Thursday, 18 July 2013

Moving to a new blog address ...

Oh dear ! I broke my block ! This blog has stopped refreshing in lots of different circumstances, and it isn't showing any posts after April, for some people. My fault! In my defence I just didn't know basic rules for HTML (still don't!)so i committed all sorts of sins, like naming photos using punctuation marks . I have killed my blog slowly but surely!

My new blog will be a continuation of this one, and is called  'Hoe hoe grow'. The address is below so please click through and pay a visit ...

Hope to see you there !

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Is it all worth it ?

So, we dig the plot, we fertilise the plot, we grow the seed, we tend the seed, we pot on the seedlings, we plant the seedlings, we hoe, we water, we weed  ... then one day we get to eat it all. And it is all worth while ! That is the myth !

One year, I did all the above and got about ten tomatoes all season. That definitely wasn't worth it. I could have saved myself all the work and the expense , by nipping down to the shop and buying a punnet full.

Last year, the potatoes got blight and we didn't get one, not one . Definitely not worth it.

But even in those dreadful years of constant rain, or no rain, or whatever, something drives us on, and that thing is optimism.

Today I went down the garden with a bowl, and stood in the sun, pulling warm, ripe raspberries and it was all worth it.

Today, when I tasted these, I knew it is all worth it :

Next year, the birds might sneak them all, but this year, the canes are loaded with big, fat fruits !

The strawberries are also ready, and the blackcurrants are not far behind.

Barring droughts, blight and other acts of nature, the odds are looking good on getting more than ten tomatoes this year.

Friday, 5 July 2013

What lies beneath

We never  truly grow up. The things that gave us pleasure as small children retain their power throughout our lives. So give me a net, wellies and the equivalent of a jam jar and I am still  content. Add in some grown up toys, like a camera, tripod and Macro lens, and I am deeply content ! I also have the best possible excuse, as I am doing it in the name of science, for my blog !

The wild life pond is now buzzing with life in all its many and varied forms, from the insects flying above it, to the fish swimming in its waters, so I decided to go pond dipping and see just what does lie beneath the surface of the waters.

All the life forms I found I put into a glass receptacle so that I could photograph them more easily, and they were returned to the pond within an hour.

I found three newts fairly quickly as there are lots in the pond at the present time. They are only found in great numbers for a few weeks around this time of year, as they come to mate and lay their eggs. Eggs are laid singly, unlike frogs and toads, and each one is wrapped in a leaf to protect it. When they hatch newtlets are tiny, and vaguely resemble a cross between a tiny fish and a tadpole. On close inspection, you can see the feathery gills along their sides, which they use to breathe. These disappear as they mature.

Here is a shot of the belly of a newt, showing the spotting.

The wildlife pond has sticklebacks in it, which are breeding well. There are some tiny, newly hatched fry as well as some much larger fish. If you look closely you can see the spines along this Stickleback's back which give the fish its name. The males are very territorial, especially in the breeding season, and this one kept lifting his spines, because he was confined with other fish temporarily.

Earlier in the year, the males show their breeding colours, which are quite vivid turquoise and red around their bellies.

Ok, so the leeches in our British ponds are not exactly as huge and ferocious as the ones which attached themselves to Humphrey Bogart in the 'The African Queen', but I still went a bit funny when I had to pick it out of the net ! Lots of leeches live in the mud at the bottom of the pond and are an important part of the eco - system of the pond. So I'm told. (I think we could do perfectly well without them !)

Usually at this time, or a little later in the season, after it has rained, the grass is full of little froglets leaving the pond. Strangely this year, I keep seeing lots of tadpoles at the moment, which have hardly started to develop. This one is very large and has its back legs, but lots have no limb growth at all. This is only a theory, but I did wonder if a second lot of spawn had been laid after the first lot was killed by the frosts ?

And where would we be without the scavengers ? The snails, cleaning up and clearing up the rubbish that everything else leaves behind ! The pond is full of them in all different shapes and sizes. There are the common snails, as in the photo, and Ramshorn snails, shaped as the name suggests.

There are so many beasties I haven't included - the pondskaters skimming along the surface, the Water Boatmen rowing their way through the waters, the Freshwater Lice, the Whirligig beetles and lots more.

The planting around the pond has naturalised and matured and I am so excited that I have a native Orchid growing now. Hopefully it will set seed and spread around the margins.

The pond is in its third season and there are still two things I long to see , a dragonfly , and swallows skimming the water for insects.

If you would like to see how we made our pond, you might like to view this  post:

Monday, 1 July 2013

Bit of a pilgrimage !

The last day of June was a gift. A blue-skyed, hot- sunned gift. I would think most people relaxed in their gardens, saw friends, barbecued, drank chilled white white ... We, on the other hand, spent about five hours in an airless car, driving down to the 'David Austin Plant Centre', near Wolverhampton. And I don't regret one single mile of it.

My passion for the last few years has been the 'English Roses', bred by David Austin since the 1970's. They are a heady mix of romance and ripe beauty, somehow managing to capture the essence of the English country garden at its height, in midsummer. The names, alone, are so evocative, names like 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles', 'Brother Cadfael', 'The Generous Gardener', 'This Sceptred Isle' just make you want to find a place for them in your own garden.

My local nurseries have a reasonable selection of 'English roses', and, in their favour, they are only just down the road, but once I started looking through the David Austin catalogue, I realised that the choice there was immense, as they hold the National Collection. So,  there was only one place to head to ... the centre of the universe !

Maybe I should get out more, but I have rarely had more excitement from what was essentially a retail experience ! There are two acres of the most heavenly gardens, housing hundreds of English roses, in huge pots, mixed borders, formal gardens specimens and climbers. I learned such a lot from just looking. I had selected roses from the catalogue before we set off, and thought I knew exactly which ones I would buy, but when I saw them in a garden context, grown to full maturity, I had to rethink some of my choices. It is such a personal thing, and whilst they are ALL beautiful, the habits of some appeal more than others. For example, I fell in love with 'Queen of Sweden from a photo of the flower in the catalogue, and  thought she was definitely coming home with me, but when I saw her stiff, upright habit, I discounted her immediately. The habits were very different in different plants, some had graceful, arching habits, some were too lax, others too vigorous, others too small. Like Goldilocks, I had to find the ones which were 'just right'! The more I walked and looked, the more I learned and understood.

The gardens were absolutely fantastic, and most of the roses were in their first flush of flowers, so the scents and colours were intense. The mixed planting gave some interesting, thoughtful combinations too, such as pink roses against the purple leaves of a Sedum.

 Just before closing time I had managed to narrow my choices down to four English roses of complementary colours, with similar expected dimensions at maturity. The plan is to put them all into  a Box parterre which is just beginning to fill out and mature. It was planted about 2 years ago, and, after a slow start, the plants are growing now. The area inside the box hedging has been filled with Cosmos, grown from seed, and annual poppies every summer, but the roses will replace this labour intensive planting, to a large extent.

So, what was the final, difficult selection, with an overwhelming choice of gorgeous alternatives ?

My first choice was 'Wollerton Old Hall' a lovely creamy, apricot rose with a fantastic scent. It is one of the most highly scented of the English roses.

Next into the trolley was ' Gentle Hermione' with its soft pink, full petalled flowers, as every example in the gardens just looked stunning.

An old favourite next, the soft yellow 'Jude the Obscure',which I have somehow managed to kill off in the garden . It has large flowers, and like 'Wollerton Hall', has a strong scent.

Finally, 'William and Catherine', a lovely rose with perfect flowers fading from apricot to white over dark, glossy green foliage.

All healthy, well grown plants, bursting with buds. I can't wait to get them into the garden and see them flowering.

Here are some of the other lovely roses in the gardens :

 The Alnwick Rose


'Jayne Austin'

'The Lion Garden'

Equally as lovely to look at as the roses !

'Queen of Sweden'

Mixed planting, including Foxgloves

More mixed planting, including catmint and Penstemon

More formal planting , using Box and roses

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Drum roll for the English roses please ...

After pondering over catalogues in the dark days of winter, I chose seven bare root roses, and three container grown plants. I planted them very carefully and lavished well rotted horse manure on them. When Spring finally came, I watched for the first leaves, and was very relieved when all of them began to grow. I have nurtured them and kept them weed, pest and disease free, and they have grown strongly since those first leaves appeared. They are now beginning to flower and I am embarrassingly excited by this, and have the urge to tell total strangers in the street!

Today, 'Munstead Wood' has opened its first bloom :

Gardening is so much about hope and optimism, and I envisaged this flower as I laboured in the cold and the bare soil. There is so much deferred gratification, we gardeners are probably a psychologist's dream !

This is how they all started :

That's enough, I'm sure you get the picture ! I can almost feel that icy soil now !

I have been interested to see how the growth of the bare roots compared to the container grown roses, and have found that although the bare roots were obviously slower to take off, there is nothing between them now, as the growth of the bare root plants has been phenomenal.

But, this heap, I think, is the star of the show :

The English roses I planted were :

Winchester Cathedral      (white)
William Shakespeare       (dark red)
Teasing Georgia              (yellow)
Shropshire Lad               (pale pink)
Munstead Wood             (deep red)
St Swithins                      (pale pink)
Sceptered Isle                   (light pink)
Tess of the D'Ubervilles    (dark red)
Wisley                                (pale pink)

I also planted:

bare root hedge of the old Gallica rose 'Charles De Mills'   (dark red)
Rosa Mundi   (bi-colour crimson / white)

This is the 'Charles De Mills' hedge when it went in :

And here it is now, just about to burst into glory :

I had one left over when planting, so I tucked it in a more sheltered part of the garden and it is already flowering :

I couldn't miss out including a photo of 'Geoff Hamilton', although he is a couple of years old now, but blooming beautifully, despite the rain (so far ...)

Also in bloom at the moment are :

Buff Beauty.

I think this one is 'Pink Profusion', but I have lost the label, so have probably made that one up !

All my other new babies are waiting in the wings, with swelling buds that are going to open any day ... except for ... poor old 'Tess' who is really struggling ...

Interestingly, she is the most expensive rose I bought, and I got her from a very reputable nursery. They would be happy to replace her, but I feel , all is not lost yet. She is about a quarter the size of all the others, and although looking happier of late, she is still sickly. Note to self - must remove dead stem, as that won't be helping !

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