Thursday, 29 September 2016

End of Month Review - September 2016

September has come to a close quite mildly, a bit rainily and fairly sunnily.  In some ways it is clearly autumn, the nights are longer and there is a bit of a chill in the mornings.  Yet in other ways autumn feels a little late.  There is some leaf-fall but it has hardly kicked in properly just yet.  It feels like autumn is holding its breath......
The Knot Garden at the front of the house looks ok.  I'm back to worrying about it a bit again.  I feel like the need for a change but I don't know what it is that I want to do.  I do want to kill off that patch of crocosmia in the foreground right corner, but it resists all attempts to remove it at the moment.
At the side of the house the sharpies are still looking ok.  They have grown quite a bit this year and as soon as it gets a bit more chilly I shall bring them in for the winter.
The pots at the entrance to the back garden are also still looking good.  The echiums at the front make me very happy.  I shall coddle them all winter to keep them alive.
The Long Shoot is looking quite colourful.
I love this view of the Pond Border.  The large perennial sunflower is a total thug.  I grew it from seed and originally I had three clumps in this border but they began to totally take over.  I removed two and I dig up lots of this remaining clump every spring.  It is a great plant, it stands up without staking, it flowers late in the season and flowers for weeks.  Once it is dead the stalks will remain upright until I remove them in the spring.  Best of all, this time of year it is the first plant to catch the morning sun.  I look out of the window and the yellow is shining like a beacon.  It is just a fab plant.
The Conservatory Border has been a bit scrappy this year, but it looks ok.
The Prairie Borders are at their blondest.
The Exotic Borders has bananas in it, so it must be exotic.  The tithonia and sunflowers are still flowering well.
They have had a row though, they are clearing turning their backs on each other.
The Woodland Border is good in parts.  It does suffer from a lack of shade, which is a fairly vital part of a woodland border.  Ho hum.
and the fernery, which to the trained eye might look like a few ferns surrounded by weeds, is, well, a bit weedy but actually making me happy nonetheless.
This is one of the beech pillars.  After nine years of growing they are starting to take a bit of shape.  They were 18 inch twigs when they were planted, I have had to be patient. I do now clip them to keep them at a height and a diameter.  I am hopeful that this will help them thicken out a bit.
The Wild Garden has had its first cut of the year.  It only gets mowed two or three times a year.  I need to rake it quite hard and then I shall sow some more yellow rattle into it.  I think it really did help the grass not be so tall this year so I need to persevere.
The Carol Klein Acer has got badly wind-burned.  It has never got this burned before and I am not sure if we have had wind from an unusual direction (not a euphemism) or if we have just had more wind than usual for this time of year (also not a ephemism).  Either way she looks a bit poorly.
The edgeworthia on the other hand, is looking good.  It is maturing really well and becoming quite a large shrub.  There are quite a lot of flower buds forming so I am hoping for a good display in the spring.
and whilst autumn might be holding its breath before the great leaf-fall, the Magnolia Leonard Messel is already forming its flowers for the next spring.  Its enough to make me hold a lion cub up in the air and start singing about the circle of life.....
The pleached hornbeams have done well this year.  I have trimmed them fairly often this year and I think this has helped them get more bushy.
The Courtyard is still quite colourful too.  The fuchsia Thalia is giving a flash of red and the hydgrangea Miss Saori, which is still rather small, has flowered very well after a slow start.
I finish on the pond as is traditional, which now has a dolphin on the side.  The dolphin is not in its final position yet, but it is ok there whilst I consider this.

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Revamping the front garden

Just in front of my house is a small border, probably around 3 feet deep and 5 foot long.  It is quite a warm border but it suffers from the dry margin that the house creates.  When I first moved into the house it was dominated by a large lilac, a red rose and a ceanothus.  Now I like a good ceanothus but this one was too large and was blocking out light from the window.  I gave it a drastic prune and it responded by drastically dying.  This was no great loss and I resolved to replace it elsewhere in the garden, nine years later I still haven't got around to this.

I have planted odd bits in this border, some to better effect than others.  There is now a climbing Gertrude Jekyll rose by the door which is a pure delight.  I also planted a white japanese anemone that winds its flowers through the red rose and works very well.  A couple of years ago I planted some fuchsias and hellebores in the border and they have also worked well.  Finally there is a myrtle by the front door.  This is important, if you plant a myrtle by the front door it means you will always return home safely (apparently/allegedly).
The border though suffers dreadfully from couch grass.  No matter how much I weed, and I do often, it romps around.  It has smothered various other attempts at planting and so I decided enough was enough.  Yes, dear reader, I glyphosated it.  What what you say!  This is not a good thing to do, well no it isn't but needs must when the devil drives.  It is not near any food growing and, quite frankly, for me it was the best solution (no pun intended) (well, maybe a little).

A few weeks ago I also took some divisions of various plants in the back garden.  I had determined that this revamp of the front garden would not cost me any money.  I potted up the divisions and lo and behold they sprouted quite well.
There are some astrantias, euphorbias and some hesperanta.

It was time to clear the detritus from border and replant.
I can tell you are peering at the photograph. I admit it does not look much better yet......
.....but I have faith that it will.  Whilst I vaguely think that revamping ought to involve vampires, in reality I think I have given this border some bones from which I can now build on.

Time will tell.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Irritating Plant of the Month - September 2016

This month I am irritated by Ricinus.  What what! you say, careful now, that plant is more than just irritating it is exceptionally poisonous.  Fear not, it is just giving me mild annoyance, nothing more sinister.
So what is this plant doing to annoy, well annoy is too strong a word, it is in truth mildly irritating.  I have three or four of these currently in my Exotic Border.  I love their spikey seed heads but what I really wanted was some big foliage and some height.  Instead they are about 12 inches tall.  The foliage is good, I like the colour.
They are rather lovely, I am being picky but, well, they are just shorter than I'd hoped.  As ever there is always next year to try again.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Kelmarsh Hall Dahlia Festival

I was invited to go along to the recent Kelmarsh Hall Dahlia Festival that took place over two Sundays in September. Kelmarsh is about thirty minutes from where I live and very easily accessible from the A14/A508.  I last visited there around ten years ago and knew I was due a return visit.
The gardens are mainly the product of Nancy Lancaster's vision and her work with Norah Lyndsay and Geoffrey Jellicoe.  These three people shaped the garden as it looks today and the trust that now owns the house and gardens aims to continue these gardens as they would have.
Nancy Lancaster is reknown for leading the 'English Country House' look, she liked her gardens to be soft, billowing and nostalgically romantic.  The above photo is of the Fan Garden, that allegedly Norah Lyndsay marked out with a wave of her parasol.  It is full of old English roses.  The field beyond hides a buried medieval village.  Nancy had this view cleared of some farm buildings that she  felt spoiled the view to the church.  Local tales also hinted that she might have wanted to move the church too, but that did not come to be.
Close by the Fan Garden is this intriguing arch in the hedge.  They have recently found some steps leading down into a small enclosed area which they believe was the site of a scented garden.  They are going to try and recreate the idea in this space, which is all rather exciting.  Unlike some country house gardens, they have few records of plant lists.  Nancy did leave a journal that does record some of the plants she used and this is used for reference often, but they do not have detailed plans.  The main pictorial record they have are black and white Country Life photographs.  Useful in some ways but it does mean guess the colour.
As you walk around the gardens there is topiary and hedging everywhere.  It has 'good bones'.
There are also some wonderful herringbone paths,
and a very yellow long border.  This border was fantastic, I love yellow in the garden and I thought this was a joy.
The dahlias are grown in the Walled Garden.  It is a huge space, full of colour.  The Dahlia Festival was made up of various events including a tour by the Head Gardener Josh Coyne, a talk on the Dahlias at Kelmarsh by the garden consultant Michele Hickman.  Michele also gave a dahlia clinic in the afternoon and there were flower arranging demonstrations from Emma Wright.
The Walled Garden is split into sections with the dahlias dominating probably about one half of the very large space. Michele explained that dahlias first were grown at Kelmarsh by a previous head gardener who used them for cut flowers in the house.  This meant they built up quite a collection which was then added to by the author Andy Vernon who donated some of his collection.
Now there are many, lots, loads of them.

Almost every colour shape and size you can think of is there, all mixed in well with perennial planting.  Michele gave us tips on how to keep them alive over the winter, but observed that whether you lift them all or leave them in and mulch them there is no perfect way of guaranteeing survival.  This was very reassuring for me as I always lose a couple.
There were even some hiding in this little out of the way area.
I thought it quite unusual to see a dogs' graveyard in the walled garden.  I have seen many such dog headstones but never in a walled garden before.
I liked the lettuce and annual aster section very much.
Outside of the walled garden is this wonderful scent garden.  There are roses and scented pelagoniums and the scent is amazing.
I love these yew hedges with their skirts lifted.  I remembered them from my previous visit and I think they are a great feature.
To the front of the house are these rows of pleached trees.  I remembered standing looking at these for ages last time I was here and they are, very truly, the direct inspiration for my pleached hornbeams.  It was after studying these ones closely I decided I would give it a go.
and this cheeky robin was fluttering around the tables near the tea/coffee/cake sales.  Clever robin.

Kelmarsh is a great garden that is currently in the process of being revamped.  I am hopeful they will not mind me saying, but you can see that there is work in progress in the borders.  It is a real challenge to revamp a garden that is open to the public and I actually quite like seeing a garden that is not completely perfect.  It makes it feel more real.

I loved Kelmarsh, I remembered how much I loved it last time I visited, I berated myself for not visiting sooner and I will not wait another ten years before returning. Next year's Dahlia Festival might be a must-do visit.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Update Product Review - Gtech Cordless Lawnmower

A couple of months ago I wrote a product review for the new Gtech Cordless Lawnmower.  At the time of writing I had two unfinished thoughts that I mentioned.  I mentioned that having two batteries would be my natural preference as to cut all my lawns I needed more than forty minutes worth of power.  The very nice people at Gtech sent me a spare battery, which was kind of them and I am very grateful.  I am now a two flux-capacitor household!  Having two batteries has made the lawnmower an even better experience to use.  I am also going to suggest after using the mower now since June, that I think the batteries sort of mature.  They seem to last longer after a couple of charges.  Before you all fall about laughing and say that such a thing is not possible, I suppose I might just be getting better as using the mower effectively - either way I think it charges better after a couple of goes.

The big question I had in the blog was how would the mower manage with the big mow in September when I mow the Wild Garden.  Well, the big mow is now complete.
The Wild Garden makes up about a third of the garden.  I allow the grass to grow and I mow paths through it.  This year I planted some yellow rattle in it to weaken the grass and this has meant it was not quite as tall as usual.  There are also some perennial geraniums, nettles, thistles and other wildflowers/weeds that provide a great place for wildlife.  Before I can mow this area I have to scythe down the tall weeds/nettles; then I can give it a mow.
It is quite a challenge for any lawnmower.  The Gtech, as previously observed in my review, can be a bit sensitive to grass height so I wondered if it would cope.  I set it at its tallest cutting height as that it what I have to do with my other electric mower.
It coped, it coped well.  It did take a battery and three quarters to do it but I was very pleased with the result.
The next step is I will mow it all again next week on a lower cutting blade.  I only mow the whole garden two or three times a year and I think the two batteries will be needed both times.  I am really pleased with how the mower has worked and the recommendation I made before is confirmed.