Sunday, 27 November 2011

Word of the day

I often have a word of the day.  Not an official one, this is not a challenging quest I set myself, it is more of a ‘that word is stuck in my brain’ sort of day.
The other day word stuck in my head was exotic.  It started with a discussion about meatloaf (food not ageing rock star/actor beloved of Rocky Horror and Waynes World).  Meatloaf and recipes thereof had been high on my agenda for a couple of days and I had finally left one baking in the slow cooker for the day.  A key ingredient was ketchup, not something I cook with often.  This led to a discussion about other ketchup related recipes which led in turn to ‘sweet and sour’ which inevitably led to pineapple as I don’t eat sweet and sour food as I don’t like pineapple.  From there we rambled on into pizzas as I wondered whether Hawaiian pizza was still a thing; apparently it is – and it is made exotic by the addition of pineapple.  So there you have it, I was set for a day of ‘exotic’.
and it made be briefly think about exotic planting
and at the end of the day I went home and had very non-exotic meatloaf
oh - and please, when reading this - you have to pronounce 'exotic' as Waynetta does.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The order of the rose

Joy of joys!  Not only have I got a couple of days off - the sun is shining and my rose order has arrived.

Last year when my rose order arrived we were experiencing seriously hard frost.  I could not even heel them in as the ground was frozen solid.  I planted them in compost in the greenhouse in large tub in an effort to keep them alive and thankfully all but two survived and I'm not sure if it wasn't the drought that actually killed them.

This year however, within 45 minutes of being received they were in the ground and watered, I think it is the first time I have ever got them in their final position.  I think this bodes well for them.

Of course at the moment they do not look very exciting, but to me they are very exciting and I can't wait to see them flourish and flower next year.

So - the order of the rose:

1 x Rosa Hyde Hall to patch the hole in the new hedge, I had two roses fail last year and one was part of the newly planted rose hedge.  Of course it is planted a little out of line of the other roses to avoid planting in the same place, but I am hoping that once it is growing well that will not be noticeable.

1 x Rosa Hilda Murrell - because

2 x Rosa Sir Clough - obviously anything that makes me think of Sir Clough Williams Ellis and Portmeirion is likely to find a place in my garden.  I have planted one in Matt-cat's favourite place to remind me of him.

1 x Rosa Ferdinand Pilcher - this came from many recommendations following my post about stripey roses

and finally 1 x Rosa Glorie de Dijon in memory of a good friend who died earlier this year.

I love rose planting time of year.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Strange Days

Yesterday there was a strange quiet in the garden, an underlying quiet of great stillness.  In this quiet, damp-deadened sound of the voices of the birds singing was almost deafening; the volume was incredible.  As I looked around at the trees that surround my garden I could see birds of all shapes and sizes high in the branches.  I looked around for Tippy Hedren, but as she was no where to be seen I decided I was probably safe enough. Then, even more eerily, suddenly the birds all stopped.  The silence was complete for maybe 30 seconds, no more.
It’s a strange time of year: it’s the time of year when I keep thinking about the time of year.  It feels dark most of the time.  I see my front garden briefly as I walk to the car in the mornings, but it is too dark in the evenings.  Its like the back garden only exists at the weekends.  Where does it go for the rest of the week?  Does it only exist when I can see it?

I have too much time on my hands to think when the evenings are long, that is the problem.  Of course there is the endless planning for next year, I’ve worked out my vegetable beds rotation ready for the spring and I have all my seeds drying that I’ve collected.  I have my insurance cuttings hopefully ready to burst into life and I read garden magazines and books avidly hoping to finally catch up after the spring/summer weeks when I am outside rather than inside.

and the waiting – oh the waiting – I usually call the waiting ‘planning’, it makes it feel more productive, but really it is just waiting.

Of course its not really like anything has stopped.  It is just changing and moving into another phase.  The phase when the beauty in the garden changes to more skeletal, more ethereal qualities than just bold bright colour.
It is also the phase when the signs of life like the tips of bulbs just starting to show can cause rapturous joy.  It feels a bit like ‘in the midst of death we are in life’ to misquote horrendously.  Yet really, apart from the annuals, it is sleep rather than death.  The plants are planning (waiting) for their return.  (winter permitting of course).

At this time of year I wander around the garden at the weekends checking those signs of life.  Looking down to the detail of the buds forming on the trees, ensuring there are the latent signs of life for next year.   I rush out at weekends and do a bit more weeding in the hope that each weed removed now is saving time in the spring.
and there is the wondering, wondering whether the winter will be as harsh, when will the frost arrive, when/will we have snow?  I refer to my garden journal and consider what it was doing last year and the years before and look for patterns that probably do not really exist. 

Yes, it’s an odd time of year really, strange days.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


For non-blogging reasons I was having a look at what had happened in history on the 18th November.  Quite a few things it turns out, but the one that caught my eye was 18th November 1307 – the date that William Tell shot the apple with a crossbow that was on the head of his son.  An act that apparently led to the eventual formation of the Swiss Confederation.  Sort of Robin Hood, but more impact and less redistribution of wealth.

 It is not possible for me to think about William Tell without humming the William Tell Overture (Rossini 1829), which of course I mainly know from it being the theme tune of The Lone Ranger television series which was aired many (no seriously, many) years before I was born but has been repeated and shown so often I do remember it.

So what is the gardening link to this?  I don’t even like apples unless they are baked in crumble or pie and served with custard!  Well my thoughts turned to the things that make me remember certain things and that have influenced me hugely as an adult.
 Let’s be clear, Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin have a lot to answer for.  The Pogles was and is one of the most important influences in my early years.  There was Mr and Mrs Pogle, their adopted son Pippin (the fairies gave him to the Pogles as a thank you gift, (not child exploitation – an act of genuine kindness to an ageing childless couple), and there was Tog a stuffed stripy toy that was brought to life.  I wanted to be Tog, he was my hero, I spoke like him without even trying!  Key to all this though is that the Pogles was about living with nature.  They lived in the wood, a hedgepig woke them every morning by ringing the doorbell and in the shade of their tree grew Plant.  Plant was a huge, towering poppy looking, magical, plant.  They fed Plant with bilberry wine every day.  Once given his wine Plant would tell the Pogles stories.  It was a sort of benign group hallucination effect but for a four year old, just magical.  I don’t give my plants bilberry wine to drink, but I loved Plant and I think that was the early start of all that has followed since.
Leap ahead a few years and you get to The Herbs (Ivor Woods and Michael Bond).  Each character was the name of a herb.  Dill the dog, Parsley the Lion, Tarragon the Dragon and so on.  I had never heard of chives before watching this.  I spent years trying to grow parsley (failing largely) and tarragon was just an exotic dream!  I won’t even go into Pashana Bedhi,which for years I could not even find out what that was; only to find out it is Indian Borage (Plectranthus amboinicus).  These programmes raised an interest in plants, herbs and their uses though that obviously still remains.  
Move forward many years and now I still gain inspiration for my garden from the films I watch, books I read and the television I enjoy.  Hence the Portmeirion and Susan Williams Ellis roses (The Prisoner).  I am waiting for my delivery of the Sir Clough rose which will make me silly happy.  Oh and then there is V for Vendetta with the Scarlet Carson rose.  Yes, I know, it doesn’t exist, it should be the Violet Carson rose which is the one named in the graphic novel and to my great delight links to Coronation Street.  Sadly though, it is very difficult to get hold of in this country and to be honest, it’s a little too peachy for me.  There is a definite criteria to actually make it into my garden.

oh and I must - of course I must:

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Looking forward

"If it is true that one of the greatest pleasures of gardening lies in looking forward, then the planning of next year's beds and borders must be one of the most agreeable occupations in the gardener's calendar.  This should make October and November particularly pleasant months, for then we may begin to clear our borders, to cut down those sodden and untidy stalks, to dig up and increase our plants, and to move them to other positions where they will show up to greater effect.  People who are not gardeners always say that the bare beds of winter are uninteresting; gardeners know better, and take even a certain pleasure in the neatness of the newly dug, bare, brown earth."  Vita Sackville-West  
November is indeed a time of promise, contemplation and remembrance.  It is a the month when the days shorten with relentless certainty.  Much of November is about planning ahead.  This is generally the time of year I dig new or extend the borders.  Most of the work in the garden is about preparing for the spring.
 Bulb planting is about making the garden look good for Spring.  The new borders are for planting when the soil warms again.  It is tree/shrub planting time and also a good time to move some perennials around ready for the new year growth.  The weeds die down and the grass slows in its growing.  Trees and roses can be pruned and greenhouses cleaned and used to store the tender stuff over the winter.
As the first frost arrive then the tender plants have to be protected.  Here in the Midlands this means storing in the greenhouse as dahlias and cannas will not survive outside.  Last year I lost nearly all of my dahlias even though I stored them as usual.  I am hoping I will be more successful this year and I have also collected a lot of seed from them in the belief that this may give me a back-up plan.
I don't have a lot of variegated plants as generally I don't like them.  I don't have a lot of evergreen plants as generally I don't like them.  This however is the exception on both counts.  It is a variegated rhamnus, bought from a visit to Hidcote many years ago now.  This shrub spent the first few years of its life in a pot but now is planted in the front garden.  It reminds me of a particularly happy period of time and it creates a bright corner as the winter months approach.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

6th November

"In the garden, Autumn is, indeed the crowning glory of the year, bringing us the fruition of months of thought
and care and toil.  And at no season, safe perhaps in Daffodil time, do we get such superb colour effects as
from August to November."
-   Rose G. Kingsley, The Autumn Garden

So its November 6th.  I've done a bit of checking, and November 6th doesn't seem particularly of note about anything.  It is a the date of various US Presidents being elected, it is the birthday of Nigel Havers and also the date that Tommy Lawton died, but really this is not a great date of note (I am sure it is really, I have used a very selective list and I have deliberately not gone into huge research - the point is, November 6th in general, not that special in my world).

So why do a post about it?

Because today was lovely.

The sun shone.

We have had rain recently so the garden is wet and the pond is refilling.

 There are still many flowers to be seen as it is has been so mild so far this year.

 Seed heads are forming alongside the flowers.

 Its just been rather nice and I thought it worth saying.


Is it too late for candy floss?

well no, in fact its candy floss time of year in my garden.

This is my Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura) or Candy Floss tree.  Apparently it is also known as the Japanese Judas Tree.  I bought it about three years ago on the Isle of Man.
It is a remarkably beautiful tree.  In the spring it has these oval shaped leaves with brilliant red stems.  The leaves have a red tint and are very delicate and also they do flower, though mine has yet to do so.  So I am looking forward to when it does.
It is however this time of year when the tree has its brief moment of glory.  As with all good trees this time of year its leaves turn rather beautifully before falling to the ground.  Yet it is at this perfect moment that the tree releases the most intense scent of candy floss.  I knew that it did this before I bought this tree, but I didn't really appreciate that it really is true.  Yes I know that doesn't make sense, but often people will say - oh that plants smells of chocolate and you get a vague waft but often I remain largely unconvinced.  Well this tree does what it is meant to do.  You walk past on a still autumnal day and the smell of candy floss is there.  I admit I have to move closer to tree to get a better sniff, but it is there and it is distinct.
These trees do not like to be too dry and whilst I have had a really dry this year it has coped very well.  I am glad that it has had a couple of years to bed in before this drought hit as I fear I might have lost it otherwise.

Now I shall wait for it to flower.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Wild pomes

It is the time of year for foliage and berries.  Generally in Autumn we remark mainly on the turning of the leaves as they move through the shades of yellow orange and red.  It is a final fling for the deciduous trees as they shed their leaves before winter sets in.  It is the signal of the nights drawing in and the arrival of frosts and fog.

In general, and a swift eye around my garden will confirm this, I am not a fan of evergreens.  There is a lone conifer near my front gate, which to honest I often pretend is not in my garden at all as it just sits there being sort of green and pyramid like.  I find it dull to be honest, its saving grace is that collared doves nest in it every year at which point I forgive it a little.

I also have a Manx gorse bush, it is Manx because (surprise surprise) I bought it on the Isle of Man and it is the national flower of the island.  Its not hugely big at the moment and flowered for the first time last year.  I like its thorny/spikiness and the shock of the yellow flowers in the spring.
 As ever I do not believe you can dismiss a whole set of plants, whilst I often say to people 'I don't like conifers', I have to qualify that with the list of ones that I do like - thus proving I do like them actually, there are just a few that I don't.  So when I say I don't like evergreens, what  I mean is, I think they are very beautiful, like the yew above, but shove a laurel in front of me and I will not be happy.
 and at last I reach the point of this post (at last!).  I think that this (above) is a pyrocantha - I spotted it on my recent trip to Westonbirt.  I tend to view pyrocanthas as 'supermarket planting', implying a sniffy snobbery that means I never go to supermarkets and certainly could never approve of their planting.  In truth I do think of the planting as a good attempt to deal with an ugly car park, but they tend to be litter-catchers.  Anyway, this was pyrocantha growing free in the wild of the Silk Wood, unfettered, rarely if ever pruned, just growing as it pleases.....
...... and it looked amazing - so beautiful - like smokey, jewel laden clouds; thus proving yet again:  its not necessarily the plant that is the issue, but where it is and how it is allowed to grow.