Sunday, 19 November 2017

I stayed at home

It's the time of year when things are getting cold outside, the light is getting precious and the darkest days of winter are yet to come.  I find myself planning ahead and booking events so that I know I have things to look forward to.  This is generally a good plan, except when it turns out it isn't.

I should have been somewhere this weekend.  I bought the ticket, I arranged to meet up with friends I have not seen for several months and I looked forward to it.....

..... until about three weeks ago.  Then I started to think that I needed to the time to do other things.  I really could do without having the day off from work on the Friday, I really could do with some time in the garden and, well frankly, the thought of driving there and back did not fill me with joy.  I did not decide there and then not to go, but in truth once that seed is planted it tends to set deep roots.

Days went by, more and more reasons started to build as to why being at home was a better idea.  An invite for lunch arrived, I could have just turned it down but I didn't want to.  I accepted the lunch invite and then I knew that I was not going to go to the booked event.

My instinct was right, that nagging voice telling me to stay at home is rarely wrong and I learned long ago to listen to it.  I knew I needed some down time at home and I needed some time in the garden.
It turned out to be a good day for weeding.  The front border was soon weeded, then I moved into the back garden and weeded the Exotic Border and the Woodland Border.  As always I tell myself that one weed removed this time of year saves me two hundred next year so I spent the day feeling virtuous.  So virtuous that I am sure that the cheesy chip sandwich I had for lunch would contain no calories whatsoever.
I was out in the garden until the light was getting low.  I was rewarded by the sight of one the Aldi acers that is currently a shock of coppery red leaves that are hanging on just that little bit longer than the other acers.  I stopped and stood by it for a moment and thought what a good day it had been.  I had not stuck to the original plan and  part of me was sorry not to have met up with my friends and missing out on a very interesting day.  As a general rule I cannot afford to buy tickets for things and just not turn up; but sometimes listening to that inner voice is the right thing to do.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

A letter to the garden, a year on

Dear garden,

It has been a year since I last wrote to you and whilst I note you did not give me the courtesy of a reply; I feel that I should have not waited quite so long before contacting you again.

When I wrote to you last year I was feeling guilty for neglecting you, I felt I had not kept on top of the weeding as well as I should have done and generally I garden-shamed myself.  Oh dear, dear garden, oh dear dear dear.  What can I say?  I cannot say I have kept my promise as I look around and see as many weeds and nettles as before.  The vegetable borders have been cleared, I say that with a spark of hope that I might gain some credit for that?
The front garden needs serious attention, the lavender edges are weedfilled and straggly.  I gave them a serious trim with the hedgetrimmers the other day.  I cut into the old wood in that way you are not supposed to in the vain hope that they will either recover well or just die.  I think I need to replace it if truth be known and that raises some interesting questions.  Should I replace it the same or move on and have something new?  Maybe something new is in the air and I should ring the changes?  I shall have to ponder some more on this.

The back garden is still nettle-heaven, especially in the sidelines of the vegetable garden.  They managed to suddenly become unmanageable.  Next year I will try and do better.  There are thankfully other parts of the borders I am now happier with than last year.   I think the Pond Border and the Conservatory Borders both worked well this year.  The Coal Bunker Border is passable, it still needs a bit of work but it has had some good new additions in the last year, in particular the Heptacodium miconiodes, a name that I can never remember but a great shrub nonetheless.  It filled a gap rather well and also made me think more about what surrounded it which I think is the sign of a good planting choice.

So I feel a little more positive about how the year has gone, but as ever I feel guilty that I have not looked after you well enough especially in this your tenth anniversary year.  So here are my promises* to you for the next twelve months:

1.  I shall try and write to you more often
2.  I shall revamp the front garden
3.  I shall make more effort to keep on top of the nettles (not physically, that would sting to much).

Best wishes, write soon,
Your guilt-ridden gardener xxx


* promises - like pie crust, are made to be broken #justsaying

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Book Review - The Secret Gardeners by Victoria Summerley

I was intrigued by the title of this new book from Victoria Summerley, I wanted to know who the secret gardeners could be.  I was sent a review copy and whilst I have not paid for this book, my opinions are as ever my own.  I was impressed with the book when it arrived as it is nicely large and pleasantly heavy like all good books that cost around £30 (though you can buy it for less at a well known online book store) should be.
The 'secret gardeners' referred to in the title are a variety of famous people.  There are singers, actors, designers, entrepreneurs and more represented and what links them together is that they are all creative.  These people live in the most magnificent houses with equally stunning gardens.  Most of the gardens are private, but some have some public interaction.  Whilst the people might be 'celebrities', this book is not about their fame, it is about their gardens and this is why I enjoyed the book so much.

I turned each page making 'wow' noises to myself.  The gardens vary hugely in character as do their owners. There were many aspects of the gardens that caught my eye:  Terry and Maggie Gilliam's garden has strong connections to Terry's work.  The lion and rhinoceros cannons from Baron Munchausen fit in perfectly with the garden.  The tsunami hedge in Allen Jones' garden is also a thing of wonder.  There is not a disappointing garden in the book, they have all earned their place.  By learning more about the gardens I felt that we were getting interesting insights and I found myself drawn to the owners as to own a good garden must say something good about them mustn't it?

What all of these gardens show us is that their owners love their gardens and connect with them.  I particularly appreciated the people who ensured that their gardeners got a mention and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall won the 'I will be photographed with my gardener' award.

I will never to be able to afford to replicate what they have on the scale that they do; but I can draw inspiration from what I see.  This book is a fascinating insight into that common ground I have with these secret gardeners, which is the garden.

The Secret Gardeners is published by Frances Lincoln

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Is this the end of the road?

The weather has now taken a chilly turn and we have had a couple of good frosts.  Nothing too cold really as yet, but enough to convince some of the summer flowers that they have reached the end of the road.
The dahlias were not keen on the first frost of the season, but braved it out for a little bit longer.  The second frost confirmed their dislike of cold and they went into shut-down.  I can remember when I first started growing dahlias; I knew that they should be lifted when they had been blackened by frost, but I wondered if I would know when they had been.  Once you have seen what frosted dahlias look like then you are left in no doubt.
Their once glorious flowers now look browned and sad.
This one looks like the Gravy-Fairy has ladelled it.  I do not routinely lift dahlias any more, I let fate decide whether they survive or not and many do come through.  This year I grew more than usual so I decided I would lift some of them.  They are currently sitting upside down in a crate so their stems can dry before I pack them up for the winter.  There will be much keeping of fingers crossed hoping that they revive in the spring.
The cold does not only upset the dahlias, the crop of tithonia also decided to up and die from the frost.  I grew them in one of the raised vegetable beds this year and they responded really well.  I think the well-rotted manure helped them grow to a good size and flower for an extended period.  This has made me consider about improving the soil more in my flower borders as the difference in growth has been astounding.
The cosmos has become frost-translucent.
and the marigolds are also struggling to keep going.
Amid all this dying back, not all the summer flowers are ready to give up just yet.  The astrantia are tough as old boots and enjoying a late second flush.  They will die back eventually but this reminder of summer is welcome whilst it lasts.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Tree following - quince down

Well it had to happen didn't it?  One minute the quince was there, hanging, looking lovely and plump on its branch, the next time I looked (a couple of storms later) it was down on the ground.  Not picked in time, not turned into something exciting, but fallen.
Admittedly before it fell it was getting rather blotchy, but it was also giving out the most wonderful scent.  Yes I have become a woman who sniffs at quince (not a euphemism).

What is to become of a fallen quince?  Well I shall tell you....
.... every cat and owl in the neighbourhood descend with their runcible spoons barely concealed in their waistcoat pockets and devour the quince.  I know it sounds a bit unbelieveable, but it turns out that owls and pussycats are hipsters at heart and like a good waistcoat.

This year's quince adventure is over and now the trees have to gird their loins ready for the next growing season.  Will I continue to follow the quinces or will I move on to another tree?.....

......the suspense is almost palpable.

More trees are being followed over at Squirrelbasket's blog

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Product Review: Stihl cordless hedgetrimmer, brushcutter and leaf blower

I think it is fair to say that I am very much a fan of Stihl products.  I have reviewed products for them previously and genuinely think they are a high quality brand.  The products below I was sent to trial so I have not paid for them but my opinions as ever remain my own.  This review looks at three products I have recently been given to trial.
FSA45 Cordless Brushcutter
Hang on a minute I hear you cry, you reviewed a grass trimmer for Stihl last year, what makes this one different?  Well dear reader I shall explain.  This is less grass trimmer, more brush cutter, and it has an integral Lithium-ion battery.  It is a little lighter than the other trimmer and is also cheaper to buy.  It might be cheaper to buy but it is no less a quality item.
It has the same easy to read battery gauge that the other cordless products have.  What I really liked about this trimmer was that it has plastic blades.
Such  was my excitement to try this I did not take a photo of it until I had already been using it for a while, so there is no pristine pre-use photo.  This does show the  plastic blades well.  These blades are ideal for getting through some quite tough stems.
I think this shows quite well the type of weeds I was cutting with it.
I was using it to clear the weedy patch in the driveway, which is mainly brambles and dock plants. I had huge fun cutting this area back.
The spare blades are tucked into the handle and whilst I gave it quite hard test I did not need to replace either blad even though they were a little nicked by the end of the session, they were still effective.  I must have been using it for a good thirty minutes and I did not drain the battery.  This is a really effective piece of kit,  it is perfect for the tough weeds I get in the parts of my garden I let grow a little wilder and I can very happily recommend it.

BGA45 Blower
I have never owned a leaf blower previously which is probably because I am a little lazy in removing leaves from the lawns /borders.  I tend to regard them in the borders as mulch and unless they are killing the grass underneath I sort of think that nature will deal with them on the lawns.  I agreed to trial this blower largely because I have never used one and I wanted to know how useful it might be.

I have no exciting photographs of leaves being blown about, I tried to think how I could do this effectively, but failed.  The leaves did blow about rather pleasing way.  This blower is as practical as it is fun.   Again there is the Lithium-ion inbuilt battery and clear power gauge.  It is very light to use, being only 2kg and has about ten minutes use time which is enough in a small garden situation I think (depends on how many leaves you have!)  It took a moment or two to stop just randomly blowing the leaves about, I did then focus on that I was meant to be clearing them up.  The leaf blower is extremely useful for clearing away leaves that are smothering the plants underneath.  instead of moving them carefully by hand (which is what I usually do) I could just blow them to the back of the border - job done!   I also used it quite a lot when tidying up from my hedge trimming exploits, which I will now detail below.

HSA45 Hedge Trimmer
This hedgetrimmer is described as being very light, at 2.3kg I can confirm it is delightfully light and therefore very easy to manoeuvre.
They have the integrated battery which runs for around 40 minutes.  I started off by trimming the lavender edges to the front garden.  This hedgetrimmer is quite quiet, in fact I would say surprisingly quiet.  This is good in that the noise of hedgetrimmers etc is enough to spoil a quiet afternoon for those who are not using them so I think my neighbours were grateful for less noise.  Whilst I know they are meant for small gardens, I wanted to be sure that quieter did not mean less power.  I decided I needed a harder test.
I set to on the holly hedge at the front of the garden.  Yes you can see a gate buried in the hedge.  This is what happens if you lean a gate up against a hedge and then get a bit neglectful in hedge trimming.  It was nice to see the gate again.  The hedge trimmer coped pretty well with this task.  I will not mislead you, it needed some help as some of the stems were very thick and needed the chain saw to deal with them.  The hedge trimmer did cope with stems around 1cm in diameter well.  It turns out a holly hedge is not the easiest hedge to trim.  The mess was incredible, each leave falls separately and so the leaf-blower was really useful in helping me tidy up.
It took a couple of sessions to uncover the gate.  The hedge looks a bit massacred but it will recover.  I just need to keep it under the control and trim it more frequently.  Not only had it grown too wide but also too tall.
I reduced the height by a good eighteen inches and it has opened up light into the front garden and made the entrance feel less closed in.

I can happily recommend the hedge trimmer.  It is perfect for a quick light trim on hedges that are not out of control.  My top tip as ever with all cordless tools is to recharge after each use as then it will only need a quick zuzz to have it at full strength next time.  This lightweight cordless range are a great price and fantastic quality, I thoroughly recommend them.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

A Moment of Autumn Sun

The past week feels like it has been very grey and cloudy.  We are now properly in autumn and the days get shorter one after another.  A couple of minutes later at the start of the day and a couple of minutes earlier at the end all add up to fewer and fewer precious daylight hours.  The frosts are on the doorstep, it feels like the frost is hesitating but unlike vampires it needs no invitation before it starts to make its presence properly known.
The other day began with heavy rain.  The rains started late the night before and was still going when the day commenced.  It felt like it might be set in but the forecast promised it would be gone by afternoon.

The forecast was right and by lunchtime it was possible for a chilly wander around the garden.  It was still very grey and the sound of rain dripping from the trees and plants surrounded me.   It felt like I could hear the drips of rain being absorbed into the ground; filtering through the lawns and borders,  being pulled towards the roots beneath.
The sky remained grey until suddenly the cloud moved enough and the sun pushed through.  Immediately the whole aspect of the garden changed.  Suddenly there were sparkles and glints,
the autumn colours started to shine,
and the garden began to look more golden.  It seems that in autumn the greens can no longer sustain their freshness.  It has aged and worn dull.  Before the colour finally drains (I want to say fades to grey, I really want to say this, but I shall resist and just carry it as an earworm for the next few days.)
The Carol Klein acer, that last year suffered badly from wind-burn, is turning its autumn red and loving the late moment of sun.  That this tree had a bad year and now has had a good year is a good example of how gardening changes from year to year.  Previously this tree had not suffered from wind burn so it must have been that last year we had some winds from a different direction that just caught it wrongly.  I love this acer, which now it has settled in the garden seems to be maturing well (wind-direction allowing).
The blue sky  pushed the grey back and the garden revelled in a brief sunny moment.  It was not the sunniest of days but just seeing this patch of blue made the whole day seem better.  It was too wet to do any meaningful gardening, but my wander gave me my garden-fix.  I know I've mentioned rule #32 before, a rule that matters ordinarily and even more so through the dark months, it is vital we enjoy the little things.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

End of Month Review - October 2017

This year has flown by so it is quite astonishing that October has been and gone in a blink of a blinky eye.  It was a month that also involved some weather, at times being quite mild, at other times rather stormy and then finishing abruptly with a sharp frost.
The longer nights are now upon us and the clocks have gone back so I thought for this review I would focus on colour.  What brightness there is has to be treasured as winter wraps its dark cape around us.  On the doorstep the coal bucket is still a brightness of marigolds and pelagoniums.
Just behind the coal bucket is the quince hedge, the chaenomeles is either flowering late or early, either way it is having a little flower to itself.
In the back garden the dahlias are still flowering superbly.  They are like a  riot of blousey barmaids (do blousey barmaids still exist or did they fade away when Bet Lynch left the Rovers?).
In the vegetable garden, everywhere I turn there is colour.
The different shapes and forms of dahlias has to make them one of the most versatile flowers I grow.
So you will have to forgive my indulging myself in giving them their last blast of glory as the frost signals their time has come to an end.
and not all flowers are dahlias.  The Cosmos has been wonderful this year as well.
This superb fuchsia has very lately come into flower.  I love the white pollen gloving the stamens.
The chrysanthemums are also reaching their brief, late but welcome, peak.
and the Mina lobata is signalling its presence.
Very excitedly, this small Verone's Obsidian Dahlia is a flower of a cutting I took when I bought this plant only a few weeks ago.  I knew it was late to be taking cuttings but it is always worth a go.  I just need to keep it frost free through the winter to give it a chance of surviving.
The Coronilla valentina subsp Glauca Citrina (short snappy name), is not only still flowering as I think it does for around eleven months of the year, it is also scenting this corner of the garden.
The mahonia at the top of the garden will also soon be sharing its scent.  This shrub looked a bit poorly last year so I cut it back quite hard.  It seems to have responded quite well, its probably terrified in case I do it again.
The only thing nearly as good as flowers is the promise of flowers.  The hamamelis is budding up.
and the edgeworthia, which is now really quite a substantial shrub, it also covered in buds.  I hope that every year it gets more mature the more chance it has of getting through hard winter, and I also hope we do not have a hard winter to test this theory out.
His gingerness is guarding the cyclamen coum foliage which is just starting to emerge.  The promise of spring flowers is worth keeping an eye on.
Whilst not in flower, I always end on the pond as it is now a tradition.  It is not completely full despite the recent rains but it is not far off.
But really I just want one last look at my dahlias.

Thanks to Steve for hosting this meme.