Sunday, 28 October 2012

A muster of peacocks

For a variety of reasons the word ‘muster’ has been on my mind in recent weeks.  This has led to brief musings about General Custer as it rhymes.  This in turn made me think about the horse called ‘Commanche’, who was at one time billed as the ‘sole survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn’  Of course he was not the ‘sole survivor’, many (most) native americans survived and also apparently did several other US Army horses/ponies, but his tale (tail) is one of symbolism and of taxidermy as he is currently stuffed and on display in a glass case in the University of Kansas.

Moving on from horses, I then thought about what muster actually means.  It is quite military in that one ‘musters troops’ or gathers them together.

It is also the collective noun for a group of peacocks, who are also quite often the subject of taxidermy.
This is my favourite peacock photograph – taken many years ago when Portmeirion was the home to several peacocks.  It is a photo of a photo, so not of the best quality, it was also taken with a very old camera so to be honest that it looks like anything at all is a miracle.  I love this photograph though, it reminds of a good holiday and a special time when the peacocks roamed free.  The next year the peacocks had gone and have never returned.  They mustered elsewhere.

I tried to think of a way to link this post into my garden.  I wish I could end this by saying that because of the sudden lack of peacocks I now have one in my garden.  I think it would probably keep the cats in order but I believe they can be a bit destructive as well, so sadly I have no peacocks.  I do have quite a few robins though..... 

Thursday, 25 October 2012

A detour on a sunny afternoon

Recently I spent some time in Cambridge for work-related reasons.  This involves spending a couple of days shut up with the same group of people for virtually every waking hour.  Whilst it was a productive and useful time, it does mean that when I finally got to leave I had run out of conversation and needed some quiet time to myself.  So a detour on the way home was a good way of achieving this.  I had driven past a sign to Hemingford Grey on my journey down so it felt rude not to stop off at the Manor on the way home.

I had recently read a blogpost by The Tattooed Gardener about the garden and reminded me of the 'Green Knowe' books written by Lucy M Boston (1892-1990) who lived in the Manor.  I read some of the books many years ago and I had also seen the BBC series based on 'The Children of the Green Knowe' shown in the 1980s. 

I was glad that I made the detour.
It took me a while to be certain I was actually heading towards the garden, I didn't find the signposting very good but that is just quibbling.  To get to the garden you have to walk alongside the river.
Then as you get closer, you can see the garden over the wall.  I really liked this, so many gardens that I go and visit are hidden away so that you cannot possibly get a glimpse without paying.  To me there seemed a real generosity in not hiding the view, it was a gift of the garden to all who just happened to be walking past.  Then when I got into the garden I was greeted by an honesty box.  I have rarely been to a garden that involves an honesty box that has not turned out to be a good garden.  Maybe it is something about the nature of the gardeners coming through in their gardens and approach to opening their gardens? (or maybe they are just lucky, I am not sure an honesty box would last long in some areas.
There is a good bit of topiary lining the entrance path to the garden.  I like a bit of topiary, I never used to really understand it, my paternal grandfather clipped everything into shape and I always thought this a) a waste of time and b) a bit too controlling.  I have no photographs of his garden so it is only my hazy memory of it that is left, but in honesty I still don't think it was the greatest clipping that ever happened.   Anyway, back to Hemingford Grey:
I loved this very simple use of verbena bonariensis, I know some people get a bit sniffy about this plant as it is used so much.  It is used a lot because it is good, I wish I had more and intend to bulk up mine next year.
As I had detoured here from a work event I was not dressed in my usual garden-bothering wear, my shoes in particular where not the most sensible for wandering around a garden in.  They were not high-heels, but they did have a bit of heel so the hard paths were welcome as I feared I would sink into their lawns, creating damage, plus muddying up my shoes.
I did risk a little lawn-sinkage though, the mixed borders were very good.  Good structure and good use of colour.
Always got to like a good rush too.
There was a really good show of colchicums too, the Autumn Crocus, I mused to myself if this was an abandoned attemped at re-creating the olympic rings (which I am sure it was not) and it was rather effective.  I often find the simple effects far more pleasing than the huge grand gestures in a garden.  This shadowy bit of the garden was probably one of my favourite bits.
I do like a good statue too.
oh and poppies, loved finding this clump of Eschscholzia californica, a ray of sunshine on an already sunny day.
I had a good wander around the garden, I didn't have to talk to anyone apart from a brief passing 'good afternoon' with one other person, and I returned to my car ready for the journey home.  Detouring to visit this garden was a good decision on my part, I left really calm and calmed.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

When a solution resolves two problems at the same time

or how I came to finally love my front garden.

or 'be careful what you wish for'

or when you start a garden project and it unleashes nearly as many problems as Pandora's pithos.

I shall start at the beginning.  I moved into this house five years ago (2007), at this point the front garden looked like this:
It was quite nice and neat really and certainly easy to maintain.  Everyone cut across the grass rather than sticking to the path and whilst this in itself did not worry me too much, it was a bit irritating.  So I hatched a grand plan, I decided to dig up the main front lawn and create a knot garden.
Much digging later and it looked like this (Winter 2008).  A knot garden needs some precision, so I set out the pattern quite carefully to ensure it was not too wiggly or unbalanced.  So far (apart from shocking back ache when I was removing the lawn), so good.
I then planted lots of tiny little box cuttings.  I had not taken the cuttings myself, but I had to buy small as I needed so many.  Still, it was going well and I was happy with it.
It snowed in the Spring, I thought it looked really good.

Then my love affair with the front garden started to go wrong.  the central knot garden bit I have been fairly pleased with.  It has taken a few attempts to get the planting right but now it is a fairly simple mix of Phlox in four of the triangles, pink dianthus in the central square with Rosa Susan Williams-Ellis in the centre.  The outer four triangles now contain a white dianthus and some species tulips, plus obelisks that usually contain sweet peas.  You will have to take my word for all this, as I have no photographs of it.  I have demonstrated my displeasure for the front garden by steadfastly (and largely unconsciously) not taking photographs of it.

It is the bandit country that has caused me the most issues.  This is the strip of ground between the lavender edging (which I like a lot) and the central knot garden.  I planted it up with various things and that was the problem;  I had planted it up with various things and it looked a scruffy, mixed up mess.
One of the biggest issues I have had with this garden has been the lack of decent soil and the horrendous perennial lawn weeds.  It is really difficult to weed this garden as the soil is so poor and rock hard most of the year.  It became an incredible chore to keep it looking half-decent and most of the time I was just ashamed of it.

I was also completely at a loss what to do about it.  I tried a variety of tweaks, but they failed miserably.  Earlier this year I was weeding this garden and thinking about how unhappy it made me; I was pretty much in tears because I just could not see a way to make it how I wanted it to be.  In my fit of pique I threatened to weedkiller the whole thing and start again.  In this angry threat I realised there was some value, I did have to take drastic action.

So I did, I cleared the bandit country; I removed all the plants, some were relocated to the back garden, others were just discarded.  Then when it was fairly clear I started glyphosating it (yes I know its not good stuff, but I had to kill off as much as I could).  I reapplied the weedkiller about three times over a period of several weeks.

I also realised a further problem.  There are some rose bushes in the front garden including a large and very beautiful Rosa 'Claire Austin' that was right opposite the front door.  It was a gorgeous rose and after the first sweep of plant removal I left it there in all its glory.
This is not a great photograph of it, but it was a lovely rose, but I realised as I looked at the largely clear bandit country, it was in the wrong place.  It had to go.  So I dug it up, this took some time and it cut me quite badly with its thorns, it did not want to move.  I cut it back quite hard and planted it in the back garden in a better location for it.
and yes, oh dear, I do wonder if it will live.  I inspect it regularly but as yet there are no signs of new growth.  The stems remain green though and I hopeful that in the Spring it will be alright.
So, the bandit country was clear and now it needed a filling.  At first I thought bark mulch, easy to maintain and a nice clear look.  Then I had an epiphany, on my driveway for the last four or so years there has been a large bag of gravel, it was purchased to do a variety of things with which did not take as much gravel as was purchased.  Much of it is in the pond but there was a lot left and it was ugly.
Why was I thinking of buying more big bags of mulch, that to be honest would cost more than I could really spend at this moment in time, when I had a huge bag of gravel just sitting there annoying me everyday?
So I started spreading the gravel, I liked it, I liked it alot.
and then it was done, (well, not quite done, I ran out of gravel so I need to get some more) but it is pretty much complete and I keep looking at it and smiling.  That is something I am not used to doing when looking at the front garden.  The big bag of gravel is gone too so the garden and house has improved and progressed considerably this weekend.  It turns out that what I wanted most of all was my garden to be like my house, I wanted it to smell nice and be clean.  Once the clutter was removed suddenly it was good.

So ends my tale of two problems and the one very nice solution.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Pandora and the pithos of pansies

You know when all this time you have been working based on a principle of one thing, only to find that a key part of that information is wrong?  Well……

Pandora didn’t have a box, she had a jar, a pithos to be precise, though Pandora’s Pithos doesn’t quite have the same ring about it.  Anyway, I have always rather liked Pandora, I like the story and I think I can relate to it in that if I was given a box and told not to open it I am sure I would have to peek in just a little.  Its only the same as when someone tells you a plate is hot so you touch it to make sure, or check that paint really is wet by sticking your finger to it.

Pandora was the first woman and was made out of clay.  She was created as a part of the punishment of mankind for Prometheus stealing fire.  So basically women are a punishment for men, what a strange view of the world that is.  Anyway, part of her composition as being a punishment was to have ‘seductive gifts’, well that was a silly thing to give as a punishment wasn’t it?  I am sometimes not convinced that these gods actually thought things through.  Of course ‘seductive gifts’ in reality means she was deceitful and men were mesmerised by her (not really her fault if they…. Oh I give up).  Anyway, she had a box/pithos that contained all the evils of the world.  Maybe if someone had mentioned that small bit of detail she wouldn’t have opened it?  It also contained hope, now we all like hope, hope is considered a good thing.  Before you all leap around saying, ‘so all is not bad she also gave us hope’, in some tellings of the tale it is false hope and therefore yet another evil.  Also, can I point out that clearly up until the great pithos disaster that there was no hope in the world, (in fact no hope and only men) that doesn't sound much fun.  Pandora means ‘all gifted’, referring to her as being a gift from the gods, except she was a punishment gift so is that really a gift?  It is also a play on words in that her gifts to the world was plagues and diseases and as mentioned before, hope.
So where is Pandora in terms of my garden, well I have the above picture in my kitchen.  It is by John Waterhouse (1896).  I am very fond of this picture, though I worry a little that the act of opening the box does appear to be making her dress fall off; that must be her seductive talents I suppose.  The box is in a nice naturalistic setting though, Pandora was obviously close to nature.
I do sometimes think that gardening, especially starting new projects, is a bit like opening Pandora’s pithos.  You start out in all innocence thinking, ‘oh I’ll just do this’ and suddenly all manner of things start to go wrong/come out of the woodwork.  So you dig up something you didn’t mean to (hopefully not a main electricity cable) or you discover a seam of thick clay, or as I often do, discover another patch of paving stones that have just been grassed over rather than being removed.


and I’m fairly sure that Pandora also kept pansies in her pithos.  Pandora’s pithos of pansies, it has quite a ring about it.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

What a difference a day makes

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day,
a day of sun and butterflies
This morning brought the first frost,
the first icing for the grass,
that slight wiltyness that means the end of the nasturtiums is just around the corner,
The dahlias have that sodden, colourful yet time limited feel.  The foliage has not been blackened by this frost, but they know that this was only the first frost and there will be more.
The tears of the tithonia say it all, time is not our friend now.
The pheasant grass, Stipa Calamagrostis, is shining in all its glory, loving the colour of the autumn sun.
The tree lupin is looking wonderful still too.  This is such a good plant, worth growing for the foliage alone it catches the moisture so well.
The asters are looking unfazed by the cold so far.
Yes it is a beautiful day, it has given us the first threat of the winter that is to come which means every day of colour is to be treasured even more.

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Gift Horse

I was lucky enough to receive an email the other day asking me if I would like to test some plants; well it seemed churlish to refuse.  A couple of emails later and I received three plants from .   I was aware of plantify, but to my knowledge I don't think I have ever bought from them.  I wandered around their website for a bit to find out more about them and they are rather interesting.  They offer a free garden design tool, there is a section on inspirational gardens plus an online plant shop which is sourced from British nurseries.  Supporting our British nurseries is something I think is very important so they had already gained approval points.

So, to the plants.  Another good point is that I was offered of choice of plants, this was a great relief.  If I had been asked to test some plants that I was less certain I could grow because they were difficult or more condition-sensitive, then I would have been not so confident to go ahead with this.

The plants arrived a few days after I had given my choices.  I was pleased to receive:

Now with mailorder packaging is really important, I received one large box with three interior boxes.   These are fairly easy to extract from the larger box and the plants are held securely within them.  I liked the boxes.
This is Anemone x hybrida 'Robustissima'.  I admit to a little eyebrow raise at the thought of 'Robustissima', I am wondering whether it might be quite a spreader.  This does not trouble me, I am very fond of Anemones and I will control it if necessary.  I was very pleased as I was able to split the plant into three when planting it out, three plants for the price of one (had I have paid for it) always makes me happy.

The website has good information about siting, soil type required etc.  I liked the way the information is laid out, but if I do have a criticism it is that when searching through the plant index they need to have a 'next page' button at the bottom of the page, not just one at the top (I scroll down lists and get irritated by having to go back to the top of the page to go to the next one).

Anyway, there it is, planted out in the front garden small side border.  I like the foliage colour, it is quite bright and the leaves are a good shape.  Of course the flowers are good too, but having good foliage makes it a good all-round plant.
Next was Geranium 'Tanya Rendall'
What a beautiful plant!  I grow a few geraniums and I like this one for its wonderful dark pink small flowers and the dark foliage.
This has been placed in the back garden on the edge of the pond border.

Finally, Aster x frikartii 'Monch':
This is quite a large flowered aster compared to the others that I have.  The aster was very interesting to Chesney, he likes to be involved in garden projects.
I like the colour of this aster a lot.
This has also been placed in the pond border, but it is mid-border.
The aster is filling a gap created by thinning out a rather thuggish (but beautiful) Helianthus Lemon Queen.  I like that it seems to shine with colour from its position, it also complements the darker aster which is to the front of the border.

All the plants seem healthy and now they have been planted out for a week I can also say that they seem to be doing well.  Of course the real test is how they get through the winter and how they perform next year, so I shall report on their progress.
The added bonus, Chesney liked the box too.