Update on the Front Garden

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Some readers will recall that back at the start of the year I decided to do away with the front lawn. Since then I have been a busy bee and with the help of my sons the transformation is nearly completed.

The pile of bricks isn’t an art installation but the start of the path that we have been working on this weekend.

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My eldest has been a star and spent the morning digging a trench for the bricks to lay in and he managed to get the bricks for 25p each which has made a huge difference to the cost and allowed us to be more generous in the number used.  The next step is to cement them in place and then to put gravel down on the path.  I intend to use the same gravel as the driveway so it blends together.

From being embarrassed by my front garden I now love it – as my son says it is now a proper garden rather than a small lawn with some plants around it!

Notes from the Garden – 24/4/16 – Bye bye lawn

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So this was the front garden this morning.  Regular readers will know that I have been procrastinating for some time, maybe years, about the front garden and getting rid of the lawn.  I decided this year that it would go but instead of embracing it head on earlier in the year I have occupied myself with various other ‘essential’ tasks in the main garden.  I suspect there was a small voice questioning whether I was making the right decision, and then there was all the work that would be involved lifting the turf and getting rid of it and really can I keep on top of the main garden so why do I want to make the front garden more work! However, the patio has been filling up with pots of plants for the front garden in anticipation of its make-over so either I donate them all to local plant fairs or I just get on with it.

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Anyway I have completed all the jobs I had come up with that had to be done before I tackled the front garden and set my mind to starting work today.  I have to admit that it was tough going especially as the turf needed to go to the far corner of the main garden up a considerable slope with two sets of steps and a garage in between.  Luckily my youngest son popped round to help and my eldest joined in for the afternoon so between us we started to get a system going between us.  We managed between us to lift about half of the lawn which is a good start and means that I can start to dig over the soil and add some compost.  I have a couple of shrubs that I really want to get in the ground asap so that is the first priority.  And the reason my final niggle was put to bed is because Noel Kingsbury, who visited yesterday with his wife Jo, within a very short time made the observation that the front garden just isn’t me – which I think is what I have been trying to say for a while.

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Now, what to do with the turf?  Yes, I should stack it neatly to rot down and make wonderful potting compost but I don’t really have space for a stacked lawn.  Some of the mossy crumbly bits were placed on top of one of the compost bins to slowly rot down.  Then in a demonstration of how not to lay turf I have started to turf the area in front of the compost bins – creating what my youngest has decided to call Hobbitland!  It has a 50:50 chance; if the turf takes then it will stabilise the slope but if it doesn’t take then so be it.  Even more amusing to my sons was that I turfed around the plants that have self-seeded on the slope – as I said a lesson in how not to turf!!  If it takes then we will keep it in check with a strimmer but the intention is that it will be more wild than tidy and I would love to add crocus and other bulbs and maybe plant some primulas amongst the turf.  There will be more turf to add when we lift the rest of the lawn and it needs tidying up once we have assessed whether it has taken or not – in the meantime the blackbirds are having a lovely evening looking for worms in the sodden turf and I am feeling very pleased.

 

 

 

An exotic approach to the front garden from Rob Stacewicz

During my ponderings on the front garden I ended up having one of those late night online conversations with my friend, Rob Stacewicz (Twitter@robstacewicz)  which has led to Rob kindly writing a post for me on his suggestions for my front garden. Rob is as usual underplaying his horticultural credentials and the breadth of his knowledge.  He has a particular interest in the more exotic side of the plant world and has encouraged my growing interest in hardy exotics 

Geum Princess Juliana
Geum Princess Juliana
“With thanks to Helen for allowing me to make a few plant suggestions on this blog.

By way of introduction, I have worked in horticulture for many years, following my degree in the subject. I am a passionate plantsman and gardener at home, and have accompanied Helen to various gardens and nurseries on a number of occasions. One time in particular stands out. Having stopped for lunch at a country pub, we watched in amazement as a biker removed his leathers to reveal a full morris dancer outfit!

So to the front garden, and a few hardy exotic choices. I think the aim will be to create a grouping of shrubs which provide some structure and year-round interest, to be underplanted with a selection of bulbs and perennials.

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Schefflera rhododendrifolia

Number one on the hit list, Schefflera rhododendrifolia. I have grown this for 10 years or so, and have never had any trouble with it over winter. I believe it will take a considerable amount of shade, and I know it grows well on clay, being tolerant of a wide range of soil types. The leaves are grey green I love the new indumentum-covered growth in spring, like little pale hands reaching skyward. Plants will grow very large over time, but can be pruned to reduce height, and thinned to keep the canopy light.

A new plant which every garden should have, is the delicate Mahonia eurybracteata, marketed as ‘Soft Caress’. The leaves are particularly fine, and resemble a dwarf parlour palm, to my eyes at least. Unlike most Mahonia, and as the name may suggest, there are no spiny leaves to contend with.

Magnolia grandiflora 'Kay Parris'
Magnolia grandiflora ‘Kay Parris’

I would not be without Magnolia grandiflora ‘Goliath’, another cultivar to watch out for is ‘Kay Parris’. This would probably require a slightly drier spot in Helen’s front garden plot, but worth the risk. Evergreen, glossy above and rust coloured underside to each leaf makes this evergreen Magnolia a class act. Lemony-scented blooms in summer are a bonus.

For sharp contrast, I enjoy growing a variety of palms here in London. For the palm novice, there is one type which outshines them all. Trachycarpus wagnerianus is a stubby-leaved version of Trachycarpus fortunei (Chusan or Windmill Palm), which is the hardiest species in the UK climate. Trachycarpus wagnerianus has a lot of character, and provides real presence in a small space. The leaves remind me of crinkle-cut crisps somehow.

There is the evergreen framework, which will provide interest throughout the year. For colour, and in keeping with the red/orange theme, I would suggest also growing evergreen Nandina domestica ‘Firepower’. A dwarf version of Nandina domestica, ‘Firepower’ will grow to just over a metre (roughly) at maturity.

Link the colours of the Nandina through to Crocosmia, Geum, existing Grevillea and Libertia. Red and orange compliment green very well, so it should all sit well together. Tulips in spring, and Dahlias in the sunny areas will ensure a zap of colour through the seasons. Nasturtiums are great for late summer colour, and really easy just to poke the seeds into the front of a border. Hedychium ‘Assam Orange’ and Cautleya spicata are both super hardy gingers and will flower in semi shade.

I will be interested to see how the garden progresses, Good Luck Helen!”

Thank you Rob for your interesting suggestions which I will throw into the mixing pot to see what comes out the other end and I think its time we went on another of those plant buying trips.

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

End of Month View 2016 – The Shameful Front Garden!

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It’s the end of January and so time for a new view for the End of Month View meme.  In a bid to make myself really focus on the front garden I have decided to air my dirty linen in public so to speak and have this as the focus for the meme this year.  Any one who has read this blog for some years will recall that the front garden was the focus of the EOMV meme in 2013 and you can see a round up of that year’s posts on the subject here.

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The two photos above should give you an idea of the layout of the front garden and yes the lawn, if we are audacious enough to call it a lawn, is looking awful.  It needs a good cut as the grass doesn’t seem to have stopped growing but the garden nearest the house can be in shade nearly all day meaning that it doesn’t dry out very well. In fact the whole lawn is full of moss which is a good indicator of how damp it can for most of the year.  We also think there is a spring which runs along under the beech hedge, although I suspect it is one of those springs which appears when there are high water tables. I think the above photo distorts the perspective and it seems that the border to the left of the lawn is quite wide whilst the border at the end of the lawn is quite narrow – in fact it is the opposite way round.

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This photo gives you a better indicator of how narrow the driveway border is and also demonstrates how unhealthy the lawn is.  This border has a bit of an orange theme going on with the libertias, a number of different crocosmia, geums (although more red than orange), tulip ballerina  and a Grevillia vicotriae which has orange flowers. There is an edging on the driveway side of oregano, a very yellow leaved one, and on the lawn side Alchemilla mollis. When I squared the lawn off, it was formerly oval, I went through a period of being obsessed with accentuating the shape of the lawn with edging of one plant.  I tried an approach of having a reduced plant pallet and going for impact but it just jarred with me.  I started breaking this repetitive planting up with the addition of a couple of stipa tennuissima and also the libertia but it needs something else so I shall be watching this year to try to decide what that elusive something might be – possibly some bigger foliage.

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Some might recall that I had a row of Deschampsia along the end of the lawn but if you read the post from the end of 2013, you will see that, I concluded that this was creating a screen like a barrier at the end of the lawn.  I have spent the last two years continuing to struggle with the front garden.  However back in the summer Kate from The Barn Garden visited and pointed out the obvious to me that I should really take the same approach with the front garden as I have with the rest of the garden and indulge my love of foliage and architectural plants.  It is so obvious it is ridiculous.  So I have re-jigged the planting back late in the summer adding various plants that were lurking in pots on the patio or needed moving from elsewhere.  In went a melianthus major, a phormium, euphoribia rigida and some bearded irises.  The various bergenias which had replaced the Deschampsia in a near row along the front were re-arranged into clumps.  As shrubby salvias seem to do well in this locations as does the cistus I also added a rosemary and sage.  I am really pleased with this new approach, it feels right, so this year I will be watching to see how it progresses and whether anything needs to be added.

Finally if you look at the top photos you will see there is a border running along the beech hedge and next door’s garage wall.  This is quite a narrow border and has another row of alchemilla mollis – when these flower on both sides of the lawn it looks great but far too regimented for me.  I have also added some aquilegia seedlings which had been hanging around on the patio for far too long.  However, I think this border could really benefit from the addition of some ferns to add some contrast and height.  That would of course give me another excuse to buy more ferns – not that I am obsessed with them at all!

So this is the view I shall be boring you with at the end of each month for the next year. Any one can join in with the meme and you can use it as you wish.  Some like to give a tour of their garden, some like to focus on one particular area – what ever works for you.  All I ask is that you add a link to your post in the comment box on my post and that you link in your post to this blog – that way we can all connect with each other and pop by for a visit.

My Garden This Weekend – 20/9/15

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We have had a lovely early Autumn weekend which has allowed for some gardening as well as a wander round the local flea fair.  Parts of the garden are looking really good right now and I am particularly pleased with the combination of Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’ and the Melianthus major.  I hadn’t heard of the Salvia before this time last year when I bought my first one from the local HPS group but having included it in my September GBBD post I then spotted it in Helen Dillon’s article in The Garden.  It really is a beautiful salvia and I would highly recommend it; though it needs winter protection.

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Having felt inspired about the big border in the front garden after Kate’s recent visit and having pondered a visit to a nursery to buy some beefier plants, I decided in the early hours the other morning that I probably had everything I needed already around the garden.  So I have been busy relocating plants, all of which were too crowded in the back garden,  to the front garden. The objective is to try to stop the Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’ from dominating the border.  It is a beautiful plant especially when it is covered in its spidery red flowers but given its size it really draws the eye.

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I have struggled with this border for a few years now and because I don’t spend much time in the front garden I have never really engaged with it so my mind doesn’t ponder it late at night and no ideas form.  But my front garden is a good size, it is the size if not bigger, of many a suburban garden and so it is outrageous that I, a keen gardener, neglect it.  The planting here has been too polite and the plants too dinky to compete with the Grevillea.  Kate and her husband’s comments triggered something in my mind and I had one of those light bulb moments.  I decided to embrace the space and to find large evergreen foliage plants to provide some balance to the Grevillea.  So I have moved in an Euphorbia stygiana, a Melianthus major that was in too shady a site, a Phormium Yellow Wave, a young rosemary and a young sage.  These will hopefully add substance to the existing planting which include Libertia, some bearded irises, and other Euphorbia whose name escapes me.

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I relocated the Libertia peregrinans to the driveway border as the amber leaves were just jarring.  In the driveway border they pick up on the orange tones of the crocosmia and of the flowers of Grevillea victoriae.  The driveway border is coming together especially as I have made an effort over the last few weeks to tidy it up!  The new Stipa tennuissima add some movement and I have also added Oenothera ‘Sunset Boulevard’ whose flowers are of a similar colour to the Libertia foliage.

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I also added some Wallflower ‘Fire King’ which should take over the red baton from the Geums. Now that I feel I have got a handle on two sides of the ‘lawn’ I need to turn my attention to the third side – alongside the beech hedge.

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Not very inspiring is it!  My son suggested widening the border along the hedge but that will mean the proportions of the lawn will be affected and I think its size works well in the space.  I have Alchemilla mollis planted along here to mirror the same on the other side of the lawn.  I want to break both sides up and I am thinking that maybe some ferns might work here – I will need to research some tough native ferns I think. But then again maybe I should consider widening it by a foot?!

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The end of this border nearest the house has a little more variety and I have a rodgersia and another euphorbia to add which I think will work.  The soil here never really dries out and the clay in it means that most things grow well.  But I am constantly improving the soil in my garden.  I have confessed before to being a bad compost maker, I am more a compost ingredient piler upper.  My excuse of a bees nest in one of the heaps has now gone so I have also removed the top of one of the heaps and I will now start to add the compost to the borders as I plant and weed.

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You can see how out of control my compost making is from the photo above.  The gap through which you can see the wheelbarrow is where the middle bin is – somewhere under there! The compost just a few inches from the top is ready to use, I just need to excavate the actual compost bin.  Then it will be a case of emptying the tops of its two neighbours into it and over the winter and spring emptying them as well.  It really isn’t the right way to make compost but it works for me.  I want to get on with this as we are planning on putting a screen here in front of the heaps to disguise them.

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The hardy exotic border on the slope is filling out having been planted about 18 months ago.  I have had to do some thinning as I was over optimistic about the space and this is where the Euphorbia stygiana in the front garden came from.  I have added some ferns to the slope behind the bench which should fill out well and add a nice backdrop to the bench.

I am now going to order Will Giles book on the new exotic garden, so sad I didn’t get to visit his garden and meet him before he died recently. I am slowly beginning to focus my efforts and plant buying on the plants I really love and move away from my normal magpie tendencies to plant buying and I intend to be less polite in my planting from now on.

Apologies for the misty photos. I thought when I took them first thing this morning they would be atmospheric but actually they just look foggy!

 

My Garden This Weekend – 25/5/15

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I have spent the last two days in the garden and it has been lovely.   I did consider popping over the Malvern Hills to visit some gardens in Leominster this afternoon but by lunchtime I had really got stuck into planting up part of the woodland border so I stayed put and finished the job.  This year is the first year for ages that I remember being really content in the garden.  I don’t know whether it’s because I have been pottering in the evening so more of the jobs are being done or whether it’s because I have stopped charging around exhibiting at shows and reduced the number of groups I go to or whether it because I haven’t got a major project this year but I definitely feel more relaxed and I am enjoying gardening, instead of rushing around trying to achieve half a dozen things at a time.

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Yesterday was very overcast with the odd shower, not really conducive to weeding and pottering so instead I decided to face the horror that is the collection of seed trays and pots in the cold frames. I love sowing seeds and get very excited when they germinate but I’m not so good at looking after the seedlings and growing them on.  As I said to a friend recently if I succeeded with everything I germinated I would have a botanical garden by now so one of my objectives this year is to do better.  I have two 3 tier cold frames and one of them is home to an assortment of pots and trays in which seeds have been sown and then forgotten.  The majority of them date back to 2014 and some of them contain bulb seedlings which I wait until the second year to pot up.  So I spent probably 4 hours on Sunday pricking out and potting up.  There were still some pots with no sign of life so they have gone up the top of the garden to benefit from all weathers and then if they aren’t doing anything probably by the winter they will be chucked.  I was thrilled though to discover 3 pots of Arisaema seedlings, some Paeonia cambessedesii seedlings, as well as fritillaries and acer seedlings.

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Of course one pot of seedlings soon becomes one tray of seedlings etc so it was a real jigsaw getting everything back into the cold frames and greenhouse.  I did ditch a couple of pots that were obviously never going to germinate and some of the older seedlings are having to toughen up on the patio but in the end it all got put back together.

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Today, Bank Holiday Monday, I started with planting out some Petunia exserta seedlings grown from seed from Special Plants.  This led to me weeding the Big Border which led to me relocating an epimedium which then led to me considering the woodland border and the space where the Acer previously was.  The old rhododendron only had one flower this year and has become very leggy and one sided due to the shade produced by the vast willow.  Now the willow has been cut back and there is so much more sky I am trying to get the rhododendron to bush out better.  I pruned it back and this of course revealed some more planting area.  One thing led to another and by mid-afternoon I had added two small rhododendrons that I got for my birthday and a Vestia foetida which I bought at the garden visit on Saturday.  I also added a couple of epimediums – well it would be rude not to take advantage of more shady space wouldn’t it.

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It doesn’t look much in this photograph but I am really pleased.  I had planned to trim the box pyramid but I love the bright green new shoots too much so they have been left for another week.

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I even did some weeding in the front garden which I hate working in and for once I am really pleased with the driveway border.  The geums that went in last year are coming into their own although I would have preferred it if the orange geums could have been as strong as the red ones which seem to dominate the border at the moment.  I have a new fondness for orange geums as I think they add wonderful spots of highlight which really lift a border.

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As you can see the Achemilla mollis is about to flower so there will be a limey green haze along the side of the border which links to the marjoram on the other side of the border.  I just need to try to continue this style of planting along the end of the lawn where the soil gets much drier. As readers will know I have been considering digging up the front lawn but for now I have decided to be kind to myself and not give myself too much additional work so the lawn stays a little longer.

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As you can see its all looking very lush and full but it will be interesting to see how good it looks when the late spring Aquilegia and Alliums are over.

 

My Garden This Weekend – 26th April 2015

 Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Valentine'
Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Valentine’

Today the forecasters predicted low temperatures of around 10C and wind and maybe rain.  Now I would certainly have welcomed the rain since it hasn’t really rained all month and whilst the established plants are fine those I have been planting out over the last month are struggling.  However, the reality of the weather is that we have had an amazingly beautiful spring day with temperatures reaching around 18C this afternoon.  We had rain overnight, not enough to make much difference to the water butts but at least it was some.  I was meant to take my mother out to buy a lilac for her garden as a birthday present but she was so convinced by the weather forecast that we went and bought it during the week meaning that today I was free to play in the garden.

2015_04250061The focus of my efforts today was to address all the seedlings that have been germinating and need pricking out.  I am very good when it comes to sowing seeds but the looking after them once they have germinated, certainly beyond the initial pricking out, leaves something to be desired. I am trying very hard to do better. It is that time of year when space is at a premium and I am conscious that in a week or so I will be sowing the tender annuals such as zinnias.  Both the cold frames are full on the top shelves although the bottom halves are empty since this is very shady and not ideal for seedlings but good for storing tall plants over winter.  Anyway, as ever it started out with some organised pricking out and then the greenhouse got yet another reshuffle.  The temporary shelf was replaced with a wider one – its amazing what wood you have to hand when your son is a cabinet maker.  Whilst this was a distraction I finally took cuttings of the aeoniums and malmaison carnations which I have been meaning to do for weeks. I am really hoping that with a little care I can get the carnations to flower this year. I have started to pull some of the larger plants out during the day to start hardening them off so hopefully it won’t be too long before the space issue is no more.

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The border along the patio which I really sorted back in March is looking so much better now. By removing all the bluebells the lily of the valley has re-emerged and its fresh leaves look very pretty.  Sadly there aren’t that many flowers and I wonder if this is because the plants have been swamped for years; time will tell.  The four meconopsis poppies are still in existence and have grown slightly, hopefully if we have the rain they forecast later this week they will put some real growth on.  2015_04250021

But the thing that has been occupying most of my thinking is the front garden.  I was going to say I have a love/hate relationship with it but that would be far to generous – I hate it.  I always have and it has defied all my attempts to engage with it and make it something I am proud of.  Maybe that is a little harsh since obviously it’s not the garden’s fault that I don’t like it but I do despair particularly with the area at the very front by the birch.  I have added loads of organic matter and mulched it over the years but as soon as we have some dry weather the clay in it turns to rock and it is pointless trying to weed or plant or anything.  I have blamed some of my apathy on not enjoying working in the front garden as it’s not very private but both the laurel (not my best idea) and beech hedges I have planted have grown and provide a degree of privacy. I squared off the lawn a few years back to provide some formality and have tried an approach of planting an edge of alchemilla mollis, bergenia and as you can see ballerina tulips but whilst I love the tulips I think this style/approach isn’t me. When I was weeding here earlier in the week I found myself telling myself off.  The front garden is the size of many a small garden and here I am ignoring it whilst I am desperate for more space for the plants I love in the back garden.   It dawned on me that part of the problem is that my favourite plants are woodland plants and I enjoy planting shady borders. Whereas the front garden is anything but shady and I need to embrace a new range of plants and a new approach to make the most of this space.  2015_04250020Where to start? It occurred to me that I needed to consider plants that could cope with baking in the clay in the summer so I started to re-read Beth Chatto’s The Dry Garden which was quite inspiring.  The thought process lead to the notion that really I should just dig up the lawn and be done with it.  Lawn is far to grand a term as it is mostly moss which goes dry and yellow in the summer. I think I find the strong shape of the lawn quite limiting for some reason, I much prefer the more relaxed approach I have in the back garden.  I also looked at the recent book on A Year in the Life of Beth Chatto’s Garden which is very photogenic but lead me to conclude that a dry garden wouldn’t necessarily work given the wet clay in winter and to be honest I struggled to see me working with this style of planting.  Then by chance yesterday, I won Dream Plants for the Natural Garden in the raffle at the local HPS meeting and this coincided with a thought that maybe I could finally get grasses to work in the garden.  So the current thinking is to go for a naturalistic approach.  I want to add a small tree and I can visualise some Stipa gigantea catching the morning sun, then….. well that as far as I have got.  My block at the moment is that there is no reason for anyone to go in the front garden.  The front door is roughly in line with the side border where the tulips are so anyone coming to the house walks up the driveway and to the door.  I have toyed with putting some sort of path through the garden but again it would be too contrived and no one would use it.  I think there needs to be some sort of path or clearing if only to assist me with working in the space but I just can’t visualise it yet.

I don’t plan to do anything drastic until late summer/autumn so lots of time to think and plan and draw up lists of plants.

 

My Garden This Weekend – 2nd November 2015

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An interesting long weekend has been had.  I had a couple of days off at the end of the week as the tree surgeons were coming to tackle the vast weeping willow at the end of the garden.  I really should have tackled sorting out the tree when we moved in some nine years ago but given the lack of access from the front and the slope I have put the problem off.  On top of that the tree is situated in the far corner of the garden and its roots disappear off across my neighbours gardens.  To remove the tree completely would result in considerable upheaval not just in my garden but in three others.

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You can see how the tree dominates the top of the garden and completely swamps the cherry next to it. The tree was approximately 40 foot tall and the branches twisted and contorted causing the tree to be incredibly top-heavy.  Earlier this summer, in the high winds we had, one of the top most branches snapped leaving the branch hanging over the neighbour’s garden.  Luckily the neighbour to the left isn’t very interested in her garden and the top of her garden is quite overgrown so she wasn’t bothered with the branch hanging down into it.

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The chaps, four of them, had a tough job working out how to deal with the tangled mess.  Luckily the non-gardening neighbour had agreed to them accessing the tree through her garden and this proved to be a huge bonus as all the whippy branches were taken out this way instead of the guys having to negotiate my busy garden. It was quite mesmerizing to watch the tree surgeon up the tree.  I was stunned at how they move around without seemingly any thought slowly but surely reducing the tree.  We spent some time considering the cherry tree which had grown mainly to the right due to the willow engulfing it on the left.  It looks terribly sparse but with some consultation it was trimmed and shaped to try to give it a better appearance and hopefully with  the better light it might re-shoot and grow better.

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You can see that we have kept the logs.  Some my eldest is going to keep for wood turning but the very big logs are going to go to his scout group for them to use to sit on round the camp fire and also to use when they train the scouts to use axes – a vast improvement on the pallets they currently use.  I am sure some will also disappear off to various friends’ wood burning stoves. The willow was reduced to 4m and I have to admit that for 24 hours I was wondering what had possessed me as it looks so stark.  However, being willow, I know it will bounce back next spring and in no time at all the compost bins will disappear from view under its cascading branches.

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After all the excitement of the tree surgery my efforts the following day seem paltry but I succeeded in sorting out the front border in the front garden which has been irritating me for ages.  As long-term readers will know I featured the front garden on the End of Month View last year and it perplexed me all year.  I removed a line of deschampsia which edged the lawn as I felt they were a barrier to the rest of the border.  When I first cut the lawn into a rectangle I had a notion to edge the borders with alchemilla mollis to provide a lime green cohesive edging. I did this along the two long sides and it looks quite good.  I then added alchemilla mollis along the bottom edge when I removed the grasses but they haven’t done well at all; probably due to the border being in full sun which becomes quite baked in the summer.  So the Alchemilla was ripped out.  I then dug up the various plants in the border apart from the shrubs as well as some bergenias in the side border and also some libertia that was disappearing under the laurel hedge  These, along with the two shrubby salvias, some francoa and a bronze leaved libertia which I divided, were replanted in the border.  I know all these plants do well in the conditions as they are the plants that have been thriving here for the last few years.  I tried very hard to avoid planting in straight lines and create a more random flowing effect but I don’t think I have quite achieved it.  However, I am really thrilled with the effect I have managed to achieve especially as it has been done with existing plants.  Hopefully the plants will now settle in, bulk up and spread and give me all year round interest with little maintenance.  The intention was to use a limited plant palette which picks up on the red of the grevillea and shrubby salvias.

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End of Month View – January 2014

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I’ve been umming and arhing about what I should focus on this year for the End of Month View.  I like to have a new area to look at each year.  Last year I bored you with my front garden and before that I looked at the slope, cottage border and woodland border.

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I have decided to focus on a group of discreet areas this year as I think it will make the posts more interesting.  My first thought was the greenhouse.  I don’t think greenhouses get enough coverage but then I am also thinking I  might move this into its own post – The Greenhouse Year, possibly posting around the 20th of the month.  My greenhouse is fully used all year so I  think that might be interesting.

2014_012600082014_01260015I have decided to revisit the Cottage Border as it has been through so much change in the last 2 years and I want to see how it is working and what needs tweaking, adding or just leaving alone. The border is quite narrow and runs along the top of the wall which separates the garden from the patio.  You can judge the slope of my garden from the relationship of the border to the greenhouse!  I have tried to make the focus of this border early summer with delphiniums, aquilegias, roses and geraniums.  There are also quite a few narcissus in here.  Due to the creation of the Big Border on the other side of the wood chip path last year the Cottage Border became very overgrown and neglected and was only really tidied up and sorted out in late summer so I will be interested to see how it mirrors, or doesn’t, the idea in my mind.  2014_01260042

The next area I am going to focus on is quite small.  It is the border which runs under the one of the front windows.  As with all modern houses the builders put in a slab path only one slab from the house and backfilled with rubble.  Up until last year there was a Cistus in this border which completely dominated and swallowed up the path and then keeled over!

You can see if you squint that I tried some lavender in here this year but apart from the 2014_01260043one by the front door it is all rather sad and quite dull and just not doing it for me.  I want something fab and eye-catching by the front door and I have been pondering for a while what this should be. I have an old sink which I intended to plant up with alpines but now plan to put in this bed and inspired by the gardens I saw in San Francisco last year plant with hardy succulents.  I will then add the tender succulents in the summer.  After some late night twitter conversations I am also going to try some hardy Aloes (Aloe striatula, Aloe aristata and Aloe polyphylla) in here and Beschorneria  septentrionalis. If they do well I think they will add some real zing to this border.

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I thought I would also profile  the staging at the end of the patio which has the appearance of a dumping ground at the moment but is home to my growing collection of miniature bulbs.  In the summer it has housed my succulent collection but that might change this year if I put them in the front border.  I also have a hankering for a grow frame to house my bulb collection and this is the obvious place so who knows by the end of the year there may  be real changes here. As for the fence I need to come up with a solution to its bareness which is challenging as there is no real soil here just builders rubble.

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Another border of bare soil! This is the spring border which runs along the patio below the cottage border.  It has snowdrops, bluebells, aconites, primulas but has also been through some editing in the last 18 months as the perennials which follow the bulbs had outgrown the space.  I want to see how it  is working and what I need to do to get it how I want. Its obvious so far that I need to extend the bulbs along the length of the border!

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Finally the old bog garden which I have talked about over the last few months.  Of course as soon as I decide the bog garden isn’t retaining enough water for the Ligularia and to re-plan the area for a woodland border for those plants that like a little moisture, but  not a bog, it rains, and rains.  I am still convinced though that the new plan is the way forward. I still have a number of perennials to go in this space but it is just too wet and cold to plant them out but hopefully this will be an interesting border in late spring with Camellias and primulas, emerging ferns and if  I am very lucky meconopsis.

So these are my End of Month View areas for 2014 – warts and all.  I hope you will enjoy seeing how I, and they, progress and will feel inspired to adopt this meme for something similar.  All are welcome to join in with the End of Month View and you can use it as it suits you – focus on one area, the whole garden, what is looking good, whatever you like.  All  I ask is that you include a link to my post in yours and leave a link to your post in the comment box below so we can find you and come for a nose.

Lets hope that 2014 is a good gardening year for us all.