Thursday, 31 October 2013

End of Month Review - October 2013

So that was October, going out with a bang!  I took these photographs before the storm on Sunday/Monday, it was a gamble to see what might still be left by the morning.  Thankfully the stormy winds missed us which was a relief.
The front garden is looking ok, I could probably have done with clipping the box before the first frost so it looks a little sharper, I wish I thought of these things before I took the photographs each month!
The gravel garden is coming on ok too, I am pleased to see that the verbascums are moving in now.  It is a gravel garden in the 'Beth Chatto' school of such things, much of it is self-seeded and it is not watered and things grow or die.
Around to the back garden, the Bird Feeder border looks a scrappy mess, this is because it is a scrappy mess and I might start not including it in these posts until it is un-scrappied.
The amaranthus is, like me, going grey with age.  It has however been a joy this year.  I only grew it for the first time last year after being given some free seeds.  I would have said I didn't like it, indeed I found it rather weird.  I had only ever seen it in bedding displays previously and just was not keen.  I am not sure I am quite placing it to full effect yet, but I am getting better at positioning it and this year I have really enjoyed it.
The cardoon flowers are pretty much dead now, I leave them until Spring though so that wildlife can enjoy them.
As I look out across the formal lawn the Burtonesque Curl is looking good.  I love the way the lawn now curves up past the Bramley tree.
The Courtyard is looking reasonable, the rhododendron in the corner is turning a fantastic autumn colour.  There are also lots of buds forming on the camellia for next year.  Signs of the next year are what makes the Winter bearable.
The view from the Conservatory Border hides the curl in the lawn, I rather like that is appears and disappears depending on where I stand.
The Long Shoot is looking more defined with the new border shaping.
This is the view back along the Long Shoot from the Formal Lawn.  Coal Bunker border to the left, Pond Border to the right.
The veg beds are now pretty much dying beans, wallflowers, green manure and yacon.  Its been a reasonable vegetable year, not too bad but not a bumper year either.
The Four Sisters seem untouched by Autumn yet, they have settled in well and I have hopes for how they will develop next year.
The Tree Lupin Border still has some colour from the dahlias.  The tree lupin itself had a very bad start to the year with an aphid infestation that stripped the flowers, it has recovered however very well so I am hopeful that next year will see a good display from it. It is one of my favourite plants in the garden.
The pleached hornbeams are starting to turn in colour.  I am very pleased with them and whilst I know they still need development they are something that makes me very happy, an ambition in the process of being achieved.
Looking up into the Wild Garden it is starting to look more Autumnal, the Cercidiphyllum Japonicum which is closest has had a good year and is now starting to mature.  It smells delishiously of candyfloss at the moment.
The medlar is confused, it is fruiting and flowering at the same time.
This gingko is small and not far away, but it that wonderful butter colour that Autumn gives it.
I rather like this Liriodendron tulipifera leaf fallen on the ground.  I have two of these wonderful trees (one is very much a twig), these trees make me smile a lot.
The catalpa and the euonymus are also doing well.  The catalpa is one of the first trees I planted in the garden and it is now looking like it might like growing here...... just......
This is the garden from the top of the Wild Garden, standing under the horse-chesnut tree.  I like this view a lot this time of year.
The Woodland Border has done reasonably well this year, things are settling in and it looks less new.
The Bog Garden on the other hand still looks new, but I am pleased with it and I think next year it will have settled down and thickened up ok, hopefully.
This acer is turning a great colour.  It is overlooked most of the year, it borders the Prairie Borders, but this time of year it has a little shine.
The Prairie Borders are still delightfully blonde, I wonder whether it is time I went blonde again.....
The view from the Prairie Borders, or the Bermuda Triange as this bit of lawn is now known, towards the Formal Lawn.  I half wonder if I will like it as much when it is planted up, I like the dark soil against the green, it shows good contrast.
There are still some marigolds flowering away,
The Pond Border still has some good colour,
and my pond over-floweth again, it is so full from all the recent rain.  At some point I need to clear out that flipping parrot weed (curses it yet again).

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

A tree quest

I work in the middle of a very large city, surrounded by tower blocks and busy roads often filled with stationary traffic.  I am lucky that where I work has a remarkable number of rather wonderful trees that I have appreciated since the first day I set foot on the premises.  I wander in past a gingko or two, some rather nice Liriodendron and last Autumn they planted a nice set of six Parrotia Persicarias just in front of the main front entrance.  They are good with trees.

As I walk to and from the car park every day (which also, it has to say, has some of the best car-park planting I have ever seen as it is mainly beds of perennial plantings) I pass several trees including a very fine willow, a couple of Sorbus Thibetica, some general laurel type things (I'm not a laurel fan) and then several of a tree that I could not identify mixed in with some Amalanchiers.  I have been walking past these trees now for quite a while and they did not make much impact at first but gradually I started to notice them more and more.
The more I noticed them the more I wanted one.  Yes I am that sort of gardener who falls in love with a plant and has to have it.  Now I was a bit cautious about this as my garden in getting quite full, particularly of trees.  These are not the tallest of trees though so after a while I decided where they could go.  Well once that was decided there was nothing holding me back – I could go ahead and buy……

…….except there were a couple of small barriers.  I still did not know what the tree was and that meant I also had no idea of cost either.  Small details maybe, but fairly crucial.  So I did what I usually do when I want to find something out, I googled ‘small tree autumn colour’ and this gave me lots of suggestions and some seemed quite close but none were quite what I was after.  A couple of days later one of my twitter friends posted a picture of a very fine autumn foliage tree and the leaves seemed very similar, it was a type of Rhus.  Aha I thought, that is it, or very close to it.  I googled again, but no, I could not find one with the cream flowers that looked the same.  I tried googling autumn foliage cream flower, that did not take me forward at all.

So I knew what I really needed to do, I needed to take a photo of the tree and post it on Twitter to see if someone could identify it for me.  It then proceeded to be rainy and grey and horrid for days and when it wasn’t raining I was walking with a group of people who might think me a little odd photographing a random tree.

The day dawned, a bright day at last (one of the few bright ones left at that time in the morning for this year).  I looked around and there were one or two people about but now I didn’t really care.  If they wanted to ask me why I was photographing a random tree I would explain it was not a random tree, it was the tree, the tree I wanted to get this Autumn before the soil gets too cold to plant in.

Photo safely taken by mobile phone (I remember a time when I thought cameras on mobiles was a silly idea, I had a camera, why would I want to take pictures with my phone? ) I tweeted the picture asking for an ID.
I waited,

and waited
and waited and then the replies started after maybe a whole 60 seconds had passed from the tweet being sent.  A sorbus maybe?  No not a sorbus, the leaves were similar but the flowers were not.  A Stag Horned Sumac maybe, sadly no but what a fantastic name that is.  I might have to get one of those just to be use the name.  Then the answer appeared, Aralia Elata, the Japanese Angelica Tree.  I confirmed this by googling the name and checking the images.  Success!  Much thanks was given to the namer.  I still had some time before the day was due to begin so I quickly started looking for a nursery to buy one from as I still had no idea of price.  My usual choice of a fairly local nursery had none in stock, I found another nursery also that I have used but I admit their postage rates are somewhat expensive and would have nearly doubled the cost of the tree.  I refused to be downhearted on this, I tried the magic that is Ebay.  Well, not a lot of choice but there were two, somewhat tiny trees on sale at £4 each.  I thought that was a risk worth taking at such a good price.
I purchased, they arrived very quickly and well packed.  They are just what I wanted albeit rather small, well I say they are just what I wanted, at the moment they are two twigs I have no idea really if they are going to grow into what I think they are.  
Anyway, they are now in the garden and hopefully they will grow into the tree that I want, but if you think I have the wrong name then please tell me, as long as it is £4 on ebay I can easily replace.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

A surfeit of coccinellidae

You say Coccinellidae I say ladybird, that beloved beetle of nursery rhymes and cutesy pictures.  You have to love a ladybird, we all know they eat greenfly and are to be definitely encouraged in the garden.  They have their weird monster-looking larvae, which dot around in the garden in Spring and then the grownups arrive and start munching.  It is difficult not to smile when looking at a ladybird (especially if it has its mouth full of greenfly….)
I was having a conversation at work the other day about ladybirds, as you do, and it reminded me of a summer holiday in Norfolk let’s be precise, Hunstanton; when I was growing up we had a caravan at Hunstanton and spent many – many – many holidays there.  Most of these holidays blur seamlessly together but on one of them there was a plague of ladybirds.  When I say plague I mean the air was thick with them at times, you crunched along paths and pavements as they coated everything.  In our caravan they made stripes in the folds of the curtains and even prevented the water-heater from working as the pilot light was blocked by tiny ladybirds in the pipe.  Worst of all, they bit.  Yes they did, they definitely bit.  People will tell you that they cannot/do not bite, but they did something that felt like a bite and it hurt.  

A quick internet search told me that the plague happened in 1976 after a long dry summer.  Ah yes, I remember long dry summers…… vaguely……

I am fond of ladybirds, but I also still look at them a little warily, I wonder if one day there will be a horror film based on a plague of ladybirds – terror from cute things is always the most frightening I think (don’t start me off on stories that involve toys coming to life).  I often wonder if I will come home one day and they will be spelling out messages to me on the side wall of the house. 

Sometimes I think I over-think things.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

As one door closes....

......another opens

At the moment there is still a fair amount of colour in the garden, I still have dahlias and roses and even some late sweet peas flowering away.  I look at all of these and think they will not be around for many more weeks as we are on the count down for the first frost.  It is tempting to see this time of year as The Great Shut Down, the end of the growing season and the prelude to Winter.  Well it is really all of these things.
For the next few months most plants will be shutting down, but soon the tips of next year's Spring bulbs will be visible and at that moment, on the sight of the first bit of growth for Spring, I always give a small sigh of relief that I know it is all going to happen again next year.  This time of year I am looking at the trees, looking at the new buds of growth forming even as the leaves are falling to the ground.  I am not a great one for evergreens, I have very few in the garden and partly this is because they do not give me enough seasonal change.  I like the leaf-drop and restoration cycle, it shows me real change and change is good.

I have only had a proper greenhouse since moving to this house, and each year I learn a little bit more how to use it.  At first I sowed seeds in the late Spring and by Summer it was pretty much empty until the next seed sowing spree in the new year.  Now it is in use all year, this time of year it has been filled with various cuttings and Autumn sowings as the foundations for next year's planting.
I am getting better at cuttings, it is very much trial and error for me and I do take the point of view that if I take a cutting and it fails the most I have lost is a bit of compost and time, its not really a great problem and at least I tried.

This year (warning, warning, boast alert, boast alert) I am really pleased with that I managed to successfully take two cuttings off my lemon shrub, the Clianthus puniceus and also one from my Amicia zygomeris.  This has made me happy but of course I do have to keep them alive over the Winter and that is actually probably the real challenge. 
I have various other cuttings showing signs of roots, several fuchsias, a sage, some perennial wallflowers and the Cistus.  Many of these I take cuttings from routinely now every year as they are a) pretty easy to root and b) contingency in case the mother-plant dies over the Winter.

So whilst it might feel like it is the Great Shut Down, it is also the time to get planning and making sure I have banked enough new hope in the greenhouse for the new year.
I would have called this post A New Hope, but that's all a bit episode IV really.

Friday, 18 October 2013

The Brigadoon of gardening

It’s happening again, it happens every year at about this time so it is not a surprise, it is certainly not a shock; but it is a disappointment nonetheless.  We are now entering the period of the year when the garden disappears like Brigadoon during the week only to be seen at weekends.

I might as well not have a garden during the week once the nights really draw in, I cannot wander around it in daylight so it effectively is not there.  Currently as I get home I do get a wonderful blast of scent from the Rosa Gertrude Jekyll that climbs by the front door but otherwise it is becoming just a dark mass of shapes I cannot quite see in the dark.

Now I have put the thought that it is Brigadoon into my head, one of my all time favourite films and I am certain I have mentioned it before, I have wonderful visions of people in unrealistic technicolor tartan dancing around the pond with unrealistic Scottish accents.  I do love a good unrealistic accent, they are so much more fun than convincing ones.

I think I’ve had Brigadoon on the mind since watching Gardeners World the other day when there was a section on heather.  Now I love heather growing in the wild, there are few finer sights than a heather-covered moor or scrubby outcrop.  Whenever we are visiting Portmeirion we spend quite a bit of time in the Gwyllt and there are great swathes of heather on the cliff-tops and they are usually buzzing with bees and wildlife.
In a domestic garden though I think it is more difficult to use well. When I first moved into my last house in Nottingham, the garden was largely lawn with a few shrubs and stuff dotted around and also a sort of rockery bit covered in various heathers.  These heathers were overgrown and tatty and I did not know what to do with them so I gave them a hair cut in the hope they would bounce back ok.

They did bounce back and then just sort of sat there looking rather unbouncy and uninspiring to be honest.  At this point in my gardening life though I was still very much a novice and still held back by the thought that if a plant was in a garden and healthy that it was somehow wrong and indeed possibly murder to remove it wantonly.  I was talking to someone one day in the garden (it was the front garden there was no real back garden to speak of) and they pointed to the heathers and said disparagingly ‘lazy planting’.  I asked them what they meant and they explained that heathers planted like that was just ground cover for people who couldn’t garden any more or who were just lazy.  This thought stayed with me though, clearly heathers were not a must have plant and possibly it could be justified to remove them.

So I ripped them out

As you do

Gardeners World did make me think about heathers again (yes, you see it does have its uses) and I am wondering if I could put some in the garden, maybe in the Wild Garden rather than trying to make them look domestic in a border setting.  I am going to think on this some more as at the moment it is has the vague feeling of the edge of a whim.  I do know if I do get some it will not be any of those fluorescent coloured things I see sometimes at DIY stores, that I do know.

and Heathers is a great film.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Ada Lovelace Day

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815 - 1852), is more often known as Ada Lovelace, she was the only legitimate child of Lord Byron.  Ada was somewhat better at mathematics than me and is credited for her work with Charles Babbage the inventor of the 'Analytical Engine' an early mechanical computer and whilst this engine was never actually built, Ada is sometimes credited as the first computer programmer and she referred to herself as a 'poetical scientist', I like the sound of that. 

It was many years ago that I learned that the computer language 'Ada' is named after her.  The other reason that I know of her is that the method of programming of the Analytical Engine was to be via punched cards, based on the jaquard lace looms that used punched cards to create the lace patterns.  With her Nottingham links Ada might have been very familiar with these cards as it was a key lace making centre at this time, but it is Babbage who made the link between the punched cards and his machines.
I assume you are waiting for me to tell you that Ada was also an accomplished plantswoman and gardener.  Well she might have been but I cannot find any reference to this.  She did own a garden along with her then husband William King at Worthy Manor in Somerset, that contained a terrace called 'Philosophers Walk' where allegedly Ada and Babbage would walk and talk mathsy type stuff.  We do know that Ada worked on a algorithm for the Analytical Engine to compute Bernoulli numbers.  Now I have read what Bernoulli numbers are and, quite frankly, the only thing I know now about them remains their name, I am not mathematical beyond what my calculator can help with.  Anyway, back to the point, so picture the scene, Ada and Charles are walking along Philosophers Walk having a deep conversation about Bernoulli numbers when suddenly Ada sees a snail and starts talking about Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio.  The conversation meanders along and she stops every now and again to admire a rose or pull a stray willow-herb that has self-seeded in the border.   (please note, I have just totally made this up, I have no idea if they discussed fibonacci or snails or what weeds if any were present, however in my head this is all totally possible).
So why am I writing about her in a gardening blog?  I cannot even find a plant named after her.

Why not?  She was impressive.

The Blackberry Tales 7 - bread

A couple of months ago I found a brain-like fungus growing in the vegetable border.  On closer inspection it turned out to be a couple of white cobs.

Roll forward a few more weeks and I find a couple more cobs in the Wild Garden, half eaten, just sitting there.
Then this week I found half a loaf on the front lawn.  This has to mean one of the following:

1.  the neighbours think I am a charity case and are leaving bread-based gifts around the garden hoping I will think they have grown there.

2.  its the bread monster who as he flies over keeps dropping bits of his stolen booty

3.  the cats have taken up baking in secret and are hiding their mistakes in the garden

4. there really is a bread-fairy

5. its foxes - but then that would imply there was a bakery near me for them to steal the bread from and I don't think there is.

There is option number 6, but this option scares me more than any other.  Option number six is that the spirit of Joey Boswell is creaking around my garden in his leather trousers, saying 'greetings' to the cats (which also explains why Austin will not go out) leaving a trail of bread as he walks. (shudders).

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Losing our parks and botanic gardens matters

Our parks, arboretums and botanic gardens are in trouble, not all of them but in particular the public funded and the charity/third sector funded ones are struggling more as the funds get tighter and tighter.
I started thinking about this as in the September edition of The Garden there is a short piece saying that the National Lottery is being used more and more to fund public parks though these funds are only reaching 10% of parks, the rest rely still on local authority and voluntary fundraising.  Also earlier this year on one of my visits to Southport I visited the Botanic Gardens, a fantastic space which is clearly suffering terribly from reduced budget.  I have also recently had a conversation with a friend who works for another public space who said that their workforce had been halved and that the park was not what it once was because of this.  I think we can understand that you might be able to maintain a space with a skeleton workforce, but you cannot develop or improve it.  The best you can hope for is adequate.

So why does this matter?  I mean, we all have gardens don't we?  Well no, we don't, a lot of people do not have gardens or easy access to their own green space.  A park is also more than a private garden can ever be, it is a place to take children for them to run around and meet with other friends.  It is a place to go for a walk on a sunny afternoon or just somewhere to go and sit at lunch time with your sandwiches and clear your head from a day in the office.  They are breathing spaces for our cities and a communal space for us all to enjoy.

Let us not forget that parks have history, they have a reason why they were developed.  The first publicly owned park was Derby Arboretum opened in 1840 by Joseph Strutt to the people of Derby.  The Strutts made their money from the textile trade and held philanthropic beliefs that workers should be able to enjoy culture and open spaces.  These parks which began to open all over the UK during this time provided green spaces for the workers who spent so many hours in the factories and offices.  As people had moved away from the land for their livelihood so had their connection to nature.  These parks helped restore that link and give important social spaces where people could meet and walk and just enjoy being outside for the brief free time that they had.

This all sounds wonderfully historical and maybe of no relevance, but I remember when my children were young taking them regularly to the park to play on the swings and slides.  I used to walk through the park all the time to get to and from the shops, to pick the children up from school in fact to get most places.  It was not even always the quickest route, but I loved walking through the park.  Even now where I live, to get to the local shops I wander through the park.  I see lots of young families using the adventure playground, there is now a skateboard curve-thing and some football fields from which I can hear the playing of football on a Sunday morning as I potter around my garden.  There is even a small fete-thing that has started appearing in the Summer, all signs of green-space being used.  This is all good.  Now, ask me do I wander around the park after dark? no I do not, sadly it is not that safe a space after hours.  Nevertheless it is a great green space and attracts all sorts of birds and wildlife to a suburban area just a couple of miles out of the City.

So let us not lose our parks and let us not let them get stagnant.  We all still need these public spaces and we need them to be vibrant and exciting.  Maybe we could lose an annual bedding plant or two and have some more innovative planting?  (though I am partial to a bit of bedding planting in a park, it makes me smile).  Yes I know that vandalism can be a problem and it is a terrible thing when something gets destroyed that has been put there for all to enjoy, but sometimes you have to take the risk, you have to give people a chance and work with them to create something beautiful and lasting.
I don't want our parks to only be funded by the Lottery, I want our parks to mean more to our social well-being than just something we hope someone else will pick up and pay for, (even though if it means that my regular donation to the lottery fund is being spent on parks makes me bear the loss whilst I wait to win my fortune just that little bit easier.)  Ok, given a choice if it is about putting a roof on a new school or having an extra gardener for a park I know that it is a hard choice and I think I would probably choose the roof rather than the gardener, but really, are we so busy being determined to pay less taxes, to pay less Council Tax that we are not noticing how much we lose by doing this?

Monday, 7 October 2013

The shape of things to come

or a bit of border extension

Its that time of year when I remove more of the lawn and extend and reshape the borders in the garden.  The basic borders are now getting quite established and for the last year or so I have not really made any major changes, I have just tweaked around the edges.  This year I would say I have achieved a major tweak, it is not a great change in shape or in size, but it is change of feeling I think for the garden.
 The Long Shoot started out looking like this (with a Geoffrey).
I marked out where I wanted to extend the borders to and killed off the grass.  This has two benefits, the first one is that it removes all the lawn weeds that would otherwise plague the new borders, it also helps me see if the shape I have chosen is actually right.  I can spend quite a bit of time getting used to the new shape and deciding whether to finally commit.
I needed to wait for some rain to soften up the soil a bit.  We have had very little rain in recent weeks, the odd day here and there and my clay-based soil has been hard as rock and cracking in places.
Even with slightly softer soil it is still quite hard work to turn it over.  I have to set myself targets when I get can take a cold drink break or a lunch break.  It ensures I keep going and get the task done.  I do not enjoy digging really and would rather find other things to do if I can, but every now and again I know it is good for me.
Slowly but surely the new shapes start to take appear.  The Pond Border now swirls around into a point, I like to think of it as a Burtonesque Curl, making the formal lawn a bit more circular.
The Spring Border is now much larger so it can reach out from under the shade of the Bramley.  I should be able to be more versatile in the planting in this border now.
The edge of the Conservatory Border has also been reshaped a little to help emphasise the curl.
The Long Shoot now looks like this, not a great change as such, but a lot of potential.  Of course what needs considering now is the planting to fill these new spaces.  One of the reasons for starting the reshaping this time of year is so that the soil can get frozen over the winter and further broken down.  I can plant some bulbs in in now before they get planted up with other things too.

What I am not going to do though is buy lots of plants to fill these spaces, I cannot afford it and even if I could it would be hugely wasteful and not achieve how I like to plant these borders.  I like repetition, not too much, but the same plant will appear along the border to give it some rhythm.  Some plants will appear in the Pond Border and in the Coal Bunker Border to tie them together.  Other plants will appear in the Pond Border and the Conservatory Border and others in the Conservatory and the Coal Bunker Border.  Not many plants appear in all three apart from roses.  Roses dominate the formal part of the garden but do not appear in the Tree Lupin border or the Woodland Border and Bog Garden.  The only roses that side of the garden are the Rosa Wild Edric growing up the eating apple tree near the Dancing Lawn and there are a couple of wild roses in the Woodland Border.

To fill up the new space I will probably buy some more roses, maybe five and I am yet to choose which ones though I would not be surprised if another Sir Clough did not find its way into the garden.  I will then be dividing my existing plants to fill up most of the remaining space.  I also have some fuchsia cuttings that will be looking for a home.  The remaining gaps will be filled by seed-sowing I expect.  This will not be an expensive undertaking but it is exciting and I am looking forward to making the planting that I see in my imagination appear in reality.