Sunday, 23 April 2017

Irritating Plant of the Month - April 2017, the Painted Fern

So there I am, weeding the Woodland Border the other day, and musing to myself about what would be the irritating plant this month.  I am fairly happy with my garden at the moment, spring has sprung and things are growing.  The tulips are in full flower at the moment and the fruit trees are starting to blossom.  It is all about as hunky dory as it gets.  Not for the first time recently I wondered if maybe this month I would give this post a miss as I am not going to force myself to identify something.

Then, as if by magic, there it was in front of me.....
Athyrium niponicum possibly Vidalli.  A great name and on all the pictures a great fern, but for me it is generally an unhappy, sulky, unco-operative plant.  Whilst thinking about writing this post I looked it up and apparently it is very good for shady areas.  At which point the history of this plant came flooding back to me.

I bought this plant probably nine years ago and I thought it was perfect for putting into the shady bit of border around the Bramley tree.  The area is not that dry and I thought it would be happy enough there.  Well it sulked, its two companions that were in the same collection upped and died and several times I thought this one was dead as well.  After a couple of years I decided I had sited it in the wrong place.  Maybe this shade loving fern was not getting enough light?  So I dug it up and moved it into the Woodland Border, which despite the name, is not the most shady of areas in the garden.

Several years later and quite frankly it just has not improved.  It still throws up the odd leaf and generally looks pathetic.  I am currently considering relocating it again into the fernery.  That is a shady part of the garden and quite dank.  The other ferns seem to love it, maybe this will be (in all senses) kill or cure.  I shall think about it.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

A quick jaunt out to a plant fair

I do love a good plant fair and for the past few years I like to visit the plant fairs held at Swinesmeadow Farm Nursery which is run by my friends Colin and Karan Ward.  It is always good to have a catch up with them and I have never been known to arrive back home empty handed.  Their April plant fair was held the other day so I set my car eastwards and set off.

First to be purchased was this heritage tulip Absalom from one of the stalls. I saw it......
..... and I had to have it. I did not do my usual 'walk around all the stalls and then go back and buy', there was only one and it was coming home with me.
Is it not a thing of beauty?  Its the sort moment when you realise why tulipmania was a thing.

Second to be bought was this Plume Poppy, Macleaya microcarpa.
This had lots of shoots and I decided I could probably make this into several plants when I got it home.  I know this plant can have a tendency to run so I will have to keep a bit of any eye on it.

Finally, there was this fantastic Toona sinensis 'Flamingo'
this tree has the most amazing pink new foliage,
to see it is to love it.  Colin showed me the specimen he has in his garden and it is a great tree.  I was tempted to buy it from a photo Colin posted on twitter.  I ummed and arred a bit as really I do not have any room for more trees.  Then Colin used those fateful words 'you can shrub it', well then it was easy and Colin put one on one side for me.  Now pink foliage is not for everyone, and usually I would have also been in that club, but this just caught me at a weak moment I think.  I seem to have a lot of weak moments around plants.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Product review: Gardening gifts from Qwerkity

I was asked if I would like to receive a couple of items from Qwerkity's gardening range so that I could review them.  I happily said yes and then waiting for my mystery parcel to arrive.  I had not chosen the gifts so that made it a bit exciting to see what would arrive.

A few days later the parcel arrived.  This in itself was good, it arrived quickly and with no fuss.  I like a no-fuss delivery.

The first gift was this rather lovely  William Morris Tool Tidy bag made by Briers.
I do rather like a bit of William Morris so the design appealed to me.  The bag outer is made of cotton canvas and it is plastic lined so that it is wipe clean inside.  It is well made and feels quite sturdy.  I loaded it up with some tools and was just about to go into the garden when I realised I had not got enough hands to carry all the seeds I was about to sow.  I popped them into the bag and out I went.
This is when I realised that the peas I was about to sow had a hole in the packet and spilled out into the bag.  At least they had not gone all over the floor, so the bag was already being useful.  This bag would make a thoughtful gift for a gardening relative/friend.  I certainly was happy to receive it.  The bag is currently retailing at £14.99

The second gift was Rachet Secateurs made by Kent and Stowe.
The secateurs have a non-slip soft grip handle and a safety lock.  The blades are made of non-stick carbon.  The secateurs have two cutting actions, a single cut action that can tackle up to 18mm and a ratchet style action that can handle up to 22mm.  The packaging says that they are for general pruning including mature and dead wood.  So I popped them into my Tool Tidy bag and took them outside for a spin/cut.

The single cut is as you would expect from a pair of secateurs.  The blades are nicely sharp and they snipped through stems with ease.  Then I wandered up to the top of the garden to look at the mahonia that has recently taken a turn for the worse.  I had been advised to cut it back to see if that would invigorate it so it was a good test for the secateurs.
If you have ever pruned a mahonia you will know that they are very woody.  The ratchet action made short work of cutting through the stems, though for the very thick ones I did use a pruning saw which was what I had expected to do.

The secateurs are lightweight and it says on the packaging they are good for people with a slightly weaker grip.  I found them very easy to use and whilst I had at first wondered if they were too lightweight, they have coped well with what I have been expecting them to do.  These retail currently for £14.99 and I think they are very good value.

Overall I am happy to recommend the two gifts and the service I received from Qwerkity.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

An apology to laurels

Dear reader, it has taken me ten years to reach this point, but I have to hang my head in shame and make an apology.

I have written often that I am not a fan of evergreens unless they are the ones I like.

I have written previously about the laurel that occupied the whole top corner of the garden when I moved in.  I summarily had the laurel cut down but it refused to die.  It refused to die so often I had to give it points for perseverance and in the last couple of years I have let it be.

and then I went to visit Burghley House where I saw this.....
This was taken as a photograph of one of the sculptures, but behind it you can see the flowering laurel.  As we walked around the gardens every now and again we were suddenly aware of a rather pleasant, slightly citressy, fresh scent.  We discussed what it might be and sniffed about as gardeners are want to do.  Heaven knows what the other people visiting thought of us, but we cared not, we were on a mission.  No matter how much we looked around we could not identify it, there was just lots of this flowering laurel instead......
and then we realised it was the flowers on the laurel.  Now I am no fan of laurel, I have declared it boring and just green many a time.  So why had I not realised that a) it flowered, b) it had pretty flowers and c) it had scented pretty flowers.

If I thought about it then I would have said of course it must have some sort of flower/fertilising mechanism; but I had never given it any thought at all.  I had dismissed it totally as a plant group.  This then raised a question, what about the remnant of laurel I had back in the garden.  The generally ignored and occasionally sworn out unwelcome plant that (maybe I am over-egging this) I pretty much despised.
So I got home and wandered up to the top of the garden, the corner where I let things grow over the pile of stones that once housed an unwanted water feature.

On closer inspection.....
it is flowering!  Suddenly Mr Unwanted, Mr Unloved (don't ask me why its suddenly gendered as male, it just is.  Maybe its because of Laurel and Hardy, anything is possible.)

Anyhoo, not only is it now allowed to be, now it has a reason to stay and is welcome.  I admit my mistake and apologise to it with all sincerity.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Book Review: Hidden Nature, A Voyage of Discovery by Alys Fowler

Two years ago at the Garden Museum's Literary Festival one of the sessions I attended was Alys Fowler talking about her recent journies around the canals of Birmingham.  I cannot remember if she said at the time that this would one day be a book, but I remember it as an interesting talk and the pictures and anecdotes on the waterways were fascinating.  I note that at the time I wrote I thought it was a very personal journey, it was indeed so.  Fast forward two years and it is indeed a book but so much more than just a piece of nature writing about West Midlands canals.
The voyage of discovery refers to more than canals, this is also a deeply personal journey that weaves through it the end of Alys's marriage and her realisation that she was in love with a woman.  The book centres around four main characters, Alys, her then husband, her future girlfriend and the West Midlands canal network. There is joy and sadness running through the book, with each step of self-realisation acknowledging the cost to others.

The book focuses on the natural and industrial landscapes, the plants and history of the canals that are explored.  I have come to think of Birmingham as my second home and I loved the description of the area around where I work and of Spaghetti Junction, the gateway to Birmingham for me and many others.  The book is beautifully written, one passage that particularly sang to me:

"I garden because I am. I belong to the garden rather than the other way round. I pour myself, sometimes quite physically, into nature because it is how I make sense of myself and my place in the world."  I can identify strongly with these words.

The book is deeply moving and it was I am pleased that Alys has allowed us to read the journey that she purposely embarked upon and more importantly the journey she then found herself on.  It is a book I am certain  I will read again.

Hidden Nature is published by Hodder and Stoughton

For the purposes of transparency I need to say I was a sent a review copy of this book.  For the purposes of further transparency, if  I had not been I would have bought it anyway.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

A visit to the gardens at Burghley House

I have driven past Burghley House fairly often.  I usually look at the signs and think 'I ought to visit there one day' and then I keep on driving.  The other day I saw that the private south gardens at Burghley were going to be opening for NGS.  Well that sorted it, I knew the time had come when I should stop and investigate the gardens for myself.  Burghley is about an hour from where I live and it is a nice drive.  The countryside between Leicester and Stamford is some of England's best undulating scenes in my opinion.
We only visited the gardens this time, but we bought an annual ticket and decided we would 'do the house' on another occasion.  It is a very grand house, demonstrating its fine Elizabethan heritage.  The house was built for William Cecil, who was the first Lord Burghley and one of Elizabeth I's most trusted advisers. William's descendants still live in the house and it is now managed through a Preservation Trust.
The gardens were mainly designed by Capability Brown and as you walk you can see this influcence in the angles and views and slopes.
There are some superb trees, we spent a lot of time admiring and at times trying to identify trees as not all were immediately ones we recognised.
As ever I am not going to attempt to show everything, but I want to give you a flavour of what we saw.
This vegetable patch is a bit off the beaten track, but we loved this fence.  So simple yet beautifully made and very effective.
We stood and admired the rows of parrot tulips that we assumed were destined to be cut for the house.
There is a sculpture garden here at Burghley and there are sculptures in the private south gardens.  These slowly turning swans sparkled in the sun.
This moose stands by the lake and was very noble.  His insides are stuffed with straw, we thought this would make it a great overwintering place for insects.  What a novel way of doing this.
We loved this wisteria frame.  In a few weeks this will be laden with scent.
There are flows of daffodils and then patches of anemones.
We were stopped in our tracks by this group of fritillaria meleagris.  They were just stunning.
As you walk around from the lake you arrive at this formal rose garden. This is part of the private south gardens so you need to visit when these are open to see them.
The pink of the acers, which we thought was Brilliantissimum, was perfect against the blue sky and the colour of the house.
The hedges were carefully clipped.
and there were topiary figures lining the sides of the central path. There were lions, cats, foxes, ducks and more.
The formal structure of the garden felt perfectly in tune with the heritage of the house.
It was the most perfect early spring day.  The sun shone in a cloudless blue sky. You will see in the tree by the house there is mistletoe.  There were many trees with mistletoe in the grounds.
We moved on into the scuplture gardens.  This is a cow in cowslips, well ok, they're primroses but that did not sound as romantic.
We loved this wing,
and also this colourful piece caught our eye.
Whilst possibly a little dour, this mask makes a great statement piece.
though my favourite was probably these windchimes.  I love windchimes, I know lots of people hate them but I care not, this was beautiful and it moved so delicately in the slight breeze.
Though these ribs of willow also caught my eye.  I could imagine them working in all sorts of landscapes.
and these steel galanthus were also rather special.
I must also mention the ice-house.  I like a good ice-house and this one is very good.  As you walk into it a light shows you how the deep the ice-store is.  It is a great example of how life used to be before our technological wonders.  We pondered on the work of the servants, filling it with ice and then taking it up to the house for the pleasure of the owners.  It makes opening the freezer and taking out an ice-cube have a whole new meaning.

We had such a lovely day.  The weather was perfect, there was also a food fair taking place so we bought pizza for lunch and listened to the morris dancers jingling about behind us as we sat on the lawns.  As we have bought annual passes, we are certain to return.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Treefollowing April 2017 - nearly time....

As we enter April the excitement is starting to grow, at last the quince trees are leafing up.
Quince minor is looking rather small and underdeveloped than Quince major but it is its first year so it is allowed some time to catch up.
Quince Minor is leafing up well,
and there are signs of pre-quincelet buds, I do expect blossom and blossom is hope.
Quince major is looking a fine specimen this year.  It has been gently pruned over the winter and as mentioned before I have pruned back an overhanging branch so it has more light.
and there are loads of buds on it this year.
....loads and loads.  I am, dare I say it, really hopeful that this year might be the year the sees the fulfillment of the quest for a quince.
and look, Quince major has a guardian angel on board.  All bodes well for the quincelets.

Thanks to Squirrelbasket for looking after the forest of followed trees.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Book Review - The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Blom

I was really pleased to be asked to review this book as when I heard about it I was immediately interested.  Jinny Blom is a gold medal winning Chelsea Flower Show garden designer and has worked with both Prince Charles and Prince Harry. Jinny's design work has taken her across continents and she has written for The Times and other publications.  Jinny has designed more than 250 gardens since setting up her practice in 2000 and in this new book she shares the knowledge, experience and philosophy that this body of work demonstrates.
What makes Jinny's work stand out is that she takes care to understand the landscape that she is working with.  All the examples in the book are good examples yet probably my favourite is the last one in the book in Inverness-shire.  There is a photograph on page 252 of the retained original mirror-pool is quite stunning.  Jinny explains how this project was part archeological and part restoration.  It sounds fascinating and it has all been created in sympathy with and in respect to the history of the garden.

The book leads you: chapter by chapter, step by step.  So first Jinny explains her own journey into garden design.  Then the book is divided into sections, the first being 'Seeing', which is very much different from looking.  , then moving onto Understanding, Structuring, Harmonizing, Rooting and Liberating.  Each chapter within these sections expands a little further Jinny's philosophy and knowledge.  The thread running through the book is that in order to design, one has to understand and really into the heart of the land to be transformed.  Then you can strip away what you need to and rebuild to reveal the new transformed landscape.  There is also a case study at the end of the sections.  These case studies illustrate perfectly the points being made and also show the breadth of Jinny's work.  The garden in Kenya case study particularly took my breath away.

You will learn about researching, planning, structure and context.  There is an extensive section on different types of plants which is not a catalogue of  'use this specific plant here', but is rather 'this is how you can use this type of plant.'  I really liked this approach.

Probably at this point I should mention the photography in the book.  It is by several different photographers and it is exceptional.  Light and colour are particularly captured well.

This is not a 'how to' book, despite every aspect about design is covered.  It is a book to give inspiration and one to make the reader think.  I wonder if there are two thoughtful gardeners being referred to in the title, the one writing and the one reading.

I enjoyed reading this book, it is, as the sub-title states, an intelligent approach to garden design.  It is not a quick read as I wanted to linger on the pages, I wanted to properly understand what was being explained.  If you are interested in the philosophy behind garden design then this book is for you.

The Thoughtful Gardener is published by Jacqui Small