Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

What does your garden say about you?

Monday, September 21st, 2015

Last week I was shown around a friend’s garden, it was a long garden in a country setting, narrower at the house end (but not too narrow) and a little wider at the far end. The borders were deep and defined by a meandering grass path, sometimes wide, sometimes narrow – a bit like the course of a lazy river. I see a lot of gardens and this was refreshing, it felt peaceful and private, there were several benches and a lovely carved log bird bath which apparently a small frog occasionally visits!

The beds were mostly weed free but there were pockets of bindweed and ground elder – my friend’s attitude is relaxed with regards to these, she deals with them as and when. This is also her approach to the garden as a whole, she looks after the grass path but doesn’t become a slave to the borders. This fine balance of gardening and enjoying the garden is something I think most people fail to achieve, myself included. Wonderfully refreshing, thank you Ann.

Dahlia ‘Blue Bayou’

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

Dahlias offer a fantastically long flowering season brightening the garden into early autumn. They may not be everyone’s favourite however with the huge variety on offer, it would be very difficult to not find one you like. From miniature pompoms to neat anemones, massive semi-cactus to dainty water lily forms they come in colours ranging from pure white, vibrant orange to deep velvety red.

In my garden I grow Dahlia ‘Blue Bayou’, an anemone type which is very beautiful but it also provides a late source of nectar to insects. This week I have seen a variety of bees, butterflies (comma, peacock) and moths (tiny day time moths as well as larger moths at dusk) feeding from it.

Ruthlessness in the garden

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Spring has sprung, buds are bursting, it is nolonger safe to move plants around the garden, it is too late to prune most shrubs (wait until after flowering for spring flowering shrubs (Forsythia, Ribes sangiuneum, Spiraea ‘Bridal Wreath’)), in theory we should be able to sit back and enjoy the sunshine. But oh no! There are seeds to sow and nurture, grass to cut, weeds to keep on top of, staking to be positioned, lawn edges to tidy, dahlias to ease out of hibernation, plants to plant …. the fun is just beginning!

The sunny March weather has been most welcome by us gardeners as well as to bees and wildlife in general. I’m afraid that I haven’t been able to make the most of the fine weather in my garden as I have been snowed under helping clients with their gardens, I have to steal an hour here and there for my own garden. But it was in the sunshine of a client’s garden that I was told of a 16th century saying “a peck of March dust is worth a king’s ransom” (a peck was a dry measure of two gallons) – an interesting thought.

Another quote, this time from Victoria Glendinning “The test of a good gardener is ruthlessness” (said to be Rita Sackville-West’s quote) – this is something I see all the time and definitely something for us to ponder on!


To tidy or not to tidy

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

I don’t usually like to tidy the garden in the autumn, I prefer to let it collapse on itself protecting the soil structure, giving shelter to tiny creatures (e.g. newts) and seed heads for the birds. However 4 years are up and the herbaceous perennials need to be split (before everything becomes over whelming!) so now my compost bin is heaped with dead and woody stems and my borders look re-organised and neat. Of course neat and tidy gardens are not the perfect wildlife haven but there needs to be a balance between the gardener’s needs and that of the wildlife.

I am poised to mulch my beds with woodchip and I have potted up many of the split plants that I no longer have space for (these will be donated to a local plant sale next June).

There is space in the beds now for the spring bulbs to put on their show in a couple of months time – I can’t wait!

In the meantime there is some good foliage and the Iris unguicularis has been flowering for weeks.


Roses in the rain

Monday, November 11th, 2013

A check up visit on a client whose new rose garden is blooming well even in the November rain.  This is Rosa ‘Simply Heaven’

Crop walking in August

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

A lovely sunny day for my routine crop walk – I walk up and down the orchard rows, secateurs on my belt, gloved hands and a plastic sack.  I give each tree a long hard stare, beginning with the leader then checking each branch from the top to the bottom.

The trees are being eaten – of course they are – this is an orchard which receives the minimum of spraying, an orchard where we are trying to maintain a balance betwee the ‘good and the bad’.

Second generation young Vapourer moth are sitting in the sun ontop of the leaves close to the leader, these are a spectacular looking caterpillar, easily identified.

Also at the top of a couple of trees, on the underside of the leaves, a healthy colony of voracious hawk moth caterpillars, much harder to spot and pick off than the Vapouror moths.  The guilt gets to me but I have to protect my young apple trees whilst I can, in a few years time the hawkmoth larvae will be well beyond my reach.

The bottom of the trees are being eaten too, by deer.  It took a couple of years for the deer to find the new orchard but now they pay it a daily visit and so our deer fence is being extended as I type.

The good news is that we have a healthy population of beneficial insects in the orchard too, I found many ladybirds and spotted a lacewing, hoverfly and earwig too.

Yews Farm garden – horticultural excellence

Friday, July 5th, 2013

This is quite the perfect garden: walled, romantic planting, carefully chosen colour schemes, productive vegetable beds and trained fruit. This garden that will keep its dignity all year round, with the gnarled apple trees, the formal bay and box shapes and crisp edged lawn.

The garden at Yews Farm was started in 1997 by Louise and Fergus Dowding , it was  a blank canvas with only the apple trees retained.  Keeping maintenance low is key to Fergus and Louise; beds are block planted, they are not dug and well rotted manure is added to all beds annually. By keeping the soil healthy you improve the health of your plants “for a plant to thrive, the soil must be alive”.

Plants are chosen for their colour but also for their form, for example clipped shapes, Hydrangea quercifolia, Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’, ferns, Dracunculus, Paulonia, Yucca, Globe artichoke, Helleborus corsicus, Eryngium, Euphorbia mellifera, Eucomis (most of these were in the gravel ‘jungle’ garden).

Self seeding is allowed as this does reduce maintenance however Louise is ruthless, if a plant is in the wrong place, does not look right or does not thrive then it will be removed or substituted.  There is indeed a tucked away cutting border which I suspect is home to many of the outcasts.

Good plants for self seeding include Eryngium ‘Miss Willmott’s Ghost’, Allium Christophii and Hellebores.

Other plants that impressed were:
Ligusticum lucidum
Rosa ‘Eden’ (cream, pink, green) – a recent French bred climbing rose
Iris ‘Kent Pride’ (lovely blue tinge to base of leaves)
Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’ (dark rusty orange / red with different interesting tones)

Tips shared with us by Fergus:
1. Hostas tend to stay slug free if grown on gravel but where their leaves are not touching other plants (which creates a slug bridge).
2. Manure from silage fed cows tends to be less weedy than field grazing cows
3. Louise is using horticultural grade Neam oil insecticide / soap against box blight

Semi-naturalistic borders

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Every so often it is a good idea to step back and take an objective look at our gardens (or any aspect of our lives actually), it is all too easy to stop seeing.  Our garden borders are living things, they are competitive places where some of the less able species may need a little helping hand from the gardener. 

Yesterday I took some time out to cast a critical eye over my borders, I asked myself lots of questions: which plants have got out of proportion with the surrounding plants? What can be clipped? What would be better removed? Where is the colour? Are plants repeated enough? Are the colours working well together? Is there enough height? Are leaf and flower shapes interesting? What should be moved in the autumn, etc… I jotted down a long list of improvements, some of which I could start immediately, the remainder have been filed in my diary for November.

I spent the rest of the day implementing my plan being ruthless, re-asserting myself as boss in the garden. Myosotis, Euphorbia Chamaeleon and the lovely pale yellow Welsh poppy (Meconopsis cambrica) were ruthlessly dug up from beds where they were not meant to be. I am all for self seeding, Aquilegia, Nemophilla, Lunaria, Myosotis, Meconopsis, Digitalis, etc… are all tolerated to a degree in my borders however light handed management helps to give a bit of space to the other plants too.

I like to work with nature in my garden particularly as I like it to link with the wider countryside, it is also the best approach for lower maintenance and produces a softer more naturalistic effect as in cottage, woodland, steppe and prairie gardens.

I thought my borders were relatively weed free but when I got right in there it was interesting what I found: foliage sheltering weeds with weeds protecting yet more weed seedlings and a surprising number of conclaves of romantic snails!

Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ was given the ‘Chelsea chop’ where it was smothering other plants. The Arabis that has flowered for months, was given a short back and sides reshaping it into neat cushions and the hellebores, now great lush plants with heavy flower heads, were dead headed and untidy foliage removed.

I feel the plants in my borders can breath a bit better now, the air can circulate around my roses to cut down on disease, everything is a little more in proportion, there are fewer seeding weeds, fewer breeding snails and my compost bin has been re-fuelled.

The Hungry Gap

Friday, January 25th, 2013

As snow brings chaos to man’s world so it brings panic to that of the wildlife, cutting off herbivore’s food source, freezing their drinking water, stripping away camouflage. But beneath the blanket of snow all is going to plan; bulbs prepare for spring unhindered, rhubarb crowns, annuals, biennials and fruit trees magically clock up their required number of ‘cold units’ before they will break winter dormancy (known as vernalization). It is a time of year where growth hormones are triggered by cold ensuring a season of flowers and fruit during the year ahead.

The snow will melt and the birds will find food again, they will build their nests, raise their broods, feed off juicy ‘spring’ insects but for those of us who like to grow our own food, we will be in the midst of what is known as ‘the hungry gap’.

I spent the last growing season producing vegetables both for summer consumption but also to store for the winter, for example: parsnips, carrots, celeriac, potatoes, squash, onions, beans, leeks, beetroot, brassicas, garlic, salads… Now at the end of January the onions, garlic and potatoes are beginning to sprout, the squash are deteriorating, the salads are thinking about bolting (flowering) and due to my negligence the pigeons discovered the brassicas whilst all else was covered in snow.   From now until May is known as the ‘hungry gap’ when there will be very little fresh produce in the vegetable plot.

I still have the hen’s eggs and I am lucky there is produce in the freezer but I will have to buy additional vegetables. I am lucky too that I do not have to rely on my garden 100% however I do find it extremely rewarding growing my own food and can’t wait to start growing again – the first seeds will be going in next month!

Secret garden – Somerset

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

I have just spent the last two days re-designing a neglected herbaceous border which does not offer a very long season of interest.  I have used my survey drawing of the border to consider which plants I will re-use, everything will have to be dug up, the bed checked for perennial weeds, organic matter added and those plants making the grade, divided and replanted in smaller groups. 

The bed has been designed to be relatively low maintenance (herbaceous borders are never low maintenance!) and to offer a long season of interest using colour (flowers and foliage), shape (flowers, foliage, plant), I have drawn on some of my favourite plants such as Penstemon ‘Garnet’, Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Tulbaghia violacea and Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’.  The result is quite a complex technical drawing with support notes describing the plants and their care.