Tuesday, 31 December 2013

End of Month Review - December 2013

December is ending cold and stormy, it has been a stormy month.  We are lucky here living in the mainly sheltered midlands so whilst it has been a bit scary at times, the worst of the storms have so far passed us by.  I have taken these photographs a couple of days early as more storms are due.  Today it is frosty.
The front garden is doing ok, the Knot Garden is looking suitably knotty.  The box balls need a trim really but I think they might be in transition, they might not be balls at all but might turn out to be cubes, I think their shape is emerging.
The variegated Rhamnus that lives in the dark corner between the magnolia and the hedge and spends most of the year being overlooked, always shines this time of year.
The Rosa Ballerina that lives in the other corner of the side lawn is still flowering.  It has flowered for months this year, it is a great do-er
and possibly most exciting of all, the quince hedge is about to flower.  This seems very early but it also makes me happy as it is getting to be a bit more of a hedge and less of a collection of weedy stick-looking things.
Wandering down the path to the side of the house, there is the Gravel Garden, which is currently looking a bit gravelly with some welcome green from the rosemary, there is also the rarely if even shown ivy-covered Rowan tree.  This is work in progress, I am on a mission to remove the ivy and I am currently just waiting for a new bigger ladder to arrive and I then think I can finish it off.  The Sherlocks amongst you could probably work out how tall I was if I told you how high the first ladder was.  As that is not hugely interesting as I am neither that tall or that small I won't bother to pursue this.
On the table there is currently a collection of apples being held in place by the remains of last year;s christmas wreath, they are there for the birds to eat and in the frost I though they looked quite pretty.
Behind the table the vegetables beds are looking a pretty sorry soggy mess, but the cabbages are doing well.
The garden itself is looking cold.
There are not huge amounts of colour this time of year.  I quite like the bare bones of it all though.
The plants look like they are shivering,
Some, like this cardoon, are shooting up new growth already.
The Courtyard is showing some colour from the primulas and whilst you cannot really tell, I did de-moss it yesterday.
The Four Sisters are sitting there looking wintery and the Edgeworthia appears to be still alive.  This is good.
I really like the shadows this time of the day.  I thought they were quite dramatic.
The medlar tree is looking gangley.  I think you can see behind it I have been putting chicken-wire up to reinforce the side fencing.  It is looking a bit raw and silver at the moment but the hedge will soon grow through it and hide it and it should stop dogs from getting into the garden.
I quite like this view from the Tree Lupin Border across to the Grassy Knoll.  The pond is sort of in between them but cannot really be seen from this angle.
The Prairie Borders are still blonde.  I still am not, but I'm thinking about it.
The Bog Garden does look boggy, but not hugely gardeny, next year I have hopes it will fill out better.
and there is the first sign of some snowdrops coming up, this made me smile.
The teasel patch is gleaming in the sun, the birds love these so much they are such a good source of food.
Natasha and Elsie are emerging from the foliage that have half-hidden them through the growing season.
and the Camellia is showing signs of buds for the Spring.  This makes me very happy, there are benefits from not having a too dry summer.
The Burtonesque Curl really does need some planting up, but that is a job for the new growing season.  It will be done.
Meanwhile the nigella has made an early start of getting a foothold into the new borders.
The pond is full and frozen at the time of writing.  It needs clearing out of dead plants/leaves and parrot weed and that will happen in the next couple of weeks, well, frost and snow allowing that is.

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.

and Happy New Year everyone, here's to a great 2014 of gardening, may your seeds germinate, your weeds wither and your slugs slug-off.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

For a few heathers more

A couple of months ago I was given cause to think about heather, I thought about it quite a bit in fact.

When thinking about heathers I came to the conclusion that much as I like them in their natural surroundings, I think it is more difficult to use them well in a domestic setting.  They are a wild plant by their very nature and seem to look best surrounded by wildness.  Even though I do firmly believe this, this did not stop me from thinking I would give them a try in my garden.  Following on from the frame of thought that they needed wildness, I knew that the best place to try them was in my Wild Garden.

I have been focussing on this part of the garden quite a bit this year and it has seen quite a few additions.  The Woodland Border (background on the photograph below) and the Bog Garden (foreground) have been added to and worked on and are now starting to look a bit like I want them to be.  The Woodland Border is more mature than the Bog Garden as it has had a year's head start and I am already much happier with it than I was.  Of course, once starting to feel happy with a part of the garden I generally want to extend it, which has led to the Heather Spur.
The Heather Spur runs down one side of the Woodland Border and one side of the Bog Garden extending into what I can only call a spur shape.  It is not quite the Burtonesque Curl that has appeared around the formal lawn but it is cradling around the top of the Dancing Lawn.

Once created it needed planting up, and as it was intended to be the Heather Spur, it needed some heathers.  Some heathers were duly purchased.
A nice collection of native heathers.
I would say I considered buying some brighter coloured heathers, but I would be lying.  I think it fair to say the cabbages have more chance of making it into my garden and they have as much chance as a snowball in a very hot place!

I planted out my heathers and they look suitably underwhelming.  There are just not enough of them and they are too small.
I am not prepared though to go and buy lots more to fill out the space.  This is for two reasons:  1. heathers are fairly easy to propagate from cuttings, so why buy lots when I can expand this collection at no extra cost and bearing in mind 2. I might not like them so I am not going to throw good money after bad collecting a load of plants that I will turn around and look at in a few months time and say 'yuk' I was right in the first instance, heathers are best left to grow in the wild and cannot be easily tamed and dig them all out.

Which means that time will tell what happens with the Heather Spur.  It has already been added to with some Iris and some Astrantia, which may or may not look good with the heathers.
The heathers are flowering away delicately and this is rather pleasing.
So far so good, I will update you as to how this bit of the garden develops.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Blackberry Tales 9 - Doorway into doom

I like to have a garden project or two over the winter months.  It is a good time to do a variety of things that prepare the way for the next growing season.  This often involves increasing the borders and planning new areas.  This year I have spent some time wielding (and losing) a pruning saw reshaping the boundary hedge-trees and putting new fencing up to try and keep the local dogs out of the garden.  This also involved a lot of ivy removal, which in turn made me think about ivy.  I received some good helpful comments on the post I wrote about ivy and this made me turn and look again at the ivy-covered tree that sits in front of the kitchen window.  I picked up the pruning saw (the other one, the lost one remains lost, that is whole other tale) and decided to make a start.
Now this is a big project and I am not going to detail here as I am still mid-way through, the purpose of this tale is is concerning what I found mid-ivy-removal.  This tree was very covered in ivy, it was basically an ivy mound.  It had always been covered in ivy from when I first moved into the house and whilst I had half-heartedly tried to remove it previously I had never made much headway.  This time I was on a mission, I cut and hacked, hacked and cut and the shape of the tree started to re-appear.  The shape included a bulge.  I thought the bulge a little odd and continued hacking.

Then it appeared, the edge of something crafted from wood.  I thought (hoped) it might be a bird-box so I continued with even more focus.  After a short while it was uncovered and it was indeed an old, wood-worm ridden, rotten bird box.  In the seven years I have lived here I had never seen it before, it had always been completed covered in ivy.  I had no inkling it was there.  I cleared it further and a massive chunky black spider ran out of it. I managed not to fall off the step-ladder (just) and decided to leave it alone for now.
I posted a picture of it on twitter (as you do) and someone commented that it looked like the entrance into Mordor.  I thought about the big black spider and could only agree.

I look at the tree as I stand by the kitchen sink, I kept looking at the bird box and it ominously kept looking back.  It disturbed me.  After a whole day of this I decided it had to be dealt with, so standing at a distance I knocked the bird-box off the tree, it was so rotten it fell very easily and I stuck it on the compost heap.

A day or so later my daughter came to visit, I was proudly showing her the ivy-removed tree and she commented 'oh the one with the haunted bird-box'.  I then knew I had done the right thing in removing it........

..... or have I?  I have read enough M R James ghost stories to know that removing things and unleashing things is rarely a good move.  Now where is that spider..........

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The season turns again

We are at the shortest day again, the Winter Solstice was yesterday and the daylight will get longer minute by minute.

When I am walking around the garden I realise just how much is starting to grow already, the whilst at the start of Winter, Spring is already making its move.
There have been some frosts already, but the snow has yet to arrive.  There is no doubt it will arrive, at which point I shall worry for all this new growth and be hoping that it sees it through to the other side.  Experience tells me much of it will.
 I love seeing the glimmers of life sprouting up from this year's now dead-looking growth.
There are lots of buds on the trees too:
This willow is getting ready to flower,
The fluffy Magnolia stellata buds are ready to go,
The winter honeysuckle is on the verge of flowering,
the amalanchiar
and the Sorbus Cashmeiriana have buds swelling;
the yellow hamamelis is already trying to flower,
the corkscrew hazel is getting ready for catkins.
The rhododendron lutea and
the camellia have buds ready to flower
the hellebores are gearing up
The edgeworthia is still not yet dead,
and by the front door the Sarcococca confusa is looking wonderful with its black berries and is just coming into flower and starting to smell sweetly.

The daylight has reached its shortest and the season takes another turn; the signs of hope and new growth are everywhere.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Hedera not Tilsley

I have lots of ivy in my garden.  More than lots, I actually have too much.  I don't like it very much either, I find it rather dark and foreboding and I worry about how it smothers some of my trees.  I have tried to remove it from the trees but they are so smothered it is currently a thankless task.
It is not totally dreadful though, as even as I write that I don't like it, I start correcting myself as I do love how it teams with wildlife particularly in Autumn when it seems to attract every wasp in the district.  Does this mean I like wasps?  No, I am terrified of them, I always have been, but if they are on the ivy they are not on me and that is good in my world.
I also rather like its name, Hedera helix, it has a nice rhythm to it.  Ivy itself just reminds me of Ivy Tilsley, but I don't think I have met anyone really called Ivy, I think it is not a name very much in fashion these days but it might make a come back I suppose.

But what has made me think of ivy recently has been wandering around the church yard at Calke Abbey on a blowy December day.  My eyes landed on the edge of this tomb and I just thought how wonderful ivy could be in how it drapes and winds around, reclaiming all that stands in its way and coating it with green.
I might not have been quite so appreciative had it been climbing up the side of my house.........