Sunday, 30 April 2017

End of Month Review April 2017

April has been extraordinarily cold with several frosts over the last seven days, it has also been fairly dry though it looks like some welcome rain is returning.  This has meant that pots of tender plants that had been edged outside where whipped back into the greenhouse and conservatory.  I have also held off sowing many seeds as it seemed best to wait for it to warm a little.

Outside the weeds have not stopped growing, you will see a lot of weeds in this post.
Weedy picture number 1- this is from the front drive. There are quite a few cowslips also in this picture and they are what I want you to focus on.  I planted them a year or so ago and they are spreading rather well.  The soil is poor and very well drained and it seems to suit them.
The side front lawn is in great need of mowing and the wave of aconite leaves can still be seen.  I am not ready to mow it yet, I need the aconites to gain as much strength as they can so I walk quickly past so that I do not think about it too much.
The view into the back garden looks quite lush at the moment.
This part of the Coal Bunker Border, which is directly in front of the coal bunker, it one of my favourite parts of the garden at the moment.  The Euphorbia stygiana, the tulip and self-seeded poppy are working overtime to look great.
This is the view from the corner of the Conservatory Borer, the dark tulips are making good accent points and there is a flush of bluebells to the right of the photo that I rather like.
Further down the Conservatory Border I am liking this euphorbia, which might be stygiana or melllifera,  I am not totally sure.  The tulip Aladdin fits very well as does the contrast of the dark foliage of the Sambucus nigra and the cardoon.
I am also really pleased with this Akebia quinata arch that goes from the Pond Border into the Bramley Tree.  I strung a piece of wire from the plant support into the tree and the Akebia did the rest.  The light shines through the dark flowers in a very pleasing way.
This view across the pond with the Spring Border behind me also works well.  I am amazed at how lush and green it all looks.
The Prairie Borders are growing back but still look scrappy at the moment.  They need a bit more time to recover from their haircut.
The Woodland Border and Bog Garden are currently highlighted by the Malus 'Rudolph'.  I lifted the crown on this young tree in the autumn and it has rewarded me by being totally covered in blossom.
In the Wild Garden the cowparsley is currently queen.  There are also bluebells and camassias in this part of the garden.
The Wild Garden is coming on quite well this year.  The yellow rattle has started to show itself again but it is over-nettled at the moment.  I am going to have to deal with this.  I always leave some nettles but there are too many.
There are white-bells in the Wild Garden,
and lots of this cardamine as well, more than I've ever seen before.
There are pink-bells in the Pond Border.
I love this view of the Pond Border, the Coronilla and the Euphorbia Griffithii work so well together.
and the white standard wisteria has turned mauve.  This is odd, I wonder if it is reverting?
In the Exotic Border the echiums and euphorbia are doing well.  Who knew that not so long ago I disliked euphorbia and yet now I have many.
The ferns in the fernery have settled in well and growing fast this year.  This makes me very happy.
The veg beds are waiting for the sweetpeas and dahlias to be planted out.  You might think there are rather a lot of nettles in this picture; you would be right.
In the greenhouse it is looking more empty than it did when it was sheltering my precious things.  It is mainly full of dahlias and a few seeds and cuttings.  You might just spot Flossy sleeping at the end of the greenhouse on the fleece that has been left there just in case it is needed again.
I finish as ever on the pond, which is not as full as I would like for this time of year.  It has been getting a bit blanket-weedy recently so I have hoiked it out with a rake and treated the pond with some organic stuff.  There are also a couple of small barley bales in there to try and help.  I am worried that I cannot see any tadpoles in there at all.  There were loads but they seem to have disappeared.  If I am lucky they are hiding in the depths of the pond because its been cold, if I am unlucky the newts have eaten them all.  Time will tell.....

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Bristol Bearpit

I recently had reason to be in Bristol for work and whilst I was there I thought I should visit the Bearpit.  I had heard of it through my friend, Sara Venn, the founder of Incredible Edible Bristol and generally one of the most inspirational community gardeners you could ever hope to meet. 

Admittedly before setting off I was not 100% certain of what the Bearpit was, but I usually do a little research before visiting places and quickly established it is a sunken road traffic island in the Bristol Shopping Quarter.  Its official name is the St James Barton roundabout and it is a fine example of 1960s road architecture.  Whilst sunken pedestrian subways were once seen as a great idea I think it is fair to say that in reality they have often not gone hand-in-hand with feelings of great beauty and/or horticulture.  The area has gone through an extensive programme of renovation during recent years with an emphasis on art, play, trade and greening.  I was there for the latter primarily, but it is all one space and each element plays its part in making the whole.

My trusted sat nav guided me through Bristol and just when I wondered if I was nearly there yet....
.... something told me that I was close.  I parked up and found my way in.
It is a large open space and there is this great cafe (where we had tea).  There is also a small shop selling vegetables next to this and,
this bus which used to sell food too but it looks closed now.
The area is a great place for outdoor art.
it really is quite stunning in places.
But I was there to look at the work that Sara had been leading on community planting.  The plants are 'loosely' food based.  There are practical reasons why growing some foods are not suited to growing in such a city-space.
but there is soft fruit,
a winding of hops,
and fruit trees such as this quince tree.
It is nicely laid out in terraces and whilst it is clearly work in progress, it is impressive.
This cleared bed is sown as a meadow area, I can imagine already how fantastic it will look and just think of all the bees being attracted into this city-scape.

It is very easy to get all romantic about community projects and growing food in such places, but this is hard work and takes dedication from the volunteers who run it.  I was really glad I had visited as I strongly believe in community projects such as this.  When I was there the area was alive with skateboarders, people passing through and people who were just there.  Obviously I have no idea what it was like before the regeneration was started, but looking at it now it is a place with potential and it feels like a good usable space the people passing through.  The work that Sara and Incredible Edible Bristol does is important and is helping people reconnect with the food they eat.  I wish them every success.

Useful links:

Monday, 24 April 2017

Product Review: Wilkinson Sword Multi-Tool Garden and Garden Sharpener

I was recently asked if I would like to review some products from the Wilkinson Sword garden tools range.  I have reviewed their products previously, the Stainless Steel Edging Blade and the Long Handled Edging Shears, so I was very pleased to review further products.  I chose two items from the range, firstly:

The Multi Tool Garden

I chose this as I had been on the look out for one of these multi-tools but I was struggling to find one that I liked the look of and that felt robust.  There are several on the market, some seem a bit flimsy and some appear a bit style over function.
These are really quite heavy, which is not a bad thing as it meant they were easy to find when they were in my pocket.  They have that well-made solid feeling. They are made of stainless steel and black anodised aluminium.
They comprise of pruners, knife, wood saw, stem stripper and a lanyard ring.  Like with all new folding knives they are quite stiff at first to tease out of the handles.  Thankfully after a couple of trips out they soon start to get easier to use.
I soon found them to be useful, I had not been out with them very long before I was thinking 'if only I had a little saw to do that..... oh I do".  The blades are, as you would expect from Wilkinson Sword, very sharp.  The pruners are also sharp and work well, they are very handy to keep in your pocket for those moments you just need to snip something. They are the sort of thing that once you start popping them into your pocket as you walk around the garden, the more you keep finding you need to use them.
They fold in on themselves very neatly.  They retail for around £20 and they are so well made I think this is very good value.  If you were looking for a gift for a gardening friend/relative then these would make a superb choice.

My second item is the Garden Tool Sharpener.
This handy little gadget does exactly what it says it does.  It is made from mirror finished carbide and has seven cutting edges.  It also comes with a little carrycase to keep it protected.  I used them to sharpen an old pair of secateurs and they quickly made a real difference to the cutting edges.  It retails at around £15 and it is worth every penny.  I use a variety of knives and sharp things in my gardening sessions and this is invaluable for keeping them keen.

I can wholeheartedly recommend both products.

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.