Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – September 2016

 

Grevillea victoriae

Grevillea victoriae

I’ve decided not to focus on the asters this month but to showcase four plants which have just started to flower and whose flowers I am always thrilled to see.  They all need to be sought out in the garden as they can be a little shy.

First up is Grevillea victoriae which has wonderful exotic orange flowers. Similar to Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’ but flowering later.  Last year I thought it hadn’t flowered but discovered all the flowers at the bottom of the shrub.  This year the shrub is a year older and has been moved into a sunnier location and the flowers are beginning to appear higher on the shrub so I am hoping that next year it will look amazing.

Unknown Nerine

Unknown Nerine

I have started to extend the bulb season in my garden with the inclusion of Nerines.  This is the first to flower and is from a hugh pot full of bulbs that I bought for a couple of pounds last year at the local HPS group.  I was really thrilled to see it, and its fellow flowers, as it shows that I have found a good location for it and confirms my plan to plant more Southern Hemisphere bulbs in this particular area.

Massonia

Massonia

I am always pleased when the Massonia flowers in the greenhouse.  I had a Massonia pustulata but I think I lost that and as its name indicates the leaves were quite blistered looking so its not that variety, maybe I will find the label one day but either way I am pleased it has flowered again.

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I have various Colchicums of differing quality and these are always the first to flower and are slowly but surely beginning to spread.  They are one of those plants whose flowers appear under the foliage of other plants but as you pass something catches you eye and you find yourself on your hands and knees looking to see what the colour is from.

So those are my 4 secret gems for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – for more GBBD posts visit Carol at May Dream Gardens

Malvern Hill Destress

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I love the Malvern Hills, particularly the walk from British Camp south towards Midsummer Hill.  The huge skies, far-reaching views and complete serenity, particularly early on a Sunday morning are the things that make my heart sing and recharge me.

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Over a year ago my eldest set me the challenge to walk to the top of all the individual peaks.  I have done the majority and I think the only real summit left outstanding is Midsummer Hill.  I have stopped deliberately checking the hills off as the challenge has had the wonderful effect of making the hills familiar to me and giving me a new way to de-stress. I nearly got lost today as I was day dreaming so much that I came to the edge of a hill and realised that there was no path to take me forward.  I had strayed to the side much to the entertainment of a chap feeding his dog blackberries (!) who pointed out the path to me – we agreed that the reason we were on the top of the hills was to forget everything.

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I have found this last year or so that gardening is no longer the thing that I turn to to relax.  I suspect that it has become a victim of over blogging.  When you are conscious that you writing about something on a regular basis you start to feel a pressure to have something interesting to write about and then you lose your enjoyment, as my son said today the garden and blogging had become a job not relaxation. So of course writing about my walks could be a dangerous thing as I don’t want the same thing to happen.  However, I did write about gardening on the blog for some 9 years at least 3 times a week so I think I have a way to go before there is a problem.

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This morning the grass was thick with dew which in the early morning light looked like jewels.  In fact the grass in the photo above looked like some unusual flower from a distance and it wasn’t until I got close that I realised the ‘flowers’ were in fact dew drops. Walking first thing or in the evening means that I often feel like I have the hills to myself and the wildlife is around before it goes quite in the heat of the day.  Today, I enjoyed watching stonechats and at the furthest point of my walk I sat on the top of the hill while house martins swooped around me feeding before they migrate south.

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You can see how strong the sun was even first thing; wonderful after the grey and wet day yesterday.  I think, from the lack of buildings, that this view is looking out towards Herefordshire. I love the feeling of being on top of the world you get when you can see so far into the distant.

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The view back from where I started – my car is just over the hill in the distance and part way down the other side.  One of the things that are great about the Malverns is that you have areas which are open and grazed and other parts that are very wooded, so lots of variety of habitat.   To get from British Camp, that you can see in the distance, to this point, you dip down and walk through a wooded valley before climbing up again on a very rocky path

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And this is the view from lower down British Camp towards the point of the photo above (they should really be the other way round). If you look very carefully at the wooded hill in the distance (Midsummer Hill) you can see a brown mark and that is the summit that I walked to today – it doesn’t have a name.  Midsummer Hill is the last one I really want to climb and my eldest is going to do that one with me as he says it is quite steep and the paths aren’t that clear.

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However, I’m not in a hurry as I have found my favourite walks depending on my mood and how far I want to walk. I can’t believe how lucky I am to live within minutes of these beautiful hills.

Warts and All Tour – 2016

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Having neglected the blog and the garden this year I have been beating myself about both.  However, I have a week leave from work and have deliberately made no plans as I am desperate for the time to just be and to do all those menial tasks that need doing from time to time but  if neglected become daunting monsters.  Top of my list is to spend lots of time in the garden.  I haven’t set any specific targets of things to do and I know that it needs more time than I have to get the garden looking tip top by the end of the week but I want to get back in touch with it.  Being perplexed about where to start I had a good walk round this morning and thought it would be good to give you a tour of the garden through my camera lens – I last did one back in 2014 so if you want to see what the changes have, or haven’t been, you can click on this link. You can also access a plan of the garden via the tab at the top of the page.

So we start by entering the back garden via the side path – you can see this is a bit of a wood store, with my bags of compost stored under the wood.  The neighbours house is so close that rain rarely gets through so its great for storing things and also overwintering plants that need a bit of protection.

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As we come round the corner you can see that the foliage obsession hinted at by the pots in the top photo continues along the patio.  It has always been quite shady here due to my neighbours’ trees and the soil is that wonderful moist by free draining – this year I have had blue meconopsis poppies flowering here.  You can also see my dinky greenhouse and evidence of plant buying.

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The whole patio with the supervisor about to boss me around.  It needs a weed but isn’t too bad this year.  The patio is quite narrow and we tend to sit on the bench up the garden but there are seats here too which are on my list for a face lift.

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We pass the greenhouse which has had a bit of a tidy up but needs some more work on it.  Currently it is home to my pelargonium, tender succulents and begonias – all of them could go outside but I hate an empty greenhouse.

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The far end of the patio is very sunny and home to the staging which gets used all year for one thing or another – oh and the bin store which is behind the garage.  I still need to work out what to grow up the fence; whatever it is will have to grow in a pot as the ground is builders rubble here.  To the left you can just see the start of the damp corner where water tends to accumulate when we have a lot of rain before soaking away.  I have planted this corner with damp loving irises and grasses which are thriving.  As you can see I haven’t tidied up and there is a stray teapot on its side – this was put here as it is an old pot which was in the garden full of water and a frog had taken up residence in the heat so we moved it carefully to the shade to protect the frog.

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Up the steps, which featured last year on the end of month view meme.  They are looking a little bare at the moment as I have been tidying here but if you look very carefully to the right you can just pick out little pink and white dots which are the flowers of Cyclamen hederifolium – I used this area mainly for spring bulbs.

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At the top of the steps if you turn left you have the bottom path which runs almost along the top of the wall.  I need to work on this area and have plans to improve it over the next year.  The soil, despite being clay based, is very free draining due to the slope and there are parts which therefore become quite dry so I want to change the planting to work with this.

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As the end of the path you go up a slight rise towards the grass path (which runs across the middle of the garden).  This area has always been very shady and to a degree damp but due to my new neighbours chainsaw activity it is now flooded with light.  This, as I have mentioned before, has really challenged me.  I’m not used to see people in the next garden, I am used to a screen of green and I find it difficult.  However, I like the additional light that is coming in and many plants have benefited from it.  So the plan for here is to relocate some of the taller shrubs to the area in front of the fence, not to create a hedge, but to break up the line of the fence and to give some privacy but keeping the light.

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From the shady end of the grass path you look back towards the shed between the Big Border and Hugh’s Border.  Both have done much better this year but still need further work to bring more colour to the left hand side and more cohesion to the right hand side – I have ideas!

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We walk back to the shed and turn towards the back of the garden and you have the top bench, also in need of some TLC.  The planting on the slope behind the bench is doing rather well and my eldest and I have been arguing over whether it is doing too well – he has persuaded me to leave it be but to tie up the abutilon better and I think he is right.

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Looking from the bench to the left of the garden you can see the compost bins in the back ground.  Some people have suggested that I should disguise them but I see no reason to, I find them quite appealing with their grassy slope in front.  The mess in the foreground is mainly the back of Hugh’s Border where the ferns have suffered from a lack of rain for some time.  To the right is the shadier part of the slope where the ferns are doing very well but the ones planted here don’t need as much moisture.

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Up to the compost bins and a look back down the garden at the other end of Hugh’s Border – I think this view is quite pleasing.

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Then we have the very top path which leads nowhere but to behind the shed.  This is the worst part of the garden in need of much weeding and for replacement retaining boards and some gravel or woodchip on the path but the plants are thriving so its not all bad.

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The final view is from the end of the top path looking down the garden towards the house.  I like this view as my intention has been to create a leafy retreat and I think it is beginning to come together.

So I hope you enjoyed the warts and all tour of the garden – I wonder if there will be much change by this time next week.  In the meantime, as it keeps raining heavily, I will go and consider the curtains that I really should make but keep making excuses about.

 

Plans are afoot

Beth Chatto's gravel garden

Beth Chatto’s gravel garden

My garden for the last 9 years or so has become my identity to many people particularly as I have been a serial blogger on the subject.  Even recently at work people have started to ask about my blog and I’ve heard the expression “Helen writes a gardening blog you know” more and more.  Something in me twitched at this.  I have always hated being pigeon-holed and railed against it.  But I also think I twitched as I felt guilty for not blogging much and because I have hardly been in the garden properly for some 6 weeks or maybe longer – a niggle of guilt has been eating away at me. I’m not so worried about the blog as I know my lack of interest is because with a new demanding job I am too tired to spend more time looking at a PC when I get home.  This assumption is backed up by my desire to blog today when I am on leave – I obviously need some sort of vehicle for my mental output.

 

As for the garden it has troubled me that I can’t get interested in it. I have struggled since the new neighbours cut down their new overgrown garden and left me with little privacy. I have also come to realise that my creative side needs projects to keep it interested and whilst there is plenty of maintenance needed which I enjoy most of the time I really need a project to get me properly engaged.  Having dug up the front lawn earlier this year and replanted the space I have been left wondering what to do.  I have even spent time looking at new houses but again my heart wasn’t in moving as I do like living here.

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Then something changed, it wasn’t a light bulb moment or any sort of revelation and I actually suspect that because I had had a quite week at work allowing me to catch up properly before a week’s leave that my head had cleared and allowed me space to think about the garden.  In addition I was home alone last week and found myself wandering around the garden with my morning cuppa  which led to pondering.

And you guess right a new project has come about and I am a happy bunny, itching to get going and suddenly enthused to tidy up and regain control of a garden which seems to have embraced its neglect far too quickly for my liking.

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I want to sort out the Big Border.  It has never been quite right since I created it and I have struggled to work out why it isn’t right and what I should do with it.  To give you some background the Big Border was created when I lifted the back lawn.  This was partly because a large shed/workshop was going in part of the garden and I needed to re-house the plants, partly because I think lawn is a waste of time in a small garden and partly because the garden slopes so much that cutting the lawn was hard work.  This latter reason also explains why I have struggled with how to plant the Big Border that was created.  As my fellow sloping gardeners will know, and there are a few of them out there in the blogasphere – check out Rusty Duck, a sloping garden can be a real challenge.  No only do you get weary lugging things up and down the garden but you realise that you see the plants differently to in a flat garden.  So if your garden slopes up from the house as mine does and you choose to plant tall plants, as I have a habit of doing, you find yourself looking at leggy stems.

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I am sure that there are clever garden designers out there who would dismiss my frustrations and in no time at all create something magical with tall plants.  However, I am a simple amateur gardener whose plant knowledge has been on a steep learning curve over the last 9 years and whilst I know far more about plants than I did when I planted the border initially some 4 years ago, I am still learning by trial and error – mainly error!  In addition my tastes have changed a lot in recent years.  This was brought home to me back in June on a garden visiting trip when I found my yearning for something more exciting than roses, alliums and geraniums – I wanted something with movement; something different; something with textures, foliage; something that wasn’t an English Country Garden.

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So when I was wandering round the garden last week, cuppa in hand, pondering the Big Border I started to ask myself what I wanted and I went back to beginnings with asking what plants do I like – ferns (no too sunny), bulbs (yes), actually tiny bulbs (more troublesome).  I knew I didn’t want a rock garden as I loath them, they are so depressing with all that grey stone but there was a germ of an idea here.  How to create a space for my little bulbs and alpines without creating a rockery and how to merge it into a bigger border.  I faffed around on the internet, messaged my virtual friend at the Scottish Rock Garden Society who shared some photographic ideas; I pondered and spent time standing and staring at the border.  Then the creative juices started to peculate and slowly the ideas started to drip through.

Firstly, the long thin border along the top of the wall (opposite side of the path) which houses my roses, which I adore, would be beefed up with the removal of the disappointing geraniums and the addition of perennial herbs such as sage and lavender giving all year round substance.  Then I would accept the fact that there was bright light to the Big Border now and the slope gave good drainage, but in warm dry weather, could cause the plants problems, and I would plant the space with plants that actually enjoy this environment – what a novel idea!

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For the astute of you who will have been looking at the photos on this post you will have twigged that they give a clue to the inspiration behind my idea – Beth Chatto’s gravel garden which I visited in June and was the highlight of the trip for me.  Now I know that I can’t replicate this as I have considerably more rain that Beth and my soil is clay based so more fertile but I want to use the approach she has taken and select plants that will enjoy the more exposed site and which are crucially not that tall.  The focus will be on foliage strong plants to give interest all year so I plan to use bergenias (I have many in the front garden that need a new home), grasses (I fancy another Stipa gigantea), things like agastache, agapanthus, lots of bulbs for throughout the year, agave, etc.

My disappointing border

My disappointing border

I am excited by the prospect and there is already a programme of clearing and relocation planned which will not only free up the space but will help with producing a screen along the exposed boundary line.  Of course being August and warm and dry I will have to wait until the weather cools but in the meantime I am thrilled that I am finally rediscovering the garden.

 

End of Month View – July 2016

IMG_6076Opps sneaking in a day late with the post which is disgraceful as I host the meme but there you go.  Life moves on, you find yourself blogging less and less and losing track of the days and the pattern of posting and the next thing you know you are late like the proverbial White Rabbit.

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Anyway, what is there to say about Hugh’s Border except it is very full and interestingly and is probably faring better than most of the garden given the dry conditions we have had recently.  The only real casualty are the Sensitive Ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) which are looking a little frazzled.  They need moisture even when they are in the shade despite what the reference books say.  I have some in a very damp corner of the garden which look wonderful but the ones in Hugh’s Border despite it not having as good drainage as the rest of the garden give in at this time of year every year and every year I think I really must pull them out.  But I forget and then in the spring the new fronds with their red stems appear showing that they are spreading around and I relent.  “No more” I cry – well mutter.  I am determined not to be hoodwinked into a reprieve and I intend to drastically cull the Sensitive Fern and replace it with some ferns that are  a little more robust and not so touchy about things.

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As for the front of the border the phlox are looking and smelling wonderful and I find myself thinking that as they seem to like these conditions then maybe I should add to them but I need to be very particular about the colour as I don’t want a garish pink and I think the colour palette for phlox is quite limited.  Anyway, a bit of research is needed.

There isn’t much else to say about the border as its one of those areas that just gets on with it and finally has filled out enough to have a bit of interest happening whatever the time of year.

As ever any one can join in the end of month meme just decide on what part of your garden you want to feature or maybe give us a tour of the whole garden.  The instructions are on the tab at the top of the blog.  I look forward to seeing your links in the comment box below and having a mooch over to see what is happening at yours particularly as it is now raining here.

Helen

Update on the Front Garden

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Some readers will recall that back at the start of the year I decided to do away with the front lawn. Since then I have been a busy bee and with the help of my sons the transformation is nearly completed.

The pile of bricks isn’t an art installation but the start of the path that we have been working on this weekend.

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My eldest has been a star and spent the morning digging a trench for the bricks to lay in and he managed to get the bricks for 25p each which has made a huge difference to the cost and allowed us to be more generous in the number used.  The next step is to cement them in place and then to put gravel down on the path.  I intend to use the same gravel as the driveway so it blends together.

From being embarrassed by my front garden I now love it – as my son says it is now a proper garden rather than a small lawn with some plants around it!

There’s more to the life than gardening (and blogging)

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I was surprised to discover today that it is 17 days since I last posted a post on this blog and even more surprising for someone who has posted 3 times a week for at least 9 years is the fact that I haven’t missed posting nor have I even thought about it.  I didn’t even share with you the photo of my blue meconopsis poppy, grown from seed, which flowered this year with half a dozen flowers nor did I ever get around to blogging about all the gardens I visited in Suffolk or my visit to Croome Park last weekend.  Something has changed in me not just in terms of blogging but in other aspects of my life and it is for the better I think.

Anyone who has read this blog for a while particularly over the last 18 months will know that my job has changed and this past 18 months has been quite unsettling for me as I step up to a much more responsible role with a huge feeling of needing to prove myself.  It has taken its toll on me at times emotionally and physically but recently a new phase seems to have started – maybe I feel more assured in my role, maybe its not as scary and new – whatever it is I am now sleeping better and I don’t feel so stressed which can be no bad thing.

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One of my coping mechanisms in recent weeks, which I think has helped enormously, is walking.  Most evenings I go out after dinner for a walk, to the adjacent common or sometimes on the hills.  And it has made a huge difference particularly to someone who spends so much of the day at a desk or in meetings.  The local common is a wonderful place to walk as the grass is allowed to grow tall with just some paths mown through it and you can just loose yourself and let your mind drift; then on my return home I embroider.  In a strange way the compulsion I used to feel to garden in order to de-stress has been relocated to walking and sewing. I am sure that some of this relates to my new neighbours clearing the fence line and reducing my privacy.  I have tried to employ my usual Pollyanna approach to this saying it will be fine but I am struggling with it and we are looking at ways of addressing it – I’m even toying with moving house!  But I also think that the garden isn’t fulfilling my need for creativity any more.  I have basically run out of spaces to dig up.

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I have nearly finished the revamp of the front garden and just need to put the path in.  I say ‘just’ but this actually means laying a brick edge hence the delay while I work through all the excuses why I can’t do it this weekend or the next until I decide to just get on with it and stop procrastinating.  I will have to post about it soon as I am rather pleased with how it is looking in its first year but I am waiting for some of the asters to flower to give it colour before I do.

There is nothing new to do in the back garden aside from day to day maintenance which I have been doing as and when but I have to make myself garden these days.  This morning I made myself deal with the dead rose blooms I could see and of course once I was outside I spent a satisfying couple of hours dead heading, cutting the grass path and re-engaging with the garden.  I was thrilled to discover some banana seeds had germinated in the greenhouse, that a wren appeared to be nesting in the old bird box and that the fig tree I had brutally pruned a couple of weeks ago, when I rediscovered it under the triffid branches of the Geranium palmatum, was covered in lots of new emerging shoots.

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Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy my garden but not in the compulsive obsessive way I used to.  I don’t drool over the bulb catalogues any more instead that bad habit has been transferred to sewing magazines.  I don’t have a desire to spend every minute of my spare time in the garden, visiting a garden or at a garden club – instead I am a more rounded person which can only be a good thing.  Whilst I enjoyed my trip last month looking at gardens in Suffolk I would have liked to have had the opportunity to visit Gainsborough’s birthplace museum which was just near our hotel but always shut by the time we returned and I have recently developed an interest in the Northern Renaissance artists which may influence my holiday choices next year.

My family and friends think I have moved to a better place and that the real me is finally emerging.  Expressions like ‘you have blossomed’, ‘you have grown’ etc are being used and I think they are right.  I will always love my garden, whether its this one or a new one, but I don’t now need to rely on it to justify who I am, to prove I can achieve something and I don’t need to blog relentlessly any more to satisfy my need to mental stimulation and desire to connect with others.

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This new phase, with adult children and a demanding but rewarding job, means that I have the time, funds and courage to embrace interests I used to have many years ago.  I want to travel more, maybe I will have a go at gliding again, I want to get fitter, I want to expand my sewing and embroidery abilities, I want to see art, I’m going to go canoeing for the first time and if I loose some weight along the way I will be thrilled.

There will be blog posts but probably more as and when and I have started a new blog to record my sewing journey and to connect to other sewers but I don’t know how successful that will be as to be honest I am actively trying to avoid looking at screens when I’m not at work but we shall see and that’s the key change instead of setting myself mad targets and schedules, looking for things to blog about, I have moved to a more relaxed ‘lets see’ approach and I am comfortable with it.  So ‘lets see’ what the future brings – I may paint the spare room or I may read a book this afternoon, it doesn’t matter.

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