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.

 

First Snowdrop of the Year – 2015

Galanthus 'Ding Dong'

Galanthus ‘Ding Dong’

I was thrilled to see that the sunshine has encouraged Galanthus ‘Ding Dong’ to open its flowers.  These are the first snowdrops to flower this year in the garden.  I bought the bulbs last year at the AGS Snowdrop Conference and planted them out in the border.  It was a bit of a risk given they weren’t cheap but I have been told by quite a few snowdrop growers that they don’t do very well in pots so I decided to throw caution to the wind and it has paid off – not only have they bloomed again but the clump has already bulked up which bodes well for the future.  The other two clumps of snowdrops I planted last year are showing signs of putting in an appearance so I am feeling more positive about my investment last January.

End of Month View – Yearly Round Up

As it’s the end of the year I thought I would do a round-up of the End of Month posts through the year showing how various parts of the garden change with the seasons – you can locate the area by looking at the garden map via the tab at the top of the post.

First up is the staging area which never stops to earn its keep.  The Jasmine planted in the corner is beginning to put on some growth and I hope that it will over the coming year cloth the trellis in glossy leaves.

The Spring/Patio Border off the patio actually seems to be of more interest in late summer rather than Spring when it is meant to be uplifting to look out on to.  I need to add more bulbs to it and I might splash out this spring on some pots of flowering bulbs to give instant effect. I am also hoping that the Edgeworthia added during the year will provide some colour in the next month.

The hardy succulent trough in the front garden has been more successful than I ever thought it would be.  Whilst the Sempervivums are hardy I wasn’t so sure about the Agaves planted along side so the whole thing is covered in fleece at the moment while our temperatures are low.

The Cottage Border running along the top of the wall has been a regular inclusion in the End of Month View for a couple of years now. This year it had a real revamp when I removed the delphiniums which were taking up all the space.  Instead more roses have been added along with Japanese Anemones for late summer interest.  It will be interesting to see how the border develops in 2015.

The former Bog Garden appeared some months but not every month.  Like much of the garden it is hard to get a good view/angle of the border and it isn’t the most interesting part of the garden.

This view didn’t appear until May but it has become one of my favourite of the garden showing the top of the Big Border and the front of the old Bog Garden.  I think these two areas may be the focus of next year’s End of Month View.

The Hardy Exotic Border and the seating area were new in 2014 and seem to be establishing well.  It will be interesting to see how the plants come through the winter.  I think this is an area I might feature in 2015 too.

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This is another favourite view of the garden although I don’t think there will be much change to it through the year aside from the coming and going of the leaves on the tree so the jury is still out on whether or not to include this view in next year’s posts.

I also think I might include the Woodland border to the left of the garden.  It has had a bit of a change in 2014 with the loss of the Acer so it might be interesting to focus on it for a year to see where it needs improving.

So that is the garden in 2014.  Any one is welcome to join  in with the meme and to use it how they wish.  Some find it helpful to focus on one part of the garden through the year, others give us a tour – whatever works for you.  All I ask is that you leave a comment with a link to this meme in the comment box and you link to the meme in your post.

The Garden Plan

garden map

 

It is safe to say that I would never get a job as a garden designer – my brain just doesn’t work in the right way, it’s too distracted by the detail (in this case plants) and I am hopeless at what my father would have called technical drawing.  He was a drafts man and my youngest son has inherited the same abilities but whilst I can draw, neat and precise is not my strong point.

Anyway, this weekend I am laid up with a cold, having nursed my youngest through a nasty case of flu last week and whilst I would normally succumb there is part of me that is restless having already been coped up a week.  Therefore, when I saw that Cathy, over at Rambling in the Garden, had posted  a plan for her garden I knew this was exactly what I needed to pass the time in between sneezes and sniffles and to gain some sense of achievement this weekend.

So here it is – the map of the back garden.  It isn’t to scale, that proved to be beyond my brain but it is roughly right.  I think I might be a little too wide but it does give you an idea of where I am talking about, for information the garden is about 40ft wide, as for length I guess about 80ft but the slope makes it hard to work out.  The hardest thing is the gradient of the garden which also makes it hard to judge how one space’s size relates to another.  If you look out of the upstairs window you get a completely different impression of the relationships to if you stand in the garden and I don’t just mean because you are nearer.  I have included the steps throughout the garden which hopefully will give you some sense of going up but I think the gradient on the back slope is about 45 degrees and the wall running behind the greenhouse (the red line) is about 4.5 ft tall.

The plan does include key large plants and I have added the canopy of the trees although as you will see they are conveniently in winter whilst the rest of the garden is in summer.  I wanted to show how far the canopy of the Prunus stretched.  The Willow has had a few branches added but at this moment in time it is little more than a trunk due to the tree surgery back in October.

Also I think the plan shows the areas I am struggling with as there is more gaps showing.  The areas I am happy with such as the Cottage Border and the Woodland Border were easier for me to ‘colour in’ whilst the ‘Old Bog Garden’ was more challenging as I can’t make it work in my head let alone on the ground.

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion, which is probably no surprise to anyone who reads this blog, that I have been over thinking things and I need to just go with the flow.  I think this might be my mantra for next year although I will have to recite it a lot to get it into my head.

For a pictorial tour of the garden from 2013 follow this link.

I plan to follow Cathy’s approach and include the map on a separate tab at the top of the blog so it is easy to find.