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.

 

 

My Garden This Weekend – 22/2/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Thirds

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

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

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

For better examples of this challenge follow this link.

For my gardening mad readers the iris is Iris Cantab

My Garden This Weekend – 16/2/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.