Fruits of my labour

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I have finally painted the shed.  As I said in my End of Month post I have been dithering about what colour to paint it for a year or more.  The first plan was black with orange accents but as time progressed I realised that this would make the shed stand out like a sore thumb, not really what I wanted.  I then settled on a green with paler green accents.  Then when I was writing the post and looking at the photos I decided that actually I quite liked the colour the shed was.

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The majority of readers also agreed that the natural colour worked well in my garden.  So I opted for a clear preservative with a willow accent just to give it a little character.  I am incredibly pleased with it.  It looks smart but also a little bit individual and the clear preservative has enhanced the natural silvering of the wood.  Apart from part of the side of the shed (above) where I had wiped out my brushes from staining the fence last year with a view to doing the shed the same colour but it’s not that obvious when you are in the garden.  We have agreed that the bench and step risers will stay the same colour as they currently are.  The willow ties in with the back door to the house which I like.

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Next up I have commissioned my eldest to make me some better supports for the step over apples rather than my Heath Robinson bamboo cane and string contraption.  The new supports will be painted willow and if I am lucky he is going to turn some finials to go on top of the posts which should look rather smart.  Then I might suggest an obelisk but I will keep quiet on that idea for a while as he is a busy chap.

 

Happy Easter

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As I said back at Christmas I am not a religious being and so I don’t celebrate Easter.  However, I enjoy the long Easter weekend as it is an opportunity to spend time with my sons and mother.  Having four days is a luxury, you can embark on a proper project, you can take time doing something rather than trying to fit it into a weekend, you can sit and stop and just listen.  2015_04030016

I keep a garden diary although the entries tend to be sporadic.  I was reading back through it last night and it was very interesting to see that I was saying some of the same things back in 2012 as I am today such as I want to spend more time focussing on gardening well.  It also recorded my decision to give up the allotment, a decision I have never regretted and my initial enthusiasm for alpines and showing and then my gradual loss of interest.  There are plans I have carried out such as the new seating area and others that never moved beyond a whimsy in my diary such as the mad lozenge shaped grass stepping stones when I was persuading myself to give up the lawn.  2015_04030014

I can sense my battle with grief back in 2012 and 2013 after losing my sister in my descriptions of extreme tiredness which I now recognise as the bereavement process. I also noted how my tone changed as I discovered some new gardening clubs and started to make real gardening friends. My local HPS group has been a lifeline to me over the past 7 months since losing Dad. But throughout the diary is a recurring need to learn more and a clear love of plants and how they grow. Anyone who questions the healing nature of gardening has obviously never spent a quiet evening as the sun goes down slowly working through a border, weeding, and listening to the sound of the birds.  You lose yourself, the stresses and strains of life float away.

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So to all my readers whatever your religious persuasion I would like to wish you a happy Easter break and may you find it a recharging and relaxing time, hopefully with your family and loved ones.

Helen

Stockton Bury Gardens – A New Season

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Yesterday I made my first visit of the year to Stockton Bury Gardens near Leominster in Herefordshire.  Stockton Bury is one of my favourite gardens.  I know there are some who are sniffy about its design and say its “ones of those plantsmen’s gardens” etc etc but I love it.  I feel relaxed and comfortable here.  When I have one of those days when I need to do something, go somewhere and I can’t settle this is where I go.  The 45 minute drive is across the beautiful Herefordshire countryside and helps me leave all my troubles behind and its like visiting an old friend.  I always learn something or discover a new plant and always come home with a plant or two which I have never grown before.  I always come away feeling recharged and enthused.

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Yesterday was their first open day of the season and it felt rather strange to be, temporarily, the first visitor to the garden of the year.  The large monkey puzzle tree, the largest I have seen, resides on the formal lawn in front of the house.  From here you progress through a small shady ornamental area to the vegetable and fruit area which has a small display greenhouse.  Every visit find myself following the same route around the garden and for some reason I always feel compelled to make my way to the Dell (I’m not sure that is its proper name) at the far end of the garden (top picture).  I find the yellow skunk cabbages (Lysichiton americanus) quite compelling – its maybe the vibrant yellow or just their ephemeral nature but they cheer me as do the Fritillaria meleagris and a visit in a month or so the gunnera will be putting in its prehistoric appearance.

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Being the first of April it is not surprising that the borders are bare in places but everything was so neat and tidy and it was quite clear that Stockton Bury is in a more sheltered location than my garden on the side of the Malverns as the peonies were a good two weeks ahead of mine.  It is easy to visit a garden in the height of summer when the borders are groaning with flowering perennials all looking vibrant and floriferous but I find visiting gardens at this time of year very informative.  You get to see the structure of the garden and for me structure is important to make the perennials look good and it’s where I could improve my garden.

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The garden can be quite shady and the soil is prone to dampness which is evident from the moss in the borders, something I struggle with in parts of my garden.  The larger garden areas as you come back from the Dell are composed of island beds which have developed over the years and have an interesting selection of shrubs, trees and tree peonies. Over the last few years I have learnt about shrubs from visiting this garden and you can always rely on the owner to be around to answer questions and give you tips and advice and maybe some seeds.

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This visit I learnt that I should introduce some spring ‘ground cover’ such as cardmine to add colour and interest to the borders before the summer perennials put in an appearance.  I said in my last End of Month post that I wanted to add spring colour to the woodland border with early bulbs and hellebores but I also think that adding Lathyrus vernus, Cardmine quinquefolia and more Anemones will create a pretty under-storey in the borders.

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This is the last area of the garden as you head back to the cider mill entrance.  It is a self-contained garden within the garden and I enjoy the curvaceous borders which give a real sense of journey and discovery especially as the borders fill out during the year.  At the far end is the dove-cote and a view over the orchards which are often home to the farm’s sheep.

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And there are other inhabitants of the garden, not many, but very elegant and fun.  I must ask Tamsin where these chickens come from as they really do appeal to me.

Not bad I think for the first day of April and having purchased a season ticket I will be going back on a regular basis during the year to learn, recharge and enjoy.

 

End of Month View – February 2015

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February seems to be ending on some sunny days which make a welcome relief after the recent grey and cold.  It was a delight today to potter in the garden without having to wear a coat.  As you can see from the state of the grass path it has been very wet here and the path is looking muddy.  It does take a lot of wear and I keep wondering about replacing it with a gravel path, a bark one doesn’t appeal.  However, my cat loves the grass – she sunbathes here and if often seen leaping around on it chasing some leaf or twig.  She doesn’t really like my gravel paths choosing instead to creep along the stone edges so I think it will remain but I may lift it and level it.

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The border alongside the steps has seen the most work this last month and although it looks rather bare there are lots of plants emerging.  I have also been adding some geraniums and boykinia along the stone edge to try to soften it.  I love the watsonia leaves with the sun shining through them at the bottom of the obelisk it is such a useful plant and really should be grown more.

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There is still little to see in the woodland border although I have spotted some narcissus coming through and hopefully the epimediums will start to flower soon. Once plants start to emerge I want to work on improving this area.  It needs more cohesion and really being a woodland border it should have lots of hellebores, erythroniums and spring bulbs right now – something I will need to address.

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The other end of the woodland border looking very bare and dull also.  More work to do but also so much potential for plant buying!  I have been doing some on-line shopping so hopefully these purchases will have an impact this time next year.  I should add some snowdrops and eranthis here too or maybe some crocus and some ferns and possibly digitalis but I would also like some late summer/autumn interest.

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Another view across the grass path and there has been a change since last month as I have moved a Cotinus into the foreground.  I wonder how useful this view is as the grass path seems to be featuring too much.  Maybe I will find a spot to take a better shoot of the old bog border from for next month.

So there we are at the end of February.  It is looking generally tidy, there are splashes of colour from hellebores and bulbs and so much beginning to emerge through the soil.  I have started to implement some of my planting plans and have other ideas up my sleeve including painting the shed and hopefully over the next couple of months with lighter evenings and possibly more favourable weather I might be able to really make some progress.

Anyone is welcome to join in with the End of Month meme and you can use it as you wish.  We post on the last day of the month, or thereabouts, and some of us show the same shots of the garden every month, whilst others give a more general tour.  All I ask is that you leave a link to your post in the comment box below and link to this post in your blog post – that way we can all find each other and come for a visit.

 

 

The Impossibly Pretty Project

Stone House Cottage, Kidderminster

Stone House Cottage, Kidderminster

I find it impossible to achieve things unless I have a goal, deadline, incentive and I have got progressively worse over the years.  Over the last few years I have had some sort of yearly major project in the garden whether it was a new seating area, digging up the lawn, making space for the workshop – there has been something.  I have now run out of places to dig up and to be honest I am quite happy with the layout of the garden although the jury is still out on whether the grass path will stay grass or not (the cat would prefer grass) and at the end of last year I was twitching about a lack of project.  When I wrote a post at the start of the year, although I didn’t make any new year resolutions, I did say that I planned to enter more alpine shows and I think on reflection this was instead of having a project – something to aim for, some to achieve.

Hampton Court Garden, Herefordshire

Hampton Court Garden, Herefordshire

However, over the last month my mind has become increasingly full of images and ideas for planting the garden gleaned from books, television, magazines, talks.  Over the Christmas break I tackled the teetering pile of magazines and scrap booked images and ideas I liked and when I flick through the scrap-book there is a definite style and colour palette that appeals to me – I suppose this is what they mean by a ‘mood board’. But I really don’t like formulaic planting whether it’s a limited planting scheme with plants repeated or very linear, as I tried in the front garden. I don’t like what a friend of mine calls ‘planting by numbers’ which she says some designers are guilty of and which we both agree leads to a soulless garden.

Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire

Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire

Another friend introduced me recently as a knowledgeable plants-women.  I challenge that description as I know from the gardening clubs I go to how limited my knowledge it but I am passionate about plants.  I love the quirky, the pretty, wonderful foliage, interesting flowers.  I get a thrill out of seeing a plant push its way through the ground in the Spring or a seedling appear or a fern frond unfurl.  But I get distracted particularly with social media – ooh what’s that plant, where can I get it, where can I grow it and so I have a garden and greenhouse full of interesting plants but the parts do not make a great whole and this is the problem.  The friend who dislikes planting by numbers and I discussed this recently.  She too is  plants-women, very knowledgeable, and her approach is that her garden is her space to do as she wishes and if the plants look a little bitty then so be it and I applaud that attitude.

Bryan's Ground, Herefordshire

Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire

However, and there is always an however, I don’t think this approach is working for me.  I feel constantly frustrated with the garden and so I have distracted myself with digging up more bits or entering shows.  I am frustrated because I strive for my garden to be a floriferous oasis, to be stunning, for the borders to look wonderful just like the magazines.  Of course these images have been created by people with a wealth of experience, sometimes with professional help, but also with passion and incredibly horticultural prowess and this I think is the key to it.  I need to garden better, to spend time in the garden, maintaining it, tending the plant, understanding how they grow.  A nursery woman I know always says that the remedy to most garden pests is to garden better i.e. if you grow strong plants they are less susceptible to pest damage and I think she is right.  I have recently been reading about a number of my gardening heroes all who have stunning gardens and all who are amazing plants-women but they have learnt their skills through hard work over a long length of time.

Bryan's Ground, Herefordshire

Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire

So, a plan is forming in my mind, a sort of project – it doesn’t have a particular object as an outcome, it won’t be achieved this year, or probably for some years.  It is more an aspiration or objective and the other evening on the way home the phrase ‘The Impossibly Pretty Project’ came into my mind and days later I still like it.  The name can be taken two ways.  You sometimes hear the expression ‘impossibly pretty’ used in the sense that it impossible for something/someone to be as pretty as they/it are but also you could read it in the sense that the project will be impossible – although I hope not. The images on this post are of various gardens I love and enjoy and you will see there is a certain look that appeals to me which I suppose is something between a Cottage Garden and the archetypal English Country Garden.  I particularly like the herbaceous borders and this is where I get stuck.  I don’t want to create a herbaceous border in the true sense of the word but it is the herbaceous part of a mixed border that I struggle with.  I have the trees and shrubs but I struggle to work out how to make the perennials, biennials, annuals and bulbs to work together.

East Lambrook Gardens, Somerset

East Lambrook Gardens, Somerset

Whilst I like interesting foliage I will never be comfortable in an exotic style garden as if I list my favourite plants the list starts: Peonies, Iris, Roses, Daffodils, Primulas, Aquilegias hardly the components of an exotic garden.  Having created the Hardy Exotic Boarder which I like I have realised that the plants don’t excite me as much as the above.  I want to create a sense of enclosure, of privacy, and escapism.  As a basis to this I need to build up the shrubby planting around the boundaries but with the distant view of the Malvern still there.  Then I want to learn how to plant my borders properly and this is the real challenge.  I can grow plants but I am just rubbish at combining them.  I don’t think I do too bad with colours and textures and having a slight artistic bent I can understand that but it is how to get a fulsome appearance without the plants all smothering each other one way or another.  I think the key to this, as I have said, is being more hands on – staking properly and dividing regularly but also learning how each plant grows and how it will impact on its neighbours.

Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire

Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire

Although I have read lots of books on the subject of gardening and planting including Christopher Lloyd, Margery Fish, Beth Chatto and David Culp I think I need to learn from the actual gardens I love.  This has obviously been something deep in my sub-conscious for a while as I have already booked myself on a days planting course at Great Dixter, when I also plan to visit Sissinghurst and a couple of other gardens which I think will inspire me.  I am off to Dublin and Cork in July on a trip visiting gardens many owned by plant lovers so they should give me ideas to address my magpie tendencies and I have a few other trips in mind during the year to key gardens.  I have also started a list of gardens for next year to continue my education.

It is nice to feel as though I have a direction and a purpose. I’m not trying to replicate a specific garden or border but to plant my borders with the plants I love in such a way that they are shown to their best advantage and the whole things looks fabulous and charming.  In the back of my mind are the gardens on the recent ITV series Britains Best Back Gardens many of which were remarkable, floriferous and should the passion of the owners – this is what I am hoping to achieve.

My Garden This Weekend – 18th January 2015

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As you can see the garden has had a dose of winter this weekend albeit short-lived with the majority of the snow having melted by Saturday lunchtime. I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed that it was too cold to do anything outside as all I wanted to do yesterday was hide inside.  I have been overcome with a tidal wave of grief which has crept up on me unexpectedly during the week, just like when you don’t notice the tide coming further up the beach.  It left me feeling emotional and close to tears for 48 hours not an ideal state of mind when you have to go to work.  It took  a while to identify it for what it was, going through all the usual others things, dismissing PMT, depression, concern about changes at work etc.  No it was grief, cold and hard and something you just have to accept and wait for it to pass.

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I have been getting on with life over recent months, being busy, since Dad died and although I think about him a lot I have felt I was doing OK.  But grief has a habit of creeping up on you and engulfing you when you least expect it.  I suppose I am lucky in that I learnt to recognise and accept it for what it is about a year after my sister died thanks to a wonderful counsellor.  This time it was a book that bought everything to a head.  A beautifully written book, if the first chapter or two is to go by, H for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  The book is about the author training a Goshawk but it is also about her coming to terms with the loss of her father.  Needless to say it starts with her reacting to the news her Dad had died and I suppose it struck at something deep down because I kept obsessing about one paragraph, where they are looking for the father’s car.  I can’t even talk about the story without crying but then again I don’t think that is a bad thing because I believe it is better to let these things happen rather than fight them. We do more damage to ourselves with the British stiff upper lip approach.

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So the only gardening I did this weekend was to move things around in the greenhouse.  Rejigging the pots of bulbs so that those emerging have the best light and the late summer bulbs, such as nerines, are moved under the staging to rest for a while.

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Sunday has been a better day.  Having recognised the grief for what it was, had a good cry, I woke up feeling like my old self again and ready to battle on.  I have been decorating the hall, landing and stairs, which means endless gloss work which I can doing in stages.  So after tackling some of the bannisters Mum and I went out for a jaunt to Ashwood Nurseries which is just over an hour from here.  My boss had given me some garden vouchers for Christmas and I had earmarked them for some more hellebores and some spring flowering shrubs.  A lot of research has been done in recent evenings and a mental wish list drawn up.

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The choice at Ashwoods is extensive and always so well displayed.  I realised I have only visited at this time of year, the last time for a hellebore talk, so I must try to visit again through the year but if this is the quality of the display in early January I can only imagine how wonderful it will be in a few months.

I came home with 3 hellebores – Anna’s Red, Neon Star and Walbertons Rosemary which has been bred to look upwards, 3 heptica nobilis, a clivia and two dwarf rhododendrons that are part of my new planting plan for the border you can see in the second photograph.

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We had a nice lunch, a laugh, talked about Dad, grief, glosswork (Mum is decorating too) and strangely bought a resin tortoise (a gift for my Aunt!).  We are going back in March for my birthday so Mum can treat me to something, probably for the border above.

As for the book …. it is safely back on the shelf waiting for such time as I feel more emotional able to read it.

 

My Garden This Weekend

Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Swan’

Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Swan’

The first weekend of 2015 is coming to a close and the prospect of returning to work after the Christmas break is upon me.  For me any time spent in the garden at this time of year is a bonus. I don’t believe in the approach of putting the garden to bed particularly as I need to spend time outside and with plants on a regular basis to keep me sane.  Even if it is only, like today, half an hour wandering around the garden taking photographs of the frosted plants it makes all the difference to me.

Buddleja salviafolia

Buddleja salviafolia

Over the period between Christmas and New Year we have had several days of temperatures just at freezing although not going below 0C but also a few days with milder weather which gave me the chance to do some more tidying up.  I even managed to work my way through the Cottage Garden Border weeding and dead-heading which was a real bonus. I am always cheered by the sight of a tidy border which makes me think that the idea of a more natural look would never work for me! I have also managed to clean up the plants overwintering in the garage, sow some fern spores and also re-pot sempervivums which I hope to show later in the year.  Finally, I dug up the Magnolia stellata which was at the far end of the Big Border and had been looking a little unhappy.  Having dug it up it seems that the reason it wasn’t doing well was due to a lack of root system! It may be too late for the plant but I have potted it up and it is now sitting on the patio in intensive care.

Melianthus major

Melianthus major

With the cold temperatures, and fog, making gardening unpleasant I have taken the opportunity to catch up on my garden magazine reading, as well as looking at seed and bulb catalogues.  I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions as to me you are just putting yourself under pressure to achieve something and life has a habit of getting in the way unless you are very single minded. Instead I have some ideas and plans I would like to implement and achieve during the coming year.  I have already said in an earlier post that I hope to show more plants and I have already started working towards this by potting up and cleaning some sempervivums.  I am beginning to form a plan for the border in front of the new seating area and I am seriously considering removing the Stipa gigantica from the Big Border as it too large for the space and I seem to spend a lot of time cutting it back which seems to go against the nature of the plant.  If I do remove it I will be able to use the space, in one of the sunniest parts of the garden, for agapanthus and other sun loving bulbs which will be a bonus. I also plan to move the Cotinus from the lower part of the Big Border to roughly where the Magnolia was as this will make the border space work better. In the next few months I also want to work through the Woodland Border to improve the planting combinations and see what needs improving and finally I would like to do something with the bamboo border along the fence which needs some evergreen structure among the bamboos – I think I have a plan for this.

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I think I said last year I want to garden better and this still holds true.  Although I am surprised when I look back at photos from the past year that the garden looks better than I remember it there is still work to be done on improving planting combinations and more importantly the performance of plants. As ever I am experimenting with sowing seeds from plants new to me including more bulbs and also more Mediterranean plants. I find that through researching the plants to help me grow the seeds I learn more and more and widen my knowledge.

I have also tidied up my pile of seed/bulb catalogues and gardening notebooks which was long overdue and am ashamed to say that I have 3 notebooks which all have records of seed sowings with no really record of what seeds did well.  I am terrible at keeping records and I wonder if this is a reaction to the fact that I spend my working life doing administration so I don’t want to do it when I get home.  If I were to have a New Year’s resolution it would be to keep better records and I am all set up now to give it yet another go – but with low expectations!

This coming week the various garden clubs I attend start their meetings and I know it won’t take long before my head is buzzing with ideas and information on top of all the work stuff I have to absorb. My 2015 diary is already groaning with events and gardens I want to attend during the year so it has been wonderful to take time out these last two weeks to just think and ponder, plan and dream and recharge.