The Front Garden – Bringing Joy

I love my Front Garden at the moment.  I love the vibrancy of the acid yellow Euphorbia and the purple honesty.  I love the way the breeze, or wind today, moves the Anemanthele lessoniana that I relocated here a few weeks ago bringing movement to this otherwise quite staid border. The Anemanthele has been shoe-horned in amongst the emerging asters in a way that any serious or mildly well informed gardener would blanch at.  My excuse, although I don’t really think I need one, is that the asters are making a bid for world domination and they are a complete nightmare to dig out of clay soil.  Plus the act of clearing the whole border of the asters would probably leave me in traction.  So the answer is to dig out the asters as and where I want to add other plants and to see if the addition of 3 large Anemanthele lessioniana and a rather large Watsonia will be sufficient to break up the monotony of the asters.

Asters monotonous you say?  Outrageous!  Well they are if only one or possibly two varieties are dominating the rest and when there is little to make the border interesting for the rest of the year.  Just clumps of dark green foliage sitting there for months on end.  They need friends to bring them joy and enliven them and although I have some Rudbeckias in this border I want more year round interest than just Late Summer.  That was the original plan, an ill conceived one in such a small garden.  If I had acres to play with having borders that peak at certain times of the year would be lovely but in a small garden every square metre has to work very hard and has to bring me joy.

Yes, I have been watching too much Marie Kondo , and that was before the lockdown so no excuse really, but whilst it can become appear a little OCD and perfectionist there are valuable lessons in her message which I have found quite liberating.  It has helped me reorganise and clear out my wardrobes finding clothes I had forgotten about and leaving me loving what is left and also deeply conscious that I really don’t need more clothes (don’t start me on how unsustainable the fashion industry is).  When you relate this to the garden, especially when some of your borders are 10 or more years old, you realise that your tastes have changed, plants have outgrown their spot or conversely struggled on their best.  So now I don’t compromise so much and if there is a plant which really isn’t working its out and if it is lucky it finds a new home elsewhere in the garden.

The result is borders that are full of reasonably sized plants, planted well in good combination informed by years of mistakes, and which most importantly bring me joy.

Early Autumn in the Front Garden

When I posted at the end of September I included a photo of the front garden, which I rarely post pictures of.  One of my readers suggested that I post more often on the front garden as it looks interesting so here you go.  It is timely as the planting in the front garden was designed to peak at this time of year. If you look carefully there is a gravel path in a curve through the garden.  It is rarely used as the only place it actually goes is to the side access to the back garden but it does give me access to the planting. I created the front garden space just over two years ago.  It was previously mainly lawn and unloved.  So the lawn came up and I planted the space mainly with late summer/early autumn perennials which were being rehoused from the back garden. There are several different asters here as well as rudbeckia and sedum – I’m not sure about the yellow rudbeckia and the red mauve sedums together but it’s a passing phase.
The grasses are Calmagrostis ‘Overdam’.  There are is also some Fennel and Euphorbia in the border which give more interest earlier in the year.   The structure is provided a Phormium; two Sorbus – one Sorbus aucuparia  and Sorbus pseudohupehenis ‘Pink Pagoda; a birch; and two Grevilleas – Canberra Gem and Grevillea victoriae.  The space is surrounded by beech and laurel hedges.
So that’s my front garden – hope you enjoyed the whistle top tour  

Malvern Autumn Show 2016

Old Court Nursery
Old Court Nursery

I am so lucky to live where I do and days like today just remind me of this.  My eldest and I decided at very short notice that we fancied going to the Malvern Autumn Show.  It is literally a 5 minute drive from home so we were able to arrive as the second day of the show was opening and beat the crowds.

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I haven’t been to the Autumn Show for some years, there always seems to be something clashing with it.  We stopped first in the Harvest Pavilion where the serious showing happens.  As you can see we have everything from vegetables through to dahlias.  To the other side of this pavilion is the ‘Open Competition’ for a whole range of plants such as succulents, alpines, foliage, roses etc.  I have quite a few pics of these as I have been thinking for a few years now of entering.  We sussed out the competition so now I have a good idea of the standard I am aiming for.

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Whilst I might be thinking of entering an aeonium or two I really take my hat off to those growers who can produce a trug of vegetables like these – sheer perfection.  I would be chuffed to get 4 ripe tomatoes let alone 5 matching ones or even a whole trug of matching perfection.

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Its not all competitive vegetable and flower growing; the show is very much a local country show that has grown over the years.  Elsewhere there are pigs being paraded, as well as sheep, cows, rabbits and goats  but our preference was to watch the agility dogs and later the gun dogs who were having a lovely time showing off.

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But much as I could watch the dogs for ages the plants inevitably call and we found ourselves in another pavilion which focussed on growing your own (I think).  As you entered there was this display by the National Dahlia Society which I thought was pretty special.  It really shows how dahlias can be used to create a wonderful exotic look – the colour seems a little blown on this photo possibly due to the lighting in the marquee.

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Whilst the dahlias were impressive I was quickly distracted by the Jacques Armand display.  My poor son was suffering from my bulb addiction as I had already bought a considerable number of bulbs from Rose Cottage who had been relocated to the Produce Pavilion having lost their marquee in the wind yesterday. There is always something interesting to buy and between the two nurseries I came away with a good haul of tulips for the front garden, some more colchicums – Nancy Lindsay and Dick Trotter, a large Scilla and some punky looking muscari.

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At the far side of the show ground to where we parked we came to the nurseries.  The number of nurseries both inside and out have grown considerably over the 15 years I have been going to the show.  There is now a reasonable number exhibiting inside under cover with large displays.  I was really pleased for my friend Helen Picton who was awarded another Gold for her display of asters.  I was also rather entranced my the Tale Valley display as it combined all the plants I love; ferns and bulbs and lots of wonderful foliage – food for thought.

 

 

Pondering on the Front Garden project

I suspect I was unconsciously thinking about taking up the front lawn when I decided to feature the front garden this year as the End of Month view.  It made me smile that I made no reference to lifting the lawn in my post but the view of commentators was unanimous that it should go and I should use the space to embrace my plant obsessions.  It didn’t take many such comments to win me round, I don’t think I actually needed persuading but it is always nice when someone else unwittingly confirms your view – its a vote of confidence and encouragement.

Since then there has been much pondering.  I look at the front garden when I do the weekly pile of ironing (yes I do the ironing weekly, I quite like ironing as it appeals to my neat-nick tendencies).  I also look at it each morning from my bedroom window while I get ready for work.  I have found in recent years that I need to have an image in my mind before I can start to develop part of the garden.  Not in the sense of knowing the structure, paths, borders etc but its more of a sense of the visual impact.  So having pondered a hardy exotic look I strangely found myself seeing the front garden in terms of bright and warm colours – very floriferous.

Driving back from Kate’s last week and pondering her generally late summer interest garden the idea of moving my asters to the front garden started to form.  If you recall the front garden is already home to a number of red shrubby salvias which do well and also crocosmia.  I could see how the asters would benefit from the sunny location and how finally I could create the late summer border I have tried to achieve in the Big Border.  This hasn’t worked as asters are generally tall and no matter how hard I try due to the slope I end up looking at their stems.  If I move the asters and the calmagrostis to the front garden then the image in my head might finally start to work.  I can augment them with more crocosmia and rudbeckias and maybe some echinacea.  I want to add a small tree or tall shrub to add some height and I am currently toying with a adding an eleagnus ‘Quicksilver’ which I have been admiring for some years, although I know it has a tendency to sucker.

But I also need to add some sort of access to this area to make it easier to work and I am currently thinking this will a slab and gravel path leading from near the beginning of the driveway partly into the front garden, with one path splitting off to the house and the other heading towards the large grevillea where there might be a large pot or a pot like water feature.  This will add a focal point and purpose to the paths – I think.

But I don’t want the front garden to only look good in late summer so I need another season of interest and I am thinking that this will come mainly from bulbs with orange and burgundy tulips, alliums and also bearded irises which I hope will benefit from the light levels.

So there seems to be a plan forming but as so often with such things one thing has lead to another and now I am having to re-think the back garden.  Not drasticly but if I move the majority of the asters, some of the grasses and other such plants to the front from the Big Border it will need a new identity.  I want to try and bring some sort of cohesion into the back garden.  My magpie approach to plants has led to a garden which can seem quite fragmented at times.  So I am trying to arrange the plants in such a way that they enhance each other rather than my usual ‘where is there a gap’ approach.  In the back I have been tending more and more towards foliage interest with some floral highlights. I am today, it may change tomorrow, currently toying with using the Big Border for adding to the exotic approach by adding tenders in the summer, after the bulbs have gone over.  I didn’t grow dahlias last year for the first time in years and I missed them so I could use this space for them along with some cannas and gingers and I have wanted an banana for some time but not had the space.

Who knew a simple blog post could lead to so much pondering and potentially upheaval!! I may have to change the focus of the end of month meme this year as I suspect there might not be much to see for a while. I’m now off to ponder dahlias in the Sarah Raven catalogue

GBBD October 2015 – Its all about the Asters

Aster frikartii wunder von staffa
Aster frikartii Wunder von Stafa

Having spent the day recording the new RHS Symphyotrichum trial at Old Court Nurseries I thought it would be appropriate to focus on ‘Asters’ in this month’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day post.  Above is one of my real favourites, Aster x frikartii ‘Wunder von Stafa’. I love the large daisy like flowers, it has a nice open habit and being of short-medium height works well in the border.

Symphyotricum 'Les Moutiers'
Symphyotricum ‘Les Moutiers’

Symphyotrichum ‘Les Moutiers’ is another one which I have been admiring for the last few weeks.  It has strong stems so needs little supporting and the flowers are more pink that it seems in the photograph.  It has a very elegant habit and a nice height of 4-5ft (difficult to tell on my slope) and is clumping up well.

Symphyotrichum 'Ochtendgloren'
Symphyotrichum ‘Ochtendgloren’

Another aster whose photo doesn’t really show its colour properly is Symphyotrichum ‘Ochtendgloren’. In reality it is a much pinker purple.  A medium height plant so good in front of taller grasses such as Calamagrostis ‘Overdam’.  I am hoping my plant will clump up well as it is such a pretty colour and bounces well off the nearby Cotinus.

Aster trifoliatus subsp. ageratoides 'Stardust'
Aster trifoliatus subsp. ageratoides ‘Stardust’

On a much shorter scale is Aster trifoliatus subsp. ageratoides ‘Stardust’.  I don’t think it is as pretty as the others but it doesn’t mind a bit of shade which makes it a good doer for brightening up woodland planting at this time of year.

Aster novae-angliae 'St Michael's'
Aster novae-angliae ‘St Michael’s’

Finally we have Aster novae-angliae ‘St Michael’s’.   I have to confess that I bought this some years ago as it is named for a local hospice charity, as opposed to the well-known department store, and some of the price went to the charity.  However, it has really been attention grabbing for the last few weeks with its big bluey-purple flowers and interestingly was one of the varieties that we identified today as one to really watch through the trial.  Mine has found it way through various plant moves to the woodland border and is surprisingly looking very good.

So those are my October blooms, for other bloggers’ blooms pop over to May Dreams and check out the comments box.

My Garden This Weekend – 4th October 2015

IMG_2970What a lovely autumn weekend.  Misty cool mornings followed by warm sunny afternoons. I do love Autumn; its my second favourite season after Spring.

Turning leaves on witch hazel
Turning leaves on witch hazel

We were busy with some family gatherings and a need to buy a new wheelbarrow – yes my lovely purple wheelbarrow is no more. But I did find time to start the mammoth bulb planting project I have on my hands.  I would like to say that this was planned but whilst it may have started like that the reality is that whims and too many opportunities to buy from wonderful bulb merchants have led to a glut of bulbs.  I did make some notes and plans when I place my annual bulb order with Avon Bulbs but then there was last weekends purchases at the AGS Bulb Day and a lack of self-control at the local garden centre when we were buying the wheelbarrow.

Rosa 'Lady Emma Hamilton'
Rosa ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’

Continuing with my learning to love my front garden project I have planted some Crocus chrysanthus ‘Blue Pearl’ and also Sternbergia lutea near the front door.  Also more Colchicums were added to what is sort of becoming a collection.  Both Colchicum agrippinum and Colchicum speciosum album were purchased at the Bulb Day and have been planted out in the back garden with a dash of slug pellets to keep the molluscs at bay.  For the last two years I have grown lots of small bulbs in terracotta pots but this year I have decided to plant the hardy ones out in the ground, mainly to free up space in the greenhouse but I believe a lot of them will do better in the soil.  So I have been tipping out the pots and planting out ,or for those that need some protection repotting.  I was thrilled to discover that my two bulbs of Galanthus peshmenii have bulked up and there were 5 or 6 chips/bulbs.  Hopefully they will flower before Christmas.

Nerine bowdenii
Nerine bowdenii

I wanted to get on today as I am conscious of how much I want to get done before the winter hits but as is often the case with my gardening my plans went astray.  I have been conscious that the nights are getting colder and so I wanted to get my succulents in and under cover.  However, having tried sand in the deep staging this past year I have decided that it isn’t working well for me.  It retains too much moisture despite the drainage holes and moss has been growing.  So today I spent the morning digging out the sand and lugging it up the garden to go on the very top path.  We then filled the staging with horticultural grit.  The staging is the type you use for plunge beds so the drainage is very good and it won’t hold the water as much as the sand did.  This should reduce the moisture levels in the greenhouse and keep it warmer over the winter.

Sellinum wallichianum
Sellinum wallichianum

Having played mud pies with the soggy sand for the morning and spent a delightful afternoon with my niece I quickly stored away the succulents in their new refreshed home.  Needless to say the list of jobs I wanted to do this weekend hasn’t really been reduced at all but the greenhouse was a job that I had been dithering about for ages so I am really pleased I got it done – one less worry.

 

Book Review: The Plant Lovers Guide to Asters

asters

I have a backlog of books to review and although book reviews was almost the least popular subject for posts in the poll I carried out earlier this week I do feel duty bound to work through them so apologies for possibly a lot of book reviews in the coming weeks.

I thought it was timely to start with The Plant Lover’s Guide to Asters by Paul Picton and Helen Picton.  I have to confess that Helen is a friend of mine and I am in awe of her and her father’s plant knowledge.  A mutual friend said that horticultural knowledge was in Helen’s DNA and I suspect its true.  Helen is the third generation to run Old Court Nurseries in Colwall which specialises in Asters – not a bad achievement especially when asters really went out of favour back in the 1970s when conifers became all the rage.

Anyway, the book is another of the Timberpress ‘The Plant Lover’s Guide’ series.  I do think this is a successful format.  You normally have some information on how  to use the specific plant group in your garden, then plant profiles and lists of suitable varieties for different locations,  cultivation tips and pests and diseases and then information about where to buy or see the plant.

The Aster book is no exception and I particularly enjoyed the ‘Designing with Asters’ section.  In it Helen shows you that you can use asters in almost any setting whether it is the traditional herbaceous border, where they first found their popularity, or in prairie planting, through which they have had a revival.  You can even grow them in pots, something I hadn’t realised at all and  amazingly there are alpine asters.  There is a reference to the recent name changes to asters although not too much technical stuff and the entries are all in the new names.

I also enjoyed the section ‘Understanding Asters’ which discusses the history of asters and their breeding.  It is in itself a short history of horticultural trends over the last 100 years in the UK and really interesting, if like me, you are interested  in  the history of plant hunters and horticulturists.

Unbelievable there are profiles of 101 asters.  I was surprised that there were so many varieties and the Pictons have tried to include varieties that are readily available.  I am particularly interested in Aster x frikartii ‘Wunder von Stafa’, a low growing aster with large flowers which I think will look great in front of my roses to bring some colour at this time of the year and hide the roses legs. Interesting there is a short section about growing asters with roses – wittingly entitled ‘Roses Need Friends’.  Also appealing is Eurybia divaricata ‘Eastern Star’ another low growing aster which will tolerate a shady position.  I must ask Helen if she has either in stock.

Throughout the book is generously illustrated with photos, the majority taken by Paul Picton or Helen’s husband, Ross Barbour.  There are many close-ups of plants but also a significant number of gardens show-casing asters, many of them local to here. As with the other books in this series it is well written in an accessible format with has a friendly tone to it. Regardless of how experienced a gardener you are you will find something of interest to you.

If you are quick you can visit Old Court Nurseries and see the national collection – the Picton Garden and nursery are open every day until 18th October.  If you are going to Malvern Autumn Show then it is only 10 minutes away and a good way to round off your visit to this part of the world.  Helen and Ross will also be selling asters at the show.

 

 

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – September 2015

Salvia 'Phyllis Fancy'
Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’

I nearly forgot all about Garden Bloggers Bloom Day but here I am a day late.  My first offering is the elegant Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’.  I acquired this a year ago from a local plant sale and it seems to be one of those plants that has been doing the rounds in our local HPS group.  I love the two-tone flowers along with the grey toned leaves.  It’s also easy from cuttings.

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The Asters have started to flower.  Most of my asters have smallish flower except for the one above which is one of the larger flowered varieties, but I have no idea which as the label is long-lost, although I know it’s not Monch as I have never bought that one.

Dollingeria umbellata
Dollingeria umbellata

As you may know Asters have been through a serious review of their names over recent years, with the changes being adopted a few years back in the US and coming into force in the UK this year.  Above is what I purchased as Aster umbellata but is not Dollingeria umbellata – that will take some time to remember.

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I’m not sure of the name of this one either so I will have to ask Helen Picton at Old Court Nursery.

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The Japanese Anemones have started to flower which is good news.  I have had the one above for years and it has been divided, moved, composted over and over again.  The plant above is in the front garden and has taken a few years to start flowering but now it is it is adding some brightness to a shady corner.

Japanese Anemone 'Prinz Heinrich'
Japanese Anemone ‘Prinz Heinrich’

I am pleased to see Prinz Heinrich flowering; it along with two other pink varieties were added to the Cottage/Rose Border last year.  Lady Emily is in bud but Queen Charlotte is looking a little weedy.  Hopefully next year they will be better established and flower strongly.

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Flowering delights in the pots include this yellow auricula.  Grown from seed probably 3 years ago its flower surprised me when I was tidying up at the weekend.

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And I must share my Kangaroo Paw with you as I am very proud of it having grown the plant from seed probably 4 years ago.  It will have to go back under cover soon to protect it for the winter.

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Another home grown plant – this time a hardy fuschia grown from a cutting last year acquired from a HPS friend.  I do know the variety but it has got too dark for me to go and peer at the label so I will leave you wondering.

 

Kirengshoma palmata
Kirengshoma palmata

Finally my beloved Kirengshoma palmata which I included in my Vase on Monday post – I can report they don’t in my limited experience do very well as a cut flower.

For more GBBD posts visit Carol over at May Dreams and check out the links in the comments box.

My Weekend This Week – 18/10/2014

Primrose Jack in Green
Primrose Jack in Green

Autumn has decidedly arrived although not the crisp dry Autumn that I prefer, instead it has been a bit grey and quite damp leading to soggy piles of leaves to collect; many have already been collected.

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I have noticed that despite the lower light levels there is still interest in the garden mainly from the various asters.  I think the smaller flowers add some real texture although I want to add some of the larger and brighter flowered asters next year and maybe some more rudbeckias to lift it all.

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The first job was to weed the slope where the Hardy Exotic Border is and plant a mass of mixed daffodil bulbs.  I am conscious that many of the plants will die back over the winter and I don’t really want a large bare area so I am hoping the daffodils will add some spring interest and colour until the main planting reappears.  As my garden is quite small I need to make ever area work as hard as possible. I am trying to adopt the idea of layered or succession planting as advocated by Christopher Lloyd and also David Culp but of course although I understand the logic and purpose putting it into action isn’t as easy as it appears. I think you really need to understand the plants well and I haven’t quite got there.  To help me out I am thrilled to have signed up for a study day at Great Dixter next June.

2014_10180007At the moment my starting point is to give each area a key season of interest.  So the border above is a spring/winter border with the conifers and some bulbs which will appear in the new year.  Today I have added a few cyclamen to give colour.  There is a sprawling geranium in the front of the border which looks wrong and will be relocated elsewhere.  I think a Japanese Painted Fern, yes I know another fern, would look good here and I fancy some white vinca or maybe periwinkle around the tree trunk.

A small achievement was finally sorting the area in front of the shed and fence.  This has been a bit of a dumping ground since the shed went in over a year ago and has been irritating me for some months.  My son plans to put a wood store here, the shed is his workshop, but he is so busy it is well down his list of priorities so I decided to take charge.  It is amazing how much things are improved with a quick tidy up, a thick layer of gravel, a bit of fence paint and a few pots.  The little auricula is far too small so I need to find one of my other pots to go here.  I am thinking maybe a pot of bedding cyclamen.

Elsewhere I planted out the shrubs I bought at the Hergest Croft plant fair last weekend.  The Hydrangea Merveilla Sanguine at the top of the slope to add to the foliage interest.  I was told it needs good moist conditions and maybe at the top of a slope isn’t the best place but the soil is very heavy clay based here and doesn’t seem to dry out too fast so fingers crossed.

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More bare soil but this is where the dead acer was and I am quite pleased with how it is coming along.  I have added a Leptospernum myrtifolium ‘Silver Sheen’ and Berberis seiboldii which is quite electric at the moment and should be wonderful in a year or two. Also planted out today is an unnamed double hellebore and some bedding cyclamen.  There are lots of spring perennials under the soil here at the front of the border so I have added the cyclamen for interest until I am reminded what is here and where it is!!

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I thought I would show you a border I replanted just over a year ago – The Japanese Fern Border.  A grand title for a small area alongside the patio which admittedly has other perennials other than ferns but they are all from Asia – apart from the stray Welsh Poppy in the back there.  The ferns have really filled out and it looks lush and full and makes me smile.

Just for Yvonne I have include the Primrose Jack in Green at the top of the post which I look at when I sit on the bench.