Saturday, 30 April 2016

End of Month Review - April 2016

April has been really quite cold and there has been a few frosts.  Whilst this is not unusual, it is still worrying to have frost this late and it means that the greenhouse is still full over-wintering tenders.  I need to get them out of the greenhouse and get sowing in earnest.  There has been a bit of sowing but not very much really.

Anyhoo, to the garden, well actually the driveway to start with.
I planted some cowslips in the driveway last year and they are now flowering well.  The soil is incredibly poor and I think they rather like it.
The front lawn has has its first cut of the year.  You will notice that I have missed a stripe, this is where the winter aconites are, I am letting them stay in leaf a bit longer so that they gain more strength.
The Knot Garden looks knotty.
The quince hedge looks quincy but not very hedgy, but it is getting there.
The Rosa Gertrude Jekyll by the front door has buds developing.
and the lilac that I usually prune badly so it flowers erratically is having a flowering year this year.
In the gravel garden the species tulips just need a bit of sun to open them.
The cardoon, which I see as the gatekeeper to the back garden, is getting rather large.
I had just cut the lawns before I took these photographs, the Burtonesque Curl is showing rather well at the moment.
The view across the formal lawn is getting more colourful.
The Courtyard planting has had a bit of a shift around.
I bought this Prunus Kojo-no-mai a few weeks ago and I am really pleased it has flowered.  I have tried with this shrub before and killed it, so this time it is in a pot for now in the Courtyard.  I love the name of it, it sounds like Judoon language to me.
In the borders the Spring reliables are doing their thing.  I love this doronicum and tulip combination.
The Spring Border is still full of flowering hellebores, daffodils and Erythronium Pagoda.
These Red Shine tulips have been flowering year on year for some time now.  They are a great favourite.
The Woodland Border/Bog Garden is also quite colourful at the moment.
There are lots of primulas, forget me nots and the Veratrum album I bought last year is surviving slug attacks.
In the Wild Garden the Magnolia Leonard Messel has been flowering for a couple of weeks.  It has got a little frosted but it is standing up to the cold rather well.
The amalanchier is doing very well this year,
as is the Iford Cherry.  This poor cherry had a hard start in life as it was relocated three times due to the great tree disaster of 2014.  Staying in the same place for a full year has helped it hugely.
There are lots of white bluebells this year.  I have always steered around them hoping to encourage them.  Now I have lots, I am not convinced they needed any encouragement.
One of the Aldi acers is flowering.  This is a great tree and fantastic this time of year.
The Illicium simonsii is also flowering.  This is just such a good shrub.  Everyday I look at it I am glad that I bought it, it is that good a shrub.
In the Tree Lupin Border the Fatsia 'Spiders Web' bought the other day is waving merrily at me everytime I walk past.  It is a like a big green hand (too many fingers I know, shush) waving away.
I am loving this tulip that is also in the Tree Lupin Border.  It is gone over a bit now, but it is still a joy.
The Four Sisters are happy enough.  The Carol Klein acer is doing very well.  One of the joys of living in this house/garden for several years is that plants are maturing and settling in.  Carol's acer is a prime example of this.
and the Boy Who Waited is now overseeing the fernery.  What I hear you say?  What fernery?  Well this is a funny corner of the garden.  At one point there was a large sump hole here for a stream that never was.  When I filled in the stream I also filled in the sump hole and there it has sat, generally full of nettles, ever since.  I knew it was a shady damp corner and there are already some hellebores keeping the Boy company.  So I bought a few ferns the other day and popped them in.  It might work....
The veg beds look like they are waiting.  They have been weeded and dug over and each had a bag of manure added.  There are potatoes in two of the beds (you can't tell yet) and I have sown peas, cobra beans and sweetcorn in the greenhouse for putting out later.
I end as ever on the pond.  Dear me I hear you say, what on earth is up with the pond?  It is a green slimy mess.  There is a tale behind this but it is not really for full telling yet as I am hoping for a positive outcome.  I'm hoping when it warms up a bit it will clear.  Failing that I will be buying barley straw again as I find that works really well.  It is full of tadpoles so they can't mind the slime too much.

Thanks to Helen for hosting this meme.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Watch your back! Charlie Dimmock talks about sunscreen and answers The Questions

I was approached to see if I would help promote the campaign that Charlie Dimmock is fronting urging gardeners and particularly male gardeners in their 50s to check their sunscreen habits.  Charlie Dimmock says; “gardening is a wonderful pastime and getting active outdoors is a positively healthy thing to do at any age, however we ALL need to be more aware of the dangers of the sun. Men especially can be reluctant when it comes to applying sunscreen, visiting their doctor or checking their skin for signs of change. With this attitude not only do we all risk melanoma, but all other sun related cancers”.   More information on this can be found here:

There are going to be a series of 'Watch Your Back Clinics being hosted at some garden centres, please check local press for details.  The first ones start on Saturday 30th April 2016.
I have to admit that I could not resist asking Charlie a cheeky favour (on the premise that if you don't ask you don't get) and she very kindly agreed to answer The Questions.  

The Questions
In which garden do you feel happiest?
My own, there's something lovely and relaxing about pottering.
If you could only have five gardening tools, which would they be?
I'm taking this to be hand tools.....! So a good pair of secateurs, a border fork, a combination hand hoe, a rake and a folding pruning saw.
If you could only have five garden-related books, which would they be?
 This is going to be broad brush strokes - a good reference book like RHS encyclopaedia of plants and gardening, plant catalogues - covering all - so seeds, bulbs, trees, perennials, shrubs etc. that I get annually.  And a couple of big 'coffee table' books with beautiful pictures of gardens and plants from all round the world.
What are you most proud of?
I don't know about proud.... but meeting Nelson Mandela was pretty amazing and very, very special.
If you won the lottery, what would you do?
I don't know, nothing too outrageous (sorry), I'm quite sensible really .... out friends and family financially, pay off my mortgage that type of thing. 
Who are your garden heroes (no more than three)
My grandad, Jim Saunders and I have to say Mr Titchmarsh – Alan was so lovely encouraging and helpful to Tommy and I when we were doing Ground Force – he gave us lots of advice and help especially when it came to the TV side of things.
What skill would you like to learn and why (does not have to be gardening related)
I would love to be able to sew/knit/crochet well – I really enjoy doing craft type projects when I have time and for me those skills are a little lacking to say the least!
If you could visit any garden right this minute, which one would it be?
Gardens by the Bay – Singapore, I was out there last year and unfortunately only had 4 hours there which was nowhere near enough time, I only managed to do the biomes and that was at a rush – so next time (if there is one) I’d love to spread it out over 3-4 days making sure I’m not rushed and its broken up into sections otherwise it gets a bit too overwhelming.
What is your current plant obsession?
Succulents, annual climbers and growing flowering plants in the veg patch so I can cut them for the house without feeling guilty.
Which garden tool is never far from your hand?
Secateurs – I do end up using them for many jobs that they are not designed for, opening tins of paint etc., cutting wire/string, tightening up screws, opening bags of potting compost etc.  Needless to say most of my secateurs have damaged blades.
What do you wish you could do better?
Writing – I get asked to write articles, tips, blogs and such like and I find it a real chore, so tend to put it off until the last minute which then leads to it being even more like hard work.
What makes a perfect day for you?
Being at home on a lovely sunny spring day, spending time in the garden pottering, while drinking lots of tea and listening to Radio 4, going out for a late lunch at a local pub with mates and then spending the afternoon/early evening sat in the garden wrapped up warm reading a book.
Gnome or no-gnome?
Personally- some gnomes yes, some gnomes no, at the end of the day you put what makes you happy in your own garden – I do have gnomes in my garden – they’re not painted just stone and they have a little humour to them.

and finally, this is the ten point Gardeners Sun Safety Code: 

1.       Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF30 and a sunblock on your ears and lips. Re-apply both every hour or so as their effects will be reduced by sunlight.
2.       Limit time spent outside in sunny weather and try and stay out of direct sunlight between 11.00am and 4.00pm.
3.       Wear clothing that protects arms, legs and hands – ideally choose a UVP branded product as this will offer higher protection.  Remember that not all colours provide the same amount of protection; wear darker colours as these will stop more of the sun’s rays than lighter colours.
4.       Plan gardening activities in advance during hot, sunny weather.  Set time aside to do indoor or shed tasks between 10am and 2pmwhen the sun is at its very hottest.
5.       If you are prone to sweating, choose a highly water resistant sunscreen; I recommend the type sportspeople wear.
6.       Don’t forget your sunscreen on overcast days; dangerous UVA and UVB rays still make their way through the clouds and dramatically increase the risk of developing melanoma.
7.       Sunscreens do not offer 100% protection and should be used in addition to protective clothing. 
8.       When working in a greenhouse or conservatory, glass will not offer you protection from harmful rays.
9.       The shade offers protection but you are still in danger of ‘reflective radiation’ so ensure that your skin is protected, wherever you are in the garden.
10.    Your forehead, scalp and ears are high risk areas for melanoma, and even more so if you are bald or have thinning hair so don a suitable hat with a legionnaire flap at the back. This will also protect your hair from drying out and becoming brittle too.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Watching the Edgeworthia

I have been fairly obsessed with Edgeworthia chrysantha since the moment I first saw one.  They have the most amazing scent and flower early enough in the year to mean that they will not go unnoticed.  I have owned several and I have killed a few (but then again, too few to mention...).  I had one that lived in a pot quite successfully for years until I moved to this house.  I then planted it in the garden and killed it.  I think I tried again after that to no avail so this one that I bought in 2013 was pretty much a last attempt.

I planted it in the most sheltered part of the garden where it forms one of the four sisters.  Every year I watch it carefully, hoping that it does not die in the winter and hoping that it might flower in the Spring.

So far in terms of not dying it is 100% successful, it is not dead.

In terms of flowering, well that has all got a bit exciting this year.  Let me demonstrate:
The first sign that the bud that had been promising much but doing little was actually going to perform.
Two florets opened and it was suddenly looking really possible.
A bug joined in to see what the fuss was about.
I reckon that is four.
Four and a bit?
Six and a bit and enough that I can actually smell the wonderful scent.
But then, alas and alack, a retrograde step.
and back we go to nearly the start.  But it is ok, I am not downhearted in fact I am happy.  Yes I will be anxiously watching the edgeworthia again all next winter, but I shall also be excitedly awaiting flowers as now I know they are possible.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

An April Plant Fair

You know that moment when you realise you have been visiting somewhere for over five years and had not really thought it was that long?  I think it goes hand in hand with thinking that police officers are getting younger and not being sure if your doctor is really old enough.

So, five years on from the first plant fair I visited at Swines Meadow Farm Nursery owned by my good friends Colin and Karan.  The first time I visited their April plant fair it rained, hailed and blew a freezing gale.  Today started with frost, it is clearly a cold weekend generally.  I have bought many plants from Colin and Karan, direct from their nursery, at plant fairs elsewhere and from talks that they have given. I buy from them because their plants are good and reliable, they are well priced and, probably most important of all, they are nice people.  Also, let us not forget, that it was through them that I got Bruce, my beautiful big ginger cat.
So, what did I buy today:
A Ribes odoratum, I had been wanting one of these for a while so as soon as I saw it I grabbed at it.  The bees were loving it and it is now lighting up a sunny spot at the top of the garden.
A Mukgenia Terra Nova Flame.  I have to say I had not heard of this plant but I really liked the shape of the foliage and the flowers are good.
You may notice the ghost-paw of Esme at the top of the picture, heaven forbid I should photograph something other than her!  The plant is a hybrid a bergenia and a Mukdenia 'Crimson Fan',  it is now planted in the Spring border and I am now a bit of a fan.
This is a Woodwardia fimbriata.  I have been buying a few ferns recently as I have been developing a fernery.  No you have not been told about this before, but I shall probably include it in my End of Month Review depending on how it is coming along.
This is a Fatsia japonica 'Spiders Web'.  I do not like this plant very much generally.  Hold on a second you say, why buy a plant you do not like?  Well, as ever, context is everything.  I saw one of these last year at Great Dixter in their exotic garden and it looked fandabbydozy.  Anyone would think that they knew a thing or two about planting!  I can only dream about getting anywhere a fraction as good as what they achieve.
I also chose carefully which one I wanted.  This one is not too webby and I like it better than most of its type.  I do actually like it - honest!  (protesting a little too much now maybe....)  Anyhoo, it is now planted in the Tree Lupin border, shortly to become the Exotic Border.
Lastly and definitely not leastly, the Stauntonia hexaphylla.  The scent of this plant was filling the greenhouse in the nursery.
It has superb foliage,
and some of the most amazingly scented flowers you will ever come across.  I don't think it is totally hardy so it has been moved to a larger pot and placed in the Courtyard.  This is the perfect setting for it as the smallness of  the space traps the scent.  One thing I must say is that the scent really is powerful. Possibly a bit too powerful for driving home with on a warmish Spring day.  I did have to open the car window after a while.  As soon as I got it home and placed it in the Courtyard the bees found it.  I take this as a good sign.

So, a fine haul and a chance to catch up with good friends.  A fine way to spend a day.