Every so often there are unexpected delights in the garden and this week seems to have delivered more than its fair share. I have grown Tragopodon crocifolius for years, well I have I have grown it, what I actually mean is that I grew it from seed probably around 8 years ago and it has seeded it self around the garden. It is a hardy annual and I suspect I got the original seeds from Special Plants. It sends up a tall stem with these wonderful lilac flowers which then turn to big Dandelion type puff ball seedheads – hence the self seeding around the garden. Its common name is Jack-go-bed-at-noon because the flowers open in the morning and then close at noon. To be honest I had forgotten about this plant until I noticed a number of them flowering in the front garden – a nice surprise.
But much as I love Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon the real thrill this weekend are the Tulip sprengeri flowers. I have been trying to establish this plant in the garden for a few years. I have tried sowing seeds in pots, in borders but no luck. Last year I bought a pot of seedlings, which I promptly forgot about as is my habit, but when I built the raised wall around the top border I rounded up a number of small pots of plants from the patio and planted them out and lo and behold one of them was the tulip sprengeri and this time they have flowered. I am really hoping that they will start to seed them and I will end up with a clump like I have seen elsewhere.
Dutch Iris ‘Miss Saigon’ was a new addition this spring. I planted about 20 bulbs in the garden and they are simply gorgeous, such a special irridescent colour.
Another of my Dutch Iris, this was an early acquisition so there are only one or two in the garden but the white is so pure.
Peonies – have been a challenge for me for years. I have planted many over the years but I obviously plant them too deeply as until this year I have never had many flowers. But things have changed – this year the plant above has some 5 blooms on it and I have another one just the same. Then this evening, while watering I spotted that some of the other peonies, of a different type going by the leaves, have buds too so things are looking up.
I posted the other week a photo of Iris Langport Wren which has multipled itself over the years and this year felt as though it was the only bearded iris left in the garden. I love bearded irises and like the peonies have bought many over the years but they seem to have disappeared. I decided the other day that I needed to rectify the situation and try to add some more varieties. I thought I would get some at the HPS meeting today but not an iris to be seen, nor at the garden centre on the way home; seems they aren’t in fashion. But, when I got home I spotted that diminutive Iris Bumblebee Delight starting to flower – so thats two bearded irises but I do need more.
Those are my delights for this week for more Six on Saturday posts check out My Propogator’s blog.
I’ve started re-engaging with blogs again and I came across a meme hosted by The Propagator; called Six for Saturday. The premise is simply just to post six photos relating to your garden in some way on a Saturday and link back to The Propagator. One of the reasons I didn’t blog much last year was because I was finding it difficult to find anything new to say; I think I was just burnt out. However, with a new year I am feeling much more engaged with the garden and starting to blog more and I think this will be a useful prompt. So here goes with my first Six for Saturday post.
1. Hellebores are a real feature in my garden in January/February. I have added a few each year, mainly from Ashwoods. The dark purple hellebore is one of the first ones I bought and it grows along the top of the wall where I can see it from the living room window. Being on top of the wall means the drooping flowerheads are at just the right level for me to see inside the flower and take a photograph. Unfortunately, I seem to have forgotten about this in recent years which means that the newer hellebores are harder to photograph unless I lie down on the ground to see up into the flowers.
2 – Snowdrops are as prolific in the garden as hellebores. I started with some ordinary Galanthus nivalis probably about 10 years ago and they have slowly spread around the garden. Through my encounters with various plants people and groups I have found myself drawn into the irrational world of collecting snowdrops. I probably have nearly 20 special named snowdrops in the garden now. Sadly, the labels have disappeared, probably thanks to the local bird population. I am determined to draw up a plan with those I can name marked on and replace the labels.
3 – Iris – I have a weakness for all sort of Iris. Iris reticulata have always challenged me. I can get them to flower in pots in the first year and sometimes a second year. But I seem incapable of getting them to grow in the border, aside from this one tiny group of Iris reticulata ‘Pauline’ which has appeared for the last couple of years and are very slowly bulking up. Any tips would be appreciated.
4. Sunshine – after days of grey wintery skies it was a delight to see the sun today
5 Snow – but despite the sun in some parts of the garden the snow has remained since Friday which I suppose just shows the garden still has some shade despite my neighbours both clearing the trees and shrubs along their fence lines.
To find more Six for Saturday posts follow this link and look in the comment box
Winter in the garden …..or is it Spring? Today was one of those days when the seasons seemed to change within minutes. One minute a beautiful blue sky with sunshine, the next racing clouds heavy with the threat of winter. For someone who doesn’t see their garden during the week at this time of year as it is dark when I leave in the morning and get home at night this sort of weather is incredibly frustrating. I need to get outside into the garden. I need the fresh air, to fiddly around doing whatever tidying jobs come to mind, to think and ponder what I might add or indeed remove from the garden but most importantly I want to enjoy the thrill of spotting new shoots emerging through the soil. There is something special when you spot the first daffodil pushing through, or maybe in a few weeks peony shoots, it all feels so much more positive.
Having topped up the bird feeders in the sleet with dark clouds and the wind blowing everything sideways I started the day thinking that I might as well just give up and set myself to do some sewing. Consoling myself with recording what birds visited the garden for the RSPB birdwatch meant that I spent an hour watching the garden from the upstairs windows while it alternated between being bathed in sunlight or blasted by the intermittent wind. Its not a bad garden was my conclusion. It is starting the benefit from my new found enthusiasm and the borders are starting to look a little more care for than this time last year. Time to take stock maybe and think about what the next step is. It is clear that there are a few plants that need to just go as I don’t like them, as simple as that, although it sounds harsh. There are a couple of small conifers – sort of bluey grey things – which are just dull dead patches regardless of the time of year; they are definitely on the list and I think the fig is really far too ambitious for my garden; I seem to spend more time trying to keep it in check than enjoying it and if I am really honest I don’t even like figs.
Despite the changeable weather the bird count wasn’t too bad:
- Blackbirds x4
- Chaffinch x 3
- Robin x 1 (seriously, there are normally 3 hassling me for food, where were they when I needed them?)
- Blue tits x 4
- Goldfinch x 4
- Hedge Sparrow x 3
- Great tit x 2
- Crow x 2
- Pidgeon x 2
- Jackdaw x 1
- Wren x 1
I haven’t done the bird count for a few years so I can’t remember how this compares to other years but I think it wasn’t too bad.
And so I cleaned the kitchen until just before lunch when the sun broke through and I decided it was now or never. I charged around outside in the garden for one mad hour. I planted out some spent indoor hyacinth bulbs, cut back the last of the perennial seed-heads in the front garden so I could see the snowdrops and other new shoots, and also tidied up in the early Spring border outside the Living Room window uncovering the best clump of Eranthis that I have. I admired the hellebores which are all bulking up now most of them have been in the garden for a few years. I took some deep breaths, felt the sun on my face, enjoyed all the signs of Spring and then nearly got blown over by a gale.
A typical January day in the garden.
So what makes a good border these days? A thought that dogged me on my recent visit to gardens predominantly in Cheshire. And what do we mean by border? Is a good border classed as a typical herbaceous border as seen at Arley Hall or has that doyenne of the Victorian grand garden lost its edge and been replaced with more relaxed and mixed planting?
This border, well large square island bed, at Bluebell Cottage has almost the same range of plants as the famous double borders at Arley Hall and yet for me they have more vibrancy and make my heart sing more. But what is it about the second border that speaks to me – again and again this came up over the trip. The Arley Hall borders are historic, allegedly the oldest double herbaceous borders in the country but they haven’t stood still in time as new introductions have come along the planting is refreshed. However, unlike the Bluebell Cottage plants the Arley Hall plants are staked within an inch of their lives. Don’t get me wrong the staking is unobtrusive but it is there and the plants are standing to attention, all neat and tidy. By contrast Bluebell Cottage has limited staking, if any, in fact the owner, Sue Beesly, advocates moving borders into the centre of the garden as the plant grow more upright away from shading fences, hedges and trees. Maybe the freer movement of the plants is what appeals?
The Prairie Borders at Abbeywood Estate from a distance impress on their sheer audacious scale, colour and textures but they are essentially large blocks which can become a little flat when considered for any length of time. Again, many of the same plants are present here as in the top photos.
Here is a shot of the same borders but closer up and consciously taken to give interest to the picture. The colours work well and harmonious and there is texture. This is possibly bringing us nearer to a rationale for my preferences. I had never considered that I liked harmony in the colours in a garden and have avoided colour themed gardens as too contrived but maybe there is something about colour harmonies that is important to a good border.
And then there is texture and that often means foliage and I do love good foliage. The tropical borders at Abbeywood Estate bowled me over so exuberant and masterfully constructed but again there is an element of harmony in the combinations of the colours here.
I had high hopes for the Italianate Garden at Trentham, after all it has been designed by a top designer, but there was no quickening of the heart, no sighs and to be honest few photos taken (always a sign of disengagement). Maybe it was the sheer scale that put me off but I think the planting is also too contrived for my taste – box hedging and fastigiate yews have never been my thing.
But the wildflower meadow planting was another thing altogether. Whilst there was a feeling that there was just too many white flowers in the planting the overall effect was loose, generous, floriferous and alive with insects. You felt immersed in a world of flowers.
So it seems that the criteria for my perfect border is colour harmonies, texture, loose planting with minimum staking, and wildlife.
Which brings us to the final garden of our trip, Grafton Cottage. A tiny country cottage garden whose borders had consumed the instruction manual on planting a border, digested it and then spat it back out reconfigured. Here we had colour harmony taken to a new level, possibly too far in some cases. Borders of blues, purples and white; yellows, oranges and red; pinks and purples. Textures, flower shapes, you name it the borders had it by the bucket load.
It was quite breath-taking and you wondered how so much could be growing in such a small space. Investigation showed that again staking was at the root of the success of this border. Geranium flowers were lifted up from their normal sprawling mess and held upright allowing the flowers to be seen but also to take up less space. The same was true of the Dieramas which were held more upright than they would normally grow. Maybe this was just too much – like a child who has gorged on an illicit box of chocolates I felt like I had experienced a huge sugar rush and then a sense of queasiness.
So what is the answer, what is the perfect border? Well after a week with 36 obsessive gardeners my conclusion is that it is different for everyone. For some the formality and horticultural prowess of borders such as Arley Hall is something to aspire to; others prefer the soft relaxed borders of Bluebell Cottage. For me I think it is a bit of all of the above – after all these are photos from the best gardens we saw – they each have something special, something to learn from, to take away and ponder but in the meantime the front border of Grafton Cottage with its mix of happy annual was a delight to my over stimulated mind.
I’m amazed at how much colour there is in the garden at the moment, especially as there seemed to be very little back in August. Of course some of the colour is courtesy of the autumn leaves and various berries but there is still a significant floral contribution. This hydrangea is one of those supermarket finds from a year or so ago which to be honest I had forgotten about until I got to the top of the garden today and spotted it. Such a lovely combination of dark leaves and flower – I think I need to find a better location to show it off better.
Part of the reason I struggle to get to the top of the garden is this Salvia which is going for world domination – its huge. So much so that I have left it in situ the last few winters with just a mulch to protect it roots.
I actually prefer Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’ as the flowers are more delicate and I like the two-tone effect which brings a special light to the border.
Although the majority of the asters have been moved to the front garden there are still a few adding to the colour in the back garden. I think Lady in Black is my favourite aster, it has wonderful dark stems and whatever the weather it remains upright, just wafting around in the wind.
Symphytrochium novae-angliae ‘St Michaels’ is a good strong purple and I like the larger daisy flowers; I also like it as it is named after a local hospice. This is also doing well in the RHS trial of Symphytrochium novae-angliae which I am acting as recorder for at the local Old Court Nursery.
I do like Japanese Anemones, this pale pink one is a new addition to the garden and lightens a very green border.
The Japanese Anemone is adjacent to the Kirengeshoma palmata – that pink and yellow combination abhorred by many but to be honest I quite like; well if it’s the right pink and the right yellow.
The second group of Colchicums are flowering. I bought the corms for these at the Malvern Autumn Show last month. I do think Colchicums are underrated, yes they have large leaves but they bring so much colour to the garden at this time of year.
As well as Colchicums there are Cyclamen hederifoliums flowering around the garden. I particularly like this group and the way they appear to be lining up behind the leaves.
Another discovery in the depth of the back of the garden – a begonia of some sort bought from a charity plant sale, which seems to be thriving. I love the way the flowers add pin pricks of colour amongst the foliage.
Finally, high up above the back planting the Abutilon is flowering. I can’t remember the variety but I do like the way the flowers look like they are made out of silk and velvet.
Thanks to Carol over at May Dream Gardens for hosting the GBBD meme each month.
I’ve decided not to focus on the asters this month but to showcase four plants which have just started to flower and whose flowers I am always thrilled to see. They all need to be sought out in the garden as they can be a little shy.
First up is Grevillea victoriae which has wonderful exotic orange flowers. Similar to Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’ but flowering later. Last year I thought it hadn’t flowered but discovered all the flowers at the bottom of the shrub. This year the shrub is a year older and has been moved into a sunnier location and the flowers are beginning to appear higher on the shrub so I am hoping that next year it will look amazing.
I have started to extend the bulb season in my garden with the inclusion of Nerines. This is the first to flower and is from a hugh pot full of bulbs that I bought for a couple of pounds last year at the local HPS group. I was really thrilled to see it, and its fellow flowers, as it shows that I have found a good location for it and confirms my plan to plant more Southern Hemisphere bulbs in this particular area.
I am always pleased when the Massonia flowers in the greenhouse. I had a Massonia pustulata but I think I lost that and as its name indicates the leaves were quite blistered looking so its not that variety, maybe I will find the label one day but either way I am pleased it has flowered again.
I have various Colchicums of differing quality and these are always the first to flower and are slowly but surely beginning to spread. They are one of those plants whose flowers appear under the foliage of other plants but as you pass something catches you eye and you find yourself on your hands and knees looking to see what the colour is from.
So those are my 4 secret gems for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – for more GBBD posts visit Carol at May Dream Gardens