Sunday, 31 January 2016

End of Month Review - January 2016

January has been, as ever, rather long.  There is something about January that involves it having at least one week longer than any other month, possibly two.  It is of such a length that the very idea of Christmas and New Year is a dim distant memory.

When I wrote the December End of Month Review we were being visited by Storm Frank, we are now being visited by Storm Gertrude.  There have been others in between as January has continued the theme of this winter as being largely about rain.   Yes we had brief snow, but it came and went swiftly.  There have still been very few totally dry days and as I writing this the rain continues.  I decided to go out into the rain to take this month's photographs as it felt fitting and I have not had a time when it was not raining that I could get outside into the garden.
I begin in the driveway where the clump of snowdrops I planted in the first winter I moved in are starting to flower.  Had there been sun they might have been open.  They have made quite a nice clump now and I shall probably divide them a little when they have finished flowering.
A closer to the house, the Cornus officinalis is flowering and a newly planted mahonia is also colouring up well.
In to the front garden and the Knot Garden looks green.  I did some tidying/weeding the other day and it has made it look neater again.
In the side lawn, the first signs of winter aconites are starting to appear.  This is incredibly exciting to me as I planted these two years ago.  If they turn out to look like I hoped they would I shall be very happy.  It is a real case of patience has its rewards.
The quince hedge, also something that has made me wait quite a while before seeing real results, has been flowering for weeks.  I am very pleased with it now and it approaches what I want it to look like.
The back garden is wet, saturated, soggy, just very very wet.
The Courtyard is looking quite green, my dislike of evergreens is clearly being undermined.
There are signs of Spring as some crocii start to make their way up to flower.
These hellebores are flowering for the first time.  I let them self seed in the Spring Border and then I move the seedlings around to see what they will turn out like.  These are pretty little ones and they are adding a bit of colour into an otherwise mainly muddy Conservatory Border.
There are also signs of blue from these anemones.
Further along to the Spring Border and it looks,well, rather Springy.  The hellebores have been flowering for some time now and you can see the first sign of daffs starting to open.
As I look back from this point I remain pleased with the shape of the borders.  I am not sure if I will ever tire of this view.  This time of year in particular it is very apparent and I like that I became aware/less aware of it at different times in the year.
The Plant of the Year is still sprawly and flowering.
and last year's wallflowers that never got removed are flowering again.
There are a surprising amount of coconuts littered around the garden.  These are (of course) the remains of suet filled bird food but whenever I see them in the garden I think a) one day I ought to pick them up b) gosh they do not compost quickly do they and c) I wonder if a passing horse has cast them off (we all know that the sound of horses hooves come from coconuts don't we?).
The Four Sisters are patiently waiting for their moment.  The Edgeworthia is not dead (result!) but also has not yet flowered (non result).
The Cornus mas and the yellow hamamelis are flowering well just the other side of the pleached hornbeams and...
..... joy of joys the orange hamamelis that is by the pond is also flowering well.  This tree has sulked for a good couple of years and I wondered if I had upset it somehow, it has decided to forgive me this year and has rewarded me with flowers.
In the dark corner the Boy Who Waited is being being kept company by hellebores.  This corner needs some work.  I'm thinking ferns at this moment in time.
The snowdrops are coming up well.  I planted quite a few last year and also divided several of the existing clumps so I am hoping for a good display this year.
I also planted quite a lot of cyclamen coum as well and they are flowering their little hearts out at the moment.
The Prunus Ben-chidori is also flowering very well this year.  I have been pruning it to keep it more at a shrub height then let it be a tree.  So far this is working ok.
The Woodland Border/Bog Garden (I think the whole garden is a bog garden at the moment) looks wet and the Prairie Borders can be seen shimmering behind it.
It is a time of year for standing and thinking, I like standing here and looking down the Wild Garden.  The Winter Honeysuckle is flowering well and the garden is sort of waiting for its moment to get going.  It needs some warmth, I think it has enough rain at the moment.
The teasel patch has been good this year.  The biennial nature of these plants means that the patch is never the same year after year and I like this.  They do self-seed with vigour but they are so easy to identify when seedlings that I can generally edit them out quite well.
In the veg borders the purple sprouting broccoli is sprouting.
and the greenhouse remains shrouded.  We are getting intermittent frosty nights so I think it does still need to be in its winter white.
The winter collection of pots, that keep getting blown over by the winds, are doing well and the Primula Don Keefe has been flowering for weeks. It gives some very welcome colour.
and my pond over-floweth.

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Wind Cries

Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past
And with his crutch, it’s old age, and it's wisdom
It whispers no, this will be the last
And the wind cries Mary

(Jimi Hendrix 1967)

This time of year there is a lot of weather around, it keeps doing things.  Warmish one day, coldish another.  Some days are mild and other days there is a rawness to the wind that sends a chill through the bones.  Some days it is quite blustery, some days we get gales and thankfully rarely, we suffer from hurricanes.  The wind can be so destructive, destroying everything in its path.  The word 'windswept' might evoke romantic images across the moors, but in reality it is about flattening all that goes in front of it.

Some plants love a good breeze, my prairie borders move and dance in the breeze in an almost hypnotic way.
The wind can howl, it can moan, and sometimes, just sometimes, it cries Mary.  As I started thinking to myself about the Jimi Hendrix song I found references that suggest that the poem below might have been an inspiration.

To Mary

I sleep with thee, and wake with thee,
And yet thou art not there;
I fill my arms with thoughts of thee,
And press the common air.
Thy eyes are gazing upon mine,
When thou art out of sight;
My lips are always touching thine,
At morning, noon, and night.

I think and speak of other things
To keep my mind at rest:
But still to thee my memory clings
Like love in woman's breast.
I hide it from the world's wide eye,
And think and speak contrary;
But soft the wind comes from the sky,
And whispers tales of Mary.

The night wind whispers in my ear,
The moons shines in my face;
A burden still of chilling fear
I find in every place.
The breeze is whispering in the bush,
And the dews fall from the tree,
All sighing on, and will not hush,
Some pleasant tales of thee.

John Clare 1794-1864

It is a rather fine poem.

and yet, and yet, there is a lot to be said for a gentle breeze, or a bracing walk along the sea front with the wind blowing in from the sea........

........and let's not forget, without such winds and turbulent weathers witches would not look to the skies and fear a house falling on them or indeed their sisters.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

A life less wonky

The pergola has been an integral part of my garden for a long time now, I cannot remember exactly when it was constructed, but I think it was within the first twelve months.  It makes a nice division point across the garden and once I added the pleached hornbeams either side, I was really happy with how it worked.
It is a feature much enjoy by Esme as well, she can view the world from on high and growl at it.  It had a few false starts in the 'what shall I grow up this' states.  I currently have a nice couple of clematis that grow up it.  So you can imagine my unhappiness when after the earlier storms of this year the pergola took on a wonky aspect.
It was definitely leaning to the right, not something I want to associate with my garden I can assure you.

Firstly I did a bit of screw tightening.  This helped a little but it was clear that the right front leg was loose in its footings and needed proper attention.  I am not the most DIY of people so I had a moment of 'oh crikey what I am going to do with this?'.  Then I remembered a company I saw on Twitter fairly often that sold thingys to restore leaning fences.  I had a quick search down my timeline and I found them: Post Buddy.  A few twitter messages later and I had the information that I needed to make a decision.  Now I have to say that this system is not designed for fixing wonky pergolas like mine.  The posts on my pergola are quite thin but, importantly, they are set in concrete and that matters as that is the key to success.
A purchase was made and shortly afterwards a long thin, but more heavy than I expected, arrived. I rushed outside, lump hammer and cordless screwdriver in hand and set to work.
and look, look, it has worked.  It is less wonky.  Esme tested it fairly quickly and it withstood her weight and I can give it a gentle waggle and it barely moves.  This is all good........
........ for now; for yes dear reader there is a problem.  A fundamental problem, for not only is there something rotten in the state of Denmark (Hamlet) there is something very rotten about the pergola.  To say its days are numbered is accurate.  It will shortly be irreparable and then I will have to make a decision.  Do I replace like with like or should I just extend the pleached hornbeams?

Time, as ever, which includes a huge dose of whim, will tell.

and of course when writing this all I can think about is Ant and Dec playing Wonky Donky.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The descent of winter

Finally Winter has made its presence felt.  It has been mild and rainy for so many weeks.  We had the odd frost but generally nothing serious and nothing that has lasted until lunchtime.  Now we have the real thing, firstly a sprinkling of snow and then that real frost that gets into the soil and locks everything solid.
It is the time of year when the Knot Garden gets a dusting of frost.  I always think that frost and snow work really well with the Knot Garden, how they cling to the Box hedging gives it an added dimension.
As I wander out of the front garden and into the drive I start to think about the different microclimates the garden has.  Only a few steps and there is a real difference in the amount of frost.  The top end of the drive near the house is quite open and the frost and ice always fix deeply.  This Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem' is looking pretty with its iced leaves, but is definitely shivering.
I then turn to go to the back garden.  I pass the Petunia exserta that has been living on top of the boiler for the summer.  Maybe this heat has helped it keep going?  It does look rather ethereal with the steam (fumes??) that are coming out of the boiler exhaust.
By the pond of the first of the crocii are emerging.
The pond itself has a thick layer of ice covering it for the first time this winter.
As I turn and look behind me there is a clear line where the sun has touched the grass.  The side boundary sheltered by the trees that make up the hedge.
The Prunus Ben-chidori is quite frozen.
The Winter Honeysuckle has that frozen/translucent look about it, a bit watery but still hanging together.
and as ever the Tree Peony looks amazing when covered in frost.  I think this plant is almost worth growing for when it starts to grow, never mind its beautiful flowers that come later.
The Pond Border gets quite heavy frost, it is more central in the garden and has less to protect it.  These sedums give really good structure at this time of year.  I have added more in this year as I like the way they repeat down the border.  It was one of those better moments of thinking that I have had.  I have read a fair amount by and of Gertrude Jekyll in my time and the notion of rhythm in repeat planting along a border is something I can fully subscribe to.  I do not often get it right, but for the sedums I think I might have.
But best of all on days like this is when the sun starts to sweep down the garden.  Where I am standing now, directly behind the Conservatory Border, is the last place the sun touches in the day.  The garden slowly defrosts in line with the sun.  Plants at the top of the garden will open their flowers a couple of hours before the ones down here near the house.  Yet this corner is not too harsh, plants grow here well and when the sun does arrive it lingers here the longest.  It is no coincidence that I am standing next to the wine bench, where I like to sit on warm summer evenings and catch the last of the sun with a cheeky glass of red.

Ah summer, so far away, your time will come.  For now I am enjoying this period of stillness caused by the frost.  The garden needs a moment to stop and think as do I.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

and then it snowed

Yes the first snowfall of this winter has arrived in this corner of Leicester.  After weeks of grey mild rain, the temperature suddenly did a dive.  We had a couple of practice frosts and then went straight for the white stuff.
This photo was taken before it was totally light, it was my first opening of the curtains to see if we had had the promised snow.  There was more than I had expected, dare I say hope for?  Yes, I can say hoped for.  Snowing on a Sunday when I have no plans fits into the childish remembrance of snow as exciting.  Come tomorrow morning when I have to drive to work my grown up remembrance of snow as dangerous, disruptive and just plain cold will be back in place, but for this  brief day I allow myself a romantic view of the white stuff.

I also can forgive it much as the Knot Garden responds well to snow.  As commented to a twitter friend, it hides a multitude of sins.  From the above angle the baby cypress trees can be seen quite clearly.  I have big hopes for these trees as the Knot Garden needs some work this year.  I predict the buying of more gravel......
Once the daylight had finally arrived (or should I say I finally got up and greeted the world properly), I rushed outside to take snowy photographs before it started to thaw and got walked on too much.
However in a household that contains four cats (only three ever really go out) it is impossible to find completely unwalked on snow.  It looks like its been a busy night of poddling up and down front path this morning.
The snow has settled on this invading bramble, making it briefly a feature before I remove it.
Snow is good on thorny plants, this Rosa Rugosa which is in real need of cutting back is looking beautiful with its arching stems.
Further along the garden on the other side where the boundary is largely made up of trees, this Rosa Kiftsgate is also arching its way along.  I planted this rose a few years ago fully in the knowledge that it was a beast of a plant.  It has been slow to establish but is now starting to romp around the boundary.  It is more effective than barbed wire and infinitely more beautiful.
Less spikey, but no less structural, the Prairie Borders look a little lumpy but the dead stems of the echinops work well to give height and form at this time.
The grasses that edge the pond make a great foreground to the frozen water.
Before the thaw sets in, the Katsura Tree is picked out in white.
The Four Sisters are comfortable in their blanket of snow and are accompanied by Esme, who was having great fun chasing up and down the garden as I took these photographs.  She seemed completely unconcerned by the snow even though this will be the first time she has encountered it.
A step back shows the pleached hornbeams looking good in the snow and the now slightly less wonky pergola not looking too bad.  Here, again, the snow is hiding a lot.
The Long Shoots remains one of my favourite parts of the garden.  I love this view of it in particular.  I never tidy up the borders very quickly and partly this in the hope of days like this, where the dead stems hold the snow and hopefully protect the hibernating insects (sadly slugs too, but we cannot pick and choose these things).
Whilst I know that this snow is not going to help the already saturated soil, I can pause for a moment: watch the little brown cat, and enjoy this snowy day.
I then decided that my hands were freezing and my feet were going the same way. One final look up to appreciate this cold day and it was time to go indoors.