Tread lightly

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

These are strange, troubling and challenging times. We will all find ourselves tested in different ways whether we are one of those front line staff feeling exposed both in terms of their own health but also what they have to deal with; whether we are faced with being alone for long periods of time and the anxiety this causes; whether we are concerned about our livelihoods, our families and our futures. We will   all respond differently and find our own ways to cope.

For me, this is a period of transition, a period to re-evaluate many things. I know I’m in a privileged position. I have the luxury of being able to work from home, and it is luxury. I work for a large organisation, am paid very well, and for the moment am not worried about my income. I have family and friends who aren’t in this position. My health is generally good and I’m not in the high risk age group. Again I have friends and family who do have health issues, who are in the high risk age group and I worry about them.

But in all of this I have a deep conviction that we are at some sort of pivotal moment in humanity’s history. We have the opportunity to change things like never before, if we can just look outside of our immediate worries and concerns.

I’m not a religious person in the normal sense of the word but I have a deep belief that we are subject to the forces of nature whatever they may be. We see it all around us if we but looked. The impact of the phases of the moon on tides, plant growth and our own mental health; the power of the wind to affect our climate, the shape of the land; the impact weather can have on our food production and the safety of our homes. The impact we in turn are having in our environment, our world. We are but one species living on this planet but we dominate it, we act as if everything around us is for our benefit, we are entitled to do with it as we with and everything is beholding to us.

I really believe that this virus that we are struggling with, which has impacted every thing person in the world in some way is the world taking back control. I am fully aware that this sounds a little wacky but it’s a overwhelming feeling that has been growing in me.

We abuse our planet, our environment. We consume, devour, destroy, neglect every aspect of the world we live in and at some point the excesses of humanity will be challenged. Balance needs to be restored.

We pontificate at about the environment, about climate change. We postulate with targets for change, deadlines, we impose monetary penalties, we point at others to do something. Whilst at the same time we continue in our daily lives telling ourselves that the tiny, and sometimes begrudging changes we make, is us doing something to change the situation and we are doing our bit. We aren’t.

I’m no saint. I drive a petrol car, I’ve just come back from a holiday in Madeira on a plane (full of scared and anxious people), I buy food in plastic packaging, I buy too much stuff and I waste too much stuff.

But now change has been imposed on us and not by our governments, despite what they think,  its because we, each one of us, wants to survive this period. We are forced to stay put, to buy less, to manage on what food is available. Choices are being made, priorities reassessed and change happening.

Already our environment has improved. The pollution levels are dropping in places like Beijing and nature is benefitting, the quality of the water in the Venice canals which is now clear enough to see fish. This period of humanity being halted in its excesses may just be what the world needs to stop us destroying it.

For me the challenge will be what do we do once this period is passed however long that might be. Do we go back to our old ways of greed and entitlement or do we learn, change our habits, become a better species that fits into the world’s s eco-system instead of trying to control it.

I truly hope that I will be a better person, change my ways and learn to tread lightly on this planet.

 

 

 

Madeira – the verdant island

I’m on a much anticipated holiday in Madeira. It goes without saying that it is tinged with anxiety about COVID-19. It appears that anyone arriving tomorrow will be quarantined for 14 days. There are no cases in Madeira so you can understand why they want to keep it that way.

The holiday is an embroidery retreat, just 8 of us including our tutor. Today, our first full day was spent travelling around the island in a mini-bus, to all points of the compass.

Despite the overcast weather and sometimes rain we spent the morning in the rural East, which the locals call old Madeira as it is very much as things were 40 or so years ago before Madeira became autonomous from Portugal and started to invest in its own future, rather than pay most taxes to Portugal.

Traditional A frame house in Santana

We visited Santana and saw the traditional A frame houses, whose thatch has to be replaced every 5 years, had very strong coffee and Portuguese custard tarts – delicious. Then along the cost to Porto Monzi where we had lunch overlooking the natural swimming pools.

Even though it is early in the season it is amazing how lush everything is. Apparently they had had a dry and warm winter which has confused many plants and you can spot the odd agapanthus starting to flower months ahead of time. The road sides are lined with agapanthus plants, even along the roads up in the hills, and I wondered for a while if they had seeded themselves there. This wouldn’t have been surprising given the richness of the soil and the climate but it turns out they are planted along the ends of roads so that the roots help with soil erosion. What a pretty way to address this problem.

Porto Monzi

Other plants flowering in gardens and along the roads are Crocosmia, Protea, and Watsonia. As you can see from the top photo the Watsonia are large and lush making my pale pink one back in my UK garden look quite insipid.

We returned via the west side of the island, the hilly side, although this is clearly an understatement as the fruit terraces and vineyards seem quite treacherous tittering in the side of steep hills. The west side is warmer so the crops here are sugar cane, lots and lots of bananas and vines. The east coast is more vegetables – potatoes, cabbages, beans. We also saw avocado and mahogany trees.

In theory we will be out and about in Funchal on Monday but it will depend on what restrictions are put in place. If we are required to stay in the hotel for the rest of the stay then there could be worse places to be.

A fresh perspective

Hepatica noblis

My head is buzzing with ideas, one idea bouncing off another and taking my gardening thoughts in another direction. It takes me back, two, three years ago or even four years back when I was really immersed in my garden.  Over the past period my focus on the garden has been limited for a wide range of reasons which I won’t bore you with but the upside is that I now find myself looking at the garden with fresh eyes.  It’s as if I have moved to a new garden and can start again.  Even better, I’m not so sentimental about plants as I was before.  I find myself looking at plants and thinking this really isn’t working any more or, to be quite frank, I just bored of this plant.  Now for some this might sound a terrible way to think as like many keen gardeners I have often nurtured the plants, coaxing them to establish and grow well. But a garden is not a museum, plants out grow their space, the gardener’s tastes move on and change is, in my opinion, healthy.

Now this picture makes me incredibly happy.  My hard working greenhouse has been helping me in my horticultural pursuits for at least 10 years and has gone through various iterations. When I first got the greenhouse I set it up with staging on both sides and a potting bench at the end.  Its a tiny greenhouse, just enough room for me to stand in the middle and it means I have to spend a lot of time and effort in moving plants around during the seasons to maximise the space.  For the last few years I have had some deep tray staging, the type you can plunge pots into gravel or sand in. I installed it as I was dabbling in alpines and miniature bulbs which I enjoyed for a while but the trouble is that I’m easily lead and a bit of a magpie, attracted to one shiny plant after another. So my poor little greenhouse was trying to house alpines, half hardy ferns, and succulents – a recipe for failure.  Add to that my complete disengagement and failure was guaranteed. Slowly but surely various plants died, or I planted them out, or just got rid of them.  What is now left are the plants that make me happy, albeit it a small and select group.

My new approach is to go back to basics, back to what used to make me happy years back when I first got into gardening.  I don’t engage in a lot of social media any more and I think that has freed my mind up, I’m no longer being lead astray by what others are doing, the latest fade or trend.  Instead I want to create a lovely, pretty cottage garden full of my favourite plants – both flowers and edible.

The greenhouse is the first step in this new approach.  I have removed the deep staging and returned the potting bench.  I’ve decided not to have two sets of staging as later this year I would like to grow some tomatoes in the greenhouse so this space is being used for the remaining tenders that still need a winter home. The potting bench has all that is left of my propagating supplies.  A month or so ago I ditched all the plastic pots and trays, old seed packets etc and started again.

It has been liberating….now my mind is clear and I can think more clearly and plans are forming.

 

 

…..in order to see something with fresh eyes and a new purpose and this is exactly where I am with my garden and this blog.

The persistent reader will have noticed that I haven’t written a blog post since last summer and to be honest the fact that you are checking in now is a credit to you and not to me – so thank you.

I did write a long post about all the recent trials and tribulations which lead to my lack of blogging but amongst those trials and tribulations was missing the renewal of my subscription to wordpress.  Which in turn meant that I lost my storage plan, which is now no longer available and so I have had to remove a significant amount of photos from the older posts and take out a new plan.  I wasn’t going to bother but my perverse nature means I was cross at being thwarted in my attempts to start blogging again so I have over the last week or so sorted this out.  However, the long blog post was lost so you, dear reader, have been saved from the effort of reading that.

The real driver for coming back to the blog is that I am finally beginning to enjoy my garden again. A whole host of things have affected this for probably 3-4 years but back at the start of winter something changed and I found myself tidying up with a new interest and purpose and plans have been forming.  Nothing grand or ambitious, quite plans which reflect where I am now mentally with my garden and its importance to me.

Whilst I may have not undertaken that much actual physical gardening over the last couple of years I have done a lot of looking, not just at my garden but at other gardens whilst out and about and I think I am finally working out what I really like.  One of the problems with the wealth of information that is now available to us on the internet is that you can be overwhelmed with ideas and thoughts and you loose sight of what matters to you.  Since I started blogging in 2008 my interests and priorities have been through a number of iterations.  I have dabbled in numerous horticultural interests including alpines, plant showing, photography, propagation of all types, writing, even a monthly radio spot and far too much horticultural therapy.

Now I have reached a place where I feel the relevance of my garden to me no longer dominates my spare time, it is compatible to my other interests not fighting them and there is a better balance in my life which is better for my mental health.  Gardening is a part of who I am, it no longer defines who I am.

Going forward I expect to blog weekly or bi-weekly and the blog posts will probably be about whatever seems interesting to me when I’m in the garden or maybe from other gardens I visit during the year.  I hope you enjoy the new more relaxed and personal approach and thank you again for dropping by.

 

Agapanthus Alan Street (?)

Such a relief this morning to wake up to persistent rain after the heat of the past week.  The garden has stood up reasonably well to the heat but I am sure a day of light rain will freshen everything up.  I’ve done a Six on Saturday post on bulbs before so I thought I would do another one on mid-summer bulbs as bulbs is somewhat of a weakness of mine.

First up is one of my Agapanthus and I am pretty certain, well 90% certain, this is Agapanthus Alan Street as I know I bought this a few years back and it flowered and is a dark blue.   I have quite a few Agapanthus most of them planted in the borders, as this one is, as I tend to go for the hardier varieties.

Agapanthus africanus ‘Twister’

Another bedraggled Agapanthus, this time Agapanthus africanus ‘Twister’.  I honestly don’t remember acquiring this one so was thrilled when the flower started to open especially as I kept looking at this variety when I was away last week – luckily I didn’t buy another one.

Galtonia candicans

Galthonia candicans is for me a wonderfully glamour plants which I would like to see grown more.  The flowers have a sort of waxy look to them which I love.  I have planted it several times in the past, and even grown it from seed one, but it doesn’t come back reliably year on year which is maybe why more people don’t grow it.

Habranthus brachyandrus pink

Another surprise is the Habranthus brachyandrus which I found flowering in the greenhouse.  I expect it was flowering when I bought it a few years back but it hasn’t flowered since.  I suspect the heat over the past period has helped. The flowers are completely disproportionate to the thin grassy stems, so much so it makes you wonder how the flowers are held up.

Another allium, again no labels to be found.  I like this one as its a small allium and has gentle soft look to it.

Tulbaghia violacea alba

And finally Tulbaghia violacea alba which is a lovely reliable bulb and works well against the silver foliage of the Artemisia

For more Six on Saturday posts visit The Propagator’s Blog.

I spent most of last week trundling around Yorkshire with a large group of friends indulging in visiting gardens, plant buying and eating cake – what’s not to love.  I have been on this holiday for four years now, to different parts of the UK, and this year for some reason I was acutely aware that my taste and preferences in terms of gardens had changed, or maybe had become clearer.  I also found it interesting that some of my preferences were at odds with many of my travelling companions and this seemed to be possibly a generational divide.

It is some years since I wrote ‘reviews’ about specific gardens as they can become quite repetitive to read and my plan was to write a post which captured the gardens that I loved, and why I loved them as well as what I didn’t feel enthusiastic about but maybe others did.  However, looking at my photos I got stuck at the first garden we visited which I adored and took so many photos of.  So before I write a more analytical post of the gardens I thought I would indulge in a little flurry of herbaceous border photos.

The garden in question is Felley Priory, which is in North Nottinghamshire – we stopped on the way to Yorkshire.  I had never heard of it before but I learnt from fellow travellers that it hosts a wonderful plant sale later in the year so obviously is well known in the area.

If you asked me if I liked topiary I think my response would be indifferent but when I stop and think about it I realise that there is a deep sub-conscious attraction to some of these idiosyncratic creations.  I love the topiary at Levens Hall in the Lake District which reminds me of Alice in Wonderland and whilst not on the same scale as Levens Hall I loved the humour in the topiary at Felley Priory.  The topiary is something you encounter before you come across the herbaceous borders which are behind the yew hedges you see in the photo above.

For me the borders were breathtaking.  The planting was of an exceptional quality with a high level of unobtrusive maintenance.  Being someone who struggles with plants flopping I spent some time peering between the plants to see if I could see what supports were being used.  Our group, including professional plant growers and gardeners, all felt that there was no support so well was it hidden.  But supports there were, hidden away and clearly demonstrating the benefits of putting in supports early in the season so the plants grow up through them and not my approach of retrospective staking which never looks good.

I also loved the colour combinations in the borders which was wide ranging but not clashing, as many of the borders we saw later in the week were.  There is also something about the scale of the flowers to each other.  Nothing is big and blowsey and overshadowing anything else.  Each plant is part of the overall whole but allowed to shine in its own way. Some of the other borders we saw elsewhere had a complete imbalance of flower size and colour meaning that the border did not make a cohesive whole but felt very bitty to me – well that was my view.

I really liked this part of the border which is essentially red, white and blue but so subtle due to the inclusion of the burgundy scabious which provides a good link between the red mondara and the blues of the phlox and the eryginium. The skill is that the mondara is a bluey red, if you know what I mean, as opposed to an orangey red again adding to a harmonious whole. I also loved that the gardeners were happy to use white meadow sweet which many would worry was a weed.  The meadow sweet isn’t planted in a large clump or solid ‘drift’ but instead the planting is starting to move more towards the matrix style of planting which we came across a few more times on our trip and is, for me, the way forward.

 

 

Dahlia Little Robert

I’ve been away for a week visiting gardens in Yorkshire, very inspiring and I will probably share my thoughts and images with you soon.  I only had time on arriving home to unload my plant acquisitions  so I didn’t have a chance to walk round the garden until Friday morning when it was absolutely pouring.  The rain is well overdue and the garden will benefit and hopefully the humidity will be lifted but the rain isn’t very helpful for taking photos and having a look around the garden so these are not my best.

The dahlia is the only one that has grown for me this year.  I bought four tubers and this is the only one that has grown, which is a huge disappointment. I doubt I will bother with dahlias again as they are generally too large and dominant for my planting style.

Gladiolus flanniganii

I love this gladiolus, I have a whole pot of it which I drag under cover each winter to protect it.  Its a small gladiolus and originates from the cliffs of the Drakensburg, I expect I bought it from am alpine nursery when I was dabbling in alpines a few years ago.

Phlox paniculata ‘David’

I did spot that the Phlox paniculata ‘David’ is flowering.  This phlox does really well for me and it smells amazing.  I saw quite a lot of phlox in Yorkshire last week so I bought another one to see if it will grow as well.

I’ve included the flowering agave as the flower is so disproportionate to the size of the plant.  I suspect it is long overdue for repotting; another job to add to the long list of jobs to do.

You may have wondered earlier what plant acquisitions I made so I thought I would show you a picture of them recovering in the rain. Some of them spent 5 days sitting under a coach so they have done very well; we were lucky that our coach driver is also a gardener.  He has driven us for each of our trips over the last four years so is part of the gang now although this year we really challenged him with filling the underneath of the coach and every available space inside the coach with plants. I think I ended up with 21 plants including an echeveria, a fern, a couple of alpines and numerous plants for the Big Border where I am trying to improve the grassy pollinator look.

The other new acquisition on the patio is a new patio set of two chairs and a small table.  We wanted chairs which were conducive to reading and relaxing and these chairs are incredibly comfortable.  I bought them just before I went away so I am now looking forward to having a nice sit down outside when I get home from work next week.

Those are my soggy Six on Saturday, for more posts visit The Propagators blog.

 

My six this weekend are all about the boundaries because I am celebrating getting my privacy back.  Long term readers of this blog will know that my old neighbours neglected their garden and it was overgrown with a thick barrier of ash and sycamore trees between our two properties which gave me reasonable privacy.

When the new neighbours moved in 3 years ago they did what any of us would do and cleared the garden.  It was quite alarming for me as I suddenly felt like I was in a goldfish bowl.  All the screening above the fence line was gone.  This might not seem such a big deal but our gardens slope up from our houses and so with all the angles you often feel like you can be seen by your neighbours in your garden and they can see you which I don’t like.

Then to make matters worse because the garden had been neglected for so long the fences hadn’t been cared for and in some places it was only the trees and shrubs that were holding things together.  So over the past two winters the fences have disintegrated or have bits missing and it has looked a real mess.

Not any more, they have had the fences replaced and we now have a lovely 6ft fence which is rather beautiful.  Sadly, for the neighbours, as they are at the end of the road they are responsible for all the fences around their property so this must have cost a lot but I think it is fab.  Suddenly, I have my privacy back and it brought home to me just how much I had missed that privacy.  I think there is actually even more privacy than before as the fence is higher than the old one.

Not only have I got my privacy back but I have gained about a foot along the fence line.  I need to fill in the trench left from where they dug out all the old tree roots etc but once I have done that I can play around and give some of my plants more space.  I had left some Hawthorne seedlings grow up in recent years in anticipation of new owners clearing the garden and now I think I will cut the Hawthorne trees back to create more of a hedge along the fence which will in turn allow my Liquidamber tree to have more light and thrive.

The new fence at the end of the patio.  The fence here was previous held up by a variegated ivy that I planted which was OK.  The bamboos in pots were added when they cut all the trees down as it meant they could see straight from their garden down on to my patio which was horrid.  The new fence is higher and somehow I think has obstructed the view but I think the bamboos may stay.  Now they have a smart backdrop I may think again about what is around them and smarten it up.

As I am fixated with fences at the moment I thought I would include my back fence which you can just about make out through the undergrowth.  The garden slopes up to it and last year I removed the path that used to run along the top of the garden as it was never used and was a waste of growing space.  I am encouraging a wild and hardy exotic look up here. There is a huge thistle which has appeared from somewhere which sort of messes up the look of the planting but I was intrigued to see how big it would grow.  Behind it is a fig tree which I had to prune hard last year as it had a lot of long branches going off at angles and I wanted more height than width.  This year it is smothered in figs.  I need to work out when I am meant to harvest them and what to do with the fruit as I don’t think I’ve eaten fresh figs before.

And finally my side fence which is the same style as the neighbour’s new fence but shorter.  I thought I would include this as my final six as it another boundary photo and includes my marmite rose which I included in a previous post.  I inherited this rose when we moved in about 16 years ago and for years and years it had one or two flowers.  Then my other neighbours also indulged in some heavy handed pruning and cut everything back hard meaning that the rose suddenly benefited from light and more rain and this is the result!

For more Six on Saturday posts visit The Propagator’s blog.

I’m off to Yorkshire later today garden visiting for a week so I hope to have some interesting gardens to share with you soon.

 

Last weekend I had the delight of visiting Brockhampton Cottage, near Ross on Wye with a group of friends from Hardy Plant Society.  Brockhampton Cottage is the home of Peter Clay, part owner of Crocus (the online plant company) and was designed with the help of Tom Stuart-Smith.

The house sits on top of a hill in a site of several acres.  As you can see the views from the house are stunning, probably more so from the upstairs windows.  You can see for miles. Peter showed us around the garden and spent time explaining the ethos behind the development of the garden and how it inadvertently led to the creation of Crocus.

Peter is not a gardener by trade, coming instead from a marketing background but having inherited the property back in the 1990s he decided to create the garden of his childhood dreams – that country garden surrounded by wild flowers and meadows; the ideal of many a retrospective childhood dream.

He learnt that with a large space he needed to plant in large quantities and quickly became frustrated with phoning around nurseries tracking down a couple of plants here and a couple there.  This led to a evening conversation with a close friend, where fuelled by beer, they postulated about how the new worldwide web should be able to change things and make it possible to choose plants to decorate your outside space just as you could chose furniture and paint to decorate your inside space. This mad idea is where Crocus was formed leading to Peter having a career he had never envisaged.

Around this time Peter met a young designer called Tom Stuart-Smith and asked him to help him with his garden, their collaboration on the garden as continued ever since.

What I found fascinating about this garden was the complete celebration of its location.  The view is king and Peter explained how having cleared the land in front of the house he decided to mirror the natural landscape by planting a range of trees of different sizes and shapes to reflect the variety of trees in the wider landscape.

We also learnt how having planted a selection of trees across the site, these were under-planted by box bushes which in their growth habit replicated the shrubby under-planting you could see in the distant landscape.

Close to the house the planting is more formal with wide herbaceous borders full of large drifts of perennials.  The intention is that the colour pallet is limited and is partly driven by the naturally pink coloured bricks of the house.  This house can be seen for miles and there is a conscious attempt to help it sit comfortably within its landscape through the use of climbers, with only white flowers, and the creation of three wide shallow steps across the front of the house to help ground the house.

As the planting moves away from the house the colours fade into whites and greens – many different greens and many textures again referencing the landscape.

The landscape drops steeply away from the side of the house and the view of the house is broken with these beech columns which also act to filter the wind coming through the valleys.

The meadows and the sweeping grass paths are the real triumph of this garden but tucked away along the side of the property is a shady garden with a brook which flows down the side of the property and is clothed in ferns, siberian irises and these wonderful Primula florindae which caused many oo’s and arh’s.  On reaching the bottom of the hill you find wide beds of foliage rich herbaceous plants primarily with white or cream foliage.  This planting is in large blocks following the matrix approach which Tom Stuart-Smith is known for and which works so well on this scale.

The visit was a delight and I took away some interesting thoughts and ideas to play with in my own space.

The garden opens under the National Garden Scheme each year to coincide with the orchids flowering in the meadows.

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