Notes from the Garden – 13th March 2016

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Finally a glorious spring weekend which has seen me bumbling around the garden just like the big lumbering bumble bees that have been visiting the hellebores and primulas.  My head has been spinning with ideas and plans over the last few weeks so it was a real relief to start putting some of them into action.  I have one of those long mental lists with one thing dependent on another and I am sure I will forget the sequence so I must write it all down when I write up my garden journal later.

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My first task was to round up the various coloured primulas from around the garden.  I love coloured primulas.  I know a lot of people can be quite snobby about them but I think they have a lovely old fashioned charm to them.  I had been using them along the paths but they were dotted around, one here and one there, and really made no impact whatsoever.  So I collected all the pink ones up and have planted them in the shade of an Abelia by some deep pink/mauve hellabores.  The hellebores leaves will eventually cover this area so will mask the primulas’ leaves when they are looking tatty during the summer.  I see this view from my living room window and I am amazed how much just planting a handful of same  primulas has lifted this area with the pink of the hellebores intensified.  I have done the same with the purples which are planted with the Crocus ‘Pickwick’ and the yellow/orange primulas which are under the Hammelias.

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Next on the list was the Big Border.  I have decided to move the asters and some of the grasses to the new borders in the front garden – yet to be dug.  I want to use this space for sweet peas and dahlias this year so I wanted to clear everything that needed moving so I could see the space left and to start thinking about the layout and how I can fit in the plants I want to include.  The asters have been divided and potted up and are now cluttering up the patio so hopefully they will start to irritate me which will push me onwards with the front garden.  The bright fresh green leaves you can see are Camassias which should look great in about a month.  I like the little Narciussus Tete a Tete as well and I think I will add to these for next year.  I am also thinking that I might risk tulips again and hope the badger doesn’t appear and dig them all up.  I would love to fill the gaps between the plants in this border with bright tulips in the Venetian colours I love at the moment.

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The other job crossed off the list was the replacement of the shambolic bamboo supports for the step over apples with a more organised pots and wire system.  I painted the posts the same colour as the highlight on the shed to give a more cohesive look and my eldest son wired them up.  It was amazing how much difference it has made, without the bamboo canes with the branches tied to them you can actually see the structure of the step-overs.  Whilst we haven’t had a lot of apples off the trees I am hugely proud of the apple step-overs as I know little about pruning fruit trees and started with 3 apple whips and some limited instructions from the nursery.

The sweet peas sown last week are starting to germinate in the garden and today I sowed a batch of Cerinthe retorta which I prefer to Cerinthe major. Cannas and Agapanthus are also showing signs of life in the greenhouse and the Dahlias have been potted up with hugh expectations.

Wherever my gardening mojo has been lurking for the last few years it seems it has decided to come home – thank  goodness.

End of Month View – February 2016 Hugh’s Border

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Ok so the quick-witted amongst you will have spotted that this isn’t my front garden which I said last month was going to be the focus of the End of Month Meme.  And you are right. I had fully intended to focus on the front garden in the meme this year but having written last month’s post, received lots of inspiring comments and done much pondering I think I have decided to dig up the front lawn and re-design the space.  Now I am sure that would be very interesting to follow on the blog month by month but as I don’t know when I will have the time and/or energy to start the work and as I am pro actively working on reducing unnecessary pressure on myself to compensate for the pressures of my new role at work it seemed silly to me to set myself up to feel like I was failing every month. No doubt when I do get my act together I will be showing you the progress on the front garden but I’m afraid you will have to settle for another year of the main garden this year.

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Having made that decision I was then perplexed about what to focus on this year.  My garden isn’t that big and there certainly isn’t anything new to showcase but I was determined to focus on something I hadn’t focussed on before so I have ended up with the border you can see in the photographs.  This is what has been known as the former bog garden and you can locate it if you look at the garden plan.  When I first started blogging a large portion of this border was a pond put in to the convenient hole left by a huge inherited conifer that we had removed.  It was a foolish place to put a pond as it was under the Prunus and Willow so I spent my life, or so it seemed, fishing leaves out and really putting a pond near the top of a sloping garden is just fundamentally wrong.  Some years back I decided to fill it in and create  bog garden.  To be honest this was a very lazy approach to dealing with the pond liner and not the best idea I had especially given that I become a little over enthusiastic in puncturing holes in the liner and inadvertently improved the drainage so well that the likelihood of a bog garden was remote.  So now it is just a border which is mainly in the shade but with the shed end in the sunshine.  Interestingly, when I took the photographs for this post I was struggling to find a good view, which is why it has rarely featured on the blog, but then I stumbled on the view from the shed (top photo) which I really like.  It’s almost as if I designed the border deliberately to be that shape!

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Like I have said the border has a sunny end, just in front of the bench and when we put the bench and gravel in a few years back we cut into the border to create a bigger gravel area where I could also put some of my pots.  Not a very prepossessing collection I know but these are the remnants of my dabbling in alpines and they need to be sorted and tidied.  My intention when I put the bench in was to try to create an area which would be surrounded in plants in high summer like a hide away.  I haven’t achieved this as I have been just too conservative in this area and I need to throw caution to the wind and go for it.  You will see there are a number of hellebores in this bed.  These are last year’s hellebores acquisitions and I was looking for a new location, rather than group all my hellebores in one area.  The only trouble with this location is that, just like dahlias, hellebores face towards the sun (well they do in my garden) and consequently when I sit on the bench I am looking at the back of the flowers.  I have decided to move these plants further along the border to the shady end near the grass path  so I can actually see the flowers.  Then I need to start thinking about how to achieve the feel I want here.  I think some big leaved plants would be good….more pondering will now take place.

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This is the view of the shady end from the grass path.  Again I have struggled with this area – in fact I have struggled with all this border.  I am trying to get a more cohesive feeling and move away from the bittiness that predominates so much of my garden;  the downside of having a magpie approach to plants.  In the back of the border there is a paulownia, which I am growing as a tree rather than pollarding, and lots of ferns.  I think I need to start incorporating some hostas in this end and the hellebores will also add interesting foliage when I move them but I feel it needs something maybe a bit more architectural or striking to give it some sort of focus…. maybe the fatsia japonica Variegated that found its way home from today’s HPS meeting would be a good starting point.

As for what I call this border, well the ‘former bog garden’ doesn’t trip off the tongue so I am think maybe I will call it Hugh’s border as that is the name of my willow owl.

If you would like to join in with the end of month view meme you are very welcome to.  There are no rules but I do ask that you link to this post or blog from your post and if you leave a link to your post in the comment box below then we can all find each other.

Winter

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Winter has never been a favourite season for me or even a mildly welcomed one. It is the bottom of the pile. I have found it too still, too grey and obviously too cold. My preference has always been for spring and autumn. Both seasons of significant change, generally fine weather and less overwhelming than the blowsy bountiful, bright summer.

However I am slowly beginning to appreciate winter more. Despite a loathing of snow and it’s inconveniences I find the way it blanks out all the details liberating. Every thing seems new, fresh to the eye. The skeleton trees come into their own, sinister and dark against the leaden skies. In contrast the bright pristine snow glistens and softens everything into velvety undulations.

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Sometimes we have a hoar frost and we enter the mystical and magical world of Narnia. As with the snow there is a silence which conversely can be deafening. No birds sing or flit through branches, nothing stirs. I particularly enjoy the melting of the ice and snow when a soft chime of dripping water rings out and there is anticipation that winter will soon pass and life in the garden will start afresh.

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So far this year we have been spared the ‘joys’ of snow and ice; a welcome respite from my perspective. It has been relatively mild although almost overwhelming wet. The Malvern Hills are known for their springs and the crystal clear water they produce. Consequently living on the side of these hills we are at the mercy of the springs and excess of water appearing seemingly wherever. The garden has developed a new sound of water seeping through the ground – it feels very earthy.

Although there hasn’t been a whiting out of the details as in recent years I am still finding winter an interesting season. The slowness of the season means that there is time to think and consider, to reflect, to plan. The perennials are no longer dominant, their showy flowers have disappeared and even the seed heads have gone having been flattened by the wind and rain. The garden is now waiting. The borders have been weeded and mulched, shrubs pruned. The mild winter has allowed the luxury of reviewing borders, removing and rejigging planting and creating new empty spaces waiting for inspiration to strike.

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Winter is no longer a period of inertia and frustration. I am appreciating it as a breathing space, a time for me to rest, clear my over horticulturally obsessed mind and to refocus. It’s a time for the garden to show me what it needs in the coming year. Come spring we will be ready.

My garden this weekend – 11th January 2014

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I’m a day early with the weekly review post but I am planning on a horticultural outing tomorrow so I thought I might as well get blogging.  As I said last week at this time of year with the short days I don’t see the garden apart from at the weekend, although I did notice towards the end of the week that it was more twilight when I drove home from work than dark so the days are definitely getting longer.  A walk around the garden, or should I say squelch given the amount of rain we have had and how sodden the ground, is and I discovered that the hellebores will soon be flowering.  The one above was a purchase last year from Ashwoods Nurseries and I am so pleased to see it flowering as I have lost the witch hazel I bought at the same time. Also I located the Eranthis in the patio border beginning to push through the mulch

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The main objective today was to lift the chrysanthemums from the Big Border and pot them up for storing over the rest of the winter in the greenhouse.  I am still not convinced I like chrysanthemums or where they will reside if I replant them later this year but the task was completed.  As the sun was shining so strongly this afternoon it seemed a pity not to take advantage of some fresh area despite the low temperatures.  I decide to tidy the rest of the slope border partly as this is the only area that hasn’t had a tidy up and also as I wanted to refamilarise myself with the space as I have plans forming for it.

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I have recently been calling this area the Slope of Indecision and the plans for it seem to have changed on an almost daily basis.  This space has always been a challenge.  When we moved in the whole of the back slope was dominated by a vast laurel.  Removing it gave me access to the slope but opened up the view to the neighbour behind.  I planted bamboo a few years back to provide a screen to the neighbour’s house – he has a habit of pruning anything that crosses the fence so I didn’t want to plant trees or shrubs for him to savage with his shears.  I have added pyracantha and chaenomeles along the fence and they, along with the bamboo, are starting to fill out and establish.  The slope until last year was the Daisy Border and was planted predominately with Asters in front of a row of Calamagrostic ‘Overdam’. However with the addition of the workshop the slope was significantly reduced and the asters shoehorned into a tiny space which is shader than before – in my view the planting was not as effective as when the whole slope was planted in this style and I decided a few months back that it had to change.

But what? The lower narrow part of the slope is planted now with ferns and epimediums and bulbs and so it would make sense to continue this style but the bit we are talking about is much deeper (taller) and needs some structure, height and I have been at a loss what to do.  The current television series Garden Revival which has looked at various garden styles and interests had led to me thinking for 48 hours about putting in a rockery which could house the alpines I have but I wasn’t really convinced.  Last night my thoughts crystallised and inspiration from a number of sources came  together.  Two editions of the Great British Garden Revival programme had covered stumperys especially ferns and tropical plants, particularly hardy exotics plus I had read an article in one of the glossies about hardy exotics.  The conclusion is to indulge my love of ferns adding more to the slope but to add hardy exotics which will give structure and height – I am thinking  of Tetrapanex, Fatsias, Paulownia, Acanthus and Hostas.  At the base of the slope there will  be a small seating area so the pile of stones and pebbles will be sorted out.

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I feel excited about this idea and now the slope is cleared of debris I can see the space and how  much I need to relocate.  It has been like a slow burn light bulb moment if such a thing can exist.  I have been attracted to succulents for a while and dabbled with exotics such as cannas although they  have never really done it for me.  I love big  leaves and lush foliage and the majority of my recent plant purchases have been strong on foliage.  Interestingly, when I was in San Francisco  this summer my friend Victoria commented that she thought I was an exotics addict.  I disabused her of this idea and even convinced myself. I think I was thinking about agaves, cannas and bananas which really don’t appeal.  However I think she was right and quite perceptive so I have given in and it feels a very comfortable capitulation.  Planning and scheming will  now commence!

 

 

Allotment: Planting Plan

I have been very frustrated over the last month or so that I just haven’t been able to get any work done on the allotment due to the snow, ice, rain and today strong winds.

However, I have not been idle or turned my back on it.  No I have been busy planning and plotting away.  Today we picked up the membrane for the paths.  It is 50cm wide and you roll it out like carpet and peg it down.  Hopefully this will make a huge difference psychologically as I will  be able to lay out the beds and I will have more of an idea of where I need to dig and more of a purpose than being confronted by a sea of mud a I am now.  Also I will be able to make sure I only walk on the paths and this will avoid the ground becoming too compacted.

In order to work the pathing requirements out I have had to get my head round laying out the beds so finally I have stopped procrastinating and decided on 11 small 1.5m x 3/2.8m beds plus the soft fruit area at the far end of the plot. Again the plan is to avoid walking on the beds as much as possible to avoid compaction. This probably isn’t the most straight forward plan for crop rotation but I  think it is manageable – time will tell!!

I have split up the potatoes into earlies and main in two different beds.  I have two beds of squashes (if you  include courgettes in this category) and I plan to use trench composting in these beds to get rid of the weeds – who knows if it will work but its worth a go. Now I have a plan I can prioritise the digging of the beds and break it down into what needs digging by when which will mean that my time at the plot will be used more effectively.  I can also point my parents  who are helping to the right bit (they have a copy of the plan!)

The top of the plot will  be soft fruit.  I have the plants already languishing in pots on my patio. Getting the raspberries in is my first priority as I have other plans for where they are heeled in which I am also keen to get on with.

The weather has been depressing me but I feel a lot happier now I have a plan.  When the weather is better we can get on and I have decided that until at least March I am keeping my weekends free so I can focus on getting on top of things.  Plus if I don’t manage to get everything done I will just decide which crop to sacrifice this year or whether it would be better to plant a later crop and give myself more time.

So next step the delicious task of ordering the seeds