As I mentioned in my post last weekend I have had the last week off work but the weather has not been at all kind to me. However, saying that it has been nice to relax and spend time with my youngest son, who is home from University. The snow that fell a week ago on Saturday has finally gone and if you look carefully there are all sorts of plants putting their heads above the ground including peonies, Solomons seal, meconopsis poppy and geraniums. I am hoping that we don’t have any more real drops in temperature which will affect these new shoots. The Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ is just beginning to open its flowers and should look wonderful by the end of this week.
I have rearranged the greenhouse twice in a bid to try to make some more space for seed trays as well as for the trays of seedlings which I will hopefully have in a few weeks. I just need some warmer weather so I can move things on from the cold frame which will make room for plants to be moved out of the greenhouse. There are a few things beginning to germinate but mainly alpines in the cold frame: Primula wilsonii anisodora and Delphinium requienii as well as some Dahlia x Twynings Eight seeds which Karen gave me last year.
The only real work that has happened in the garden is down to my sons. While I was at the monthly meeting of the local Hardy Plant Society on Saturday they started on extending the steps up the garden. I have been waiting to do this for probably 3 years and am absolutely thrilled with the result. When I got home the first 3 risers had gone in and the steps levelled. On Sunday I collected stone from around the garden – we are always digging up lumps of Malvern stone – and edged the steps. My father is excellent at constructing dry stone walls and makes it look easy; it isn’t and I was only trying to get two layers. But it will do for now and I know that later in the year my supply of stone will increase due to the next major project. I then put down some path membrane which we had bought back from the allotment when I gave it up last year and topped dressed the steps with left over gravel from when we put in the bike store. Sadly, and inevitably, we didn’t have enough gravel so another four bags were bought today and the job finished while I was at my local AGS group’s show (more of that later in the week). I am amazed at the visual difference the steps make, they tie the garden together better and finally I can stop sliding over backwards on the mud. Oh and the third compost bin was also put up as we had no where for the lifted ‘turf’ to go.
The big project is that I have agreed to my eldest son having a workshop in the garden for his woodwork. He currently works in the garage but it is far from ideal – being dark and full of garden tools etc. We looked at converting the garage into a workshop by removing the front door and bricking it up with a window but building regulations are demanding and we would have to dig foundations, add insulation etc. Plus cost aside I still need to store the gardening stuff and it would also restrict access to the garden and back of the house. I did consult a builder I know and am waiting on a quote but something didn’t sit right in my mind so I suggested to my son he might like a shed instead, with power and insulation. Surprisingly, he was more thrilled with this idea than the garage conversion – there must be something deep in the psyche of men that they get excited about sheds!! We have worked out that the best size will be 8′ x 8′ and he has found some with a high roofs which is important as he is 6′ 5″ but we also have to make sure the roof is low enough not to need planning permission!!
I have agreed that he can have the area to the right of the top of the path as this is one of the few flat areas in the garden and an area I tend to ignore as I can’t decide on an identity for it. We will need to cut back into the slope so the shed is set right back and not quite so dominant. The result of this is I have many plants to re-home and that is on top of the moves I have been trying to do over winter and the new border I want to create which I have plants ready for. I have concluded the only way to cope is to pot the plants up and then to rethink where they are going. Luckily my son is happy to wait for a bit and is going to help me create the new border but I now have lots and lots to do so I really need the weather to warm up a little.
I know I will lose some gardening space but I am digging up the back lawn which will give me more room, plus I will have more space in the garage for overwintering plants which will free up space in the greenhouse and most importantly I really want to support my son who I think has a bit of a talent for wood-turning. I also think the workshop will help the garden overall since I think in some strange way it will add structure and the paths will make more sense.
I have decided the only way forward is to get a thick dull novel which will help me sleep at night!
The wonderful thing about bank holidays is that they give you an opportunity to go garden visiting and still do all the other things that demand time at the weekend. So Easter Monday found me taking to the road and wandering along the wonderful A449 from Ledbury to Ross-on-Wye – this road is worth driving down just for the sake of it, the countryside is gorgeous.
My destination was The Old Corn Mill near Newent which was opening for the NGS. I didn’t do any research in advance so had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly pleased with what I found. The garden surrounds an old Mill which has been modernised, in fact it was awarded the award for Best Conversion/Renovation in the 1999 Daily Telegraph Homebuilding competition. Being a Mill Garden there is naturally a stream and the whole site is located in the bottom of a valley. You are given a leaflet when you arrive with information about the house and garden and I quickly spotted that the garden was designed for ease of maintenance, to provide year round interest and included a woodland walk.
The leaflet also explained that most of the plants had been propagated by the owner and this probably explains the repetition of plants around the garden and the huge drifts. To be honest I find myself moving more and more towards this approach in my own garden instead of the mad dotty approach I have had due to my inability to resist plants!! The planting throughout the garden is predominantly herbaceous with a backdrop of shrubs and trees. This is not a garden for people who like strong structure such as hard landscaping, topiary, hedges etc. The structure of The Old Corn Mill Garden comes from the way the slope has been used and I found this particularly interesting since like my garden the land slopes up from the house. They haven’t gone for lots of hard landscaping but instead have put in grass or bark paths and planted up the rest of the slope. The paths are wide and generous and I spent quite a bit of time looking at this and wondering if I could do the same instead of my sloping lawn which is a pain.
The only thing that jarred with me was one bed where there were colourful bright tulips amongst the planting. The brightness of these flowers amongst the subtler planting surprised me and I’m not convinced it was right but that is purely my personal opinion and I expect the owner welcomed the brightness of the flowers after the long grey winter we have had.
I liked the shadiness of the woodland walk and the cool stillness of the pool. I also liked the way that from the shady areas you were drawn forward to the sunny open areas and vice versa. As it was a very warm sunny day the shade was definitely very welcome.
Another feature of this garden was the sculpture doted around the garden, as in the top photo. There was a combination of quite formal sculpture but also amusing whimsical ones. Given that the garden is about 1.5 acres this worked and again I wondered about introducing some sculpture into my garden. Sadly my purse doesnt stretch to the sort of sculpture I like but I did leave wondering about looking for reclaimed items that I could put in the garden to draw the eye etc.
All in all whilst the garden wasn’t as pristine as some would expect (there were weeds but I didn’t think they detracted, better than bare earth!) it made me think about my garden and consider ways of doing things differently or better. To me this is everything I would want from a garden visit – food for thought and impressions that will stay with me for a while.
Back in August I wrote about how I was developing the slope at the end of my garden. Previously this slope had been covered with a vast laurel bush and a pruning exercise got out of hand resulting in the laurel being removed. I was left with a lovely expanse of garden to develop but on a steep slope. As funds are tight I couldnt afford to have any serious landscaping done so with the help of my father and sons we built a series of raised beds with timber.
It did remind us of the trenches in the first world war though and my son whose bedroom overlooks this part of the garden kept expecting someone to pop up from behind the wooden shuttering!
Well a month or more has passed and I have filled in the top two beds. The third section is for a path and we have filled this with hardcore and earth. It will eventually be finished off with gravel or bark – the jury’s out at the moment. I’m in favour of bark as its lighter to carry up the garden. Being on a slope a wheelbarrow is pointless! I have emptied my compost bins into the wider bed and topped off with more compost so the soil is very very rich.
Finally I have started to plant up the beds. The one in front of the fence I have used for shrubs. Not the most prepossessing group of shrubs I know but I already had them dotted around the garden and some of them desperately needed a new home. I have a Buddelia, a Hydranga, a Berberis, a Cornus and another golden leaves shrub that I cant remember the name of. I think this combination will mean that most of the year there is something interesting be it the bark of the Cornus in the winter or the flowers of the Hydranga and Buddleia. I have interplanted these with some Geraniums and Hechera which will cover the ground while the shrubs are bulking up.
More importantly, I have decided to have a go at growing veg in the second bed which is much wider and has the most compost in it. I have never had a veggie bed before so I am quite excited at the prospect. This week I moved my Rhubarb to the far end of the bed and have planted Japanese Onion sets. I also gave in an bought some seedlings of Purple Sprouting Broccoli. This is something I have scoffed at in the past as buying the plants as seedlings is an expensive way to do things and defeats the idea of growing your own but I was so desperate to have some veg growing!! I have also sown some Pak Choi which I had success with in pots earlier in the year and some Corn Salad which is meant to be OK during the winter.
I am now excitedly planning my veg plot for next spring. There is so much I want to grow and so little space so I have decided to go for things that are expensive in the shops or are best eaten as soon as harvested. – so no potatoes. I’m thinking of sweetcorn, fennel, pak choi, courgettes, mangetout at the moment.
Hope to get some more inspiration tomorrow when I go to the Malvern Autumn Show which will have an emphasis on growing your own – planning to meet VegPlotting so that will be good too.