Thursday, 30 June 2016

End of Month Review - June 2016

It is hard to write a post about the end of June without making some surprised reference to being half way through the year.  I shall resist the temptation.

June has been quite warm, fairly sunny and very rainy.  The rain has encouraged a lot of lush growth and a lot of slugs.  Many seedlings have been eaten and I imagine that the sales of organic (and inorganic) slug pellets have rocketed.

Meanwhile in the front garden....
One of my favourite roses, (by the way all the roses I grow are my favourites, it sort of goes with the territory), Leda is growing well by the front gate.  It scents the path as I walk up to the house.
The Knot Garden has had its first trim of the year and looks neater.
On the front door step currently is this bowl of Verbena purple sparkles and Bacopa 'Blue Hollyhock'.  They have been flowering for a few weeks now and I am very pleased with them.
This is Rosa Graham Thomas, I do not show him very often, but he sits there quietly by the front hedge just being a rather wonderful yellow.
Around the corner by the house there are rather a lot of fuchsias and sharpies (agaves), plus an aloe and an aeonium cutting.
Further around to the backgarden there is a collapsed Rosa 'Claire Austin' and a rather disgruntled ginger cat (Bruce).
The Long Shoot is looking more colourful now, if not rather blousy.  I like blousy.
The Conservatory Border is coming together, the Rosa Blythe Spirit is a good pale yellow, there are foxgloves seeded about and a small brown, somewhat cross, cat (Esme).
and along a bit there is the Bermuda Triangle that leads up to the Prairie Borders and along to the Dancing Lawn.  This area is briefly rather shady and I rather like this, I get that dark/light moment that I admire in other gardens.
The Spring Border is now the 'rather over it and rather shady' border.  It has a June pause.
The Prairie Borders are getting on with it and are growing well.  It all looks a bit linear from this angle, which I do not remember doing and looking at it now I clearly did.
The Exotic Border (for that is what it will be) looks still rather a lot like it is the Tree Lupin Border,  The bamboos are doing well and you can see a glimpse of banana.  I live in high hopes for this border this year, if (and it is a big if) the slugs do not eat everything.
The Wild Garden is looking pretty wild.
and the Bog Garden is looking lusher than lush.
and the dancing lawn is framed by the Rosa Wild Edric growing up the apple tree and Bruce pretending to be a lion.
The pergola, which rots a little more every day, is managing to hold up the hanging basket that is currently trialing some begonias.
When I look down I see the purple Selfheal.  I think it is so pretty, I set the mower blades to not damage it too much and the bees love it.
The Four sisters are doing well.  The Carol Klein acer enjoyed the mild winter.  The edgeworthia survived another winter and the Philadelphus 'Belle Etoile' is having its moment of glory.  The other shrub, whose name currently escapes me, is just looking green.  I will find its name in time for when it flowers, promise.
In the Fernery Esme waits on the Boy Who Waited, it is her favourite posing plinth.
In the veg borders the slugs are trying to win.  Some sweetcorn remains and some tomatoes.
and the greenhouse is starting to look a bit empty.  Things are getting planted out.
I end, of course, on the pond.  It is full, very full.  Full of water, tadpoles, froglets and a newt or two.  It is also now looking quite a bit more clear, this is good.

A big thank you to Helen for hosting this meme as ever.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Book Review: Moving Heaven & Earth, Capability Brown's Gift of Landscape by Steffie Shields

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to go and listen to a talk by Steffie Shields about her passion for Capability Brown and his landscapes.  I knew that her book was due out soon so I was very pleased to be sent a copy to review.
The book is illustrated by many plans and photographs, most of the photographs were taken by Steffie herself.  The Preface explains how Steffie first became aware of Capability Brown and talks about how we all have favourite landscapes and that when she first saw a Brown landscape that she did not realise that it was not a natural view.  Time passed and her interest in Brown grew.  Then the Great Storm in 1987, that destroyed so many mature trees which led Steffie to think that there was a fragility to Brown's landscapes and that they could disappear almost overnight.  At that point she determined to record as much of his work as she could.  It is a journey that Steffie is still on and this book catalogues and talks us through many examples through different perspectives in each chapter.  For example: there is a chapter looking at lake making and one looking at cascades, oh to have a cascade!  There is also a chapter called 'Freedom to Roam' looking at the garden buildings and structures in Brown's work.  There are examples, pictures and plans and also the important point that follies had a vital purpose.  They were built to do what they do now, they lead our eyes to them through the landscape and, well if you are like me, they then lead our feet to go and explore.  The follies and garden structures drew the landscape owners out into the landscape so they could experience from the distant perspective and the close.  A simple idea and incredibly effective.  Brown's story is weaved through the story of his work and we also receive a social history of this type of project within that time period.  It is truly fascinating.

The book goes into a lot of detail.  It very handily gives us a conversion table at the start of the book, explaining the present day value of eighteenth century money.  It also explains farthings and furlongs and other old coinage and measurements.  All of which are vital to help us understand the plans and narratives that were contemporary to Brown's work.  There is also a full index at the rear that highlights specifically the Brown landscapes.

2016 is three hundred years since the birth of Capability Brown and there are celebrations and exhibitions to recognise this all year.  There can be no better year to buy a book on this great man, and Steffie's book has an engaging personal voice that makes it more than a description of his life and works, it is about experiencing him through Steffie's enthusiasm.

Moving Heaven and Earth is published by Unicorn Publishing Group

Sunday, 26 June 2016

A midsummer lunch at Easton Walled Gardens

I was very pleased to be invited to a recent Midsummer Lunch event at Easton Walled Gardens.  I was delighted to be able to go as it is a garden I am extremely fond of.  The event was well attended and centred around a series of talks  The first was given by Lady Ursula Cholmeley, the owner and driving force of  the gardens who talked about the history of the gardens and also some context for what Ursula and her team want to achieve.
The second talk was from Matthew Wilson, winner of the Peoples' Choice Award who spoke about his experience of  Chelsea Flower Show show-garden building this year.  Then there was a talk from Guy Barter, Chief Horticultural Advisor for the RHS, who talked about the new RHS Garden: Bridgewater.  Finally there was a talk from Laura Garnett, Development Manager at Perennial, the charity for people who work in horticulture.  The talks were informative and entertaining and it as all very enjoyable.  The weather was also, thankfully, very kind and whilst it clouded over a little at one point, it was mainly sunny and pleasantly warm.  Once the lunch was finished and talks over, we could then wander around the gardens at our leisure.

July 3rd sees the start of Sweet Pea Week at Easton and the sweet peas are already starting to flower.
I love the Pickery, on this day the scent from the sweetpeas was really strong, it was just delightful.
The peas will grow to the top of these supports over the next couple of weeks and the blooms will be plentiful.
I do love sweetpeas.

There was also a new area in the garden.
This small area was perfectly bounded by the box hedging.  There is a path winding through it and there was the signs of chrysanthemums and dahlias being planted out.  I liked this garden, it seemed to make a perfect place to stop and think a while.
The meadows on the terraces are starting to flower well.
and the planting in the borders was looking really good.  Bearing in mind that the day before this event there had been torrential rain for several hours I think the planting has held up well.
I loved these massive thistles just by the gate house - what fantastic form and height.
The border that lines the walled garden is always good, it was full of bees on this day.  I have to say I think the gardens are looking the best I have ever seen.
I stopped to admire this gate as we walked into the walled garden.  It is just the most perfect view, the obliging sheep helped too.
In the walled garden the planting in the meadow areas is really developing well.  It is important to remember that all of this garden is relatively new.  It was only started to be cleared and renovated in 2001 from complete dereliction.  I always find it interesting that gardens take a while to start to mature but suddenly, like a switch has been pressed, they start to really come together.  This is particularly how the meadow feels at Easton, it has tipped over from getting there into something rather special.
There were several of these native echiums in the meadow, they stopped me in my tracks.  They stopped a few bees too who were clearly loving them.
Before leaving I had to go and say hello to the giraffes.  I love these giraffes and I alwys stop by when  I visit.
I'm sure this one is munching on some leaves.
I have to say a huge thank you to Ursula and her team for putting on such a lovely event.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The most annoying plant award goes to......

........ Poncirus trifoliata

I bought this plant back in 2013.  It was a fine plant and I fell in love with it straight away.  It lovingly planted and I stood back to watch it grow.

Slugs had other ideas and ate it to within an inch of its life.  I am not a fan of slugs.

Fast forward a couple of years and I decided to dig the poor munched thing up and coddle it for a while in a pot.  It grew well and was soon looking garden-ready again.  This made me happy and I chose to use it to trial some slug prevention.  The slug prevention worked, but still the plant did not thrive.  Now it just sat there, glaring at me, clearly sulking.

So a few weeks ago my temper snapped and I dug it up again and potted it on into the greenhouse.
Again it sprang back into life.  This is clearly a really good plant as whilst it may sulk (as can I) it recovers rather fast (I do not).  Apparently this plant is often used as a rootstock for citrus plants, it certainly has vigour.

So, three years rather too late I decided to check what kind of conditions this plant likes, it is not thick Leicester clay that is for sure!  It likes well drained slightly limey soil. So my acidic soil is not going to help either.  Well that's a non-mystery solved then.  So for now it will live in a pot, it might be forever, time will tell.

As I thought about how irritating this plant was I realised that there is usually at least one plant irritating me at any set time.  It is not necessarily a weed, though quite often it is.  So I wonder if  there should be Irritating Plant of the Month day (IPotM), it feels like a meme I can identify with.  So - do you want to write a post about what plant is irritating you this month?  Any reason is perfectly acceptable.  Let's vent our feelings on the disappointing on the 23rd of every month.

Who will be first? Just write a post and add the link to the comments box (don't leave me hanging.....)  

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Book Review: Gardens of the Italian Lakes by Steven Desmond

Fresh back from my own wanderings around Italy, I was asked if I wanted to review this rather lovely book Gardens of the Italian Lakes by Steven Desmond, photographs by Marianne Majerus.  I have not been to the Italian lakes and the book sounded very interesting.  Like many people I had seen some of the gardens on the Monty Don television series about Italian gardens so my curiosity was already awake.
It is a large book.  I like large gardening books, there is something comforting about their solidity and weight.  No - I am not an electronic book fan but I could see that you might want to take this book with you if you were travelling to these gardens.  The perfect solution for me would be to have the real book at home and then take an electronic version with me as I travelled.

The description of each garden is from a very personal perspective.  Steven's  narrative gives a real sense of being there and sharing his experiences.  For instance when speaking about Villa Sommi Picenardi Steven says "I arrived one spring morning at the surprisingly important-looking village station ...... and began the pleasant walk up a gentle hill .....On this particular morning, three cuckoos were singing from different directions and at varying distances." I like style of writing, it feels like I am accompanying him on his journey and that we are being spoken to in conversation not talked at.  Steven gives you the history of each garden and then a walk-through description.  This works very well as you can understand better what you are looking at if you know how it came to be.

The photographs by Marianne are the perfect complement to the text.  They give a sense of location, which really helps put the gardens into context.  They also give sense of detail.  The colours, the plants, the landscapes and the statues/fountains.  The book also contains etchings and historical postcards of the gardens.  I love old postcards, they give such a wonderful view into the past in so many ways.  They show the location but also often the people who were visiting.  I look at these people and think about how we still tread the same paths and look at the same views.

The book has two handy maps at the back of the book showing the garden locations.  Steven advises that it is probably unrealistic to visit them all on one holiday, though it would depend on the length of your holiday (obviously).  The information also gives you opening times and how you get to the gardens.  For some you need a boat, others involve mountain roads.  There is also information on whether the associated house (when there is one) is open as well.

The book has made me want to visit these gardens, especially the ones I had not heard of previously and it has put me in an informed position to do so.  Even if I do not manage to get to visit I am still really pleased with this book as it is so interesting.  I can thoroughly recommend this book.

Gardens of Italian Lakes is published by Frances Lincoln.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Product Review: Gtech Cordless Lawnmower

I was recently asked whether I would like to trial Gtech's new cordless lawnmower.  When I bought my current lawnmower (an electric flymo) just over a year ago, at that time I looked at cordless ones but to be frank I did not know anyone who had one and I did not want to risk that amount of money on something that might not cope with my garden. Regular readers will know that I do have a fair amount of lawn so it was with genuine interest that I agreed to trial the mower.

The mower arrived in a big box and the first job is to charge the battery.

Did I say battery?  Sorry, I mean flux capacitor.
Oh come on, it is a flux capacitor, I don't care what you say!

The machine itself is not too heavy and has rather jazzy bright green bits.
It's a lawn mower, it's never going to look that sexy but for a lawnmower I can say I thought it looked very lawnmowery.  I did like the jazzy green bits.
I liked the green safety key a lot.  This is a very good safety feature and meant I did not lose any fingers or toes.
Flux capacitor loaded and I was ready to go.  I decided that I would split the front and back garden across two days as, quite frankly, it takes a while to do them both and splitting them makes it less of a chore.  So day 1 test was the front side lawn and the driveway.
The mower cut the side lawn with ease, no trouble at all.
Out into the driveway which you can see is much rougher and really about mowing weeds to a reasonable height - again the mower was totally happy with this on a fairly high cutting blade level.
After both jobs the 40 litre mowing basket was not even quite full.  I was happy.

Day 2 and it was time for the back lawn.  The back lawn is big so I was not sure it would get all the way around on one charge.
This is the formal lawn before the cut commences.
Stripe one - this is largely so you can see that the lawn really did need cutting.  It had two week's growth which is the usual length of time I leave it this time of year.
It looked a lot better after being cut.  I am not a lawn fanatic, but I like it when it's just been cut and smells nice.
I cut the Bermuda Triangle, did the paths along the Prairie Borders  and moved around to the Dancing Lawn.  I was now about 45 minutes into the mow and then, dear reader, after a few coughs the lawnmower declared itself out of juice.  I decided this was a message to go and have a mug of tea so I put the battery on to charge for 30 minutes whilst I made tea.  This was not a successful idea, the battery did not charge enough to do anymore of great note.  I packed the mower away for the night and put the battery on for a full charge.  It takes a few hours to fully charge so I knew it would be the next day before I could complete the task.
Day 3 and the fully charged battery made light work of the Dancing Lawn.
It also cut paths into the Wild Garden with ease,
even along the edges of the long grass was not an issue.

So - what did I think.  Well, I thought I needed two batteries.  If I had two batteries I could have done the back garden all in one day.  I could of course split it over two days which is no real hardship.

I delayed posting this review for another two weeks as I wanted to give the lawns another mow to try the mower out again.  This time I cut the driveway and side lawn and then moved straight into the back garden to see how much it would mow before it cut out.  It cut the whole of the formal lawn and I have just moved into the Bermuda Triange before it gave out (spooky it gave out there....)  I put the battery on to recharge overnight and then finished off the next day.  This worked very well as there was only about a third of the back lawn still to go.

The mower has six different blade heights and it cut the lawns well.  If the grass is a little too long for the height you have chosen it will snarl up the blades a bit, but as you can see it coped with my grass that was around  2-3 inches long (give or take).  All you have to do is raise the cutting height a little and it will cope, you can then go over it again if you really want to at the lower height.  I am not that fussy about the height of my grass so I was quite happy with this.

The 40 litre grass basket is very good, definitely better capacity than my current mower.  Also not having an electric cable was very nice.  I did not spend half my time faffing around with cable and decapitating my favourite flowers with the cable at any given moment.

My top tip for this mower is to recharge the battery the moment that you finish using it.  It keeps the charge really well and whilst I gave it a quick zap before I started mowing the second time I used it, it had kept pretty much fully charged over the two week period.  This means if I have a mowing emergency that the battery should be good to go.

Would I recommend this mower, yes, from my use of it it was good.  I do wonder if it will manage with the mowing of the Wild Garden after its first scything in September, I shall let you know.   If you have a large lawn I would recommend two batteries, it will make it much easier, failing that you might have to divide your time cutting your lawns which is not that onerous.

Oh - and did I mention it has a flux capacitor?

The lawnmower retails at £299, with an additional battery being £99.

The review of how the mower coped with the Wild Garden challenge can be found here: