If we were having tea

AXEXGW_1922167c

If we were having tea right now there would of course be cake.  On a damp cold Saturday afternoon there needs to be afternoon tea with some treat.  My preference today would be a gooey Belgian Chocolate choux bun from my favourite local supermarket full of unctuous cream which squidgies out the sides as you bite into it

If we were having tea right now I would be telling you that I haven’t blogged for a week.  Now this might not sound that strange to you but I have been blogging at least 3 times a week since I started the blog 8 years ago, in fact 8 years on the 20th of this month.  The only times I have missed posting have been when I have been away.  But what is really strange, and also very liberating, is that I am OK with not having blogged which is a new phenomenon for me.  I have often told people that blogging had become a sort of habit, almost an addiction, and I couldn’t imagine not blogging.  I used to spend my time wondering what to write about and at its worse I used to go places just so I had something to blog about.  I know I am writing a post now but it’s because I wanted to share a few things and because I wanted something to do to justify not doing anything else on a wet afternoon!

IMG_0030 1

If we were having tea right now I would tell you how thrilled I was to receive my RHS Committee card in the post today. I am the recorder for the Symphyotrichum trial (that’s Asters to you and me).  The trial will last for three years and is being held just up the road from me at my friend Helen Picton’s nursery (Old Court Nursery). I am hoping to learn lots from the nurserymen and other experts involved in the trial.

If we were having tea right now I would tell you how I had spent the morning with  my mother at a stonemasons choosing a headstone for my sister’s grave.  She died in 2009 and her grave is marked by a wooden cross but now my brother-in-law has agreed to a more permanent marker and my Mum is on a mission to get it sorted and crossed off her bucket list.  It’s a strange thing choosing a headstone suddenly the smallest thing becomes incredibly important; what type of stone, how big, what design, what should it say.  This is something you only do once and you want it to be right.  My mother asks me “do you think your sister would like that stone”?  I want to answer “does it matter?”, but you stop yourself as it is important to my mother so you have these strange conversations about what someone who hasn’t been with us for 6 years would think.

IMG_0031

If we were having tea right now I would tell you that what I am really enjoying at the moment, instead of blogging, is my new cross stitch kit.  It was a Christmas present from my sons and has a lovely oriental feel about it.  I am currently working on the small bird and what you can see makes up about one fifth of the overall design – there are an awful lot of leaves and some big orange flowers which I have yet to identify.

If we were having tea right now I would tell you that unusually for me I have really retreated indoors and am struggling to engage with the garden at all even when it comes to ordering seeds etc.  I have decided I need to grow an ivy up the side of the house and I want to use the border along the front beech hedge for my ever expanding collection of ferns but ask me is I am going to grow dahlias, or cosmos or in fact anything from seed this year I will shrug and point at  a pile of seed catalogues with lots of ticks on them but no real decisions. But its January and there is plenty of time and maybe when the sun decides to reappear I will feel a little more inspired.  In the meantime I am relaxing and recharging, which is great.

 

Patterns of the Palm House

IMG_3839 1

Last week, on a rare dry day, I made my very first visit to Kew Gardens in London.  It is almost ridiculous that I have never visited before but living where I do it involves at least 6 hours on trains so you can understand why I have talked myself out of a visit time and again.  However, as I wanted to meet up with some horticultural friends who live in London and who I hadn’t seen for just over a year it seemed a good venue for a Christmas get together.

IMG_3734 1

The main attraction was the Palm House, which was particularly apt as I was with a group who are very into exotics and knowledgeable on the subject. However,  I found myself distracted completely by the structure of the Palm House with most of my photographs looking up beyond the foliage to the roof.  The Palm House was built between 1844 and 1848 by the architect Decimus Burton and the iron maker Richard Turner.  It was the first large scale structural use of wrought iron.  Sadly the Temperate House, which is even larger, is closed for restoration and will probably be shut until 2018 but I might get around to another visit by then!

IMG_3724 1

I loved the spiral staircases which take you to the top of the Palm House and on to a walkway from where you can look down on to the foliage.

IMG_3755 1

IMG_3753 1

You also get to see close up the detail of the building’s construction.

IMG_3750 1

I found the contrast of the lush tropical foliage with the hard and geometric structure fascinating, especially with the benefit of a beautiful blue sky in the background.

IMG_3746 1

IMG_3736 1

Just like the structure of the building many of the plants housed here have strong architectural shapes, such as this Dioon spinulosum (I think!).

We also visited the Alpine House and the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which I really enjoyed but is hard to photograph well unless you take plant close-ups which I didn’t as again I was distracted by the overall view.

All in all it was a lovely day out despite leaving home in the dark and a return journey completely in the dark.  Maybe a summer visit will allow a longer visit with the opportunity to explore the outside of the gardens more.  Maybe an overnight visit would be an even better idea, maybe to coincide with RHS Chelsea – I feel a plan forming!

 

 

New Year Day Delights

IMG_3840 1

There is nothing better after what seems like interminable days of rain than getting outside and having a good look around the garden to see what the plants have been up to.  The real draw were the red berries of Bomarea salsilla which I can see from the kitchen.  The seeds heads have been hanging on the vine for some months and I have wondered whether it was worth picking them then the other day a spot of red was winking at me.  Closer inspection today showed that the seed capsules were opening to reveal lots of red berries.  Tomorrow, I intend to pick them and to have a go at sowing the seed.  Research indicates that I will need to remove the red sarcotesta fleshy layer as it may inhibit germination.  I haven’t tried growing from berries before so this will be interesting.  Research has also led me to wonder if this variety is in fact Bomarea salsilla as on-line photos suggest it should be a pinker flower whilst the flowers on my plant are a real brick-red.

IMG_3850 1

Another splash of vibrant red beckoning me into the garden is the Chaenomeles which is being trained up the back fence.  It should be a real picture in a week or so when all the buds open.

IMG_3845 1

Having been drawn outside by the strident reds I found myself noticing more including these two delightful iris, which have really made my day.  I don’t remember planting them but I did plant out a lot of iris reticulata and histriodies corms that I had in pots back in the summer as I had read somewhere that they might grow better if planted deep in some shade rather than my normal practice of planting them in a sunny and dry location. A bit more research on-line and I think this is Iris histriodies ‘George’ which was definitely amongst the corms languishing in the pot collection for some years without producing any flowers.

IMG_3841 1

I also spotted some narcissus flowering, ridiculously early. I am pretty sure this is Narcissus ‘Geranium’.  A real delight but I do wonder where this season is going with spring flowers blooming some two months early.  Maybe we will get a cold spell in the next month and everything will revert back to normal.

Who knows what 2016 will bring, whatever it is I am sure it will be very interesting.

End of Year View 2015

I thought I would do an End of Year View post instead of an End of Month post so I could see how areas had changed through the year.  Starting with the view up the steps to the shed I am pleased with how the border along the steps has filled out.  At the start of the year there was a Stiga gigantea here but it was a sad specimen and taking up a lot of space.  Removing it last January freed up a lot of space which I have filled with agapanthus, peony and a range of bulbs which need sun and sharp drainage. But I wanted some waftiness up the stairs so late in the year I added some Stipa tenuissima.

The start of the bottom path is one of my favourite places to sit and ponder.  I always think that the photos along here never show it off well but there you go. I want to try to beef up the planting along here, bring in more colour through the year but especially in late summer.

The bottom part of the woodland border looked really good in early Summer but it needs to be improved in Spring especially given that Spring is meant to be the season of interest for shady areas.  This being so I have added lots of narcissus bulbs and I am hoping that next Spring my hard work will be rewarded.

The top of the woodland border has progressed slowly this year; I have to be patient and let plants establish and fill out.  Again I have added narcissus in here and there are signs of them coming through.

The final view I am including is along the grass path.  I started the year umming and arhing about whether to replace the grass with something else but I think the grass is a nice counterfoil to the plants and my cat likes it so ….  I want to improve the planting at the start of the path and have started to do this with the addition of Anemanthele lessoniana and repeated it with one towards the end of the path.  I think it draws the eye but also starts to soft the edges.

So that was 2015 in my garden.  I haven’t decided what view will be the focus of the End of Month View in 2016, it needs to be somewhere that photographs well which isn’t the case with much of my garden due to its smallness and the angles needed.

It has been great that so many of you have joined in with the End of Month View meme in 2015 and I really hope that you have found it useful.  I do hope that you will join in again in 2016 and all I ask is that you leave a link to your posts in the comment box of my post for the relevant month and include a link back to my post in your post.  That way we can all connect.

Best wishes for 2016.

Helen

That Was the Year That Way – 2015

Another tradition here at the PatientGardener blog is a round up of the year.  It is always interesting to look back and remind yourself of places you have been and things you have seen or it seems, as is the case this year, places you haven’t been.  I was surprised that I really haven’t been out and about as much as I have in the past but then I am reminded that this year has been challenging from a work perspective and I have struggled with exhaustion and uncertainty as well as still working through the grief of losing Dad at the end of 2014.  Saying all that it hasn’t been that bad a year and whilst I haven’t been out and about that much, the places I have been to visit have been exceptional with a number finally crossed on a long term wish list.

Just as we are ending 2015 with a mild winter we started the year with a mild winter with only a scattering of snow over one weekend.  Looking back through photographs it appears that I did a lot of gardening this year and really focussed on looking after my garden better.  I was rewarded in February with flowers on the Melianthus major which is a plant I just adore for so many reasons. I started my garden visiting at the very end of March with the first of a number of visits to Stockton Bury Gardens in Herefordshire.  This is a favourite garden of mine being quite close and always having a good selection on interesting plants. The garden work continued into April and I finally decided on what colour to paint the shed much to every one’s relief.

Then in May the travelling started. The month started with the annual visit to the Malvern Spring Show, always a delight which boost my gardening enthusiasm.  This was closely followed by a trip to Rome with Mum.  It was nice to do a city break although I remain unconvinced that cities are my favourite holiday destinations. June was a real highlight as I finally got to visit Great Dixter and Sissinghurst.  I spent 3 days in the area, attending a study day at Great Dixter (which I might repeat in 2016 depending on other plans).  Then if that wasn’t enough I spent a wonderful week on a garden visiting trip in Dublin and Cork led by Noel Kingsbury.  During the week I got to visit another 3 gardens on my wish list: Helen Dillon’s Garden, Hunting Brook, and June Blake’s garden.

Off the back of this trip I was invited to a gardener’s lunch at Noel and Jo’s garden in Herefordshire. A delightful place, completely different to my garden, planted in a wilder style but full of interest and atmosphere. In September I indulged my growing interest in ferns and attending a British Pteridological Society visit to two local gardens, one owned by the esteemed Veronica Cross and the other owned by a passionate plantsman who rarely opens his garden.  It was a great day in the company of passionate plants people such as Martin Rickards; I learnt a lot.

In October we had the first meeting of the RHS Symphyotrichum trial.  I have been asked to act as recorder for the trial which is being held at the local Old Court Nurseries, rather than RHS Wisley.  Asking me to undertake this task is a bit of a leap of faith for the RHS as I don’t think they have used a non-RHS recorder before.  The trial will last for 3 years.

November was a challenging month at work but I did manage to go to the AGS Annual Conference over a weekend in Stratford which I really enjoyed as I reconnected with friends and may have made plans for a trip to Greece in late 2015. As for December I was lucky to finish work on the 18th and so I have had time to recharge the batteries and tick another couple of hills off my Malvern Hills Challenge.  And just to round the year off properly I hope to visit Kew Gardens on Tuesday with some friends.

What will 2016 bring, who knows.  There will probably be more significant changes at work but I am determined to get the balance between work and home better this year.  I have a trip to North Essex planned in early summer, another short trip to Devon with Mum in the summer when I hope to include a few gardens I have wanted to visit for a while and then the trip to Greece, or possibly Japan (although I’m not sure that trip is going ahead).  Then there will be the usual  trips to the RHS Malvern  and Chelsea Shows.

Boxing Day Flower Count 2015

Abelia

Abelia

My Boxing Day Flower Count is becoming a real tradition now as this is the fifth year I have done it.  It is simply a case of going round the garden and counting how many plants are in flower.  Of course when you start thinking about it in detail, as no doubt some people will, you start to wonder if you should count every single Primula vulgaris or each of the red flowered Cowslips or whether you just count one as a representative of the group.  I didn’t remember having these thoughts before and when I looked back on last year’s post I suspect this is because last year, and the years before, the numbers were small – 17 in 2014 compared to 35 today!

Hellebore Anna's Red

Hellebore Anna’s Red

IMG_3682 1 IMG_3700 1 IMG_3704 1

One of the most notable differences is the number of hellebores that are already in flower probably due to the ridiculously mild winter we have had so far.  Last year there was one double in flower which I had bought in flower back in October.  In contrast this year all the flowering hellebores are well established and I anticipate there will be more flowering within the next two weeks given the number of buds appearing.  Also flowering at the moment is the Helleborus niger ‘Christmas Rose’ and Helleborus foetidus.

IMG_3672 1

Then there are a ridiculous number of primulas in flower.  Last year there was a small number with one or two flowers just about showing but this year the flowers are more advanced and in some cases going over.  Here are some of my favourites.

The usual shrubs are flowering: Abelia, Jasminum nudiflorum, Rosemary and this year they are joined by Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’

Viburnum tinus 'Eve Price'

Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’

Other new additions this year are some early Galanthus, although Galanthus Ding Dong has been a resident for a couple of years now.

Galanthus Ding Dong

Galanthus Ding Dong

IMG_3698 1

Galanthus elwesii (probably)

Galanthus elwesii (probably)

Galanthus elwesii Mrs Mcnamara

Galanthus elwesii Mrs Mcnamara

The actual flower count list is as follows:

Abelia
Viburnum tinus ‘
Eve Price’
Jasminum nudiflorum
Rosemary
Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs Mcnamara’
Galanthus ‘Ding Dong’
Galanthus plicatus ‘Colossus’
Galanthus elwesii
Helleborus niger ‘Christmas Rose’
Helleborus foetidus
Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’
3 x other unknown Hellebores
Bergenia

Euporbia rigida
Salvia involucrata boutin
Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’
Cyclamen hedrifolium
Cyclamen persicum (I think, bought in 2014 as a bedding plant)
Papaver cambricum
Pulmonaria
Digitalis ambigua
Bedding Pansy
11 x assorted primulas

Euphorbia rigida

Euphorbia rigida

In contrast with previous years the Iris unguicularis has been flowering for a couple of months and seems to have finished now. You can compare this year with previous year’s via the following links

Boxing Day 2014
Boxing Day 2013
Boxing Day 2012
Boxing Day 2011

 

Malvern Hills Challenge 5 & 6 – Pinnacle and Jubilee Hills

IMG_3612

I keep wondering if I have forgotten something important for Christmas as I seem to have lots of wonderful luxurious free time this week.  After surviving the annual brussel sprout scrum in the supermarket it struck me that there was a beautiful blue sky and the view of the hills from my kitchen window was very enticing.  Time to tick off another hill for my Malvern Hills Challenge and maybe work off the mince pies I have already consumed.

IMG_3646

I’m not approaching the challenge with any sort of plan.  I just set off, park the car in one of the car parks and see where my feet take me.  Today, I dug out my new walking boots – well they were new some 4 years ago but today I actually wore them.  I parked up at Gardiner’s Quarry and followed the path upwards.  I quickly reached the first peak (top photo) and despite the wind blowing a gale and my fingers feeling like ice cubes I decided to see if I could cross off a second summit.

IMG_3616

As you can see the second summit wasn’t too far so very doable. This is Pinnacle Hill which is 357m (1171ft) above sea level.  It was an easy walk, although I needed my beanie and  hood up because of the wind and cold – probably around 5C (41F)

IMG_3622

There’s not much to tell you about Pinnacle Hill except there are two possible Bronze age burrows on the summit and breathtaking views in all directions across to the Bredons in East and the Black Hills of Wales to the West.

IMG_3619

The summit you can see in the distance is the Beacon which I haven’t ticked off my list yet but it is the one hill that I have been up a number of times over the years.   The yellow sticks you can see to the left of the photo are an electric fence which is there to control the sheep.  The Malverns have been grazed by livestock, generally sheep and cattle, for centuries with the exception of when foot and mouth was prevalent.  This being the case walkers are used to having to negotiate gates and keeping their dogs on leads in prescribed areas.

IMG_3628

So having done two summits, why not do another one and in my sights is the lowest of the three hills you can see above.  This is Jubilee Hill, beyond is Perseverance Hill and then the Beacon.  As you can see the Malverns benefit from well established paths so any one can easily access them.

Jubilee Hill was named in 2002 by the Malvern Conservators to mark the Queens Golden Jubilee, and the plaque was unveiled by the Duke of York. The hill is 327m (1073ft) above sea level.

IMG_3633

Having reached the top of Jubilee Hill I pondered continuing to Perseverance Hill but decided that it was probably a little ambitious given this was the first real exercise I had done since October.  Hopefully sometime in the next week there will be another dry day and I can tick Perseverance off the list.

On my return home I consulted my map of the hills and was disappointed to discover that the first summit is not one of the named hills so instead of crossing 3 off the list, I have only crossed 2 off. In fact it is the only unnamed hill on the map below and I feel quite cheated! There are 16 named hills plus this one, so I have 10 to complete if I want to complete the challenge my son has made of go to the top of all the hills in a year.  The deadline is the 29th May 2016 and if I am really lucky he will take me to try to spot some glow worms that he knows the location of somewhere on the hills.

You can access my other reports here

1: Raggedstone Hill
2. North Hill
3. British Camp
4. Summer Hill

 

 

A timely reminder

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening

 

I read last night and into the early hours and wept. It’s rare for a book to hold me in this way. Despite its title, Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening is not a gardening book although the education of a gardener is the premise for the story. Nor is it about the author’s battle with breast cancer although this cannot be ignored. No, this book is about the human condition with all its frailty and contradictions. It is about a friendship that struggles to emerge but blossoms into something truly life affirming.

The writing isn’t sophisticated nor does it try to be clever. It is brutally honest but in a quiet understated way. The author, Carol Wall, confronts all our fears.  The fear of making a fool of yourself, appearing to be racist, saying the wrong thing, and worse not realising it, the fear of losing your parents and the terror of dying yourself. But through the author and Mr Owita’s evolving relationship the author learns and grows. She confronts her fears and in turn develops a deep understanding of her new friend and his family, who it transpires are dealing with their own demons.

Despite what might sound like a rather depressing storyline, Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening, is a joy to read. The characters are engaging from the first page and with their back stories slowly unfolding throughout the book we are drawn into their lives wanting to know more.

But the real message I took from this book was that the most important things in life are those that you cannot buy; the importance of real friendship, friendship and love which puts some one else first without hesitation and how we should cherish such friendships as they are very special indeed.  A timely reminder at this time of year.

I would like to thank Kathy over at Cold Climate Gardening for featuring this book on her blog as I would never have come across it otherwise on this side of the pond.  As ever the joy of blogging is the connections we make which lead us to discover all manner of things we wouldn’t normally come across.

 

Unseasonably spring-like

Helleborus (Rodney Davey Marbled Group) 'Anna's Red'

Weeding in the garden today, listening to a big fat bee buzzing around the Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’, and feeling the sun on my back you could be forgiven for thinking it was Spring.  This assumption was reinforced by the flowering of snowdrops, hellebores and primulas with even the Daphne putting in a show. However it is mid December with the shortest day just two days away.  This winter has been incredibly mild so much so that it is hard to believe we will be recovering from the over indulgences of Christmas in just 5 days.

IMG_3590 1

After weekend after weekend of rain it was with pure delight that I was out cutting back hellebore leaves first thing this morning, making the most of the blue skies in case they were going to be short-lived but I needn’t have worried as the fine weather lasted longer than my energy levels or my back muscles.

IMG_3581 1

I don’t ascribe to the ‘slow gardening’ approach at this time of year which advocates leaving all the tidying up until the spring.  I think it is fine if you have a garden that is grasses and late summer perennials but with a garden like mine that I like to look as good as possible all year and which is planted in the layer style it is important to keep on top of things.  I’m not talking about putting the garden to bed for the winter – what a waste of a quarter of the year and so many delights.  Instead I love to potter and tidy and consider.  With the amount of rain we have had this month I am glad I take this approach as lifting the sodden thick layers of sycamore leaves revealed the hellebore flower buds above which were struggling to push their way through just as some of the bulbs were, you can see how little light has got to them.

Galanthus elwesii 'Mrs Macnamara'

Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs Macnamara’

Back on the 5th December I shared my surprise at discovering a snowdrop about to open.  Finally this weekend I have had the privilege of seeing the flowers fully open and this has helped me confirm that its identify is Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs Macnamara’, a very elegant flower with long outer petals and a nice nodding head.

Galanthus elwesii 'Mrs Macnamara'

Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs Macnamara’

The main borders have been tidied and cleared of leaves and decaying stems cut back. I still have the very back borders to do and I have a scheme around the compost bins that I am hoping I might get a chance to carry out before I return to work on the 4th January, which does seem a very long way away being next year!  Though no doubt having seen the forecast I will spend more time day dreaming over seed catalogues and making plans for gardens to visit this year.