Saturday, 31 December 2016

End of Month Review December 2016

The year ends with as changeable weather as there has been all year.  We have been having rain, sun, frost and fog.  Quite a bit of fog in the last few days in fact and I am not hugely fond of fog, especially driving in fog.  This blog is not about driving though so let's move on.
These pictures were taken fairly early on a frosty morning on the lead up to the end of the month.  This is the part of the driveway, it is its own special frost-pocket and always stays frozen for longer than the rest of the garden.  I really liked how the frost and light worked together at this moment.  I will have to cut down last year's growth at some point but for this moment in time it was worth leaving be.
The Knot Garden responds well to frost.  It picks out the lines well and from this angle you cannot see all the frosty little weeds.
The greenhouse has been visited by the ghost of Miss Haversham who every year whirls around with fleecy blankets in order to protect from the sharpness of the cold.
I was enjoying the light when I was taking these photographs.  The sun was still quite low in the sky so was not covering all the garden.  I spotted this blackbird in the hedge and liked how it looked.
The sun highlighted the pleached hornbeams.
But the lawns remained steadfastly frozen.  They had that solid feel underfoot that they get when frozen.
The grasses in the borders look good in the frost.  This was a sharp frost so it clung to the detail well.
The Prairie Borders still look good in the winter.  After failing with adding cosmos this year I am still thinking of adding a small element of change this year.  Not sure what yet, but it will be only one type of plant and probably only one colour.  The Prairie Borders are my practice at control as it is here I place the most constraints on myself.  Not even poppies are allowed to grow in these borders.
In between the Woodland Border and the Prairie Borders the Four Sentinels mark a boundary.  I am so glad I chose copper beech as the colour of the leaves lifts the otherwise monotone borders.
In the Exotic Border the Phyllostachys nigra is bowed but not broken.  This has been in the garden for around nine years and it has become a handsome plant. I do not mention it often enough I think, but I should.  It was one of those magazine offers and was a small plant when it arrived.  It must now reach a good eight feet in height but it has not spread or run.  It is a good plant.
In the Wild Garden the contorted hazel loves the frost.  It shows it as its twisty turny best.
I am not sure there is a time when I do not love the Wild Garden, even in frost when it has been mowed and there seems to be little going on, it is one of my favourite parts of the garden.
The Long Shoot also works well in frost, the frosted remains of the planting still give height and structure.
and as I follow it around to the Burtonesque Curve I still like how this movement of lawn works.  I am however getting twitchy fingers to have a new project in the garden.  I am not sure what, but the wind is in the east (metaphorically speaking) coupled with 2017 being the tenth year of this garden means that I predict that there will be change.
The pond will always remain no matter what the change, I am sure of that.  It is now at it's cold frozen state but in not that many weeks frogspawn will appear.  The pond is the centre of the garden and the heart of the garden.

Thanks to Helen for hosting this meme.

Thanks to all my readers for reading and can I take this moment to pause and wish you all a very happy new year.  Whatever changes and challenges 2017 will inevitably bring, I hope that it serves you well.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

The Pending Pergola

or an update to a Life Less Wonky

It is clearly an annual event that I stand in front of the pergola and consider it.  I mainly consider its longevity, or should I say lack of it?  This time last year the pergola was wonky.  I purchased the means to make it less wonky and less wonky it has remained, but....

but having straight uprights is not making up for the rotting horizontals, so I knew a decision was going to be needed sooner rather than later.

I could just replace the horizontals?  It's not a massive job and it would preserve the home of two rather nice clematis that grow up each side.


Or I could remove the pergola (and said clematis) and put in a new hornbeam to pleach.
I began to think about putting in a new hornbeam and I realised that this would make more than a little change.  Let me explain:

The pond is fairly central to the garden and with its surrounding border it takes up quite a wide spread of the garden.  When out in the garden I have to decide whether to walk to the left of the pond, through the pergola into the Wild Garden and around to the Prairie Borders; or go along the formal lawn to the right of the pond and into the Prairie Borders and around to the Wild Garden.  The pergola makes a sort of gateway into the left of the garden.  If I put in a new tree it will change the spacings as it will have to go fairly central into where the pergola currently stands. Height also has to be considered. If I put in another hornbeam then I would have to raise its pleached arms so I can comfortably walk between the trees, in fact I would have to make an arch in the hedge.  I like the sound of an arch.

After going through this thought process there was little left to consider as this all seemed rather exciting; so I bought another hornbeam.  I popped it into the vegetable beds whilst I thought a little further, just to be certain I was not going to change my mind.
A nice mild day arrived and I spent a few hours walking around a spade left in the position where the new hornbeam would need to go.  I decided it was time to stop shilly-shallying and get on with it.
First job was to remove what had once been the back-rest of a bench that had been in the garden when I first moved in.  The back had been used as a sort of bridge over the artificial stream that briefly was created in the garden.  When I filled in the stream I put the bridge back, grass grew over it and it sort of created a reinforced bit of ground where I often walk.  It now needs a new role in life.
In went the new tree.....
....and then I trimmed off most of the lower branches.  I decided I would leave the pergola standing until it either finally falls or until I know the tree has settled in ok and the pergola is surplus to requirements.  When it falls hopefully the tree will have grown a bit and be more the required height.  By then I will have also worked out what to do with the clematis as well.

Change is fun.

Monday, 26 December 2016

After the storm

In truth, Storm Barbara was not that stormy when she arrived in the mild Midlands. She had done her worst before she reached us and so it was fairly blowy and very rainy but not as dangerous or intense as other areas had experienced.  On saying this, for one elderly member of the garden it was traumatic.
The Tree Lupin has been in my garden for quite a while, I think at least eight of the ten years I have lived here, I could even check my records and not be surprised if it was nine.  It has formed the centre piece of the Tree Lupin Border for all these years and has flowered and given me the most amazing scent for all this time.  Yet as you can see above (ignore the weeds, it is a great plant for hiding weeds at its base), the recent stormy weather has split it asunder (isn't asunder a wonderful word, got to be one of my favourites).
I saw this upsetting sight as I had a wander around the garden on Christmas Day.  I waggled one of the heavy limbs and realised it was split at its heart and not going to mend itself again.  I stood in front of it momentarily pondering whether if I tied it together that would help?  But no, I could see that age was really the issue, the tree lupin is in need of drastic action.

The pruning saw was fetched and I cut away the wobbly bits.
There were quite a lot of wobbly bits.  The tree lupin must have been about five feet tall and at least eight feet across.  It is a wonderfully sprawly plant that allows other plants to grow through it.
This is how it looked in June, flowering away like a good'un.
After surgery it is now much smaller and this huge space has opened up.  You can see the recently re-sited dolphin, that is likely to move again, I am moving it around a bit at the moment until I am happy with it.  The tree lupin will either live and rejuvenate or it will die.  If it lives that is really good, if it dies it is a great new opportunity.

But all is not lost even if it does die.  As I was removing the dead bits there were many seed pods still on the plant.  Some seeds I put in my pocket to sow in the greenhouse and some I popped into the soil to see if they would germinate better outside and then....
.... I found this one, already starting to germinate.  A peep of green and a small root just forcing it's way out of the seed case.  This one I popped onto the surface of a plant pot with fresh compost in it.  I pressed it carefully so that the root touches the compost surface and and I hopeful it will continue to grow.  It is a new hope.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Irritating Plant of the Month: December - Euphorbia pulcherrima

I was wondering what I would choose to be the most irritating plant in the garden for this month when I got sidetracked and distracted to the point of deciding I would cheat.  My blog, my rules, I can cheat if I want to as I am only cheating myself.  After very little thought I decided the plant that had irritated me the most this month was....

Euphorbia pulcherrima....
yes, the poinsettia and not even a usual poinsettia, no, a poinsettia with glitter applied.

Why?  why do this to the poor plant?  It is probably already doomed to die as they can be tricky to keep alive as houseplants (and the smug of you who have kept one alive for thirty years can just be quiet at the back there!)

Now I could tell you that it is the bracts that give the great colour and that they are tender and need careful looking after to survive.  But this poor thing has been covered in glitter and that is just not good.  This plant is native to Mexico and I can only begin to imagine how wonderful it would be to see one growing wild and free in its natural habitat.

Did I mention someone had covered it in glitter?

Did I mention that until I sat down to write this post I did not know they were a euphorbia?

Did I mention that I keep calling them pointsettias? (that is the digital version....)

Poor poor poinsettia, may you rest in peace or hopefully be composted as at least then you will be giving something back.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Wednesday Metre - the last apple

The last apple is poised
It grips the branch, ever loosening
With each breeze,
A golden globe bracing,
Holding its breath

How hard is the fall?
Do I bounce?
Is this how it ends?
Squirrel fodder?

A tracing of its former self,
A shell,
A whisper of skin around
A softening core
The last apple is poised
For the door
To shut on the year
For the fall


Monday, 19 December 2016

Product Review: Forest Deep Root Planter

I was asked by the nice people at Garden Site if I would like to review something from one of theeir Grow Your Own related range.  I chose to try the Forest Deep Root Planter as I had been looking for something similar to this as an addition to my vegetable raised beds.  The delivery went very smoothly and this is always a good thing.

The planter arrives in several pieces and I knew that I needed to put it together where it would ultimately be placed.  The planter is not small and the wood is very solid, you do not want to move it once it is put together.
You might notice that Bruce had decided it was a nice place to sit.  I had to shoo him off so I could move the planter.
I laid out the pieces ready to put together.
You might notice that I had constant help with this.
The planter is easy to put together, I constructed it in around thirty minutes with no help other than a cat that kept needing moving.  It is easier to construct with two people as there is that moment when you need to balance things together in order to fit the sides together.  I was really pleased at how easily it went together.
There it is completed.  I then needed to fill it with compost.  Luckily I had some made made compost ready for this.  It would be quite expensive to buy compost to fill it as it is large.  This does have to be factored in as a consideration.  I also have to mention that the wood is quite rough, it is not smoothly planed.  I did not see this as particularly a problem and at the price (see below) I think it is extremely good value.
and there it is, filled and ready to plant up.  The sticks are cat-deterrant branches as fond as I am of Bruce, I do not wanting him thinking it is his to use as he pleases.

I am really pleased with this planter, really pleased.  It is perfect for growing all sorts of vegetables in and it will be easy to keep in control.  I am also hoping that as it contains rather nice un-stony compost that I might be able to grow carrots in it next year.  I will let you know.  The price is really very reasonable, as I am writing this it is retailing at £79.99, which is a reduced price as it is in the sale.

The Forest Deep Root Planter can be found here:

Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Blackberry Garden Plant of the Year Award 2016

It's time for the fourth annual Plant of the Year Award and it feels like four years in the garden has now accepted this award and started to compete for it.  There has been so much competition that I have been forced to make notes as the year has progressed so that I do not forget any of the contenders.  As ever, it has been a difficult choice.

Roses always feature in my garden and I do have some varieties I am very fond of.  I have to be strict with myself on this and not just show you ones I really like but give the place to the one that has performed best.  So, with this in mind I have to give a special mention to Rosa Blythe Spirit.
This rose has flowered its little socks off for most of the year.  It is a rose I bought purely because of name as it is a play/film I totally adore and it has the wonderful history that it was written whilst Noel Coward was staying at Portmeirion.  This rose has worked hard to make it a rose I would wish to grow irrespective of its name.  I did not know I wanted a soft yellow rose in the garden, it turns out I wanted three.  It has matured into a great performer and truly worthy of its mention for the award.

Though just when I thought this was settled another rose made a play to be a late contender:
Sir Clough is still flowering even though it is December.  Sir Clough has an unfair advantage in this competition which has to be declared in the interests of transparency.  Sir Clough is probably my favourite rose.  I have three bushes and this year it has done very well.  It is Clough as in Williams Ellis and so also has the Portmeirion connection and as I have oft commented, it just needs a touch more scent to be the perfect rose.  It deserves a special mention this year and so it has crept in at the last moment.

Next on the list is Dianthus superbus
This dianthus has a wafty-floatiness about it that makes it weave through its neighbours in a very attractive manner.  I did not know how much I would like this plant when I sowed it but it has proved to be very useful this year.  I shall definitely be wanting more.

Next up:  the spikies.
I have been having a bit of a love-in with spikies this year, well a careful one anyway.   A little group of agaves has appeared and whilst they need attention over the winter they are great additions to my potted collection in the garden.

Next up is Verbena bampton, the cool cousin of V. bananarama (bonariensis).
It has fantastic dark foliage and stems and little pale flowers that do not look like they will add much to the garden, but get them working with their neighbours and they are fantastic.  This plant very nearly won this year I have been that enamored of it.

But nearly is not good enough in this competition.  The winner has been in constant flower since Spring.  It is a tender plant but bringing it into the conservatory every winter is no great hardship.
It unfurls its petals with a grace and style that few can hope to achieve and the scent draws you into the trumpet flowers.  It is just divine.
It is the Brugmansia, bought a couple of years ago from Kiftsgate House. It is now a large plant and even as I write this in December it still has buds on it.  What a great plant and a truly deserving winner.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Blackberry Tales 11 - volcano

Its been a while since I last wrote one of the Blackberry Tales, maybe there are fewer things of wonder recently, maybe nothing has caught my eye.  But on this day, this particular day there it was, lying on the surface of the Woodland Border, a lump of solidified lava.
Pardon? I hear you say, exsqueeze me, baking powder?  Yes, you heard me: lava.  This is clear evidence that once more than a few years ago, this part of Leicester was the site of a volcano.  The founding volcano of the city, Mount Leicstos.  You may think you have heard little of this particular volcano, but I am afraid I can only shrug and lament inadequate education if this is so.

Please do not doubt that it is lava.  It is not some other dark stone/rock.  It is not coal, for if I had found a coal seam at the top of the garden I would have been pondering whether I could find Superman to compress it in his fist to make diamonds.  No, this is not coal, it is cold lava, the flow of which swept down from the mountains (presumably somewhere above Nottingham)  to create the Leicester plains.  I have a geography O'level so I am pretty sure of my knowledge base.

Well what else could it be?  It is too large to be some charcoal from a domestic fire and even if it was that why would it be at the top of the garden?  It could be left over maybe from a long gone bonfire, but it is not wood it is definitely rock and I am going to say igneous rock*

* I haven't a clue really

Monday, 12 December 2016

Book Review: Thenford by Michael and Anne Heseltine

I was very pleased to be sent a copy of Thenford to review as I had read a couple of articles about the book and interviews with the Heseltines and I thought it sounded interesting.  I was already aware that Michael Heseltine was a keen gardener and indeed that he owned an arboretum (oh to own an arboretum), but Thenford is so much more than an arboretum.
Some of the chapters are written by Anne and some are written by Michael.  I really liked this approach as it gave space to their different voices and perspectives.  It also seems to mirror their roles in the garden, they each know their strengths and focus on the bits that they know they are comfortable with.  Anne is a collector of sculpture and Michael is the collector of plants. Together they have created a series of gardens at Thenford that are quite frankly astounding.

The book goes into great detail of the history of the place, their purchase of it and then the creation of each part of the garden.  There are large overview maps and then smaller detail maps to show the area each chapter is covering.   The Heseltines have worked with what the estate already had and at the same time created whole new spaces and gardens.  They are gardeners of this modern era as they extensive photographs of when they bought the house and how the spaces have developed up to the present day.  They also have many historical photographs of the house which are small vignettes of social history.

This book is very much about the Heseltines as people rather than focusing on Michael as politician though of course the two things interweave.  There is a mention of a protest that took place on the property and also descriptions of visits and gifts from important people from all over the world; but this is all secondary to the story of the garden.  What shines out from this book that whilst they do clearly have more financial resources than many of us and whilst this has enabled them to plant out their dreams in a way that most of us can hardly begin to dream about; they are real gardeners and have made mistakes the same as the rest of us amateur gardeners do.  The passion and commitment to the garden is palpable and I have to say reading about this garden makes me see Michael Heseltine in a new light.

I was very pleased to see that the Head Gardener, Darren Webster is given a section and due thanks is given to the gardeners who have been instrumental in making the Heseltines' dreams a reality.

I am going to go so far as to say that this book describes an important garden.  Thenford has been made and  developed with the same passion and vision that has enabled great gardens of the past to be created. After reading the book I am left with the overwhelming wish to visit this garden and experience it for myself.  Thenford is very much a private garden and it is their family garden but it does open occasionally for the public and it has definitely gone on that ever-growing list of places to see.

Thenford by Michael and Anne Heseltine is published by Head of Zeus

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Fourth Sentinel

Way back when the garden was first being developed, at the dawning of the creation of the pond there was also a small stream created that ran from the top of the garden along a natural line through the depression where the pond was dug and out the other side to the boundary.  As it was not a real stream it required electricity and a pump to make it work.  None of this was my plan as I worry about electricity in the garden (I'm daft enough to put a spade through the cable), so when circumstances changed one of the first acts I did was to remove said stream and fill it in.  As said above the stream did follow a natural line that ran across the garden. Who knows, maybe once there was water running through it.  It lent itself to something and I needed to consider what.
The lower part of this stream is now the line of the pleached hornbeams.  I could see them when I looked at the space, all I had to do was plant them and wait for them to reach the same stage that I could see.  They are now pretty much there.

For the other side of the stream I could also see in my mind's eye what I wanted.  I envisaged a row of copper beech pillars.  So five beech twigs (they were barely saplings) were purchased as, quite frankly, I could only afford to buy small.

The years go by and two of the twiglets very promptly die.  I replace them and they die again and so I decide that three is probably a good number anyway.
Eventually they have reached the stage where I now shape them.  The height I wanted has been reached and so I now clip the top. I also clip the branches when they go beyond the desired diameter.  This has encouraged them to bush out a bit and whilst they are not yet the pillars that I want they are definitely getting there.
I like the look of them very much and after some thought (well actually very little thought), I decided that three did not look as balanced as I would like and that I had to try again and by another.
It might not look at the moment, but there it is, the fourth sentinel.  It is a bit larger than the ones I bought the first time so I am hoping it will catch up in a couple of years.
and whilst this picture is rather dark and grey as I planted the new tree on a dark grey day, I now have a sense of balance for my four sentinels and I look forward to watching them continue to reach their destiny.