.  All their composts are made on-site from locally sourced green waste and plant materials.

The samples duly arrived and then I have to say they sat in my shed for a while.  I will not review products I have not actually tried and the weather has just been too awful to even consider trying them out.  The last couple of weeks however, whilst still cold and frosty, have seen a couple of better gardening days.  Last weekend I weeded the vegetable borders (a task I always think I deserve some sort of medal for doing as it always feels like an achievement); and so this week I decided that it was worthwhile trying out the composts.

Trialling compost does not make for good photographs, well not from me anyway.
Firstly in one bed I dug in the 10mm Soil conditioner.  It is wonderfully fine and even,the 10mm boast is no boast, it was fact.  It is perfect to use on cold wet soil like I currently have as with only a little titivating (a technical term) the soil felt looser and more amenable to plant in which, according to the information that came with it, should help encourage strong root growth.

I then tried the cow compost in another of the veg beds.
Again this is very fine compost, there are no big lumps of anything that you might compost from a cow.  It also did not smell very cow-composty.  I don't mind the smell of rotted manure on the garden, but it is also nice when it does not smell.  It mixed in quickly and should encourage healthy growth.  This product can also be used as a mulch.

I will report back on progress as the growing season develops.

Both of the composts are available in 1m3 bulk bags and 40L bags and can be purchased from their website.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

A wintery Ellicar Gardens

Many non-gardening people I know struggle to understand why I visit gardens during the winter. Indeed many gardens close during this period so that they can have rest and get vital work completed before spring brings new visitors.  Gardens that do open during this time are prized.  The weather can make getting outside in my own garden a challenge during winter, so a wander around someone else's garden is a pleasure.  Finding an open garden is one challenge; visiting in decent weather is another.  A good garden, however, will shine in weather good or bad.

Following on from my visit to Hodsock Priory we were invited to take a quick drive across to Ellicar Gardens.  I knew of this garden from various magazine articles and it has also been featured on Gardeners' World.  I thought it was a good garden worth seeing, but I was still unprepared for what I found.
The morning had been cold and a little drizzly, the afternoon decided to be cold and more rainy.  Undeterred, Sue Murch, who owns the gardens with her husband Will, took us on a tour.  I always think you can tell a lot about a garden from its winter bones.  This is a garden with very good bones.
The gardens are large, set in five acres, and have been started from scratch since the Murch family moved in eight years ago.  The natural swimming pool is a major feature of the garden and, quite frankly, a thing of wonder.
Even on this dull grey day the pool reflected the garden around it.  In the warmer months there are dragonflies and kingfishers swooping as you swim in it.  It is naturally filtered and has growing areas around the margins.  
The pond is surrounded by grasses and willows and lots of winter colour.  It is a work of art.
To the front of the house there is more winter colour, with bergenias and snowdrops.
The red arachnid stems of this rubus are sublime.  I think it is Rubus phoenicolasius, the Japanese wineberry, but I am happy to be corrected. I stood in front of them for a while in admiration.  I would say silent admiration but this is not true.  All the time I walked around the garden I kept saying 'wow' and other highly inarticulate noises.
The gardens were looking immaculate, so neat and tidy and yet a haven for wildlife.  Whilst we were there there was constant movement from the birds enjoying the garden.  
There is also work in progress. This will be partly perennial meadow when it is finished. Notice the red stems in the rear of the picture.  The garden is full of structure like this, it looks beautiful and also provides vital living space for overwintering insects and creatures.  Wildlife is very important to Sue and Will and the space is designed to welcome as much diversity as possible.
The gardens are also part small-holding.  They have horses, pigs (isn't she a beauty?), goats and a llama. 
This is Sue and Orlando the llama, he is a new addition to the family.  I left with llama-envy.
There is much more to see at the gardens and I whole-heartedly encourage you to visit if you can.  I have rarely left a garden as excited and inspired as I did from there.  The word inspirational is easy to bandy about, but I do not use the word lightly.  This is a garden to revisit and see through the seasons.  I want to return, I have to return, this is a special place.

Ellicar Gardens is open for NGS on Sunday 25th February 2018. Go.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Snowdrops and more at Hodsock Priory

Visiting Hodsock Priory at snowdrop time has become an annual event for me and it is one that I enjoy more every time I visit.  There is something about visiting a garden regularly that makes it become very special.  With each return visit it seems to me that there is time to see something new.  It feels like I peel another layer of the onion away and a little bit more magic is released.
The day of the visit was cold and damp.  It was trying to rain so I made sure I was dressed for the weather and had my good winter walking boots on.  We started our walk in the woods where the pools of snowdrops stretch out under the trees.
This part of the wood is a pleasant size for a walk.  Long enough for a good chat and to see different views, but not too long to be a hike.
This is the Jubilee Wood that was planted in 2012 to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  It is made up of over 300 oak trees planted in a diamond shape.  The joy of this wood is that it will be there for centuries to come and is planted with the future in mind.
Woodlands are important to Hodsock.  As we stood talking we could hear the sound of a hedging machine cutting a line to let in more light to this wood on the edge of the field.  This wood is about thirty years old and George Buchanan, who was showing us around his family's garden, told us that they have plans to plant further woodlands.
George also explained to us that they are growing cricket bat willows.  These have to be kept very straight and will produce around thirty bats per tree.  I found this fascinating.

There is more to see at Hodsock as well as the snowdrops.
The scented winter walk with winter honeysuckle and sarcococca, is superb and one of my favourite parts of the garden.
There are also some wonderful specimen trees, just look at the bark peeling from this birch.
There is also this superb specimen of a Chimenanthus wafted scent towards us.
The nearby hamamelis was just smothered in flowers too.
By the lake there are petasites, which always sounds a bit like an alien to me.  I half expect them to quiver as I stare at them. They are strange looking plants and apparently rather a thug in habit, what a shame.
and there are snowdrops,
lots of them.
and some came home with me, well its rude not to buy some...... and some cyclamen..... these will be planted in my Hodsock Corner, the part of the garden I add to year on year.  As the snowdrops start to emerge I look at them and smile as it will soon be Hodsock time again.


Hodsock Priory is open daily until March 4th, please check the website for details.

On 16th to 18th February there are performances of  'The Snowdrop Queen', a specially commissioned piece by the Whispering Wood Folk who will be winding their way up and through the beech trees in the Hodsock wood.  I have to say I think this will be quite a spectacle, there is more information on the Hodsock website.

The weekend of the 23rd to 25th February is Hodsock's Moorcroft Heritage Weekend where Moorcroft Pottery will be launching their new collection 'The Fair Maids of February' and the Hodsock Priory vase; there are no prizes for guessing which flower is the focus of the design (its a snowdrop).

On the 4th March Hodsock will be opening for Nottinghamshire NGS with all the proceeds of the entrance money on the day going to NGS charities.

Other snowdrop gardens visited this year:

Holme Pierrepont Hall

Sunday, 11 February 2018

A Sunday morning break in the weather

This winter feels like it has been colder than recent years.  We seem to have had more constant cold, more frost and more sleet and snow.  This has made getting out in the garden difficult particularly as it seems to have rained at weekends quite a lot.  As I generally only have weekends to get my garden time in, this has been a frustrating start to the year.

This Sunday morning the sun shone. Saturday had been rainy and squally winds so I did not expect too much from the garden.  It is very muddy in places and I try and keep off the borders when it is like this.  I had some snowdrops I had recently purchased that I wanted to get planted, but I had not really expected to do much else.

Yet the sun was shining despite the bitterly cold breeze and I had not spent quality time in the garden for a couple of weeks.  I stood outside the greenhouse looking for that job that needed doing that I could usefully achieve. 
The veg beds called to me, they are easy to weed in this sort of soggy weather as I do not need to walk on them.  Every year I say I will look after them better, every year I say I will weed them more regularly and yet this resolution rarely holds.  Last year they were mainly used for growing the flowers for my daughter's wedding which did mean they did get weeded more frequently than usual.  This year I remain undecided what I am going to grow in them.  I enjoyed the randomness of flowers and some vegetables in this area last year so it is likely I might do something similar again.

The sun continued to shine and I imagined that I feel a tiny bit of heat from it, just a glimmer.  I think it was probably around 50 on the Scoville scale which was enough to raise a smile and a hope that soon spring will be here.
There were joys to be found in the vegetable beds.  This chrysanthemum has been frozen and snowed on and yet still showed signs of life.  I am hopeful it might now flower for another year.  This persistence of life when not expected in plants is always a joy.   I just hope that some of the dahlias also left to fend for themselves over the winter have also hung on to enough vital spark to regrow.

and as I moved from raised bed to raised bed....
the pile of weeds grew larger.  This is always a happy sight.  The weeds are currently a heady mix of valerian, willow herb, herb robert, wood avens and dandelions. 
After a merry hour of weed removal; my trusty trug, hori-hori and kneeling pad had got nicely muddy and the borders were looking much better.  Just as I decided it must be time for lunch.....
.....it started to hail.  The afternoon swung from sun to snow to hail to snow to sun, the gardening time was officially over, but I had managed sometime outside so all was good.  Now to hope that next weekend sees some good weather so I can achieve some more garden time.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Tree Following February 2018 - a glimpse

The nights are getting shorter, or to put it even more positively, the days are now definitely getting longer.  To celebrate this the quince trees are stirring.
Quince Minor is looking a little tufty, last month's rumour of green is now less of a rumour and more of a prediction.  Growth is returning.
Quince Major is also on the move.  The growth buds are slightly pink or is it a hint of coral?  Either way there is movement in the bud department.
The trees are getting plenty of rain but it remains cold with frosts, sleet and some flutterings of snow.  This is not an issue for the trees at the moment as it is season-appropriate.  In fact please could we get all the frost and snow out of the way now and not have late frosts like we did last year.  I need my precious quince blossom to survive.

I am getting ahead of myself, it is only February and the blossom will arrive when it is ready.  I whisper to the tufts of growth "take care and grow strongly, remember you are meant to be providing quincelets."  Do they listen? Do they take note?  As ever, only time will tell.

More followed trees can be found on Squirrelbasket's blog.