It is ages since I posted an End of Month View post. I have been hosting this meme for something like 10 years and I think that I just ran out of steam. But now I have started to post again I thought I would post an EOMV post and as I haven’t posted much for ages I thought I would give you a tour of the garden – front and back. You can access a plan of the back garden here
So we are starting in the front garden. I have quite a deep front garden and a couple of years back I decided to get rid of the front lawn as it was just boring. I put a path in purely for decorative purposes and to allow some access for me to manage the plants. The driveway runs parallel to this area, and the photo is from the top of the driveway. The planting has filled out a lot over the last few years. There are a lot of asters and grasses in the area to the left of the path, which is much deeper than the photo implies. I am now working through removing most of the asters as I want interest throughout the year not just in late summer. I have this last weekend added the Anemanthele lessoniana to the border, which has been relocated from the back garden.
This is a rather boring photo of the front of the house but I am super pleased with the new path that went in last year. I’m also really pleased with the narrow border under one of the front windows. It has been a difficult border for years, due to the builders rubble but the various succulents seem to thrive here; so I’m going to do the same on the other side of the front door.
So we go along the lovely new path and down the side of the house, past my son’s wood store and you come to the back patio and my random pile of pots and compost. But this photo does show you the difference in the height between the patio and the back garden.
Here is my patio, not the most glamorous of patios but it does the job. Lots of seedlings in pots to be sorted, the majority of these are peony seedlings from a couple of years ago; turns out I’m quite adept at germinating peonies.
A warts and all view of the other end of the patio. The area to the left used to be the fern border. However, the ferns were deteriorating as the rosemary was shading them out. The ferns were moved about a year ago and I decided to remove the border and continue the paving to make this area bigger and more practical. However, life got in the way and I haven’t yet completed shifting the soil.
You go up the steps at the end of the patio and you find the bark path to your left. The border to the left is the rose border. I have accumulated a number of roses here over the years and the border is backed by 3 step-over apple trees which I have trained from whips. I started off with just roses and herbs but the other week I have added a few plants from the Big Border (to the right) including some Agapanthus divisions.
The border to the right is the Big Border that is going to be home to my edibles, see last post.
If you continue straight up from the steps you come to the grass path on your left and this goes across the top of the Big Border. The grass isn’t in very good condition at the moment and is covered in soil from my work clearing the border. I built the retaining wall to the right of the path this time last year and it has worked well. It has reduced the slope of the border and the plants seem to just look better. I also like the structure it gives.
View from the other end of the grass path – not a great photo but it gives a sense of the slope of the garden.
From the grass path you can see the back slope of the garden, which is quite steep. If you look at the garden plan on the blog you will see that there used to be a path along the top of the slope. I have got rid of this over the last couple of years as it served no purpose. Instead I have more planting space and I have been moving shrubs in along the top of the slope to create some shrubby cover.
And this is the far top corner, which I call Maisie’s Corner as my beloved cat is buried here. The compost bins were here until a couple of years ago and we removed them as they were a nightmare to manage. Instead I have a large shady spot and have moved a number of the ferns from the patio border here, along with some shrubs which had outgrown their homes. We buried Maisie here as it was one of her favourite places and I still find it hard to garden here as I miss her so much.
So there’s my garden warts and all at the end of a reasonably wet March. Given that we are self-isolating now for a while I hope to be able to get out and start to sort it out more. However, the reality is that my work is very demanding and I’m finding myself stuck in front of a laptop every day but at least I get to sit in the garden for lunch on a sunny day which is a definite improvement on the normal working week.
Some eight years ago I made the decision to give up on veg growing and gave up my allotment. It had been a love/hate relationship from the start for a whole raft of reasons and I have never regretted the decision. However, for some reason in the last couple of months I have had an inkling to try growing veg and fruit again but this time at home in my garden. This surprises me as I have never felt a desire to grow edibles at home. My garden isn’t huge, and being wide and sloping it doesn’t really have the option to have a veg garden at the end. But then why does the veg garden need to be at the end of the garden, hidden away?
I found myself digging out Geoff Hamilton’s Ornamental Kitchen Garden, one of the first gardening books I was given. I always remember being fascinated by the idea of mixing up veg and flowers in the garden but for some reason I have never really taken up the challenge. Now though, having gardened very little over the last two years, I see the garden with fresh eyes and I think why not, lets give it a go.
It started with a short list of a rhubarb plant, maybe an artichoke, and some potatoes. Nothing much, just things that could be incorporated into the borders and as my son said I do like good foliage and these plants all have nice foliage. The rhubarb went in about a month ago and this started more thoughts about what to grow. Maybe some raspberries, and of course a gooseberry bush as I love gooseberries. As I have a habit of crashing into projects and then regretting it, I decided to wait until I was back from Madeira to see if I still felt the same.
But Madeira just confirmed my thoughts. I was fascinated by their approach to growing edibles. The eastern side of the island is what is called the rural side of the island. Here, vegetables and fruit are grown in any space that seems to be available. The soil is rich and they plant crops close together, not in rows placed wide apart as we do on our allotments. I love the lushness and abundance and it got more thoughts going.
The result is that I have decided to really embrace growing edibles and instead of putting just one or two things amongst the flowers I am going to turn the big border in the middle of the garden over to edibles.
This border has always been a challenge for me. I’ve never really worked out what to do with it. I like borders to have a feel or a theme something that give them cohesion and this has never really worked in this border. The drainage in this border is very good due to the slope and there are quite a lot of bulbs planted at one end where they get baked in the sun and at the other end there are a number of hellebores that are thriving. But in between its all a bit of a mishmash,
So the plan is to slowly clear the border, leaving the planting at the two ends. There will be a row of raspberry canes along the top edge, set back a few feet from the grass path and the veg will be grown in small blocks following the principles in Geoff Hamilton’s book. As soon as something finishes, it is replaced with another crop. To help with this I was given a new cold frame for my birthday and this is already full of seedlings waiting to go out. I also managed to buy some raspberry canes, a gooseberry bush and some strawberry plants before the garden centre had to close due to the lock-down. I am stocked up with seeds and other essential supplies so hopefully this new project will give me some light relief to being working at home for the foreseeable.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
These are strange, troubling and challenging times. We will all find ourselves tested in different ways whether we are one of those front line staff feeling exposed both in terms of their own health but also what they have to deal with; whether we are faced with being alone for long periods of time and the anxiety this causes; whether we are concerned about our livelihoods, our families and our futures. We will all respond differently and find our own ways to cope.
For me, this is a period of transition, a period to re-evaluate many things. I know I’m in a privileged position. I have the luxury of being able to work from home, and it is luxury. I work for a large organisation, am paid very well, and for the moment am not worried about my income. I have family and friends who aren’t in this position. My health is generally good and I’m not in the high risk age group. Again I have friends and family who do have health issues, who are in the high risk age group and I worry about them.
But in all of this I have a deep conviction that we are at some sort of pivotal moment in humanity’s history. We have the opportunity to change things like never before, if we can just look outside of our immediate worries and concerns.
I’m not a religious person in the normal sense of the word but I have a deep belief that we are subject to the forces of nature whatever they may be. We see it all around us if we but looked. The impact of the phases of the moon on tides, plant growth and our own mental health; the power of the wind to affect our climate, the shape of the land; the impact weather can have on our food production and the safety of our homes. The impact we in turn are having in our environment, our world. We are but one species living on this planet but we dominate it, we act as if everything around us is for our benefit, we are entitled to do with it as we with and everything is beholding to us.
I really believe that this virus that we are struggling with, which has impacted every thing person in the world in some way is the world taking back control. I am fully aware that this sounds a little wacky but it’s a overwhelming feeling that has been growing in me.
We abuse our planet, our environment. We consume, devour, destroy, neglect every aspect of the world we live in and at some point the excesses of humanity will be challenged. Balance needs to be restored.
We pontificate at about the environment, about climate change. We postulate with targets for change, deadlines, we impose monetary penalties, we point at others to do something. Whilst at the same time we continue in our daily lives telling ourselves that the tiny, and sometimes begrudging changes we make, is us doing something to change the situation and we are doing our bit. We aren’t.
I’m no saint. I drive a petrol car, I’ve just come back from a holiday in Madeira on a plane (full of scared and anxious people), I buy food in plastic packaging, I buy too much stuff and I waste too much stuff.
But now change has been imposed on us and not by our governments, despite what they think, its because we, each one of us, wants to survive this period. We are forced to stay put, to buy less, to manage on what food is available. Choices are being made, priorities reassessed and change happening.
Already our environment has improved. The pollution levels are dropping in places like Beijing and nature is benefitting, the quality of the water in the Venice canals which is now clear enough to see fish. This period of humanity being halted in its excesses may just be what the world needs to stop us destroying it.
For me the challenge will be what do we do once this period is passed however long that might be. Do we go back to our old ways of greed and entitlement or do we learn, change our habits, become a better species that fits into the world’s s eco-system instead of trying to control it.
I truly hope that I will be a better person, change my ways and learn to tread lightly on this planet.
I’m on a much anticipated holiday in Madeira. It goes without saying that it is tinged with anxiety about COVID-19. It appears that anyone arriving tomorrow will be quarantined for 14 days. There are no cases in Madeira so you can understand why they want to keep it that way.
The holiday is an embroidery retreat, just 8 of us including our tutor. Today, our first full day was spent travelling around the island in a mini-bus, to all points of the compass.
Despite the overcast weather and sometimes rain we spent the morning in the rural East, which the locals call old Madeira as it is very much as things were 40 or so years ago before Madeira became autonomous from Portugal and started to invest in its own future, rather than pay most taxes to Portugal.
We visited Santana and saw the traditional A frame houses, whose thatch has to be replaced every 5 years, had very strong coffee and Portuguese custard tarts – delicious. Then along the cost to Porto Monzi where we had lunch overlooking the natural swimming pools.
Even though it is early in the season it is amazing how lush everything is. Apparently they had had a dry and warm winter which has confused many plants and you can spot the odd agapanthus starting to flower months ahead of time. The road sides are lined with agapanthus plants, even along the roads up in the hills, and I wondered for a while if they had seeded themselves there. This wouldn’t have been surprising given the richness of the soil and the climate but it turns out they are planted along the ends of roads so that the roots help with soil erosion. What a pretty way to address this problem.
Other plants flowering in gardens and along the roads are Crocosmia, Protea, and Watsonia. As you can see from the top photo the Watsonia are large and lush making my pale pink one back in my UK garden look quite insipid.
We returned via the west side of the island, the hilly side, although this is clearly an understatement as the fruit terraces and vineyards seem quite treacherous tittering in the side of steep hills. The west side is warmer so the crops here are sugar cane, lots and lots of bananas and vines. The east coast is more vegetables – potatoes, cabbages, beans. We also saw avocado and mahogany trees.
In theory we will be out and about in Funchal on Monday but it will depend on what restrictions are put in place. If we are required to stay in the hotel for the rest of the stay then there could be worse places to be.
My head is buzzing with ideas, one idea bouncing off another and taking my gardening thoughts in another direction. It takes me back, two, three years ago or even four years back when I was really immersed in my garden. Over the past period my focus on the garden has been limited for a wide range of reasons which I won’t bore you with but the upside is that I now find myself looking at the garden with fresh eyes. It’s as if I have moved to a new garden and can start again. Even better, I’m not so sentimental about plants as I was before. I find myself looking at plants and thinking this really isn’t working any more or, to be quite frank, I just bored of this plant. Now for some this might sound a terrible way to think as like many keen gardeners I have often nurtured the plants, coaxing them to establish and grow well. But a garden is not a museum, plants out grow their space, the gardener’s tastes move on and change is, in my opinion, healthy.
Now this picture makes me incredibly happy. My hard working greenhouse has been helping me in my horticultural pursuits for at least 10 years and has gone through various iterations. When I first got the greenhouse I set it up with staging on both sides and a potting bench at the end. Its a tiny greenhouse, just enough room for me to stand in the middle and it means I have to spend a lot of time and effort in moving plants around during the seasons to maximise the space. For the last few years I have had some deep tray staging, the type you can plunge pots into gravel or sand in. I installed it as I was dabbling in alpines and miniature bulbs which I enjoyed for a while but the trouble is that I’m easily lead and a bit of a magpie, attracted to one shiny plant after another. So my poor little greenhouse was trying to house alpines, half hardy ferns, and succulents – a recipe for failure. Add to that my complete disengagement and failure was guaranteed. Slowly but surely various plants died, or I planted them out, or just got rid of them. What is now left are the plants that make me happy, albeit it a small and select group.
My new approach is to go back to basics, back to what used to make me happy years back when I first got into gardening. I don’t engage in a lot of social media any more and I think that has freed my mind up, I’m no longer being lead astray by what others are doing, the latest fade or trend. Instead I want to create a lovely, pretty cottage garden full of my favourite plants – both flowers and edible.
The greenhouse is the first step in this new approach. I have removed the deep staging and returned the potting bench. I’ve decided not to have two sets of staging as later this year I would like to grow some tomatoes in the greenhouse so this space is being used for the remaining tenders that still need a winter home. The potting bench has all that is left of my propagating supplies. A month or so ago I ditched all the plastic pots and trays, old seed packets etc and started again.
It has been liberating….now my mind is clear and I can think more clearly and plans are forming.
…..in order to see something with fresh eyes and a new purpose and this is exactly where I am with my garden and this blog.
The persistent reader will have noticed that I haven’t written a blog post since last summer and to be honest the fact that you are checking in now is a credit to you and not to me – so thank you.
I did write a long post about all the recent trials and tribulations which lead to my lack of blogging but amongst those trials and tribulations was missing the renewal of my subscription to wordpress. Which in turn meant that I lost my storage plan, which is now no longer available and so I have had to remove a significant amount of photos from the older posts and take out a new plan. I wasn’t going to bother but my perverse nature means I was cross at being thwarted in my attempts to start blogging again so I have over the last week or so sorted this out. However, the long blog post was lost so you, dear reader, have been saved from the effort of reading that.
The real driver for coming back to the blog is that I am finally beginning to enjoy my garden again. A whole host of things have affected this for probably 3-4 years but back at the start of winter something changed and I found myself tidying up with a new interest and purpose and plans have been forming. Nothing grand or ambitious, quite plans which reflect where I am now mentally with my garden and its importance to me.
Whilst I may have not undertaken that much actual physical gardening over the last couple of years I have done a lot of looking, not just at my garden but at other gardens whilst out and about and I think I am finally working out what I really like. One of the problems with the wealth of information that is now available to us on the internet is that you can be overwhelmed with ideas and thoughts and you loose sight of what matters to you. Since I started blogging in 2008 my interests and priorities have been through a number of iterations. I have dabbled in numerous horticultural interests including alpines, plant showing, photography, propagation of all types, writing, even a monthly radio spot and far too much horticultural therapy.
Now I have reached a place where I feel the relevance of my garden to me no longer dominates my spare time, it is compatible to my other interests not fighting them and there is a better balance in my life which is better for my mental health. Gardening is a part of who I am, it no longer defines who I am.
Going forward I expect to blog weekly or bi-weekly and the blog posts will probably be about whatever seems interesting to me when I’m in the garden or maybe from other gardens I visit during the year. I hope you enjoy the new more relaxed and personal approach and thank you again for dropping by.
Such a relief this morning to wake up to persistent rain after the heat of the past week. The garden has stood up reasonably well to the heat but I am sure a day of light rain will freshen everything up. I’ve done a Six on Saturday post on bulbs before so I thought I would do another one on mid-summer bulbs as bulbs is somewhat of a weakness of mine.
First up is one of my Agapanthus and I am pretty certain, well 90% certain, this is Agapanthus Alan Street as I know I bought this a few years back and it flowered and is a dark blue. I have quite a few Agapanthus most of them planted in the borders, as this one is, as I tend to go for the hardier varieties.
Another bedraggled Agapanthus, this time Agapanthus africanus ‘Twister’. I honestly don’t remember acquiring this one so was thrilled when the flower started to open especially as I kept looking at this variety when I was away last week – luckily I didn’t buy another one.
Galthonia candicans is for me a wonderfully glamour plants which I would like to see grown more. The flowers have a sort of waxy look to them which I love. I have planted it several times in the past, and even grown it from seed one, but it doesn’t come back reliably year on year which is maybe why more people don’t grow it.
Another surprise is the Habranthus brachyandrus which I found flowering in the greenhouse. I expect it was flowering when I bought it a few years back but it hasn’t flowered since. I suspect the heat over the past period has helped. The flowers are completely disproportionate to the thin grassy stems, so much so it makes you wonder how the flowers are held up.
Another allium, again no labels to be found. I like this one as its a small allium and has gentle soft look to it.
And finally Tulbaghia violacea alba which is a lovely reliable bulb and works well against the silver foliage of the Artemisia
For more Six on Saturday posts visit The Propagator’s Blog.
I spent most of last week trundling around Yorkshire with a large group of friends indulging in visiting gardens, plant buying and eating cake – what’s not to love. I have been on this holiday for four years now, to different parts of the UK, and this year for some reason I was acutely aware that my taste and preferences in terms of gardens had changed, or maybe had become clearer. I also found it interesting that some of my preferences were at odds with many of my travelling companions and this seemed to be possibly a generational divide.
It is some years since I wrote ‘reviews’ about specific gardens as they can become quite repetitive to read and my plan was to write a post which captured the gardens that I loved, and why I loved them as well as what I didn’t feel enthusiastic about but maybe others did. However, looking at my photos I got stuck at the first garden we visited which I adored and took so many photos of. So before I write a more analytical post of the gardens I thought I would indulge in a little flurry of herbaceous border photos.
The garden in question is Felley Priory, which is in North Nottinghamshire – we stopped on the way to Yorkshire. I had never heard of it before but I learnt from fellow travellers that it hosts a wonderful plant sale later in the year so obviously is well known in the area.
If you asked me if I liked topiary I think my response would be indifferent but when I stop and think about it I realise that there is a deep sub-conscious attraction to some of these idiosyncratic creations. I love the topiary at Levens Hall in the Lake District which reminds me of Alice in Wonderland and whilst not on the same scale as Levens Hall I loved the humour in the topiary at Felley Priory. The topiary is something you encounter before you come across the herbaceous borders which are behind the yew hedges you see in the photo above.
For me the borders were breathtaking. The planting was of an exceptional quality with a high level of unobtrusive maintenance. Being someone who struggles with plants flopping I spent some time peering between the plants to see if I could see what supports were being used. Our group, including professional plant growers and gardeners, all felt that there was no support so well was it hidden. But supports there were, hidden away and clearly demonstrating the benefits of putting in supports early in the season so the plants grow up through them and not my approach of retrospective staking which never looks good.
I also loved the colour combinations in the borders which was wide ranging but not clashing, as many of the borders we saw later in the week were. There is also something about the scale of the flowers to each other. Nothing is big and blowsey and overshadowing anything else. Each plant is part of the overall whole but allowed to shine in its own way. Some of the other borders we saw elsewhere had a complete imbalance of flower size and colour meaning that the border did not make a cohesive whole but felt very bitty to me – well that was my view.
I really liked this part of the border which is essentially red, white and blue but so subtle due to the inclusion of the burgundy scabious which provides a good link between the red mondara and the blues of the phlox and the eryginium. The skill is that the mondara is a bluey red, if you know what I mean, as opposed to an orangey red again adding to a harmonious whole. I also loved that the gardeners were happy to use white meadow sweet which many would worry was a weed. The meadow sweet isn’t planted in a large clump or solid ‘drift’ but instead the planting is starting to move more towards the matrix style of planting which we came across a few more times on our trip and is, for me, the way forward.
My six this weekend are all about the boundaries because I am celebrating getting my privacy back. Long term readers of this blog will know that my old neighbours neglected their garden and it was overgrown with a thick barrier of ash and sycamore trees between our two properties which gave me reasonable privacy.
When the new neighbours moved in 3 years ago they did what any of us would do and cleared the garden. It was quite alarming for me as I suddenly felt like I was in a goldfish bowl. All the screening above the fence line was gone. This might not seem such a big deal but our gardens slope up from our houses and so with all the angles you often feel like you can be seen by your neighbours in your garden and they can see you which I don’t like.
Then to make matters worse because the garden had been neglected for so long the fences hadn’t been cared for and in some places it was only the trees and shrubs that were holding things together. So over the past two winters the fences have disintegrated or have bits missing and it has looked a real mess.
Not any more, they have had the fences replaced and we now have a lovely 6ft fence which is rather beautiful. Sadly, for the neighbours, as they are at the end of the road they are responsible for all the fences around their property so this must have cost a lot but I think it is fab. Suddenly, I have my privacy back and it brought home to me just how much I had missed that privacy. I think there is actually even more privacy than before as the fence is higher than the old one.
Not only have I got my privacy back but I have gained about a foot along the fence line. I need to fill in the trench left from where they dug out all the old tree roots etc but once I have done that I can play around and give some of my plants more space. I had left some Hawthorne seedlings grow up in recent years in anticipation of new owners clearing the garden and now I think I will cut the Hawthorne trees back to create more of a hedge along the fence which will in turn allow my Liquidamber tree to have more light and thrive.
The new fence at the end of the patio. The fence here was previous held up by a variegated ivy that I planted which was OK. The bamboos in pots were added when they cut all the trees down as it meant they could see straight from their garden down on to my patio which was horrid. The new fence is higher and somehow I think has obstructed the view but I think the bamboos may stay. Now they have a smart backdrop I may think again about what is around them and smarten it up.
As I am fixated with fences at the moment I thought I would include my back fence which you can just about make out through the undergrowth. The garden slopes up to it and last year I removed the path that used to run along the top of the garden as it was never used and was a waste of growing space. I am encouraging a wild and hardy exotic look up here. There is a huge thistle which has appeared from somewhere which sort of messes up the look of the planting but I was intrigued to see how big it would grow. Behind it is a fig tree which I had to prune hard last year as it had a lot of long branches going off at angles and I wanted more height than width. This year it is smothered in figs. I need to work out when I am meant to harvest them and what to do with the fruit as I don’t think I’ve eaten fresh figs before.
And finally my side fence which is the same style as the neighbour’s new fence but shorter. I thought I would include this as my final six as it another boundary photo and includes my marmite rose which I included in a previous post. I inherited this rose when we moved in about 16 years ago and for years and years it had one or two flowers. Then my other neighbours also indulged in some heavy handed pruning and cut everything back hard meaning that the rose suddenly benefited from light and more rain and this is the result!
For more Six on Saturday posts visit The Propagator’s blog.
I’m off to Yorkshire later today garden visiting for a week so I hope to have some interesting gardens to share with you soon.