Saturday, 31 January 2015

End of Month Review January 2015

Here we are at the end of the first month of the year already.  January has been a strange month, it often feels rather long and yet this year in some ways it seems like it has flashed by quickly.  On saying that Christmas seems more than four weeks ago.

So, to the garden, well the driveway:
The driveway looks very wintery at the moment, the green is a mixture of grass, emerging cow parsley and moss.
When I very first moved into this house I planted a few snow drops in the driveway.  Every year they pop up and usually with a couple more making themselves known.  Every year they make me smile.
The Aconite Lawn is looking devoid of aconites.  I have suspicion that the acidic soil has eaten them.  My days of buying aconites are now officially over as they clearly will not grow here.  Its a shame but plenty of others things do so I will move on.
The Knot Garden is in need of some attention but is looking ok at the moment.  I am not displeased with it, I just know that it needs taking on another step now and that shall happen in the Spring.
The Sarcocca by the front door is flowering away and smells divine.  The Quince Hedge has been flowering for weeks and makes me very happy.  I am waiting to see the first bee of the year on it.
Around to the back garden it still looks very wintery.  The green of the new cardoon growth is a sign of hope of life returning.
In the Courtyard the Camellia is covered in buds and the Rhododendron luteum in the corner is also covered with buds.  Don't ask me why I decided this needed a slanty photograph, just assume its art.
The view from the rear of the Conservatory Border up to the Prairie Borders makes me happy.  The Prairie Borders add good movement this time of year.  It will not be long before they get their Spring hair cut so I make the most of them at the moment.
In the Pond Border the sedums are providing good structure.  I will be propagating more of these next year.  They have to be one of the easiest plants to create more of.
A closer inspection shows that life is returning.  This euphorbia is coming up well.  This is also very easy to propagate, I started with one plant and now have four.
In the Spring Border the Hellebores are starting to flower.  The white ones start first, next will be the red and then the more fancy double ones will be last.
Natasha and Elsie continue to keep an eye on the concrete planter, which is showing lots of bulb growth and the primroses will soon be in flower.
The Woodland Border is good in parts.  Last year's heather is not doing very much at the moment and some of it was killed off by the workmen who dealt with the great poplar disaster earlier in the year.  The poplar problems did stop a lot of development at this end of the garden as I was a bit worried about large parts of it falling on it.
Right at the top of the garden this Hellebore has been flowering for almost as long as the Mahonia.  I want to plant more Hellebores up here and as I have many seedlings I will relocate some up there.
The Wild Garden is just waiting to start its Spring growth.  It is one of my favourite parts of the garden in Spring as there are many bulbs now planted in it.
I will be planting more snowdrops this year.  I try to add to the number every year and one day there will be drifts - yes drifts.
The hydrangea is hanging on it its deadflowers,
The Magnolia stellata is covered in buds.
The hyacynths are also coming up, I am looking forward to them flowering.
Out of the three hamamelis I have, this is the one that performs the best.  Every year it gets a little better, the other two, well, not so good.
The Edgeworthia still seems to be alive, this is good.  I am hopeful for flowers this year.
The veg beds look swampy and wintery, this is because they are.
and the pond is frozen, only lightly thankfully, but it has been frozen quite a bit this winter.

I took these photographs the other day as time has been short this week and I was not sure when I would find time to take photographs.  Weather has decided to play its Winter-joker card and snow arrived late this week, so here is a snowy photo though even as I write it is thawing away quickly.
Thanks go as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Thoughts on the forthcoming show gardens at the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show part 1

The countdown to the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show is upon us.  This is an event I am very fond of and can probably say that I look forward to it more than any other garden show.  

We are now at the stage where the drawings and descriptions of the show gardens are being released.  We know who is designing what for whom and getting an idea of what they will look like.  Though I have to say that some of the plans seem more successful than others in showing a flavour of what might be.

This is the first of two posts as otherwise it will all be a bit long.  I have not done this is a priority order, it is just how the whim took me and I did deliberately spread the ones I am most keen to see over both posts.

Some gardens get a bit more publicity than others.  Designing for the show sponsors, this year M & G Investors, will always get you quite a bit of coverage and rightly so, they are not going to let someone design their garden who they think might scrape through with a bronze.  Jo Thompson is designing their garden this year and it will involve an oak retreat inspired by Vita Sackville-West’s writing room.  The blurb tells us that the planting aims to be romantic and to follow the principles of traditional British gardening, so that sounds worth a look. 

The M&G Garden – The Retreat

Laurent Perrier are sponsoring the Laurent-Perrier Chatworth Garden, this is a garden I will be looking forward to seeing.  Firstly it is being designed by Dan Pearson and I admit to being a bit of a fan or his work both in design and his written work.  It is also based on part of the Chatsworth gardens.  I have visited Chatsworth House many times from when I was a child and I last visited about two years ago as it remains a place I enjoy.  So this will be an interesting garden for me.

The Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden

Having a Prince involved always gets you a headline or two,  the Sentebale Garden is being created by the Sentebale Charity that Prince Harry founded.  If having a prince involved gets attention to the cause then this is no bad thing.  It is being designed by Matt Keightley who’s garden last year won the People’s Choice Award and it was a very fine garden.  I would even go so far as to say I was surprised that he did not get a gold medal last year.  I would be very surprised if this garden did not do well.

Sentable Garden

Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam’s garden which is being sponsored by Darwin Property Investments for Wellington College and is called the Living Legacy Garden.  This garden is to mark the Battle of Waterloo which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year.  It is one battle I remember of the date of due to an old joke as apparently it was fought at quarter past six in the evening.  This is however not a battle I know very much about so in terms of not forgetting history it is not a bad thing.  A brief scan on Wikipedia told me that upwards of 40,000 soldiers were killed across winners and losers and it lead to exile of Napoleon to St Helena and its famous green wallpaper.  It is really hard to see from the drawing what it will look like, but the tall spikey things look interesting.

The Living Legacy Garden

Alan Gardner is designing the Viking Ocean Cruises Garden, and funnily enough it is designed to be a bit like a ship.  Alan is also going to be hosting a Channel Four series called ‘The Autistic Gardener’ to be shown in March 2015.  This sounds a very interesting series involving a team of autistic gardeners to work on neglected gardens.  So a bit of a one to watch out for I predict.

The Viking Ocean Cruises Garden

Marcus Barnett is designing the Telegraph Garden.  Now this caught my eye as the blurb says it is inspired by the De Stijl Movement.  I confess I did not immediately recognise what this movement was.  So a bit of a google later and I realise that I recognise what is being talked about even though I did not know its name.  Finding out what a garden is about does add an extra level of enjoyment.  I am sure you can enjoy it perfectly well thinking that De Stijl is a sort of yoga exercise, but knowing that little bit more will mean you either say ‘yes, I can see the connection’ or ‘no, I’m still thinking yoga’.

The Telegraph Garden.
I have included photographs from the RHS Website, though I am not sure they give me much of an idea of what I will be seeing.  Drawings are no substitute for seeing the real thing and in terms of getting an idea of the scale and reality of the planting and some of these drawings, quite frankly, tell me very little.  Still, I console myself with thinking that if they gave everything away it would spoil the fun on the day.

To be continued….. here

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Trial - 11 Its been a while

or the winter update.

Yes it has been quite a while since I last did a proper update on my Thompson and Morgan trial plants.  Funny how time just slips by when you take your eye off it.  I was wandering around the garden as I do and thought that it is a good time now to give an update as it is in winter that things seem laid most bare.

Let me start with a flower because winter needs flowers:
Pansy 'Mystique Blue Halo', which as been flowering away for several weeks now.  It has been frosted and even snowed on (but not a huge amount of snow) and it still looks ok.
This batch are in a pot on the garden table and this photograph was taken after quite a heavy frost the night before, so you can see they stand up to such treatment quite well.

Also outside in a pot are these Lewisia 'Elise mixed'
These plants were new to me when I received them last year.  I was unsure what to do with them but I put some into various pots and they flowered really well.  This pot also contained some petunias, they are now long gone.  I thought the Lewisia would be dead by now but they seem to be quite happy so far.

I have been growing this Photinia x fraseri 'Pink Marble' for over twelve months now.  I was sent three and all three are growing well.  This one went into a pot as I did not know where to put it at first and it has grown well.
The other two are in the Wild Garden and I did think I had lost them over the summer as they sort of disappeared into the other growings.  When I cleared the area in the Autumn there they were, still growing away quite well, so I have decided they are clearly good tough plants.  I like having this on in a pot in the Courtyard, it gives quite good foliage colour.

Then there are the Garrya 'Elliptica',
I was sent three of these but this is the only one that has survived.  This is not the fault of the plants, the other two were victims of the great poplar disaster that happened this year.  They did not survive several pummellings into the ground.  This one has come through and is growing rather well.
It has developed good strong tassels this year and whilst it is a plant I feel quite ambivalent about in general, it has won itself a few points for its tenacity and it is safe for the time being.

It probably seems odd to show plants out of season, but why not, it is still growing well and if it looks alright in winter then it can only improve in the growing season.  So now I present the Rosa 'Garden Party' which I grew from seed.
Not only has this flowered well over the summer but it also survived a relocation.  All three of the plants that germinated and were planted out have survived and are growing well.  I am rather pleased with them.  They did flower in their first year which I think it pretty good for a rose and whilst small, they are rather sweet.

Finally for this post there is the Camellia rosthorniana 'Cupido'.
It has had buds on for weeks and I am incredibly excited about seeing it in flower.  I had wanted one of these shrubs from the first moment I saw them so I am looking forward to when it flowers.

I am now waiting for my delivery of seeds and plants for this year's trial and this year there will be better updates, promise.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The writing of the lists

or seed buying time
It is the time of year to be staring longingly at seed catalogues, making lists and over buying.  Yes the depth of winter is the perfect time to be spending those non-gardening hours pondering the plantings yet to come.

I am someone who loves to order on-line yet but for some reason my seed buying involves very paper-based preparations.  Well, some paper based some not so.

Let me explain:

My seed list collation is an all-year thing.  I keep a list in my phone of plants I have seen and I want to grow.  I keep the list so that when seed buying time comes I can look back on it, dismiss half of it as pure fantasy and buy the odd few that still make it to the final cut.  A good example of such a plant this year is Clary Sage.  I have been aware of Clary Sage as a name for many years but not actually very aware of it as a plant as a real thing in a real border.  One day last summer whilst visiting a garden I saw this plant, I recognised it as a sage of some sort but did not know its name.  Clary Sage I was informed and I was immediately taken with it.  Onto the seed list it went so I could research it and buy as appropriate.  I am waiting for my delivery of said seeds.

Then there is the receiving of the catalogues which is itself exciting.  These arrive in waves over the Christmas break.  These have to be inspected in turn, looking for the usual seeds I buy but also with an eye out for the unusual.  Lists are made, compared and the cheapest seeds are bought from the reliable sources.  I have bought (stupidly) from unreliable sources in the past and funnily enough, the seeds are unreliable.  My most unreliable purchase last year were my echium seeds that germinated, grew and when they flowered they turned out to be Evening Primrose.  I was amused, but not impressed.  I think I might have finally learned my lesson on this one.

Finally there is the seed list from the previous year, as I write down what I have ordered and from whom every year.  This means I have a reminder of my old reliables plus the new recruits.  It also means that if I have a poor set of seeds from one company I can identify this easily and not buy from them again.

I say finally, but it is not finally at all because there is also the twitter aspect.  The photos of desirable plants that make you ask for the name and note it down so you can add to the list.  That happens quite a bit.

I said at the beginning of this post that winter is the best time to buy seeds, well I am going to temper that statement a little.  As the problem is if I receive the seeds in January I want to sow them.  Most of them will sit untouched until April/May, so really I prefer to spread my seed buying over a couple of months rather than rush into it.  So that is what I have done this year as not everything has been ordered yet, somethings are still in wishlist stage.  Then at least I will not be rushing to sow too early, hopefully.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The question of the day

It is the time of frost and rain which limits the time I can spend in the garden.  Rain means staying indoors and frozen ground means I can get outside but there is little effectively I can do.  This is frustrating and useful at the same time as I wander around the garden considering things.

These are the most recent considerings, firstly:
Should I add some box balls under the pleached hornbeam.  Partly I think yes, partly I think no the simplicity is better.  Even as I write this I am voting again for no, maybe this is a non-question.

Second question:
Why is there a row of Stipa Tenuissima in the Conservatory Border?  I am happy that Stipa is growing there, but why in a row?  The answer to this question is self evident too, I predice Stipa relocation in the Spring.

Question 3:
Should I move this bamboo?  Now this is a real question and I am totally undecided on this.  This bamboo has been problematic for several years now.  It was originally planted elsewhere in the garden and I relocated it as I did not like where it was.  It sits in the Pond Border now and the dark sticks behind it are Helianthus maximiliani.  If you know of this perennial sunflower you will probably know two things: a) it is a good sunflower, it flowers well and adds good height to the border year on year.  I like this.  b) it is a bit of a thug, it does need controlling, which once you realise this is not too hard to do, but you do need to keep it in check otherwise it will quickly creep and take over the whole border.  This poor crowded bamboo is testament to this creeping.

There is an issue with thinking of relocating this bamboo again though, for one thing that I have not got a clue where to move it to.  Secondly it did not thank me for moving it the last time.  It struggled and struggled and had it not been for the advice of a twitter friend (Jim I mean you) I would have dug it up and composted it last year.  The advice I had was good, it was struggling and looking weedy.  I tweeted a photo of it saying it was heading for compost and I was advised to cut it down to the ground and keep it well watered.  It did spring back up really well and has become a better plant.  So now I do want to lose it, but I do not think it is happy where it is either.

I think I am going to relocate it.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Adamantine doors

O winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.

He hears me not, but o’er the yawning deep
Rides heavy; his storms are unchain’d, sheathed
In ribbed steel; I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear’d his sceptre o’er the world.

Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o’er the groaning rocks:
He withers all in silence, and in his hand
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.

He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal’st
With storms, till heaven smiles, and the monster
Is driven yelling to his caves beneath Mount Hecla

The poem above is a wonderfully dramatic ode to winter.  I love Blake's use of language and imagery.  In particular the reference to adamantine doors, which in my mind conjours up images of Wolverine knocking on them to come in with his adamantium claws (now there is a poem just waiting to happen.....)  

We are now deep in the throes of winter.  A time when the weather pixies allow themselves full throttle and play with the world at their whim.  We rely so heavily on the weather pixies that to displease them is to gamble beyond what is reasonable.  Of course knowing what displeases them is a secret and not one that they share.

We all know that attempting to wash a large amount of laundry that will require outside drying is sufficient to waken the wrath of the rain pixies.   I do not know if they think it is taunting them but they feel obliged to make their presence felt.  Usually waiting until you gone out somewhere and left the washing on the line so that you get back to washing wetter than when you hung it out.

We also know that a bit of a dry period makes the rain pixies sulk and refuse to come back until the drought is well established and you are begging for rain.  Then they invite their cousins the flood pixies to visit as well.

The frost has started to make its presence felt and thoughts start to turn as to when and how much snow will arrive in the new year.  2014 saw relatively little snow where I live, I wonder if 2015 will be as kind.  I say kind, yet there is something rather wonderful about a snowy day, as long as I am home safe and not having to go out anywhere. 

Winter brings the cold but also the wonderfully mellow light, much less harsh than the strong beating sun of the high summer. 
There is little to beat a good bright crisp winter day.  Maybe it is the respite from all the other weather pixies that have taken a day off that makes it so peaceful.  I know that I treasure them and the time that they give to allow some time in the garden.  Let us hope we have many this year.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

It begins

and we're off, there has been plant purchases, there has been planting - I can declare the 2015 season begun!
The other day I went to a talk at my local Hardy Plant Society meeting (well, I say local, I actually mean neighbouring county, but near enough), to listen to a talk by Julie Ritchie of Hoo House Nursery in Gloucestershire.  It was a good talk and a nice evening but it did involve plant sales.  I had noted a couple of things during the talk so wandered over to have a look what was available and came away with a small pot of Cyclamen coum 'Silver Leaf', which is now planted up at the top of the garden where the Wild Garden winds around the top boundary.  Every now and again I buy a pot of cyclamen as I would like to have lots.  I live in hope that the ants will do their job and spread some around.

My other purchase was a Helleborus x ericsmithii Bob's Best.  This hellebore is now planted in the Conservatory Border just this side of the cross-over point with the Spring Border.  It was going to go into the Spring Border which contains many hellebores but last year I started leaching a few hellebores into the neighbouring border to give an idea of drift.  I wanted more flow between areas.  I did spend a short amount of time musing about Bob's Best, I could not help but wonder if on the next shelf there is Bob's not quite as good, Bob's well it looks ok in a certain light and Bob's well at least he tried.

Next to be planted out were two purchases from Evolution Plants that arrived before Christmas, so these do not really count as being of the new year but they have not been planted out until now.  They sort of edge into the category.  First to go in was a Sanguinaria canadensis f.multiplex 'Plena' into the top of the garden not that far from the cyclamen.  The second purchase was an accident, a 'I'm still kicking myself' accident as I bought the wrong plant.  I bought the plant below the one I wanted to, I do not often make mistakes when online shopping but that day I did.  Foolishly I compounded the error by not checking the order confirmation properly either so when I did have a chance to rectify my mistake, I missed it.  Damn, damn, damn.  So I had a Ligusticum lucidum to plant out.  I even had to google to find out what it was.  Yes I probably could have sent it back but it was not worth the effort and it was my fault.  So, into the Coal Bunker Border it went and maybe I will grow to love it, or it will end up in the compost heap at some point, time will tell.  Oh and yes, of course I have now ordered the plant I actually wanted, it would have been foolish not to.

Meanwhile, not planted out and still waiting for inspiration to strike where it will go, is a Chimonanthus praecox.  Bought as a whim and waiting for it to flower might be like waiting for my first quince, but I thought why not.

Now I really must sort out my seed order.....

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Tree Following - the first of the sleepy months

We have now reached the 11th of these posts in the Tree Following meme (thanks Lucy).

The quince tree has finally decided to go to sleep.  It cannot quite totally let go as one leaf remains.
One solitary, beautifully shaped and marked leaf.  It is the last sign that the tree had leaves and that it has not always been a bundle of twigs.  The tree just cannot quite let go, not just yet.

Now it is all about waiting for the last leaf to drop and the wait until Spring.  That glorious moment when the first signs of green return.  I shall be watching (in a totally non-threatening, non-stalkerly, supportive capacity of course).

Wordless Wednesday - beech (not beach)

Sunday, 4 January 2015

TEG "Buy the right garden" - another view

The Christmas break is one of my favourite breaks in the year as for a few precious days I can properly relax.  The down side to this is that it is not a good gardening time of year generally and this year, true to form, it snowed and was frozen for a large period of time.  This meant I had space to catch up on some garden magazine reading.  I was heartened to find that my pile of magazines only dated back to November issues, it must have been rainy in October.

My reading was productive, I think I might have identified a garden-gate that I might buy.  I have been thinking about getting a front gate since first moving here, I even have had ideas about what I want, now I might have found a solution.

I also read an article in the December issue of The English Garden called 'Buy the right garden' by Tamsin Westhorpe.  This is a good article with good advice in it.  It seems obvious, but I had never considered it particularly before, that buying a house called 'Windy Cottage' might imply it was a bit windy around there.  Probably a good job that my house was not called 'The House at Poo Corner' as that would have given a clue to its sewage farm history.  This is not really a bad thing as it might have put me off going to view which would have been an opportunity missed.   My blog is called the Blackberry Garden for good reason, I am surrounded by brambles and spend a lot of time weeding them out of the borders.  So if it was up for sale the clue is indeed in the name.

There is further good advice about your estate agent probably knowing about the local conditions and about buying a house with the right aspect and soil.  I fully admit I checked carefully the aspect of this house and in a previous move I had leafletted only one side of a road enquiring whether anyone was considering selling their house in the near future (south facing gardens only) (a ploy that worked well though did rather upset my new neighbours who had not had a leaflet when they realised I had not targeted houses I did not fancy the look of either).
There is one part of the article though that does not chime to me though.  There is a discussion about buying a well established mature garden such as Abbey House, Malmesbury which is currently for sale and a further discussion about someone buying a garden that opened for the National Garden Scheme.  Now I know that for many people to move into a garden where it is all done and all you need to do is maintain it is a good thing.  I know this, I do not understand it from my own very particular point of view, but I can see how to many people it is a good thing.  For me though the main attraction of my house was that the garden was pretty much a blank canvas.  It was almost totally laid to lawn.  There were a couple of trees in the back garden and a couple of roses but that was pretty much it.  The joy of this garden to me is that I look out and I see my own creation.   It has its disadvantages in that it means that the trees and shrubs are still young and still have a long way to go before they mature, but the borders come on a bit more every year and are a real joy to me.  I am not intending moving in the near future so I have time to wait.  I know I am lucky in this, if you move regularly this is not an option open to you.
It did set me thinking, can you imagine the pressure on the next owners of the Abbey House?  A garden I have visited a couple of times and rate highly.  The new owners may wish to dig it all up and start again.  There would be howls of protest I am sure if they did so, yet it is their garden and they are perfectly entitled to do with it as they wish.  No, such pressure is not for me (ha, like I could afford anything like that anyway!).

I have been known to stand in a neglected garden and consider how wonderful the underlying structure is and that with only a bit (lot) of work it could be restored to its former glory.  That sort of thing does appeal to me, but that is probably as it would still give me a lot of scope to do as I wish with it as well.
Getting advice on buying the right garden is important.  I have previously said I bought the garden and the house happened to come with it and I cannot believe that when I next move house it will be any different.  Knowing what you are buying matters.  Knowing where the sun is, what plants are thriving and what more importantly are looking a bit sickly all give vital clues.  As said above I have no intention of moving in the near future but if I do I think it is unlikely it will be to Windy Cottage, Flood Towers or Foggy Bottom, no, the House at Poo Corner suits me just fine.