Thursday, 31 March 2016

End of Month Review - March 2016

March was probably the driest month so far this year, until in recent days we have had the return of the rain and some blustery weather and some (now getting a bit late) frost.
There has also been sunshine and Spring-like days.  This photograph is partly to show off the blue sky but also to show the magnolia bud that has cast off its furry coat and is getting ready to open.
The Rhamnus in the front garden is also going from strength to strength.  After years of being in a pot it has finally put its roots down and decided to shine.
The Knot Garden is looking ok and has had its Spring removal of dead stalks etc.  It will soon be needing its first hair cut of the year, but not yet, not yet.
In the gravel garden a lone forget-me-not is starting to flower.  Experience tells me that forget-me-nots rarely remain lonely for long.  I love them, but they do seed around very freely.
The dalek pot is currently home to some Narcissus Elka.  I am very fond of this pretty little daffodil and it works very well in a pot.
In the Wild Garden last year's planting of Narcissus 'February Gold' has also proved to be a good idea.
The first pinpoints of blue of the muscari can also be seen.
The Long Shoot looks like the grass will need mowing soon.
The borders have had their Spring tidy up and look sparse and scrappy.
The peonies are starting to show (ignore the allium seedlings that pop up everywhere).
The Rheum is also putting out its bright red new leaves.
These anemones have been flowering for weeks.  They self-seed around gently, this is welcome.
The Spring Border is awash with flowering hellebores and daffodils.
The Woodland Border/Bog Garden is also looking quite flat as it waits for the new growth for this year.
I currently spend quite a bit of time staring at this patch of ground as I await the return of  the Chrysosplenium macrophyllum I bought last year from Crug Farm Nursery.  I know it is there somewhere, but will it return?
The Prairie Borders have been cut down now ready for their spring growth.  They look dreadful this time of year.  It is a good time of year for getting on top of the weeds in these borders, that is what I keep telling myself anyway.
Close by the Aldi acers are getting ready to have their moment to shine.  This one has really got quite large, I think it has doubled in size since planting and it is a very good tree.
The amalanchier (not from Aldi) is getting ready to flower.  
The edgeworthia looks like it wants to flower, but still needs some encouragement.
and the twisted hazel is covered in catkins this year.  I am extremely fond of this shrub, it must be around 15/16 years old as it spent its early years in a pot.  It has become a very fine shrub and has such a beautiful form.
In the top corner of the Wild Garden the hyacinths are flowering.
and there are still some snowdrops.
In the Courtyard the Viburnum is flowering away and giving out its wonderful scent.
and in the borders the first tulip has opened.  How exciting is that?
I finish on the pond, which is getting a bit of an algae-thing going on, so that will need some attention.  It is also filling up nicely with frogspawn.  It is, thanks to all the rain, very full.

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Product Review: Solar path lights and party festoon from Festive Lights

I like to have lights in my garden but I do not like to have electric cables.  This means if you visit my garden you will see that  I use solar lights and over the years I have experienced the many levels of function (good and bad) from these products.  I was contacted recently by Festive Lights to see if I would like to trial a couple of their products.  I am always on the look out for good solar lights so I agreed.

Firstly I shall talk about the path stake lights.  I live close to a city centre yet my nook is not close to street lighting.  No bad thing I hear some of you say and  I agree except that when it is dark it is very dark.  The front pathway into the house in particular can be very dark and whilst we know the way into the house it is not great for visitors.
The first thing that struck me about these lights was the weight.  As mentioned above I have purchased many solar lights and most (if not all) have been made of plastic.  These lights have a sturdy glass lantern.  I was already impressed and hopeful that they would give as good light as such quality might indicate.  When setting them up I did something I rarely do, I read the instructions.  What instructions might such lights need you ask?  Well, the key seems to be to switch them off and let them charge for a day or two before letting them switch on.
I was hugely impressed by the results and love the pattern that the light makes.  I placed these near the coal bunker so that we have a bit of light when we go to get coal in for the fire in the evening.  They are too pretty for this really but they do work very well.  They retail usually at £19.99, as I write this I can see they are currently reduced to £15.99* which I think is a bargain.  

Secondly I received a festoon of party lights.  These are plastic bulbs which feel very light but also are very sensible.  If I have a string of lights in my garden I do not want to worrying that the glass bulbs will knock into each other and smash creating a broken glass hazard in my garden. 

I strung the lights over the pergola so that they would light the way to the Dancing Lawn.  
Again I followed the instructions about letting the battery charge for a couple of days before switch on.  It is quite remarkable how following the instructions really helps things work.  One day I will learn from this.
I know these photographs are not great, but it shows the lights working as night falls.  They do not give off a huge amount of light but they do look pretty and that, let's face it, is the aim.  All I need now is a solar disco glitter ball to hang off the apple tree.  These usually retail at £19.99 and again, are currently on a promotion at £12.59*.  I think they are good value.

Festive Lights is a family run firm based in Lancashire. They started selling Christmas lights (hence the name) but now sell home, decorative and garden lighting.  The company boasts ‘Gold Trusted Merchant’ status from independent reviewer Feefo, which recognises consistently excellent customer service. It’s also a member of the ‘Google Certified Shop’ programme, demonstrating a company that provides reliable dispatch and an outstanding shopper experience.

Both sets of light have now been functioning in my garden for a week.  I am very pleased with them and I can fully recommend them.

*Price promotion states it has five days still left to run.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Graveyard flowers

The other day I was reading an article in the Guardian written by Alys Fowler about what to plant on a damp grave.  This coincided with a recent conversation I had when wandering around a graveyard looking at snowdrops and primroses.  As we walked through the graveyard we discussed the various mementos that had been left in memory of loved ones.  Some contained baskets of primroses, some had some dwarf lime-green conifers.  Others had plastic wreaths still there from Christmas and other assorted plastic flowers and ornaments.  All of these are valid ways to remember those no longer with us, but it did start a conversation about what I would want and definitely not want on my grave.
The conversation was purely an exercise in discussion as I have been clear with my family that burial is not for me.  I want scattering (they know where) and I want a bench with my name on it (they know the phrase it has to contain), but this still did not stop me considering what would make me spin like a top and what would be acceptable.  As with most things, this is not something I would want leaving to chance.

I think hellebores are a good starting point as they flower at the most grey time of year.  They bring a smile and are tough as old boots.  If I was lucky they would self-seed around and spread a bit of happiness.  Hellebores are definitely on the list.  I would also like some snowdrops and primroses.  This time of year I would want colour.  As the season develops then I would like some simple wild flowers preferably in some long grass, a mini-meadow would suit me just fine.  I would insist on a poppy or three, but that is because even in death I will still be that predictable.  (Not wishing to stretch this too far, I would be totally predictable as my ability to do much would be limited).

Have I mused too much on this?  Probably, but a wander around a pretty graveyard is something I do rather enjoy.  I like that they become havens for wildlife and wildflowers.  I like reading the headstones and thinking about the lives that are no longer with us.  I wonder about the families you see buried together and think about what their stories might have been.

and Alys's suggestion of Primula florindae is a fine one, I could almost be persuaded to be buried in such a place.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

An afternoon at Canons Ashby

I first visited Canons Ashby about twenty years ago so when the chance came to visit again I thought it was probably about time that I did.  I could not remember much about the house/garden, except I did have an idea that there was some topiary.

I was right, there is indeed topiary and it provides a good view point up to the house.
and again from the other angle:
it takes the eye well down from the house, across the gardens and out into the borrowed landscape.
These large yew pillars make a good frame for the bench and the church behind.  The church, St Mary's, is the remains of the priory from which the house takes its name.  It is the only part of the priory left and it is not a large church.  It is, however, a rare private church as it belongs to the Dryden family who have owned the house since the sixteenth century.  The property is now owned by the National Trust but the family still live in part of the house.
There was a quick digression into the church, the painting around this window is rather fine.

Back to the gardens:  the gardens are not particularly large, but they are beautifully maintained.
The vegetable borders are waiting to be filled.
There is also a rather nice, not too fancy but very effective, knot garden.  I always take time to look at knot gardens as I seek inspiration on how to improve mine.
I found this rather handsome lion hiding in a corner. His name is not Baby, I know this as no one puts Baby in the corner (sorry ........not sorry).
They like lions, these gates are very smart.
The lawn at the side of the house is dominated by these huge yew shapes and the statue of a shepherd. The story is that this shepherd was murdered by Royalist soldiers in the Civil War for keeping watch on behalf of some Parliamentary soldiers.  The family supported the Parliamentary cause and the statue is to remember the shepherd's loyalty.
It is not the largest National Trust garden you can visit, but it is interesting.   A garden that is worth seeing this time of year is one that is definitely worth revisiting soon.   I hope I will visit again before another twenty years passes by.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

A capite ad columbam

I have a fondness for statues, I like looking at them and pondering.  So many times I visit large country houses and there is a lion eating a dragon on a plinth over there and a woman pretending to be a sphinx over there.  I also like when they get a bit worn, it shows the passage time and gives them a feeling of becoming part of the fabric of the garden.  So when I visit a garden with statues I will spend time considering them.
For exhibit A I give you 'bint with a dove'.  I do not know her name, but if you look closely you can see that the bird has a new head.  This could mean that the head just dropped off or that maybe, the dreaded stone dove head thief has been in action again.  Either option is likely.

Then I took a step to the side and realised.....
She is standing on a duck.  Well ok, it might not be a duck, it might be a swan but I think it looks like a duck as who would stand on a swan?  Everyone knows a swan can break your leg with its wing; yet this seems little justification to go and stand on a duck instead.  I became rather disturbed the more I thought about this.  She is also rather careless with her clothing, if she spent less time standing on ducks she might have realised that she had a wardrobe malfunction.   I was shocked and so moved on.
This bint, clearly a relative, was standing on a fish.  It is a big fish, but a fish nonetheless.  There are clothing issues here too.  They really need to focus more on what matters as I fear they will catch their death.
Then there was this chap.  He was also scantily clad but thankfully had not let anything slip that might scare the horses.  He is also obviously a gardener as he has a spade and a random jar of something that has been knocked over.  This is perfectly understandable as after a closer look it would appear he had cut his big toe off, probably with the spade.  I think digging in a wispy loin cloth is dangerous and there are probably health and safety guidelines to prevent such things these days.

On the plus side, at least he isn't standing on a fish.

Notes:   

1)  The latin translation is courtesy of an online translation page.  I have never been taught any latin so if it is incorrect I would not be surprised.  I am fairly hopeful it does not say anything rude though.

2)  I considered doing a bit of research into imagery and what standing on a duck means, but it turns out life is too short for such things.  The best I managed was that the bint standing on a duck might be Leda, she had good reason to stand on a swan.  The bint with a fish might be Aphrodite.  The man however I cannot reach a conclusion about, I vaguely thought Bacchus but there does not appear to be enough grapes so any suggestions are welcome, .

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Book review - Living on One Acre or Less by Sally Morgan

I was invited to attend the launch of Sally Morgan's new book 'Living on One Acre or Less' published by Green Books.  The book was launched at the Edible Garden Show, which was an apt venue to choose.
It is really difficult to review a book like this without referring to Tom and Barbara from The Good Life, well it is is you are me anyway, as that series was hugely influential in making a lot of people think about being self-sufficient.  Yes it was not hugely realistic but it planted an idea.  I have to also hold my hand up and say that in the Tom and Barbara scheme of things, I am a Margot.  I grow more flowers than vegetables and my vegetable growing is not that proficient.  I grow easy stuff that I like to eat, its a principle that works for me.  So you might wonder what could this book bring to me.  Well quite a lot as it is full of incredibly practical advice.

The book starts by explaining how to use the book, it takes you through planning your plot, which is very important as that helps you make the full use from the space that you have.  There is also a chapter on soil.  At the launch of the book Sally talked about the importance of soil and that if you do not get that right then you seriously jeopardise any chance of long term success so we are talked through the importance of composting and crop rotation.  The book then moves into growing produce and finally into keeping livestock.  It is an unglamorous, realistic view of keeping livestock, this is particularly demonstrated in the section on keeping bees.  I say this as I would never dream of keeping a goat or a pig, but I sometimes harbour thoughts about keeping bees.  I have suspected it is not as straightforward as I would like to think and Sally confirms this in her book.  This is good and useful information as the romantic thinkers like myself need to be encouraged to think about what such things really entail.

The growing produce section is particularly useful.  Sally talks us through extending the seasons and companion planting.  There is also a very interesting section on forest gardening and how to use every part of your garden for food including the hedges.

I enjoyed reading the book and I learned a lot.  I will remain a Margot but I know more now about the practical side of growing food and I might even get a little more adventurous.  If you are interested in making the most from your edible plot then this book is for you.  It is written from experience and good sound knowledge.  I can fully recommend it.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The quinquennial of the quince hedge

Way back when in 2011, when this blog was quite new and the garden was five years younger, I wrote a short piece on the quince hedge I planted in front of the house under the lounge window.  At that point it was a scrubby row of twigs rather than anything resembling a hedge.

http://www.blackberrygarden.co.uk/2011/03/quince-hedge.html

I was also at that point pondering a second pond.  This pond never came to be and is now the site of the bog garden and the woodland border.  I remain glad that the pond idea faded.

A couple of years on and I updated on the hedge and the non-existant pond.

http://www.blackberrygarden.co.uk/2014/03/the-quince-hedge-revisited.html

I was then having aspirations of a heather spur.  It was a short lived aspiration.  I still have some heather in the extended border but it has never quite taken in the way that I wanted.  I need to return to this idea at some point as it has been a disappointment.  The quince hedge was not hugely impressive in how it had developed either, but I persevered.

Another year passes and it is the 2015 update.

http://www.blackberrygarden.co.uk/2015/03/the-quince-hedge-again.html

The hedge is sort of getting there.  It was starting to put on some real growth by this point and I was starting to be able to trim it into shape a bit.  Now this trimming helps hugely as it encourages it to branch out more.  The more branching it does the more I need to trim it a little again.  This is all good.

and now?  well now it is still not a hedge, but it is definitely improving.
This might not look like much to you, but this is the quince reaching over the windowsill.  I trim it to keep it at windowsill height and every time I do this now there are more branches to be trimmed.

This makes me happy.
It has also been in flower for weeks and weeks now, since November in fact.  This is very good, it is a great attractor for bees and so very useful in the months when flowers are fewer in the garden.
No, its not quite a hedge, but it is more hedgy.  I am hopeful it will be even better when I report back next year.