Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Wordless Wednesday - winter blossom

End of Month Review - December 2014

2014 is ending as cold and frosty.  The last few days has seen deep overnight frosts and even a smattering of snow on Boxing Day.  I decided this time to take the photos for this post whilst it was still frosty rather than wait for a thaw.
The review of the garden starts in the driveway, where it looks cold and the actual work that has been done is barely visible.  As we get closer to Spring I am hoping that this work will be more evident.
The Knot Garden is making me happy.  It looks like a Knot Garden now and the frost always sets it off well.  Though I notice as I look at this picture that the lavender edging does need a trim.
The quince hedge is getting more hedgy and is currently flowering away the best I have ever seen it flower.  I have started to gently shape the hedge now which involves keeping the tallest branches to the height I want it to grow to and the horizontal branches to the width I want.  I am hoping that this will help it bush out and so far, so good.
At the top of the side lawn the Magnolia looks cold but ready for Spring and the variegated Rhamnus, bought so many years ago from Hidcote Manor, is really doing well.  After years of being in a pot and some fairly harsh re-shaping last year, it is responding well.
Into the garden and I shall start unusually at the view from the greenhouse.  The veg beds are cold.
In the greenhouse Miss Havisham's whirlings are still doing their job.  It has been below freezing for a few nights now and the tenders are still looking ok when I peek under their wrapping.
Further into the garden, with the Rose Hyde Hall hedge to my left and the Pond Border on the right, it looks a find frosty sight.
The frost shows the shapes of the garden well.  I love this view from the formal lawn through to the Prairie Borders.
The Prairie Borders look a little flattened but are still making me happy.  The skeletons of the echinops and verbena bonariensis are making the wildlife happy too.
In the Coal Bunker border the skeletons of the cardoons are providing wonderful structure.
I like height in the borders and when I look around in winter and see the tallness that remains it does make me very happy.
The Woodland Border and Bog Garden, that sort of meld into one, are less distinct in the frost, but the Bog Garden is still a relatively new area and is getting better year on year.  It works better in the Spring and Summer when the ferns are in their growing season.
The teasel patch has not been that great this year, but it has still been good and the finches love it.  I can see from the rosettes of new growth that next year will be a bumper year and will need thinning out quite a bit by the look of things.
The hellebores are feeling the cold, but will bounce back once the sun hits them.
The owls are shivering.
Natasha and Elise agree it is cold, but they like this time of year as they have emerged from the planting that sometimes obscures them.
The view back from the top of the garden, with the Wild Garden to the side and the Dancing Lawn the other side of the apple tree, always makes me smile, though I'm thinking whilst looking at this picture that it is time the side hedge was cut back again.
There are signs of snowdrops.
The Edgeworthia is cold, but is still alive.  I am just hoping that it stays alive.
The Long Shoot has not defrosted for days and still has some of the have thawed, then refrozen snow making a crunchy topping.
The winter flowering cherry is starting to flower.  This is one of my favourite trees as it performs whilst the others sleep.
The Manx gorse is flowering well too.
and the sun is just starting to creep over the side hedge.
I end as ever as on the pond, which has a layer of ice not quite closing it over entirely.  It still needs clearing out.

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.  I wish all my readers a happy new year and I hope that 2015 brings us all a good gardening year.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

A show garden for the Malvern Spring Festival - The Genetic Conservation Garden

At the darkest point of winter there are many things to look forward to in the new year, not in the least the return of the garden shows.  I have visited the Malvern Spring Festival a couple of times and I have pencilled it as a possibility for 2015. Then, in that way that paths collide and make you think about what was just a whim more seriously, you get a tweet out of no-where telling you about a kickstarter project for a garden.

The Genetic Conservation Garden, designed by Tessa and Caitlin McLaughlin caught my eye for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, I rather like the idea of crowdfunding.  I can't remember when I first became aware of it but it is just such a good idea in general and to use it for funding a garden at a flower show is particularly good.  Show gardens need money, they need rather a lot of money, I would go so far as to suggest that they need more money than the average person has.  This means you have to get sponsors and that is not an easy task either.  There are probably more people who want sponsors than there are sponsors and, quite frankly, if you are new the scene why should a sponsor risk giving the untried their money?  I am not saying this is right, this attitude reinforces the difficulties young/new designers have when they want to make their names.  It is the definitive 'catch 22', you will rarely get sponsored if you do not have a well known portfolio, you will struggle to get a well known portfolio if you cannot get a sponsor.
Secondly this garden is being designed by two sisters who are aiming very much for a female focus for their design.  When asked about this Tessa and Caitlin said that they were greatly inspired by the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show and its featuring of young designers, but they felt it focussed mainly on young male designers and they wanted to redress this balance.  I also noted on their blog that they write for a small charity called Progressive Women who state that "We organise networking, training and discussion events to support women, whatever their ambition. We aim to empower women to become leaders in whatever role they take on in both their professional and personal lives."  

Caitlin has a degree from the University of Birmingham in Biological Sciences where she focussed on Plant Sciences.  Caitlin has worked at the Royal Botanical Gardens Kew and now works at the Natural History Museum.  Her sister Tessa is a history graduate and is being the project co-ordinator for this garden.

I asked them about their motivation/inspiration for the garden, to which they replied: "Crop wild relatives and their valuable genetic resources they hold are key to our garden and the main motive behind our design. We want to focus the publics attention on their importance and the need for their conservation. Our design uses CWRs in a planting scheme amongst standard boarder plants, which will really make people question these plants and their importance. The garden represents a portion of a genetic reserve, a nature reserve specifically focused on the protection of these plants."
This garden caught my interest and I decided I would like to write about it.  I do not actually know the two sisters, I cannot make any bold assertions about their skills or medal winning ability.  All I can say is that I like their approach, I like the bravery of trying to do something through crowdfunding and I really hope that I get to see their garden in reality and meet them at Malvern next year.

Their blog about their garden can be found here

The link to their kickstarter page is here  as I write this they have 36 days to go and just under £3700 still to find.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Whilst my cactus gently weeps

I have a question or two for you - can you see anything slightly disturbing in this picture?
No? How about this one below then?  (hint, look at the words 'glowing wonder').
Maybe wondering about glowing plants isn't enough, how about a cactus in a cute outfit?
Ok, a cute outfit but an eye missing.  Yes the poor cactus has not even got a fully functioning cute outfit.
I can almost, almost, forgive the cactus Santa (at least he has both of his eyes) though I sure I can hear the cactus gently weeping through both of them;



glitter on poinsettias just has to stop - this plant-humiliation just has to stop.

Rant over.

(Apologies to George Harrison for amending the title of his song).

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Time is fleeting

What an apt thought for this the shortest day, time is fleeting (with due reference to Richard O'Brien, Little Nell and Patricia Quinn).  On the shortest day no sooner as it got light then it starts to think about going dark again.  This could be quite a sad thought but of course it means that the turning point has arrived.  Slowly, gradually, minute by minute first the evenings will get lighter and then after a little wait, the mornings start to follow suit.

I had arranged some time ago to spend the day wandering around Calke Abbey in Derbyshire with a couple of friends.  There was a local food fair on and a good walk on a winter's day seemed a good plan.

It was a very good plan, yes there was a period of time when I was wandering around with cheese in one pocket and fudge in the other, but that is what pockets are for.
It was a beautiful day so we the feeling to wander upon us we went off for a turn around the lake.  The sun shone for most of the time and the views across the reservoir were beautiful.  We stood for a while and discussed sheep.  It turns out one of the three of us knew more about sheep than the other two.  This was not particularly hard in my case as I know little about them.
The turn around the lake involved stopping and admiring ducks.  There were further pauses to inspect buds on trees looking about to spring into action and also to wonder at the pussy willow where its furry paws were on the verge of opening.  All hopeful signs of Spring when we knew that the worst of Winter is yet to come.

Further along we stopped and looked over walls and marvelled at the views across to Calke that we had never seen from this angle before.
 and we talked and talked, talked and laughed, laughed and talked.
(thanks to Ms S for the photo)

It can only be described as a great day out and a good start to the Christmas week.  There might have also been a stop for tea and cake, well, it would have been silly not to.  I think it is fair to say that we made good use of the shortest day.

Thursday, 18 December 2014


Sometimes it is only when I start writing about something that I remember something else totally different.  This happened when I sat down to write this post, I was going to call it Evergreens, but then I remember Evergreen, which is not just some lame excuse to add a Barbra Streisand song to the blog at all (yes it is, shush).
This is not actually my favourtie Streisand song, that is definitely 'The Way We Were', which is also probably my favourite film with her in too.  Anyway, as usual, I have digressed before even reaching the point of this post.

Evergreens and I have an uncomplicated relationship in that in general I dislike them.  I find them dull and uninteresting.  The majority of them just sit there looking green at you, all the time, like they are for ever green or something similar.  You can tell me they give all year colour and  I will tell you that is no excuse for sitting there looking green all the time.  Dull, dull, dull.


of course there is an except, it would be a shorty ranty blog without an except now wouldn't it?

Except for the evergreens that I like and grow.  Such as:
my Magnolia 'Fairy Blush', which these days is looking positively healthy after a moment of relocation.
There is also the Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem', which I am hoping turns out to be quite a gem.
Camellias in general are great love of mine, to the point I try and pretend they are not evergreens at all.  This is a new one to me, I am trialling it for Thompson and Morgan, it is rosthorniana 'Cupido'.  I had lusted over this plant when I first saw it so when I was offered it to trial it was more than churlish to refuse.  I am waiting for it to flower and it is covered in buds so I have high hopes for it.

Then there is the Griselinia littoralis, the Kapuka.  You may look at this and see a small, underwhelming hedging plant.
I, however, look at it and see the Dancing Tree in the Gwyllt at Portmeirion.  A magnificent huge specimen that can only make you look at it in awe.  I do not have the microclimate that the Gwyllt has, my Griselinia may never dance, but in its heart I know that it wants to.

But I end on the example of everything I dislike about evergreens embodied in one plant
I present to you the laurel.  This flipping plant took up the whole top corner of the garden when I moved in.  I swiftly had it cut down and the tree man said he had killed the roots so they did not need grubbing out.  Either he was playing fast and loose with the truth or the laurel was refusing to die, either way seven years on there it is, springing up whenever and where-ever it can.  It just sits there, being green.  It is dull.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The driveway project - there has been progress

Way back in May I wrote about starting work on planting up the driveway to my house.  This has been a pretty much ignored piece of land since moving here several years ago.  The time was right though for something to be done and to make it into something a bit more pleasing.
The driveway started off as very overgrown, very brambly and very nettley.
I do not want it pristine and looking particularly gardened, but I do want it to look a little more like someone loves it. I also need to keep the bottom end of the drive where it meets the lane as rather prickly and inhospitable to people.  I don't want passing people to think they can dump stuff there, leave litter or generally mess up the space.  I love its wild look and want to encourage it to develop as it was already trying to without my interference.

During the year I have added some plants, there is the pin oak I have already written about.
I also planted out a Catalpa purpurea, which I have great hopes for.  It was flowering when I planted it and so hope that it will flower again next year.  Also I have planted a few hydgrangeas, some fuchsias and a Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem'.  This is a rare planting of an evergreen for me, I am  not a huge fan of evergreens but this one is rather special so it has been allowed through.
Some white foxgloves and verbascums have been added and quite a few narcissus which I hope will naturalise.  I have even (when I finally got around to it) painted the front of the shed so it looks a bit better.
I knew that the main bulk of the planting though had to be done during the dormant period of the year when it was best to plant bare-root trees and shrubs.  The order was duly made (and added to) and then it finally arrived at the beginning of the week.
I opened the box with great excitement when I got home from work.  In side were 10 Rosa Rugosa, 4 female and 1 male Buckthorn, a larch and a 'Balm of Gilead' Poplar.  You might notice it was a little dark when I got home from work.  As it was the beginning of the week I did not think I could leave the plants in the box until the weekend.  Frosts were due and I was worried that they might dry out too much.  So torch in hand I went out to heel them into the veg beds.
They looked a little underwhelming in the dark, a bit like a cluster of dead twigs, but I was now happy that they would not die from neglect during the week and I went inside.

The end of the week came and I had some time when I could get out and do some planting.  The buckthorns have been planted along the fence I put in place in May.  This should make a nice boundary.  The Rosa rugosa have been split so that five are in the very bottom of the drive by the lane.  There are several self-seeded wild roses in this patch already and I want these roses to bulk them out.  I also added a couple of rooted cuttings from the Manx rose as they will add a nice level of thorn as well.  The other five rugosas have been planted in the top corner of the back garden where the boundary has been broken back by the tree catastrophe earlier this year.  This should form a nice prickly hedge.

The larch has been planted at the top of the drive, just along from the pin oak.  I have a real love of larches, there is one at Easton Walled Gardens that I make a pilgrimage to every time I visit.  I stand in front of it and say that one day I will plant one, and now I have.
I am beyond excited waiting for it to start leafing up in Spring.  (The picture above is the EWG tree, mine is a small dead-looking twig at the moment).

Which brings me to the slight problem.  Yes, there is a slight problem with the Poplar.  I failed to plant the Poplar and it is still in the vegetable bed.  When I came to plant it up in the space I had alloted to it, it was clear that the soil is not hugely deep or good and I think it will be a waste of time planting it there, it will not survive.  This is a shame as this was the furthest from the house I could put it and I do not want to move it really any closer.  I am currently wondering if it could go in the back garden right at the top boundary.  I will wait and see if inspiration strikes!

I am not going to show you pictures of the new plantings, they do look like dead twigs, but I will report back in the Spring.