My Garden This Weekend – 7/2/16

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What a glorious morning we have had today especially given that yesterday we had at least 14 hours of non-stop rain.  Having spent yesterday feeling sorry for myself with a bit of  head cold and a blocked ear which has affected my balance a little, I only went outside this morning to see how the garden had stood up to the wind and rain.  Two hours seemed to pass in the blink of an eye and I only came in when my fingers were becoming painfully cold.

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There is something quite special about the sun in the early spring especially after gloomy days and it has a wonderful ability to really illuminate the early spring bulbs and the hellebores.  I have said many times before that Spring is my favourite season especially in the garden.  I enjoy the real thrill of spotting something starting to flower which seems to be so much more intense at the start of the year when we are desperate for reassurance that the winter is retreating.  Not that we have had much of a winter this year.

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The mild weather over the last few months has led to a strange mix of plants flowering.  I was very surprised to have my attention caught by a flash of red and on investigation discovered that Anemone pavonina was flowering probably at least two months early.

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But then again some plants have stuck to their normal timings. Hamamelia x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ is a good example of a plant doing what it is meant to do at the right time regardless.  I have been watching this shrub for some weeks.  Last year it had only three flowers on the whole shrub.  After a bit of research I concluded that the plant was too dry probably due to the neighbour’s sycamore roots; so after a long period of rain I gave it a heavy mulch to try and lock some moisture in and I made sure I watered it during dry spells in the summer.  The plant has rewarded me with a full covering of flowers which are all just opening – how lovely!

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Having taken some photos I pottered around cutting back the deciduous grasses and the ferns which had gone  over as well as collecting other debris from around the garden. Then with the sun still shining and not feeling too bad I decided to sow some seeds from the local HPS seed exchange.  To be honest I have no idea what half of them are, I think they might be shrubs as I seem to remember requesting these as I have a fancy to grow some shrubs maybe for a future garden, not that I have plans to move, but its good to have a challenge.

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Finally, having been thrilled with the Hamamelia flowering I was just as thrilled to discover three flower stems on the Melianthus major; two more than last year.

It always amazes me how uplifting  a couple of hours in the fresh air pottering around can be.

A loggery perhaps?

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Back in November I posted about the new mega compost bin my eldest had built me from old pallets. When I came home from the monthly HPS meeting on Saturday I was thrilled to see that he had built me the second bin he had promised.  I suspect my hard work the weekend before emptying out and removing the last old bin may have encouraged him to get this done or it might have been my heartfelt pleas as the first bin was full despite its vastness.

You can see  the slope of the top of the garden and in particular the drop in the soil level from one bin to the next so we still have to landscape this drop out of existence. What these new compost bins have given me are two large and substantial compost bins which are positioned at right angles to the old bins meaning that I should be able to empty them better. It also means that although large the bins are less visible from the house compared to when the three old bins formed a line across the back of the garden.  This is turn has freed up some space near the top of the steps for me to plant something and this has led to the creation of what I think will be called the loggery.

You will recall that I had the willow, under which the compost bins are sited, heavily lopped back in October 2014.  This left a large pile of logs which have either gone to my friend Victoria for her willow sculptures or to my son’s scout group for burning.  There were however a number of very large logs which were just too heavy for us to carry down the garden so they have been sitting in the way for the last 18 months.  Having emptied out the last compost bin and finding myself presented with extra space I decided to roll the logs down the slope and to pile them up on the corner at the top of the steps to produce a small loggery.  It’s a bit like a stumpery but made with logs and not tree stumps!  Once the ground levels are sorted out the loggery can be established properly and my plan is to fill in the gaps between the logs with soil and to plant it up with ferns and maybe some bulbs such as snowdrops or hepaticas. Having heard Julian Sutton of Desirable Plants talk about the best growing conditions for hepaticas I think this small installation might improve the flowering of my hepaticas which would be wonderful.

End of Month View 2016 – The Shameful Front Garden!

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It’s the end of January and so time for a new view for the End of Month View meme.  In a bid to make myself really focus on the front garden I have decided to air my dirty linen in public so to speak and have this as the focus for the meme this year.  Any one who has read this blog for some years will recall that the front garden was the focus of the EOMV meme in 2013 and you can see a round up of that year’s posts on the subject here.

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The two photos above should give you an idea of the layout of the front garden and yes the lawn, if we are audacious enough to call it a lawn, is looking awful.  It needs a good cut as the grass doesn’t seem to have stopped growing but the garden nearest the house can be in shade nearly all day meaning that it doesn’t dry out very well. In fact the whole lawn is full of moss which is a good indicator of how damp it can for most of the year.  We also think there is a spring which runs along under the beech hedge, although I suspect it is one of those springs which appears when there are high water tables. I think the above photo distorts the perspective and it seems that the border to the left of the lawn is quite wide whilst the border at the end of the lawn is quite narrow – in fact it is the opposite way round.

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This photo gives you a better indicator of how narrow the driveway border is and also demonstrates how unhealthy the lawn is.  This border has a bit of an orange theme going on with the libertias, a number of different crocosmia, geums (although more red than orange), tulip ballerina  and a Grevillia vicotriae which has orange flowers. There is an edging on the driveway side of oregano, a very yellow leaved one, and on the lawn side Alchemilla mollis. When I squared the lawn off, it was formerly oval, I went through a period of being obsessed with accentuating the shape of the lawn with edging of one plant.  I tried an approach of having a reduced plant pallet and going for impact but it just jarred with me.  I started breaking this repetitive planting up with the addition of a couple of stipa tennuissima and also the libertia but it needs something else so I shall be watching this year to try to decide what that elusive something might be – possibly some bigger foliage.

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Some might recall that I had a row of Deschampsia along the end of the lawn but if you read the post from the end of 2013, you will see that, I concluded that this was creating a screen like a barrier at the end of the lawn.  I have spent the last two years continuing to struggle with the front garden.  However back in the summer Kate from The Barn Garden visited and pointed out the obvious to me that I should really take the same approach with the front garden as I have with the rest of the garden and indulge my love of foliage and architectural plants.  It is so obvious it is ridiculous.  So I have re-jigged the planting back late in the summer adding various plants that were lurking in pots on the patio or needed moving from elsewhere.  In went a melianthus major, a phormium, euphoribia rigida and some bearded irises.  The various bergenias which had replaced the Deschampsia in a near row along the front were re-arranged into clumps.  As shrubby salvias seem to do well in this locations as does the cistus I also added a rosemary and sage.  I am really pleased with this new approach, it feels right, so this year I will be watching to see how it progresses and whether anything needs to be added.

Finally if you look at the top photos you will see there is a border running along the beech hedge and next door’s garage wall.  This is quite a narrow border and has another row of alchemilla mollis – when these flower on both sides of the lawn it looks great but far too regimented for me.  I have also added some aquilegia seedlings which had been hanging around on the patio for far too long.  However, I think this border could really benefit from the addition of some ferns to add some contrast and height.  That would of course give me another excuse to buy more ferns – not that I am obsessed with them at all!

So this is the view I shall be boring you with at the end of each month for the next year. Any one can join in with the meme and you can use it as you wish.  Some like to give a tour of their garden, some like to focus on one particular area – what ever works for you.  All I ask is that you add a link to your post in the comment box on my post and that you link in your post to this blog – that way we can all connect with each other and pop by for a visit.

Pandora’s Box – An Embroidery Journey

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My love of embroidery keeps growing and it has really stood me in good stead over the last month, providing a useful relaxation at the end of a long day at work.  The simple act of pushing the needle and thread through the material in a fairly regular fashion really helps my mind empty of other things and to create something pretty, or if I am lucky beautiful, as a result is an added bonus.  I blogged a few weeks ago about the cross stitch my sons gave me for Christmas which  I have really been enjoying and which is coming along nicely.   However, I follow a number of embroiders on Facebook and Twitter and a week or so ago one of them posted about Pandora’s Box , an on-line sew along which she had just started.

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A few questions were asked and links followed and I found myself on the Blackwork Journey website downloading the first set of instructions.

The project is essentially a sew along in nine parts which a new part being released each month.  I think it started in November so you can see I am somewhat behind but then so is Chris and others are joining all the time.  It doesn’t matter.  The project allows you to explore some new embroidery techniques which you might not have tried before, in this case Assisi, Blackwork and Pulled Thread Work.  I haven’t tried any of these before so was immediately interested but what really drew me in was the owl motif in the first row.

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Sorry the photo is a little blurry.

I was quite nervous at first due about the framework which you can see in the top picture is a series of blocks and squares worked in four-sided stitch.  This stitch creates a sort  of ladder effect and you are meant to pull the threads tight to create the small holes at the corner of each square – I suspect I could be a little more robust.

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I have got one more square to complete on the first block and then I have two more rows (or blocks) to do before I am up to date. Saying that the fourth block comes out in February so I will be behind again.  However, all I have to do is go onto the Facebook group and see what others are up to and realise that lots of people are at the same stage as me and as I said it doesn’t matter.

I am completely loving Pandora’s Box.  The framework stitch is far easier than I expected and so satisfying and I love each little square, they are like little masterpieces in their own right.  In the next block I get to do a butterfly with a spider instead of the owl, which I am sure will be fun.

Malvern Hills Challenge 7: Perseverance Hill

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Finally a weekend when a walk on the hills first thing was a real possibility and strangely after temperatures all week of -5-2C this morning the temperature was 12C, how very strange.  Since my last walk I have wanted to tick Perseverance Hill off my list as I was annoyed that I hadn’t pushed myself that little bit more last time.  So back to the Quarry car park and arriving at 8:45 it was hardly surprising that the car park was empty.  I find the starkness of the granite stone fascinating.  I am sure someone who knows about geology would be able to tell me lots about these stones but I really just love the colours and forms.

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It’s a gentle walk from the car park along broad pathways.  Despite the car park being empty there was no shortage of runners, walkers and cyclists.  I passed by Jubilee Hill along the lower path (above) and continued onwards from where I left off last time.

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Perseverance Hill ahead and as you can see plenty of people around for first thing on a January morning.  One lady who you can just spot in the distance, motored past me at a fair rate of walking and was positively euphoric at being able to get out on the hills after all the wintery weather we have had.  I did stop and take some photos which is why she is so far ahead but given her likely age she really was inspiring.

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Perseverance Hill is 1,066ft (325m) above sea level and slightly shorter than Pinnacle and Jubilee Hills.  From the top you can look across the edge of Malvern and beyond.  My house is down there. I tried to put an arrow on the photo but haven’t got the patience to do it.  If you follow the railway line from the hill, and look for the two red garage doors near the railway then my house is sort of diagonally between the two red garage doors.

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Moving to your right across the golf course you come to the Three Counties Showground where the RHS Spring Festival will be held in May.

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From the top of Perseverance Hill you look across to the Beacon, in the dip before the Beacon is the Wyche Cutting with car parking, a cafe and a pub.  The walk from the Wyche Cutting, along Perseverance, Jubilee and Pinnacle Hills to the Malvern Hills Hotel, just before British Camp is one of the most popular.  Probably because the walk is pretty easy going with just enough small peaks to make you feel you have achieved something and of course there is a pub at both ends.  It is definitely a walk I can see I will be doing once I have finished this challenge.

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It is one of the benefits of this challenge that I have discovered parts of the hills completely new to me and I really like this area partly because it isn’t too arduous to get to the top of the peaks but also for the trees.  I have had a fascination with tree skeletons since I was a child and I still have some drawing pads with ink outlined trees drawn probably when I was in my early teens.

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I really love the textures and lines of the bare trunks and branches, I can see how this image could easily translate into a drawing.

So that 7 of the 16 named hills completed and ticked off my list.  I think the next ones will be those beyond British Camp going towards Eastnor.  Coming out of the car park I was trying to decide whether to go left or right, it didn’t matter as I have to go round the hills either way, when a posse of some 30 road cyclists appeared all out for their Sunday morning cycle – decision made I went the opposite way!

Seed Mountain

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Back in my early teens there used to be reference on the news to the EU butter mountain  which bemused me.  I had these quite grotesque images of oozing mountains of butter.  I was reminded of these this weekend when I emptied out my seed box.

In my last post I wrote about my lack of engagement with things and how unsettled I felt.  Writing the post helped me to sort my feelings out, as it so often does, and as one of the commentators so rightly said naming the problem out loud is a real step forward in itself.  So Sunday afternoon I confronted the seed box that had been brooding on the coffee table sending me accusatory glances.  I had dug it out a few weeks before in response to Anna, of Green Tapestry’s, comment that she needed to check her seed box before ordering seeds.  How terribly sensible I thought and something I really should do.  When I had been feeling more positive a few weeks back I had spent time on the Sarah Raven website putting endless packets of seeds into my virtual shopping basket.  Well of course I needed some zinnia seeds as they were wonderful last year, oh and I fancy some cosmos and some ammi again, oh and maybe some nigella, what about some foxgloves to get going as they are biennial, and maybe some dahlias from seed and so it went on.

I was stunned on tipping out the seed box on just how many packets I had managed to cram in over the last few years and these didn’t include some recent special purchases. It really was a seed mountain and had been created just as the EU butter mountain had – bought with no prospect of being sown.  How terrible and wasteful.  Sorting through I found 5 packets of assorted cosmos, a couple of foxgloves, nigella and all sorts of other things.  In fact the only thing that I didn’t have that was on my wish list were zinnias.  So I have decided to only buy zinnias this year and to use up what’s in the seed box.

It has to be acknowledged that some of these seeds have been there a while and may not be viable any more. However, being someone who likes a challenge and gets a perverse thrill out of making something work that isn’t meant to I found myself really taken with the idea.  So much so that I set to there and then and sowed 5 packets of seeds which needed cold to help them germinate – hopefully the freezing temperatures we have had the last few days will do the trick.  It may even be that by sowing this eclectic mix of seeds I achieve the real cottage garden feel that I am looking for.

Of Notebooks and Empty Nests

IMG_3906This morning I was reading an article in Gardens Illustrated which revolved around the use of garden notebooks.  There was a lovely quote from Joan Didion ‘On Keeping a Notebook’ (I must seek this essay out) which said that notebooks were “about the bits of the mind’s string too short to use”. I loved this quote as it described the way my mind works – but then I thought it is more how my mind worked until recently and that is the real problem.  My bird like brain has entered a sort of torpor. The endless shifting sands that has been my working life for the last year and don’t appear to be forming any sort of firm foundation in the next six months seem to have smothered my normal chirpy self and it is making me sad.

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Hindsight and reflection are wonderful at illuminating what can seem at the time quite normal.  I realise now that I was incredibly bored in my job and had been for years.  I love working where I do and my role meant that no two days were the same but I could do it with my eyes shut and there was no mental stimulation and so I blogged…alot.  My mind sought knowledge and the garden and plants in particular became the focus.  I joined groups and societies, followed blogs, Pinterest boards, facebook groups, went to events, visited gardens so much that when I did a review of the year back at the end of December people commented on how much I did.  I was surprised at this response.  “Really? ” I thought “and there was me wishing I had been to this or that”. And then its like someone placed a full stop firmly down and every horticultural inclination in my being vanished almost overnight.

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Now yes you can say “well its been a miserable winter with endless rain and now low temperatures and its that time of year and all gardeners feel like that etc etc” and I would agree wholeheartedly.   But this has never affected me so strongly before and I feel incredibly unsettled by it.  I have my seed box out and I can’t be bothered to open it to see what I have, I have seed catalogues which I have flicked through and even scribbled on but I can’t be bothered to order anything.  I walked round the garden yesterday and took some photos of what was flowering for a late Garden Bloggers Bloom Day post but I couldn’t be bothered to write it.  Some people will say, and I have myself, that this is fine as I was doing too much and things are more balanced and this might be true. But, and its a big but, I worry that it is more significant and that the black dog that shadows me is sniffing around and I can’t throw him off.

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I suffer with indecision and I am incredibly easily influenced by what others say which really makes me cross with myself but I have yet to find a source of imperviousness.  This means that time and again I push people away and avoid situations where vocal or opinionated people exist as I know that my fragile confidence will evaporate at the first challenge.  I take too much to heart and things dog me for years.  This isn’t good and means I find myself, now my sons are grown and independent, feeling at times quite alone.  This has become worse since my blogging block has occurred.  Blogging is wonderful if you feel isolated or are looking for people to share whatever your obsessions in life are but it is all too easy to become reliant on it and for it to become the answer to everything.

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Normally around now I am planning my holidays, pouring over websites and brochures.  This year it would be fair to say that my plans are already made and were made before Christmas, although I am still looking for other things to do for some reason that I can’t explain.  I hope to go on a trip to Greece in October to see crocus etc growing in the wild and this is with my friends, yes there you go I do have some, from the Alpine Garden Society. I am also going on a trip with people from the local Hardy Plant Society in June to east of the UK to visit a number of gardens including Beth Chattos – which I am really looking forward to.  This trip is with people who I think I can call friends although I only tend to see them once a month.  Oh and I have promised my mother a trip to the South Coast as she really wants to visit Monkey World which is conveniently near Abbotsbury Gardens which I have wanted to visit for a while.  Lots to look forward to and already planned (wagging finger at myself). But still I wonder should I go to the US in July to catch up with blogging friends, should I go and immerse myself in the horticultural odyssey that is Great Dixter to recharge my batteries, or should I be sensible and spend the money on new living room furniture that I need and really do I need to make any of these decisions right now – probably not!

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So now I need to find a way to re-engage with the old me, the me that got enthusiastic about things, plants or otherwise.  I suspect that my current work where I am in an acting up role and working at a level that is several higher than previously is really the cause of all my angst.  Everything I am doing at work seems to be new and I sit there wondering how do I write this policy, how do I tell this person that whatever isn’t happening, how do I find the courage to speak out at a meeting – my safety net has well and truly been removed and my lack of confidence has blossomed.  I get excited when I have a task from my old role to do as its like a familiar friend!  But everyone it seems has faith that I can step up to these challenges and if I want to progress in my job and avoid going back to the place were I was bored senseless and spent all my time on social media then I need to embrace those challenges.  I just need to find a way to leave the unsettling world of work at work and to come home to a my old self instead of letting the self-doubt of my working world seep into my home life and cripple me further.

So I am I think I will dig out my notebooks from last year and re-read my ‘bits of the mind’s string’ and see if they don’t pull me back to my old self.

The photos on this post are the ones that should have gone on the Garden Bloggers Bloom Day Post!

Tropical Stitching

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I’ve mentioned from time to time my new past-time of embroidery and I mentioned a few posts ago that I was working on a cross stitch that my sons had bought me for Christmas.  I thought I would share with you my progress to date.  I’m fairly pleased although I might re-do the outline of the bird’s tail again but then I could be being a little fussy as this is but a small part of the overall design.

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It should keep me quiet for some time.  Whilst I was intent this time last year on learning new embroidery techniques I find that of a weekday evening tackling something challenging with thread is not the best recipe for relaxing whereas cross-stitch is fairly simple. Also the cross stitch is building my confidence and sewing is becoming a habit in the evenings which is very relaxing and I find better than faffing around on the internet which I have wasted far too much of my life doing in recent years. As sewing starts to become a norm in my life and horticulture is becoming a less all consuming passion I am starting to feel more balanced which I think must be a good thing!

The title of the post refers to a small seasonal cross stitch I did last year which took me ages as I needed to get my eye in.