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Gardening Diary

May Gardening Diary

May 17th 2015
Spring is now hurtling towards early summer, and so much is happening in the garden. The hawthorn we planted two years ago as a very small whip is definitely flowering this year, and the blooms are red, as hoped. Plus the young leaf growth is also red tinged, making it a very attractive small tree. Peonies are putting on a spurt also, with pretty foliage patterns opening out. The Viburnum plicatum is also promising another splendid year of blossom.
A sharp frost last week did quite a lot of damage. All the blackthorn blossom has been cut back, as has the lovely glowing new growth on the large pieris. It has turned from glowing amber to dull brown. Very sad. However, the spirea is putting on a good show. We seem to have lost out clematis Montana; we had two, one white and one pink, but neither has made an appearance yet. Maybe the fact that this spring is quite late means that there is still time, but I would have expected some evidence of life by now.
The cool conditions have obviously suited some plants, the woodruff in various shady spots is romping away, and the newly transplanted pulmonaria are also well suited so far. However, the bergenia we acquired from sister-in-law are somewhat reluctant to grow, a small leafy showing is all they deign to produce so far

March Gardening Diary

March 1st 2015

The steady march into spring continues, with an increasing number of plants waking up, despite the overnight frosts. A few years ago we planted a Garrya Elliptica, a medium sized shrub with winter interest. It took a while to settle into its new home, and to grow to its present height of about 6 feet, but this winter it has really started to pay its way. It has long katkin-like tassels which flower in winter and early spring. As the season moves on, the flowers on the tassels open progressively, so the display becomes more and more impressive. Ours is about thirty metres from the windows, and demands attention with its plentiful show.

The snowdrops continue to open out, as do the few crocuses we have. Our daughter has a bold display of winter aconites, which reminded me that that is a plant I want to use in the shade beds, where its bright yellow blooms will be a cheerful addition to the winter garden. Many bulbs are now well through, with daffodil bud plumping up and preparing to turn over ready to open in a few weeks. Some of the deciduous shrubs are also getting close, with leaf show on a lot of branches. We have one rose remaining from the previous owner, which continues flowering until Christmas. It now requires major pruning to allow the new growth. We usually cut it right down to about nine inches above the ground. It then rewards us with continuous flowering from mid summer.

February Gardening Diary

February 15th 2015

So St.Valentine’s Day has been and gone, and Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday) is just round the corner. Both signs that the year is progressing steadily into Spring. Shrove Tuesday is the day before Lent begins, and traditionally pancakes are eaten as a way to use up lots of foodstuffs before fasting.

We have been studying the contours of the extended long border, and have adjusted them somewhat. The front edges needed tidying and smartening, so we seized the opportunity to create bolder curves. Also, we have a medlar tree under which is a jungle of nettles and brambles. These are being cleared ready for a weed suppressing mulch and another extended bed. The idea is to create paths and walkways offering a choice of routes from one part of the garden to others. One major consideration in the making of paths is the continued access for the mower, so a minimum width of about one metre is maintained. Another consideration is the maintaining of my long borrowed views. I do like to be able to see through our boundaries into the world beyond. There are a number of places where I have completely cleared the undergrowth so that we can see through to the neighbouring fields. So these extended beds have the difficult task of creating hidden throughways, yet retaining open vistas. That’s a tall order!

January 2015 Gardening Diary

January 18th 2015

So once again we escape the worst of the weather. While many parts of Britain are blanketed with snow, we have a frosty whiteout, but certainly no snow. I did spot about three flakes yesterday, but so far so good. The birds are very grateful for the food I put out each morning. They feed steadily throughout the day, and then at about three o’clock there is a manic feeding frenzy, as they stock up for the cold night ahead. We now have three regular pheasants visiting, for which I am very grateful when I hear the shooting parties in the nearby fields.

I spotted many signs of the onset of Spring during the past week. Bulbs are thrusting through, snowdrops are flowering, both in our garden and out in the countryside. We have a couple of goat willow trees, often also called pussy willow, or sallows; These trees shed their smaller branches freely in strong wind, presumably to reduce the canopy and to minimise the danger to the tree. I noticed last week that the catkins on the fallen twigs are already bursting out of their protective cases.

This past week has been the time to look ahead, and to order seeds, especially vegetables. The new raised beds have been tucked in under sheets of black polythene, to warm the soil and hopefully establish a head start when plants are put out there. It’s an exciting time of the year, with all to look forward to, and almost daily signs of progress towards spring and warmer weather.

Gardens to Visit to Tresco

Tresco is the second largest of the Scilly Isles which are located thirty miles southwest of Lands End in Cornwall. If you want to go, you have to either get a ferry from Penzance (2.75 hours, £35 return) or light plane from Lands End or Newquay (about 30 mins, £100 return), either of these will take you to St.Marys, the largest Scilly island. From here you will get a smaller, open boat to Tresco (20 mins or so), and even then your journey isn’t done you have a beautiful 1.5 mile walk to get to the gardens! So if you are on a day trip you will have to move steadily to make sure you are back at St. Marys before the last boat leaves for Penzance.

The islands are subtropical in climate and rarely experience a frost, but vicious winter storms are however common. The island was leased in 1834 by Augustus Smith, and his descendants, the Dorrien-Smiths, still live on the island. Since that time countless plants have come from South America, South Africa and Australasia to grace the Abbey Gardens.

The gardens are famous for their flowers, many of which are not native to the United Kingdom, amongst them spectacular Banksias, Palms and other trees and shrubs if you have an interest in the more tender plants that may become more generally suitable as global warming progresses this garden is a must.

The garden also has much to be recommended in its design. There are many long vistas, frequently with a statue at the end to draw the eye. There are a number of buildings, some of which have reference to the sea one called Valhalla (after the Norse legends) houses a collection of ships figureheads.

All in all this is a wonderful place to visit, the gardens are stunning and the journey unforgettable!

Decembers Gardening Diary

December 21st 2014

So this is the last blog before Christmas, and the penultimate for this year, which does seem to have passed very quickly. In our previous garden we had several holly trees of different types, so each year at least one of them would produce masses of wonderful glossy berries. We tried our hands at making our own festive wreath, which never looked as neat as the professional ones, but we were improving with time and practice. This garden so far has no fruiting hollies, although several have appeared in random places, probably courtesy of birds. I have left them where they are growing, as at present they are too small to move, except one which is now about two metres tall, but is growing out from the roots of an oak tree, so would doubtless be impossible to dig up. At present, all the small treelets are in shady locations, so in order to encourage them to produce flowers and fruit, I shall have to move them into a more open location, probably during the coming spring.

One issue I shall have to tackle very soon concerns the tunnel arches. We placed three simple arches to make a tunnel across a flower bed, with paving slabs under forming a path. Clematis and honeysuckle were planted to clothe the arches, and this year the growth has been exceptionally good. However, the extra leaf cover has created a wind block, and the arches are leaning at worrying angles. I think I shall have to join the three together, to create a more stable construction. To help the climbers, I created a spider’s web design in the spaces, using garden wire. I shall simply add extra webs joining the arches to each other. That should solve the problem.

December 8th 2014

This past week the weather has actually turned wintry. We have experienced several fairly sharp frosts already, which were absent from last winter. I have today put out the bird table with nuts and seeds. Until now there has been plenty of food in the hedgerows for the small birds. It was a brilliant year for haws and rowan berries, and many of our garden shrubs have also produced fruit. We leave all berries for the wildlife to decide for themselves whether they are good to eat. Blackbirds frequently give a spectacular display when trying to jump up to grab some tasty morsel that is just out of reach.

The greenhouse has been emptied and cleaned now; it always seems such a shame throwing away tomato plants which are still producing fruit, but we have a window sill full of ripening cherry tomatoes, which are so sweet even at this late stage of the year. My mother used to grow Gardeners’ Delight, and every year she had enough unripened ones for a batch of green tomato chutney. Chutney and pickles are such a wonderful way of using up spare produce. Our local newsagent used to sell wonderful piccalilli made entirely from excess vegetables. The proceeds went to a local charity as well, so we all gained. A recent market trip saw me buying a massive string of garlic which I have pickled. This is the first for me, so I eagerly await the results. I do have a cupboard full of various versions of apple chutney, and a favourite condiment of mine is mint jelly, which goes so well with almost any meat or cheese. Also rosemary jelly, which brilliantly enhances strong meats such as venison.

December 1st

The great tidy-up continues. Earlier this week we did embark on collecting leaves from the front, filling four tonne bags with wonderful leaves which will be leaf mould in a couple of years’ time. It is good to find uses for those sturdy bags which cannot now be returned to the builders’ merchants who supplied them. Sadly, there is still about one more bag’s worth of leaves still up on the trees.

I spent a short while cutting back overgrown herbs in the kitchen garden. This is always a pleasant job as it is so fragrant. We bought a windowsill pot of parsley earlier in the year, and split and planted out the six small plants. It is still growing well, and supplying us with lots of lovely curly leaved parsley. I plan to freeze some of the rest in ice cubes, which can then be used as required. On my wish list for next spring is a sage bush, as sadly all mine died this year. I have several different thyme and marjoram plants, and have a small rosemary cutting hopefully to plant out next year. I do like a varied herb bed, as so many dishes can be enhanced by adding fresh herbs. I also have here or four different mints, including spearmint and a chocolate mint.

All the containers have been either emptied or trimmed for winter. In Spring, I planted a French lavender in a pot, with decorative white stones as a mulch. It flowered freely, and looked really good until the last rains, which turned most of the flowers black. So I have trimmed it, and it can spend the winter in our cool greenhouse. Next Spring, it should start all over again.

Novembers Gardening Diary

We definitely seem to have a garden of two halves. The rain of the past week has made this fact even more evident. The western edge is heavily wooded, with a band of broadleaved trees including oaks, poplars, ash, damson and blackthorn. Nearer the centre of the garden, but adjoining these wooded areas, there is a wonderful collection of evergreens of different types and shades. This all makes for a wonderful mix of colours, both now as the autumn creates the greatest show of all, but also in spring, when the oak new growth starts off being a bronzy gold before turning to a really fresh green. However, the point is that the land underneath all these trees has kept quite dry, despite the fact that the pond is filling up quite quickly. It was even dry enough for a passing over with the mower to collect lots of the fallen leaves, and a further cut of the still growing grass.

On the other side of the garden, where we have our shrub border backed by a leylandii hedge, it is a different story. The paths and walkways are very soggy, as the heavy clay soil does not drain at all well, despite the fact that we had a field drain installed only a couple of years ago. One of our newer beds, an area surrounding a medlar tree where we want to create a blanket of hebes, becomes a paddling pool as soon as it rains, and the hebes are not enjoying this at all. We might have to rethink our plans, or raise this bed, although that will spoil the overall effect.

Creating the raised vegetable beds certainly solved the problem of waterlogged veggies, but to collect in the harvest we sometimes have to wade through major puddles. There probably is a solution other than raising the entire garden by a foot or more, but at present we cannot find it.

November 16th 2014

As I write this, there is a monsoon-type storm raging outside. It does seem as though our weather patterns are changing, although I do not subscribe to the knee-jerk reactions of many ‘experts’. Not so many years ago we were told that planet earth was fast heading for another ice age. Then, a few years later, it was being forecast that Britain would soon have a Mediterranean climate and that southern Europe would be desert. I believe that Britain’s normally variable weather patterns are maybe rather more variable than previously, but who knows where we are really heading weatherwise? Currently, we are being forecast an extra cold winter. Wail and see!

Our winter jasmine is flowering now. It is growing over the north wall of a timber shelter, and gives a most cheerful burst of bright colour in a shady spot, enlivening the outlook from our dining room window. Also still visible from that same window, there is plenty of colour from an enduring campanula which still believes that it is summer! Also still flowering are pentstemon, nasturtium and marigold. Some hardy geraniums are also hanging on, challenging the cyclamen for creating a late show. Until this recent wet spell, the bedding dahlias were doing very well, but they do not like being soaked, and their petals have turned brown now. Time for some serious deadheading and tidying up!

November 9th 2014

Bonfire night was a gloriously fine evening. What a pleasant change from those muddy and cold celebrations that I remember from when our children were young. However, the rain and wind arrived shortly after then, and most of the leaves are now on the ground. Only the oak and willow trees are still hanging on. It is a rare treat to see green trees so late in the year.

An article in a local magazine recently advocated not completely tidying up the garden, but leaving some plant matter, leaves and twigs for over-wintering bugs and wildlife. I agree with the principle, but cannot leave all the fallen leaves where they are, as they are both unsightly and damaging some plants with a thick, blown layer. We have several areas of gravel, and we need to rake up the leaves from these to prevent soggy wet spots developing. So we have a few places where we put or leave debris, and a special log pile for hedgehogs and toads. We also prune some shrubs in spring rather than autumn, partly for mini-beasts and partly for the winter appeal of the silhouettes.

My mother used to love what she called the tracery of bare tree branches criss crossing against the winter sky. Autumn and winter were definitely her preferred seasons.

October Gardening Diary

October 18th

A walk round our garden is amazing for the time of year. The clematis and solanum are still in significant flower, while great splashes of colour are still being provided by the marigolds, both calendula and tagetes types. Golden leaved plants are glowing in the lower light levels of this month, while some trees are turning on their glorious autumn display. Our medlar tree, which had no flowers or fruit this year, is spectacular at the moment. Also the sumach, as mentioned a couple of weeks ago. The leaves are mottled gold and red, a brilliant display. We have an exceedingly over-large pampas grass, whose plumes are pristine, wonderful with their graceful cream fronds. They will turn more ragged later, when wind and rain attack them, but a late afternoon sun illuminates them, and the highlit mass seems to float above the rest of the garden.

The sedum is still providing a late feed for insects, which arrive in clouds on sunny afternoons. Cyclamen and polyanthus are flowering cheerfully, while some geraniums are having a second or even third flowering flush. This year, for the first time, our clump of hardy red lobelia is putting on a brave show. We planted a group of five plants about three years ago, and they have been somewhat disappointing until now; this year conditions obviously suit them, and they are flowering quite profusely.

Not only apples are fruiting freely this year, it seems to be a bumper year for acorns as well. The resident squirrels will have their work cut out, planting so many in soon to be forgotten secret places

October 19th 2014

The autumn tidying up is continuing. There are now lots of leaves to collect before they get too wet and soggy. We have just discovered that last year’s leaves, which we piled into a large sack, have made some lovely leaf mound, which is being used as a mulch on the extended border. Our tomato plants were quite late starting, but are now in full production, so we are looking for different recipes using them. The courgettes are slowing down, but there is at least one lovely large marrow, which I plan to use very soon, with tasty cheese sauce toasted on top.

There is still a lot of colour in the garden. The extended mild weather means that the bedding plants are still showing well, especially the dahlias and antirrhinums. Many plants are flowering again, such as the weigela and potentilla. Add to those the seasonal flowers such as sedum spectabile, and it makes for a brilliant late show.

The apple crop this year has been very light, but I did make some apple and mint jelly, which is a very tasty condiment, with meats or cheeses. I spread some on a ham sandwich, which is delicious. Some years ago I also made some apple and rosemary jelly, but at present we do not have a rosemary bush, which must be rectified next spring. Either goes well with game too

October 12th 2014

This week has seen quite a bit of rain, and some interesting thunderstorms. After wat has been described as the driest September on record, our clay soil is dry and hard, so the rain is sitting in the top layers of soil, making any passage across the garden a squelchy experience. We were hoping to take delivery of a trailor load of horse manure, but we have had to postpone it, as the tractor would compact the topsoil, and make ruts. Hopefully a dryer week next week will allow it next weekend. We tip it in the corner, and leave it for as long as we can to rot down and mature. Most of it will be used next year on some of the vegetable beds. The last of the bought-in top soil has been distributed, mostly filling in holes and dips, which show up when the grass is short.

The meadow area has been long cut, but unfortunately we did not get it all picked up before the rail, so the job of cleaning the area is painstaking, with soggy grass which has formed great clumps. However, as few days of dryer weather will allow the second cut to be done, hopefully collecting this time. This cut will also be longer than the surrounding grassy areas, so we can easily see what to leave to grow next spring. These jobs all take time, but when finished, the satisfaction is great.

October 5th 2014

The long, warm autumn continues, much to my delight. We have spent a very busy and productive few days tidying up, and preparing some areas of the garden for the winter months ahead. One small garden area has been given a complete make-over. Despite being waterlogged on several occasions, it is obviously a very successful area, as lupins, foxgloves and lysimachia have all outgrown their space. Three years ago we bought a fairly small lysimachia, and this year we have just split it into five pieces. They and some of the lupins have moved out to the extended long border; the remaining lupins and the foxgloves have all been moved into the shade beds, and the remaining pulmonaria have gone into the woodland areas, in preparation for next year’s plans. We recently invested in a half moon edging tool, and a pair of edging shears, which together make the job of tidying up the border edges much quicker and neater than before. We are in danger of being ready much sooner than usual!

Part of the trimming process is the taking of cuttings of loved shrubs. Several hebes are being propagated, as I love massed plantings of hebes in some areas, and they take very easily as cuttings. The cold frames are rapidly being filled up. Any spaces in the long border will be filled temporarily with scattered seeds of marigolds and nasturtiums, as both fill well, and are still flowering now, in early October, and will continue so to do until the first sharp frosts. Both are really good value plants.

September Gardening Diary

September 27th 2015

The weather continues to be ideal for clearing up the garden. Some rain to keep the plants growing, and temperatures in the upper teens, meaning we can comfortably work without needing to wrap ourselves up like Michelin men. This last few days we have planted out several plants bought or given in the past month. A number of ferns, seedlings from our daughter’s garden have been growing on for a while, and are now sturdy enough to go out into their final locations. They have been in pots, under the conifers, for about a month, and have doubled in size, so we believe that there is enough light for them, as this is exactly where I want them, to fill in an otherwise barren spot. As with so many plants, time will tell whether this is their ideal home.

One of our successes in the kitchen garden this year has been Florence Fennel, and I brought one in yesterday to try a new way of presenting it on the plate. One of the bi-products is a large quantity of beautiful fronds, some of which I used, but most of which were surplus to requirements. We thought they might make an attractive flower arrangement, so I cut about half a dozen sprays of Montbretia, stripped off most of the strappy leaves, and placed them in and among the fennel fronds. It really does look stunning, with the bright flowers seeming to float among the feathery fennel. It is always satisfying to use something rather than throw it out.

We have a woodland margin along the eastern side of our garden, with several mature oak trees, poplars, ash, blackthorn and wild damson trees in abundance. These last two self propagate freely via underground roots, and we are trying to control them, as we could easily lose our entire garden without strict management. Ash trees also are like a weed, self seeding everywhere. So far our ash trees seem to have avoided the deadly ash die-back affecting so many of the country’s trees, so every time I pull up an ash seedling I feel quite guilty, but we do not want to live in an ash forest. Only the poplars do not seem to be increasing; in fact in the fourteen years we have lived here two poplars have fallen, and one was struck by lightning about ten years ago and has a vast scar right up its trunk. We do occasionally find an oak seedling, probably thanks to the activities of resident squirrels, and a couple of years ago we discovered a horse chestnut seedling, but we have no idea how that arrived, as the nearest mature tree is about half a mile away, and its seeds are definitely too large to be airborne. However, we shall find a spot for it, as the autumn display is always stunning.

One feature of our oak trees is the frequent shedding of limbs, ranging from tiny twigs to major branches. Only a couple of winters ago one tree lost a branch which was about thirty centimetres diameter. Quite often the wood is rotten through the actions of woodpeckers and insects. It is said that an oak tree is home to the widest variety of creatures of our native trees.

September 21st 2014

As the season is drawing to a close, there are lots of jobs to do in the garden, and the weather continues to be kind towards gardeners. We have extended our long border this year, and are now ready to populate it. Many of the plants we lifted and divided earlier in the year are now sturdy enough to be planted out, such as lupins and pulmonaria. We plan to plant mostly what we already have, rather than buy lots of new plants. Hebe and potentilla cuttings taken last autumn are now ready for the big wide world. A relation recently brought us some of her spare plants, bergenia and iris will feature largely in the new extended bed, as will some red hydrangea cuttings recently taken. These last we will keep over winter either in the greenhouse or in a cold frame, until a root system has developed.

In another area of the garden, red stemmed cornus are showing well, and we recently took cuttings of euonymous fortunii, which when large enough will underplant the cornus, so that in winter the red stems will tower above the green and gold of the euonymous. This is an idea we got when visiting Cambridge Botanical Gardens last winter. Again, it may take a few years for the plan to develop, but hopefully will brighten a north facing wall during the winter months.

September 7th 2014

Autumn is settling in, with fruit ready to harvest, and some leaves starting to turn. Last evening we watched a hedgehog busily feeding on the lawn, presumably demolishing our worm population! Our Rhus trees are beginning to look glorious, with golden tints to the leaves. However, so far the oak leaves are still mostly green. There is a bumper crop of acorns, being harvested and buried by our resident grey squirrels.

We recently spent a week on Jersey, where the garden of our rented apartment was frequented by red squirrels. We watched them doing exactly the same as our grey ones, namely robbing the bird feeders and scrabbling in the flower beds. Same behaviour, different colour fur.

August Gardening Diary

August 15th 2015

Quite a few years ago we had a major leylandii hedge removed, and the stumps dug out of the ground. These stumps were piled on the bonfire patch, the base of a long defunct greenhouse. Over the years we have successfully burnt most of them as part of our normal garden bonfires, but the two largest and heaviest were still there, complete with their load of soil. As a result of our clearance of the fruit cage we had generated a lot of seeding weeds to be burnt. The fire was quite hot, so we concentrated on moving the remaining stumps onto the centre of the fire. A lot of the wood has now burnt away, as the fire continued smouldering for two days. We end up with a lot of sterilised soil to distribute where required. One corner of the garden is slightly higher than the rest, where soil, mostly clay, was spread when we had drainage work done. This has settled down with lots of cracks among the clay, so the soil from the bonfire is being spread across and among, improving the look of the whole area. This is where I recently cleared lots of dead elder trees and brambles to create another borrowed view lookout over neighbouring fields.

Deadheading continues relentlessly, especially the calendula and red hot pokers. We have had a plentiful supply of sweet peas for cutting for the house this year, but their perfume is not as strong as previously. Hopefully we still have the seed packet so we can purchase a different species next year. The Penstemons have flowered really well this year, as have the lysimachia. However, the clematis Montana we planted to clamber over a trellis seems to have gone elsewhere, there were no signs of it this year.

August 23rd 2014

We have had some strange weather this past few years. Some parts of the country have suffered badly with severe floods. We have had an excess of water at times, but nothing really serious. This summer we have had different types of rain, ranging from the best of light summer showers, which settle the dust and wash off dry plants, making everything smell so sweet and fresh, to torrential downpours as bad as, if not worse than, the monsoon rains of India and other tropical places. It is the heavy cloudbursts which cause the problems, as the land cannot absorb so much water so quickly. On several occasions this year we have had standing water, which can take several days to drain away completely. In between times, large cracks appear where our heavy clay soil dries out.

The fruit is ripening at an alarming pace, plums, apples, blackberries all need picking. We had the beginnings of a healthy crop of pears on a tree which was pruned last autumn, but it would seem that the squirrels also like pears, as there are none left on the tree now. We are still looking for an effective way of dealing with the squirrels, as they do so much damage. We like to feed the birds, especially during the leaner months of winter, but the tree rats get the pick of what we put out. I tried fencing in the bird table. It took the birds about five minutes to find their way in, and the squirrels about six minutes. We are still trying!

August 17th 2014

The maintenance jobs in the garden are piling up as the summer matures. The perennials need to be dead-headed and trimmed on a regular basis, and if also dead-headed the bedding annuals will continue their displays until the first frosts. Many of the new plants in the shade beds have bulked up nicely, and are preparing for a good performance next year. That is the joy of gardening; no mater how much of this year remains, there is always next year to look forward to.

An increasing number of plants will need lifting and dividing in September or October. One in particular, the yellow flowering lysimachia, a very generous perennial, has grown so well over the past two year that it is now about four times as large as when we planted it. We have promised parts of it to several friends, and

July 13th 2014

Yesterday we visited Burnby Hall Gardens, in Pocklington, East Yorkshire. There is a series of large ponds with a major collection of water lilies. At the moment the lilies are at their best, with so many sizes and shades. In the ponds also live some extremely large carp, which feed greedily from the food sold in the shop. Around the ponds are various gardens with lots of lovely plants. There is also an aviary, and garden art, such as a giant rocking horse and a family of three metal giraffes. Children are catered for with a secure play area, and throughout the gardens there are plenty of seats, some in shelters, so one can sit and rest, or simply enjoy the outlook. A large dovecote stands at one end of a grassy ride separated from the ponds by shrubbery; a rockery garden with meandering gravel paths makes a wonderful place to explore, and the Victorian garden has a sweet pea and lavender lined pergola walk. New since my last visit here is a stumpery, a Victorian whimsical scheme using the stumps of unwanted trees, and with plants between the roots. With viewing areas, bridges and a choice of paths, these gardens are a brilliant place to spend a summer day. Dogs are not permitted, but our grandchildren thoroughly enjoy their visits, especially when a picnic lunch is rounded off with a delicious ice cream. The café serves drinks and light snacks, many types of sandwich, and delicious sounding salad lunches.

Gardening Diary

July 6th 2014

This summer is so far being superb for the new, small plants which we have grown or bought for the new shade beds. The Cranesbill geraniums are bulking up nicely, as are the pulmonaria. Some are actually flowering, even though they are so small. By this time next year they should be marvellous. Earlier in the season we split some foxgloves, which are also growing well. They glow in the shade, and look thoroughly at home there. I moved a large, overgrown bunch of snowdrops, and made about five groups, so I am already anticipating next Spring!

Last year we had some nasturtiums which have self seeded. When I found the new seedlings this year, I placed a metal obelisk near them, and now they have climbed up and are flowering, giving extra height and colour in an otherwise low bed. This bed is a small one, only about 1 metre deep, and in total about 5 metres long, split off centre by a tunnel formed by three simple arches, spaced about 10 centimetres apart, and planted with honeysuckles and clematis. The obelisk is set off centre in the larger half of the bed, and balances the tunnel quite pleasingly. Much of the bed is filled with mimulus which we planted last year as bedding plants, and which have survived the very mild winter, and are flowering brilliantly. We could not have planned for that!

May 4th 2014

There is currently a very interesting series of programmes on BBC4 called British Gardens in Time, about four major gardens. Last week the featured garden was Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire. We first visited this wonderful garden a good few years ago when we had a New Zealander visiting, whose family came originally from Stafford, so he wished to visit that county. Being also a gardening enthusiast, he was keen to visit Biddulph. We were all totally captivated by it, especially the Chinese garden with its stunning maples. We returned several years later with my mother, whose mobility at the time was not good. However, she did manage to walk through the tunnel to the Chinese garden, and was thrilled by the spectacle of it.

There are many really special features in the garden; the stumpery is an almost subterranean area created from upturned tree stumps; the Himalayan area has been considerably developed since we were last there; the dahlia borders are stunning when in full flower; Egypt, with its sphinxes. The list is considerable. The garden can easily occupy a full day of exploration and wonder. The statuary is also excellent. You may have gathered that I am quite a fan

April 21st 2014

The fine weather is allowing us to progress the shade bed which is this spring’s project. I have finished cutting the outline, and the area has had its first rotavate. This is a very hard job, as there are so many tree roots. We realised that we had been too fussy with our curvy edge. We had to straighten it out a bit, to allow the mower to navigate it. In the lee of one tree was an increasingly large clump of snowdrops. I have lifted about a quarter of these, and broken them into three small clumps, and have planted them where they will be easily seen in early spring, such as en route to the hen hut, a path trodden several times a day.

Last year we bought two pulmonaria plants, which are now about ten plants! Today’s task is to lift and divide these, and plant them in the shade bed. They are coming from a much sunnier bed, so we can plant other, sun loving plants in their space. Also in the same bed is a giant clump of foxgloves, which will cope well with some shade. We visited a car boot sale yesterday, and bought some small yet well rooted geum plants. These we shall also divide, and pot on for a month or so until they grow a bit larger. Last year a neighbour gave us some ajuga thinnings, and they have already doubled in size. They are brilliant ground cover plants. So, onwards. The sun is out, the garden is calling.

April 6th 2014

The sparrows would seem to have taken up residence in the same nesting box they used last year, and another box has been investigated by a blue tit, but so far it has not been occupied. We have a squirrel proof nut feeder hanging from the bird feeding table, which has been very successful in keeping our four resident squirrels out. Unfortunately, it is also keeping out the spotted woodpecker, who has at least twice flown down to investigate it, but has not lingered. I put mesh walls around the feeding table to try to prevent the squirrels eating all the bird seed, but the holes I cut to allow the birds in are large enough for the squirrels as well, so they sit in a secure cage, and I am convinced they are laughing at me!

The fritillaries are now flowering in the woodland area, as are the hyacinths we put out after they finished flowering indoors last Christmas. Most of the shrubs have rapidly breaking buds, and the Viburnum Plicatum has sent up yet another vertical shoot, so it is gradually adding to its height, while spreading its layers as well. We constantly tell it what we expect of it, and it is trying its best to obey.

We took friends for a walk out in a very sheltered wooded valley on Friday last, and the Ransomes (wild garlic) are showing well, ready to flood the valley with the scent of garlic later in the summer.

March 16th 2014

The ground is gradually drying out, and even the grass has had its first cut! We did some general tidying up last week, cutting out lots of old bits which we had left over winter for interest, such as the old flower spikes from the sedum spectabile. Also the pheasant’s eye, leycesteria, was cut down, as it had started growing from the top, in stead of from the bottom. This grows each year from ground level up to a height of about five feet. It then has dark red flowers, which develop into almost black berries. It is one of those plants which we find almost indestructible. Very good value!

Having almost an acre of grass, we generate a lot of grass clippings each year. These go onto a compost heap along with kitchen vegetable waste, plant trimmings, and the bedding from the hen hut. We operate on a three year cycle, Year 1 we make the pile, year 2 it is covered with old carpet and left to mature, year 3 we have lovely compost to use as mulch or to enhance the soil in the base of holes for new plantings. We have just cleared the latest area, ready for this year’s grass cuttings. We usually throw a couple of loads into the hen run, as the birds love to scratch through and gobble up any tasty bits. Next week we hope to plant up our containers, but keep them in the greenhouse for a while to allow the small plant to develop. While we have only had about three frosts so far this winter, it is unsafe to assume that there will not be more

March 9th 2014

It really does seem as though Spring has arrived. Birdsong is increasing in volume, and many birds are beginning to pair off and look for nest sites. There are increasing signs of plants waking up, with buds on shrubs bursting open, and herbaceous plants just peeping above the soil.

One of my more urgent tasks is to paint a couple of trellis panels to replace those blown down during one of the storms. The posts will require concreting into place, but the fence panels will have to be positioned first, otherwise we will find that the spaces have shrunk, or changed shape!

We recently bought some plants from the Beth Chatto gardens. The order was placed online, and within a couple of days we had received notification that the plants had been dispatched. When they arrived, on the day advised, we were hugely impressed with the condition of the plants, all beautifully packed, and really healthy. They were planted immediately, and are looking very happy in their new homes.

Our neighbours keep horses, and every year we take delivery of a couple of trailer-loads of stable manure. This is then left to rot down, before being rotovated into the vegetable beds. Of the two large beds, each year one gets just compost from our compost bins, the other gets both compost and manure. After ten years of this treatment, the soil now is really healthy. We now need it to warm up enough to plant into.

February 16th 2014

Signs of Spring are everywhere now. The snowdrops are just about fully out, and catkins are plumping up nicely. Many trees and shrubs have buds which are filling out and showing green. There are many bulb leaves showing, and we even have one daffodil flower bud already. However, as there is still a risk of snow, and forecasts of more rain and strong winds, it is perhaps too soon to celebrate yet.

We have received the first of out seed orders, and as they need sowing immediately, there is plenty to do whatever the weather. I have ordered quite a few hardy perennial seeds, in an attempt to fill large areas without needing an extra mortgage. I shall probable buy a few specimen plants, but bulk up the planting from seed. I also ordered some annuals which will self seed, such as poppies. I have also collected seeds from gardens of friends, such as calendula. Hopefully the beds will be a riot of colour later in the year.

When we can get out onto the land, I want to incorporate another arch into the paths around and through the shade beds. Using arches give a reason for having the paths, and they also give a framework for climbing plants. They are also brilliant focal points, which can be used to frame a view.

Last week we went to Cambridge University Botanical Gardens, where there is a Winter Garden, specifically planted to look and small good during these lean months. It is surprising just how many shrubs are flowering and smelling at present. The Hamamelis Jalena is spreading its powerful scen over the winter garden, and the winter box, sarcococca confusa is a very small flowered shrub which has a really powerful scent, a plant smelled long before seen.

Throughout the garden snowdrops are flowering, the many different varieties varying in size, both of leaf and flower. Another strongly flowering bulb is the cheerful winter aconite, or eranthis, meaning spring flower. These were showing bright yellow among the grass, and alongside the snowdrops they made a wonderful promise of spring.

One effect we really liked and fully intend to copy was low evergreen shrubs such as euonymus fortunii silver queen interplanted with the spectacular red stemmed dogwood, cornus alba sibirica. The cornus shows its colour particularly well if kept cut back regularly, as the best colour is on the newest growth, so this arrangement will be kept manageable in height. We have some of this cornus at the back of a shrub area, which we leave untrimmed, so we can see the colour on the top of the plant over the rest of the bed. We plan also to plant cornus among our hebe red edge, enhancing the red theme. The downside of visiting wonderful garden is that we come back with lots of new work to do! But then, that’s what we enjoy.

January 5th 2014

May I start off by wishing you all a very happy and safe 2014. I do hope that you are not suffering from the dreadful floods and atrocious weather which is battering large parts of the country. Now that Christmas is a distant memory, it is time to look ahead. On of my presents on Christmas Day was a collection of Allium bulbs. The instructions said to plant them by the end of December. I hope the bulbs do not have a calendar, as it was January 3rd before I got round to that task. Imagine my surprise when I found that many of our daffodil bulbs are already peeping through the mulch layer. It is to be hoped that we do not have a prolonged cold spell, as that would set back the development of these hardy bulbs. However, it is a welcome sigh that Spring is only just round the corner. And the days are definitely lengthening as well.

As part of the general recycling movement throughout the country, most authorities are now able to recycle old Christmas trees, shredding them and making compost either for municipal planting or, in some places, to sell to the public. I have to admit that sadly we swapped our real tree for an artificial tree a couple of years ago. We always had a large tree, about 6-7 feet high, but when the cost of these reached about £30, we decided that enough was enough.

So, preparation starts in earnest next week, with plans being laid for an extension to the shrub border, and raised vegetable beds, to try to lift up above the ground water saturation generated by our heavy clay soil. So, full of hope and promise, I will continue next week.

November 11th 2013

The garden has now been subjected to a couple of frosts, and some of the annuals are looking very sad. Mostly the nasturtiums need removing, as their leaves have succumbed to the cold. Other annuals seem hardier, such as nicotiana, which are still flowering merrily. Most of the containers now need some attention. I usually plant them with dwarf conifers or heathers at this stage, as these will give colour over winter, and can be planted out into the garden in spring, when we plant up with summer annuals such as surfinia or bacopa. Some years ago I planted some diascia in a large trough, and they continue flowering till quite late in the year, then reappear the following spring. I had believed them to be annuals, but they are behaving like perennials.

The clematis on the pergola is still flowering, despite the frosts, but the effect is a bit thin, so I intend trying to find an evergreen climber round and through which the clematis and honeysuckles can twine. This should enhance the effect of a tunnel, which was the original idea of placing three arches fairly close together.

We have just been given some silver birch logs, which are a glorious colour, so we plan to replace the log edges to the path through the conifers; the silver bark should shine in the heavy shade of the junipers. I will report on the effect in a later entry.Well, we are now enjoying a wonderful late summer, with bright, warm sun, and yet another flush of flowers. Our sweet peas are excelling themselves; I cannot cut enough to keep up with them. The pampas grass is bearing lovely silver plumes, which look their best right now. However, they do get rather scruffy later on, especially after the finches have finished pulling them apart!

The grass growth has slowed down, so the lawn looks good for a longer time after each cut. A few of the trees are beginning to show signs of changing colour, but despite the small amount of rainfall this year, it looks as though green will remain the dominant colour for a while yet. The leaves on our Sumach are beginning to redden, they give a wonderful show every autumn. The leylandii has had its promised trim, and now looks very tidy, which should last right round to next year.

So the great storm came and went. Our garden is very sheltered, so apart from a bit of a blow on the Sunday afternoon, we barely noticed it. However, it seems that other parts of the country did suffer, with trees falling, and structural damage in places. The worst we suffered was the blowing over of the obelisks that our sweet peas grew up. I wrote a couple of weeks age that I didn’t want to clear them out while they still have flowers on, but I think that my hand is being forced now. A fallen obelisk, even if it does still have flowers on, is no longer a thing of beauty!

Many of our trees still have their green leaves on, although the freshness has definitely faded. A couple of years ago the leaves stayed on till quite late, then an early snow fall covered the fallen leaves on the ground, and it was several months before we could clear them up. I hope that the same does not happen this year, as the lawn suffers if the leaves lie on it too long.

We are still harvesting apples; one late tree has lovely red fruit with sweet flesh and a crisp crunch. It is just reaching its best now, and we need to store some to last for a couple of months.

About half way along one boundary we have a natural pond, with no liner, which is about three to four feet deep in the centre. Last year it overflowed several times. This year it has been completely dry for several months, and the ferns and hostas are looking rather thirsty. Before it dried out it was completely covered with duckweed, and I wonder if that will return when the water returns. We shall have to wait and see.

One of my tasks this week is to sweep up some of the fallen leaves. The oak trees still have considerable numbers of leaves, in an increasingly colourful display, and a large goat willow is still green, although yellow tints are taking over gradually. However, the alder and ash trees have now shed all their leaves, and the wind of the past week has sorted the fallen leaves into piles in corners where we do not want them. If they are not collected fairly regularly, they get wet, and are then more difficult to sweep up. The area where we park our car always seems to attract a large pile of leaves, so they were tidied up yesterday. We are using one of those tonne bags that builders’ merchants do not want back, and are putting the leaves into it, keeping it damp, and hoping for a lovely lot of leaf mould next year.

One of the more rampant shrubs in our long border is a rubus. It is just losing its leaves now, and exposing glorious silver bark on long arching stems. In the gloomy winter days it seems almost to glow. We cut it back hard in spring, having enjoyed it for several months.

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