My Garden This Weekend – 22/2/15


Any time in the garden is precious at this time of year and if the sun shines albeit weakly it is even more special. Yesterday afternoon was such a time with a low sun appearing fleetingly behind the scudding clouds. Today, by contrast, was a day to watch and look as the rain lashed against the windows and the few remaining dead leaves galloped across the patio.


It is also a time of year that rewards you for looking.  If you take time and look carefully you can see buds forming on the branches and the elegant detail of the bulb flowers such as the veining on these unknown crocus flowers.

But I have to be honest to say that whilst I do take time looking  I am so pleased to be able to spend some time outside that I tend to have my head down working hard.  I have spent the week hoping for gardening time, devising a list of things I would like to achieve, pondering planting ideas and generally dreaming of getting my hands into the soil which makes me feel grounded (no pun intended) and rooted in my space.


The objective this weekend was to plant out the remaining two peonies which had been potted up temporarily since their arrival and also to plant out the new hellebores instead of them languishing on the patio with the risk of being frozen in their pots.  The focus of my attention was the corner of the former Bog Garden nearest the workshop – which I have decided to remain the Rowan Border because there is a Rowan (Sorbus vilmorinii) in it!  I have struggled with a focus for this area ever since it was created.  The Rowan tree has almost been an obstacle ever since I planted it or no obvious reason at all.  But having read in several places recently about lifting the canopy of shrubs and trees to provide planting spaces under I realised that I was letting the tree canopy block my ideas. Strange I know and I wonder if it has something to do with the garden sloping upwards as I often seem to be looking at the bottom or top of plants rather than the view you would have in a flat garden.  The Peony ‘Bowls of Beauty’ is to be a key plant in the border although I appreciate it might not flower this year and has been planted so it will eventually hide the base of the tree.  The colours of the flowers should reflect and continue the blossom of the Prunus kojo-no-mai.  I am trying to build up layers of planting using the idea of creating triangles with the Sorbus and Prunus as two of the high points of triangles – we will see if it works.


I haven’t thought of planting borders with a particular colour palette before, focussing more on a season or a style so this is a new approach for me and hopefully will make more sense. I don’t want a restricted plant palette as I am far too eclectic in my taste nor, as I have discovered, will a particular style i.e. exotic, work for me. So the peony and prunus are being supplemented with hellebores, acquilegia, primroses and violas all in soft pastel colours but hopefully with some stronger highlights.  The trouble is I can’t remember what colour the acquilegia flowers are so I will have to do some editing as they appear.  I also know there is an orange Lathyrus and a yellow day lily in the border some where and I suspect these will have to be relocated.  If so they will go to the Big Border which has citrus colours in it as well as purples and blues.  I have also tried to think about textures and foliage as these will be there for longer than the flowers.  It’s a start and will be added to as the plants develop and it becomes obvious what needs to be done.  All has been top-dressed with some green waste from the council and although it looks a bit bare above, from the bench you get the first view which is really enjoyable on an early Spring day as you hug a cup of tea.


Whilst I was pleased with the planting I managed yesterday I was also really chuffed with the purchase of the Primula above.  It cost me £4 for a 1 litre pot from Waitrose but I knew from looking at the shades of the flowers that there was more than one plant in the pot and yes when I turned it out there were 3 good size plants.  These have been planted in the border I was working on last week so they can be enjoyed from the gravel steps.  The plan is to really plant up along the steps, something I have neglected to do until now.  I want to create a really flowery effect so will be adding some of the more robust alpines I have languishing in pots and hope they seize the challenge and start to soften the hard landscaping.


Having done so well yesterday it would have been greedy to expect a second gardening day and Mother Nature has certainly shown who is in charge today.  I did manage to sow a couple of packets of annuals though which are now sitting on a windowsill with the hope of getting some good strong plants for the summer.

Next weekend I have my local HPS meeting and a birthday nursery visit but until then I will content myself with revisiting my all time favourite gardening book – The Layered Garden and pondering.



Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Thirds


This week’s photo challenge has definitely been a challenge as I haven’t been able to conveniently find a photo in my archive to meet the challenge.

The idea behind the challenge is the Rule of Thirds which means that you put the subject of your photo in one-third of the frame.  It is then suggested that you go a step further and try to achieve bokeh.  Bokeh is the blurred area around your subject in the photograph, if you follow the link you can see some examples which demonstrate what they mean.

I don’t think I have quite met the challenge as well as I would have liked. I tried several times to blur out the background but it is beyond me and probably means I need to fiddle with my camera controls which just makes my head hurt a bit like fractions when I was at school.  As soon as someone starts to explain apertures and shutters speeds to me it is like tumble weed is rolling past.

For better examples of this challenge follow this link.

For my gardening mad readers the iris is Iris Cantab

My Garden This Weekend – 16/2/15


I am still aching from my gardening session yesterday which shows either just how unfit I have got over the winter or that I took on more than I should have.  It doesn’t matter though because despite the aches I am really pleased with what I achieved and it certainly clears your head and recharges you mentally before another week at work.


Not the most prepossessing photo but it signifies a good couple of hours work and much hauling of heavy and awkward objects.  This is the space that was formally occupied by the Stipa gigantea and I was intent on improving the soil so I could plant out at least one of my new peonies.  Having dug up the couple of bearded irises which had disappeared under the skirt of the grass and hadn’t flowered for years I added a bag of gravel and some sand to improve the drainage and break up the residual clay.  This was then topped off with three bags of green waste compost from the local council which is like black gold. The initial planting has been done although its hardly obviously but I am assure you that a Peony Immaculata, Agapanthus ‘Alan Street’, Agapanthus ardernei hybrid and the original irises have all been planted.  The Agapanthus had been growing in pots on the patio and overwintering in the garage.  However I read somewhere that deciduous Agapanthus are generally hardy so I have taken a gamble and planted them out – fingers crossed.  I now need to think about what additional planting is needed to fill in.  I am thinking of Aquilegias as I have a number of plants to plant out but I also need something for late summer but without strappy leaves.


Before I added the compost etc to the border above I took a soil sample so I could test the PH.  Now I know it is basic horticultural practice, what you could term gardening 101, but I realised the other day that I had never tested the soil in my garden.  I planted a rhododendron from my last garden when we moved in and as it has done alright I had assumed the soil was acidic. My neighbour has a wonderful Pieris (top pic) in his garden which grows over my fence and is healthy and floriferous so knowing Pieris need acidic soil I don’t think my assumption was too daft.  So I was completely flummoxed when the test showed the soil was alkaline (7.5).  This is Ok for the bearded iris and means I don’t need to add lime to the soil but it got me wondering about the rest of the garden and the two rhododendrons I had recently bought.  Three further tests later from different parts of the garden and the conclusion seems to be that the soil is alkaline this would explain why eranthis do so well in my garden but I am still perplexed as to why the Pieris looks so good and what to do with the two new rhododendrons!

2015_02160018Of course the obvious thing to do having spent a couple of hours digging and lugging heavy things is to empty a small greenhouse of the pots of bulbs (heavy with gravel), remove the overwintering tender plants from the garage and generally re-organise the whole lot.   As I have been indecisive over the last 6 months or so I have gone off the idea of showing plants as I just do not have the time to ensure they are up to standard and I don’t need any more pressure or stress in my life at the moment as there is enough in my working life.  This being so I decided that I really didn’t need to keep the pots of bulbs in the greenhouse especially as the likelihood of sustained long temperatures was past.  I do like seeing the pots of alpines and bulbs in alpine houses but I have discovered that I get more of a feel good factor from a collection of tender plants and I was missing mine which had been banished to the garage.


The view above makes me much happier.  I have still got some pots of bulbs in the greenhouse including some S. African ones which won’t do well outside and the Narcissus bulbocodium whose hardiness I’m not sure on and need to research.  As the bulbs go over they will be moved to under the staging to dry out and rest.  I will have to rejig things at some point in order to accommodate the hall hardy annuals I want to sow but I am OK for time at the moment.

As you can imagine after all that labouring I was quite exhausted but I was thrilled at what I had achieved.  I have no plans at all for next weekend so weather permitting I will have two days to garden and hopefully the other two peonies will be planted.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day 15/2/15


Forgive my soggy photographs it was raining heavily yesterday and I only had time first thing to take them (the afternoon was spent at a lovely talk by Anna Pavord).  Being Spring the theme for the flowers in the garden is generally tiny and pastel.  The primulas have been flowering on and off all winter since it has been so mild but now it is a little warmer the flowers are bulking up.  I think I should try dividing some of these plants this year.  I think this one is one they call Blue Denim or Tie Dye as I remember buying it some 5 or 6 years ago but the markings are not so distinct now so maybe not.


I do like the colouring of the Primula below, it’s quite vibrant for February and there is obviously some polyanthus in this plant as the flower stem have grown taller this year than last, possibly revert back to its origins.


Then we have the snowdrops which are slowly but surely bulking up.  It would be false to say I lift and divide them every year, it more a case that they get distributed as part of my weeding.  I have been working at getting them to spread along the back bank and there is now quite a nice display which you can see from the house.


Of the ‘specials’ which are flowering well at the moment I thought the following looked worth of inclusion in this monthly post.

Galanthus Ding Dong
Galanthus Ding Dong
Galanthus Magnet
Galanthus Magnet
Galanthus Flora Pleno
Galanthus Flora Pleno

There are still a few to open their blooms and they along with the Eranthis which I wont bore you with again have been wonderful over the last grey month but now they are being taken over by the Hellebores which are starting to open.  The yellows always open first with the dark pinks the last.


Hellebore Walbertons Rosemary
Hellebore Walbertons Rosemary
Hellebore Neon Star
Hellebore Neon Star

The daffodils I featured in January have finally opened and are just beginning to fade, there are other daffodil buds appearing but it will be some weeks before these early ones have any followers.


Under cover Iris ‘Cantab’ is flowering looking elegant and dainty and I have enjoyed bringing pots inside so I can enjoy their flowers when they are peaking. But they have to compete with the blousey and exuberant Clivia which is new to me and I just love.

Iris Cantab
Iris Cantab


For more Garden Blogger Bloom Day (GBBD) posts visit Carol over at May Dream Gardens.

End of Month View – February 2014


After the delights of Wisley at the start of the week it is hard not to feel disillusioned when I look at my own garden.  I have to remind myself that I work full-time and my resources are signficantly less.  I also think it can be hard at this time of year not look negatively when we have had nothing but grey skies and the borders are looking bare so I shall start the End of Month View post with the jolly irises on the staging.

I really should have moved the plastic pots before taking the photos but this is a warts and all post so there they are.  I still need to come up with something to cover the fence.  It needs to grow well in a pot, cope with direct sunlight all day and preferably evergreen.  I think if I can find something suitable then it won’t matter that the staging is less interesting at other times of the year.


The Spring Patio border is currently a border of two halves.  The Bike Shed end is looking good with lots of snowdrops blooming to be followed by other bulbs; these will be followed by some perennials including Astrantia and Acanthus.


The greenhouse end is less interesting at the moment.  There are perennials in here which will fill the border in late summer including Kirengeshoma palmata and Actaea simplex.  However I need to have some interest now especially as this is the view from my living room.  So when the snowdrops have finished flowering I will be dividing the clumps and spreading them along the border.  I also think something evergreen in this space which would compliment the late summer planting would be good – thinking cap on.


I won’t be including the border in the front garden this month as absolutely nothing has changed and despite it being a warts and all post I think another photo of a bare border with an almost dead lavender is going too far.  Anyway, moving on to the Cottage Border along the top of the wall (above) there is progress and narcissus are starting to flower albeit in the middle of the path (oops). This border is meant to have an early summer season of interest and should be a delightful mix of roses, delphinium, geraniums etc.  It will be interesting to see how the border lives up to the image in my mind but its a work in progress so this will be a watching brief.


Finally the border formerly known as the Bog Garden which has been rechristened the Camellia Border.  I have been waiting for the weather to improve so I can finish the planting here and hopefully  that might happen this weekend.  The canes in the foreground relating to the hard landscaping that we are thinking of doing around the workshop.

So to sum up nothing has changed since last month but hopefully in the next month with more of the sun we have had in the last few days plants will grow and flowers emerge and there will be lots to report next month.

If you would like to join in with this meme you are very welcome to.  All I ask is that you leave a link to your post in the comments box and link to this post in yours.


A February outing to RHS Wisley


Yesterday, the gods smiled, the sun shone and I finally got to spend a day at RHS Wisley Garden.  I have wanted to visit properly for a while but it’s around a 3 hour drive each way and the journey skirts the edge of London.  As I am rapidly becoming a country hillbilly the thought of all that traffic has been too much for me and I have repeatedly dismissed the idea of a visit.  However, this year I decided that I needed to get over it and go.  Luckily a conversation with my friend Victoria provided the answer.  Victoria moved from London some 18 months ago and missed her regular visits to Wisley.  She lives just under halfway between me and the garden so yesterday I got up early drove to hers and then she drive the rest of the way.


I’m not sure why I was so keen to visit this year but I particularly wanted to see the Alpine House and rock garden and spring is a good time due to all the spring bulbs.  I was also interested to see the new Henry Moore statue, the King and Queen, that is temporarily residing at the top of the lily pool by the entrance. I have seen quite a few photos of the statue on twitter from the back with the pool in the background so I was pleased to see the statue from the front.  I think it is rather wonderful and reminds me of medieval images almost Spanish in its appearance.


The weather was amazing and having left early leaving behind rain we were somewhat overdressed but never mind it was a nice problem to have. I was amazed at how busy the garden was on a Monday morning but I suppose everyone is keen to get out into the sunshine and there were lots of small children with their mothers, nannies and grandparents.


First up was the Alpine House and all the dinky pots of bulbs.  I was interested to see how they were presented in the sand beds.  How wonderful to have the luxury of an alpine house for displaying those pots that are in flower.  The colours were a wonderful boost for the soul after the drabness we have had for months. It is also interesting to see the variety of alpines in flower at the moment – if you relied on the media you would think the only things in flower were snowdrops and crocus.


Seeing these plants and the rock garden and crevice gardens outside confirmed my feeling that my real interest in alpines is in the bulbs rather than cushion plants.


Neither of us were particularly taken by the rock garden and crevice beds although we realise that this isn’t quite the best time of year but it was all so grey.  However, we were very taken with the small crevice garden made of terracotta tiles.  I think it’s the colour which attracts me but it’s certainly something to consider in the future.

2014_02250086Being February there obviously wasn’t a lot of colour in the main gardens aside from the bulbs although there were one or two camellias starting to flower and this wonderful Prunus.  We did spend quite a bit of time looking at exotic appearing plants for my new whim to have hardy exotics in the garden.  I have many photos of Agaves, Aloes, ferns and other foliage plants to inspire me.  Talking with Victoria helped me crystallise my feelings about my garden and recognise that my interest is really in interesting foliage and we talked at length about other people’s perceptions and how hard it could be to create the garden you want rather than being influenced by others. I think over the recent period I have started to become more focussed and less influenced by the media and others views and it is a nice feeling. It amused me that when seeing some shrubs underplanted with Pulmonaria we both quickly agreed that we didn’t like this plant but had both planted it in our early gardening days as the media and other gardeners told us how wonderful it was.


We discussed how shrubs planted for winter interest worked and how really you needed a number for the effect and you needed to take into account the light in the garden.  We saw the first brimstone butterfly of the year which was surprisingly thrilling for me.  As Victoria knows the garden so well she knew exactly what bits would look good, which areas would help  inspire me and what we should avoid as it would be full of small children!


We were particularly taken with this planting of crocus amongst grasses, I suspect it may be replicated in both our gardens.

Needless to say we ended up  in the Plant Centre and left with two trolleys of goodies between us.

I think if we can find a day or two that we can both do later in the year we will be going back as we had such a great day. I would really like to see the new rose garden as I think the combination of the roses and perennials will be wonderful.

My Garden This Weekend – 23rd February 2014


There isn’t much to report from the garden this weekend mainly as I spent the only dry sunny day at my garden club and sadly Sunday was a blustery and damp day.  I have spent some time outside today, well enough to take these photographs which proved challenging due to the wind.  Looking around the garden there are increased signs of the change of seasons we are all waiting for.


The first daffodils are flowering.  I don’t know what variety they are as they came with the house but these ones always flower a good few weeks before others.  There was an interesting discussion at the HPS meeting about the flowering of daffodils and how despite the mild weather they don’t seem to have flowered much earlier. The group speculated that they needed a cold snap to get them going which makes sense I suppose although if so and we continue to have mild weather then that logic would say none of the daffodils would flower, which makes no sense!!


I did buy a few more hellebores at the HPS meeting.  I think I said last week that I wanted to add to my collection and I had been thinking of visiting Ashwoods again but was struggling to find the time to get there. All the hellebores I have are from Ashwoods so it is nice to add to the collection from a different source.  I am rather pleased with the white one above bought from another club member, such a pure colour.  I also bought two good size seedlings from the charity table.  They don’t have such a clear colour but I think the addition of some pinks will be nice.  As an additional plus the three hellebores, all a good size, cost me only £7!



Aside from taking some photographs today I sowed more seeds, this time some woodland perennials that had been collected in Japan.  I have bought seeds from a couple of plant collectors this year so am interested to see how they do.


Hopefully next weekend I will get more of a chance to do some of the jobs I want to get on with.  In the meantime I get to enjoy the view above from my living room window although I do keep thinking that I must divide the clumps up when the snowdrops finish flowering.


The Greenhouse Year – February 2014


As part of January’s End of Month View post I suggested that I might do a monthly post on my greenhouse.  I don’t think greenhouses get much coverage anywhere in the media, which I think is a real pity.  The response to my suggestion implied I wasn’t alone in this feeling.  So I have decided that I shall do a monthly meme on the 20th of the month on my greenhouse.

2014_02160029So let me introduce you to the greenhouse.  It is probably the smallest freestanding greenhouse you can get – 6′ x 4′.  It’s an aluminium frame and due to its smallness has  no vents or louvres.  The greenhouse  is positioned on my patio about 3 steps from the back door and backs onto the wall that holds the garden up.  It isn’t the optimum location for a greenhouse but there are few flat areas in my garden without a lot of digging and levelling to there wasnt much choice and its location to the house means I have electricity in the greenhouse and its easy to access at all times of the year.  I am trying to remember how long I have had the greenhouse and I think its five or six years and I have never regretted the purchase, my only regret is that it isn’t bigger but there is no room for something bigger there and I have now given up the only other possible location to my son for his workshop.


My greenhouse works hard, I even did a blog post for Notcutts entitled ‘The hardest working greenhouse’.  It is in use all year round and is kept frost-free with a small electric heater.  I currently have two different types of staging – one slatted bench and one with gravel trays.  If I was starting again I think I would go for two gravel trays as to me they are so much more adaptable.  I find them hugely beneficial for keeping humidity levels up but also I find that seeds germinate well in this environment. The gravel also holds the moisture longer and helps water plants, drawing down their roots.  I also have a heated tray which fits into one of the trays to help with germination and propagation but I haven’t used it in the last year as I find it does dry out the compost very quickly.  Of course you don’t need to have gravel in the trays if you don’t want to.


One the other side of the greenhouse I have slatted staging which was the original staging and works OK.  However, I find myself frustrated as they allow water to drip down from the top layer to the one below so I don’t like placing seed trays or succulents on this layer which restricts its use a lot.  Personally, I find that the plants on the gravel tray staging do much better.


I did have a potting bench in the gap between the two sets of staging but this has moved in the last month to my new potting station in the garage.  Removing it has opened up the limited floor space meaning that I can overwinter larger tender plants here.  I was going to put some gravel tray  staging in this gap but now I am thinking a shelf or two on the back wall would be more useful and would help me retain the floor space.

I have such a range of interests in plants that need the greenhouse at some time in their life that it is hard to come up with the ultimate solution especially in such a small space.  Currently, as you can see from the photos, it is used for overwintering succulents, pelargoniums, chrysanthemums, agapanthus, and bulbines.  There are also autumn sown seedlings and a few early trays of seeds.   Over the coming months this will all change.  However, this year I will not be emptying half the greenhouse out to accommodate tomatoes or cucumbers as I have decided that this isn’t really where my heart is.


I am still working out how to accommodate my bulb collection and alpines.  I have two cold frames and have been using those for these plants and I might continue to do this. It’s all a juggling game and I need to do some more research into whether the bulbs need heat during their dormant period or not.

So welcome to my greenhouse, I hope you enjoy popping in each month for a look-see.

My Garden This Weekend – 16/2/14


Sunday was one of the nicest gardening days I can remember for months.  After weeks if not months of rain and rain the sun shone and you could see the positive effects on everyone.  Apparently this caused many people to have an overwhelming urge to visit the hills we are on the side of and the roads, so I am told, have been very busy. I was meant to go to an HPS snowdrop day over at Ragley Hall but due to various personal things that I won’t bore you with and also the prospect of negotiating more floods I decided not to go.  I am so glad I made this decision; spending a number of hours outside has been so good for my mental wellbeing and I am told the route I would have taken was almost stationary in places.


Colour is beginning to appear in the garden especially on the patio staging where I was greeted with these three pots – I want to call them The Three Little Maids but they are all Iris histriodies ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ so that seems a little disrespectful.

2014_02150005I was also thrilled to see Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’ which I had concluded weren’t going to flower but I was wrong.  I can also see now the difference between reticulata and histriodies – the recticulata have longer more grass like foliage before the flowers appear.  I understand that if you struggle with reticulata then it might be worth trying histriodies but I have not idea why!


Spring has definitely arrived in the garden and I am rather chuffed at the snowdrops on the lower slope.  I worked on this area in Autumn planting bulbs, ferns and epimediums with the intention that this was a spring border with the ferns and epimediums giving some foliage interest in the summer and autumn.  There are small narcissus pushing their foliage up through the soil so hopefully they will follow on nicely from the snowdrops.


As the ground is still very wet I decided that working in the garden was a little foolhardy and would do more damage than good.  Instead, I repotted all my pelargoniums.  My resolution this year is to be a better gardener and to focus on plant care rather than big projects so this was a good start to the year.  Some of the pelargoniums haven’t been properly repotted for a number of years.  I have also repotted them into plastic pots really to liberate my pot collection for other things and also because I haven’t decided how I will display the pelargoniums this summer – they are also a lot lighter to move.


I had a moment of panic when I turned out the  Pelargonium worcesterea. I initially thought the roots were covered in some sort of larvae or eggs but these are the roots.  None of my other pelargoniums have roots like these but I understand from Fibrex Nurseries, via Twitter, that this is right and some pelargoniums have even weirder ones.  One of my ivy leaved trailing pelargoniums had ridiculously long roots given the size of the plant and I wonder if this is because they might grow in crevices in their native environment so  I think this plant needs a long root run so I might get a long tom pot for it.


I spent the rest of the day tidying the hanging baskets and the border along the front driveway.  I pricked out some trays of seedlings which had been sown in the autumn and finally I raked the front ‘lawn’ to lift some of the moss that has got completely out of control.  I’m not someone who fusses about the quality of my lawn and I quite like moss but with all the rain it has gone mad and also seems to have gone somewhat yellow probably due to the low light levels and the state of the ground.  Having raked up some of the moss I then aerated the lawn with a fork to try to get some air into the soil and improve it.  You could hear it unsticking in some places!

All in all a wonderful day – fresh air, exercise, a sense of achievement and promise of more gardening days ahead.