The Impossibly Pretty Project

Stone House Cottage, Kidderminster

Stone House Cottage, Kidderminster

I find it impossible to achieve things unless I have a goal, deadline, incentive and I have got progressively worse over the years.  Over the last few years I have had some sort of yearly major project in the garden whether it was a new seating area, digging up the lawn, making space for the workshop – there has been something.  I have now run out of places to dig up and to be honest I am quite happy with the layout of the garden although the jury is still out on whether the grass path will stay grass or not (the cat would prefer grass) and at the end of last year I was twitching about a lack of project.  When I wrote a post at the start of the year, although I didn’t make any new year resolutions, I did say that I planned to enter more alpine shows and I think on reflection this was instead of having a project – something to aim for, some to achieve.

Hampton Court Garden, Herefordshire

Hampton Court Garden, Herefordshire

However, over the last month my mind has become increasingly full of images and ideas for planting the garden gleaned from books, television, magazines, talks.  Over the Christmas break I tackled the teetering pile of magazines and scrap booked images and ideas I liked and when I flick through the scrap-book there is a definite style and colour palette that appeals to me – I suppose this is what they mean by a ‘mood board’. But I really don’t like formulaic planting whether it’s a limited planting scheme with plants repeated or very linear, as I tried in the front garden. I don’t like what a friend of mine calls ‘planting by numbers’ which she says some designers are guilty of and which we both agree leads to a soulless garden.

Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire

Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire

Another friend introduced me recently as a knowledgeable plants-women.  I challenge that description as I know from the gardening clubs I go to how limited my knowledge it but I am passionate about plants.  I love the quirky, the pretty, wonderful foliage, interesting flowers.  I get a thrill out of seeing a plant push its way through the ground in the Spring or a seedling appear or a fern frond unfurl.  But I get distracted particularly with social media – ooh what’s that plant, where can I get it, where can I grow it and so I have a garden and greenhouse full of interesting plants but the parts do not make a great whole and this is the problem.  The friend who dislikes planting by numbers and I discussed this recently.  She too is  plants-women, very knowledgeable, and her approach is that her garden is her space to do as she wishes and if the plants look a little bitty then so be it and I applaud that attitude.

Bryan's Ground, Herefordshire

Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire

However, and there is always an however, I don’t think this approach is working for me.  I feel constantly frustrated with the garden and so I have distracted myself with digging up more bits or entering shows.  I am frustrated because I strive for my garden to be a floriferous oasis, to be stunning, for the borders to look wonderful just like the magazines.  Of course these images have been created by people with a wealth of experience, sometimes with professional help, but also with passion and incredibly horticultural prowess and this I think is the key to it.  I need to garden better, to spend time in the garden, maintaining it, tending the plant, understanding how they grow.  A nursery woman I know always says that the remedy to most garden pests is to garden better i.e. if you grow strong plants they are less susceptible to pest damage and I think she is right.  I have recently been reading about a number of my gardening heroes all who have stunning gardens and all who are amazing plants-women but they have learnt their skills through hard work over a long length of time.

Bryan's Ground, Herefordshire

Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire

So, a plan is forming in my mind, a sort of project – it doesn’t have a particular object as an outcome, it won’t be achieved this year, or probably for some years.  It is more an aspiration or objective and the other evening on the way home the phrase ‘The Impossibly Pretty Project’ came into my mind and days later I still like it.  The name can be taken two ways.  You sometimes hear the expression ‘impossibly pretty’ used in the sense that it impossible for something/someone to be as pretty as they/it are but also you could read it in the sense that the project will be impossible – although I hope not. The images on this post are of various gardens I love and enjoy and you will see there is a certain look that appeals to me which I suppose is something between a Cottage Garden and the archetypal English Country Garden.  I particularly like the herbaceous borders and this is where I get stuck.  I don’t want to create a herbaceous border in the true sense of the word but it is the herbaceous part of a mixed border that I struggle with.  I have the trees and shrubs but I struggle to work out how to make the perennials, biennials, annuals and bulbs to work together.

East Lambrook Gardens, Somerset

East Lambrook Gardens, Somerset

Whilst I like interesting foliage I will never be comfortable in an exotic style garden as if I list my favourite plants the list starts: Peonies, Iris, Roses, Daffodils, Primulas, Aquilegias hardly the components of an exotic garden.  Having created the Hardy Exotic Boarder which I like I have realised that the plants don’t excite me as much as the above.  I want to create a sense of enclosure, of privacy, and escapism.  As a basis to this I need to build up the shrubby planting around the boundaries but with the distant view of the Malvern still there.  Then I want to learn how to plant my borders properly and this is the real challenge.  I can grow plants but I am just rubbish at combining them.  I don’t think I do too bad with colours and textures and having a slight artistic bent I can understand that but it is how to get a fulsome appearance without the plants all smothering each other one way or another.  I think the key to this, as I have said, is being more hands on – staking properly and dividing regularly but also learning how each plant grows and how it will impact on its neighbours.

Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire

Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire

Although I have read lots of books on the subject of gardening and planting including Christopher Lloyd, Margery Fish, Beth Chatto and David Culp I think I need to learn from the actual gardens I love.  This has obviously been something deep in my sub-conscious for a while as I have already booked myself on a days planting course at Great Dixter, when I also plan to visit Sissinghurst and a couple of other gardens which I think will inspire me.  I am off to Dublin and Cork in July on a trip visiting gardens many owned by plant lovers so they should give me ideas to address my magpie tendencies and I have a few other trips in mind during the year to key gardens.  I have also started a list of gardens for next year to continue my education.

It is nice to feel as though I have a direction and a purpose. I’m not trying to replicate a specific garden or border but to plant my borders with the plants I love in such a way that they are shown to their best advantage and the whole things looks fabulous and charming.  In the back of my mind are the gardens on the recent ITV series Britains Best Back Gardens many of which were remarkable, floriferous and should the passion of the owners – this is what I am hoping to achieve.

Foliage Follow-Up – January 2015

Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus'

Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’

Despite the wintery showers this last week there is still plenty of foliage in the garden.  I do like evergreen foliage. I know that there are many winter shrubs which have flowers before the leaves but I like to see some green outside on a grey day.  One of the stalwarts of my garden is the prostrate rosemary which grows over the patio wall.  It has been there some 6 or 7 years maybe even longer and has come through at least two very cold winters.  I tend to take it for granted but at this time of yet it is a star not just for me but for the bees that feed on its nectar.

Choisya ternata Sundance

Choisya ternata Sundance

Choisya is another plant which really earns it keep in the winter.  I know there are some that don’t like the yellowish foliage but I find it welcome.

Melianthus major

Melianthus major

And it wouldn’t be a foliage follow up post without featuring my favourite Melianthus major which just glows in the winter sun.

Watsonia pallida

Watsonia pallida

Close to the Melianthus is a collection of Watsonia pallida which is looking particularly good in the sun at the moment.  I do like the strappy leaves they provide a nice contrast throughout the year to other foliage such as Geranium palmatum below

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The Acanthus mollis foliage is still looking good although you will see that some of the leaves are spattered and this is mud which has been splattered up in the heavy rain we have recently had.  I do like the glossy leaves which is lucky as it is an impossible plant to remove from the garden!

Dryopteris erythrosora

Dryopteris erythrosora

Many of the ferns are looking good with their wintergreen foliage.  I particularly like the Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern) as the leaves are yellowish and come the summer they will take on a more orangeish hue.  Like some of the other foliage on this post this plant seems to catch the winter sun very well.

Euphorbia pasteurii ‘Phrampton  Patty’

Euphorbia pasteurii ‘Phrampton Patty’

Finally a sun kissed Euphorbia pasteurii ‘Phrampton  Patty’ which is thriving having been planted a year ago.

So those our my foliage highlights this month.  For more foliage posts visit Pam over at Digging

My Garden This Weekend – 11th January 2015

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Amongst the gusty wind and grey skies there were moments of still and sunshine this weekend when the garden shone giving me the perfect opportunity to get some horticultural therapy and take photographs.

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I get such a thrill seeing plants emerge at any time of year, watching leaves unfurl and buds open but at this time of year there is something particularly special when you see the first shoots of snowdrops, narcissus, crocus and eranthis pushing through the soil. I suspect this is the reason so many plantsmen (and women) end up becoming glanthophiles; in desperate need of some horticultural enjoyment at what is a bleak time of year they turn to the few plants that are showing signs of life.  I have snowdrops, both everyday and a few special starting to flower, but for me it was spotting the eranthis pushing through the soil that really thrilled me.

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They have such a strange way of emerging with the frill of leaves pulling the flower bud out of the ground all ready to open, they completely intrigue me. Elsewhere the camellia and hellebore buds are still forming but beginning to show some colour so it shouldn’t be too long before they open.

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My mother asked me the other day what on earth I found to do for an hour and half in the garden at this time of year which amused me.  I can always find something to do.  Although I have an editing list, running around in my head, of plants that I want to move or simply remove, this weekend I was feeling a little weary so I indulged in pottering, one of my favourite gardening activities.  I worked my way through the Woodland Border weeding, cutting back perennials and generally tidying.  This border saw quite a change last year with the death of the Acer and I am still working out how to fill the gap.

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As you can see the border is looking very sparse in interest although I know that the border is actually full but everything is sleeping below the soil, there are lots of shoots beginning to push through the ground.  But it does need structure and form and I know from looking at it through the past year it needs sorting out so the plants look better. I have just started reading Keith Wiley’s new book ‘Designing and Planting a Woodland Garden’ which has got me thinking.  In it he groups plants, aside from shrubs and trees, into one of six groups and he talks about how you use plants from each group with each other.  He also says that whilst we are better at taking into account the right growing conditions for a plant we seem to have forgotten to think about how the plants actually work together.  I have also been watching a new Alan Titchmarsh series, ‘Britain’s Best Back Garden‘, where he meets everyday gardeners in a rich variety of gardens.  I have found the programme fascinating as many of the gardeners are very passionate about their gardens, often with no formal training, and their gardens are amazing; full, lush, floriferous. Between the book and the programme I have found myself reassessing the back garden and my approach and coming up with plans. Nothing drastic but I want to incorporate some more interesting shrubs and remove those that have only a short season of interest and don’t earn their keep.  I also want to improve my overall approach to planting to be braver and trust my instincts more rather than worrying about whether the conditions are right, what people will say, how quickly the plant will grow etc.

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Above is the woodland border from the patio and you can see that there is a bit of winter interest at this end but there is also so much potential and scope for me to really improve it.  I think I might feature this area in the End of Month View although it is quite hard to find a good angle to photograph it from, but then again yo can say that about most of the garden.

 

That was the year that was – 2014

This round up of the year is becoming a bit of a tradition and it is nice to spend a quiet hour or so on a winter’s evening between Christmas and the New Year going through photographs of the year.

2014 has been a busy year, full of change – some good, some not so.  We were lucky to escape snow in the winter but it was wet and chilly so I found myself in January going to Birmingham Botanical Garden to have a look around the glasshouses.  I promised myself I would go back to the Gardens later in the year as there was much which looked as though it would be of interest but needless to say it didn’t happen.

February was busy with attendance at the inaugural AGS Snowdrop Conference in Stratford.  I didn’t get to the second snowdrop event due to flooding which crippled parts of the country through January and February.  February also saw my first proper visit to RHS Wisley.  I had only been once before and rushed around at breakneck speed so it was a delight to spend a day leisurely looking around and amazingly although we visited in February it was one of those unexpected warm Spring days that you get from time to time. March my comparison was a quiet month with no trips out but lots of tidying and working in the garden.

April saw me getting involved more with Alpine Garden Society shows.  I helped at my local group’s show on Easter Monday and won the best overall Novice prize which was a thrill and then at the end of the month I helped at the RHS London Alpine Show which was great fun.

May is always a busy month for garden/plant shows and 2014 was no different.  The beginning of the month sees the Malvern Spring Show which is held at a venue only 10 minutes from my home.  This year I was helping stage the AGS Artistic show and ended up being at the showground on each of the four days.  I won the overall Novice prize for the AGS show held on the Saturday of the show and spent a fascinating day helping out Avon Bulbs on their stand in the floral marquee.  A few weeks later I was off to RHS Cheslea Flower Show.  It was a very warm day but it was wonderful to see the gardens and floral displays on press day before it became really crowded.

June was a busy gardening month catching up on tidying the garden after being away from home a lot.  It also saw my youngest finishing a University and a c0uple of trips to Plymouth to retrieve three years worth of belongings.  I also found time to attend an Oldhorts meet up at Waterperry Garden in Oxfordshire which was great fun.

July saw the boys and I travelling to Lake Maggiore in Italy for a family holiday.  We had wonderful weather, saw some stunning sights and I even managed to sneak in a couple of garden visits.  August is never a good month for me.  It is often too warm for gardens to look very good or for me to be able to do much in the garden so I find it quite a frustrating month. A highlight was a visit to Hampton Court Garden in Herefordshire which was looking wonderful. August was a bad month for the family starting with Dad having a heart attack at the beginning of the month and his death at the end of the month.  My real association with August is driving up and down to Coventry hospital in the evening – not a journey I am in a rush to make for a while.

The highlight of September was my youngest’s graduation held in Plymouth. We, including Mum, had a lovely weekend and it proved to be just the antidote to the sadness we had all been struggling with since Dad’s funeral at the start of the month.  The end of October saw a real landmark as I finally got the tree surgeon to seriously reduce the height of the willow tree.  At the same time they removed a 60ft leylandii from Mum and Dad’s garden, a tree Dad had been fighting with the council about for 2 years – it was a bittersweet victory as the news he had won arrived on the day he died so he never knew.

The highlight of November was the Alpine Garden Society conference which was held for two days in Stratford.  I nearly didn’t go as I was feeling low but it was just the tonic I needed and recharged my horticultural juices and got my head planning for the coming year.  One of my resolutions/aims for 2015 is to show more plants with the aim to try to get my bronze medal (I need a total of 10 firsts to do this – I have 4 so far).

December is December – always full of Christmas and preparations.  Work is always very busy and as my boss is standing down from a significant part of his role as of Christmas there is much uncertainty and stress in my working life at the moment.  Christmas itself was a good day, despite the absence of Dad.  He was very much in our thoughts, as he is most days.

So 2014 started very positively but sadly turned into a less than good year.   However, I have already made plans for next year including Mum and I popping over to Rome for a bit of sightseeing so there is much to look forward to and I always think this is the best way to deal with life when it gets a little challenging.

End of Month View – November 2014

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November this year has been wet and mild resulting in the weeds and grass still growing, even the drop of temperature earlier this week was short-lived and we are back to mild temperatures for the time of year and fog. Whilst I’m not so keen on the continual dampness the fog does add to the real autumnal feel which is nice as there are less fallen leaves in the garden this year due to the removal of the majority of the willow and some of the large prunus.

The hardy exotic border and new seating area remains my favourite part of the garden and I hope the plants are hardy enough to come through whatever this winter throws at us. I am hoping that it will be a mild winter and the plant will have another year to establish before they have to cope with prolonged cold.

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I am surprised at how lush the garden still is. The Rose Border (formerly the Cottage Garden Border) is filling out and I am hopefully for a good display next year when the roses, aquilegias and geraniums start to flower.

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I worked through the Big Border last week, weeding and cutting back.  I want to move the Cotinus to the corner of the border in the foreground and I need to build up the log edging of the path but aside from that the border should look after itself now until the hellebores flower in the early spring.  I will cut the hellebore foliage back probably in late December.

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The other end of the Big Border.  I have also tidied up the border on the other side of the grass path and as I mentioned last week this is an area I want to tackle next year to make the planting stronger, it can’t get any weaker!  I have finally got the start of an idea of what I want to put in here and it won’t surprise you to learn it is foliage based.  I have a hankering for a dark-leaved banana or maybe as Rusty Duck has suggested a hardy Hedychium and this has led to me deciding to extend the hardy exotic planting from the slope behind but with plants that appreciate a little more light.  2014_11280005

The other end of the border I am talking about which has been much shadier but I suspect will be lighter now due to the willow being cut back so drastically.  The planting here is predominately foliage based so I think I will finally be able to make the whole border work rather than it feeling like two halves.

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The next area due an autumn tidy up is the original woodland border.  Again it will be interesting next year to see how the shade has been affected by the tree work.  I think I need to do a little re-jigging just to stop plants swamping each other but I need them to reappear in the spring so I can remember what I had planned to do. However, I am very pleased with how the changes I made to the back of the border have worked out this year adding depth and interest as well as height.

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Going down in scale the spring/patio border is at one of its low points in the year.  The late summer interest is well over but hopefully come early spring there will be lots of colour from snowdrops and other bulbs.  Saying that I have a sneaky suspicion that I meant to add more bulbs this autumn and if so I have failed to do this.

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The staging is still working hard and currently supporting the collection of pots planted up with collections of various alpine plants and the hardy succulents.  It is also hosting all the pots I have emptied of dahlias.  Last year I planted these up with tulips which were OK but I think I want to add some more permanent plantings in them so I have decided to leave them empty over winter.

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Finally the hardy succulent trough has been more successful than I ever anticipated.  The various sempervivums have bulked up and filled out.  However, I will be happier once my amateurish concrete repair mellows a little.

As ever any one is welcome to join in this monthly post and use it how they wish.  Some focus on one area of their garden and others the whole garden.  All I ask is that you link to this post in your post and leave a link to your post in the comment box below so we can come and visit you.