Sunday, 30 November 2014

End of Month Review - November 2014

November has been one of those elastic months; in many ways it seems long time ago since the constant fireworks of Bonfire Night (or should that be nights, it lasts at least a week it seems).  In other ways I am sure it was only October the other day.  Christmas is approaching at speed!  We have had a good selection of weather this month as well.  It has been sunny and mild, foggy, drizzly, misty and frosty.  Currently as I write the garden is saturated after several periods of heavy rain.
In the front driveway the Magnolia 'Little Gem' is settling in, I shall now be watching it anxiously wondering if it will flower next year.
The Aconite Lawn is waiting its time to shine.  Under the grass the aconites are stirring and will burst into colour in the Spring.  They will, I know they will........ well they might......
The Sarcocca confusa by the front door is now covered in black berries and about to flower.  I think it will need repotting in the Spring but it is ok for now.  The Quince hedge under the lounge window has bushed up well this year, to the point that I have started to gentle trim it to encourage it to get a better shape.  It has decided to flower for some reason, it is rather early.
In the Gravel Garden the crocii are on their way up.  These are a sign of good things to come.
Whilst the garden is saturated, it is still quite green and the late Autumn sun makes it shine quite well.
It does not take too close inspection though, much of the borders resemble a quagmire.
In the Courtyard the Camellia and Rhododendron luteum are covered in buds.  The Photinia 'Pink Marble' has not grown vigorously this year, but it is still growing well and is healthy.
The Dombeya has been covered up for the Winter.  I keep catching sight of it out of the corner of my eye and I think it is an M R James ghost about to launch itself at me.  Good job I do not have an over-active imagination isn't it?
The three beech pillars that lead from the pond through the Prairie Borders  (or through the Prairie Borders to the pond) are beginning to fill out well.  They have been little more than twigs for their first few years of the garden, but I have started to trim these now to encourage them to 'pillar up'.  The colour of the leaves is just amazing.
It is the time of year when I have to stop walking on the Dancing Lawn because the crocii will be coming up through the lawn.  I do not want to damage the flower shoots.
I can walk along the Long Shoot as there are no bulbs in this, the formal lawn, it is very boggy though and it squelches a little when I walk on it.
The gorse is having a little flower to itself and is lighting up it's rather dark corner, this is what I hoped it would do.
The Bog Garden is decidedly boggy.
and the Winter Honeysuckle is starting to flower.  This is one of my all time favourite scented shrubs.
The Mahonia and the hellebore near the top boundary are also flowering.
I just love the light on these Autumn days, it has a lovely colour to it and makes the green of the lawns shine so well.  This view down the Wild Garden pleases me.
The shadows are long and the days are getting to their shortest.
The teasel patch has been fairly modest this year, but the seed heads are providing food now for the finches.
The Four Sisters are doing well, the Edgeworthia has largely shed its leaves and I shall now be watching it anxiously to see that it gets through the winter.  I think I can see flower buds forming, which is almost too exciting to contemplate.
The pleached hornbeams still have the remnants of colour left, but not for much longer.
and there are signs of bulbs coming up.
Lawrence is keeping watch over the compost heaps, hoping for something furry to make a dash for it.
The greenhouse looks like the ghost of Miss Havisham has visited, she has whirled around with voile curtains (probably making an oooooooh noise) and left the greenhouse shrouded.  Or, a less dramatic way of thinking about it is I have put some fleece over my tender plantings.
The pond remains full, of water and pond weed
but look, I have made a start at clearing it.

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme, only one more of the year to go (crikey).

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Pin Oak of happiness

This story begins several months ago with a visit to Bluebell Arboretum.  This visit was organised by the garden group I belong to, the Leicestershire and Rutland Gardens Trust  I have visited the arboretum before but the chance to wander around with friends and drink tea is not something I let pass by if I can help it. We arrived a little early for the tour so there was time to wander around the nursery.  My eyes fell upon the Pin Oak (Quercus palustris) and I bought it, there and then, no hesitation - I wanted that tree.  I managed to fit it into my car and home it came.
I then worried about it as it was the wrong time of year to buy a tree, I knew that.  I knew that keeping it alive in a pot over the summer was going to be a challenge.  After a moment of thought I planted it into the vegetable beds.  It's forever home was going to be in the driveway, I knew exactly where it was going but that was not properly cleared at that point, I had been a little premature.
The weeks passed, I kept the tree watered and it thrived.
It has rewarded me with wonderful leaf colour,
It has pleased me all year and now it has become dormant it has been planted into the driveway.  Next year I expect great things and even more love for this tree.  (no pressure then).

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Out with the old

Garden shoes/boots are a key piece of gardening kit.  Above all else when I talk of constant companions in the garden, the shoes I am wearing are pretty much a constant.  For many years I have had these trusty gardening shoes.  These are not proper gardening shoes, bought with that purpose in mind.  They were originally just a pair of shoes I wore fairly often but I gradually fell out of love with them.  I am not sure why they began to displease but once I had the thought in mind that I did not like them then I felt they needed a new purpose in mind.  They were promoted to be my gardening shoes and whilst I am not sure how long they have held that honour, it is a good seven or eight years I reckon.
In truth it is clear they have seen better days.  The side seam has gone on both shoes, they were once suede but you cannot tell that any more and they also show paint spots from the shed painting earlier this year.  They gave up being waterproof a while ago and that has been their downfall.  I can stand most things but cold wet feet is not a happy thing.

I have been looking at replacements for some time but somehow could not settle on what I wanted to get.  Then the other day a gardening friend came to visit and as she took her boots off to come into the house I remarked how nice I thought her boots were.  There was a brief  discussion and moment of admiration and the name of a website changed hands.

Even then it took me a week or so still to get around to ordering the new boots, but one soggy footed day in the garden too many and the die was cast - there had to be new boots.

Colour choice was easy, if red is in the choice of colours then red it will be.  A click later and the boots were finally ordered and delivered in time for the next weekend of gardening.
They are waterproof (hurrah) and dry (hurrah)
They can be artfully arranged, (that's as artful as I can get)
and they fit.  Even though it has been far too wet to garden this weekend, the ground is totally saturated, a good wander around the garden in the new boots led them to be declared a success,
I now need some decent gardening trousers!
There was even a small, but distinct, happy boot dance.

There should also be a song, this did take some thought as really I knew only Nancy Sinatra would do - this is one of my all time favourite songs and videos, but
....I felt that another contender had to be included as I kept thinking of one my favourite albums from back in the day - what else could it be but 'New Boots and Panties' (1977 Ian Dury) and probably my favourite track off the album and one of the first singles I ever bought for myself which is:
and my old boots - well, they are now in the bin, discarded, unloved and just a fading memory.  Totally replaced by the new red boots.  They do not rate the veneration of Gertrude Jekyll's boots, they are not worthy of the Leaping Beryllians to jump in honour of.  No they are just now sad cast-offs, destined for the rubbish tip.  I almost feel a twinge of sorrow for them but then the red new boots wink at me again and the old ones are promptly forgotten.  Such is life.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Cape Aloe

It is so hard to write anything about an aloe without making reference to 'Allo 'Allo, but I am not going to any further than just that.  I have acknowledged that the joke is there waiting to be made, but I am walking away from it with great restraint.

Moving swiftly on.  I have been very lucky to be asked sometimes to trial plants and whilst I obviously like receiving plants I already know and love, I have written previously about how much I enjoy being challenged to grow plants I have not previously considered.  This does not mean I just greedily accept any plant, if I am not interested in growing it at all I will say so as it would be a pointless exercise for all concerned.  I was recently contacted by Jersey Plants Direct to see if I would be interested in receiving a Cape Aloe plant, I thought about it quite a bit as these are not plants I have much experience of.  I decided to say yes as they are a plant I like and it seemed a good challenge.
The plant arrived very well packaged.  I particularly liked the addition of the terracotta pot and saucer.  The plant was separate from these in a plastic pot which meant they could all be individually wrapped and arrived safely in good condition.
The plant itself is a good size, was in nicely damp compost and came complete with leaflet and label.  The leaflet explains the history of using aloe gel and also how to harvest and store it yourself from the plant.  There are also some nice disclaimers about if you do use the gel then it is at your own risk.  Always better safe than sorry!
I really liked the label, it was nice and clear and told me quickly all I needed to know.  Whilst I can grow things relatively well in the garden (apart from the things that die - shush), I am generally not a good house-plant grower; except I have been improving on this.  The past couple of years I have been growing things indoors far more successfully, mainly because I have been taking it more seriously and thinking more about what I am doing.  I am hopeful that this aloe will thrive and I am immensely grateful to Rosie for sending it to me.  Thank you.

Sunday, 16 November 2014


Autumn and winter is a time of bright sharp cold glorious days and those grey, dampish if not torrential rainyish, cloudy days.  Both have their values, the greyness has to be embraced the same as the bright days, even though I can find that hard to do.  It seems easy to just stay inside and let the damp and the grey do its thing but if I get outside into the garden I generally find I can get lots done and feel a sense of achievement I had not expected for that day.
As long as it is not pouring with rain, or frozen solid, every day no matter the season is a potential gardening day and depending on the time of year will depend on what I might want/need to do.  Quite often I wander outside not exactly sure what I am going to tackle but knowing that after my compulsory circuit of inspection of the garden something will be demanding my attention.  The other day was just such a day.  It was grey, a bit blowy, but mild with a hint of damp "its going to rain soon" in the air.

I did my inspection, which usually involves a pair of secateurs in my hand and the first task that presented itself to me was the cutting back of the large wild rose in the Conservatory Border.  This rose is totally in the wrong place and every year I cut it back hard.  Every year it grows huge again and I sometimes think I should move it.  I decided today was the day, the rose decided that it was not the day.  After a bit of digging it became clear that this brute of a rose was not going anywhere in a hurry.  I replaced the soil I had removed, said I was sorry and watered it back in.  Another time maybe.....
I now needed to do something more definite.  There was a task I have been considering for some time since the great tree debacle earlier this year which was to remove one of the large overhanging branches of the horse chestnut tree at the top of the garden.  It is a fine tree though quite badly damaged by having the (now stumpy) poplar tree fall on it in ever increasing chunks.  The damage has opened up the tree but has made it look unbalanced.  It has also meant I have stared at it quite a bit and I became convinced that this particular large branch was going out over the garden too much and had to go.  So I fetched a ladder and my trusty pruning saw and I started work.  As often happens I got part way through and wondered whether this was actually a task too many, something I might not be able to do.  The branch was a good eight inches in diameter and was proving more resilient than I expected.  Once sawing however, one can hardly stop and hope for the best.  I had to keep going and thankfully it did finally part company from the tree.  I tidied up the wound and now have a pile of logs at the top of the garden that will hopefully rot down for wildlife.  I was very pleased with this job.
I then decided it was time to relocate the Pin Oak into its forever home in the front driveway.  This tree has been living the veg beds since earlier this year.  I love this tree very much, it has been stunning all year and is one of the best 'whim' purchases I have ever made.  I also planted a small Amalanchier taken from a rooted cutting into the driveway to keep it company.

I was now on a planting out roll so out into the Wild Garden went a Halesia Carolina bought a few weeks ago.  Then with the mood really upon me I decided to relocate the Liquidamber tree that has been struggling where it is currently located.  Now I admit I fear this might be tree-murder.  I am not convinced it will survive this move but then I am not convinced it was going to survive where it was anyway.  It was definitely not thriving.  I bought this tree a good three years ago and originally planted it where the Four Sisters are now.  When I relocated the Carol Klein acer to be one of the Four Sisters I swapped its place with the Liquidamber.  This was a big mistake and, to be honest, an obviously stupid mistake.  I was moving the Carol Klein acer because it was unhappy where it was, it must be a bit of a wind funnel in that part of the garden and the acer was not happy.  The Liquidamber has been equally unhappy in that place and I do not want to lose it.  This is my second Liquidamber, the first fell victim to a brushcutter incident about six months after I moved into this house.  I had planted it as an early settler to the garden and it was a beautiful specimen and was growing really well.  I was clearing some of the undergrowth around it one day and accidentally got carried away and cut it down too.  I was very upset by this and got rid of the brushcutter as I decided I was unsafe with it.   So the relocated Liquidamber has been moved to close to where the original one was planted.  It is definitely a better spot and I am hoping that it will now survive and thrive.  You may be relieved to know I have not planted anything else in the windy spot, I think I have realised now it is not a good planting position.
After all this I sat back, drank tea and looked at the sky.  The light was starting to go, they greyness was getting greyer and the clouds were looking more like rain was on its way.  Even though it had been quite blowy it had been a good productive day and I felt like the garden progressed; I had embraced the grey.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

A wander around Stoneywell Cottage, Ulverscroft

Stoneywell Cottage is the first house for the National Trust in Leicestershire and the nearest one to where I live.  I was rather excited to read about it when it was first announced and when the chance came up to go and visit I eagerly agreed.
I am not going to go into too many of the  details of the house, it was designed by Ernest Gimson (architect and furniture designer) for his brother Sidney and family as a summer home.  The Gimson family were Leicester based engineers and owned a large foundry in the City.  It is a fine example of an Arts and Crafts cottage and contains many beautiful examples of furniture.  The National Trust in agreement with the last owner have largely furnished it as it looked in the 1950s as that is when the last owner felt it was in its heyday for him.
The house is in the most beautiful landscape and nestles perfectly.  It does not jar and seems to flow almost out of the rock that surrounds it.
The house is surrounded by heather and bilberries.
The heather was fantastically beautiful, ignore that grotty stunted stuff you see in garden centres, this was heather running wild and free and looking amazing.
The paths and planting curve around the house with a wonderful fluidity.  You could see a designers eye in the effortless yet clearly not accidentleness of it all.
There was a pretty little walled orchard.  There were many dry stone walls all around.  They are an important feature of this landscape.
As we walked along we were stopped in our tracks by this heather covering this dry stone wall.  We had to get closer and admire it more.
Only to discover it was not heather at all, but a delicate pale persicaria.  How beautiful is this?
The garden contained many acers and this flaming Liquidamber.
We worried a little at the state of this large rhododendron, it looked like something had tried very hard to kill it.  It might be some sort of virus, it might just be wind-damage or drought, but it looked very poorly in places.  Thankfully there was also some new growth and buds ready for next year.  I shall keep my fingers crossed for it.
In many parts of the garden was this rather find little plant.  It clearly spreads well and we wondered what it was.  It looks related to a Bergenia, but also we thought a little Asarum-like.  We decided it was some sort of composite cousin.  If you know what it is please tell me.

There was much more to see apparently the daffodils in Spring are a sight to see.  There were many camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons as well.  I will be definitely returning.