Plans for 2014

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I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. To me it seems that you are just putting yourself under pressure to achieve something which will undoubtedly not be achieved and you will feel like you have failed! But that is just my view. Instead I like to have aspirations and plans which I hope to achieve but with the full expectation that life may throw a curve ball and mean they are put on the back burner. Indeed when I read back through my garden journal from this time last year I was going to create a fern border up the top of the garden but this space was taken over by a wood store for my son and then there was the unexpected decision to give up some of the garden for his workshop which put all the other plans on hold and changed the feel and focus of then garden, albeit for the better.

This year I have a couple of ideas I am hoping to implement. First up is sorting out the corner of the patio. As you can see from the top photo it floods when we have heavy rain. I have had a pond here but the someone somewhere must have cleared some drainage and it dried out. It is now dry most of the year but I can’t risk planting anything here that isn’t a marginal plant. The other problem is that all the dust and detritus from the patio finds it way here and it is a challenge to make it tidy. I also feel that some height is needed here. So the plan is to put in some bricks or concrete blocks in which I can rest a wood plank platform. My eldest and I have worked it out so that any flood water could drain away through a gap below the planks. I then fancy a nice acer in a large pot here.

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Then there is the Big Border to come up with an approach for. I feel an inclination to lush exotic looking foliage coupled with some more traditional perennials but it hasn’t crystallised in my mind yet. The far end of the border is partially shady so I will be planting some of the woodland perennials I love here. This is an area that I think will cause much pondering over the coming months.

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The other major project we will definitely have to do is to finish the landscaping around the workshop. Guttering and a water butt need to be put in and the wood store which is where the fern border was going to be needs to be relocated to its final position. We want to create a small seating area by the workshop (in the area above) – it’s one of the few flattish areas. I will need to rejig some of the plants and bring in a load of gravel. There should be enough room for a bench.

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The original woodland border needs some focus and better planting. This was on the list for last year but was a victim of the Big Border/workshop project. I want to add more shrubs along the fence and rejig the smaller perennials more to the front of the border. Originally when the border was created I intended there would be an informal path through the border but with developments last year I no longer think another path is a good idea. This means the focus of the border has changed but I think what I have in mind will be much better than the original plan.

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Then there is the grass path dilemma. This is what was left of the back lawn. It has a camber which means I find cutting it with the mower exhausting and a strimmer justo doesn’t do the job well enough. Then there is the badger and it’s penchant for digging holes in it looking for grubs. Why I don’t know since there is a vast area of grass next door which is neglected and which the badger has to cross to get to my garden! I am toying with putting in a gravel path instead but there is a small voice saying the grass is a nice pause in the chaos of the garden. I suspect that I will still be pondering this in a year’s time.

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Finally two projects I did plan and complete last year. The small conifer bed in front of the workshop is looking fresh and there are bulbs beginning to push through the soil. The woodland slope is my favourite area at the moment. I have planted it with ferns and epimediums and again there are snowdrops and special narcissus in here. I am hoping it will look wonderful in a month or so.

So lots planned and filling my mind in the early hours of the morning but at least there will be things to report back on here!

Creative Thursday – Skinny Scarf

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I have included the odd post on here about my creative exploits.  Aside from my botanical painting which is definitely on the back burner at the moment, there has been the tiny clothes for my mother’s toy goose, a skirt and more recently a crocheted scarf.

I want to re-discover my creative side. When I was a teenager and when my sons were little I was always knitting and sewing.  In my late teens I used to make my own dresses and skirts often from complex Vogue designer patterns and I had some success but then I met my ex-husband and due to his personality problems my confidence went and I stopped dressmaking and knitting.  When the boys were little, and I was on my own I started making fancy dress outfits for them and even trousers from an old pair of mine.  They were very simplistic but they worked.  I have had knitting projects on the go frequently on and off over the years but last summer the pattern I was attempting just wouldn’t work and I lost my confidence, then the aforementioned skirt didn’t come out as well as I would have liked and I really threw in the towel.

I then decided to learn how to crochet as I thought learning a new skill would  give me a bit of confidence.  I have subscribed to the Art of Crochet and am learning step by step.  I also returned to tapestry work which is easy to do when you are watching television and quite therapeutic but now I want to make the tapestries into cushion covers and my first attempt  was awful.

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The crocheting has given me some confidence and on this post you can see a skinny scarf that I finished a while ago.  The fabric is quite itchy so I think it will be something I wear with a jacket more when I go out but it was good to work through something steadily and build  confidence.  I particularly love the long tassles!

In recent weeks I have been inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee on BBC2.  The thing that encouraged me the most was that the contestants had been chosen from lots of entrants and they were still making mistakes, the type I have made recently.  It showed me not to give up so easily and that practice will help.  I have bought the book which gives a range of projects from cushion covers, curtains to a range of clothes.  The book shows you have to put in a zip and other skills.  I always avoided zips when I was dressmaking before and being self-taught I tended to stick to the simpler buttonholes.  My biggest problem with dressmaking again is the cost and a lack of confidence in what suits me.  When I was younger, I was very slim and seemed to be able to wear anything, this is not the case now.   I have decided to work on some very simple dressmaking/sewing projects first and then maybe try a simple A line skirt to build confidence.

I have enjoyed crocheting the shoulder bag I am working on at the moment and am currently trying to decided whether to follow the instructions fully and felt it in the washing machine or leave the ‘fabric’ as it is – it is rather lovely.  There is something wonderful and satisfying about having made something yourself and I am planning on using this blog to record my journey and the things that inspire me – these posts will be on a Thursday, though I doubt  if  it  will be every Thursday.

My Garden This Weekend – 1st April 2013

The sight that greeted me when I returned home on Saturday

The sight that greeted me when I returned home on Saturday

As I mentioned in my post last weekend I have had the last week off work but the weather has not been at all kind to me.  However, saying that it has been nice to relax and spend time with my youngest son, who is home from University.  The snow that fell a week ago on Saturday has finally gone and if you look carefully there are all sorts of plants putting their heads above the ground including peonies, Solomons seal, meconopsis poppy and geraniums.  I am hoping that we don’t have any more real drops in temperature which will affect these new shoots.   The Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ is just beginning to open its flowers and should look wonderful by the end of this week.

I have rearranged the greenhouse twice in a bid to try to make some more space for seed trays as well as for the trays of seedlings which I will hopefully have in a few weeks.  I just need some warmer weather so I can move things on from the cold frame which will make room for plants to be moved out of the greenhouse. There are a few things beginning to germinate but mainly alpines in the cold frame: Primula wilsonii anisodora and Delphinium requienii as well as some Dahlia x Twynings Eight seeds which Karen gave me last year.

At the end of Sunday after my efforts

At the end of Sunday after my efforts

The only real work that has happened in the garden is down to my sons.  While I was at the monthly meeting of the local Hardy Plant Society on Saturday they started on extending the steps up the garden.  I have been waiting to do this for probably 3 years and am absolutely thrilled with the result.  When I got home the first 3 risers had gone in and the steps levelled.  On Sunday I collected stone from around the garden – we are always digging up lumps of Malvern stone – and edged the steps.  My father is excellent at constructing dry stone walls and makes it look easy; it isn’t and I was only trying to get two layers.  But it will do for now and I know that later in the year my supply of stone will increase due to the next major project. I then put down some path membrane which we had bought back from the allotment when I gave it up last year and topped dressed the steps with left over gravel from when we put in the bike store.  Sadly, and inevitably, we didn’t have enough gravel so another four bags were bought today and the job finished while I was at my local AGS group’s show (more  of that later in the week).  I am amazed at the visual difference the steps make, they tie the garden together better and finally I can stop sliding over backwards on the mud. Oh and the third compost bin was also put up as we had no where for the lifted ‘turf’ to go.

The view when I got home today

The view when I got home today

The big project is that I have agreed to my eldest son having a workshop in the garden for his woodwork.  He currently works in the garage but it is far from ideal – being dark and full of garden tools etc.  We looked at converting the garage into a workshop by removing the front door and bricking it up with a window but building regulations are demanding and we would have to dig foundations, add insulation etc.  Plus cost aside I still need to store the gardening stuff and it would  also restrict access to the garden and back of the house.  I did consult a builder I know and am waiting on a quote but something didn’t sit right in my mind so I suggested to my son he might like a shed instead, with power and insulation.  Surprisingly, he was more thrilled with this idea than the garage conversion – there must be something deep in the psyche of men that they get excited about  sheds!!  We have worked out that the best size will be 8′ x 8′ and he has found some with a high roofs which is important as he is 6′ 5″ but we also have to make sure the roof is low enough not to need planning permission!!

I have agreed that he can have the area to the right of the top of the path as this is one of the few flat areas in the garden and an area I tend to ignore as I can’t decide on an identity for it.  We will need to cut back into the slope so the shed is set right back and not quite so dominant.  The result of this is I have many plants to re-home and that is on top of the moves I have been trying to do over winter and the new border I want to create which I have plants ready for.  I have concluded the only way to cope is to pot the plants up and then to rethink where they are going.  Luckily my son is happy to wait for a bit and is going to help me create the new  border but I now have lots and lots to do so I really need the weather to warm up a little.

The local AGS group's show

The local AGS group’s show

I know I will lose some gardening space but I am digging up the back lawn which will give me more room, plus I will have more space in the garage for overwintering plants which will free up space in the greenhouse and most importantly I really want to support my son who I think has a bit of a talent for  wood-turning. I also think the workshop will help the garden overall since I think in some strange way it will add structure and the paths will make more sense.

I have decided the only way forward is to get a thick dull novel which will help me sleep at night!

Plans

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I don’t go in for New Year resolutions as I think they are unhealthy and put you under pressure to achieve something which you will no doubt fail to achieve as you have never achieved it before.  But I have projects, plans and aspirations for 2013 many of them garden related.

In practical terms there are a number of projects that I want to carry out or even complete.  To start with the front garden project, started Spring 2012 needs finishing.  The weather and allotment just conspired against me and what should have been a fairly quick job of reshaping the lawn dragged on all year and still isn’t complete.  I have one more edge to straighten and a stepping stone to lay.  Then I need to finish preparing the borders followed by some plant moving.  This is still a work in progress plant wise as I haven’t quite  got the planting completed in my head.  The front garden will be the focus of this year End of Month View posts so you will see for yourself  how  I get on.

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I also want to extend  the steps up the garden.  I am forever slipping on the ‘grass’ at the top of them even when we haven’t had as much rain as we have had this year.  I am still trying to work out a purpose/identity for the corner border and I think extending the steps up to the gravel path will help define this space better and help my thought process.  The extended steps will no doubt mean that the ‘lawn’ has to be reshaped but this will mean more planting space.  I am also still toying with the idea of digging up the whole back lawn but  am dithering because due to the slope I would need to add in more steps to help with access and it would also be a huge planting space for me. I think I need to focus on finishing off  other  projects first but who  knows it might be a project for 2014.

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The final project is a small one and that is to sort out the patio.  I can’t afford to replace it  but I want to pretty it up.  In particular I need to address the area near the bike shed which has become a dumping ground.  There is a wooden planter here which my son made me years  back which is now falling to pieces and now he is a cabinet-maker he isn’t that proud of it.  This will go and I want to replace it with a rectangular pot which will be the focus point with a climber in it to cover the fence.  I then intend to use the cleared space as a display for pots with plants that need a little shade.  Well that’s the idea.  I also intend to paint the fence a dark brown to show off the plants and I am thinking of doing this to all the fences – though that does sound daunting.

disguising the boundary is an ongoing challenge.  Over the last year I have planted a number of shrubs and climbers but I hadn’t really taken into account winter and as many are deciduous  it all looks a little bare so I  need to look at adding some more evergreens. I also need to address the compost bin situation as it is completely out of hand and a sign that I need to improve the way I do things which leads me on to my real driver this year.

I want to learn to be a better gardener and move towards my aspiration  to become a plantswoman; this is my real focus and challenge.   Now the  allotment has gone I feel more focussed and am finally seeing my garden properly for the first time in years.  My  urge to buy  plants is still there but it is not the most important thing  now; maybe this means I have matured as a gardener.  I  want to learn about plants in detail.  I have looked at various  courses and I know enough about propagation, naming plants and the component parts for now.  There aren’t any courses that fulfil my need so I have decided to roll up my sleeves and teach myself.  I have joined a number of specialist plant groups so I can learn directly from the experts and I am reading – a lot.

I am pleased to say that due to the drier weather I  have started the New Year with two good gardening sessions including starting to empty out the compost bins.  It is lucky I have an appointment at the chiropractor on Monday as I think I will need sorting out by then.

Projects underway

With the arrival of some much needed rain over the last few weeks my son and I have finally started on some of the projects I had planned for the garden.  I must admit I am lucky to have a very practical son to  help me out with my plans.

Last weekend he cleared the top corner of the  garden and took away 6 years of twigs, branches and other woody detritus.  Being a scout leader he did have a bit of an ulterior motive as he wanted it for the scout firework night bonfire.  Now before the wildlife fans get upset I still have a couple of rotting logs tucked away for invertebrates and we gave everything a good shake to give insects a chance to escape to a new woody pile we have created elsewhere.  You can see that I have a horrid concrete based fence which I can’t remove as its shared with the neighbour behind who likes it!  The tree roots also make it hard to dig the soil here so my son has used some scaffolding board we had left over and created a bit of a raised bed.  We have filled this with the decomposing turf stack I created when I lifted some of the lawn for the woodland border.  I am really thrilled with this new bed especially as I wasn’t expecting him to complete it in one day.  I am planning on planting a couple of shrubs here and maybe a tall grass.  I particularly fancy Hydrangea serrata ‘Shichidanka’ as I  think the pretty small pink flowers will light up this corner.

Having felt very tired yesterday and fiddled around with pots I decided today that I needed to start tackling the pond/bog garden project.  The sun was shining and temperatures were around 17C which is bizarre for November.  As I have mentioned before I have struggled with the pond for a couple of years, it just doesn’t work and whilst I  like seeing ponds elsewhere I don’t think I am keen enough on pond plants to struggle with one.  This year it has been particularly awful with low levels of water due to the dry season and my moisture loving  plants in the border around the pond really struggled.  Therefore I decided to utilise the failing pond to create a bog  garden to give the rheum and ligularia a better chance.

Today I started on the far side of the pond.  Lifting the plants which are now residing in the new border above until their new home is sorted.  I have cut back the liner to help with drainage and I have shovelled the soil from the back border into the middle of the pond.  I haven’t had much of an idea of what the end product will look like until today.  I had one of those eureka moment when I decided that instead of running a path through the middle of the bed it will now go  round the back in front of the dry stone wall.  There is a firm base here and all I will  have to do is to add some chipped bark whereas the first plan would mean a lot of work to create a stable base.

I’m also pleased with this decision as it means that the wall will be on view instead of hidden behind the tall ferns etc.  The slope at this point has been problematic as it has been difficult to access, I knew it was a bad idea when we did it, so I have tended to ignore it to some extent.    Over the last year I have been working on giving this bit of the slope a spring feel by planting lots of snowdrop bulbs, primulas and white perennial honesty.  Now that I can get to the bed better I will be able to see the bulbs up close and then in late spring I will re-jig it and plant some geraniums I have to add some summer colour.

Next week or when my achy body and the weather permits I need to clear the other side and cut  back the liner there too.  There is a huge rheum in here which I need to wrestle out of the ground and I suspect this will be all I actually manage in one go.  The rheum is now going in the middle of the bed, the soggiest bit.  I then have to sort out the levels which are currently all wrong and fill up the rest of the pond.  Then its a case of moving the ligularia, darmera and other plants I have rescued in to their new home.  Next year hopefully my trays of candelabra primulas will have bulked up enough to be planted out  and I am also going to add some irises – sibricia and robusta.

Oh and I planted some raspberries and a blackberry at the allotment.

So that was my weekend – how was yours?!

No more procrastination

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Dicentra scandens grown from seed this year

I have had the last week off as annual leave and its been a real mixed week emotionally, but as I face the prospect of going back to work tomorrow I think the break has done me a power of good.

As ever I had ridiculously unrealistic plans for the week and luckily the rain which we had for most of the week curtailed some of those plans or I would have really run myself into the ground.  The week started with a visit to Hidcote and Kiftsgate Gardens in the Cotswolds with Victoria.  I wrote about the trip to Hidcote here and will write about Kiftsgate soon – promise. We had a great day though I found myself wondering whether visiting two gardens in one day is such a good idea.  It’s not so much physical demands but more trying to differentiate between the impressions left by the two gardens in my mind days later.

Tuesday brought a routine visit to the doctors which has resulted in me having to have a fasting blood test first thing tomorrow morning so no more food or drink for me until tomorrow  so this post might be rather long as a distraction.  The blood test is only precautionary to make sure there isn’t any medical reason for my continued tiredness which both the doctor and I suspect is due to me trying to come to terms with losing my sister last October. Not  having experienced grief before I have been overwhelmed by the extreme ping-pong effect on my emotions and the tiredness I feel.  However, a  positive thing to come out of losing Claire is that my attitude to life has changed,  this is not always a good thing as I tended to say what I thought before and this has probably got worse, but I do find myself thinking more and more that life is just too short so what the heck.  Instead of procrastinating about studying for the RHS certificates and finding 101 reasons why I shouldn’t do it I have just signed up for the  course.

Consequently, as part of the arduous process that seems to be involved with signing up for this course at the local horticultural college Wednesday found me on a taster day.  We were a disparate group: 4 teenage boys (1 a real goth), 2 chaps in their late 20s,  a 30 something lady who was into organics and community gardening, a lady in her 50s who wanted to take up garden design, and me.  It turned out that the taster day was for anyone interested in any course to do with horticulture, landscaping etc.  The morning was spent learning to take cuttings and potting up a decorative pot – not really challenging and then after lunch we were to do hard landscaping.  I have to say that my heart sank at the prospect but not as much as it would have done a year ago.  We were presented with some paving and told to have a go at laying it.  We worked in pairs (I worked with the 50-year-old lady who was also called Helen).  It turned out that all  the lads were interested in hard landscaping courses so this was right up their street.  Helen and I decided that we would just go for it and do our best in a corner out-of-the-way.  Turned out we were fab, every  slab was level first time – even our tutor was impressed and we out did the la!ds  We had such a laugh that I think we were bordering on hysteria.  Found myself seriously considering taking up hard landscaping – well for about  an hour!.

Thursday and the weather was rubbish – rain and more rain.  It was one of those days to address  jobs you have avoided so I did all my paperwork which did in the end leave me feeling quite pleased with myself.  On a positive note I confirmed the arrangements for a visit to Highgrove Gardens with a bunch of garden twitters (you know who you are).  It had taken less than a week from a casual wouldn’t it be nice to conversation on twitter to making the booking – more of my new grab life while you can attitude.

The week deteriorated after this due to reading that one of the US blotanists had lost her 21-year-old daughter in a car accident.  Not surprisingly this brought emotions to the surface which was challenging.  The remedy was to get my parents around for what the Americans call a work party.  We tidied the front garden, my least favourite part of the  garden, weeded the driveway and the patio and generally had a really good tidy up of the garden.  As I worked with my Mum we talked about my sister and her family which was good.  We also decided that we couldn’t face another Christmas like last year and that as Christmas would never be the same again we should do something completely different this year.  So I now have the task of finding a holiday cottage for us for this Christmas – just what I need, a project to get my teeth in to.

Finally, feeling recharged, today I set to in the garden and decided that enough was enough.  As some readers will know I am addicted to growing things from seed and then struggle to find homes for the plants I grow.  I am getting better at only pricking out a few of each batch but I do have quite a lot of young plants from seeds sown last year and the year before which were still sitting in pots looking neglected.  So today  I planted all of them – every single one.  I have about 20 Dierama which I have planted in a big block  in the raised bed at the top of the  garden along with lots of grass seedlings.  Who know what the  result will look like in a year’s time but I don’t care – I can always move things around and you never know my gung-ho attitude may have some good outcomes.

So that’s me all recharged emotional and physically and with projects identified to give me something to focus on for the next couple of months until my course  starts. Three days back at work and then we are off to Sorrento in Italy for a week I can’t wait.

I’m not panicing honest!!!!

When I did my end of  month view a  couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I had a few projects lined up for the coming year which I would keep a diary of during the year.  However, there have been exciting goings on since then as VP and I have been hatching plans for the http://malvernmeet.blogspot.com/ event.  I think initially we both thought that we would be meeting up with a handful of UK bloggers that we already knew and who normally go to the Malvern show.  Not so, the event has taken on a life of its own as you will see if you visit the blog VP  has  set up for the event.  Not only do we have UK bloggers coming but also Yolanda for the Netherlands and today Frances and Gail have confirmed that they will be popping over the pond from the US to join in the fun.  We had anticipated that some people may stay overnight and we might decide to have a meal out on one of the evenings but with the amazing amount of interest we have had we are now in the situation where we have  between 10-20 attending the  evening event on both Friday and  Saturday.  Now Malvern is  a small provincial town and  so there aren’t many eating establishments that can cope with these sorts of numbers.  In a moment of complete madness I merrily said to VP, “Well if it comes to  it everyone can come round to mine for a party”.  Oh dear.  On current numbers I have around 14 confirmed as coming to my house on the Friday evening and about 10 additional possibles!!!!!

Consequently, I have now become completely panic-stricken.  Not about all these people in my house (luckily I had a new kitchen and bathroom installed last year), nor about feeding them all (whilst we haven’t a great choice of restaurants in Malvern we do have a lot of  take aways).  No I am panic-stricken about my garden.  There will be a bunch of very discerning gardeners visiting.  I won’t be able to hide the areas that don’t appear on the blog from them.  Some of them will be garden designers by profession – I haven’t got a clue about design and it  shows.  Argh!!!  So my couple of projects have become more pressing and on  top of them I have to address the front garden once and for all. 

I  am one of those people who doesn’t enjoy gardening in my front garden.  Since I moved here I have planted a Laurel and  Beech hedge to get some privacy and also  some  trees but apart from them there is a lack of cohesion, design or anything else desirable.  I tend to  park  the car and go straight in the  front door without a second look at the garden but this will be the first impression my gardening gurus will have.  So I have been looking out of the upstairs window to try to  decide  what  to do.  I think the shape of the lawn (see above) is  OK – I just need to sort out the planting.  According to the countdown on Meet@Malvern I have 88 days to sort things – better get going.