Wednesday, 30 November 2016

End of Month Review - November 2016

November has been mild and cold and has also seen the start of the rainy season.  Lots of rain in has fallen this month, mainly in a two day period and the garden feels more soaked than it has done for many months.  We have had a couple of frosts, but generally it has not really been that cold.

So to the garden:
Well, the driveway actually, where the Pin Oak has turned a beautiful russet red.  This is such a fine tree and I am so pleased I planted it in the driveway as it makes quite a statement.  It is still young but it has settled in very well.  I am hoping it will still start to mature and put on more growth next year.
In the Knot Garden the five cypress trees are starting to grow well now.  They are starting to look like they might actually be there.
On the front doorstep there are still some pelagoniums resisting the cold as is the Bowl of Happiness.
Into the main garden itself and it is one of those days where the sun is bright but the shadows are long.  The Long Shoot is looking a bit dark with a sprinkle of windfall apples on the ground.  The birds and squirrels are enjoying eating them.
In the Pond Border itself the planting is looking exhausted and cold.  It is the time of year when the sedums start to come into their own and I love the structure that they bring to the winter garden.
The grasses by the pond are also providing good structure and work well with the quality of the light this time of year.
The Prairie Borders also shine in the sun.  They have done well this year despite the near total failure of planting cosmos into them for a change.  I have planted some tulips into them to give a bit of Spring colour.  This might be a failure too though as I think the squirrels have feasted on them.
I like this view across the Dancing Lawn towards the Prairie Borders.  It also shows the beech pillars that are not quite pillars yet and of course, Bruce.
The Wild Garden looks sparse this time of year.  The trees are still rather young but they are maturing well now.
The contorted hazel is looking very fine with its autumn leaf colour.
and the mahonia at the top of the garden is also doing well.  It has been joined by a Japanese larch which I am hoping will settle in well.  I know it will make a big tree but I think there is capacity for it at the top boundary.
The Exotic Border has some bare patches but the bamboo and the oak-leafed hydrangea give it good structure through the winter.
The Spring Border is sleeping under a carpet of apple leaves for now.
and the leaf-fall exposes some nests in the boundary hedges.  Not sure what this is the nest of, but it is well made and I am hope that next year it might be used again.
There are still some roses in bloom - this is Sir Clough.
But some of the chrysanthemums have seen better days.
In the veg borders the slugs have eaten pretty much everything except the kale.  Not sure that is a good sign for the taste of the kale.
The greenhouse is full and waiting to be fleeced when the temperature takes a further fall.
and the pond is pretty much full.  The heavy rain the other day topped it up nicely.

I am still weeding the garden as often as I can, the lack of serious frost means that the weeds are still growing.  I tell myself every weed removed now is worth 100 in the new year.  Let's hope this is so.

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.

Wednesday Metre - Sapid

Sapid and ambrosial
Deliciously decaying
Irresistible to those
Who fear the onslaught
Of winter, of frosts, of snow
Allowed to lie,
Mushly lush


Monday, 28 November 2016

Product Review - VivaGreen Biodegradable Compostable Bags

I was contacted recently by the people from VivaGreen which is a company that makes compostable and biodegradable products.  They use natural materials that come from renewable resources so it is all very worthy, and I like worthy.
I like worthy but in reality I am not very good at being worthy.  I used to compost my food waste faithfully but then I had a problem with lots of little flies and I sort of stopped.  The kitchen compost bin got put outside by the backdoor to aerate it and, well, that might have been about a year ago.  It might have blown away from the back door and I might, only might, have been looking at it and tutting at it where it ended up but did not actually rescue it.

So the nice people at VivaGreen sent me some GreenSax minis, some larger bin liners and the 'Scrapack' compostable paper countertop tidy bags.  So I dutifully went outside and rescued the compost bin (removed the snails and emptied out the leaves) so that it was ready to use again.

The Scrapacks are very useful.  They are quite thick brown paper and you just use them to pop your compostable scraps into.  If you had a stock of brown paper bags of course you could use them instead, but I haven't got any of those.  I will give you a word of caution, they are paper bags that are made out of paper.  If you fill them with used tea-leaves and leave them overnight then they do go a little soggy.  They are strong but they are not designed to withstand liquid for long periods of time.  The pack of twelve bags costs £2.90 (24p a bag) which I think is quite reasonable.  If you buy more packs then the cost goes down per bag.  I am hopeful that by using this bags which I can fold up to seal in the foodwaste this might prevent the little fly issue  I mentioned earlier.  They should also help make the little compost caddy easier to empty out without bits sticking unpleasantly to the inside.  Best of all they have made me start composting my food waste again, so I can just feel a little more worthy......

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Cardiff wetlands

At the time of writing this we have just had torrential rain interspersed with persistant drizzle for nearly three days.  You could be forgiven for thinking that when I say wetlands I might mean my rather soggy garden.  No, not this time, though it is not far off seeming that way.
I recently had reason to be in Cardiff for a couple of days, staying right by the bay edge.  It is many years since I had last been there so I was looking forward to a return visit.  As ever I had some ideas of what I might want to fit into the visit whilst I was there.  If you look carefully at the left hand side you can see a blue building on the other side of the bay.   This is the Doctor Who Experience and this is as close as I got to it.  My tale of woe is that I could not go on the first day of the visit so I set aside some time on the second only to discover it was closed that day.  This of course just means I have to return.

Secondly, as is my usual habit, I wanted to find a good garden to visit on the way home.
The sky gives away the whole story, it rained all day on the Monday and all day on the Tuesday.  It just did not stop.  When I set off to drive home I considered briefly that I might stop off, but it would not have been much fun in the cold rain so I drove straight home.

As I was leaving the hotel and walking to my car I did pause briefly to go and have a look at the Bay.  There was a path by the car park so I wandered down it, brolly in hand, to find that this wonderful space opened up in front of me.  Even with the rain it looked very beautiful.

The Cardiff Bay wetlands were originally saltmarshes.  When the Bay area was created back at the turn of the century (crikey that seems an odd phrase to use and yet accurate), the water became freshwater and these wetlands were therefore developed.  I did pause for a moment to consider the loss of the salt marshes, as vital an environment in their own way and now lost.

The wetlands are a very important area for all sorts of wildlife and they cover around eight hectares.  This is not an insignificant amount of space.  On this day said wildlife were snugly staying in bed, sensible them.
You cannot walk into the wetlands themselves, but there is a barrage path you can follow.  It was too miserable a day for me to want to do this and the long drive home beckoned.  I was glad that my curiosity had made me follow the path to overlook this area.  It gave me my small planty fix I needed for the trip.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Book Review: RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants

I was asked if I would like to review the new edition of the RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants and I immediately said yes.  I had two very definite reasons for this:  firstly, I have a couple of the RHS encyclopedias and they are as detailed and informative as you would expect and secondly, well, to be frank, it is an expensive book and I am not sure I would have ever bought it for myself.  Hold this thought, I will return to it.

So, important things you need to know:  it is published by Dorling Kindersley   The retail price is apparently £75 but I am not seeing it advertised at that price and it is available for much less (a good third less) if only you could find an internet based book shop somewhere.....
It is a beast of a book, it is quite heavy and probably not a book to take on a plane journey that is for sure.  It comes in a rather natty carry case with a rope handle.
It needs the rope handle, did I mention it was heavy?  This is the fourth edition of this book and it is 1119 pages of fantastic content.  The blurb I was sent with the book tells me that it covers 15,000 plants and so covers more garden plants than any other illustrated  book or website.  Impressive stuff.

The book (thankfully) starts by telling you how to use it.  There is so much information about each plant that it is very useful that the book tells you what it is telling you.  It then briefly and concisely talks you through what you need to know about hardyness and the different H zones that are frequently referred to in plants guides and labels.  Then you are walked (trotted) through amongst other things how to cultivate under glass, propagation, pruning and different flower types.  It is all very clearly laid out though I am going to mention that the typeface is fairly small and the pages are quite dense with text.  If you are getting to that stage with your eyesight that I am now at, you need a good light to read it with.  There are thirty pages before you get to the first plant in the encyclopedia and I was already thinking what a great book this is.

Now of course I have not yet read every page, that is not what an encyclopedia is for.  This book is for dipping into.  I have a couple of problem shrubs in the garden at the moment that are not performing as I would like, so I started by looking them up to check whether I had provided the right conditions for them.  But then one things leads to another.  Whilst looking up Pinus mugo suddenly I am looking at Pinus sylvestris 'Golden Coin' and making that 'mmm' noise to myself.  A moment later the pages have flipped over a bit and I am studying Disanthus cercidifolius and thinking Hmm H5 and nipping back in the book to the H zone information and considering adding the shrub to the list of plants to keep an eye out for.

Now some of you will be reading this and thinking 'isn't this all what the internet is for?' well, dear reader, yes and I am generally one of those people.  An internet search engine is a great thing and most things can be found and here is where I come back to where I started this review; bear with me.

As said above I am not sure I would have ever bought this book but I would be over the moon if someone bought it for me, maybe for a birthday or for an especially festive day just a few weeks away where people traditionally swap gifts.  This book is the ideal christmas present without doubt.  It is in that category of gifts for gardeners that actually would be welcomed by a gardener.  Hold off the flowery garden gloves, stand away from the flowery trowels, buy me something that I want but would not buy for myself and I am in seventh heaven and I do not believe I am alone in these thoughts.  On a cold wet day like it is whilst I am writing this, this book will keep me entertained for hours. I will learn from it and be using that internet search engine to find out where to buy the plants that are increasingly added to that list of plants mentioned above.  What I have saved on not buying the book I will probably spend on buying more plants - oh my, what a calamity.......

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Irritating Plant of the Month November 2016

Dear reader, for this month's irritating plant wall of shame I give you......
.....Magnolia 'Fairy Blush'.  I have had this shrub for good few years now.  I was lured into buying it with tales of it being new and exciting.  I am a great fan of magnolias and this was just too enticing for me to miss and a purchase was made.  It looked great when I first bought it and admittedly I did give it a false start.  I planted it somewhere where itsoon looked unhappy; indeed I thought it would die.  It looked a bit, well, only a little bit worse than it does above.  So I took the brave step of digging it up and relocating it.  I worked on the principle that if it died it was dying anyway.  If it lived then it was a magnificent success.

Dear reader, it did neither, it has sulked and looked a bit poorly and quite frankly gives me reproachful looks at every opportunity.

I gave it a year to think so that it might just pull itself together:  it hasn't.

I have given it some frequent feeds of liquid seaweed in the hope that it might respond favourably: it hasn't.

Yet still I cannot quite bring myself to give up on it.  It continues in this almost limbo state of being being quite dead enough nor quite alive enough.  Maybe next year, it will be happy, maybe next year it will finally shrug its shoulders, pick its teddy up from the floor and start to leaf up and flower.

as ever, time will tell....

Wordless Wednesday - Edgeworthia-watch 1

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The last sweetpea

"We are the last of our kind" cry the sweetpeas, "the very last."

"You are the last for this year, yes, the season is almost over."

"No, no," the whimpering peas implored "we are the last, the very last, after us there will be no others."

"Indeed, indeed," was the soothing reply.  The sweetpeas having no eyes could not see that the gardeners fingers were crossed.*  It was a lie indeed, one that often labelled a white lie as the intention was not to deceive for harm but to soothe their last few days.
So farewell then, the last of the sweetpeas.  For some of you it will be indeed the last of your kind I will sow in the garden.  Each year the same favourites are sown (is it possible to not love Matucana? and I am also very partial to King Edward VII and Mrs Collyer).  This year Painted Lady made quite a good entrance and I shall definitely consider sowing her again.  Miss Willmott was quite good, a bit late to get going but carried on well.  Midnight** probably flowered the most and longest.  I think these unopened flowers are Midnight so they are a definite definite for next year.  As with all the sweetpeas I sow I demand good scent and these all performed well.  Next Spring I will be sowing again and the carousel will turn again.

*for the more observant of you, I appreciate that sweetpeas also have no voice, but if I was to be completely accurate/realistic in how I write this would be to misunderstand the purpose of this blog.

** this year for the first time I bought all my sweetpea seeds from Thompson & Morgan.  I do take part in trials for this company but these seeds  I bought as any other customer would.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

A year has passed

The day I am writing this has been day about trees.  It is still, just (only just) the time to plant them and it is the time to be pruning them.  It is also the time to admire them in their autumn glory.

The deciduous trees are shedding their leaves quickly and quietly, they have coloured up and fallen down.  I have quite a few trees in the garden and they all play their part and all have their moment when they are at their most special.  Last year, almost to the day, I wrote about my quest for the right liquidamber.  I planted a Liquidamber styraciflua 'Stared' and I was (am) very pleased with it.

I then spent a year making sure that it did not die.  I kept it watered in the dry weeks and looked at it lovingly every time I wandered to the top of the garden.  I am pretty sure that looking lovingly on plants does help them grow.  Either that or it gives them a total complex and they wither.....
On the day of writing I stood in front of the liquidambar and thought how beautiful it was.  It only has a few leaves left and they are a great shape and colour.  Next year it should need less cossetting as hopefully it will be putting out its roots and starting to settle in.  I had not realised when I was standing there that it was so close to its anniversary, though I knew it must be there or thereabouts.  It made me think about how quickly a year passes and how many more years this tree will hopefully see.  More years then I have left (not in a morbid way, just in a matter of fact if this tree lives as long as it can then it has more years than I).

All the trees in the garden are special, and on this day the liquidamber celebrated its birthday by shining in the late autumn sun.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Wednesday Metre - Calling winter

The horse chestnut has called winter
Has thrown its arms to the sky
Has stretched and reached
Has shed and laid bare

The horse chestnut has called winter
Has surrendered
Has regrouped
Has defenced

The horse chestnut has called winter
Has promise for Spring
Has breathed a sigh
Has rest


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Product Review: Stihl Compact Cordless Chainsaw MSA 120 C

Some weeks ago I wrote a product review for the Stihl Cordless Grass Trimmer.  I said at the time that I had a couple of Stihl products to trial and now is the time to write up about the other product.  The Compact Cordless Chainsaw MSA 120C.  This chainsaw is designed for the domestic market, it is fairly small and remarkably light but not less a chainsaw.  This means that you need proper chainsaw safety-wear if you are going to use it.

Wearing proper chainsaw gloves and trousers and proper work boots is essential.  Also wearing a hard-hat with a peak and visor matters though you do not need ear defenders apparently because it does not make the level of noise that a larger more professional chainsaw does.  I thought I would feel a bit of a nana dressed like this to be in my own garden but once kitted up I mainly felt safe.

I am a total chainsaw novice and I am very aware of how much respect I need to show this piece of equipment.  I had been talked through how to use it by the lovely lady at Farol Ltd, my local Stihl dealer.   It might not be professional grade, but it could still do me a large amount of damage if I make a mistake so I was very grateful for the care that was taken to make sure I was properly kitted out and that I understood how to use the machine.

The first time I tried it out I worked at ground level, in which I mean I did not use any ladders.  I wanted to be used to the feel of the machine and how it worked before taking any steps upwards.

The lilac in the front garden was the first victim/choice.  It does not have very thick stems, about an inch or so in diameter and chainsaw made short work of it.  In the past I have pruned this fairly easily with a pruning saw but as I said, this was an exercise in getting to know the machine.

A few weeks later and autumn has arrived, the perfect time for tree pruning.  I suited up again and strode out in the garden.  I was already very pleased with the chainsaw as I had fully charged up the batteries when I had last used it, which was about eight weeks ago, and the batteries were still pretty much fully charged.  This was very good.
First test for the day were these overhanging branches near the top of the driveway.
Ok, you might not see much difference but I do.  A few significant branches have been removed and it has let in a bit more light.
On to the next task - the field maple.  This is a magnificent tree that forms part of the side boundary.  It is wonderful this time of year as the leaves turn the most amazing butter yellow before falling to form a thick carpet of leaves.  It also overshadows the quince tree and has created quite a shady part of the garden.  I have pruned it in the past but it has got beyond what my little pruning saw could handle.
Whoomp, and some large branches are removed.  This was remarkably easy to do and I was seriously impressed with the little chainsaw.  I was also impressed that I managed to do this with no injury to myself.  There is some guidance given in the very good instruction manual (please read the manual) and I did spent a bit of time checking where I was and where the branches were before cutting.
These branches were a good three or four inches in diameter and the saw went through them like butter.  This also made the clearing up afterwards quite easy too as I could saw up the branches to movable pieces easily.  Some I have left in situ to form hiding places for wildlife.
This is not the best picture, but the really big branch that used to overhand the quince tree has now gone.  I am hoping that this makes a big difference to the quince now it will get more light.
I was probably out there for a couple of hours cutting and pruning various trees and shrubs.  This little chainsaw made light work of it all and was huge fun to use.  I had to tighten the chain towards the end of the session, this was easy to do and I was very glad that the chainsaw has the safety feature that you can make the battery pop out of its connection, meaning there is no danger of you accidentally switching on the machine when you do not want to.  After use I gave it a good clean.  It is worthwhile looking after the chainsaw properly.

The battery has an indicator so you can see how much power is left and I still had two of the four bars lit when I had finished for the day.  I thought this was very good.  Whilst I had been out there for a couple of hours that does not mean the chainsaw was in use all that time.  Each branch takes less than a minute so it was not in constant use.   Also, because I have this and the grass strimmer that means I have two batteries as they are interchangeable.  So even if I had run out of power I had a second battery ready to pop in.  I do like having two batteries.

The chainsaw does not mean that I will never need the services of a tree surgeon as they are the experts and the ones who need to do the difficult and skilled work.  But I can now lop off the odd branch with much more ease and that makes my life and the garden's just a bit easier.  I can absolutely recommend it.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

A letter to the garden

Dear garden,

It's been a while since I feel like I have paid you proper attention.  Yes I have been with you, yes I have pottered about, cut lawns and tidied around the edges.  I have planted some bulbs, I have deadheaded and I have removed the odd weed.  What I have not had lately are many of what I call 'good garden days' though as I would have liked.

Dear garden you have made your opinion of this neglect clear. You have strived to look ok at a quick glance, to fool me and re-fool me, that actually you are coping quite well.  But, dear garden, I have now looked more closely and the full horror has been revealed.
You are now the home to many dandelions, lots of herb robert and willowherb and more coltsfoot than you can shake a shakey stick at.  There will have to be several more concentrated efforts to get some sort of order restored.  I removed a small copse of field maple seedlings than I expected and lets not even begin to discuss the assorted nettles and brambles.

Dear garden, dearest dearest garden, you punish me and reproach me with every weed and at that same time encourage me to do better.   I am sorry, I will do better to live up to your expectations ......

......well, I'll try anyway, to be honest its not the worst thing ever is it?

Best wishes
Your (slightly lazy) gardener.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

A pitstop at Hidcote

How does one start to write about Hidcote?  The issue is it has all probably already been said.  Is this going to stop me?  Of course not. I have visited Hidcote twice previously, firstly probably 15 years ago and then again about eight years ago.  The last time I visited I left a little underwhelmed.  I cannot quite explain this, but the garden did not have the magic I had felt on my first visit.  It seemed a little tired in places and a little almost unloved.  Most recently when I have been in that vicinity I prioritised visiting Kiftsgate, its very near neighbour, a garden I always enjoy visiting and has a real feeling of soul about it.

Yet on saying this, not visiting Hidcote was nagging at me.  I knew that the National Trust had been restoring it to be more like it was in its heyday and I was intrigued to see what this would mean in reality.  I recently had reason to be driving close by so I thought it was time for a revisit.  I'm pleased I did.  I was lucky in that it was fairly late afternoon and whilst still in the school holidays it was not too crowded.
As you enter the gardens one of the first things you see is this magnificent Cedar of Lebanon.  I smiled in recognition of it from my previous visits.  It is a wonderful tree perfectly sitting in its environs.
I walked along the paths and pondered the circular stones.  I had a bit of a Portmeirion moment.  There are oval slate paving stones at Portmeirion that look very decorative and are the by-product of making slate toilet seats (yes they are the bit taken out to make the hole); so I mused as I looked at these circles if they had a story.
Hidcote is famously described as a series of rooms, so there is lots of very precisely cut hedging.
Circles are a recurring theme....

This repetition gives a rhythm to the design that is pleasing.
The hot borders looked good, but you could not walk up to them when I was there.  With the heavy footfall this area must get it is no surprise that they have to try and protect it when they can.
The sun shone just right at this moment, it makes all the difference when looking at a red border.

Like I said, I have been to Hidcote before but never by myself and this gave me a freedom to wander without having to consider anyone else.  There is something freeing about solitary garden visiting and whilst I love visiting gardens with others, there is something rather special about being left to your own thoughts as you wander around.  I knew I had never been in the wilderness part of the garden in my other visits; this had to rectified.
I really liked the Wilderness.  It has a wonderful charm about it but what I noticed most was the scents.  I shall explain, as I wandered around the main garden there was that distinct scent of damp autumn.  You know the one, its a bit sluggy. As I moved into the Wilderness there was the sudden scent of candyfloss. I suspected there was a Cercidiphyllum near by, but I could not see it.  I pondered about being led around the garden by the nose, going from scent to scent and how this would change with the seasons.
I loved the colours in this part of the garden and how it felt relaxed.  It has a lack of wow that was a joy to find.  Much of Hidcote is about formality and this lack of formality that bleeds away as you move further into the wilderness is a welcome relief.
I spent a lot of time in this area.
The paths wind you around the garden.
Some of the colours just stop you in your tracks.  Well they did me.

I was also stopped in my tracks by the Poppy Garden.  Really? I hear you say, yes it was so.
This garden is a stream of Macleaya microcarpa, the Plume Poppy.  It is probably past its best this time of year but imagine it in full flower.  I really liked this use of this plant, which I know can be a bit of a thug.  It is a brave person that plants it en-masse, but here there is space for it and it looks really good.  I pondered whether I could do something similar, I might have the germ of any idea.

I then found myself alongside the Rock Bank,
I got a bit excited by the Rock Bank.
I could see how Major Johnson had created these different areas to host his collections of plants.
I liked this hot spot for dry plants further up the garden as well.  It felt like a moment of 'this is a hot wall, I think it will work well for my spiky collection' moment.  A moment most gardeners will recognise, the right spot for that plant so there it has to be.
As I'm having a bit of a spiky moment I did stand here in awe for a while.
I also went into the Kitchen Garden, I have no memory of being in this area before so I assume I had missed it previously.  It was very ordered, very pretty and you could buy the produce.  There was an honesty box (I love an honesty box).
The area was clearly used a lot for school trips and encouraging children to learn about food growing.  I found these slates charming, there is no other word to use, charming.
Around from the kitchen garden is probably the best framed seat you will ever see.  It could only have been more perfect if the wisteria had been in flower.
I liked the small touches like this cart.  If you look carefully you can see that one of the backlegs has fallen off the dog and rolled to one side.  I felt sorry for the dog.

and finally
A Close Encounters of the Third Kind moment?  no?