Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Verbena Monologues

With due deference to that well known show that has inspired this post's title.

So you know how it is, you are walking around the garden one day, musing on how the borders are looking and thinking they are looking ok, when suddenly you decide you do not have enough Verbena bonariensis.  I had planted quite a few plants a few years ago, all grown from seed, but as I looked around only one or two appeared to be still living.
Now there are some plants I refuse, absolutely refuse, to buy as a plant.  They are just too easy to grow from seed and, quite frankly, too expensive to buy as a plant.  Verbena  bonariensis is on this list, it is so easy to grow from seed that in my situation I would be plain daft to buy it already growing, especially as I would want several (correct that, many) and I would not be able to afford the amount I need.  I fully accept that I am lucky that I have a greenhouse and therefore have the space to grow them and I have previously lived in a house with virtually no windowsills so I know how annoying it is when someone says 'well just grow them on the windowsill'.
So I purchased some seed and very quickly I had many seedlings.  More seedlings than I needed really, so I formed plan B.  I could have just planted them as I intended mainly in the Conservatory Border, but I decided they would also go into the Prairie Borders.  I do limit the plants in the Prairie Borders deliberately.  I do not want it to be become a jumble of plants I have my other borders to do that with.  The Rudbeckia this year has not faired well in the Prairie Borders and this has disappointed me, so I am hoping that by adding these Verbenas next year will look a bit better.
We will see.....

Postcript - there has been an unintended consequence of writing this post, because I amused myself with the title, I now have trouble thinking what the name of the plant is and now think I am growing v........s.  I leave you with that thought as a problem shared is just more fun than keeping it to myself.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

A bit of containment

As mentioned in a recent post I have several plants that have moved house with me on more than one occasion.  It is fair to say that whilst I have gardened pretty much for as long as I can remember, it was when I moved into my last house in Nottingham that I had time and space to start to get obsessive. 

The story of this house can be found here, it remains somewhere I have huge affection for and I think back on my time living there with a smile.
It was however a tiny house with a not very big garden either.  There were things I wanted to plant but I just had not the space to do so.  I also knew that this was not my 'forever' house (not sure there is such a thing for me, but anyway), so I quickly started to accumulate plants that lived in pots as they were not in their final resting place just yet.

I think the first things to go into pots was a collection of shrubs from a magazine offer.  I think it is compulsory that all new gardeners buy from magazine offers and I have got some very nice plants in this way.  (I have also got some completely mis-labelled roses in this way).  Anyhoo, the first plants were some bamboo that I have no longer have and I cannot remember what it was, a Corylus avellana 'Contorta' and a Ceratostigma willmottianum 'Desert Skies'.  They must have lived in their pots by the front door for a good three or four years.

There was also the Cercis candensis 'Forest Pansy', bought as a real bargain from Gardeners World at the NEC probably six or seven years ago.  This plant did not live with me in Nottingham, I bought this when I lived at my first house in Leicester, but that was only ever a temporary home so I planted very few things whilst living there.  As I knew I would not be living in that house for very long and so I put it into a container.  I had also not long read an article by Dan Pearson where he talked of having the same tree in a container.  It looked fantastic and I loved the look of the tree.  I have said before I am suggestable to such things so one was duly bought.  This too now lives in the Wild Garden quite happily and I am now just waiting for the year that it is large enough to flower.
The other pot-dweller was my Ginkgo Biloba tree.  Now I love this tree, it is a fantastic tree and whenever I say I am not a fan of conifers this tree is top of my list of exceptions.  It lived in its pot opposite the back door for many years at my Nottingham house.  I could see it when washing up or just gazing vaguely out at the back yard.  I loved, loved, loved this tree.
This all sounds a little past -tense, which is not true as the tree is still alive though it did have a serious set back. 

When I first moved into my current house one of my first jobs was to plant out the pot-dwellers and particularly the Ginkgo.  I knew I would be living here quite a while and it felt like it now had a home.  I went to the very top left-hand corner of the garden and this was the perfect spot.  I carefully planted it, observing the amount of human-slurry that was clearly still not totally composted down from when the house had belonged to the sewage works that had long-since gone.   I planted my tree and I was happy that my tree was happy and it flourished.

About two years later I was driving home from Gardeners World exhibition at the NEC.  I had had a nice day, many plants had been purchased, I was tired but all was well.  It was a very hot day and as I started to drive down the lane to my house I noticed a pall of smoke and thought to myself that my neighbours must be having a bonfire.  I had never known them to do this before and it was a rather hot sunny day for a bonfire, but there was smoke so what else could it be.  As I drove a little further I realised that the smoke did not appear to be in their garden........... actually it looked like it might be in my garden..........I drove closer, closer, it was in my garden!

I parked quickly, I ran into the back garden and up to the top left hand corner where it was now clear that there was a fire was mainly in the dog-walking field (apparently its a wildflower meadow, but....)  that borders my garden.  I had no idea what to do, my hedges were catching alight, and the Ginkgo was surrounded by flames.  I rang the Fire Brigade, as I finished the call I looked up and a fireman was climbing into my garden.  This felt like magic!  He explained that there has been a series of fires lit all around the area in the afternoon and  asked was there somewhere close that the fire engine could park.  Within minutes the fire engine was in my driveway and it felt like hoards of fireman (possibly three) were putting out the fire.  This was a massive relief but the damage was bad and the top corner looked awful.
The ginkgo did survive, the ornamental cherry next to it didn't, but the Ginkgo sprouted from lower down and every year it gets a little stronger.  This is good.
The Corylus avellana 'Contorta' and the Cercis are happy in the Wild Garden, the Ceratostigma is happy in the front garden.  Their patience for living in pots has been rewarded by being properly planted out now.  I am also quite pleased that I managed to keep them happy for so many years in containers. 

I do grow seasonal plants in pots that change from year to year, but I also still have some plants in pots that are there on a long-term basis; not because I am intending to move, but because I cannot plant them where I want them to be.  I have a rhododendron, a camellia, an olive tree and an azalea in large pots in my courtyard (I laugh to myself every time I call it a courtyard, it is really a bit of concrete between the utility room and the conservatory, but if I am going to be pretentious I might as well go over the top with it).  It is a shady area and considerably brightened by these containers.  In the Spring the scent of the rhododendron fills the conservatory when I open the door.  It has made a real improvement to this awkward space and I am now constantly on the look out for other things that I can put there in a pot to make a little oasis.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Beautiful yet problematic

My maternal grandfather died when I was quite young.  I do remember him but I suppose I never really knew him.  I have a variety of possessions that remind me of each of my grandparents, nothing actually valuable as such, but reminders that mean a lot.

My memories of my grandfather are of a man who smoked, who played chess with my father every Sunday afternoon, who drove with a large teddy bear in the back seat of the car, he gardened a lot in particular I associate him with rows of red and yellow tulips and he collected cigarette cards.  He was passionate about his collection and had many beautiful and rare sets that were worth quite a bit of money.
Some years after his death my grandmother was burgled and most of his collection was stolen.  Not much else was taken, my grandparents did not own anything else really of value and it was fairly clear that the burglar knew what s/he was after.  It was sad, but they were gone.  Life moved on.
Some years later my grandmother gave my son a small album of cigarette cards.  It did not contain any full sets, but dribs and drabs of various unfinished collections.  It was though a small connection back to my grandfather.  I spent quite a bit of time looking through it.  Cigarette cards are a thing long gone now.  I suppose they would be much frowned upon as encouraging people to smoke, but they were part of a shopping culture that no longer seems to exist.  I remember you could collect cards found in tea packets too.  Collecting and saving and sending in for free gifts was a real part of my childhood.
I realised that one of the sets of cards was nearly complete.  Only two cards were missing.  I went straight to the internet, not knowing if I could find the missing ones or any idea of how much they might cost.  I was curious though, could I complete the set?
Yes, I could, I think the cards cost 50p each as most collections are not really worth much at all and this is a fairly common one that is easily available.  I bought the missing two and then took it into a local framers to be framed.  It is now pride of place in my lounge and I look at it and think of my grandfather..............smoking his way through collecting them......... oh dear, see it is beautiful, but it is problematic.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Le cercis est vivant

En d├ępit de l'attaque par un chien, cet arbre est vivant.

The jury is still out on whether the Davidia is dead or not, I keep looking at it and there not a sign of any new growth as yet, other drought-hit shrubs have leafed up again, but the Davidia remains resolutely crispy.  Every now and again I give it a little bend to see if I think it has totally dried out and I think there is a bit of flex still in it, but time will tell.  Anyhoo, the Davidia number 3 was a replacement for Davidia Number 2 that was snapped off at the root by a dog that got into the garden.  I have now managed to fence in most of the garden now so dog-related incidents are now pretty much non-existent, for a while there it was a constant problem as there appears to be a shortage of dog leads where I live.  Maybe I exaggerate but .....
.... in the same incident my Cercis candensis 'Lavender Twist', bought from Swines Meadow Farm Nursery at a plant fair some months before was snapped off close to the ground.  It had formed a fine young tree and I was very fond of it.
When I saw it snapped off and lying on the floor I was distraught.  Two main things ran through my head - firstly was 'my beautiful tree I had such high hopes for you' and secondly 'that was not a cheap tree to lose!'  I do not mind paying a bit for a tree, I see it as an investment for not only my future but for whoever takes on the garden when I leave, but even so, I do not expect to keep buying the same one because of things like this.

So I was upset but luckily I was due to visit Swines Meadow the next day for a plant fair.  Colin read of my loss on twitter and said he had a nice replacement I could buy.  So off I went and I bought a nice small Cercis siliquastrum (not a sillyquatum, that would be a very silly name), and no its not a Lavender Twist, but it is a pretty little tree that I can confirm is still growing well.
So end of story I thought, until several weeks later when I was weeding around the 2 inch stub of the first tree and I noticed that there were the signs of new growth.  I carefully cleared around the tree so it would have some air and space to put on this new growth.  A small but definite shoot appeared and I was happy.
Over Winter the shoot obviously lost its leaves and I wondered if it was strong enough to re-grow in the Spring.  Well yes it was, another shoot appeared, stronger than the first and it is now about 12 inches tall. 
This is good, this makes me happy, especially as this now means I have three Cercis trees (oh, did I not mention the other one, a Forest Pansy, I bought several years ago and that lived in a pot until I moved into this house.  That is a whole other story, the trees that lived in pots....)
Anybody would think I rather like this tree.

Une mal├ędiction sur le chien, vive les cercis 

(apologies again for the internet translated french).

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The cheeky weed

Its that time of year, the time of the cheeky weed.  You must know what I am talking about?  You have spent the day weeding, you have been on your hands and knees and carefully removed, one by one, every weed in the border.  Not only every weed, but every glimmer of weed that might have thought it might want to be a weed.  In fact, you have also probably removed a few seedlings/small plants that you didn't even mean to or want to but your hands have gone into weeding mode and pulled them up before you could stop them.  You have weeded well and you know you have done a good job.
So you go for a mug of tea, you stop for a rest, you decide that you have done for the day and take a last walk around the garden to admire your handy work and enjoy the golden evening light....
and there it is, waving at you, shouting coooeee, the cheeky weed.  Cheeky weeds are remarkably polite and never shout Oi, that would be too in your face, no they shout cooee in a sort of benign aunty way, a bit like they are just waving hello as you pass on the other side of the road.  They want to attract your attention that they are there, but in a friendly you might want to see them sort of way.  They sound a bit like they might be Weed from Bill and Ben, that was a lovely weed, it sang and danced and protected Bill and Ben.  With such a cheery cheeky saluation how could this be a pernicious weed?
This unfortunately shows that these weeds have a mis-placed sense of self.  They fail to understand that actually they are not welcome, in fact had we have known they were there they would probably be on the compost heap by now.  Yes, weedicide would have taken place, yet they have the gall to stand there, often getting on for 18 inches high, wafting about in the middle of border where you know you weeded particularly carefully, proud as punch!
So, you have choices, you can sigh, shrug your shoulders and take a large slurp of tea and move on, or, sigh, put your mug on the ground, launch yourself into the border to tackle the offending cheeky weed and when you step back clutching it in your hand kick your mug over so there is no tea left.
For that is the revenge of the cheeky weed, it knows you will feel compelled to remove it but it will remove your tea to restore balance to the universe....... curse them.

(I am of course aware that not all the photographs are of weeds, I refuse to build their sense of self-importance by showing too many).

Wordless Wednesday - poppy

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The giraffes of Lincolnshire

I first went to Easton Walled Gardens in February of this year when I went primarily to see the snowdrops.  This time of year it is the time to visit to experience the sweet peas and what an experience it was.  It is in some ways a little late for sweet peas but the season is quite long this year so I expected there would still be quite a lot to see.
The displays of sweet peas are mainly to be found in The Pickery, there are various flowers for cutting (picking) in this area and it is incredibly colourful.  Yet it has to be said that this rather wonderful display was somewhat overshadowed by the amount of bees, butterflies and hoverflies there were buzzing around everywhere.  Just when you started to look carefully at a beautiful sweet pea a butterfly would whizz past shouting 'look at me' followed promptly by a bee shouting 'no, look at me, I'm declining'.  The air was alive with the sound and movement of wildlife, it was a great sight.   Most people will have read that there is a decline in the bee population, I began to suspect that this was caused by them all massing in this one garden, I think they might be holding the bees to ransom.
 I think most gardeners enjoy the unexpected flower combinations that work well, the self-seeded something that pops up where you would never have placed it but looks incredible and the colour combinations that logically you would think would look bad but in reality look fantastic.  This combination which I imagine was unintended caught my eye:
Its some sort of scabious and a cauliflower that has caulied a little too much.  Doesn't it look amazing?  I have to give top marks for allowing this to remain rather than removing what might be seen as an offending article.  Forget the gaudy coloured ornamental cabbages, lets have a few caulis instead.
There is more to the garden than the Pickery, I was blown away by the wild planting on the terraced area.  It looked most effective from the side angle and the mown levels could be seen distinctly and the blonde grasses and the wild flowers growing amongst them made a superb contrast.  If you go into the little history room you can see old photographs of the beautifully manicured terraces and very fine they looked too, but I have to say that this 'wild' planting was quite breathtaking and actually probably for me the highlight of the garden.  It was simple, it was easy to replicate in a smaller garden and quite frankly was a brave use of a previously very formal space. It is easy to criticise other people's gardens but these terraces I think are superb.  This area also was attracting the bees and butterflies though not as many as The Pickery was.  This made me think two things, one, that the bees were indeed being held prisoner in The Pickery as previously said and also that whilst we are led to believe that we have to have wild areas in the garden to attract bees a good patch of open colourful flowers will do just as well.
There is also the vegetable garden which is next to The Pickery, it was immaculate, rows of beautiful looking lettuces without a slug in sight.  This seemed an impossible thing, how could there be such perfection?  Thankfully reality was restored by some rows of nibbled lettuces and cabbages, its not that I take pleasure in seeing manky lettuces, but it is nice to see that even the best of gardens has a slug or two.
I also found this mini tractor in the vegetable garden.  Isn't it cute?  I'm not sure how effective it would be at ploughing or bringing in crops, but then it is quite a small vegetable garden.  Now the less enlightened might think it is some sort of irrigation system, but I know a mini-tractor when I see one.
Further up in the walled garden there was a moment of quince envy.  There were several quince trees growing in the long grasses and several had quinces on.  My quince tree is about three years old now and I am waiting impatiently for my first quince.  This year I had lots of blossom and I watched it anxiously as one by one each of the blossoms fell off.   Oh well, there is always next year.  Just looking at these small, furry, perfect and fragrant fruit makes me more hopeful that next year will be successful.
The highlight of the garden though was something quite unexpected, I refer you to my recent post about Tatton Flower Show and the amount of giraffes that I saw.  Well imagine my delight as I turned a corner at Easton Walled Gardens to find.......
..... yes, two giraffes looking out over the Serengeti that is known more locally as the Lincolnshire countryside.  Well I was impressed I can tell you and intrigued....

..... intrigued because the sign says......
so if you cannot touch these giraffes, where are the ones you can touch?  I shall have to go again to find them.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The connection is successful

There are things that all gardeners know are important, they know that to be a 'real' gardener you have to have/do certain things.  This is a totally subjective, subconcious list but it is reinforced by the gardening media all the time so we seem to accept them to be true.  Well, this is what I believe, I might be of course totally wrong.  We all 'know' that to be a gardener we have to compost.  If we haven't got space to compost then probably we can't be proper gardeners because I've watched Gardeners' World for years and they give me no alternative than to make my own compost.  So I do, I build towering piles of composting waste that I then get too scared to turn or use as I think there are rodents living in it.  Correction, I know there are rodents living in it as Lawrence my black cat and the only hunting cat in the house sits constantly by the side of the heap looking hungry.  Since he discovered the compost dwellers he has (thankfully) stopped eating birds, only the crunchy-furry stuff will do.  When I do take the brave step of turning the compost I feel like I have gained some 'real gardener' points.

The other thing that 'real' gardeners do is collect rain water in butts.  Since moving to this house I have had three water butts, one each side of the back end of the greenhouse and one upside down next to the shed.  The one in the far corner at the back of the greenhouse fills up well with rain water and every now and again I do use it, but I have to fight through nettles and brambles and it is a bit of a pain to get to.

The one the nearside corner the greenhouse suddenly stopped filling up.  I kept clearing the guttering and fiddling with the connector pipe but for some reason it just wasn't filling any more.  I shrugged and moved on, I had a hosepipe why should I worry?

Except I did worry, I am not a fanatical eco-warrior but I do worry about natural resources, I do get concerned about the use of fresh drinking water that is a precious resource in many parts of the world, being used to keep my seedlings going.  I get that little nag of guilt about it and the water butts nag at me silently about it all the time.

So, I decided to sort this out.  I (bravely, it had spiders in it) moved the upside down water butt from by the side of the shed to the front corner of the greenhouse.  I tried to disconnect the gutter pipe from the back-nearside corner water butt so that I could channel the water into the new butt.  I failed at this, it remains still stuck on the side of the greenhouse.  I wondered what I could use, did I need to buy another?  Then I had a thought.  Last year I bought a rain-chain which now hangs from the side of the conservatory, this is basically an ornamental 'drain pipe', the rain runs down the chain and into a little tray at the bottom and drains nicely away.  It is beautiful and functional and when being rained on it is a total joy to watch.  When I had set it up the chain had been too long, so several of the 'tulip links' were stored in the shed.  I fished them out and made sure they were still connected, fixed it up to the guttering and poured water into the gutter to see what happened - success!  The water was channelled beautifully into the water butt.  I was happy.
I soon found I was also using the water from it far more often.  It is quicker to just stick a watering can in the top and use it to water the greenhouse than to faff about with the hose.  Yes it nearly dried up when we had a bit of a dry spell a week or so ago, but it is back to being pretty much full again now.  My conscience felt more clear about the water and it was more efficient.  All is good.

Yet still I had an emptyish water butt at the other corner of the greenhouse, this needed fixing.  So, as it was almost empty I could move it easily.  I placed it by the side of the new water butt and connected the over-flow pipe to the other water butt and then topped it up a little (with water from the full water butt at the other side of the greenhouse - are you confused yet?  I think I am), and lo and behold the water flowed from butt a to butt b.  This was a joyous moment.
So, I now have two functioning water butts at the front of the greenhouse where I can actually use them.  I still have the full one at the back off-side corner of the greenhouse but it is too full to move at the moment.  I now have plans to a) use the water from it more and b) move it when I am able.  I can always just decant the water from it into one of the others.  It is just like being a real gardener, all I have to do now is turn the compost more and actually use it and I might get my 'real gardener' badge.

I had a quick chat with the flowers and they seemed to think that all was well.....
....for it is known that if you are going to make important connections it is best to check that all is well with the cosmos.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Bobby beans

Many years ago, when I was a teenager, we used to go on family holidays to Cumbria, in particular to a village called Little Musgrave, a village so small that to this day I use it as a sign as to whether a road atlas is worth buying or not.  The nearest big town was Kirkby Stephen which was (for us) most notable for the butchers that sold incredible sausages and the bakers that sold 'treacle' bread.  I spent weeks perfecting my own version of the treacle bread recipe and I still make it routinely as the loaf of choice in my bread machine.
Another memory of buying from shops and markets around that area was the sale of bobby beans.  We had never heard of bobby beans where we live in the Midlands I have never seen them on sale, but there they were, labelled up and being sold in brown paper bags.  On closer inspection it became clear that bobby beans are a thin bean similar to a french bean, but they tasted better than anything we could buy back in our home town.
So now I grow Cobra beans and whenever I pick some I think to myself that they are bobby beans.  I don't like to let them get too thick or stringy, the thin, tasty bobbiness of them always makes me smile.  From a hunt on the internet it would appear that bobby beans are listed as 'bean cora', now I shall have to get some to grow next year and I can have proper bobby beans again.