If we were having tea right now…..


If we were having a cup of tea right now I would be telling you about my fab weekend at the Alpine Garden Society annual conference. I learnt all sorts of things, many of them not to do with plants.  For example I learnt that New Zealand’s only native mammals are bats (is that right Yvonne?) which makes it strange that the Speargrass (Aciphylla), a native, is a very prickly thing when there is no need for it to be as there were no browsing natives!!

If we were having a cup of tea right now I would tell you that I am very weary as I didn’t get to bed until 1am due to gossiping in the bar last night, I am getting too old for such outrageous behaviour

If we were having a cup of tea right now I will admit to buying two more books today: Autumn Bulbs by Rod Leeds and The Well-Designed Mixed Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust. Manning the second hand book stall this morning was quite reassuring as it appears my book purchasing addiction is not unusual.  It occurred to me that us plantaholics seem to often also be book mad and if we aren’t buying some plant to shoe-horn into our garden, we are buying a book to shoe-horn on to a bookshelf.  We are just collectors looking for things to collect.

If we were having a cup of tea right now I would tell you how pleased I am that I got to buy some fresh Hepatica japonica seed as well as some narcissus and lily bulbils.  Last year I didn’t notice that certain seeds sent into the AGS seed exchange which have to be sown fresh or bulbils which won’t travel well in the usual packaging were available so I was determined this year not to miss out on this one day opportunity.  I will have to make sure I get sowing next weekend.

If we were having a cup of tea right now I would tell you that I am wondering what possessed me to sign up to the NaBloMoPo challenge this month.  I have two days this week where I won’t be home from work until probably 8:00/8:30.  On top of this as I was away for the weekend I have had little opportunity to take photographs in the garden and I didn’t take any at the conference so I don’t have many prompts or ideas for posts – oh dear, I will have to get my thinking hat on.

If we were having a cup of tea right now (and you were into plants) I would be asking you why you don’t join the AGS.  You don’t have to be interested in the ubiquitous cushion plants or those you might associate with rockeries.  ‘Alpine’ covers all sorts of bulbs, in fact most bulbs that aren’t tender (and even that isn’t always stuck to) as well as those plants that grow in the wooded foothills so things like Peonies, Aquilegia, Primulas, some delphiniums, and my favourite, ferns.  But more importantly as well as having access to the wonderful AGS seed distribution scheme you can go to events like this weekend and meet all sorts of passionate plants people and hear fascinating talks which continue over lunch or dinner – such a nice change to work.

A horticultural weekend away


A quick post today as I am away for the weekend in Stratford upon Avon attending the annual Alpine Garden Society AGM and conference.

The theme of the conference is Reaching for the Heights and so far today we have explored the mountain heights of Turkey and also Nepal.  The Turkey talk was by the Wallis, well known for growing amazing bulbs so this talk was very appealing to me – lots of crocus and the talk on Nepal started in the lower wooded slopes so my fascination with woodland plants was satisfied. Before that the E B Anderson Memorial Lecture was on the plants of New Zealand which I enjoyed as I really don’t know much about that part of the world.

Of course there were opportunities for plant buying and me being me I bought two ferns from Keith Wiley.  I also bought some bulbs and seeds from the distribution scheme which need sowing ASAP which is exciting as I missed out last year.

So now I have to dash to dinner and the plant auction which is always a laugh and at times very competitive.

Paradise Gardens: Book Review

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The title of Paradise Gardens is a little misleading if like me you assumed it was another coffee table book that would be full of large glossy pictures of gardens with some text alongside.  Instead this book has a completely different feel.  Although its appearance is of your typical occupant of the coffee table glamour pack when you open it you realise that you are expected to actually engage with the text and as Hercule Poirot would say “exercise your little grey cells”.

Dr Toby Musgrave, demonstrates his academic credentials in this book which brings together the majority of religions and spiritual belief systems in the world, now and past.  The premise of the book is to explore how these beliefs systems draw on nature and in some cases how this then goes on to influence the creation of gardens.

We start with the classical and ancient belief systems: Egypt, Minoan, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome. Each paragraph discusses the basic history of the culture and most importantly how they overlapped demonstrating that the idea that these cultures existed in isolation to be inaccurate.  Musgrave discusses how the overlapping cultures through trade and conflicts shared their beliefs influencing each other.  This is also very clear in the sections on Eastern religions (Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Scholar Gardens, Japan, Zen).  A particularly long section with an abundance of glorious pictures of magical Eastern temples and gardens.

There is also a substantive section on Abrahamic religion which covers the Garden of Eden, medieval gardens, Islam, Renaissance, and ‘Elysium rediscovered’.   For me the last two was disconnected to the theme of the book.  I felt as though the book had strayed into a more landscape history book rather than focussing on religion and spiritual influences. The Elysium section refers to the 18th century landscape movement in England and although the text refers back to the Greece and Roman influences I felt it was a detour.  I was also disappointed that symbolism, particularly in Islamic gardens, wasn’t given more room;  having been to a talk this week on just this subject I know it is fascinating.

The final section on Pantheism and polytheism (I told you that you needed to engage your brain) covers Hindiusm, Northern Paganism, Evergreens, North America and Mesoamerica and New Beliefs.  However, there is no reference in book to the faiths and beliefs associated with the Aborigines, Maori, and people of Africa which seems a significant oversight.

Paradise Gardens is informative and full of not only beautiful images of landscapes and gardens but fascinating objects and art.  There are a number of discreet articles on specific gardens around the world which exemplify a particular faith or belief.  I found the one on The Cloisters Museum in New York, built in the 1930s intriguing; the pictures show the garden to be skilfully planted and constructed and you can almost imagine a monk sitting  and contemplating. Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan shows it to be quite exceptional – truly a place to aspire to visit.

Paradise Gardens is a book to dip into as and when and I am sure you will find many new and fascinating insights.


Suburban is not Urban

My Garden

I have a bit of a bug-bear on the way suburban gardens are represented in garden media. If you pick up any selection of gardening magazines you will find the usual selection of large country gardens and small chic city gardens, often courtyards, or community gardens, or people growing vegetables in small spaces – which are loosely termed urban gardens.  These are not suburban gardens.  I live in suburbia and I do not recognise them as gardens I am likely to encounter in this environment.  This month’s RHS The Garden magazine has the theme of urban gardens. I muttered on Twitter about suburban gardens never being featured in magazines and I was told by the editor of the magazine that the rules are the same for urban and suburban – really?


I suppose you could argue that suburban gardens are small and therefore the same rules apply but this does not take into account that suburban gardens do not generally benefit from the micro-climates you get in cities; they don’t have the same levels of noise and other pollution; they are often more open gardens which means they can suffer from wind damage and other extremes of weather; they often have large front gardens which they might not be allowed to have fences or hedges around; they can be all manner of strange shapes due to the idiosyncrasies of the housing development planners.  They have their own set of issues and their own benefits.  So No the same rules do not apply.

A large part of suburbia is made up of housing estates, such as the one I live in.  They do not feel the same as walking down any road in a city even in the residential areas on the outskirts.  Houses on older estates often have good size front gardens with the driveway to one side – when do you ever see an article in a magazine looking at these.  These front gardens, like mine, are like the front room my grandparents had, areas which are kept nice but never used.  Gardens can be a myriad of shapes – yes many are long and thin like urban gardens, but you have wide and short gardens (like mine), or triangular plots or even strange irregular pentagon shaped gardens and there are never articles on how to address such shapes.  Or maybe the garden wraps around the house if you have a nice generous corner plot, again nothing.  And then there is the sloping garden which hasn’t been ironed out by the town and city planners and when do you ever see any sensible practical advice on dealing with a slope without spending vast sums on hard landscape, contractors and designers – if we had that sort of money we would probably be living in the countryside and be interested in different articles!

Hester Forde's garden outside Corke

Hester Forde’s garden outside Corke

And that brings me to another difference between suburban and the urban and country gardens that are featured in the garden media – funds.  Time and again you read an article about a country garden and you read about the acreage, a small garden is an acre, and how the owner works with the gardener to create this or that, and how they removed the woodland or extended into the neighbouring fields etc etc etc. Or how this urban garden was created with the help of this designer or that designer or the other extreme how this community or gardener created everything out of nothing – there is apparently no middle ground in the urban garden.

What about the suburban garden?  How many of them have been designed by a designer or are maintained by a regular gardener pretty few I suspect.  They are the expression of many people who are passionate about plants, or love their gardens, who draw inspiration from the urban gardens and country acres  they see featured and maybe visit and then create their very own special mix and match style of garden but do they ever see anything they can relate directly to in the media – rarely.

Garden outside Dublin

Garden outside Dublin

I  wondered if it is because suburban gardens aren’t visited much and therefore the great ones aren’t known about.  I sense that they are under-represented in schemes such as the NGS as the owners may think that they cannot meet the 45 minutes of interest criteria. I notice that many garden magazines seem to rely on the NGS guide for gardens to feature which is a pity as it means the diversity and excitement that is out there in the whole gardening world is missed.

And that is what the garden media world hasn’t noticed, suburban garden are equally as interesting and fascinating as their  alternatives.  We might not be creating wacky  gardens on  rooftops or growing vegetables in strange pots down an alleyway or lounging of an evening around a fire pit in our designed outside room.  We might not be creating a border for a specific season, or a wildflower meadow where the tennis court was, or planting an orchard.  We are however, taking the best of all of these, distilling them into key elements and we are quietly working away creating beautiful spaces and growing amazing plants.

Surely it is about time that the suburban garden was given as much print and air time as other gardens instead of this passionate suburban gardener flicking through a magazine and not finding anything to relate to.


Treat: Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’

Iris unguicularis 'Walter Butt'

Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’

Today’s post is in response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Treat.”

I have been completely enthralled by the flowers of Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’, a real treat on a cool misty day.  This is the plant’s third year of flowering and last year the paltry two flowers didn’t start to appear until Boxing Day.  So I was completely stunned when something pale and paper like appeared towards the top of the steps at the weekend.  On investigating I discovered not one but three flowers and when I cleared away some of the fallen leaves there are clear signs that there are many flowers to follow – how thrilling.

As for Walter Butt who the plant is named after, he was the former owner of E Bertram Anderson’s house in Porlock.  Anderson (1885-1971), a distinguished plantsman,  worked as a chemist and bacteriologist before retiring to Porlock in Somerset. He was a founder member of the RHS Joint Rock Garden Plant Committee which first met in 1936. Other members included E A Bowles and Walter Ingerswen both with huge reputations in the alpine and bulb worlds and reading the article about Anderson in the RHS ‘The Plantsman’ (Dec 2010) it is clear that Anderson was one of those plantsmen who seemed to have been part of a cycle of eminent horticulturists all sharing information and plants. Anderson is well known for  his raising of the beautiful Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ (Katherine Hodgkin was the wife of his friend Elliot Hodgkin). He was also responsible for raising Galanthus ‘John Gray’ and Galanthus ‘Mighty Atomas well as collaborating with Helen Ballard in the raising of new hellebores and numerous other plants.

Going back to my iris, Anderson considered it as ‘noteworthy because of its size, very pale lavender flowers, almost white in the sun, and its strong perfume’ a description I completely agree with – indeed it is a real treat.


The Bin Man Cometh


I think it was last week that I mentioned that my eldest son had agreed to help me sort out the compost bin chaos out with some new bins.  True to his word when I got home at lunchtime on Saturday from the Hardy Plant Society meeting he had started work on transforming the disaster zone that is my composting area.

Luckily we have access to a supply of pallets so he had managed to bring home 6 in his Defender which is a good start.  The biggest issue we have is the slope of the garden which is most pronounced at the top of the garden where the bins live (you can see the angle from the angle of the fence).  So he had spent some time levelling off (sort of) the area where the new bin was to go.


The advantage of the new bin, apart from its vastness, is that you empty it from the front.  The current purpose-built purchased ones are in fact hopelessly useless.  The bins are constructed from planks of wood that you build up layer on layer so if you want to empty them properly you have to dismantle the whole thing.  In addition due to the slope of the ground etc I actually stand almost level with the top of the bins so I have to dig down into them or alternatively stand in them to empty them which means they don’t get empty and then the actual bins rot which is where we are now.

The first bin has been built and the content of one of the remaining bins has been moved into it (the pile to the left of the new bin in the photo above) and there is still heaps of space.


The front has been added and is secured with rope.  I will be able to store canes in the side of the bin which is a bonus.  There is now a second smaller bin in which the wheelbarrow is currently living as the bin isn’t complete. – they are a bit like Little and Large.   We ran out of large pallets and space so the second bin will be a long thin bin once we have acquired some more pallets, again front opening.  Then, with yet more pallets we are going to build some sort of log store to go under the willow to the right of the new bin.  This I suspect will be more designed as I think my son is talking about breaking pallets up  to create something with good airflow so the logs dry out properly (he uses them for wood-turning) but anything will be a definite improvement on the rickety construction that I generally try to avoid showing in photos.

So the compost bin area is getting serious and hopefully by Christmas it will all be neat and tidy and ready for next year.  I may even paint the bins to match the shed, for some reason this made my youngest laugh!

Fogginess abounds


There are some days when you really wonder if it would just have been better not to have bothered and I think today has been one of those days.

It started, and remained, misty, grey and damp.  The rosemary was positively groaning under the weight, although they probably don’t weigh anything, of the cobwebs all adorned with their glistening baubles of dew.  All very atmospheric and charming if you can stay indoors and admire.

Sadly it’s Monday so it’s back to work down country lanes through mist that gets thicker and thicker.  It may have been fog and someone told me the difference between fog and mist the other day but I can’t remember what that was.  To add to the fogginess of the day I was confronted with a new PC on arrival which for some reason  hadn’t been set up with Microsoft Office so the long story short, and another hard drive later, I finally started work at 3:30 this afternoon!  And then to plunge me further into fogginess I discovered that the new PC came with Office 365 – so new Outlook, Word and Excel! Oh my goodness this is not a good start to the week when I have a number of deadlines jostling for attention, meetings left right and centre, a new work colleague who needs lots of answers as she has a major quick deadline to meet and people chasing responses to emails I had missed as I was, audaciously, on leave on Friday.

And to finish off the fogginess I drove home through even thicker fog – it’s definitely fog now – and had to negotiate a diversion presumably due to an accident all round the back of town along with, it felt, half the local population.  And now….(yes there is more),.. I am off out back into the fog and over the hills, if I can find them, to a local horticultural society meeting because I am the Treasurer and the speaker has to be paid!

I had planned to write something lyrical about mist and dew or alternatively something deep and meaning about the 15th anniversary of the International Space Station but the whole foggy experience has left me too befuddled to write anything worthwhile for day 2 of NaBloPoMo – sorry

NaBloPoMo – Why? Am I mad?

I am prone to moments of madness, of deciding to do something that really is unrealistic normally because I am constantly in denial of how demanding my job is. So here we are at the start of November and I have decided to participate in NaBloPoMo (I think that’s the right acronym, it hardly trips off the tongue).

So what does this mean? It means I will be (remember to sound positive) writing a blog post every day! Yes every day for one month! That’s 30 blog posts before I have even start to engage with the Christmas shopping. On top of this the next couple of weeks at work have the potential to reach a whole new level of pressure but what the heck, maybe making myself take 10-15 minutes a day to just write something will help clear my head.

And that’s what has persuaded me to have a go. I have spent a pleasant Sunday morning having a lie in,  drinking tea and reading lots of advice and tips of surviving NaBloPoMo and what really struck me, and why I enjoyed Writing 101 so much, is that it is all about finding time to write, it just happens that it’s on a blog.  I enjoy writing and I think over the last 8 years of blogging I have found my voice and style although it sometimes hides when I feel I have to write a set piece, such as the End of Month post. I have no aspirations to be the next Booker Prize winner, my imagination just isn’t in that league, but there is a little voice inside me which would love to write a book one day of some sort. Maybe I should embrace this quiet ambition and give it a chance, let it out for some air and see what happens?  So this is the first step, to start the habit of finding time to write, for me, every day.

The other worry of course is what in earth am I going to write about. It won’t be a daily post about gardening that’s for sure. I am a more rounded person than that and to be honest a few years back I was paid to write two posts a week for a blog on gardening and boy did I struggle. My heart often wasn’t in it especially if I was writing to order. One of the tips I gained in writing 1o1 was to seek inspiration in things you see, read or hear and at the moment I have a couple rattling around my head which might come out. However, what has reassured me is that if you register on BlogHer you can receive daily prompts and also look back to previous year’s prompts so there is a wealth of ideas out there to get the mind working.

Finally, the other reason I am attracted to this challenge is because it will help with engage with some new bloggers. I want to break out of my gardening blog rut (no offence to regular readers) and engage with the wealth of interesting blogs out there and this is one way of doing it. If you are interested you can access the blog roll for NaBloPoMo on the BlogHer website, when I looked this morning there were well over 350 and not one I recognised.

So here goes …………….

End of Month View – October 2015

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October has been a kind month to this gardener.  We have had generally dry weekends with milder temperatures than normal allowing me to spend some quality time in the garden.  My efforts have been small but widespread and really have been little more than planting out bulbs and some perennials.  I have spent as much time looking, peering and pondering.

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As you can see the Field Maple, I think that is what the tree is, is dropping its leaves.  There were nearly as many a week ago and the tree has still more to drop.  I love autumn leaves; they always take me back to my childhood  and jumping into large piles of beech leaves in my parents’ garden.  But I can’t leave these leaves as they make the steps too hazardous.  I also don’t agree with the whole slow gardening approach which argues that you should leave the leaves in borders etc to rot down and feed the soil just as happens in nature.  This does not take into account that we, well I, garden my garden more intensively than happens in nature and the decaying leaves act as an overwinter home for all sorts of slugs and pests.  It always amuses me that those who extol the virtues of slow gardening loudest are also the ones who complain most about slugs!

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The milder temperatures mean that a lot of deciduous plants are still looking very green and even attempting a second flush of flowers.  Many of my roses have more buds on them than they did in early summer although I think it is unlikely that many will actually open.  I have started to cut back and tidy the Big Border.  I generally work through the borders on a regular basis cutting back any plants that are going over and once I have an area that is pretty tidy I give it a good mulch of home-made compost.  Due to the number of bulbs in the garden this is probably the best chance I will get in the year to mulch as come early spring there will be too many bulbs pushing through the ground to work round.

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The top of the woodland border has really come on this year.  Most of this area was dominated by an Acer which sadly died just over a year ago.  There are quite a few shrubs here now but they are all still quite young and will take a while to bulk up so I have been planting the rest of the border up with other woodland favourites including epimediums, hellebores and honesty.  I am hoping that next spring it will look very pretty. I will also get to see whether I had relocated some snowdrops here or not!

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The bottom half of the woodland border is more established having been planted some 3 or 4 years ago. I am pleased with the foliage textures but it needs a bit of tweaking; I’m not sure what exactly but something.  I will have to look back over this year’s photographs to try to identify why my instinct is telling me this area needs some attention.

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And finally the grass path which has survived my ponderings of removing it and is now enjoying the unusual prospect of being a fixed element of the garden.  Over the last few months I have added a number of grasses to the garden particularly either side of this path and they have brought some sort of cohesion to the planting as well as providing movement and airiness.  I need to work on the border to the right of the path.  The planting between the grass in the right hand corner and the small prunus is distinctly lacking.  In the spring it is full of hellebores and other spring delights, followed by hostas and I would like to add something to bring interest to overlap with the end of the hostas.  Something to ponder over the winter.

So that is my garden at the end of October.  If you would like to join in the with the End of Month View please do, the more the merrier.  You can use the meme in any way you wish.  I tend to take photographs of the same views during the year, others like to do a tour of their garden, or use the meme to follow a project.  Whatever approach you take all I ask is that you link back to this blog in your post and leave a link to your post in the comment box below.  It will help us find each other and pop by for a look-see at what is happening in your garden.