My Weekend This Week – 18/10/2014

Primrose Jack in Green

Primrose Jack in Green

Autumn has decidedly arrived although not the crisp dry Autumn that I prefer, instead it has been a bit grey and quite damp leading to soggy piles of leaves to collect; many have already been collected.

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I have noticed that despite the lower light levels there is still interest in the garden mainly from the various asters.  I think the smaller flowers add some real texture although I want to add some of the larger and brighter flowered asters next year and maybe some more rudbeckias to lift it all.

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The first job was to weed the slope where the Hardy Exotic Border is and plant a mass of mixed daffodil bulbs.  I am conscious that many of the plants will die back over the winter and I don’t really want a large bare area so I am hoping the daffodils will add some spring interest and colour until the main planting reappears.  As my garden is quite small I need to make ever area work as hard as possible. I am trying to adopt the idea of layered or succession planting as advocated by Christopher Lloyd and also David Culp but of course although I understand the logic and purpose putting it into action isn’t as easy as it appears. I think you really need to understand the plants well and I haven’t quite got there.  To help me out I am thrilled to have signed up for a study day at Great Dixter next June.

2014_10180007At the moment my starting point is to give each area a key season of interest.  So the border above is a spring/winter border with the conifers and some bulbs which will appear in the new year.  Today I have added a few cyclamen to give colour.  There is a sprawling geranium in the front of the border which looks wrong and will be relocated elsewhere.  I think a Japanese Painted Fern, yes I know another fern, would look good here and I fancy some white vinca or maybe periwinkle around the tree trunk.

A small achievement was finally sorting the area in front of the shed and fence.  This has been a bit of a dumping ground since the shed went in over a year ago and has been irritating me for some months.  My son plans to put a wood store here, the shed is his workshop, but he is so busy it is well down his list of priorities so I decided to take charge.  It is amazing how much things are improved with a quick tidy up, a thick layer of gravel, a bit of fence paint and a few pots.  The little auricula is far too small so I need to find one of my other pots to go here.  I am thinking maybe a pot of bedding cyclamen.

Elsewhere I planted out the shrubs I bought at the Hergest Croft plant fair last weekend.  The Hydrangea Merveilla Sanguine at the top of the slope to add to the foliage interest.  I was told it needs good moist conditions and maybe at the top of a slope isn’t the best place but the soil is very heavy clay based here and doesn’t seem to dry out too fast so fingers crossed.

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More bare soil but this is where the dead acer was and I am quite pleased with how it is coming along.  I have added a Leptospernum myrtifolium ‘Silver Sheen’ and Berberis seiboldii which is quite electric at the moment and should be wonderful in a year or two. Also planted out today is an unnamed double hellebore and some bedding cyclamen.  There are lots of spring perennials under the soil here at the front of the border so I have added the cyclamen for interest until I am reminded what is here and where it is!!

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I thought I would show you a border I replanted just over a year ago – The Japanese Fern Border.  A grand title for a small area alongside the patio which admittedly has other perennials other than ferns but they are all from Asia – apart from the stray Welsh Poppy in the back there.  The ferns have really filled out and it looks lush and full and makes me smile.

Just for Yvonne I have include the Primrose Jack in Green at the top of the post which I look at when I sit on the bench.

RHS The Garden Anthology – A Review

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I am always in two minds about anthologies.  I often find them disappointing with the assorted short articles or stories.  I think I really like to get into a subject more.  So it was with two minds that I agreed to review the RHS’s new publication The Garden Anthology.

The book has been edited by Ursula Buchan and is a compilation of a wide range of articles that appeared in the magazine from 1866 to the present day.  Buchan states that she has chosen articles which do not rely on photographs or other illustrations to make their point which immediately warmed me to the book.  I remember when my parents bought me Lloyd’s’ The Well Tempered Gardener and they were bemused why I would want a gardening book without pictures but are pictures really necessary all the time?  If you don’t know what the plant being referred to you can look it up. I much prefer reading good descriptive writing that evokes a sense of place or scene.

Unlike many recent anthologies this has not been arranged season by season or month by month which is also a relief.  There is nothing more tedious than reading article after article about winter gardens.  Of course I know you are meant to dip into a book but I prefer to read cover to cover.  In this book the sections are organised according to subjects which are quite broad. They include some obvious ones on plants, people, garden design, practicalities but then there are some more unusual sections such as ‘The International Dimension’ and ‘Inside the RHS’.

Given the broad range of writers who have contributed to the magazine over the years it isn’t surprising that their many voices can be found here from the lyrical writing of Geoffrey Dutton who in the 1990s wrote a series of articles about gardening in Perthshire to more scientific and up to date voice of James Wong.  In total there are 80 different writers included and my only real complaint with the book is that there seems to be more articles from 2000 to the present day than the period before this which I found a little disappointing.  Many of the earlier writers’ work are hard to access these days so I was hoping for more of this.

I was also interested in Buchan’s approach of trying to choose articles that reflected the changing interests in horticulture, whether it is a new scientific discovery or a move towards more environmental approaches, wildlife gardening etc. I wondered if this contributed towards the large volume of articles from the current century as it seems to me that changes to horticultural approaches have been significant since the turn of the century, far more than I remember previously. Maybe this shows a greater acceptance by the magazine’s readers to embrace new ideas rather than the traditional set in stone approach of this is how you do something that I remember from my early days of watching Gardeners World. Interestingly a subject that is often promoted, especially in social media, as a new idea – Are Gardens Art – was raised by Lucinda Lambton back in 1996.  As they say there isn’t much that is really new!

This anthology is a good substantial read.  It has a wide range of subject matter and a wealth of intelligent writing which I am sure would satisfy any gardener with an enquiring mind.  It would also make a good Christmas present for the gardener in the family and I am sure a welcome change to the usual gardening gloves and secateurs.

Potted Delights – Oxalis perdicaria ‘Citrino’

Oxalis perdicaria 'Citrino'

Oxalis perdicaria ‘Citrino’

I have a bit of a thing about bulbs. I just love them.  I love the fact that you plant a small dry bulb and within 6 months you can have a stunningly beautiful plant. I love the anticipation of waiting for the first shoot to push through the soil. I love the ephemeral nature of the flowers and I love the variety from the tiny crocus and snowdrops to the large giant lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum).  So it’s hardly surprising that due to my recent dabbling in the vast and intriguing world of alpines that I have been expanding my bulb collection.  Added to this I have this year joined the Pacific Bulb Society so, as a friend said to me yesterday, all hope is lost.

For those who haven’t come across the PBS they generally produce a list of available seeds and bulbs one a month which you can apply to so recently small packages have been plopping through the letter box from California containing all sorts of delights.  These have been duly potted up in terracotta pots and added to the bulb collection in the greenhouse. Coming home from a weekend away the other day I was beside myself to discover Oxalis perdicaria ‘Citrino’ in flower.  Only a few leaves were present before I went away so to discover these dainty pale yellow flowers was a delight.  Oxalis perdicaria ‘Citrino’ is a bit of a rogue Oxalis.  It sends up leaves in spring but no flowers, then it dies back, only to reappear at this time of year with flowers.  The flowers only open when the light is good and apparently have a honey scent but I am yet to detect this.  I am becoming intrigued by Oxalis having been bewitched by Oxalis veriscolor when I visited the Alpine House at RHS Wisley back in February.

Oxalis veriscolor - RHS Wisley

Oxalis veriscolor – RHS Wisley

If you look carefully you can see that the flowers have a red and white twist of colouring.  When the flower bud is tight shut it is red and the petals are wrapped a bit like an umbrella would be. Then the flower opens out and it is white inside.  The Oxalis perdicaria ‘Citrino’ does the same except the flower is the same colour inside and out but when you look very closely at the buds you can see the same twisting of the petals. I think they are beautiful and intriguing

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So now you know why I get excited about bulbs and yes my friend is right – there is no hope for me

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An Unexpected Arts and Crafts Gem – Perrycroft

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It’s funny how you can trek all over the place, even all over the world, and yet it turns out that there is a wonderful gem of a garden right under your nose and you had no idea.

Perrycroft turned out to be such a garden today.  Situated just over the Malvern Hills from me, nestled just below the ridge and with panoramic views of British Camp and out across Herefordshire towards the Black Mountains of Wales, the house and garden were stunning and I wasn’t alone in this opinion.

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The house was the first commissioned the renown Arts and Craft’s architect, CFA Vosey received for a house.  Vosey had started his career designing wallpaper and furniture and was very inspired by William Morris, Pugin, the Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau and railed against the over decorative approach of the Victorians.

“Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences.” (CFA Voysey)

The white walls and green woodwork are peculiar to his designs and I was completely transfixed by it. The green works so well with the lawn and surroundings and really ties the house into its location.

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Adjacent to the house is the formal garden studded with topiary. I really liked the simple alternating approach of the blocks of sedum and grey foliage but more so that you look down into the square which gives you an interesting viewpoint and reminded me of the medieval gardens which had raised walkways around them.

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The topiary continues down into the next part of the formal garden.  You don’t really get a sense of the slope in the photograph above but they are quite steep and it is interesting that the owners haven’t been tempted to put in lots of horizontal terracing to tame the slope – in fact the box squares working down the slope actually emphasis the slope.

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The chickens are demonstrating the steepness of the slope in the shadow of their topiary cushion.  I have said many times before that I am not a huge fan of hedges and garden rooms mainly because I find them claustrophobia but this wasn’t the case at Perrycroft –  there was a luxurious generosity of space in each area.

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A sense of movement is achieved going down the slope with the repetition of key plants and colours as you can see with the asters and I like the way the verbena bonariensis is planted in front of the dark purple berberis hedge.

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There is a wonderful exuberance in the planting which is as generous as the space.  It is clear that a confident hand is behind this garden.  The owner, Gillian Archer, is very much a hands on gardener and is ably assisted by two full-time gardeners hardly surprising when you consider there are 10 acres to tame and manage.

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If ever there was an example of how wonderful a late summer border can look here it is.  The borders positively glowed with colour.

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As I have said there are 10 acres and aside from the formal gardens there is a woodland and also a wilder area with a chain of three ponds working their way down the slope,  a couple of wildflower meadow type areas, an orchard and a vegetable area.

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Throughout the garden are these very high back benches and I wonder if they are based on Voysey designs.  My research tells me that he liked to design the house including the furnishings and I understand that he partly designed some of the garden are Perrycroft.  It seems to me that the benches are reminiscent of his style.

The number of photographs I take of a garden are always a good indicator of whether I am enjoying it, am inspired by it or, as in this case, just bowled over.  When Voysey died in 1941 amongst the various tributes to his contribution to design and architecture was one from Pevsner, a German born art historian who commented:

“…he never regarded himself as the great artist whose genius must be respected and accepted without querying. He built what was to be useful and enjoyable, that was all. Hence the undated perfection of the best of his work. … his [pattern] designs were so perfectly balanced between stylization and love of nature that the best of them have, to my mind, never been surpassed. Voysey believed in a humane, homely, honest life, in simplicity with domestic care and comfort, and in leisure judiciously and pleasurably spent amidst trees and flowers. … the essence of his work and his personality does not belong to our age but to an age gone for ever.”

Perrycroft opens under the National Garden Scheme

My garden this weekend – 21st September 2014

Aster trinervius 'Stardust'

Aster trinervius ‘Stardust’

Unlike some parts of the country we have been lucky to have a couple of days rain towards the end of the week.  It was mostly light persistent rain but there were a few real downpours which have filled up the water butts and everything is looking fresh again.  Given that Saturday was a damp and overcast day I ‘gardened’ under cover repotting all the miniature bulbs which are stored in the greenhouse now.  There are already some signs of narcissus and oxalis appearing which makes me really happy.  The greenhouse is being given over to overwintering my various alpines so won’t have any heating this year; I will be storing the tender plants in the garage which has a good size window with a work-surface under it.

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I am finding that my tastes have been changing over the last year or so and I am becoming more focussed on certain plant groups which should hopefully mean that the garden looks less chaotic in the future! I am pleased with some of the plant combinations I have created this year.  At the moment this combination of crocosmia, witch hazel with its autumn leaves and the asters is making me smile – it is so vibrant.

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Today, due to my general need to sort, tidy and have a more cohesive approach today, with the sun shining, I decided to continue the clearing I started last weekend and tackle my nemesis – the compost heaps. As you can see my compost heaps are a far cry from the organised and tidy heaps we regularly see on Gardeners’ World but I would say to Monty, in my defence, that I am an amateur garden who has a full time demanding job and no time for turning and moving stuff from one heap to another.

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The two heaps nearest to you in the chaotic photo were emptied this spring, truly, but we never got around to emptying the one nearest the fence and I suspect its been a good year or so since we did and even then I don’t think its been emptied properly for years.  I only needed to remove a small amount of the top layer before I came across good quality compost.  Look how wonderfully friable it is – Monty would be impressed, well maybe!

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A couple of hours later and not only had I emptied the bin completely – yes me on my own, both my sons were out – but I had dismantled and removed the bin.  Some of the lower planks had rotted through which is hardly surprising.  The amount of compost was ridiculous.  I shovelled it down to the border below where the Acer was removed the other week and where I want to plant some new shrubs and add hellebores and spring bulbs.  The stones at the front of the area are a loose retaining wall which I need to redo once everything else is sorted.

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The height of the border has significantly increased but it will go down once it has had time to settle and been rained on plus I want to rake it down the border further once some of the perennials have died back. The compost is so thick here that you sink in it as you walk over it – this makes me very happy indeed.  You can also see that I have painted the fence alongside the space for the compost bin. I would have painted more except I could feel my muscles seizing up – I will do the rest as each bit is more accessible.  It all looks very smart but if you look the other way…

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You can see some of the chaos I have created in the process and left for now!  The bin needs rebuilding and will be shorter than before due to the rotten timbers.  I then need to fill it with a pile of stuff you can’t see and also tip the overflow from the other bins into it.  Then in a month or so when I have tidied and cut back more perennials I will empty out the other bins and use the compost to mulch them.

So for the second weekend on the trot I am tired but happy.  I think the weather is starting to turn so I will need to start moving tender plants under cover in the next week or so.  In the meantime I am researching shrubs for the border above and also peonies for somewhere else.

My Garden This Weekend – 14th September 2014

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I have been a busy bee this weekend and have achieved lots of the plans I have had rattling around in my head in the early hours when I haven’t been able to sleep recently.  I have been saying for some weeks now that the patio border needed a re-jig to give the newish Edgeworthia more space.  So today I lifted a large Astrantia and divided it. In the space left behind I planted the Edgeworthia which was formerly in the space to the right of the above photo.  The Astrantias have been replanted to the front of the border along with Hosta ‘Cherry Berry’ and a Painted Japanese Fern which was being smothered by the Kirengeshoma palmata. I am much happier with the border now which is important as this is my view from the living room window.

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Another of the things I have been wanting to do is to plant up the assorted alpine perennials into large pots.  I have planted up five shallow pots with a whole range of plants; trying to group plants that need the same conditions together.  The plants should grow better than in individual pots and I don’t really have the right environment in the garden for them so this is the best solution.

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I also rescued a couple of ferns from the large woodland border where they were being swamped by other plants and replanted them along the woodland slope which is taking on a real ferny feel.  I have been struggling with the badger visiting the garden again despite the lack of tulip bulbs or bird food.  He seems to be fascinated with digging up my Arisaema which are on this slope or alternatively trying to fell the Cardiocrinum giganteum which I am trying to establish.  I am hoping by planting more ferns and other perennials on the slope I will deter him though I doubt this will actually work.

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But the thing I am really pleased, in fact triumphant about, is tackling the corner above.  This photo was taken about a month ago when the dead Acer was removed.  Since then I have decided that the huge willow which dominates the top of the garden and which blocks the light to this area and much of the garden causing plants to lean needs to be significantly reduced in height.

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The tree is hard to photograph as it is so vast but the right hand branch grows across the Prunus tree causing it to grow sideways instead of upwards.  I have instructed a tree surgeon to reduce the willow down to about 4 metres, just above the split in the trunk, and to remove a couple of branches from the Prunus to stop it tipping over.  The neighbour behind me doesn’t like anything over the fence so cuts all the branches back and this means the tree has grown lopsided and is now, along with the Willow, in serious danger of tipping over.  The removal of so much overhead foliage and branches is going to have quite an impact on the garden and the light; and hopefully moisture.

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I have cleared the weeds and scrubby stuff from the corner and I have had to dig out a whole load of soil.  The badger, yes him again, attacked the small retaining wall under the compost bins the other winter digging huge holes and tipping the stones all over the place.  Now the Acer has gone I can get into the space and pull back the piles of earth created about a year ago and refind the wall and attempt to rebuild it.  My dry stone wall building skills are not in the same league as my father’s or even my eldest son’s but they will do for now. I have now rebuilt the wall and it isn’t too bad; it certainly looks better than the above photo.

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The soil I have been pulling back is very good as its the overflow from the compost bins above.  What you can’t see is that one of the wooden bins is collapsing and the compost piles are ridiculous.  So next weekend I need to tackle them, pulling off the uncomposted stuff and then I am going to drag the rotted down compost down to the area in the photo above.  This will be spread around to improve the soil and drainage and then I will leave this area until Spring.  This way I can see how the removal of so much of the willow and prunus will affect the space and decide what to plant here.  I have a whole host of ideas but I suspect to start with there will be at least two shrubs or maybe a shrub and a small tree.  I also want to paint the fence this week in the evenings while I have the chance. I am also thinking of getting some sort of screening panels to go between the bamboo and border and the compost bins behind.

I hadn’t planned to tackle the corner this weekend but I am thrilled with my achievement even if I ache all over.