Sunday, 21 January 2018


To say that the recent rain and snow has left the garden rather wet is to completely misrepresent the word wet.  Admittedly the garden is not flooded, thankfully we do not seem prone to that where I live so far, but if you can be sodden short of a flood, well then that is pretty much the current state of things.
It is also the time of year when the weather means that getting outside at the weekends to get on with some gardening is a rare achievement.  A day without going outside is not my favourite thing, so if the rain stops or just holds off to be a trickle, then I get at least five minutes outside squelching around the garden.  It might not be much, but it is better than nothing.
The raindrops add their own beauty to the garden, not quite sparkling along the stems as that would require sunshine and that was not evident at any point on the day I took these photographs, but they catch what light there is giving a moment of beauty to be admired.  These beads of light are the silver lining to the grey clouds.
The thick clay that is the soil in most of my garden holds on well to the moisture, which is generally a good thing apart from when it is rotting the dahlias I have left in to overwinter.  I will be interested to see how many survive this soggy winter; I suspect not many.

On the plus side, the days are now actually feeling like they are getting lighter; it always takes a few weeks before I begin to believe that the light is returning.  The last two or three mornings have seen a hint more light when I have left for work than previously and this is a good thing.  I don't wish to wish the days away, with each emerging snowdrop I can see that the season is starting to turn and I welcome each sign as showing me that the garden never truly stops growing.  They are not signs of life returning, but signs of life continuing and I celebrate them as such.

Meanwhile I am continuing to consider my planting plans for the year.  I still need to buy some seeds and I have a £50 Sarah Raven voucher I was given for christmas burning a hole in my pocket.  Expect  news of purchases soon.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Coniferous pepper pots

I remember clearly the first time I saw a conifer tree 'smoke' with pollen blowing on the breeze during spring.  I remain fascinated when I see this happening and it was probably a key moment when my general dislike of conifers started to be chipped away at.  Suddenly the dull green cone-shaped trees that I thought were unchanging through the seasons, had a moment of interest.

Currently in the Courtyard I have a couple of conifers growing in containers: there is a variegated Crytomeria sekkan sugi, which I have had for a few years now.  It is not a tall tree and is slow growing and so perfect to be in a container.  In many ways it is a double-horror to me, conifer and variegated, yet it is a great addition to the Courtyard as it brightens up this shady space.
There is also a 'spare' cypress tree (just by the side of the Crytomeria) which was left over from when I planted up the front garden.  It was a bit poorly for a while so I bunged it in a pot (specialist gardening technical term) and put it in the Courtyard.  There is sits, not doing a huge amount, but I am happy enough with it.

Imagine my joy when I realise that both are getting ready to flower.
Tiny little peppercorn strobilus are forming.  They are so cute and also just a little bit exciting.
I am in danger of getting fascinated by conifers, I have to beware such a turn of events, I might become a conifer convert.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Outset - off plan, en route

If you listen you can hear it, listen, today barely a whisper, a sotto voce murmur of what needs to be; other days the voice is raised, urgent, with a hint of panic.  Like the White Rabbit tapping its watch the feeling that  time's ceaseless underlying rhythm matters.  With my hand to the soil I hear it more clearly, I attend to that voice and know it is talking to me, I hear my garden.

The new year is still fairly new yet day after day has passed and due to the weather there has not been a start of the gardening year.  Desperation starts to kick in after a while as I am just itching to get outside and do something gardeny.

This weekend I decided it was going to be about gardening, it had to be, I could not last much longer without my gardening fix.  On the Friday evening I went along to my local Hardy Plant Society meeting which is just up the road in Nottingham.  The encouragement to go was the dual draw of some 'choice' snowdrops for sale from a local grower and a talk called 'Plants with a Purpose, Tudor Gardening at Cressing Temple' being given by Rebecca Ashbey.  It was a fascinating talk and I learned a lot of things I did not previously know.  It felt like a good way to start a gardening weekend and I wended my way home happy.
Saturday morning dawned, well, I am not sure it dawned, it slid from black to darker then lighter grey, but it was dry and that was what mattered most.  I declared to myself that it would be a pruning day. I felt the need to be cutting back and lopping.  I wandered outside, shed keys in pocket, with a determined view of what the day would be like.

As is my usual habit, gardening cannot start for the day without a wander around the garden to inspect what is going on.  This particularly matters this time of year as I rarely see the garden in daylight during the week.  As I was inspecting I got to the top of the Prairie Borders and knelt to pull up an offending weed, and then another weed, and another; and it became clear the garden was telling me what I needed to do first: weed the Prairie Borders.  There was a good mix of annual and perennial weeds and a hefty dose of teasel seedlings in need of editing out.  Whilst I love teasels they  seed very effectively and I spend quite a lot of time removing and relocating them.
A couple of hours later and the three Prairie Borders are weeded.  The act of weeding also enables me to see what is starting to emerge and what is going on with the borders 'close up'.  I was pleased to see quite a few new clumps of self-seeded Stipa tenuissima and Anemanthele lessoniana filling up some gaps in the borders and the Verbena bananarama is also seeding itself through the borders quite gently at the moment.

The pruning will be another day; the voice of the garden guided me wisely.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Cold, wet and grey

January is cold, wet and grey, who are not the three lost gnomes from Santa's grotto, or a lesser known music hall act along the lines of Wilson, Kepple and Betty.  Cold, wet and grey are the threads that run through this time of year, occasionally appearing as different combinations: cold and grey days, grey and wet days, cold and wet days and sometimes the best of all winter days, cold and sunny.  Sunny is a rare visitor though and has to be treasured when visiting.

Joy has to be found where it can, and there is much to be found if I choose to look.  It is a time of year when detail is what matters most and my walks around the garden tend to involve peering closing at the little things.  I have mentioned Rule #32 often, but enjoying the little things is what gets me through these cold, wet and grey days.

I have been feeling a bit stuck in the house and unable to get any serious gardening undertaken due to the completely saturated state of the garden.  I think it rained every day for the first six days of the year and then it decided to freeze.  So when I have managed to get outside to see what the garden is up to, I have found some things to delight in.
Cyclamen coum are a great joy this time of year.  They hide for most of the year but they appear over the next few weeks and add tiny splashes of colour around the garden.  This clump is one of the oldest in the garden and whilst it has bulked up a bit, it has not yet seeded around as much as I had hoped.
Hamamelis have to be one of my favourite early flowering scented shrubs.  They have fascinating flowers that appear before their leaves arrive.  They also have good autumn colour, so they are not a one-trick pony.  I have three hamamelis in the back garden and one in the front garden, I am greedy.
The two eldest ones flower first.  It is good that I still have two  to come into flower as this makes the joy last longer.
One of my garden stalwarts, Erysimum Bowles Mauve, flowers for most of the year.  This is a short-lived perennial so I regularly take contingency cuttings so that I never lose it.
I was happy to see that the pulmonaria was coming into flower.  This one is nothing special, its a fairly common variety but it is tough as old boots and always a happy moment when it starts to flower.
The hellebores are also starting into action.  I have quite a few as I allow them to seed around and I sometimes buy a new one that I cannot resist buying.  They are, to date, the one plant I am allergic to in the garden.  It took me a while to realise I was reacting to their leaves if I allowed them to brush along my arms as I was weeding.  I take more care around them these day.
Joining hamamelis as a favourite winter scented shrub is the winter honeysuckle.  I have two of these, one by the Portmeirion bench in the back garden and one by the front gate.  The scent from this shrub is nothing short of divine.  Bees love them on the milder days and they provide a valuable food source for them during the early months of the year.  For this reason alone I would always grow this.  It does not add much to the garden for the remainder of the year, but I care not, it sparkles when I need sparkle most and I am grateful.
Of course the snowdrops start pushing through this time of year.  Not only are they a welcome sign that spring is coming, I think they also remind me of childhood.  They are one of those plants that I learned the name of quite early and I think I thought them slightly magical as they flowered when little else did.  I still think they might be a bit magical if truth be told.
It is too cold for roses to flower at the moment, but that is not stopping Mme Alfred Carriere from trying.  This is a case of hope over reality but I admire her spirit.  Darkest winter requires hope to dispel the trio of cold,wet and grey.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Tree Following January 2018 - Buddy

All in the garden is totally saturated at the moment following day after day of on and off rain.  We are just about to head into a very cold period and there will be a spell of frosty nights.  Within all this cold and rain, the quinces Major and Minor stand twiggly on the cusp of spring.
Well, maybe not on the cusp of spring as there is a good couple of months of winter to get through yet, but they are looking at the cusp if they squint at the horizon very intently.
Quince Minor, who is entering his second year of being in the garden, is showing signs that life will return in spring.  Last year Minor was hit hard by the late frost in April and failed to blossom never mind quince.  I shall be anxiously hoping that this year it will do better.
Quince Major entered puberty and produced his first quince, this was very exciting and this year I shall hope for at least two quinces.  I don't think that is too much pressure or asking too much, I just want two quinces, two little chubby furry quinces.
The buds look hopeful to me,
but then I am an optimistic soul at the best of times.

I did suggest that I might follow a new tree in the new year, but I would not want my quinces to feel neglected, so the Quest for a Quince 2018 is on.

More followed trees can be found courtesy of SquirrelBasket here.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

A gardening ponder

... a new year's conundrum

We are in the first week of 2018 and tradition dictates that I should be setting myself new year's resolutions that I will fully intend to carry out and yet (more often than not) fail to do so.  I cannot remember when I last bowed to that dictat and set any resolutions as I tend to take the view if there is something I need to be doing I should get on with it and not wait for some specific date.  Anyhoo, that said, the winter months are great for planning ahead for the garden. January in particular I always find overly grey and it can be hard to get into the garden, so pondering what the year may hold for the garden is a useful exercise.

Pondering - not resolving -this is absolutely completely and totally different to setting resolutions.....

As mentioned previously I have now been in this garden for ten years.  I love (nearly) every inch of this garden and it is a very important part of my life.  Even if the weather means I cannot usefully do much in the garden, if nothing else I will still go for a wander; checking how things are growing, looking for what is new and lamenting what is in decline.  This routine sustains me.  At the moment the wandering and pondering are in full swing.  For these things I know....
.....the front garden needs work.  The lavender edging is past its sell-by date and needs replacing.  I just cannot decide what with.  I could just do like-for-like and replace with fresh lavender plants.  This is tempting and not impossible as I enjoy walking through the lavender and smelling its scent.  I enjoy seeing the bees and butterflies fluttering through it in the warmer months.......

and yet, and yet, maybe it is time for a change?  I have wondered about maybe using sarcocca instead?  I love the scent and it would make a great small edging hedge.  I have also wondered about not having an edge at all; but then I can see people just cutting across the Knot Garden to get to the front door.  When I say people I do include myself in that, so even as I tut at the thought of it I wonder if it is such a bad thing?
I also think that the back garden is due a new something, a new addition.  I do not know what or where, but I hear the sound of the start of changes ringing away.

So watch this space, the year will unfold and decisions will be made.  Much will stay the same and some things will change - for these things I know.