Tuesday, 31 May 2011

End of month review - May

"And along come pretty little May!
May was full of promises"  (Rodgers & Hammerstein)

May might have been full of promises, but it was largely devoid of rain and a bit windy towards the end.  Yet despite this, the garden has developed really well over the last month.

I have quite a lot of roses in my garden, this is one of my favourite, Rosa 'Gertrude Jekyll', growing by my front door.  The scent as I walk past it is amazing.  It sulked for a year when I first planted it, last year it gave a few grudging flowers and this year it has gone for it in a big way - just delightful.

I also have several Rosa 'Claire Austin', I was once told if you want to find really beautiful plants, find the ones that are named after people in their family.   This one certainly does not disappoint.  It looks and smells divine.

Not all in the garden is rosy though.  This is one of my Rosa  'Souvenir du Docteur Jamain'.  It smells incredible, but it does have a tendency for the flowers to fail.  Not sure if this is caused by the drought but it is a shame. 

It is peony time.  One by one they start to open around my garden.  The ones I planted last year are not feeling like flowering yet.  I have waited for three or four years before now for that first flower.  This one has been in place for three years and flowers well every year, it is clearly happy.

These poppies looked amazing a few days ago.  The wind and the rain have battered them since then, but they remain one of my most favourite flowers.  The silky crinkleness of the blooms and the way the light reflects off them is just a joy.  I like their height as well, a good 3 foot tall and every year there are more and more flowers.  In a couple of weeks when the flowers are over I will cut them down to the ground.  They look so untidy if I don't and they spring up again so quickly, I might get another flush of flowers if I am lucky.

To add joy to my poppy world these Papaver Rhoeas have just popped up in the border.  Another joy in my self seeding world - but........

....... these daisies are now a little too rampant.  I removed quite a lot a few weeks ago, I clearly need to remove more.  They are very beautiful, but just a bit too much now.

The first day lily opened today.  Not sure about the colour of this one, a bit wishy washy for my taste, but they are lovely flowers and I like their fleeting nature.  Here today and gone tomorrow.

This part of the border makes me happy.  Verbascums, foxgloves and some pale pink poppies.  I think it works well.

These are the dahlia seedlings I planted out the other day.  They already look happier for being outside and having some rain.  I have planted lots in this border, called 'the dahlia border' (when did I get so grand I started naming borders??)  This border gets the most sun in the day.  It has virtually no shade until later afternoon and dahlias love it.  Now to hope that the slugs keep at bay!

The top third of the garden  I allow to grow sort of meadow-ish.  I mow paths through it and I have planted some british native wild flowers in it.   It is now in its third year and its doing ok.  The nettles however are a real problem so I glyphosated them and now they just look a horrid brown mess.   Christopher Lloyd's book on Meadows is invaluable and does make it clear a meadow is not easy, it really is not.

Some bits of the meadow planting are getting there.  I like this bit and it does encourage so much wildlife.  Bees and butterflies love it.

This is meant to be a beech pillar, I think I have to give up and admit it is really a dead twig.  I will have to replant in the autumn.

I finish where I started, talking about the drought which is best demonstrated by the water level in my pond.  You should not be able to see the gravel edging, the water should be up to the level of the rock edging.  Last year I worried whether I should top up  the pond or not.  I googled pond advice obsessively but in the end did not add any more water.  I think holding my nerve was best, but if it is so low now I worry about the rest of the summer.

So May has been good in parts.  The garden is growing well and after yesterday's rain it is much happier.  I haven't mention how the vegetables are doing, but they are largely ok.  Just one minor disaster when a frost caught my cobra beans and set them right back.

Otherwise goodbye to May and hello to June, half way through the year already - how did that happen?

Friday, 27 May 2011

Predictable 'I went to Chelsea and I saw a plant' post

On Tuesday I went to Chelsea, I've been going for a while now and it was great to go this year with me old mucker Michelle.  We have shared a love of gardens and gardening for many years now.  Sometimes we might not see each other for years, but we always pick up where we left off.

Last year we went to Tatton together, but this year it was Chelsea's turn to have the old firm back in business together.  We planned a two day extravaganza of Chelsea and food and wine. 

But enough of the that, Chelsea was all over the news as not being about plants.  Allegedly it is about gimmicks, it is not relevant etc etc etc.  I went to a different Chelsea.  I went to one where I saw lots of amazing plants.  Some were on stalls in the pavilion and some were in gardens.  Some I don't like very much (cactus - why?)  Have to admit I am not that keen on looking at veg at flower shows either.  I don't want to admire their form, I want to eat them.   Don't get me started on salad stuff!

There are criticisms that it is not really a flower show.  Now I am not expert enough to know what the definition of a flower show is so I can only give my personal, uninformed, opinion.   It is a show and it is full of flowers displayed in many different ways and prizes are awarded.  It is very clearly a competition involving plants and medals are awarded accordingly.  So in my simple world it is a sort of flower show.
Some of the planting at Chelsea is complex and some is incredibly simple.  Some I look at and go 'meh', others I look at, I photograph and I look at to give me inspiration for plants and colours that I might want to use in some way one day.

I will not be recreating bits of Chelsea as such.  For a start I am not capable of such a feat nor am I arrogant enough to think I might have half the skill to make it possible to do so.

I also do not want to as I want my garden, not a copy of some ones elses; but if I see a beautiful iris, and incredible peony or stunningly shaped trees, then that is something I will store in the memory for future purchase/cultivation.

So do I think it is relevant, well yes to me it is.  As I said, I am not seeking to copy it but I see it as similar to London Fashion Week.  The creations there will never be anything I will buy, but a toned down much cheaper version may end up in my wardrobe in three years time.  Its the ideas and the vision that matters.  Even when I dislike it it is informing my opinion.  That is what I want - things to inspire and inform me.

and I want to have fun, and I think Chelsea is fun.

Oh and Michelle, get saving for next year - it was only practice this time!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Of Motorbikes and shrubbery

The TT (Tourist Trophy) is an amazing sporting event held every year on the Isle of Man (just in case you didn't know).  Motorbikes and motorbikers from all over the world converge on this tiny island that nestles between Ireland and Great Britain.

It is important, nay compulsory, for me to make clear that the Isle of Man is a British Crown Dependency and not part of the United Kingdom or Europe but is part of the British Isles.  It has possibly the oldest continuously existing parliament in the world, the Tynwald and was the first country to give women the vote in national elections in 1881.  Emmeline Pankhurst's mother was Manx.  

I have visited the Isle of Man many times, staying in Kirk Michael which perches on the north-west coast of the island.  As you would expect I would not return from such travels without plants.  Escallonia rubra var. macrantha is noticeable all over the island and always in flower when it is TT time of year.  Of course I bought one and every year when it flowers I can almost hear the motorbikes screaming around the roads.

It's flowering a early this year, the TT festival begins on the 30th May which makes it about 10 days early, which seems to be the same as the rest of the garden at the moment.

In reality has has more against it than for it in my usual gardening world.  I am not a fan of evergreens.  I find them generally quite dull, sitting there just looking green all winter.  I forgive this shrub, it is pretty well behaved; I trim it once a year and it is as tough as old boots (which is why it thrives on the island).  It can be used for hedging but I am trying to topiarise mine into a ball shape.

I won't be at the TT this year, having a break from it at the moment, maybe next year.......

Thursday, 19 May 2011


Gardens I have lived with part 6 - or in which I meet my garden nemesis

It turns out that not all gardens can be saved.  Or at least some gardens cannot be saved by a specific owner due to the weight of issues mounting up against them.

I moved into this garden in Spring 2006.  It was always a temporary move and that was problem number one with the garden.  I had no idea how long I would be living there, whether it would be six months or three years, but I knew I would be moving again relatively soon.

Issue number two, this garden more than any other I have ever experienced, was not mine.   Usually I have moved into a house and the garden is obviously a legacy of the previous owner, but it is immediately mine and I start work to shape it how I want.  This garden never felt like it was mine.

I started on the front garden first of all.  It was a beautiful Victorian villa, an end of terrace in the city centre.  The house had the largest rooms I have ever seen in a house and for a city centre garden it was a reasonable size.  Because it was a corner plot that helped too.

The front garden was a litter trap and along the side of the house were lots of spikey thorny shrubs.  I was advised to leave these alone as they would deter working girls from use the side of the house for their trade.  I was also advised to wear thick gloves when working in the front garden in case there were any needles discarded in there.  (thankfully there never were).

I planted a magnolia and some acers in the front and some bulbs and a rose.  It looked quite nice and certainly more looked after when I had done.  So I turned my attention to the back garden.

The back garden had a large formal brick lined pond with koi carp in it.  The garden was terraced and rose up quite a steep bank and there was death-inducing slippy decking.   There had been a start of designing the back garden which involved brick edged parterres with gravel paths.  I have to admit I hated it.  It was far too formal for me and constraining.  Still, I began to weed it and clear out the years of weeds that had accumulated and I made quite good progress.  There were some nice shrubs and a rather stunning climbing rose that grew close to the back gate.

I cleared a bed to grow vegetables in.  But the high brick walls made it shady and it was difficult for them to thrive.  I planted various perennials in the other beds and tried to keep it nice but the motivation just wasn't there.  I did not like this garden, no matter what I tried to do with it I could not make it feel like mine.

I was very grateful that I only lived there a year, by that point I was desperate for a garden I could call my own and could shape to what I wanted.   I was so glad to move into my current garden which is described in the earlier post of introduction to my garden (10/02/11).

and for now that's it.  I am sure one day I will move again and have a whole new garden to conquer but I cannot see that happening in the foreseeable future.  There is so much I want to do with where I am now unless something remarkable happens I will be here for a few more years yet.

The postscript to this post is that the house was sold a couple of years after I left it.  I made the mistake of driving past recently to see that the front garden was now largely gravel though I think the Magnolia Stellata was still there.  The back garden is now a car park.  Whilst I never got on with the garden, that made me sad.  A bit more city centre space turned over to concrete.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Love in a mist

or an apology to Nigella

It is Nigella time in my garden.  It is currently in all three stages.   I have some that are in flower, some that are old seed heads from last year and some seedlings just starting out.

It is also known as Love in a Mist, or apparently sometimes Devil in a Bush, clearly a flower of extremes.  As a hardy annual it is such a useful plant, the ferny, fragile foliage is beautiful in itself.  The flower heads come in a range of colours from creamy white, to pink, to pale and shocking petrol blue.   The seed pods are beautiful as they swell and eventually go papery and brown.  They look like balloons of seeds and they spread themselves around very efficiently.  I am not a flower arranger, but I see the seed pods in particular used regularly to great effect.

The final bonus is that the seeds can have culinary use too.  I admit as a nervous soul I would buy them from a shop rather than use ones from my garden, but it is just a good all-round doer!

Nigella is one of my favourite self seeders.  I happily let it rampage around my garden, editing out the ones that are not where I want them but letting colonies thrive untouched.  It finds the awkward gaps and fills them with colour.  I am grateful for the creativity of nature that provides such good planting combinations.

I buy the odd packet of seeds every now and again, just to keep them topped up and to add some new colours.  But by and large it is now self sustaining and I just sit back and let them do their stuff.

I do have a confession and an apology though.  Many years ago, when Nigel Lawson was Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was the first time I had heard the name Nigella in relation to his daughter.  I did not know it was a name I thought they were being rude and that she was basically a 'little Nigel', same as if her father had been called Geoffrey they might have called her Geoffella.  So when many years later I found out it was a flower I was fascinated to see it and have grown it ever since.

So - sorry Nigella, I didn't understand what a beautiful flower you are named after.

Friday, 13 May 2011

My garden journal

" 7 August 2001  Three men are pruning back the trees.  The holly in the backyard is being reduced by half to see if it will look better.  If it doesn't, I will have it totally removed."  This is how my garden journal writing began.

Since that date I have noted down whenever I have worked in the garden.  Listing what was in flower and when.  What was looking good and what was not and where I could see room for improvement.  If I had a good idea about what could go where then I would quickly write it down so that I would not forget.  I still keep this journal faithfully.  Every time I get out in the garden I note down what I have done.  There are lists of all the bulbs and seeds and plants I have bought/planted.  I note down the first daffodil opening, the first rose and the first leaf drop.  I note down most frosts so that I know when the first and last frost is each year.

When I have written in the journal I often look back to previous years, see what I was doing, what was happening and most importantly what I was thinking, so if I think I need more or less of something I will note it down.  I make plans of my veg borders so I can remember what was in each one each year and can rotate the planting.  If something has worked well I celebrate it, if it hasn't I lament and suggest a solution so that when the time comes I know what my initial thoughts were.  This process of iteration can be invaluable especially when dealing with tricky areas.

A lot of it is mundane and written purely for myself as reference and reminder.  It is not great literature but it serves its purpose well.  A key part of my garden is my journal, I would not be without it.

26/04/2002  Cut the grass and did the edges.  Did some gentle weeding.  Planted out geraniums and daisies bought as plug plants.  Everything seems to be growing well though things still very dry, but rain is due next week.

26/04/2003 Cut back forsythia quite hard.  Had lots of rain over last couple of days.  Garden is suddenly growing fast!

 24/04/2004 Cut grass, did edges and general weeding.  Cut back forsythia and fuscia not as hard as last year.  Potted on sanguisorba, helenium and cosmos seedlings.  the datura seeds have just started to grow.  Garden is looking really good.

25/04/2005  warm day, first butterflies.

01/05/2006  Moved in a few weeks ago.  Sorted out front garden a bit.  Planted a magnolia stellata which is now flowering well.  A clematis, 2 red 1 green acer, a piris, a rhodedenron, some daffodils.  One of the Calke wallflowers from home and some nasturtian seeds which currently are doing nothing.

16/09/2007   Moved in on the 10th.  Planted tree fern and a canna on the Friday (7th).  Tree fern was very dry, so I hope it will be happier here.  Did first real planting today of some hollyhocks and daisy seedlings.  Also some Salvia Gergorii cuttings and some foxgloves that had self seeded in plant pots. 

26/04/2008  Cut some of the grass.   Dug some of the back lawn up.  Warm day.

26/04/2009  Weather turning.  Bit cloudier, bit greyer, but still nice.  Potted on the larkspur, gypsophyllium and cotton plants.  Planted out the remaining meadow plugs so we have:  selfheal, harebell, red clover, great knapweed, purple loosestrife, wild basil, clustered bellflower, kidney vetch and tansy.  Sowed nasturtians and cerinthe seeds.  plants some penstemons in the back.  Rain is due tomorrow, first in ages.  Sowed dahlia merckii seeds.

28/04/2010  Blossom open on both apple trees.  Warm today.  Bit breezy, feels like rain.

26/04/2011  Not a big gardening day.  Removed some of the sweet rocket that was badly placed and also two of the ornamental rhubarbs, has made some good space in the borders.  Also moved the odd grassy thing that was in the border, split it into three and placed it closer to the pond edge.  I like the idea of grasses around the pond.  Lots cooler today, more cloudy, but will it rain?

My journal is my garden history.

Am I obsessive - yes.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Singing not miming

Glad that I live am I,
That the sky is blue;
Glad for the country lanes
And the fall of dew.

After the sun the rain,
After rain the sun,
This is the way of life,
Till the work be done.

All that we need to do,
Be we low or high,
Is to see that we grow
Nearer the sky.

(Lizette W Reese 1856 - 1935)

We used to sing this at infant school often.  Back when I was young enough to actually sing during morning assembly rather than mime the words grumpily at the back as became my practice in later years.  (now I don't even bother to mime, not that I am frequently in hymn singing situations).

I know I have already blogged about rain, and usually it is not something I would keep going on about, but the rain this week was much needed and it was good.  My ideal is sunny warm days and soaking rainy nights.

So this has been the song of this week.  We have had rain, we have had sun.  Everything is growing like crazy.

and yes, a bit more rain please, we are not through the woods yet.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

When the heavens finally opened

or 1.4mm of happiness

Its been fairly well documented that March and April this year have seen very little rain.  In my corner of Leicester the soil has dried to cracking point.  The thick clay of the garden kept precious moisture in for quite a while, but the past two weeks in particular have pushed it to the edge.

So it's predictable that we all rush out and take photographs of plants with raindrops on them.  It's predictable because a) it looks good and b) we are so flipping relieved we are finally getting some rain!

and yes, if I could keep the cats still long enough you would get a photograph of whiskers on kittens too (well, a big puppy of a kitten who could be confused for a bruiser of a cat these days)

enough already - its traditional to end with a song so:

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Ghost of the railway worker

Gardens I have lived with part 5

You may be relieved to know that I am nearing the end of this saga, a tale in six parts (yes, that means one more).

The garden I moved to next was the most significant for me.  In this garden suddenly my interest in gardening that was clearly always there developed into a full on, no holds barred, obsession.  The house was very small and originally built as a railway workers house, quite literally a two up, two down.  The garden was mainly at the front, it was 60 foot long (I know this as when I created the path along it I measured it) and there was a small, Victorian, blue brick back yard out the back with a couple of borders in them.

In the back yard there was a very productive asparagus crown.  To my shame I never ate any,  I let it grow into its ferny magnificence every year.  It was only later I realised I was missing a treat.

The front contained a lot of shrubs and heather when I moved in.  It was largely grass with bits of borders.  When I left it was a thin strip of grass with much larger borders containing roses, perennials and a beautiful tree peony.

I did take the tree fern (the now sadly deceased tree fern) when I left, but otherwise I left the garden.  Whilst I drive past my other gardens every now and again, this is one garden I will never return to.  I could easily drive up and check it out as it is largely a front garden, but the pain of what might have happened to it would be too much to bear.  Don't ask a question if you can't handle the answer is a rule of mine.

I used a lot of annuals in the garden as well.  Wallflowers in the spring, cosmos and nasturtians in the summer.

As the space was so limited I used pots to grow all manner of things.  The gingko tree lived in a (large) pot by the back door.  I grew veg in a variety of containers very successfully.  The twisted hazel and the olive tree lived in pots as did a rather lovely red acer.  All of these moved with me and now are planted happily in my current garden.  (I think I have killed the olive tree, moving on....)

This house was the first one I had ever owned that was just mine. I came to realise quickly I was incredibly territorial about it.  It  was my space, I would do what I wanted in it and the freedom that gave me was intoxicating.

It was at this time I began writing my garden journal, but that will be the subject of a future post.

I loved this garden, it meant the world to me.  After about five years I came to realise though that it was becoming too small for me.  I cut my teeth on this space but now it was limited and it was time to start looking for a new garden to call my own. 

Not all things go totally to plan - that is part 6 though, not for now

Talking of sagas - my favourite saga ever is: