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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am sure we all have bits of our garden that we really struggle with and to be honest turn a blind eye to. I also bet that those areas are ones which are possibly in difficult to get to parts of the garden, or have difficult growing conditions. My challenging spot is the top right hand corner, as you look from the house; it’s the corner behind the workshop. As you can see from the photo above the corner suffers from the shade cast by my neighbour’s trees mainly the Elder which is right in the corner. This has two large conifers, probably leylandii behind it which form part of the hedge along my neighbour’s back boundary.
But having battled with the elder for years I was thrilled the other evening to get a visit from my neighbour asking if I minded them cutting back some of the branches on the maple to the front of the shed. During the conversation she mentioned that the tree surgeons would be cutting down the elder and the two conifers. I felt a little bad later at how enthusiastic my reaction was; maybe saying ‘Oh good, I really struggle with that tree..’ is a little selfish! I was thrilled when I got home on Friday, just before the light faded, to see the transformation. Not only had the tree surgeons done a very neat job with no debris on my side of the fence but the amount of light that is now flooding in on that side of the garden is amazing. It isn’t only the light but the fact that the elder, in full leaf, created such a rain shadow at the top of the garden that I have struggled to grow anything. As you can see there are three bamboos along the back fence. The one to the left of the picture above is much taller than the others, in fact the third one has hardly put on any growth since it was planted some years ago and I am really hoping that with the increase in light and moisture the plant will start to thrive. I am now revisit what plants I can use to plant around the bamboos and maybe I can now consider something more exciting than is presently there.
Last week, on a rare dry day, I made my very first visit to Kew Gardens in London. It is almost ridiculous that I have never visited before but living where I do it involves at least 6 hours on trains so you can understand why I have talked myself out of a visit time and again. However, as I wanted to meet up with some horticultural friends who live in London and who I hadn’t seen for just over a year it seemed a good venue for a Christmas get together.
The main attraction was the Palm House, which was particularly apt as I was with a group who are very into exotics and knowledgeable on the subject. However, I found myself distracted completely by the structure of the Palm House with most of my photographs looking up beyond the foliage to the roof. The Palm House was built between 1844 and 1848 by the architect Decimus Burton and the iron maker Richard Turner. It was the first large scale structural use of wrought iron. Sadly the Temperate House, which is even larger, is closed for restoration and will probably be shut until 2018 but I might get around to another visit by then!
I loved the spiral staircases which take you to the top of the Palm House and on to a walkway from where you can look down on to the foliage.
You also get to see close up the detail of the building’s construction.
I found the contrast of the lush tropical foliage with the hard and geometric structure fascinating, especially with the benefit of a beautiful blue sky in the background.
Just like the structure of the building many of the plants housed here have strong architectural shapes, such as this Dioon spinulosum (I think!).
We also visited the Alpine House and the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which I really enjoyed but is hard to photograph well unless you take plant close-ups which I didn’t as again I was distracted by the overall view.
All in all it was a lovely day out despite leaving home in the dark and a return journey completely in the dark. Maybe a summer visit will allow a longer visit with the opportunity to explore the outside of the gardens more. Maybe an overnight visit would be an even better idea, maybe to coincide with RHS Chelsea – I feel a plan forming!
There is nothing better after what seems like interminable days of rain than getting outside and having a good look around the garden to see what the plants have been up to. The real draw were the red berries of Bomarea salsilla which I can see from the kitchen. The seeds heads have been hanging on the vine for some months and I have wondered whether it was worth picking them then the other day a spot of red was winking at me. Closer inspection today showed that the seed capsules were opening to reveal lots of red berries. Tomorrow, I intend to pick them and to have a go at sowing the seed. Research indicates that I will need to remove the red sarcotesta fleshy layer as it may inhibit germination. I haven’t tried growing from berries before so this will be interesting. Research has also led me to wonder if this variety is in fact Bomarea salsilla as on-line photos suggest it should be a pinker flower whilst the flowers on my plant are a real brick-red.
Another splash of vibrant red beckoning me into the garden is the Chaenomeles which is being trained up the back fence. It should be a real picture in a week or so when all the buds open.
Having been drawn outside by the strident reds I found myself noticing more including these two delightful iris, which have really made my day. I don’t remember planting them but I did plant out a lot of iris reticulata and histriodies corms that I had in pots back in the summer as I had read somewhere that they might grow better if planted deep in some shade rather than my normal practice of planting them in a sunny and dry location. A bit more research on-line and I think this is Iris histriodies ‘George’ which was definitely amongst the corms languishing in the pot collection for some years without producing any flowers.
I also spotted some narcissus flowering, ridiculously early. I am pretty sure this is Narcissus ‘Geranium’. A real delight but I do wonder where this season is going with spring flowers blooming some two months early. Maybe we will get a cold spell in the next month and everything will revert back to normal.
Who knows what 2016 will bring, whatever it is I am sure it will be very interesting.
Weeding in the garden today, listening to a big fat bee buzzing around the Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’, and feeling the sun on my back you could be forgiven for thinking it was Spring. This assumption was reinforced by the flowering of snowdrops, hellebores and primulas with even the Daphne putting in a show. However it is mid December with the shortest day just two days away. This winter has been incredibly mild so much so that it is hard to believe we will be recovering from the over indulgences of Christmas in just 5 days.
After weekend after weekend of rain it was with pure delight that I was out cutting back hellebore leaves first thing this morning, making the most of the blue skies in case they were going to be short-lived but I needn’t have worried as the fine weather lasted longer than my energy levels or my back muscles.
I don’t ascribe to the ‘slow gardening’ approach at this time of year which advocates leaving all the tidying up until the spring. I think it is fine if you have a garden that is grasses and late summer perennials but with a garden like mine that I like to look as good as possible all year and which is planted in the layer style it is important to keep on top of things. I’m not talking about putting the garden to bed for the winter – what a waste of a quarter of the year and so many delights. Instead I love to potter and tidy and consider. With the amount of rain we have had this month I am glad I take this approach as lifting the sodden thick layers of sycamore leaves revealed the hellebore flower buds above which were struggling to push their way through just as some of the bulbs were, you can see how little light has got to them.
Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs Macnamara’
Back on the 5th December I shared my surprise at discovering a snowdrop about to open. Finally this weekend I have had the privilege of seeing the flowers fully open and this has helped me confirm that its identify is Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs Macnamara’, a very elegant flower with long outer petals and a nice nodding head.
Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs Macnamara’
The main borders have been tidied and cleared of leaves and decaying stems cut back. I still have the very back borders to do and I have a scheme around the compost bins that I am hoping I might get a chance to carry out before I return to work on the 4th January, which does seem a very long way away being next year! Though no doubt having seen the forecast I will spend more time day dreaming over seed catalogues and making plans for gardens to visit this year.
I have a weakness for books, for plants and gardens and for embroidery so to discover a book that brings all these together makes me very very happy indeed.
I came across a review of this book, The Embroidered Garden by Kazuko Aoki, in the latest edition of Stitch magazine and of course it was too late to ask for it for Christmas so, well.. I just ordered it for myself as an early Christmas present and I am thrilled with it.
I think my embroidery style is quite traditional. I see a lot of very contemporary embroidery, mainly machine embroidery, which doesn’t inspire me very often but there is something, to my mind, very special about some ‘simple’ traditional hand embroidery. However, this book seems to move it just a little along the path towards modernity because if you look very carefully at the front cover you will see that the hatching at the base of the arrangement is actually tulle which has been applied.
I also love this project which is a modern take on the Victorian obsession with collecting and displaying butterflies but in this case no butterflies will be harmed in the process. I think it would be fun to do this based on British butterflies and get it framed in a Victorian style frame and I love the butterfly brooch.
So I am a very happy bunny flicking through the pages and pondering what to have a go at first; in the meantime I must finish the cross stitch Christmas cards.
Hellebore Anna’s Red
I hate to say I have had a good gardening weekend when so many people are coping with floods or howling gales, but I have. At this time of year I think we are grateful for any time we can steal to get outside and work in the garden so I was thrilled to steal about 3 hours over the two days this weekend.
I have spent most of the time picking up leaves, weeding, and cutting back perennial flowers. I’m not a great one for leaving lots of winter debris as I believe this provides homes for slugs and snails and I think when you garden a space extensively you need to try to maintain good garden practice. I tend to start the Autumn/Winter tidy up with those areas that are heavily planted with spring bulbs so that I don’t damage emerging shoots. I’m a little behind due to the recent wet weekends so was really pleased to tidy areas such as the Asiatic Fern border, which I look at when I wash up. There aren’t many bulbs here as it is constantly moist throughout the year but as the ferns are wintergreen and this is their real season of interest I want them to look their best. I spent quite a bit of time removing the ever invasive Soleirolia soleirolii (Mind Your Own Business) which normally carpets this border and wondering what possessed me to plant it in the first place.
There are more ferns on the slope. Different ferns which like a bit of better drainage. This border is also full of spring bulbs so it was delightful to clear away the debris of the fallen leaves and spot shoots pushing through the soil. As you can see, if you look carefully, there are some random self-sown plants appearing. I think the grey leaves at the top of the border is some form of thistle and I am inclined to leave it to see what it does. I have also found a Geranium palmatum seedling which is good as I love that geranium but I am wondering what the border will look like in the summer with its mad big pink flowers everywhere – I can always move it if need be though.
Tidying up revealed that the Crocus speciosus had been flowering but for some reason not well. Some of the plants have long lax stems, some of the flowers haven’t formed properly barely covering the stamens and some flowers have been eaten. I can understand the cause of the latter but I don’t understand the first two problems. The crocus are meant to flower in late September/October, roughly when I planted the corms. I wonder if the mild wet weather have confused the crocus causing the lengthening and weakening of the stems. Whilst some were covered in leaves which might add to the problem, there are just as many growing in this way where the leaves were removed a while ago. Hopefully next Autumn they will flower better and create the lilac haze I was hoping for alongside the top steps.
Clearing the leaves also allows you to discover all sorts of delights. As I posted last time I discovered the first snowdrop of the year yesterday, I suspect it might be Mrs McNamara. Today I spotted another one with the first signs of a flower forming, this time I know it is Galanthus plicatus ‘Colossus’ as the label is still there. It appears that this snowdrop often flowers around Christmas so I think it is on track to do that.
Also found where the fat buds of Hellaborus niger; an extra flower stem this year so I think it is safe to say that this plant is well and truly established now although it has taken many years to achieve this. I also spotted that some of the other hellebores were already budding up to the point that I removed the leaves from Hellebore Anna’s Red and one other. I am waiting for the buds on the other hellebores to be a little bigger before I remove the leaves. And then there are the Epimediums to think about – I need to work out which I should remove the leaves on and which not, oh dear….