My Garden This Weekend – 26th April 2015

 Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Valentine'

Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Valentine’

Today the forecasters predicted low temperatures of around 10C and wind and maybe rain.  Now I would certainly have welcomed the rain since it hasn’t really rained all month and whilst the established plants are fine those I have been planting out over the last month are struggling.  However, the reality of the weather is that we have had an amazingly beautiful spring day with temperatures reaching around 18C this afternoon.  We had rain overnight, not enough to make much difference to the water butts but at least it was some.  I was meant to take my mother out to buy a lilac for her garden as a birthday present but she was so convinced by the weather forecast that we went and bought it during the week meaning that today I was free to play in the garden.

2015_04250061The focus of my efforts today was to address all the seedlings that have been germinating and need pricking out.  I am very good when it comes to sowing seeds but the looking after them once they have germinated, certainly beyond the initial pricking out, leaves something to be desired. I am trying very hard to do better. It is that time of year when space is at a premium and I am conscious that in a week or so I will be sowing the tender annuals such as zinnias.  Both the cold frames are full on the top shelves although the bottom halves are empty since this is very shady and not ideal for seedlings but good for storing tall plants over winter.  Anyway, as ever it started out with some organised pricking out and then the greenhouse got yet another reshuffle.  The temporary shelf was replaced with a wider one – its amazing what wood you have to hand when your son is a cabinet maker.  Whilst this was a distraction I finally took cuttings of the aeoniums and malmaison carnations which I have been meaning to do for weeks. I am really hoping that with a little care I can get the carnations to flower this year. I have started to pull some of the larger plants out during the day to start hardening them off so hopefully it won’t be too long before the space issue is no more.

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The border along the patio which I really sorted back in March is looking so much better now. By removing all the bluebells the lily of the valley has re-emerged and its fresh leaves look very pretty.  Sadly there aren’t that many flowers and I wonder if this is because the plants have been swamped for years; time will tell.  The four meconopsis poppies are still in existence and have grown slightly, hopefully if we have the rain they forecast later this week they will put some real growth on.  2015_04250021

But the thing that has been occupying most of my thinking is the front garden.  I was going to say I have a love/hate relationship with it but that would be far to generous – I hate it.  I always have and it has defied all my attempts to engage with it and make it something I am proud of.  Maybe that is a little harsh since obviously it’s not the garden’s fault that I don’t like it but I do despair particularly with the area at the very front by the birch.  I have added loads of organic matter and mulched it over the years but as soon as we have some dry weather the clay in it turns to rock and it is pointless trying to weed or plant or anything.  I have blamed some of my apathy on not enjoying working in the front garden as it’s not very private but both the laurel (not my best idea) and beech hedges I have planted have grown and provide a degree of privacy. I squared off the lawn a few years back to provide some formality and have tried an approach of planting an edge of alchemilla mollis, bergenia and as you can see ballerina tulips but whilst I love the tulips I think this style/approach isn’t me. When I was weeding here earlier in the week I found myself telling myself off.  The front garden is the size of many a small garden and here I am ignoring it whilst I am desperate for more space for the plants I love in the back garden.   It dawned on me that part of the problem is that my favourite plants are woodland plants and I enjoy planting shady borders. Whereas the front garden is anything but shady and I need to embrace a new range of plants and a new approach to make the most of this space.  2015_04250020Where to start? It occurred to me that I needed to consider plants that could cope with baking in the clay in the summer so I started to re-read Beth Chatto’s The Dry Garden which was quite inspiring.  The thought process lead to the notion that really I should just dig up the lawn and be done with it.  Lawn is far to grand a term as it is mostly moss which goes dry and yellow in the summer. I think I find the strong shape of the lawn quite limiting for some reason, I much prefer the more relaxed approach I have in the back garden.  I also looked at the recent book on A Year in the Life of Beth Chatto’s Garden which is very photogenic but lead me to conclude that a dry garden wouldn’t necessarily work given the wet clay in winter and to be honest I struggled to see me working with this style of planting.  Then by chance yesterday, I won Dream Plants for the Natural Garden in the raffle at the local HPS meeting and this coincided with a thought that maybe I could finally get grasses to work in the garden.  So the current thinking is to go for a naturalistic approach.  I want to add a small tree and I can visualise some Stipa gigantea catching the morning sun, then….. well that as far as I have got.  My block at the moment is that there is no reason for anyone to go in the front garden.  The front door is roughly in line with the side border where the tulips are so anyone coming to the house walks up the driveway and to the door.  I have toyed with putting some sort of path through the garden but again it would be too contrived and no one would use it.  I think there needs to be some sort of path or clearing if only to assist me with working in the space but I just can’t visualise it yet.

I don’t plan to do anything drastic until late summer/autumn so lots of time to think and plan and draw up lists of plants.

 

Book Review: The Plant Lover’s Guide to Tulips

 

index2I have to admit that I didn’t greet the new The Plant Lover’s Guide to Tulips by Richard Wilford, published by Timberpress in association with Kew, with the same incandescent excitement as I did the one on epimediums but then I am a bit of an epimedium nut.  To be fair tulips have had a hard time in my back garden thanks to the tulip crazed badger that visits in the winter.  It became so soul destroying that I gave up growing them apart from in the front garden when the evil stripy fiend can’t get to them.

Anyway, back to the book.  It follows more or less the same format as the other books in this series from Timberpress and positively groans with sumptuous photographs, the majority taken by the author, leaving you in no doubt that your world would be a much better place with the addition of some tulips even if they are only in a pot.  Richard Wilford is well placed to write about tulips.  He has worked at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew for 26 years with a particular interest in bulbs and is a member of the RHS’s Bulb Committee. This is not his first outing as a writer since he wrote Tulips, Species and Hybrids for the Gardener, also for Timberpress, which was published in 2006 as well as Alpines: From Mountain to Garden (2010) and Growing Garden Bulbs (2013) both published by Kew.

Richard starts out by giving a little bit of a history lesson and then explaining that there are 3 main ways you can grow tulips in your garden: mass bedding, in a mixed border or in pots.  For each approach he gives examples of which tulips best and illustrates his advice and recommendations appropriately so for bedding you have the obvious choice of the Keukenhof Gardens in Holland and for mixed borders and to a lesser degree containers he turns to Great Dixter for inspiration. There is a discussion on what plants would work well with the tulips in pots and the mixed border but to me of more interest were the paragraphs on planting tulips in a gravel garden, rock garden and unexpectedly a woodland garden.  I was very surprised that there were some tulips that would take some shade so welcomed a list of suitable varieties and the advice given about using tulips in this way.

The book then goes on to explain tulips as a genus and describe each of the 15 classification groups of tulips giving examples and some illustrations.  The language is straight forward and accessible so you don’t get in a muddle with petals, tepals, sepals and other such botanical lingo.  This section also identifies which groups generally flower when and interestingly which groups of tulips are good for naturalising.  I was interested to learn that tulips, unlike most other bulbs, do not bulk up their bulbs each year but produce a new bulb each year.  This means you need to ensure that the plant isn’t allowed to dry out before the foliage has died naturally or the plant will not have time to produce and bulk up the new bulb.  Understanding this helps you to understand why many tulips don’t do well if left in the ground year on year or even lifted and stored, unless you can given the bulbs the right conditions.  It left me thinking that in future I will concentrate on those groups of tulips which might naturalise.

Then you have 100 different tulips set out for you, arranged in colour groupings, with each variety given a page and well illustrated. The entries give a little history of the variety and detailed description as well as telling you the classification group, height, bloom time, preferred growing conditions and suggestions for ways of using that variety in your borders, which other tulips or plants would work well with it and also some alternative but similar looking tulips.  I particularly liked the inclusion of alternatives as it does really depend on which bulb merchant you go to as to which variety might be available.

The final section covers planting tulips, including advice on growing in containers and also growing species tulips, what conditions they need, propagation and pests.  I was surprised that there was no mention of the predilection that badgers and many other rodents have for tulip bulbs, the section focussed on the tulip fire virus and slugs.  I suspect Richard may not have experienced the disastrous combination of tulips and badgers, indeed I rarely meet someone who has,  but I would have expected the book to mention the problems of mice and squirrels. As with all the books in this series there is a short section on where to buy and see tulips at the back including sources outside of the UK.

I enjoyed reading this book more than I was expecting to, I learnt some interesting bits of information and I found myself rethinking  the possibility of growing tulips in my garden albeit in containers. I know from social media that tulips seem to have become increasingly popular in recent years so if you are into your tulips or thinking about giving them a go I would recommend this book as it helps to demystify those classifications which you see in bulb catalogues and on websites and provides planting of inspiration on how to use these jewel like flowers in your garden.

 

My Garden This Weekend – 19th April 2015

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I’m struggling a little with life at the moment and to top everything else off my car has died on me so I have the irritation of having the phone the garage tomorrow and no doubt part with large sums of money at some point this week.  The only time this past week when I have felt calm and at peace as been in the garden.  Even though I am not conscious of worrying about things in particular I think when you are ‘working’ in the garden your mind focussing on what you are doing, the plants, what you could plant in a space and the other things which might only be bothering your sub-conscious leave.  Interestingly I started off today deciding not to do anything but I twitched around so much that I decided to potter for an hour in the garden.

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The theme of removing sycamore seedlings continued and today’s focus was the hardy exotic slope and the back border.  I wrote about tackling the back border about a month ago and I am quite pleased so far with how it is going. I am trying for a leafy texture of plants ideally with some all year round interest.  I think planting up the area behind the shed has also helped and it feels more gardened now rather than part of the garden which challenges me.  I added a half hardy salvia amongst the bamboos – its a bit of a beast so should fill the space here and the pink flowers will work well with the geranium palmatums which can be a little garish on their own.  I have also added some impatiens qingchanganica bought from Growild Nursery, a wonderful new online retailer of plants and seeds.  Also added was an Athyrium otophorum ‘Okanum’ bought from Sally Gregson when she gave my local horticultural club a talk on epimediums last week.

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The hardy exotic slope is coming together and this year I need to add to the shorter perennials to cover the ground and reduce the bare soil on show. You can see there are some daffodils in the border which are OK and interesting but you can’t see them from the bottom of the slope as they disappear behind the bench.  I think I might forget about spring bulbs here and concentrate them elsewhere as to me you need to be able to see spring flowers from the house so they cheer you on a cold or rainy day.  I am pleased to say that the ridiculous collection of plants waiting on the patio waiting to be planted out is diminishing, its generally one year old perennial seedlings or bulbs now. The downside of this is that the pile of empty terracotta pots is ridiculous and shows just how much effort and funds I invested in growing alpines and bulbs over the last couple of years but I feel a lot happier with the plants in the ground and concentrating on growing perennials from seed.

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I am really pleased with how most of the garden is filling out now and the view from the living room (top photo) makes me smile which is very important.  I can see great combinations from the sofa; such as the way the blue rosemary flowers pick up on the camassias and then the honesty at the back of the garden. It wasn’t planned at all but seeing it work makes me understand a little how to bring the garden together and make it more cohesive instead of seeming piecemeal; Mother Nature is obviously showing me how things should be!

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And then there is the first trillium to flower.  I planted it some 4 or 5 years ago and it disappeared but a c0uple of years back it reappeared and flowered.  Last year it has two flowers but it seems we are back to one this year but it is flowering which is a thrill.  I learnt recently that trillims shouldn’t be planted too deep and if they are they will pull themselves into the right position which is probably why it disappeared for a couple of years.  I will have to make sure I mulch well around it to give it a little moisture and hopefully encourage it to bulk up and spread.

Finally I had to smile as my youngest son, 22, has been to Wilkinsons buying herb seed pots in advance of getting his first home.  He says adamantly “I’m not a gardener”, he doesn’t want to admit that some of my passion may have rubbed off on him but showing him how to sow a few rocket seeds this afternoon was an amusing delight.

 

 

Foliage Follow-Up – April 2015

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I didn’t do a foliage follow up post last month as I was bored with posting about the same plants all winter – even I couldn’t face another photo of Melianthus major but with the warm weather and spring well and truly upon us there are new leaves appearing even more than the new flowers. I love the freshness of the new leaves something which you get at no other time of the year especially when the late afternoon sun dips down and back lights the leaves. I have a few hostas but they are a plant I want to increase in the garden.  The hosta above I have had since my first garden some 20 years ago.  I have no idea what variety it is and it has been divided over and over again.  This plant is residing under the Prunus kojo-no-mai; I have been dividing it and spread it to create a cushion of hosta under the shrub.  It isn’t quite there yet but I think it will look lovely when it is.  And yes there are some of the dreaded sycamore seedlings which I have missed.

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An example of what I mean about the back lighting of foliage.  Here is a run of the mill dogwood which came from my mother’s last garden.  The young variegated leaves look wonderfully fresh but late in the day they positively glow and provide a nice contrast to the other green foliage around them.

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Acer is another plant that has wonderful fresh foliage as well as good Autumn colour.  I love both ends of the year but at this time of year the leaves look so fragile and feathery.

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Then we have the wonderful glossy leaves of Cardiocrinum giganteum which look almost like plastic and very unreal.  I grew this plant last year but I really don’t remember the leaves being so shiny and yes there is another sycamore seedling – tsk!

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Leptospernum myrtifolium was added to the woodland border last Autumn to provide a nice light contrast to the large Fatsia and Rhododendrons which are in the border.  It is still a very young plant and is difficult to spot from a distance but I think it will be a good addition in time.

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Berberis seiboldiwas purchased and added to the border at the same time. The leaves mature to a reddish-purple but I hadn’t realised that they opened with such a light green hue – like little torches in the border.  I think that once the shrub bulks up it will really glow in the spring border.

So here are my Spring foliage highlights, for more foliage delights pop over to Pam at Digging.

 

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – April 2015

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The last couple of weeks have given us the occasional bright sunny days with temperatures just nudging 20C.  It seems like the garden has had its touch-paper lit and the plants are rushing forward.  Every day there seems to be something new opening or germinating.  Today’s thrill is the first Anemone pavonina opening its flower.  I bought three plants last year from Stocktonbury Gardens, taking great care where I planted them and carefully not removing the seed heads so they might self-seed.  They can be hard to establish so I was grateful for the mild winter and the fact that all three have reappeared and have flower buds.

 

Narcissus Angels Tears

Narcissus Angels Tears

Narcissus Sophies Choice

Narcissus Sophies Choice

There is still quite a variety of narcissus large and small flowering in the garden but my two favourites are Angels Tears and Sophies Choice, both quite elegant and pale.

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Tulips are rare in my garden as over recent hard winters they have been dug up by the badger so I no longer plant them in the borders.  However, there are one or two which the badger didn’t get and which flower year on year.  Tulip ‘Jan Reus’ is one of the few flowering in my garden at the moment.

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Iris bucharica is another new delight.  It’s a Juno Iris which aren’t generally easy to grow in the garden, prefering pot culture, but Iris bucharica is the exception and will grow in the border so here’s hoping that they will reappear next year.

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I had forgotten I had Leucojum vernum in the woodland border so it was a delight to see it reappear.  Hopefully one day it will start to bulk up.

Epimedium Black Sea

Epimedium Black Sea

Epimedium Rose Queen

Epimedium Rose Queen

Epimedium x warleyense 'Orangekonigin'

Epimedium x warleyense ‘Orangekonigin’

I have a growing passion for Epimediums and the first are flowering with more to follow.  I love their dainty flowers and the way they waft above the foliage.

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Another new tiny delight is Dicentra cucullaria which I have started in a pot but I think will be fine in the border once I have looked up the right conditions for it.

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The honesty has started to flower.  I think this one is Lunaria ‘Corfu Blue'; I remember  sowing seeds for it but I don’t remember it germinating well but maybe I was too hasty in throwing the seed tray on to the border.

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I do though remember sowing Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’.  I bought the seeds last year from Avon Bulbs at Malvern show, sowing them that weekend and I am very pleased with the plants.  I really like the dark foliage with the purple flowers.

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Primulas and polyanthus are flowering away with new ones putting in an appearance on a regular basis.  It seems that the polyanthus start flowering later than the primulas. I am particularly fond of the (Drumstick Primula)

There are lots of other small floral delights in the borders and I have included a few of my real favourites.

Omphalodes cherry ingram

Omphalodes cherry ingram

Anemone nemorosa 'Westwell Pink'

Anemone nemorosa ‘Westwell Pink’

Anemone Lipsiensis

Anemone Lipsiensis

Bergenia 'Bressingham White

Bergenia ‘Bressingham White

Sweet Cicely

Sweet Cicely

For more Garden Blogger Bloom Day posts visit Carol over at May Dreams

My Garden This Weekend – 12/4/15

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I’m sure you won’t mind me saying that I am rather pleased with my garden at the moment.  It makes me smile so much especially when the sun shines, as it has been all week, and the small spring flowers glow.

I have been taking advantage of the longer days and have managed to work outside for an hour at least three evenings during the week and I am hoping to make this a habit for the rest of the year while the days are long enough.  It is a wonderful way to unwind after a trying day at work.  Although having spent some hours this last week digging up sycamore seedlings I could feel irritation creeping back from time to time so I had to restrict myself to sycamore weeding for just 30 minutes at a time.  I have never known a year like it, they are everywhere.

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The grass path has had its first cut of the year and I have decided to retain it if for no other reason than the cat objects to the gravel paths!  I am pleased with the border above – still in need of a name, maybe the Cherry border?  It has perplexed me for years ever since it was first created. Earlier this spring I really cleared it out and planted some hellebores, a peony and some other perennials.  Various daffodils which were already in the border have been flowering and a host of aquilegia are now putting in an appearance.

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The back of the border leads round to the former Bog Garden, again in need of a new name – I’m thinking Camellia border.  This has also been a little perplexing for a few years.  There are a number of ferns in this border including some Onoclea sensiblis which I hadn’t realised when I bought them a few years back need moist conditions, so I have really mulched the border to try to retain the moisture.  One evening this week I added a Cardiocrinum giganteum, Mertensia virginica, Dentaria pinataand a whole host of snowdrops lifted and divided from the other side of the path.  I know some people argue against planting snowdrops in the green but for me I needed to do it now as they are swamping some of the epimediums and other spring plants. The larger log to the left of the photo is the cat’s scratching post. The other

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The other end of the border. I am hoping that next spring, and even more so the following spring, the border will be a sea of white in early spring. It will be interesting to see how it all fills out over the coming year and to think about ways of improving it more.

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I spent several hours in the border above where the worst case of sycamore seedlings has been, the neighbours have a large sycamore just the other side of the fence so I blame them.  I first created this border probably 3 or 4 years ago and this spring is the first one when the plants have started to fill out and bulk up. What you can’t see if that there are fat noses of Solomons Seal coming up all over the border but still no sign of the large hosta I am waiting to relocate. My only disappointment is that hardly any of the small narcissus I planted 3 years ago have flowered this year.  There is meant to see a sea of yellow here and there is nothing.  I don’t know why.  The clumps aren’t congested at all so I don’t understand why the narcissus are blind.

I feel that the garden is beginning to have a more cohesive appearance.  I just need to continue this through the rest of the year.

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Today I have wrecked destruction on the patio border.  It looks awful at the moment but hopefully the image in my mind will come together as the year progresses.  I removed a small euonymous from here as well as some Japanese Anemones which have been moved up to the back of the woodland border.  I have also dug up quite a number of bluebells which I have to say have gone on the compost heap.  Outrageous I know but planting bluebells in a border is madness, they are such thugs once they get going and the leaves soon swamp out other plants.  In this border there is a whole host of lily of the valley and last year I struggled to spot any.  I relocated some of the bluebells last year to the top of the garden where they will cause less problems so I don’t have a problem ditching the rest.  I also lifted and divided the clumps of snowdrops here spreading them along the border rather than all clustered at one end.  Others were relocated in the woodland border along the top of the wall to try to increase the spread for next year.  The reason behind the destruction is because I had a number of plants that needed the wonderful conditions in this border – the elusive moist but well-drained soil; it is also quite shady.  So I have planted Blechnum chilense, Peltoboykinia waranabei (a home-grown seedling), Anemonopsis macrophylla seedlings and most scarily four Meconopsis ‘Hensol Violet’ seedlings which I grew last year and have nursed over winter – I so hope they flower, I will be delirious if they do.

 

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I leave you with a shot of the wonderful blue sky we had on Saturday with the flower on the large Prunus against it.  Given the winds we have had today I am surprised that so much of the blossom is still in place and the air is positively humming with pollinators on the blossom and other spring delights.