Plans are afoot

Beth Chatto's gravel garden

Beth Chatto’s gravel garden

My garden for the last 9 years or so has become my identity to many people particularly as I have been a serial blogger on the subject.  Even recently at work people have started to ask about my blog and I’ve heard the expression “Helen writes a gardening blog you know” more and more.  Something in me twitched at this.  I have always hated being pigeon-holed and railed against it.  But I also think I twitched as I felt guilty for not blogging much and because I have hardly been in the garden properly for some 6 weeks or maybe longer – a niggle of guilt has been eating away at me. I’m not so worried about the blog as I know my lack of interest is because with a new demanding job I am too tired to spend more time looking at a PC when I get home.  This assumption is backed up by my desire to blog today when I am on leave – I obviously need some sort of vehicle for my mental output.

 

As for the garden it has troubled me that I can’t get interested in it. I have struggled since the new neighbours cut down their new overgrown garden and left me with little privacy. I have also come to realise that my creative side needs projects to keep it interested and whilst there is plenty of maintenance needed which I enjoy most of the time I really need a project to get me properly engaged.  Having dug up the front lawn earlier this year and replanted the space I have been left wondering what to do.  I have even spent time looking at new houses but again my heart wasn’t in moving as I do like living here.

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Then something changed, it wasn’t a light bulb moment or any sort of revelation and I actually suspect that because I had had a quite week at work allowing me to catch up properly before a week’s leave that my head had cleared and allowed me space to think about the garden.  In addition I was home alone last week and found myself wandering around the garden with my morning cuppa  which led to pondering.

And you guess right a new project has come about and I am a happy bunny, itching to get going and suddenly enthused to tidy up and regain control of a garden which seems to have embraced its neglect far too quickly for my liking.

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I want to sort out the Big Border.  It has never been quite right since I created it and I have struggled to work out why it isn’t right and what I should do with it.  To give you some background the Big Border was created when I lifted the back lawn.  This was partly because a large shed/workshop was going in part of the garden and I needed to re-house the plants, partly because I think lawn is a waste of time in a small garden and partly because the garden slopes so much that cutting the lawn was hard work.  This latter reason also explains why I have struggled with how to plant the Big Border that was created.  As my fellow sloping gardeners will know, and there are a few of them out there in the blogasphere – check out Rusty Duck, a sloping garden can be a real challenge.  No only do you get weary lugging things up and down the garden but you realise that you see the plants differently to in a flat garden.  So if your garden slopes up from the house as mine does and you choose to plant tall plants, as I have a habit of doing, you find yourself looking at leggy stems.

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I am sure that there are clever garden designers out there who would dismiss my frustrations and in no time at all create something magical with tall plants.  However, I am a simple amateur gardener whose plant knowledge has been on a steep learning curve over the last 9 years and whilst I know far more about plants than I did when I planted the border initially some 4 years ago, I am still learning by trial and error – mainly error!  In addition my tastes have changed a lot in recent years.  This was brought home to me back in June on a garden visiting trip when I found my yearning for something more exciting than roses, alliums and geraniums – I wanted something with movement; something different; something with textures, foliage; something that wasn’t an English Country Garden.

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So when I was wandering round the garden last week, cuppa in hand, pondering the Big Border I started to ask myself what I wanted and I went back to beginnings with asking what plants do I like – ferns (no too sunny), bulbs (yes), actually tiny bulbs (more troublesome).  I knew I didn’t want a rock garden as I loath them, they are so depressing with all that grey stone but there was a germ of an idea here.  How to create a space for my little bulbs and alpines without creating a rockery and how to merge it into a bigger border.  I faffed around on the internet, messaged my virtual friend at the Scottish Rock Garden Society who shared some photographic ideas; I pondered and spent time standing and staring at the border.  Then the creative juices started to peculate and slowly the ideas started to drip through.

Firstly, the long thin border along the top of the wall (opposite side of the path) which houses my roses, which I adore, would be beefed up with the removal of the disappointing geraniums and the addition of perennial herbs such as sage and lavender giving all year round substance.  Then I would accept the fact that there was bright light to the Big Border now and the slope gave good drainage, but in warm dry weather, could cause the plants problems, and I would plant the space with plants that actually enjoy this environment – what a novel idea!

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For the astute of you who will have been looking at the photos on this post you will have twigged that they give a clue to the inspiration behind my idea – Beth Chatto’s gravel garden which I visited in June and was the highlight of the trip for me.  Now I know that I can’t replicate this as I have considerably more rain that Beth and my soil is clay based so more fertile but I want to use the approach she has taken and select plants that will enjoy the more exposed site and which are crucially not that tall.  The focus will be on foliage strong plants to give interest all year so I plan to use bergenias (I have many in the front garden that need a new home), grasses (I fancy another Stipa gigantea), things like agastache, agapanthus, lots of bulbs for throughout the year, agave, etc.

My disappointing border

My disappointing border

I am excited by the prospect and there is already a programme of clearing and relocation planned which will not only free up the space but will help with producing a screen along the exposed boundary line.  Of course being August and warm and dry I will have to wait until the weather cools but in the meantime I am thrilled that I am finally rediscovering the garden.

 

End of Month View – July 2016

IMG_6076Opps sneaking in a day late with the post which is disgraceful as I host the meme but there you go.  Life moves on, you find yourself blogging less and less and losing track of the days and the pattern of posting and the next thing you know you are late like the proverbial White Rabbit.

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Anyway, what is there to say about Hugh’s Border except it is very full and interestingly and is probably faring better than most of the garden given the dry conditions we have had recently.  The only real casualty are the Sensitive Ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) which are looking a little frazzled.  They need moisture even when they are in the shade despite what the reference books say.  I have some in a very damp corner of the garden which look wonderful but the ones in Hugh’s Border despite it not having as good drainage as the rest of the garden give in at this time of year every year and every year I think I really must pull them out.  But I forget and then in the spring the new fronds with their red stems appear showing that they are spreading around and I relent.  “No more” I cry – well mutter.  I am determined not to be hoodwinked into a reprieve and I intend to drastically cull the Sensitive Fern and replace it with some ferns that are  a little more robust and not so touchy about things.

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As for the front of the border the phlox are looking and smelling wonderful and I find myself thinking that as they seem to like these conditions then maybe I should add to them but I need to be very particular about the colour as I don’t want a garish pink and I think the colour palette for phlox is quite limited.  Anyway, a bit of research is needed.

There isn’t much else to say about the border as its one of those areas that just gets on with it and finally has filled out enough to have a bit of interest happening whatever the time of year.

As ever any one can join in the end of month meme just decide on what part of your garden you want to feature or maybe give us a tour of the whole garden.  The instructions are on the tab at the top of the blog.  I look forward to seeing your links in the comment box below and having a mooch over to see what is happening at yours particularly as it is now raining here.

Helen

Update on the Front Garden

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Some readers will recall that back at the start of the year I decided to do away with the front lawn. Since then I have been a busy bee and with the help of my sons the transformation is nearly completed.

The pile of bricks isn’t an art installation but the start of the path that we have been working on this weekend.

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My eldest has been a star and spent the morning digging a trench for the bricks to lay in and he managed to get the bricks for 25p each which has made a huge difference to the cost and allowed us to be more generous in the number used.  The next step is to cement them in place and then to put gravel down on the path.  I intend to use the same gravel as the driveway so it blends together.

From being embarrassed by my front garden I now love it – as my son says it is now a proper garden rather than a small lawn with some plants around it!

End of Month View June 2016 – Hugh’s Border

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A quick End of Month post from me as to be honest I had lost track of where we are in the month.  The garden is at its most full and even more so given the amount of rain we have had over the last few weeks.  Hugh’s border is looking fuller than ever, and in some places too full.

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The other end of the border which is shadier but not as shady as it used to be due to the neighbours cutting down the trees along the boundary.  This end is the home to some of my earlier fern acquisitions which are now quite substantial, there is also a Paulownia although it is battling with a rogue foxglove growing through the middle of it.  My idea is that the Paulownia will form a leafy canopy over the border but I think that will take a few years.  I spent some time this last weekend digging up Pulmonaria which grew along the edge of the steps and had started to self-seed around.  It was great when the border was so shady but had well outgrown its space so I have replaced it with another fern and some more siberian irises which I hope will bring some new textures to this end of the border.

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The front edge of the border which is a lot better than in previous years but at the moment lacking in colour.  There are some foxgloves, crocosmia and a fuschia about the flower so in a week or so it should colour up.  My approach these days is for the foliage first and then the flowers to add colour highlights during the year.  However, I need to work on how I combine the foliage.  I was very impressed with some of the combinations I saw in the gardens last week so there is food for thought on how to improve the planting.

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The back of the border from the bench and you can see this is particularly chaotic and probably too full.  I need to do some editing here and make some decisions about what should stay but I enjoy that side of gardening as it stimulates my creative side.

So that’s a whizz around Hugh’s border before I go to work.  All are welcome to join in with the end of month meme I just ask that you put a link to your post in the comments box below and link to this post in your post so we can all track you down.

This week’s obsessions

Iris hollandica 'Autumn Princess'

Iris hollandica ‘Autumn Princess’

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Note to self: plant more of these for next year amongst the grasses.

I really discovered Dutch Irises a few years ago but last year the penny dropped that you really need to plant them amongst grasses or grassy looking plants which will support the flowers but also hide the long stems. Whilst the whites, yellows and blues are nice I just adore the colours and tones on this variety, they light up the border in a most elegant way.

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I have re-introduced Lupins in the garden this year having not grown them for years mainly because of the tatty state of the leaves as the flowers fade.  I had forgotten how beautiful the young fresh leaves can be and what an interesting addition they make to the border.  I am also really pleased with the colour of the flowers as they were an impulse buy at the local garden centre back in the Spring when I was looking for some strong colours for the borders.

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Last year I became quite obsessed when visiting a nearby garden with the large block of poppies that were about to open.  I just love the hairs on the buds especially when they are back-lit.

End of month view and time-out

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I’m afraid it’s a short and sweet (hopefully) end of month view post from me this time. I have decided to take some sort of break from the blog for a while but the end of month meme was upsetting my plan so at the last minute I have decided to post some pics of Hugh’s border which as you can see is looking very lush at the moment, though the pink Sweet Rocket (I think ) aren’t what I planned and will be shortly replaced by some Crocosmia Lucifer which will tie in better with the rest of the planting here.

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The reason for my sabbatical from the blog is nothing more sinister than work commitments. My new role is developing rapidly and as I said to the Vice Chancellor today there isn’t much of a curve in my learning curve! But it is exciting and I am enjoying the challenge and learning loads. However I am working longer days and to be honest the last thing I want to do when I get home is look at a screen or try to write something even vaguely interesting – before this new role the blog was one of the only outlets for my whitterings and thoughts; now I have to write numerous policies and reports so I have no energy for the smallest of whitterings. All I want to do with my spare time is potter, mainly in the garden, and sew.

So instead of making myself blog because I feel guilty for not blogging I thought I would take some time out for an undefined period of time. I don’t want to say I will stop blogging or make some grand announcement, but I didn’t want anyone thinking the worse.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – May 2016

Lamprocapbos spectablis ‘Valentine’

Lamprocapbos spectablis ‘Valentine’

Every gardener I know seems to be saying this last week ‘Goodness hasn’t the garden shot up this week’ and yes we have been blessed finally with warmer temperatures which coupled with the rain has given plants a real boost.  Needless to say having moaned about the cool spring for weeks and weeks those same gardeners are now moaning that they can’t keep on top of things!  Personally, with my more lackadaisical approach I don’t worry too much about weeds or that the last bit of lawn needs cutting – they will all be dealt with as and when I have time.  At this time of year I am spending more time looking and spotting familiar friends reappearing or studying new acquisitions to see how they grow. So for this month’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day post I am going to showcase my favourite flowers this weekend.

Trillium albidum

Trillium albidum

Trillium grandiflorum

Trillium grandiflorum

Unknown Trillium

Unknown Trillium

I am completely obsessed with the trilliums that have reappeared this year, there are two more but they aren’t flowering yet.  To be honest I had forgotten about two of them so did a ridiculous little dance when suddenly I spotted them in the border.  I can’t work out what the bottom one is, it might be that the flower will develop more and be easier to identify over the next week.

Uvularia

Uvularia

Another woodland delight that took me by surprise but not for long and I soon remembered what it was.  Such a pretty dainty flower and I do like the way the petals twist.

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On a larger scale in the shady side of the garden the rhododendrons are flowering, these two are my favourites.  If I ever am lucky enough to have a larger garden with the right soil I will definitely indulge myself with lots more rhododendrons especially those wonderful ones with furry leaves.

Sweet Cicely

Sweet Cicely

Moving out of the shade into the sunshine the first of the umbellifers is flowering, lovely Sweet Cicely, such an pretty flower.

Allium cameleon

Allium cameleon

Allium cameleon is in its second year in the garden and already bulking up well.  It is a short, front of the border allium, much daintier than alliums such as Allium Purple Sensation.  I really like the way the flowers are blushed with pink.

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One of those bigger blowsy alliums just starting to open; I can’t remember which but I suspect it is Purple Sensation.  I do love alliums in all their varieties and have them flowering in the garden right through to high summer.

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The sea of camassias which have dominated the Big Border creating a delicious blue haze for the last few weeks is coming to an end.  It is only the very top of the stems which still have flowers and I can’t bring myself to remove them until they have lost every single flower.

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My favourite Aquilegia, its a seedling of the mckenna varieties with the long spurs at the back of the flower which I much prefer to the more chubby looking aquilegias which I think are varieties of the native columbine, whereas the mckenna varieties come from the USA.   I have lots of aquilegias, I went through a slightly obsessive period of growing them from seed and interestingly certain colours predominate.  I think I will weed out the ones that don’t appeal so much and maybe try to increase the mckenna varieties.  There are some who argue that over time all aquilegias revert to the muddy pink variety.  This just isn’t true what actually happens is they loose their original aquilegias and the muddy pink ones are seedlings which tend to revert back.

So those are the stars of my garden this week for other gardeners blooms pop over to Carol at May Dreams and check out the links.

 

Notes from the Garden – 8th May 2016

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It has finally dawned on me that the best way to photograph the garden is to stand on a garden chair.  That way the viewpoint is above the top of the retaining wall (4ft ish) which holds the garden up above the patio – simple when you think about it!

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A sort of panorama of left hand side of the garden if you use the orange tulips as the reference point with the first photou.  I am really thrilled with the garden this year.  Finally after years for labouring, pondering, moving of plants, weeding and wondering it has come together and really gladdens my heart every time I look at it.  It will be interesting to see if I continue to feel this way as the garden progresses through the year but so far its scored 100% since the start of the year.

Moraea huttonii (probably)

Moraea huttonii (probably)

Aside from starting to tackle the front garden planting I have spent quite a bit of time pottering around the garden tidying and weeding.  Yesterday was a cooler day with rain constantly threatened so I spent most of my gardening time sowing and potting up in the greenhouse.  I have finally cleared all the overwintered plants from both of the cold frames and repotted as necessary.  Most plants have come through the winter and it was nice to rediscover seedlings that I had forgotten all about such as a tray of 12 eucomis seedlings.

Today, with the heat I retreated to the shady end of the garden and spent time cutting back snowdrop leaves from the slope so that my fern collection can emerge.  I am sure there are those that will say I should leave the snowdrop leaves to dry out and wither and I know they are right but the snowdrops and ferns live cheek by jowl and the ferns are more important to me that the snowdrops so its a case of tough love.  While I was tidying up I discovered the flower buds above growing amongst very long strappy leaves.  After much pondering I think they are the buds of Moraea huttonii.  I sowed the seeds years ago and the seedlings have languished in pots in the protection of the greenhouse or cold frame as I assumed being South African they needed some protection.  Last year I got fed up with them and planted them out.  The result seems to be healthy looking plants with big fat buds – fingers crossed.

Buddleja salvifolia

Buddleja salvifolia

The Buddleja salvifolia is beginning to flower, a beautiful blue which has come out almost true in the photograph.  However, what really surprises me is the lack of insect activity on the flower heads.  I rarely see butterflies in my garden but it is groaning with other pollinators so I would have thought they would like this buddleja – very strange, maybe its too exotic for the local wildlife.

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Finally I am really enjoying this garish combination.  There are other white honesty in this area so the white is even more dominant that this picture implies.  This is where I was thinking the Tulip Rosy Bouquet that I saw at Malvern would help to bring the planting together.  Alternatively, given the honesty is biennial maybe next year I could go for something else in this area, even Lunaria Chedglow would probably be an improvement!  What you can’t see is that on the other side of the rhododendron there is a small pale pink rhododendron which looks wonderful with the white honesty so its all about the choices and viewpoints I suppose.

 

 

End of Month View – April 2016 – Hugh’s Border

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Hugh’s Border has really filled out in the last month especially with the hostas planted under the Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ emerging. I am determined to crack this border this year.  It looks Ok but in previous years there has been something lacking and it has felt bitty and not really me.  Over the last month I have added some lupins with red/orange flowers and also Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’.  These will add to the red and orange theme that seems to be the emerging in this area.

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Here’s the other end of Hugh’s Border (Hugh is the owl).  This part of the border is more woodland/shade planting.  The Pulmonaria are beginning to go over which I am sure will disappoint the bees.  Just behind them are some trillium and lots of Onoclea sensibilis as it seems to have decided to spread after sitting quietly for years – I presume due to the mild wet winter.

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Here is the other end of the woodland bit of the border (nearest the bench).  The big round leaves are Cardiocrinum giganteum which has reappeared this year and hopefully will flower. The lime green strappy leaves are Iris sibirica, I think it is a pale blue variety but it hasn’t flowered for a few years due to being moved so maybe this year will be the year when I discover which variety they are.

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This is the front of the border and the area of the border which has been really perplexing me.  I have moved a couple of hellebores here from near the bench as it was difficult to see their flowers in their old location.  It seems hellebores like to face the sun so from the bench you just saw the back of the flowers in their new location you can see the flowers from the grass path.  I am trying to bulk up the planting and foliage textures in this area so plan to add to it as the year progresses.

So that is the border at mid Spring, lots of new shoots appearing and promise of things to come.

If you would like to join in with the monthly meme you are very welcome.  All I ask is that you add a link to this post in your post and leave a link to your post in the comments box below.  You can use the meme however you want – to focus on one area in particular, to look around the whole garden, whatever suits you.

 

Notes from the Garden – 24/4/16 – Bye bye lawn

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So this was the front garden this morning.  Regular readers will know that I have been procrastinating for some time, maybe years, about the front garden and getting rid of the lawn.  I decided this year that it would go but instead of embracing it head on earlier in the year I have occupied myself with various other ‘essential’ tasks in the main garden.  I suspect there was a small voice questioning whether I was making the right decision, and then there was all the work that would be involved lifting the turf and getting rid of it and really can I keep on top of the main garden so why do I want to make the front garden more work! However, the patio has been filling up with pots of plants for the front garden in anticipation of its make-over so either I donate them all to local plant fairs or I just get on with it.

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Anyway I have completed all the jobs I had come up with that had to be done before I tackled the front garden and set my mind to starting work today.  I have to admit that it was tough going especially as the turf needed to go to the far corner of the main garden up a considerable slope with two sets of steps and a garage in between.  Luckily my youngest son popped round to help and my eldest joined in for the afternoon so between us we started to get a system going between us.  We managed between us to lift about half of the lawn which is a good start and means that I can start to dig over the soil and add some compost.  I have a couple of shrubs that I really want to get in the ground asap so that is the first priority.  And the reason my final niggle was put to bed is because Noel Kingsbury, who visited yesterday with his wife Jo, within a very short time made the observation that the front garden just isn’t me – which I think is what I have been trying to say for a while.

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Now, what to do with the turf?  Yes, I should stack it neatly to rot down and make wonderful potting compost but I don’t really have space for a stacked lawn.  Some of the mossy crumbly bits were placed on top of one of the compost bins to slowly rot down.  Then in a demonstration of how not to lay turf I have started to turf the area in front of the compost bins – creating what my youngest has decided to call Hobbitland!  It has a 50:50 chance; if the turf takes then it will stabilise the slope but if it doesn’t take then so be it.  Even more amusing to my sons was that I turfed around the plants that have self-seeded on the slope – as I said a lesson in how not to turf!!  If it takes then we will keep it in check with a strimmer but the intention is that it will be more wild than tidy and I would love to add crocus and other bulbs and maybe plant some primulas amongst the turf.  There will be more turf to add when we lift the rest of the lawn and it needs tidying up once we have assessed whether it has taken or not – in the meantime the blackbirds are having a lovely evening looking for worms in the sodden turf and I am feeling very pleased.