Sunday, 30 October 2016

End of Month Review October 2016

As September ended I mused that Autumn was holding its breath, It has now started to exhale.  There is now a real feel of Autumn in the garden and I would go so far as to say it is a good Autumn.  The colour is very good this year but, there has to be a but, it has been a bit on the dry side.  On the day I took the photographs for this post I had to water some recently planted shrubs as it was looking very dry around them.
In the driveway the Pin Oak is starting to colour up.  Whilst there are still lots of nettles, the small gingko has settled in well and the Fuchsia David (I think this one is David) has also done very well this year.
In the front garden the Rhamnus alaternus Argenteovariegata is just a joy.  I know I frequently remark on how it lights up this dark corner, well it does.
The Heptacodium miconiodes (now usually referred to as the hexadecimal), has finished flowering and is starting to berry-up.  I have planted it in the Coal Bunker Border.  This border has an unslightly hard to populate middle and I am hoping that this shrub will give it the structure it needs to hold the rest of the planting together a bit more.
The Courtyard has had a bit of a re-shuffle.  Some plants have now been relocated into the garden proper.  I realised that unintentionally at first, this area has become a nursery area for small shrubs not quite big enough to fend for themselves in the garden.  This has been very useful to a) keep them alive and b) make this hard to use area actually look good. 
The Four Sisters are doing very well and yes we are entering Edgeworthia-watch time of year.
This year it is covered in flower heads, I am so excited at the prospect of it flowering well in the Spring.  Which in turn means I am also anxious that we do not have a hard winter and that I lose it.
The fernery is doing very well, the ferns have settled in and grown more than I had hoped in their first year.  It has been a good use of a difficult corner.
and just to the side of the fernery is one of the hamamelis, the Cornus mas and the Illicium simonsii who are now maturing well into good sized shrubs.
The Wild Garden is one of my favourite parts of the garden in Autumn.  The trees colour up well and I find it restful to stop for a moment. I sit on the bench at the top of the garden and watch the leaves fall.  
This is one of my Aldi acers.  It is in full colour now and is a great little tree.  I don't know which one it is, hence it being a bargain from Aldi, but it has grown really well and has been worth every bargain penny.
This is Bruce standing guard over a very sad looking Pinus mugo bought this time last year.  It was doing really well in the Courtyard until the other day when I noticed it was looking a bit sick.  At first I feared vine weevil.  I often fear vine weevil, but I tipped it out of its pot and there was no sign of the little devils.  After some consideration I decided it might just not like the shade of the Courtyard and the pot it was in was a bit soggy. So I have planted it into the Wild Garden and I will see if it recovers.  It either will or will not, if it doesn't well it wasn't going to live much longer in the pot anyway.  Time will tell.
Meanwhile in the Wild Garden there are holes.  These holes are very annoying, these holes show where I planted some bulbs and the squirrels have hoiked them out again and eaten them.  Grrr.
The Borders are looking autumnal, I love the colour from the sedums and the grasses.
I still have zinnias in flower,
and chrysanths.  These chrysanths have been great this year, I have been really pleased with them.
I like this view towards the pond.   I thought I had put a bench by the pond for me, it turns out it is a posing place for the cats.  Flossy is taking her turn today.  The beech pillar to the left of the photograph is coming on well, one day it will look like a pillar.
I really like this view looking back towards the pond from the house.  You cannot see the pond from the house and that is deliberate, you have to walk around to where the bench is to see it properly.  Another part of this view that pleases me is the top of the pleached hornbeams just to the left of centre.  Their autumn colour is just starting to creep along them.
and the pond is looking really quite clear but also really quite low for this time of year, that is a little worrying.  I tried out my new waders the other day and removed as much parrot weed as I could.  There is still some but much less than there was last year.  One day I will completely defeat it.

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

A day at Allt -y- bela

I have not been to as many garden talks and workshops as I do usually this year.  There is no particular reason for this, I just found that things were not catching my eye this year.  One event did very much grab my attention.  A garden writing workshop being held at Allt y bela, the home of the garden designer Arne Maynard.  I have visited this garden previously about seven years ago for a different course and I thought the opportunity to visit again was too good to miss.
The workshop was led by Helena Attlee and Emma Beynon who are described in the workshop information as being an award winning author and a poet.  Helena and Emma were so generous with their knowledge and passion for writing it made the workshop a total joy to take part in.  I have never been to a writing workshop before (shh at the back, I can hear you saying that is obvious') and I admit to being a little worried I might be out of my depth.  There is so much I do not know about writing and I am very keen to rectify this.
The workshop was even better than I had expected and I have no idea what I expected.  We were a small and diverse group.  We were all there for our own different reasons and that made it fascinating to listen to each other and appreciate our different perspectives.  There were several times I felt in awe of the words and phrasing of the other participants.  They had an eloquence that I can only hope to aspire to.
The setting made the day perfect.  It is a beautiful garden, it has a simple elegance that very quietly speaks to you.  It is that perfect mix of looking simple and yet showing great skill and knowledge.  It all just works.
It was a day I will not forget in a hurry.  It has made me think about how I write and what I am want to achieve.  Furthermore I am now pondering about controlling my cliches.  Controlling cliches has to be a bit like herding cats.  Just when you think you've controlled one cliche another one comes along, just like buses.  There they all sit, like ducks in a row, the cliche tree at the top of cliche mountain.

I have to learn.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Wednesday Metre - filaments

Tibouchina urvilleana

hooked eyes

the mantle of purple
falls away
creating an allusion
of illumination
a final shining


Sunday, 23 October 2016

Irritating Plant of the Month - October 2016

This month's tale of woe is indeed one of woe.  I am sad that this plant has entered these hallowed halls of disappointment but, dear reader, there is little hope for this one. I am just not sure if I am disappointed with the plant, or with myself for letting this happen.

I give you my beautiful, my beloved, Sorbus cashmeiriana:
At first glance you might understandably think that this is a case of extreme pruning that has got a little too extreme.  I wish I could say that is correct.  The other day when wandering around the garden with a gardening chum there was an exclamation of 'what's that?  It's dead'.   'Dead!' I replied 'I hope not, that is my precious cashmeiriana.'  A closer inspection later and this young tree looked flayed of bark higher up its trunk and there was that spongyness, you know what I mean, that spongyness of death.  I muttered an expletive or two and decided I would dig it up later.

When I returned later to dig it up I weakened.  I decided to cut it down to below the dead bit, which has left this stick that is around 12  inches tall.  I think in the spring time I will probably dig up a dead stick, but I thought I would give it a chance.

Please stop laughing at the back.....

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Exotic Border reviewed

The Exotic Border has been through more iterations than any other border in the garden.  It has in truth lacked direction and yet there has been a slim thread of consistency running through it year on year.

The border was firstly the Dahlia Border.  I mused about it as being a riot of colour.  It never quite got there in reality. it was less of a riot more of a mild disturbance.  Some years it did better than others, but generally it was always short of the mark.  The border is perfect for growing dahlias as it is probably the sunniest and best drained area of my clay garden. This border, unlike most in my garden, does not contain any roses.  Every now and again I get tempted to just pop one in, but so far my discipline has been good.

Some years pass and the tree lupin takes up residence.  The border is now rightly renamed in its honour as it is a fantastic plant.  Then there followed a large Phyllostachys nigra which has grown really well.  Every year I planted dahlias into it and it has bumbled along fairly happily.

Last year I went to Great Dixter for a course on exotic planting.  This made a huge impression on me as did other visits at that weekend and in particular my visit to Ulting Wick which gave me huge food for thought.
So I began planting with more of a purpose.  I added a Melianthus major, a gift from a friend.  Also a callistemon found its way into the border.  I wanted to put in some structure that would look a bit exotic.
The view from this angle shows the tithonia that are a great favourite of mine.  There is the Twinings dahlia in the foreground that is never lifted but comes back year on the year.  There is also the blue of the Salvia atrocyanea shining its blue wonderfulness.
Some bananas also were added and some vietnamese coriander.  This coriander has really nice foliage and I thought it would add something a little different.
The foliage and grasses have worked quite well  I think.
There are also some sunflowers that have added some more height and contrast to the tithonia.

Am I happy with it?  Almost, it has not been too bad for a first year.  It is, in truth, just short of the mark.  Will it better next year?  I hope so!

I've enjoyed appraising this border so I think the others in the garden might be due a consideration as well.  I shall return to this theme soon.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Product Review: Wilkinson Sword Razorcut Comfort Medium Bypass Pruner

I was contacted recently to ask if I would like to trial some Wilkinson Sword garden tools.  I had a look around their website and the first product I chose was the  Razorcut Comfort Medium Bypass Pruners.  I do like a good pair of secateurs and this offer to trial just as my trusty secateurs were on their last legs.  I had had them for a good ten years so I think they had lasted me well but I was in that limbo of not knowing whether to replace with the same or try something new.  Whilst I was in this undecided state I purchased a pair from a local garden centre for £3.99.  I told myself if they lasted me a couple of months whilst I came to a decision that would be fine.  Dear reader, they did not last a week. 
The Wilkinson secateurs duly arrived.  My first impression was that they were very comfortable to hold; they fit well into the hand.
The packaging says that they have high quality Japanese steel blades.  They certainly are very sharp.  Compared to my old secateurs that have become blunted with age and poor sharpening skills on my part, they cut through stems with complete ease.  I might have got a bit snip-happy with them when I first took them out for a spin,

The easy open 'squeeze me' mechanism works very well.  You just squeeze the handles slightly together and the secateurs pop open ready to use in your hand.  To lock the secateurs though is a little more fiddly.  I think this is partly because at first I could not train my brain to lock them in a different way to my old pair.  It is a different action and so I had to learn not to do what my hands just automatically wanted to do.  I can just about do it with one hand now but quite often it takes me both hands to lock them.  The lock works well though and that matters.  A pair of secateurs popping open when you don't want them too is both annoying and a risk.
I have been using the secateurs now for a couple of weeks and it is pruning/cutting back time of year.  One of the first jobs I used them for was the pruning of this rose 'Maidens Blush', that sits in front of my kitchen window.  It had grown to over six feet tall this year and so it was in need of some reduction and thinning out.  As I prune I could hear the words of Monty Don talking about pigeons flying through things.  That was not about rose pruning but you get the idea.
The secateurs made light work of this.  Some of the stems are quite thick, more than a centimeter in diameter, as it is a well established rose but I did not need to resort to loppers to cut through them.  I was very impressed.

The secateurs have now become my primary pair.  I am very pleased with them and I can happily recommend them.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The year of the snail

We have had a couple of relatively mild, wet winters; followed by relatively wet springs and summers and autumns.  Earlier in the year there were warnings in the press that this would create the perfect conditions for slug and snail reproduction; this was an understatement.
This year the slugs and snails have feasted well.  This is the first ever courgette-less year I have had since I have been growing them.  I did not know the words 'none' and 'courgette' were ever a thing.  I am used the to the word 'glut', I am used to asking the family 'what do you want to eat with your courgette tonight', but to have not one is astonishing.  The slugs had every single one of them.

The slugs have the courtesy to hide, the snails however flaunt their rebellion.
Snails have a hardness to them that slugs do not (this might be the shell....), they care not for opinion, they care not that I pick them off plants and thrown them over the hedge.  They limbo back under the hedge swaying and a singing 'Lets go fly a kite' in a sardonic manner.  Oh yes, I hear them, oh you sneaky sneaky snails.
They know they have a beauty that slugs do not, they know that there is something a little charming about their house that they carry on their back.  What they seem to fail to know is that if they wander about on the path after rainfall I might not see them and all might end with a crunch.

I am not a slug-snipper, or a snail-cruncher on purpose, I dislike what they do to my garden and this year the odd organic pellet might have made an appearance, But I have also have allies on my side.
There is the shadowy Ms P the hedgepig.  I do not see her very often, but she pootles around the garden like she owns the place (in truth she does more than I do).  She is my secret weapon in the war on slugs.  I do not have a photograph of the mistle thrushes that help out with the snails, but they beat them out of their little houses and feast on their soft innards.

I could say I do not wish the snails/slugs any harm.....

.....this would be a lie.

and if you want an earworm to go along with this post I give you Al Stewart 'The Year of the Cat', just replace cat with snail and you're away.
No need to thank me.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

A bowl of happiness - verbena and bacopa

Earlier in the year I was sent some plug plants to trial by The Vernon Nursery.  I have various plants from them previously, especially some rather nice pelagoniums, but this time I decided to choose something different.

I chose two plants: firstly Verbena 'Sparkle Purple', I already grow Verbena bananarama but this is a much shorter bedding version.  The second plant I chose was Bacopa 'Blue Hollyhock'; a plant completely unknown to me which is why I chose it.  I wanted something different to try.
The plugs duly arrived and I planted them into a shallow bowl that I am very fond of, but if you look closely you can see it has been frost damaged and therefore on its last legs.  The verbena started to flower quite quickly, this is how they looked in May.
By June the bowl has moved to the front door step and the bacopa is starting to flower as well.  It is a bowl of cheeriness by this point.  The little flowers are just a delight.
In July it is still going strong.  I kept dead-heading it and this seems to have kept it going well.
Slip forward a couple of months and it is quite often getting dark when I arrive home from work.  Even in the porch light the verbenas are sparkling away as they name suggests.

I am really glad I chose these plugs.  They have given months of happiness and have taken very little looking after.  I cannot look at them without smiling.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Product Review - Tri-Truk Trolley

Dear reader at certain times of the year I manage to give myself a slightly strained back.  One of the worst times I do this is at this time of year when the nights get longer and colder and my tender plants need to come indoors.  Last year I decided that I was not going to hurt my back again lugging around heavy pots, I was going to buy a trolley. Trolley duly purchased I then hit another problem, namely the step into the conservatory.  The trolley could not climb the step; which  was fine except for the biggest, heaviest pot that holds the brugmansia.  One wrenched back later and the brugmansia was indoors safely for the winter.

I decided for the second time that I would not do the same again.  I made a plan of two parts.

Part 1 - buy some large plastic pots to move the brugmansia into so that I did not need to lug around the big ceramic pot that in itself weight gawd knows how much.

Part 2 - buy a trolley that could negotiate steps.  It took a bit of hunting around but then I found the Tri-Truk trolley on the Thompson and Morgan website.  Now some of you will know that I trial plants for Thompson and Morgan and therefore receive them at a discounted price.  This trolley is not made by T&M (other vendors also sell it) and so I paid the full price.  I am telling you this so that you know that I am not going to look kindly on wasting my money.

The trolley arrived earlier this year and sat in its box waiting for me to get around to putting it together.  A rainy afternoon happened and so I decide it was the day to assemble it.  It was quite easy to do, a set of spanners and a a monkey wrench were all the tools I used.
This truk is rather clever; not only can it climb steps but it also converts from a trolley to a sort of truck.
I rather like using it as a truck.

It has worked well on negotiating steps but it is not so successful if there is a bit of a lip on the step.  There is a lip to the door of my conservatory and the three-wheel mechanism was not very keen to easily mount it.  I decided that rather than pull trolley hard over the step I would lift the plant in.  This was ok as it was in a plastic pot and I achieved all this with no injury to myself.  This is very good.  The steps up and down to the greenhouse it managed with ease.

I will give you a couple of notes of caution.  Firstly, it steers like a trolley, in other words, its not great at going around sharp corners.  It is ok, shopping trolleys are worse, but it does need a bit of hand.

Secondly, the drop down bit to be the trolley base has nothing to hold it in the upright position.  This is a bit of a flaw as when you store it if you do not face this bit to the wall it can suddenly drop down.  It only needs to do this once for you to realise to store it facing the wall, but it is still a shame as a simple catch would solve this.

So, do I like the trolley?  The answer is yes it seems to have done the trick. Not only did I load the conservatory and greenhouse in record time, but it was also a pain-free operation.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

The magazine backlog

I had again allowed a backlog of magazines to accumulate.  I hadn't been this behind for some time.  I usually read magazines on rainy afternoons and train journeys and clearly both had been sparse since around May.  I can tell this as I had four publications sitting there with every edition since May.

This pile of magazines was nagging at me and it was not making me happy. There is no point in having these magazines if they just become dust-catchers and spider resorts.   I had a week away coming up so I shoved all the magazines into a bag and stuffed them in the car to come with me.
Every morning whilst waiting for the rest of the house to wake up I sat and read some magazines.  At first I mainly flipped through pretty quickly. Then an article would catch my eye and I would read it. About eight magazines into this reading-binge I was paying even more attention. I was starting to focus on the planting schemes more and more.  I was starting to stare at these pictures of garden perfection and think about my own garden and not finding my garden standing up well to this comparison.  

Now these kind of thoughts can lead to different states of mind.  I could fall into a 'what's the point I can never achieve this perfection, I shall just give up'; or, as is more my general state of mind, I get a bit excited thinking about how I can improve my garden.

At this point I can hear garden magazine editors slapping their foreheads in despair and shouting at the screen 'you dozy mare, that is the point of my magazine!'  Indeed it is and thank you, you have. I think in particular I've had a bit of a breakthrough with revamping my front garden.

The conclusion from all this is that I should not let the backglog get so big again and, very importantly,  I need to be more realistic in the time I have available to actually read garden magazines.   

Friday, 7 October 2016

Tree following October 2016 - I have a cunning plan....

The quince tree has spent the last four weeks contemplating its lack of fruit and we have agreed that things cannot continue as they are.  As the tree prepares for its winter slumber I have made a pact with it to enable progress.
The tree is growing well and there are long shoots developing year on year.  The tree is, however, based in a bit of a shady spot.  There is a large field maple that overshadows it.
I have promised the quince that I will prune back the field maple to let more light get through.  This is my half of the pact.
The quince tree, in reality, made no response to this information; it being a tree it has little capacity to do much other than waggle its branches in some of tree-code.  I suspect that such waggling could be caused by a passing breeze.  I did decide though that silence was consent and so I think we have agreement.  The quince will do its best, its very best, to produce a mature fruit next year.

As ever, time will tell....

If you want to follow more trees that are more co-operative than mine then they can be found here:

Thanks as ever to Squirrelbasket.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

A day of plant buying at Felley Priory

Felley Priory in Underwood, north of Nottingham is about an hour ish from where I live.  They host a Plant Heritage rare plant fair a couple of times a year and a few months ago trusty side-kick and myself wandered up that way.  They had some very good nurseries represented and several plants purchased later we resolved that a) it was an extremely good plant fair and b) to return for the October fair.

The day arrived and off we went.  I was telling myself I was going to be good and not going to buy much (no laughing at the back there!).  I was, of course, fooling no one not even myself.
These are not all my plants, but in truth, they mainly are.  I went on a bit of a spree.
I bought:

a nice red persicaria,
I was after a good perennial one and I liked the look of this one particularly.  I also bought a nice little Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle', an aster Vasterival and a rather nice Carpenteria californica all at nice bargain prices.  I also bought a Geranium palmatum, I already have one so this is a contingency one to overwinter in the greenhouse just in case.
I decided to have another go at growing a romneya.  I managed to keep my last one alive over the winter only to have the slugs devour it.  This time, this time I will be more successful.
I also bought this dinky Magnolia sieboldii, it is only a tiny tot but I thought it was worth spending £3 on. I shall just hope it flowers before I expire.

Lastly I bought this rather lovely Heptacodium miconiodes.
and this, dear reader, is where this becomes a tale of shonky goings on.

I saw this plant and after a quick bit of internet research decided to buy it.  I paid the asking price and asked the stallholder if he could keep it behind the stall whilst I kept shopping.  An hour or so later I returned and the smiling stallholder laughed and said he had one lady asking about the plant.  He said that he told her if she gave him £25 for it she could have it and he would just tell me it had been stolen.  I had paid £12.50 for the plant.  I laughed, told him I would have hunted her down and thinking it was a tall tale, left with my lovely plant.

As we were leaving the plant sale I heard someone say something about 'I wanted that plant' and at first did not realise that the lady was talking to me.  We had walked on a bit but paused whilst side-kick was talking to the man on the entrance gate.  The lady continued to talk to her friend, explaining that she had seen my plant and admired it on the stall.  The man behind the stall had apparently told her that if she paid him £15 she could have it and he would just tell me it was stolen.  Now bear in mind the lady did not know I was listening to this so I have no reason not to believe her.  I was, quite frankly, appalled at the behaviour of the stall holder as I genuinely believe he would have done that deal with her.  Thankfully the lady in question had more admirable principles than the stall holder.

I would not name and shame as that is not my way, I also do not have the nursery name as it was not on the plant label.  But I never forget a face.....

This aside, the plant fair at Felley is definitely one of the best I have been to. The selection of stalls is fantastic and the quality of the plants is excellent.  They also have their own nursery onsite which is where I bought the romneya on.  It is a good nursery, well kept and with a good selection.  I shall definitely be returning.