I have spent the last two days in the garden and it has been lovely. I did consider popping over the Malvern Hills to visit some gardens in Leominster this afternoon but by lunchtime I had really got stuck into planting up part of the woodland border so I stayed put and finished the job. This year is the first year for ages that I remember being really content in the garden. I don’t know whether it’s because I have been pottering in the evening so more of the jobs are being done or whether it’s because I have stopped charging around exhibiting at shows and reduced the number of groups I go to or whether it because I haven’t got a major project this year but I definitely feel more relaxed and I am enjoying gardening, instead of rushing around trying to achieve half a dozen things at a time.
Yesterday was very overcast with the odd shower, not really conducive to weeding and pottering so instead I decided to face the horror that is the collection of seed trays and pots in the cold frames. I love sowing seeds and get very excited when they germinate but I’m not so good at looking after the seedlings and growing them on. As I said to a friend recently if I succeeded with everything I germinated I would have a botanical garden by now so one of my objectives this year is to do better. I have two 3 tier cold frames and one of them is home to an assortment of pots and trays in which seeds have been sown and then forgotten. The majority of them date back to 2014 and some of them contain bulb seedlings which I wait until the second year to pot up. So I spent probably 4 hours on Sunday pricking out and potting up. There were still some pots with no sign of life so they have gone up the top of the garden to benefit from all weathers and then if they aren’t doing anything probably by the winter they will be chucked. I was thrilled though to discover 3 pots of Arisaema seedlings, some Paeonia cambessedesii seedlings, as well as fritillaries and acer seedlings.
Of course one pot of seedlings soon becomes one tray of seedlings etc so it was a real jigsaw getting everything back into the cold frames and greenhouse. I did ditch a couple of pots that were obviously never going to germinate and some of the older seedlings are having to toughen up on the patio but in the end it all got put back together.
Today, Bank Holiday Monday, I started with planting out some Petunia exserta seedlings grown from seed from Special Plants. This led to me weeding the Big Border which led to me relocating an epimedium which then led to me considering the woodland border and the space where the Acer previously was. The old rhododendron only had one flower this year and has become very leggy and one sided due to the shade produced by the vast willow. Now the willow has been cut back and there is so much more sky I am trying to get the rhododendron to bush out better. I pruned it back and this of course revealed some more planting area. One thing led to another and by mid-afternoon I had added two small rhododendrons that I got for my birthday and a Vestia foetida which I bought at the garden visit on Saturday. I also added a couple of epimediums – well it would be rude not to take advantage of more shady space wouldn’t it.
It doesn’t look much in this photograph but I am really pleased. I had planned to trim the box pyramid but I love the bright green new shoots too much so they have been left for another week.
I even did some weeding in the front garden which I hate working in and for once I am really pleased with the driveway border. The geums that went in last year are coming into their own although I would have preferred it if the orange geums could have been as strong as the red ones which seem to dominate the border at the moment. I have a new fondness for orange geums as I think they add wonderful spots of highlight which really lift a border.
As you can see the Achemilla mollis is about to flower so there will be a limey green haze along the side of the border which links to the marjoram on the other side of the border. I just need to try to continue this style of planting along the end of the lawn where the soil gets much drier. As readers will know I have been considering digging up the front lawn but for now I have decided to be kind to myself and not give myself too much additional work so the lawn stays a little longer.
As you can see its all looking very lush and full but it will be interesting to see how good it looks when the late spring Aquilegia and Alliums are over.
Today I went to the inaugural meeting of the HPS Shade and Woodland Group which conveniently for me was held near Tewkesbury where I go for my monthly HPS meetings and in addition to this the talk was by one of our committee members, Keith Ferguson with a visit in the afternoon to his and his wife, Lorna’s, garden. The meeting was attended by some 80 people at a rough guess which isn’t bad for the inaugural meeting of a national group.
Keith’s talk on Trilliums and other US woodlanders was fascinating and I learnt lots, how much I will remember remains to be seen. I did learn that it was a myth that trilliums need acidic soil, there are one or two which do, but generally this isn’t the case. I still think trilliums are a bit tricky, I have a couple and only one flowers and in 5 years it has only bulked up to two flowers! I think I need to start mulching more with leaf mould etc. I overheard Keith telling someone that they mulch extensively in November so that seems to be the answer – worth a go anyway.
After lunch we drove 20 minutes to the Ferguson’s home which is set down a narrow country road within sight of May Hill – a very pretty part of the world. They have lived here nearly 20 years and worked hard to develop the garden. Both Keith and Lorna are botanists and are real plants people. Whenever there is a tricksy shrub that needs identifying at our group meetings it is them we look to and inevitably they know or can make a knowledgeable guess.
I frequently visit gardens generally on my own, sometimes with a friend or two but this, and a visit with some of the same group last week, are the most enjoyable garden visits I have had for some time. I think the secret lies in visiting with such knowledgeable plants people who are generous with their knowledge and not in a stuffy or superior way. We had a laugh and it is wonderful to hear a real hum of people talking about plants and indulging in their passion. One half of the garden, in front of the house is more formal and is very bright being home to lots of wonderful colourful perennials and also the vegetable garden. The other half of the garden (which altogether is around 2.5 acres) is the newer garden which is devoted to shade loving plants. Here were clumps of trilliums which make my tiny specimen look even more pathetic. I enjoyed the planting style here as everything intermingles giving a wild appearance albeit managed. I suspect William Robinson would have approved. So many new plants to discover and learn about and at the same time familiar plants to see afresh and covert. I was particularly taken with the Papaver orientale ‘May Queen’ which I have been promised a bit of, although it comes with a warning of being a thug!
There were also plants that I doubt I will ever grow such as this Berberis jamesiana which Sally Gregson and I were completely bewitched by. It is hard to propagate and given its size I suspect this is something I wouldn’t be able to grow unless I moved but still it is something to aspire to.
Whilst the reason for the visit was due to the HPS Shade and Woodland Group meeting what I really took away from the Ferguson’s garden was a wonderful demonstration of ‘right plant right place’. Being botanists they understand what conditions each plant needs and the plants repay this care and attention by growing incredibly well. It was a lovely afternoon.
As I have been weeding the Hardy Exotic Border this evening I thought I would give you an update.
The border was first planted a year ago this month. The premise is that it is an opportunity for me to indulge my love of foliage and to create a lush border to cover the slope. Previously I had grown various flowering perennials on the slope but with the introduction of the shed I lost the sunny part of the slope and the area that remains was very shady. The shade has reduced since I had the willow loped but there is still sufficient leaf coverage from the Prunus to provide the shade the plants need.
The border looks a little scruffy due to the dying narcissus foliage. I added some mixed narcissus bulbs this spring but I’m not sure that it really worked as when the bench is back in place you can’t see the narcissus.
The observant of you will notice the increase in ferns over the last year. I just can’t resist them and I am trying to learn how to identify them but it is a very steep learning curve. The dark leaved plant in the front of the border above is Impatiens stenantha and is twice the size it was last year so much so that I have had to relocate an Epimedium that it has engulfed.
The scent on the Buddleja salvifolia is already wonderful and the flowers haven’t quite opened fully. There are only 3 flower heads this year but I am thrilled that there are lots of new shoots appearing and hopefully next year they will each have a flowerhead. Euphorbia stygiana has also started to throw up new shoots and I suspect will become a real thug in the not too distant future. I would like to try and propagate both of these plants so will have to do some research.
From the very shady end of the slope and you can just spot the sprinkling of Arisaema consanguineum all of whose flowers seem to be facing up the slope.
I am pleased with the progress in just one year and although there is still quite a bit of bare soil I am going to stop adding now as I know the plants will soon fill out and cover the soil.
Recently a wise man reminded me that you don’t really appreciate things until you lose them or teeter on the edge of doing so. That wise man was my eldest son and the thing I was considering losing was the garden.
I have been contemplating moving house over the last few weeks. My youngest is buying his first home and helping him look at mortgages led to me investigating what I could borrow, which inevitably lead to some looking at property websites, and then to a valuation of the house. We got as far as having an appointment set for last weekend for photographs to be taken and details put on the web. However, whilst I was away in Rome I find myself thinking about the whole thing a lot and the persistent small voice of my instinct kept saying this was not a good decision right now. My practical head argued that I was in a position to push myself up the property ladder and this was an investment for my retirement but still the voice of instinct niggled away causing doubt. Finally, halfway up the M5 on the way home, I decided that the idea should be put on hold for the time being until my desire to move was stronger than just looking to improve my property investment.
On Saturday morning I stepped out into the garden and calm descended on my soul. My cricket like brain stopped jumping and the endless considerations of whether to buy a refurbishment project or a house already done, was there enough garden to satisfy me, was it overlooked, what about trees, what about slopes, how far from work was it, how far from Mum, what about when it snowed…stopped. No actually they vanished and the garden and I became friends again; like a pair of old friends reunited after some old disagreement the details of which neither could remember.
How, after all my work, especially in the last couple of years could I contemplate not waiting to see if my plans came to fruition? Would the Big Border finally have a sense of cohesion, would the Hardy Exotic Border look as lush as I imagined and would the tree peony ever flower? We got to know each other again. I weeded and weeded. I noted the gaps that needed filling and the odd plant that needed rescuing from being overwhelmed by its neighbours. Also the buds of poppies and irises mistreated over recent years but now forgiving me and offering a peace treaty, a floral supplication, not to be moved for a while.
We are friends again and I feel like a huge self imposed weight has come off me. I really struggled while I was getting everything ready to put the house on the market with engaging with the garden. I have become such an all or nothing character over the recent years that there seemed no point doing the garden, pricking out seeds, or buying anything at the Malvern Show and it made me so sad. I really didn’t know what to do. Now though I am back rushing outside after work and loving the garden. There is still plenty of projects and plans that need completing or tweaking to keep me entertained for a few years yet. Then maybe something will happen or come along that will mean that I have to accommodate less requirements when I move and the decision may seem more obvious and the wrench from the garden will not be so great.
Meanwhile the wise man nods knowingly and I find myself surprised at just how much the garden and some of the plants mean to me.
For this week’s vase I decided to feature aquilegias which as I said in my last post are a real favourite. The aquilegias in the vase are the real Granny’s Bonnets, as in one of the common names for Aquilegia, as opposed to the long spurred aquilegias I showed in the GBBD post which I believe hail from the US.
But what foliage to use to show the flowers off? I decided to go for some woodland plant foliage as after all aquilegias are woodland plants. So in the vase with the Aquilegia is Bessia, Astible and Maianthemum. Finally to add a little height I added some sprigs of Tellima grandiflora; not a particularly interesting plant but the tiny pink tinged flowers work well with the pastels of the aquilegias.
And the vase is the simple cheap glass one I have used before but I want to show case the delicate flowers.
For other Monday vases ramble over to Cathys at Rambling in the Garden