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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End of Month View June 2016 – Hugh’s Border

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A quick End of Month post from me as to be honest I had lost track of where we are in the month.  The garden is at its most full and even more so given the amount of rain we have had over the last few weeks.  Hugh’s border is looking fuller than ever, and in some places too full.

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The other end of the border which is shadier but not as shady as it used to be due to the neighbours cutting down the trees along the boundary.  This end is the home to some of my earlier fern acquisitions which are now quite substantial, there is also a Paulownia although it is battling with a rogue foxglove growing through the middle of it.  My idea is that the Paulownia will form a leafy canopy over the border but I think that will take a few years.  I spent some time this last weekend digging up Pulmonaria which grew along the edge of the steps and had started to self-seed around.  It was great when the border was so shady but had well outgrown its space so I have replaced it with another fern and some more siberian irises which I hope will bring some new textures to this end of the border.

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The front edge of the border which is a lot better than in previous years but at the moment lacking in colour.  There are some foxgloves, crocosmia and a fuschia about the flower so in a week or so it should colour up.  My approach these days is for the foliage first and then the flowers to add colour highlights during the year.  However, I need to work on how I combine the foliage.  I was very impressed with some of the combinations I saw in the gardens last week so there is food for thought on how to improve the planting.

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The back of the border from the bench and you can see this is particularly chaotic and probably too full.  I need to do some editing here and make some decisions about what should stay but I enjoy that side of gardening as it stimulates my creative side.

So that’s a whizz around Hugh’s border before I go to work.  All are welcome to join in with the end of month meme I just ask that you put a link to your post in the comments box below and link to this post in your post so we can all track you down.

Suffolk and N Essex Garden Tour – Day 2

Ultingwick, Maldon

Ultingwick, Maldon

Day 2 of our tour welcomed us with lovely sunshine and we set off optimistically to our first garden – Ultingwick, nr Maldon.  I was looking forward to visiting this garden as I have been friends with its owner, Phillippa, on Twitter for a couple of years now.  I know that Phillippa does not think this is the best time to visit her garden as she really focuses on mass tulips in Spring and then late Summer planting.

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However, the roses were out in abundance and despite the torrential rain the day before they were looking very good and smelling heavenly.  There was a very pretty yellow climbing rose over an entrance arch, which I didn’t photograph, but I was completely bewitched by its scent – apparently it is Goldfinch and it is on my wants list.  Seeing all of Phillippa’s climbing roses, has reinforced my feeling that I need to add some to my garden – to the extent that one has already been planting at the front of the house.

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Part of Phillippa’s garden is made up if a large meadow with mown paths through it.  It was just beginning to colour up with scabious flowering and I expect it will soon look glorious.  However, I did learn yesterday that due to the heavy rainfall in the area the river that runs along the boundary of the property has burst its banks and flooded the garden which is such a pity.

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I was surprised that I didn’t have more photographs of the garden particularly the herbaceous borders but I think I was distracted by talking to my colleagues about the garden and how wonderful the setting is.  What really interested me was Phillippa’s collection of succulents and other tender plants.  You can see the pots around the front door in the top photograph but work had just started on placing the late summer planting now that the tulips have been removed.  I was particularly fascinated by the way the aeoniums have been planted in the border above – a real gaggle of aeoniums all huddling together.  On the other side of the central pot is a similar group of a different type of aeoniums, a much shorter greener variety, which had taken on a sort of organic shape.

I really enjoyed Phillippa’s garden, there was a lovely atmosphere partly contributed to by the listed buildings but also partly from the elegant and generous planting.  I would love to visit again either to see the tulips or the late summer planting.

RHS Garden Hyde Hall

RHS Garden Hyde Hall

I have to say that I was disappointed with my visit to RHS Hyde Hall because  I am annoyed with myself as it turned out later than I had missed quite a bit of the garden as I was talking to colleagues and ran out of time.  So much so that I decided the next day to look around the garden in the first instance on my own before joining up with others.  However, I did like what I saw.  As you arrive there are newish plantings near the Plant Centre with block plantings of perennials in squares rather than the traditional herbaceous border.  I particularly liked the colour of this delphinium but I don’t know its name.

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As you walk up the hill to the original garden, not that I knew that was where it was, you travel through large generous sweeping borders which had a strong impact due to the limited colour palette and were a good example of how to incorporate grasses into a herbaceous planting.  It did get a little samey though as you walked up the hill and I think that maybe different colour palettes could be used in different borders.

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At the top of the hill is the Australian/South Hemisphere garden which I really enjoyed as I have a weakness for plants from this part of the world and it was great to see them grown so well and to be envious of the free draining soil which allows this success.

I would like to visit this garden again so I can see the rest of it, maybe I could incorporate it with another visit to Phillippa’s garden.

Furzelea, Danbury

Furzelea, Danbury

Our last garden of the day was a lovely surprise.  A private garden of only 2/3rd of an acre which was a plantsmen’s delight and a demonstration that just because you collect plants it doesn’t mean you can’t have well planted borders.

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Take for example this White Garden which is clearly white but actually there is little white in the garden.  Avril, the plantswoman in charge, hasn’t fallen into the White Garden trap and filled the space with white flowering plants instead she has used white variegations with some white flowers and it just works.

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My photos of the borders are over saturated so not that great but if you look at this border you can see how the heuchera picks up on the digitalis and the poppy and how the phormium picks up on the brown leaved plant at the front of the border.  When you look closely at the planting the combinations are even more interesting.IMG_5527

Take this combination for example and look how the geranium palmatum picks up the pink tones of the Phormium leaves and in turn the heuchera picks up on the purple of the leaves.  The colours trickle right down to the front of the planting with the pink flowers of the heuchera.

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And this combination with the flowers of the grass, an annual that I don’t have the name of but an determined to find out, and how they work with the phormium leaves with the foliage of the artemisa also picking up on the silver tones in the leaves.  Interestingly the majority of the combinations I liked were foliage ones with the flowers an added bonus.

For me this garden was one of the ones that made me think about how I plant in my garden and from which I learnt some really useful lessons. I really enjoyed it

 

 

 

Suffolk and N Essex Garden Tour – Day 1

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Our first day started with torrential rain causing delays on the motorway  causing us to be late for our first garden of the four day garden visiting extravaganza that we were embarking on.  Due to the awful weather, the owners of The Moat House generously invited us into their home for morning tea and cake.  I think it rakes a real generosity of spirit to invite 38 soggy strangers into your home with their damp shoes and dripping umbrellas and coats particularly given the pale green carpet.

Moat House, Little Saxham

Moat House, Little Saxham

Being hardy gardeners, having refueled, we were keen to explore the first garden.  The Moat House is a partially moated garden of two acres which has been developed over 2 years. The garden is very much your traditional country garden with herbaceous borders full of roses, generally in pastels shades, alliums, geraniums, delphiniums, and peonies.  IMG_5343

As you would expect with any English country garden there was plenty of box edging and topiary around the garden.  Personally, I’m not that keen on box edging but I can see that it provides a nice edge and has the benefit of hiding the legs of plants and the bare soil but you need to have the discipline to keep them looking sharp in order to achieve the best effect.

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And we had the first of many parterres filled with herbs and plants for cutting.

Fullers Mill Garden, West Stow

Fullers Mill Garden, West Stow

With the rain abated and the sun shining we moved on to our next garden – Fullers Mill Garden, West Stow.  The garden was created by Bernard Tickner who has gardened here for some 50 years and has now placed the 7 acre garden in trust for the charity Perennial. Bernard is a plantsman and his approach is to create a garden which is very loosely designed, giving a natural feel, and providing interest all year round.  The garden is almost on an island created by the diverted mill stream which powered the Fullers Mill.  The Fulling Mill has existed on the site since 1458, fulling is a process through which you make cloth thicker by passing it through a series of wooden mallets, the fabric is then stretched out on the drying ground.

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I quite liked the looser planting style to the previous garden and it was the favourite garden for many that day.   generously  borders with gentle curves are planted up with shrubs and perennials merging together in soft mounds.

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However, the real feature of Fullers Mill Garden is the stream and mill-pond.  The inclusion of water in the garden was a real theme of the gardens we visited this week which was interesting as we constantly heard that we were in the driest part of the country.  Presumably this is because when the houses were built there was no water on tap so the properties were located close to streams in order to have easy access to the little water that was available.

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I think Fullers Mill Garden is one that would have benefited us having a little more time to explore but we spent the day trying to catch up the time lost in the morning on the motorway.

Bellflower Nursery, The Walled Garden, Langham Hill

Bellflower Nursery, The Walled Garden, Langham Hill

We ended the day with our first real plant buying opportunity at Bellflower Nursery.  The nursery specialising in Campanula, hence its name, and hold a national collection.  I have to admit that I’m not that keen on Campanula as they never grow very well for me but I really enjoyed visiting this garden purely due to its location within a walled garden.

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The owner of the nursery, Sue Wooster, not only has her nursery to run but also the ornamental side of the walled garden to maintain and she shared with us that she has also just taken on the tenancy of the edible part of the walled garden. She was doing a sterling job is maintaining the borders which I think also act as stock beds for the nursery but what I enjoyed was the slightly dishevelled aspect of parts of the garden which Sue admitted had a habit of getting the better of her.  There is something particularly romantic about a walled garden especially one that has the ghosts of its past still evident.

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So day 1 having started a bit wet under foot ended well with us in high spirits and our coach driver rapidly becoming aware that he was going to have to develop skills in packing plants.

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