Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Blackberry Tales 13 - The Devil's Ring-pull

I've recently been edging the borders, this is a patient and quite satisfying task.  It enabled me to tidy up the lines of the borders and smooth out some of the shapes to make them more pleasing.  Whilst doing this I was at times digging into where no one has dug for many years.  As I edged a long I heard that clunk that meant I had struck metal rather than stone.

I bent down to pick up what I had found.  It was a solid wodge of clay so I cleaned it off as best as I could with my hands.  I peered at it to work out what it could be.
I decided it must be the devil's ring-pull, probably from a tin of devil beer or maybe some devil soup that he had for lunch.  I am pretty sure that devil soup is celery soup as I am pretty sure it is evil stuff.   As he is the devil he just threw the ring pull over his shoulder and it landed in my garden.  It is solid and heavy as you would expect, a sturdy ring-pull from a sturdy tin.

and bearing in mind this is tale number 13, that has to be proof too of its unlucky origins.

Well what else could it be?

Thursday, 26 January 2017


Suddenly there is some real movement in the garden.  Not that it ever stops growing completely, but now there is a sense of stirring and growth.  That pause between autumn and spring (usually referred to as winter) is starting to end.  I am not calling spring yet, we are still in January and we are not through the snow-zone yet.  But there are signs of the first signs, real signs.
The first snowdrops just need a tiny bit more sun to flower.
The first cyclamen is also flowering.  I love these little pink flowers. I have planted quite a few clumps in the garden.  I usually buy a couple of pots of them every spring.  I keep whispering to them to think about naturalising but at the moment they are resisting seeding around.

Now flowers are great at this time of year and I love every one that starts to show its face, but somehow even more exciting are the signs of the start of growth.
That moment when you can see that the roses are start to push out into the world.
The peeks of green on shrubs,
even on a frosty day there is no mistaking life is returning.
There will soon be some early blossom,
The cherry trees buds are fattening up.
and there are signs of movement in the shielded leaves of the tulip tree.
I love this moment when you can see the garden is on the cusp.  Just a little more light per day, just a little more warmth and just a little more sun.  Yes are still in January and winter has some time to go yet; but the garden teaches us more than just patience, it teaches us hope.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Wednesday Metre - A Splinter of Summer

A Splinter of Summer

It starts from the deep,
A twinge, a feeling
A slight tenderness.
Up it works, a reverse burrow,
That memory from summer
That day you spent cutting,
And chopping,
And weeding.
Sitting, be-suited,
Listening to discussion,
Not listening,
Focusing on that tenderness
Feeling that memory
That day.

Suddenly it is there
It reaches the surface,
One moment more and the edge will be free
That tiny edge
Barely perceptable
The thorn, that thorn,
That memory of summer
Is ready to be teased out
I should be listening
But I have a thorn
A real thorn

I brush it away and look up
Bemused faces look on
Like an unlistening pupil,
The silence of the missed question
That silence,
That pause for the answer
Which is a smile of a memory
A splinter of summer.


Monday, 23 January 2017

Irritating Plant of the Month - January 2017

I struggled a bit this month to think of an irritating plant.  I'm just happy that most seem to be getting through the winter alive, so to label one as irritating seems a little unfair.  I also started to think that it is so easy to be disappointed that to not be looking for the positive is also not the best idea I have had this week.

However, a commitment is a commitment so here is the plant I am nominating this month:  the top of the garden mahonia.
What?  I hear you say, why?  Well I'm less irritated by it than worried if truth be told.  I don't think it looks all that perky at the moment and I am hoping that it is ok.  After spending the first few years ignoring this plant I am now rather fond of it.  It is one of the few plants that was in the garden when I moved in so it deserves some points for being a survivor.

So there you have it, a bit of a half-hearted irritating plant nomination.  I can see it has flower buds forming so hopefully I will stop worrying about it soon.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Looking for a vindication

The other day I was lucky enough (very lucky) to win tickets to the Party for Perennial, a fund raising event for the horticultural charity Perennial.  It is a worthy cause and so to make up for not paying for the tickets raffle tickets were purchased.  My luck ran out at the raffle but that is, as always, not the point when you are supporting something worthwhile and it is truly worthwhile.  We stayed overnight and so the next morning we had a relaxed wander about our capital city until it was time for the train.
Our wander took us through St Pancras Square, which we greatly admired.  It is a really good space and there was some good planting that worked very well.
We stopped in our tracks to admire the bluest of blue skies and this liquidambar complete with seedcases.  Now I have to say that I do not think I have seen seeds on a liquidambar before.  We pondered this for a while,ignoring the passers by who were wondering what on earth we were finding so fascinating.  We then moseyed on our way.
I had a whim to visit St Pancras Old Church as some time ago I remembered someone telling me that Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was buried there.  Mary Wollstonecraft is hugely significant in the history of feminism and I wanted to visit where she was buried.  For me it was a personal act of acknowledgement.  There was also something rather apt about making this visit the day before millions of women marched in defiance and unity.
It is an unassuming headstone really, but that felt appropriate.
There was a collection of things on top of the memorial, there was a joy in their randomness.
We also stopped in wonder at the shape of this tree.  We could not work out what type of tree it is, we had never seen such a shape before, there were a couple of these trees so it must be how they grow.
(Excuse the bleached out photograph).  We stood looking at this too, we wondered if it was tree cancer?

The trees in the churchyard are impressive, though the Hardy Tree is probably the most famous.
Thomas Hardy (yes that one), worked on the relocation of the original church and graveyard when the railway was built just up the road.  Many graves were removed and these stones were put around this tree that has now grown around the stones.
I was fascinated by the numbers on top of the stones, I assume they are indexed.
There is a lot to see in the churchyard, but we spent probably the most time admiring the Burdett-Coutts Memorial to the people whose graves were lost during the relocation.  It was clearly a significant act to relocate the bodies and I can only begin to imagine the upset it must have caused.
The memorial sundial is guarded by lions and dogs.
It houses the most wonderful mosaics.
The detail is incredible.
and I found it rather moving.

It was a fascinating end to our adventure into London.  It was nice to have some time to wander as usually I am dashing around having to be somewhere.  It was one of those moments when the need to take a little time seems a good habit to embrace.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Bridal Flowers 1 - The certainty of uncertainty

..... Certainty is ridiculous (Voltaire)

There are certainties in gardening: every year the circle turns, the seasons come and go and there will be gardening somewhere, by someone; this feels certain.

There are also uncertainties: will it be a cold or mild winter? A long or short winter?  Will it rain too much or too little? Will the summer be hot or not?  There is so much that can happen and some of it will.
For people like me who garden for pleasure, there can be some joy in the uncertainty. Yet even so some days it would be lovely to be able to predict.  This year I am growing the wedding flowers for my daughter's wedding, you will hear more of this (maybe too much) but it adds in a whole level of pressure about performance and blooms that usually I let wash over me.   Of course nature refuses to deliver such certainty.  It does not want that element of predictableness in our lives and in reality that in my view that still is the glory of nature.  It is truly wild and even in our controlled gardens it laughs in the face of our efforts to control it.

So I shall more write of my progress this year when for once I need to produce flowers for a set date.  I will get a glimmer of what it is like to need to do this day in, day out (but without my livelihood depending on it).  I have bought a good book to on growing wedding flowers to give me some advice and I am hoping to go on a workshop about growing wedding flowers as well.  Flower seeds and plant orders have been made and the veg borders are being turned over almost completely to flower production.

Wish me luck!

The Bridal Flowers 2

The Bridal Flowers 3

The Bridal Flowers 4

The Bridal Flowers 5

Wordless Wednesday - Edgeworthia Watch 3

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Book Review: She Sheds, a room of your own by Erika Kotite

I was recently sent a copy of the new book by Erika Kotite that is a wander through the world of she-sheds.  Now I am going to have to say up front that I am not a huge fan of binary notions (she sheds, man sheds etc) but the idea of a 'room of your own' did appeal to me as an exploration into creating personal space.  Add to this I am currently in possession of two decrepit sheds that I intend to replace soon with a more practical and useful shed, and suddenly a discussion about sheds is very interesting to me.
The book is much more than the title might suggest.  I had expected a description and pictures of various sheds.  Erika does do this, starting by talking about different styles of sheds and then looking at different sheds created by for different purposes by various women.  There are sheds for gardeners, artists, back yard getaways and so on.  The sheds are located mainly in the US, but there are some from the UK and other parts of the world.  Some look better equipped than my house and they are all definitely well constructed and beautifully put together.  The detail of some of them is truly wonderful.

I did think it would be nice if I could choose a favourite from the shed portraits in the book. In reality I have favourite parts from different sheds.  The inspiration that this book gives is not to encourage us particularly to copy one of the sheds, but to find the bits you like and put your own mark on your own space.

So where are my favourite bits from:  the Corn-crib conversion is a functional shed for a gardener and obviously that is going to appeal to me.  The outside is a little fancy though for what I would want.  The Year Round Potting Shed has good windows and is less frilly.  Cindy's Shed by the Sea has a green roof and I would love my shed to have a green roof.  But if I was forced to pick my favourite shed from the whole book, I would choose the one that is most impractical for what I want but it reaches out to me more than all the rest.  I would choose Tymmera's Room of Glass; just pop a cat-bed or two in the corner and it would be perfect.

This book is full of useful information. You can just look at the pictures and you will enjoy doing this.  There is a description of each particular shed in terms of size, time to create and approximate cost. There are also descriptions of different ways a shed can be constructed and materials that might be used and the author's case study with useful tips on painting, flooring choices. There is also a step by step guide on how to construct a kit shed.  So when I sat down to look at this book I thought I would just be thinking about aesthetics, instead I found myself reading some really useful information that will help my own quest for a shed.  I also found I was thinking more about the aethetics of my shed than I had expected.  This is a good and interesting book.

She Sheds is published by Cool Springs Press

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Blackberry Tales 12 - A window onto the world

So there I was digging away, happy in my own little world when the spade snagged on a stone.  As is my habit and as I was taught by my gardening neighbours many years ago, I went to pick up the stone to throw it into the hedge.  One day in years to come I will be found behind a 20 foot wall of flung stones but my borders will be fine stone-free tilth;  however I digress.  As I stooped to pick up the stone I realised it was not what I thought.  I picked it up and at first thought it was a large bolt as there are many in the garden.  After a bit of a rub to remove the soil I realised two things. Firstly that it did not contain a genie and secondly that it was a window catch. 
But where and when was the window from?  What did it look out onto and who have looked through it?  Was it a window from another world?  A portal from my garden leading to who knows where?
Probably not, but I like my window catch.  I now wonder if I will find more? 

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Of pruning and pigeons

In previous posts when I have been hacking  pruning trees and roses I have referred to Monty Don's imaginary pigeons.  These pigeons like to fly in formation through said trees and roses and require all cross-branches and encumbrances removed.  Monty has enforced this view on me very strongly and as I hack prune I imagine these pigeons flying through.
Then at the weekend Alys Fowler wrote a piece for the Guardian about how to prune deciduous trees.  Whilst Alys does not refer to the pigeon squadron who are queuing up to practice their Red Arrows displays through the trees, I think it is clear from her advice that subliminal pigeons were involved.  The cross branches and rubbing branches are advised to be removed and other good solid advice is given.  It is clearly an article to prevent hacking and encourage actual pruning.  I read the article carefully, inserted the pigeons into where I thought they should be and was happy.

A couple of days pass and then the Guardian printed a letter from Paul Casey which refutes the need for removing rubbing branches. Indeed the letter says that rubbing branches is important for the trees and help reduce branch failure.

Well, firstly this is fascinating information and could be quite a lively debate.....


.......well you know what I'm going to say don't you?....

Spare a thought for the poor pigeons!  If we stop hacking pruning trees and roses into pigeon-friendly spaces then where will they fly?  How will they train in the necessary fancy flights of swooping, swerving and swiveling as befits their flights of fancy?

As I thought about this further I realised that I was humming to myself  'Stop the Pigeon' from Dastardly and Muttley a cartoon that those of a certain age will remember, which was a spin-off from Wacky Races.  
I worry for the pigeons and all those rubbing branches.  I worry that I might now be mixing up Monty and Nigel for Dastardly and Muttley.........

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Product Review - Wilkinson Sword Stainless Steel Edging Blade

I was sent the Wilkinson Sword Edging Blade to trial some weeks ago and I kept looking at it wondering when would be the day I would feel it was right to give it a go.  I have never owned an edging tool before and that was part of why I chose it. I was interested to know if it really had any advantage on just using a spade to do the same job.  It turns out a grey day in January was going to be the day.  It was the perfect opportunity as I felt like I was getting the garden ready for the new year's growing season.

Except there was question number one, having never owned one previously I was not completely certain on how to use it.  As I was not certain on how to use it, then I was not looking to buy one as I could not see it's advantages; it became quite a circular internal discussion.  Luckily there is an internet site (youtube) where people post all sorts of useful (and not-useful) videos including several on how to use a lawn edging blade.  It may not surprise you there is no great art to this and how I thought it should be used was pretty much how it is. It was useful nonetheless just to check. 
The blade itself is super shiny which means it cuts through the turf/soil with ease. The lip means you stop at the lawn height each time, simple but effective.  I soon found I was nipping along the border.  The blade itself being stainless steel means that my clay soil did not stick to it and it was very easy to clean at the end of the day.
This tool is ideal for me as I have yet to really work on edging my borders. This is because they keep growing and changing shape so I need to be able to be flexible. This tool will help me create more of a definite edge which will also hopefully mean less grass invading the borders. I now wish I had had one of these years ago.
The handle is made of ash and is well shaped to make it easy to use. This tool has a ten year guarantee and it certainly feels solid enough to last that long.  It retails at just under £30 and it feels like it is worth that amount.  It is solid and the reputation of Wilkinson Sword certainly makes me feel it is not going to break in a hurry.  

It is of course a luxury for me to be able to trial this blade as I have not had to pay for it.  Had I known how useful it is I would have bought one ages ago. Yes you  probably can do the same task with a spade, but this blade is light and purpose-shaped and as I mentioned above it has the little lip that keeps the depth correct.  I think it is easier and speedier with something purpose designed.

You can expect to see better edged borders in my garden from now on.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Tree Following January 2017 - you got a friend

Way back in the day when I purchased my quince tree it said very clearly on the label that it was self-fertilising.  I believed this and took it at its word.  Now it may well be a self-fertilising tree, but so far the quincelets are not developing to maturity and this is a disappointment.  Every year the tree gets a year older and a year more mature.  Who knows, this may be the year that it is mature enough to enable a quince to fully develop, who knows.

So far this winter I have opened up more light for the quince tree by pruning neighbouring trees in an attempt to give it more help.  I have also bought it a friend, yes I now have two quince trees in the garden.  The original tree is 'Vranja' and I have bought a Oblonga 'Champion' to keep it company.  This tree is also labelled as self fertilising and apparently (believe it or not) is ready to fruit.  Yes the seller made the bold claim it is ready to fruit.
I am therefore hoping that might two self-fertilising trees will encourage each other to self fertilise or indeed fertilise each other and produce a quince.

Is it cheating to introduce a second tree into tree following - probably

Am I going to drive you all twice as crazy by having two quince trees disappoint me with a lack of quinces - very likely.

How much do I care on a scale of 1 to 10..... I might need to avoid answering that.

Thanks to Squirrelbasket for hosting this meme.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Anglesey Abbey - a wintery walk

I have driven past the turn-off for Anglesey Abbey on the A14 too many times.  I decided the time had come to make a determined effort to drive to this garden and experience for myself the famed 'Winter Walk'.  It is a bit of a hike from where I live but travelling at non-rush hour meant it was reasonably easy to get to.  From the direction I was driving I had to go through the delightfully named village of Stow cum Quy.
The house is partly built on and around a former abbey and it was given to the National Trust by the First Lord Fairhaven who is responsible for much of how the gardens look today.  The property has extensive grounds and I have to admit I ran out of steam before I managed to see everything I wanted to.
Up close to the house there are the formal gardens.  These were immaculately laid out and ready for planting up.  I loved the dark of the mulched beds against the bright green of the lawns.
There are many statues around the grounds.
I loved this chap, he is one of a pair, there was something a bit 'Muppet bald eagle' about them I thought.
I am not sure what this had done to offend, but they put a horses head in it.  I am, however, digressing and prevaricating because at this time of year the Winter Walk is the star attraction and the focus of this post.....
....and rightly so, this is the view that opens up in front of you as you start the walk.  It was not the sunniest of days when I visited and the colours were shining nonetheless.  Yes it is a moment where the word 'wow' flicks across the brain.  I visit a lot of gardens, the ability to make me say wow is getting harder (which is probably a shame, but hey) but this sight made me stop and pause, much to the annoyance of the couple who were clearly walking too close behind me.
The use of colour, foliage and stems is fantastic. This is so simple and it works so well.  It is not actually that big a space, like most gardens the Winter Walk is made up of linked spaces and it changes character and style as you walk along it.
I particularly liked how when you were looking at one element you could see the tops of the next element.  There was good foregrounding and backgrounding.  I also loved the scent from these banks of mahonias.  I kept pausing and sniffing.
I'm thinking that these white stems are Rubus cockburnianus, one of my favourite plant names guaranteed to make me snigger in a very childish way.
It does have fantastic stems.  Just look at the colour, how the light works with the dark.  Even on a grey day the contrasts work.
Shape was very much on my mind as I walked along.  These cornus make a great statement as single specimens.  They are pruned hard each year to keep the whips of coloured new branches forming.  They look a bit like their hair is standing on end, it reminded me of the eponymous character from the book my grandmother used to have called 'Struwwelpeter',
I am going to say though that I was not so keen on this part with a variegated something providing the ground cover.  It just felt a bit too much somehow, the groundcover was taking attention away from the trees and shrubs.  I suppose it depends on what you are focussing on, but to me it looked liked the trees had been wrapped in mashed cabbage.
Then I suddenly realised I could see the tops of the silver birches, which I was really looking forward to seeing.  These birches are often photographed and feature in many articles, is it wrong to say I was excited about seeing a bunch of trees?  No of course not.
It is not the biggest space you will ever see but it is impressive.  It never ceases to surprise me that famours bits of gardens that you see over and over again are often quite a small part of the garden.  Even in terms of the Winter Walk this is one turn of the path and not a huge amount of space.  It is bigger than your average back garden, don't get me wrong, but it is not massive.  The trees are beautiful and the space has that cathedral quality that trees take on when they arch over you, framing the sky.  They make their impact quickly and effectively and that shows great skill in planting.
Really beautiful.
In the next turn of the path there seemed to be some more being planted.  I have to wonder if less is more and maybe adding more will not in reality add more.
The path continues through trees where snowdrops and cyclamens could be seen emerging. When I arrived the lady at the entrance explained the different highlights at different points in the year and I can imagine that it is a good place to visit at different times.
This is part of the dahlia walk.  Nothing planted yet as it is too cold and all that is left of last year's planting is but a discarded flower pot telling the tale of last year's blooms.
Quite a lot of the grounds were roped off to enable the paths to recover for the start of the season, but there were glimpses of great lawns and ponds and places just begging to be explored.
Because I am old I struggle to walk past trees like this without humming the theme song from FollyFoot. Apparently this tree has been struck twice by lightning in fairly recent years, this did not help me stop humming the theme tune.
I have seen many photographs and articles about Anglesey Abbey's winter planting, I was a little anxious in case it was not as good as it is made out to be.  What Anglesey has that most urban gardens do not have is space.  They can create a winter walk because there is room for a rose garden and a dahlia garden and a narcissus garden and so on.  Most of us cannot plant in the same quantities to make the same effects as we just do not have the space.  But this is not a reason not to learn how wonderful these plants can look, either used singularly against a dark backdrop or planting several together.  I came away from Anglesey thinking about stem colour and foliage, shape and form, scent and winter flowers.  I think I will have to wander out that way again soon.