This year I have decided to try and participate in the weekly photo challenge set by Cathy, Sandra, Melissa and Jane – I came across it via Cathy’s blog.  I like the idea that they have published the list of weekly challenges at the start of the year so lots of time to ponder.

Anyway, this week’s theme is ‘Ceiling’ and my immediate reaction was to post the above photograph.  I take few pictures of interiors unless I am in some historic building and to be honest I am happier when I am outside.  I have developed a bit of a thing over the last year of taking photographs looking up through tree canopies, I love the light play especially through fresh spring or autumn leaves.  Of course this photograph is a winter’s scene but still the contrast of the bright blue sky last weekend and the trees’ silhouettes was enough to stop me on my walk to try and capture it.

As this blog is primarily a gardening blog I think a ceiling of trees is very apt.  Now to ponder next week’s theme of card!

Let there be light


As gardeners we need to be continually adapting, whether it is to changing weather patterns, replacing ailing and much loved plants or in my case losing the tree canopy from the woodland end of the garden; to the extent that there is no woodland.

I have been anticipating this change for a number of years now.  Ever since the couple who lived next door split and their children went to University I knew it was only a matter of time before the house was sold and new owners would be tackling the garden.  I don’t think in the 13 odd years we have lived here that my neighbours had ever done any gardening other than cutting the grass, chopping off the odd branch that got in their way and weeding the driveway.  The garden had obviously been much loved by their predecessors and there have always been signs of good plants hidden amongst the undergrowth.  The house was on the market for a year and during this time I have made sure that I planted some shrubs in the woodland border to replace the tree canopy should new owners tidy up on the boundary line.

End of July 2015
End of July 2015

The new owners finally took up ownership about a month ago.  They are a young family full of energy and enthusiasm with two sets of grandparents helping to sort out the property before they move in.  I found myself wondering how the house felt yesterday as over the last few weeks every weekend the air has been filled with the sound of sanders and drills and I think they have painted every room in the house – they say the interior was as neglected as the exterior.  But more fascinating to me has been the gungho attitude to sorting out the garden.  One of the grandfathers (or ‘olds’ as his son refers to them) is a dab hand with a chain saw and strimmer.  On the first weekend they set too in the front and by the end not only did they have a pile of debris some 10 foot tall but you could actually see the far front corner of the house up which was growing a beautiful climbing hydrangea.  They have worked along the furthest boundary, finding a shed on their way and yesterday it was the turn of our shared boundary.

Having been blessed with complete privacy from this side of the garden ever since we moved here it was rather startling to come round the side of the house from planting in the front to see two men clearing the fence line.  They have removed the majority of the trees and intend to remove the sycamore and ash trees as well.  The intention is to only keep a large oak tree, which we didn’t even know existed, and some prunus.  The large sycamore is going as its roots are pushing over the retaining brick wall that holds up the garden – my reaction is ‘hoorah, no more sycamore seedlings!’ They think they have doubled the size of the garden already; certainly they have gained something like 6-7 foot along our fence line and probably 15 along the back fence. You can just about see the difference if you compare the two top pictures and they still have a lot to clear so the sunlight levels should increase further.


The impact on the garden has been quite dramatic with sunlight flooding in to what was the shady part of the garden.  The shade had been so dense in the past that the ‘lawn’ was just moss which is partly why it was dug up.  Being a perennial Pollyanna I am trying to look past the fact that they can see into my garden and vice versa and focus on the fact that the patio is now much sunnier which means that it might be worth getting a couple of nice chairs.  I don’t have to group all my sun loving pots down one end of the patio any more which means I can arrange things better.  It also means that I had to spend some time today moving the shade loving pots to the opposite side of the garden into a smaller area of shade and replacing them with pots of bulbs which should really benefit from the extra light.

It will be interesting to see how the shade loving plants cope and whether the shrubs I have planted will give them enough shade.  There are a couple of self-sown hawthorns in my garden along the fence line which I have deliberately left for some years and they are now higher than the fence so I will allow those to grow up into trees and provide some privacy.  But what I am really interested to see if whether my perennials which have a tendency to lean towards the right of the garden will straighten up if they are getting all round sun-shine. It really is quite fascinating.

Emerging from the Elderberry


I am sure we all have bits of our garden that we really struggle with and to be honest turn a blind eye to.  I also bet that those areas are ones which are possibly in difficult to get to parts of the garden, or have difficult growing conditions.  My challenging spot is the top right hand corner, as you look from the house; it’s the corner behind the workshop.    As you can see from the photo above the corner suffers from the shade cast by my neighbour’s trees mainly the Elder which is right in the corner.  This has two large conifers, probably leylandii behind it which form part of the hedge along my neighbour’s back boundary.


But having battled with the elder for years I was thrilled the other evening to get a visit from my neighbour asking if I minded them cutting back some of the branches on the maple to the front of the shed.  During the conversation she mentioned that the tree surgeons would be cutting down the elder and the two conifers.  I felt  a little bad later at how enthusiastic my reaction was; maybe saying ‘Oh good, I really struggle with that tree..’ is a little selfish! I was thrilled when I got home on Friday, just before the light faded, to see the transformation.  Not only had the tree surgeons done a very neat job with no debris on my side of the fence but the amount of light that is now flooding in on that side of the garden is amazing.  It isn’t only the light but the fact that the elder, in full leaf, created such a rain shadow at the top of the garden that I have struggled to grow anything.  As you can see there are three bamboos along the back fence.  The one to the left of the picture above is much taller than the others, in fact the third one has hardly put on any growth since it was planted some years ago and I am really hoping that with the increase in light and moisture the plant will start to thrive.  I am now revisit what plants I can use to plant around the bamboos and maybe I can now consider something more exciting than is presently there.


Book Review: The Splendour of the Tree



I am catching up on some book reviews and wanted to share The Splendour of the Tree by Noel Kingsbury with you.  I had anticipated that it would be a book showing various trees, conditions needed, maybe a diagram of their eventual shape, a few photos of fruit, leaves and bark.  However, if I had looked properly I would have noticed the tag line (is that the right term?) – ‘An illustrated history’ and I wouldn’t have been so surprised when I opened the book.

The book is split into a number of sections in which the various trees are grouped: antiquity, ecology, sacred, utility, food and ornament.  Each tree has at least two pages, some a few more.  The narrative commences with a very brief list of facts including the geographical origin of the tree, a brief description, its size, potential age and climate. Then Noel Kingsbury goes on to tell us about the tree and without fail each short essay is full of interesting information and facts which make you sit up and take notice.

For example when reading about the English Elm (Ulmus procera) I learnt that the reason Dutch Elm Disease was so destructive is because without fail all English Elms are the same clone so there is no variation or mutation which can combat the disease.  The Araucaria araucana or Monkey Puzzle is so called because it is a puzzle how monkeys would climb it or even eat it; its French name desespoir des singes translates to monkey’s despair which I prefer! The Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum) is not called this because Judas hung himself from one, after betraying Christ (the branches are too brittle and the trees dont grow tall enough); instead it is named after Judaea, a region of Israel and Palestine, from where the tree originates.

Kingsbury’s writing is accessible and informative without feeling like you are being talked at or taught.  He not only tells us about the use of the various trees, where they originate from and some interesting information but also in many cases he relates them to the humans that live with the various species such as the people in South East Asia who plant out seedlings of Teak (Tectona grandis) in order to maintain the supply of this tree which is so important to their economy. As Kingsbury says in the introduction the involvement of man in the history of the trees came up again and again when he was researching the book whether it was in terms of destruction or the trees ability to grow where they are not wanted – such as the Australian eucalyptus growing in the high plains of Bolivia.

The narrative is accompanied by wonderful photographs by Andrea Jones but unusually for many books of this size (typical coffee table book size) the narrative, in my view, takes precedence over the photographs rather than accompanying them.

Not only will you learn all sorts of things about your favourite trees but you will learn about trees you have never heard of.  I am passing this book, The Splendour of the Tree, onto my eldest son, the cabinet maker, who is passionate about wood and will I know love it.

An Early Autumnal Outing

Crocus speciosus oxonian
Crocus speciosus oxonian

In need of some gentle stress relief and an escape from all the trials and tribulations that are plaguing my existence at the moment I set off cross country towards the welsh borders and the autumn plant fair at Hergest Croft.


I have visited a number of times, the last time in Spring, but I have been meaning to visit to see the autumn colour.  The journey was a typical autumnal one with patchs of bright blue skies and sunshine and then periods of mist and dampness.  Luckily being on the side of a hill the garden was clear of the mist and the sun soon burned off the residue.  As well as Hergest Croft’s own plants for sale, including a wide selection of acers and interesting specimen tress, there were a number of small nurseries selling their wares.  I was particularly looking for something to replace the dead acer in the woodland border and after much discussion and advice I came away with a berberis seiboldii and a leptospernum myrtifolium as well as a hydrangea, hellebore and some bedding cyclamen.


Having completed my purchases I went for a mooch around the grounds.  First up is the rockery/ferny area near the house which I have visited in spring as the ferns have been unfurling so it was good to see it at this time of year.  There are so many herbaceous plants with interesting autumn foliage which I think are overlooked in preference for trees and shrubs. I think the autumn tints above are from Darmera peltata.


I was particularly taken with this area since it is the effect I am trying to achieve, albeit on a smaller scale, on the slope in my garden.  I also discovered the amazing purpley blue crocus in the top photo.


I was also interested in this herbaceous border which was still looking good despite the cooler temperatures and the battering we have taken in recent days from the rain.  The planting and colours are reminiscent of what I am trying to achieve in the borders in my garden so again seeing them at this time of year has helped me form better plans and ideas in my head to take forward to next spring.


Hergest Croft is one of those gardens where I find myself looking up as much as around me.  When I visited in the spring I was taken by the height of the rhododendrons and the way the light played through the spring leaves of the beech trees.  I think in a week or so the autumn leaf colour will be even stronger but the mellow buttery yellows of the birches against the pines/larches (?) was quite lovely.


It is at this time of year, and maybe spring, that we really appreciate the beauty of trees especially when you see the white bark of the birch in stark contrast to its surroundings.  I saw children intrigued by the peelings of the paperbark maples as well as, strangely, quite a few people head first in the trees looking for labels! There is a wonderful arboretum at Hergest Croft which is wasted on me due to my ignorance about trees but I did recognise the collection of sorbus trees.  I think sorbus is one of my favourite trees and I have a few in the garden but I am now wondering if I can shoe horn in another one. I was particularly taken with the pale orange berries of the Sorbus ‘Copper Kettle’ but also the shape of the tree.

Sorbus 'Copper Kettle'
Sorbus ‘Copper Kettle’

Before leaving and wending my way home I had a nose around the conservatory which was looking the best I have seen it.  I suspect this is because they have brought all the tender plants in pots in. I was particularly impressed with the Brugmansias although I am now worried mine might get this big and my greenhouse is so much smaller.


Monthly photo – January 2013


Today I am joining in with Katarina’s new monthly meme.  The idea is that you post a photograph that represents the current month to you on the 15th of the month.

January  to me is grey, damp, still.  I have a growing fascination in the bare skeletons of trees and their structure.  I have started to notice how different species have different shapes although I have to wait until spring and leaves to appear before I can start to identify which tree is which.  Learning more about recognising different species of trees particularly in winter is something I would really like to do.

If you  like to join in with Katarina’s meme pop over to her  blog

Pattern & Texture – Word for Wednesday in Photos

I suppose it’s because we are in Autumn that I immediately thought of trees when I saw the theme for this week’s ‘Word  for Wednesday in Photographs’ was texture and pattern.

I think in the Summer we are overwhelmed with the colour, abundance and voluptuousness of flowers that we see the whole more than the detail.  However in Winter and Autumn we can look more closely and notice more.  The pattern and texture of the lichen above sums this up very well.  There is a crisp feel to the lichen and a fragility although it is quite robust.

I am increasingly finding trees more and more fascinating.  We take them so much for granted and see them as a whole rather than looking at them carefully.  This was brought home to me when I recently reviewed Seeing Trees and I have started to look more closely.

I love the texture of bark and the variations that you get.  I think the photo above is of American Black Walnut which I took last year at Arley Arboretum.  I was really taken with the ruggedness of the bark with the deep crevices.  If you didn’t know better it might be a photo of some ploughed rough mud.  In contrast you then have bark like the one below.  The colours are warm and the texture reminds me of sheets of tissue paper. I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember which tree this is but I suspect it is an Acer of some form.

Sometimes, the patterns of the bark stand out from quite a distance as with this tree at Portmeirion.  To me this tree looks more like an artistic creation, all sweeps and curves – it reminds me of a ballet dancer performing an arabesque.

I wondered how the branches become so twisted looking, its very strange but quite magical.

Even the bleached timber of a split log is beautiful, full of pattern and texture.

And then there are man-made patterns.  I discovered this at Portmeirion.  It is a tree stump and small coins have been inserted in it.  We couldn’t quite work out how, there is a deliberate pattern and it appears that at some time the wood grain had been more open enabling the coins to be inserted and then it dried up and encased the money.

If we choose to look more carefully and closely at the trees and plants around us we will discover so much more.  A way of doing this is to take  close up photographs or even draw what we see. I have learnt from my botanical art classes that nature is full of texture and pattern much of which we are blind to.

For more Word for Wednesday in Photograph posts visit Garden Walk Garden Talk

Mother Nature to the rescue

Today is a day that I have been dreading for a few months now.  It’s a year since my sister died of meningitis.  The past year has seen me blundering through the process of grief and trying to find a way to cope.  I had a real dilemma today, my parents and BIL were going out for lunch to mark the day but this just didn’t seem right for me.  I felt a strong need for fresh air, nature, something positive and uplifting I suppose.  I decided that a visit to a local arboretum would be the way to go.  I have never been a fan of arboretums but my taste and interest in horticulture are changing and I find myself looking at trees with more interest now. I thought visiting somewhere new would be a positive thing to do.

So it was off to Arley Arboretum nr Bewdley about 1 hour away.  I always get a little apprehensive on trips on my own in case I get lost and I refuse to have a SatNav as I can’t bear that disembodied voice telling me what to do.  However, I found the Arboretum first time despite the horrors of Kidderminster’s roundabouts.    I was surprised how busy it was but then the arboretum closes this weekend and it is half term and the sun was shining so it’s hardly surprising.

The Arboretum was originally planted around 1800 by Earl Mountnorris.  Due to his botanical knowledge Arley became well known for its exotic and rare tropical plants by the 1840s.  The gardens changed hands twice until it was bought by Roger Turner, an industrialist, in 1959. By this time it was neglected and Turner set about restoring the arboretum and estate.  When he died in 1999 the estate was left to a Charitable Trust which Turner had set up.  The Trust decided that the Arboretum was of sufficient importance to open it to the public and work has continued to extend the garden and arboretum.

You enter via the Italianate Garden which obviously isn’t looking at its best at this time of year.  There appears to be a lot of preparation work being done so I suspect this area is planted out with seasonal bedding.  Will be worth returning to next Spring/Summer.  From here you enter the Arboretum.  There are a couple of trails to follow which take about an hour and all the trees are clearly numbered and labelled.  Often I find too many labels annoying but given the size of the trees the labels are pretty discreet and very helpful.  I fell in love with an Aralia elata (Japanese Angelica Tree).  I tried and tried to take a photo of it that would do the tree justice but have failed due to the low light levels but you get some idea from the pic below

What captured my heart were the pink seed heads which you can just see in the photo.  I am definitely going to look at getting one of these for my garden.

One of the bonuses of this arboretum is its location overlooking a valley through which the River Severn flows.  On the far side of the valley is the Severn Valley Railway a restored steam railway which I have been on numerous times and love.  I enjoyed the fact that as you walked round the arboretum you could occasionally hear the train whistle in the distance.

The Arboretum has many beeches which are one of my favorite trees including a stunning Cut Leaf Beech (below), some huge Black Walnuts, Cedar of Lebanon, Ginkgos, Limes, Pines and Wellingtonias.  There were also lots of Acers which were looking stunning (very top pic).  It was interesting how many young trees had been planted there is obviously some serious development taking place including a young beech maze which is due to open next year, presumably to attract families more.

One of the newish areas that has been developed, though I would guess it has been there about 10 years has a wonderful Hornbeam arcade leading to it and I can imagine in a week of two when these leaves change it will also look amazing

By now you have worked your way back round to the garden and you find yourself at a small lake.  I was really surprised to see the Dawn Redwoods planted right on the edge of the lake.  There is another well pond in the arboretum and there are Dawn Redwoods planted there as well.  I haven’t looked them up yet but I am assuming that these are trees that like their roots in the water but in my head I keep thinking of the Giant Redwoods, hopefully these are a dwarf version!!

From this point you make your way back into the garden which despite the planting being over was very interesting but I will save that for another post.

I finished my visit with lunch in the tea room and watched the world go by, bought some plants and made my way home the scenic route so to avoid Kidderminster.  It took much longer but the views and scenery in rural Worcestershire are beautiful.

I feel much better than when I left home, my head feels clearer and I feel at peace.  My sister was always someone who took the attitude that life was too short and to give things a go, which is ironic given she was only 37 when she died.  I have tried very hard this year to learn from her and loosing her so young and to grab life and give it a good shake.  I haven’t always been successful, sometimes I have been so incredibly tired (another symptom of grief I’m told) but other times I have succeeded.  Before this year I wouldn’t have thought of rounding up 25 twitter/blogging friends and organising a trip for them to Highgrove, I would have found reasons not to sign up for the RHS course and I wouldn’t have thrown concerns about money to the wind and taken my sons to Italy for a holiday they will never forget.  Amazingly one of the biggest sources of support I have had over the last year has been from my blogging and twitter friends and they have no idea just how much I have appreciated their kind words and support – thank you all very much.

I’m not a religious person in the sense of organised religion and what faith I had has been seriously challenged this year but I do believe that there are forces of nature at work around us.  Once again Mother Nature has helped to heal me and recharge my batteries, I now have lots of ideas to think about and plans to take me forward.