Barn House Garden, Wye Valley

IMG_2362

The blogging world is a funny old place.  You find yourself accepting invitations from people you have never met either to meet up with them at events or visit their gardens.  My mother often raises an eyebrow at this since of course back in the day you, especially a single lady like myself, would never accept an invitation from a stranger.  However, whilst sometimes I set off to these meet ups with trepidation I am always pleased that I do as I have met some great people and been lucky to visit some wonderful gardens.

IMG_2370

This Thursday was no exception.  I had excepted an invitation from Kate to visit her garden in the Wye Valley.  Kate had picked up on my curiosity about grasses and my tentative steps to start introducing them into my garden and had invited me to visit her and her husband’s garden which has a strong focus on grasses.  The journey to the Kate’s was interesting.  You follow the road from Monmouth to Chepstow along the River Wye; it is a beautiful piece of road with pretty villages and views of the river and the steep hills behind.  If you know anything about the Picturesque art movement or the work of Gilpin then you will know that the area around Tintern Abbey and the Wye River featured heavily in paintings of this style.  Back to my journey, just before Tintern you cross the river and take a road heading up the hill.  The road quickly becomes narrow and step and I crawled along from house to house, taking a wrong turn only to be put right by a helpful postman.  Finally I found Barn House and as soon as I looked over the gate I knew I was in the right place.

IMG_2369

Kate is an expert on grasses, although she is quite self-deprecating, she rattles off the names of the various grasses and she can tell you how they grow in sun, shade, good soil, bad soil, when to cut them back, by how much, which ones are from where etc.  Not only is she very knowledgeable  she is passionate about her grasses too, she really loves them.  Many of the grasses are planted in large groups; she has some miscanthus which she has used as a hedge in front of the mixed boundary hedge and there are other large groups of single cultivars as you work you way down the terraces to the house.

IMG_2356

At this point I have to apologise for not taking any wider shots of the garden to show you it in its glory but I was so busy talking to Kate that I forgot and the only ones I took are close ups taken while we were chatting.  I have also forgotten most of the plant names although Kate did give me a list along with a map so I will be able to sit down and work some of them out.  However, I do know that the grass in the photo above is Anemanthele lessoniana as I have recently planted some in my garden and I was excited to see what  they will look like when they mature.   If you would like to see wide shots of the garden visit Kate’s website where she tells you the history of the garden

IMG_2366

Seeing all these different types of grasses together really helped me identify the types I liked.  Molinias are definitely ones I am keen on as I like the way their flower spikes waft well above the leaves and shimmer in the sun.  I have Molinia caerulea ‘Skyracer’ and I would like to add some to the front garden as I think they would work well in front of the laurel hedge, wafting above it.

IMG_2375

Kate also has a very impressive display of bamboo, which are just huge and some of the stems are almost at the size where you could imagine them being used as scaffolding poles as they do in their native Asia.  I really liked the effect of the stems being cleared of the lower twigs and branches and I think I will have a go at doing the same with my bamboos.  Kate’s are under-planted with crocosmia and where there was a long stand of the bamboo, blocking the view of a neighbour, the crocosmia was very effective bring a warm glow to the base of the plants.

IMG_2382

Whilst I really liked the movement and effect of the big plantings of grasses I also appreciated the more delicate combinations which were generally around the end and back of the house.  Here Kate has some of her special grasses and you will also find more exotic plants which are used in pots in combination with the grasses.  I like the way the grasses above have been used as a ‘skirt’ round the Acer, so much so that I have planted the Pennisetum villosum that Kate gave me at the base of the Mountain Ash in the front garden – it’s a start but there are germs of ideas forming based on what I saw and learnt during my visit.  But I think the best piece of advice Kate gave me when I was trying to write down some plant names before I left was not to worry about specific varieties but if I saw a nice looking plant to buy it and give it a go – how very sensible and just the advice you need when you are dipping your toe into a new area of horticulture.

Thank you Kate for a lovely afternoon – if you would like to visit Kate’s garden the details are on her website.

Irish Garden Odyssey: The Dillon Garden

IMG_0978

Helen Dillon’s garden in Dublin left me feeling very perplexed.  It was one of the two gardens I had been really looking forward to visiting on my tour and I was surprised not to feel thrilled at the visit.

IMG_1042

The garden is well-known for its much photographed central pool/rill flanked with herbaceous borders.  You enter the garden via the house and find yourself looking down on the garden with the rill and borders filling the view.  This area of the garden is obviously designed to be seen from the drawing-room above and I have to agree that it looks wonderful from the window (sorry I didn’t take a photo from the window!)

IMG_1047

IMG_1015

However, when you get down to the garden you notice that the effect is achieved by the placing of pots of plants along the front edge of the borders.  This approach really jarred with me and has left me wondering why.  There were gaps in the borders where the pots could be placed so you couldn’t see the black plastic so why were they placed in such clear view.  Is this me making too much of the sight of black plastic?  I don’t think so as others commented on it too.  I also found my response to the borders confusing.

IMG_1044

I prefer this view of the garden to the views of the borders above.  I am finding that I like the feeling of enclosure; of being amongst the plants as opposed to standing viewing an arrangement.  It is something I felt quite strongly at Great Dixter in my response to the long border and the stock beds and I was interested to read James Golden’s recent blog post on Bury Court where he experienced something similar.  I have noticed that I like to push through the plants, to run my hand through the flowers as I walk past. I think I chose the top photo as the introductory photo for this blog post as I liked the feel of this seating area, totally enclosed by plants.

IMG_1003

At the far end of the rill you come to a more private area of the garden, an area that I don’t think is featured in books and magazines so much and which was much more to my liking.  I enjoyed the combination of foliage; the textures of green in the woodland area.  I also like the arches which are being clothed with ivy – an idea I am pondering and wondering if I can reproduce somewhere in my own space.

IMG_1053

Another view of the woodland area, which I kept going back to so it obviously appealed to something in my psyche. I really liked the Astelias as I have only seen them grown in full sun but here they provide a nice contrast to the other foliage and the silver leaves bring a special glow.

IMG_1059

Adjacent to the woodland is a dry garden with a succulents such as the agaves with dieramas and low growing drought tolerant plants.  This, and the woodland area, are more a plantsman’s garden than, to my mind, the big borders by the house.  Here there are all sorts of treasures acquired by Helen on her travels and from friends.

IMG_1075

A beautiful Lobelia tupa was shown of very well against the pale end wall of the greenhouse (I think) – a good lesson in placing a plant as the wall shows off the plant but also provides additional heat for this exotic looking creature.  My Lobelia tupa has decided it is just too mild to bother this year so I am really missing its fiery red plumes.

IMG_0969

My last photo is of the front garden planting.  It was a hard space to photograph partly because it was full of our group and secondly because I kept finding the neighbour’s ‘for sale’ sign creeping into the shot.  Here again the planting, under a group of birch trees, is much more to my taste than the famed borders.  It is relaxed, informal, naturalistic and just as the dry and woodland gardens show Helen’s plantsmanship, this area shows her skill at combining and planting plants.  I think this style of planting is harder to do well than the traditional border planting. I am left wondering why then is all the focus on the big borders and rill – but then again it’s probably a matter of taste.

I’m glad I have finally written this post as it has led to me looking back through my photographs of Helen’s garden and realising that there is a lot to learn once I move my mind on from the black plastic pots!

In a Vase on Monday – Faded Elegance

IMG_2239

This week’s vase is a simple one of Agapanthus ardernei hybrids.

I have two wonderful clumps of agapanthus, this one and a very dark blue one and they are situated in ideal conditions soil-wise. However, it seems the sunlight that reaches them, although appearing full on to me, isn’t to the agapanthus’ liking so they have been growing horizontally presumably looking for better light.  I have given up trying to straighten them and made plans to reduce the neighbouring tree instead.  As they are growing so horizontally it has been difficult to admire the flower-heads and with the torrential rain we have had over the last two days I decided to cut them all and bring them inside so I could enjoy them as they go over.

IMG_2235

I rather like these white flowers, they make a nice change to the blues that seem to be more popular.  I am also wondering if having the blue and white clumps together isn’t a little passée so I might think about moving one of the clumps a little further away.

IMG_2232

As for the vase I seem to remember buying it for my mother from Woolworths for a small sum of money many many years ago when I was probably around 8 or 9.  I must have reacquired it from her at some point possibly when I got my first home and was in need of a vase.  The vase works well with the glass dish from my viewpoint on the sofa but in the photograph it does seem to clash a little – oh well I think it looks good.

For more weekly vases pop over to Cathy’s and have a ramble around while you are there.

Turning Japanese

IMG_2227

I have to start with declaring, as it will quickly become obvious, that I know nothing at all about bonsai.  But with the power of google I am willing to have a go.

At our recent horticultural show one of the members donated a couple of bonsai trees to the plant sales table and my youngest bought one.  He has always had a fascination with Japan and had wanted a bonsai for years so at £5 it was rude to turn it down.  As the show drew to a close and we were clearing up there were a couple of small cotoneaster shrubs which were being grown as bonsai but in a standard plastic pot.  The gentleman who had donated them, having noted my son’s interest, gave him one of them and needless to say it ended up sitting on my patio table waiting for something to be done.

IMG_2224

Having found an old shallow square terracotta pot while tidying up, the germ of an idea started to form.  I looked around the garden and sourced some bits of Malvern stone and set to creating a Japanese masterpiece – being a natural optimist what else would it be!  It took some time to tease the roots apart and clipping the more tangled fibrous ones so I had something manageable to handle.  I then carefully assembled the rocks into an outcrop, although I am sure it is completely incorrect geologically.

IMG_2225

Getting the little tree to balance on top of the rocks while I spread the roots over the rocks was very tricky and fiddly. I can spend ages doing embroidery but this sort of thing I find very difficult and have little patience with probably because the roots didn’t want to stay where I wanted them to.  I weighted them down with gritty compost and then top-dressed with gravel.  I think maybe bonsai are normally topped dressed with moss but the gravel will hopefully hold everything in place until it establishes and then I can always add moss.  You will note in the top picture there is a small cane holding the branch up and this is to try to push the tree into a more upright position.  Saying that I recently saw some photographs of venerable old trees in Japan which were supported in just the same way!

IMG_2228

Continuing the Japanese theme I was thrilled that little fernlets of Cyrtomium fortunei (Japanese Holly Fern) have started to appear.  The spores were collected from my own plant so this makes them extra special.  Building on this success I sowed Pyrrosia lingua ‘Ogon Nishiki‘ spores which I got from my favourite nursery Growild in Scotland.  You have to sow spores on sterilised compost and my preferred method is to bake the compost in the oven – leading to cries of ‘What is for dinner today? Oh the old family favourite John Innes!!’.

There’s a chance I might be going to Japan next year so maybe I will get to see these growing in the wild which would be amazing.

Ferny Make-over

Athyrium niponicum

Athyrium niponicum

It’s interesting how your approach to the garden changes when you have time on your side.  I don’t mean a few hours but when you have a couple of weeks with few plans and so you can ponder and potter without clock watching and worrying about everything you want to achieve in an unrealistic time. Yvonne, a regular commentator on this blog, is often nagging me about the need to sit on the bench and rest.  What she doesn’t realise is that I do a lot of sitting on the bench but this leads to pondering and considering and then ideas form which then turn into tasks or projects.

This week I have taken the approach of doing chores first thing, crossing things off a long list, and then going out into the garden and seeing how the mood takes me.  One of the first areas I have tackled is the patio border.  The border is in two parts either side of the greenhouse.  This is the first area I planted when we moved in some 11 years ago and it has benefited over the years from continual adding of compost.  The foundation of the beds is some form of builders sand or grit, I’m not sure what, but either way it drains pretty well.  However, due to the shade of the wall the borders are shady and retain moisture for longer than the rest of the garden giving me that elusive moist but well drained soil that is often mentioned in gardening books.

IMG_2194

As this border is the view from my living room  I have tried to make it have year round interest.  In early spring there are snowdrops and some narcissus but I have been increasing the amount of foliage interest rather than relying on flowers.  There is a loose colour theme of yellow and white which is fulfilled by a yellow Chinatown rose that has just gone over, the Kirengshoma palmata, the white flowers of a siberian iris and the various variegated foliage.

The changes I made this week are minor but have made a huge difference to the impact of the border.  When I was in Ireland the group commented on how the Irish gardeners seemed to always be moving their plants. I kept quiet at this point as I am a terrible mover of plants and to demonstrate this I have to confess to moving the Blechnum chilense above all of a foot to the left. As you can see the Edgeworthia is making a bid to be a tree rather than a shrub and it needed under-planting.  The idea is that the Blechnum will provide interest beneath the canopy of the Edgeworthia. I don’t know why the Edgeworthia is growing like this.  I bought it mail-order and it arrived with a bare stem and 3 buds at the top and has carried on from there.  I don’t think I would have chosen one growing like this if I had been looking in a nursery but it will be interesting to see how it fares.

IMG_2200

I love the Blechnum chilense. I am trying to learn more about my ferns and blechnums are one group that seem fairly easy to pick out as their fronds are quite distinctive.  Once it is established I understand its fronds can grow up to 5ft which will be quite something and no doubt will lead me to having to move some of the smaller surrounding plants.  It is also meant to be evergreen so I should have something lovely to look at all winter.

Kirengshoma palmata

Kirengshoma palmata

The Kirengshoma palmata is becoming very large now and I think that I might have to pluck up the courage and divide it next year before it completely outgrows its space.  It is a wonderful plant which really should be grown more.  They suffer a little from slug damage when young but once they are established the slugs don’t seem to bother so much with them.  As I have said before the flower buds always remind me of butter curls. The plant dies back in the winter and I am left with the rose and an acanthus which are somewhere underneath it and the winter jasmine on the back wall.  As I sit here pondering, looking out of the window, I think some yellow and white crocus might do well in here for early spring interest – now where is that bulb catalogue!