Thursday, 28 November 2013

Autumn revelations of structure

One thing I rarely manage to do is to visit the same garden more than once at different periods in the year.  This is usually because if they are at a distance from me I will only be visiting whilst on holiday which tends to be about the same of year.  So it was a real joy when I got the chance to visit Easton Walled Gardens for the third time this year.  I live only an hour away which is quite travelable as a nice visit.
The 'reason' for visiting (like I need a reason!) was for their Christmas Fair.  This was quite small but had various nice little stalls and I left with two knitted bunnies in little cardboard cots (as you do).  I resisted the urge to buy a hat, but one of the friends I went with left with two.  Mince pies were consumed and mulled wine.  This was all good.  We had really gone to see the garden in its Autumnal guise, so we quickly wandered out to have a good wander and chat.
When you visit a garden at different times of the year different things become apparent.  What I quickly realised I was focussing on this time was structure, the bones of the garden were appearing as Autumn took its hold and I found this fascinating.  Good structure is a key part of a good garden.
I did start getting structure envy.

We stood for a while, leaning slightly, admiring the tool shed.

We smiled at the self-seeded sweet peas that were making a dash to survive.

We peaked into the greenhouses and wondered what were in the brown paper bags of drying seeds.  (We assumed sweet peas, but there is more to the garden than a few weeks of peas).
 I had a bit of tree envy, I love this tree so much but it will grow a bit big and I have not got room for one, well I might have on the front drive, well I might have to think about this a bit more, but I have not turned my attention to the front drive yet and this is something that will be addressed probably sooner rather than later, but it is rather a big tree.  (and repeat, endlessly).
I also had I had a bit of a 'Back to the Future' twin pines moment, but I didn't see a DeLorean to make the idea complete.
The gardens are now shut until snowdrop time, and yes, I will be going again more than once next year.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Blackberry Garden Plant of the Year Award

I know its only nearing the end of November, but  there is no point in putting this off, its been fairly clear all year which plant or group of plants was going to win the 'plant of year' award so I might as well go ahead an award it.  This is, as I hope you would expect by now, a totally made-up by me pointless award, but a bit of gratitude for a great performer is always a good thing to bestow.

So who has won?  Is it a poppy you might ask?  Well I know I am incredibly predictable but no, not a poppy.  Much as I love them and don't get me wrong, they have performed well this year, but no, not outstandingly, gob-smackingly well.  They have been great, but no more than I would usually expect.
Is it a dahlia?  Again they are a group of flowers I dearly love, but they have been a bit of a curate's egg, good in parts.
What about scabiosa crown, a new addition to the garden that I have been very fond of this year and a plant I will definitely grow next year?  No, it did well and got close, but it was outshone.
Was it Rosa Sir Clough?  This rose is fast becoming my favourite rose, there is something about the colour and the shape of it that I just love.  My one slight criticism is that the scent is a bit weak, if it had the scent of a Gertrude Jekyll or even Rosa Portmeirion, it would probably be perfect.`  The two of these roses that I have flowered well, I am pleased with them, but no, they are not plant of year, they are a 'not quite'.
The winner is..........
Rosa Hyde Hall, the hedge of which creates a divide between the formal garden and the vegetable garden.  It is almost a hedge, it is now not really possible to walk through it which means it is stopping being a row of plants and now being a hedge.
It was one of the first roses to start to flower,

It provided for indoor flowers when other roses were having a rest,
and it is still flowering now.  A truly deserved win.

Which plant has been the best in your garden this year?

Thursday, 21 November 2013

A visit to Bristol Botanic Garden

I had a recent visit to Bristol for work purposes, the weather was cold but beautifully sunny and it was too good an opportunity to waste, so I took a detour on the way home to visit Bristol Botanic Garden.  I was not sorry that I did, even though autumn has started to get that wintery-bite to its edge it was still a glorious day.  I will put in a bit of an apology, these photographs were all taken on my phone as I had not brought my usual camera with me on the trip.
I like visiting botanic gardens and I love visiting good ones.  Sadly good ones are not easy to find these days as funding issues mean that many are getting to be more garden (park) than botanic.  This one however is still a proper botanic garden.  The moon gate above is the entrance to the Chinese medicine garden, I have never seen one before so it was very interesting to wander around.
This was evident as I wandered around, there was lots of labelling, and yes its not the classiest labelling in the world but it was clear and plentiful and in an educational setting as this garden is, it was not out of place.
It was not just the plants there were labelled, but in proper physic garden style there was labels telling you what these plants could be used for.
This one was very calming.....
....... this one was not....
The autumn foliage was still very evident and shining in the sun.
I fell in love with this tree, Taxorium distichum, apparently this grows to be a very large tree so it is not practical for my garden, but what a shame, it is such a beauty. 
I then wandered around to the glasshouses, these are divided into three zones, temperate, not so temperate and tropical.
I am not a big fan of cactus, but this was a great display, I almost understood why people like them so much when I saw them set out en masse.
I did not manage to find the name of this blue flowered shrub, someone will know it and add it to the comments I am sure, but it was a fantastic blue, deeper than it actually looks here.
There were these pitcher plant things, again, I am not a fan but seeing it in a more naturalistic setting than I usually do made them more appealing.  (Still not buying any).
I love this staghorn fern, I have been buying ferns this year for the woodland garden, no not this type; I still need to get some more but this one needs a bit more temperate weather than Leicester can manage I think.
I think I liked this Giant Amazon Lily best of all though.  It is just such a wonderful plant, not one I could ever grow as I do not have a glasshouse with a pond in it (funnily enough) but it is always a treat to see.
Best of all though, through all the careful planting and care, nature takes its own control of the situation and under the floor grating there were ferns popping up here and there.
I spent a very happy time wandering around the gardens, it reinforced my belief that these types of gardens are really important.  What a brilliant resource they are, not only for the University who owns it, or the local community who have such a beautiful garden near by.  I imagine it is used by the local schools too (and if not it should be) as it teaches about the beauty and the science of plants plus how they can be used.  These types of gardens are not cheap to run but they have huge social value and the more we lose the poorer we become. 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Sweet peas for the windowsill

Hold on a minute you say, its November, why are you talking about windowsill flowers now?  Its not a 'how to sow sweet peas' lesson is it?

No its not really, its more a celebration of the long sweet pea season I have had this year.  I have grown sweet peas for many years now.  I adore the scent and they are so easy to grow.  The main problems I have when growing them is preventing them from getting eaten by mice, otherwise it is quite straightforward.
Some people like to sow them in Autumn, others wait until the Spring.  I have tried both and in general I have had most success from Spring sowings.  I do have a batch germinated in the greenhouse at the moment which is not my usual practise.  I thought I would give it a try for an early show of flowers, but what I really want are sweet peas for as along as possible.
Sweet peas enjoy being picked regularly, it keeps them flowering, it is not a good idea to let them go to seed as they think they have done their job for the year and pretty much give up flowering much after that.  I love to have them on the kitchen window sill, the scent makes me happy and whilst doing those kitchen-sink based jobs they sit there, smiling scentily at me.  I should probably add I do not bother growing any that do not have scent, it seems a waste of time to me.
So it starts quite slowly, builds to a crescendo and then usually peters out around about September sometime, the placing of the sweet peas on the kitchen window sill.  This year it seemed to start a little later, but I think I have just picked my last (very few now).
How do I ensure I have them late into the year, well I successional sow, usually two or three batches in the Spring and this year I was given the best sweet pea tip ever.  Sweet peas benefit from having their tops pinched off when they have been growing a while, this keeps them from getting leggy and makes a sturdy climber.  A gardening friend said that they treat these discarded top bits as cuttings and sure enough, I stuck some in a pot and they rooted really quickly, making yet another batch.  I shall definitely make this part of my standard sweet pea routine.  

I am not saying I always have sweet peas in November, this is a very late flowering and down to sheer chance not fantastic gardening prowess.
If you are interested (actually even if you are not), my current favourite sweet peas are:

Matucana -I always grow this, always always, the scent is just phenomenal
King Edward VII - a superb red and again incredible scent
Dorothy Eckford - a really good white and good scent

I then just choose what ever else takes my fancy!
The last bunch - picked 16 November

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Less than half but better than nothing

You know when a leaflet pops through your door that makes you think, oh yes, that is what I should do?  Well I received a Whichford Pottery through the post inviting me to an event and I decided it was time to visit again.  I first visited just over a year ago and immediately knew it was rather a special place.   It rather neatly puts together two of my main interests, a love of plants and a love of pottery.  Not just plant-pottery either, there is a very fine gallery selling the works of various pottery artists. 
I meant to visit for the bulb sale in September but life conspired against me and I did not manage to go.  Then the chance came up to visit again and it just felt churlish not to.  I had just spent a week off work which meant that my gardening was fairly up to date, well, except for mowing the lawn; it has been so wet this week that that has been out of the question.  The lawn is sitting there, looking at me, all shaggy-like.  The early part of the week decorating the spare bedroom, which meant I did not get outside much at all for about four days.  I was feel very couped up by the end of this and in need of a fun distraction.  So off to Whichford I went.
The afternoon involved tea and cake, as all good afternoons do.  There was also a short talk by Harriet Rycroft, the Head Gardener at the pottery about container planting.  Actually saying it was about container planting is a complete understatement of what Harriet does; anyone who has visited the Pottery will know what an amazing garden they have there.  It is visually exciting and knowing that it is all in pots makes it also a wonderment.  Then there was a talk by Jim Keeling (owner/Head Potter of Whichford) about their customer base in Japan.  It was one of those talks that you go to listen to because you do not know anything about it but think it might be entertaining and it turned out to be quite fascinating.   His talk contained some interesting thoughts, in particular the Japanese notion of 'beauty through use', it reminded me as similar to the William Morris quotation "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful", it seems to encompass this idea well except I would swap the 'or' for an 'and'.
As usual I did my pilgrimage to see the Dalek pot, I love this pot and still aspire to own one (lets go crazy, lets get two!) of these one day.  I was a little distracted by the Peacock pot in front of it, what a marvellous pot it is.  Maybe when I have bought all the Dalek pots I will move on to Peacocks?  A lottery win and a larger garden (no, lets be clear, small estate) would be required first.
I was on a mission to make a special purchase on this visit.  I intended to buy a Green Woman wall planter.  I had been thinking about this since I had visited earlier in the year and I knew that if I saw one this time I would buy one.  Firstly though I wandered around the seconds field.  This strikes me as a sad sort of field really.
There they are, laid out in rows, awaiting their fate.  They have already been labelled as seconds, clear failures in their own pottery world, they are truly second class citizens.  Now they wait patiently in the cold bright sunlight for someone to take pity on them, someone to say 'never mind, I know you're not the full malarky, but you'll do for me'.  As the people walk around the field, picking up pots and putting them back I wonder if the pots get all excited when picked up and disappointed when replaced?  Do they live a life of constant rejection until the right person comes along to take them home and love them?  Probably.   So I wandered around the field, thinking these thoughts but not actually selecting any as the one for me, when I saw them, a small nest over by the hedge........ could it be?.............were my eyes deceiving me?.................
It was a small, but definite, nest of little dalek pots.  There they were, babies really, not fully grown like the big one in the main courtyard.  I looked through them and made my choice, I knew I had to take one home with me.  I wished I could have rescued more but finance dictated that only one could come home with me.
So there is my little dalek-squab, not a demi-dalek, but it might be one day!  I also bought a small butterfly pot and a new vase to keep Valerie company.
Its a lovely jug with a couple of bints holding birds on it.  Yes it is now named the Birdy-bint vase.

Just minute you say, what about the Green Woman planter?  Ah, well, yes, I got distracted by the dalek-squab and I could not have both, so the Green Woman stayed where she lay under the table in the main courtyard (presumably feeling rejected).  Maybe next time......?

Wordless Wednesday - November medlar blossom

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Did the earth move......?

No, but my aster did.

I've written before that it took me a while to work out that if I had planted something in the wrong place that I could dig it up and move it somewhere else where it might be happier.  In fact, I should probably clarify and say it took me a while to work out that some plants were dying/looking sickly because they were in the wrong place, that they needed moving and that I could move them.  Once I realised the worst that could happen was they might still die it all seemed a lot easier.

It also took me far to long to work out that a perfectly healthy plant that I had just planted in the wrong place, could also be moved to somewhere else.  It was like I was doomed to live with my poor planting decisions as a lasting reminder to think before you plant.  I think the first mass move around I had in this garden was a few years ago when I created the Pond Border.  I moved many of the plants from the Bog Garden into the Pond Border, including two bamboos and several day lilies.  At the time I was considering removing the Bog Garden altogether and making it into a second pond.  This fancy passed and the Bog Garden has been re-started, but the plants I relocated settled in nicely to their new homes and looked a lot better than their original planting.
I bought some asters about three years ago, they are rather wonderful and I think came from a magazine offer.  One of them, the very large purple one, was planted in the Conservatory Border.  When I say very large, I mean grows to about 4/5 feet in height.  It is a brilliant plant and I am very fond of it, but it was in totally the wrong place. I realised it was in the wrong place probably last year as it started to reach maturity and therefore its full height, but I did nothing about it apart from get irritated by it every now and again.  This year the irritation got too much.  I kept walking up to it and looking at it and thinking 'you are in the wrong place, you have to move'.  The only problem was I could not decide where to.

One day after quite a long day of gardening I settled down to have a cup of tea at the end of the afternoon, sitting outside and just pondering what a good day it had been.  Suddenly I knew where the aster should be, suddenly it was all very clear.  But I had finished my gardening for the day, I was on the wind down.  No, it was no good, the aster had to move and had to move then and there.  So the spade was fetched and the beast was tackled.  It came up relatively easily which was a bit of a surprise.
I relocated it in the Pond Border, a far better place as it can be seen from several sides.  I watered it in well and thought job done.  What followed were several rather dry weeks, I watered the poor beast daily as I knew I had moved it at a bad time of year.  I also, stupidly, left it at full height, I should have cut it down to reduce the stress on the plant, heaven knows why I did not do this as I knew at the time it would be the sensible thing to do.
Several weeks of watering and now the October rains and the aster seems fine.  It has flowered in forgiveness of the harsh treatment it received; not quite as much as flower usual but it did its best.  I know that next year when it comes up again it will be fine now and will look so much better where it is. 
Of course it did leave rather a gap.  I divided an astrantia and an anemone to put into part of the gap as permanent planting and also a wallflower for the spring.  I do not mind a bit of a gap over the winter as it gives me an opportunity for new planting in the spring.  I shall probably divide some more plants to fill it.  What I do really like is that there is now not a huge aster plonked in the middle of this border looking flipping awful.  A job well done.