Thursday, 30 April 2015

End of Month Review - April 2015

April has been warm, cold and mainly dry, we have seen very little rain.  The garden is quite dry at the moment so some overnight soakings would be welcome.

In the front garden the magnolia is flowering.  It is quite late this year and thankfully the recent air frosts have not damaged the flowers (yet).  I love this wonderful tree, it was in flower when I first saw this house, I thought it a great tree then and I still do.
Meanwhile the front side-lawn is looking like it needs mowing, this is because it does.
I am holding off from mowing it just yet to allow the winter aconites to gain strength through their leaves.  I may mow it in a couple of weeks.
The Knot Garden is also looking a bit shaggy, but it is too early to trim it yet, a few more weeks to go until Derby Day.
The lilac that is by the corner of the house is starting to flower.  I think I rarely mention this tree, I am usually pretty bad at pruning it and seem to only get flowers every other year.  Thankfully this is a flowering year and the scent is divine.
In the back garden the pansies are still flowering and Bruce keeps them company.
The garden is looking like it is growing now, there is that wonderful early clean green that shows new growth.

The tulips are now doing their thing.  Most of these have been in place a few years now and return quite happily.

It is also the time of buds.
Peony buds, I love peony buds, they are such wonderful flowers.

So much of the garden is getting ready to flower, only a couple more weeks and they should be opening.

The Bramley tree is in blossom
as is the eating apple tree
and the crab-apple
In the courtyard the camellia is flowering, the rhododendron lutea is heavy in bud,
and Richard is pushing a barrow full of echeveria
this seems to please him hugely.
The Spring Border is making me very happy at the moment, it is looking quite full and flowering well.
The Woodland Border is also quite flowery and has a small brown cat called Esme lurking in it.
What makes me very happy is that the Amicia zygomeris has got through the winter again.  Every year it does this I hope it is getting a little stronger and will grow a bit larger.
The Prairie Borders still look scraggy, it is not the time of year for them yet.
In the Wild Garden I have started to cut paths through the grass,
Camassia are appearing alongside the cow parsley,
the meandering of muscari is still going well,
and it looks like it will be a good year for honesty.
The Illicium simonsii is starting to flower.  Love this shrub, one of the few evergreens that I allow.
The Iford Cherry, planted last year, has flowered well this year.  This has been a great relief as it was planted, dug up to avoid having the black poplar fall on it and then dug up again and planted here.  It seems to have dealt with all this rather well.
This is one of the Aldi acers and it is now growing really well.  It has taken a few years for it to get its roots happy and thrive but now it is becoming a rather fine tree.
The Four Sisters have come through the winter well.  The Carol Klein acer is also growing well now and also have not suffered from the recent frosts.  Last year it got quite badly frosted but fingerscrossed it has got through this now.
The Edgeworthia is alive, this is good.  Like the Amicia I breathe a sigh of relief when I see it has got through another winter and hope that it is another year stronger.  Sadly the flower buds it was developing have dropped off, not sure if this is lack of rain or the recent cold weather.  Now I shall hope for flowers next spring instead.
The veg beds are ready for veg, the potatoes have been planted out but the rest is still waiting for the frost to finish.
Seeds are germinating but after taking this photograph I had to re-fleece the greenhouse because the temperature has dropped so much.
The pond is full of parrot weed, tadpoles and several newts,
It is also quite low, this gravelly bit should be full to the edge with water.  We need some rain please.

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme, April has been a good, now for the delights of May.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Farewell to a cat called Lawrence

Way back when in September 1999 I accidentally read an article in the local newspaper that some kittens had been dumped in a plastic bag in the local Safeway car park.  It was a timely reading as at the time I had been considering getting a new kitten as one of my cats was getting very elderly and I did not think she had much time left.  My children were quite young at the time and I thought it would help them with the passing of the elderly cat who I had had since before they were born.  So, cat carrier at the ready we went to the local cattery where the kittens were being cared for and picked a tiny black kitten as I have always had a fondness for black cats.  This left a splodgy kitten on its own, well it didn’t as you will not be surprised that they both ended up coming home with us.  The black kitten we named Lawrence after Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen (it was the shiny dark mane they had in common) and the splodgy one was named Austin after Austin Powers.  (We later discovered Austin was in fact a girl but she has remained Austin to this day).
They were tiny and they hid well.  Rarely have I known cats that could be so invisible as these two.  At one point we thought they had escaped but food kept being eaten so we were fairly sure they were in the house.  It turned out they were living in the gap under the fridge.  Eventually they became bolder and settled in properly to living with us.  We moved house and they settled into their new home quite well.  I had four cats in total at this point, the kittens (as they were usually referred to) Geoffrey and Emily.  Sadly Emily did not last very long after the move and the kittens generally kept out of her way.  Austin fell in love with Geoffrey and pretty much ignored Lawrence from that moment on.  Poor Lawrence, always on the outside looking in, he just wanted a friend.

When a few years later I moved again, Austin decided she needed Lawrence again, they resumed hiding and lived in the back garden until the first frosts descended.  To add insult to injury I moved again within twelve months but Lawrence had had enough of outside living by this point and moved into the conservatory to sulk.  Austin’s affections returned to Geoffrey and Lawrence was again excluded.

 Lawrence did have a friend in Chesney, the mad kitten who lived with us briefly.  This was rather sweet and I was happy for him in his otherwise lonesome life.  I cannot say he is exactly friends with Bruce, but he did spend the last year being Bruce’s mentor.  Bruce soon realised that if Lawrence was hanging around in the kitchen that probably meant I was cutting up meat or something else they might want a piece of.  Lawrence also taught Bruce where the best mousing spots are in the garden.  It was lovely to watch this relationship which was almost paternal; I think that Lawrence taught Bruce how to be a household cat after his time spent as a stray. 

Of course recently Esme has moved into the household and Lawrence was very laid-back about this.  He took one look at Esme, shrugged as if ‘oh look another one’ and went back to sleep.

Lawrence was quite an outdoors cat all his life.  He liked weather, all weather, he collected it assiduously.  He would bring in the heat of the sun and the sogginess of the rain.  We used to call him the weather-cat as he always liked to keep us informed of outdoor conditions.

He was also an accomplished hunter, all of my other cats have always been rather lazy in this regard which is no bad thing in my view.  Lawrence though liked to hunt and in particular mice and shrews.  He would eat almost every bit of them.  I would find the odd foot or tail, sometimes a piece of head but most often a smear.  Since moving to this house, where mice are plentiful, he took up his killing skills to a new level.  Thankfully he rarely went after birds so I admit I encouraged his anti-vermin ways.  My daughter once commented he started life as a weather forecaster and ended up a serial killer, slightly harsh and yet with a ring of truth.
Sadly though over the last few weeks I noticed a decline in his health.  He became rather thin rather quickly and then I realised he had a large lump developing under his jaw.  The vet was very clear with me that this was not something he would recover from and that he was probably in pain so I had to let him go to the big cattery in the sky.  He had had a good sixteen years and I could not bear to think of him in pain.  I think Lawrence really has gone to the big mousery in the sky, his happy hunting grounds.  So farewell Lawrence oh my Lawrence,  I miss you hugely and Austin is missing you more than she can say.  Bruce says so long and thanks for all the mice.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Balm of Gilead

As part of the great driveway project I decided to plant a poplar at the corner of the drive.  There was a good reason for this as my house is surrounded by many poplars and there is one at the corner of my neighbours drive so I thought this would make a nice matching pair.  It took me a while to choose which poplar I would buy but when I came across one called the variaged Balm of Gilead, or Populus jackii Aurora, I knew it had to be that one.  Yes poplars are large and vigorous and care has to be taken when planting one near a house, the end of the drive is far enough from my house to be reasonable.  This poplar is not as large as some either and, as the name suggests, it has the most wonderful fragrance as the leave are opening and it is also possible to derive from it a healing balm ...... apparently.....
There was, however, a slight problem with my plan.  Before doing any planting it is a good idea to do some research, in this case it would have been a good idea to check how much topsoil there is at the top of the driveway.  It turns out there is not much, about six inches in most of it and then it is very hard compacted clay and therefore impossible to plant in successfully without major work.  I decided I needed a plan B.
It is hard to have a plan B though when having already said, it is not a good idea to plant one of these too close to the house.  There are limited options for plan B.  In fact, the options are limited to as far away as possible one way to as far as possible away the other.
So I did what I do when I am not sure where to plant something, I shoved it into one of the veg beds whilst I considered my options even though the options were limited.
You might notice that the leaves are not very variagated, yes I noticed that too.  I cannot say I am hugely upset as I am not a great fan of varigation, I did really buy it for the name.  Of course this now makes me suspect I have not received the right tree but I can confirm that it does smell wonderful now the leaves are opening.

I finally realised where it needed to go.  Having lost the Black Poplar that overlooked the garden there I decided that it could go in the top boundary of the garden.  That way it would help plug the gap in the row of boundary poplars that run along the back of the houses.  Problem solved and the sense of place restored,  all is good.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Book Review - The Irish Garden

I was very pleased to receive a copy of the The Irish Garden, written by Jane Powers and photographs by Jonathan Hession, to review. 
This is a hefty book, it is has to be described as weighty and this is in every sense of the word.  Not wishing to push this analogy too far but it is not a coffee table book, well, unless you have a reinforced coffee table that is.  The size of the of the book is not an irrelevant detail, it would not have worked in a smaller format quite so well; the photographs are shown to great effect at this size and the quality of paper means that they have reproduced well.  Jonathan Hession's images portray the atmosphere of the mild moist climate and quality of light that are the leitmotif that runs throughout the book.  They are the sort of photographs that make you need to stroke the page so that you can absorb just that little bit more from them (or is that just me?)

The Irish Garden is divided into sections, including:  Grand Big Gardens, Romantic Interludes, Painting with Plants, Fields of Dreams, Follies and Fancies and Good enough to eat.  The sections lead you on into the book willing you not to put it down just yet.   The gardens range from the grand to the not so grand, the old to the modern.  There are follies and allotments and several botanic gardens covered in great detail.  The narrative flows well, it is interesting and very informative.
The real joy of this book for me is that it is so much more than a standard pictorial guide to gardens; it shows us how the history of the island is reflected through its gardens and landscapes.  The stamp of colonisation, the effects of unrest, a visit by a high ranking Nazi general and the potato are all present and pertinent to the landscapes that are described.  This book fed my love of gardens,  photography and well researched, intelligently written histories.

This is one of the most interesting garden books I have read in a long time and I do not say that lightly.  Even if you think you might not get around to visiting these gardens, the stories and social history makes it an enthralling read.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and can recommend it without hesitation.

The Irish Garden  published by Frances Lincoln  2 April 2015

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Abbey House Gardens, Malmesbury

I recently visited the inaugural Gardens Illustrated Garden Festival that took place in Malmesbury in the middle weekend of April.  The weather gods were feeling kind and the sun shone all weekend.  I arrived on Friday lunchtime so I could go on one of the tours of the Abbey House Gardens that neighbour the Abbey.  The tours were specially laid on as part of the festival and I was determined not to miss out.  To be able to be guided by one of the owners, Barbara Pollard was a real treat.
There is a lot of fantastic sculpture in the garden.  This piece greets you as you enter, it is very striking.
Barbara's love and enthusiasm for the garden was clear.  Barbara talked of the history of the house and garden and how it had informed their planting.  Whilst Barbara said she was not an expert, she is clearly very knowledgeable and knows her garden well and how the plants in it behave.
The topiary hedges are immaculately clipped.
I have always loved this knot garden, it makes my own efforts look pitiful but it does give me something to work towards.
In the top part of the garden there are a lot of yew hedges, they make a wonderful dark backdrop for the planting.
It is currently tulip time, the tulips were looking amazing, there are thousands of them and they make quite a spectacle en-masse.
Close up they look rather special too.  As the tulips go over the roses take over the display.  I had not been at tulip time of year before so it was wonderful to see them.
The eye is led along paths,
views open up and lead you forward throughout this skilfully designed garden.
The herb garden is in a hot part of the garden, even on a spring day this part of the garden is warm.  The arches replicate the arches of the Abbey next door and this makes a really good space.
The sound of water is everywhere as well, this extravagant set of fountains is a joy to find in this hot part of the garden.
and the sculpture that is found at almost every turn, even when in bits, sets just the right tone.
The colour is not just from the flowers, this acer by the front door is a wonderful flash of red.
This weeping silver pear tree is a great specimen too; making a great ball of silver.
In the dell on the other side of the house there are many joys, but this forsythia has to be one of the most unexpected.  This is a shrub I rather like even though I know many hold it is disdain; but look at it, living here in a natural setting released from its suburban chains.
You may have noticed I like this garden, I have happy memories of visiting it previously and it remains a special place.  There is much more to the garden than I have shown here, this is a just a flavour of what it has to offer.

The tour was a good start to the festival and I was very glad I made time to revisit and I hope that I will return again in the not too distant future.  I shall write more about the rest of the festival in a future post.