Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Garden for a friend ...

When our dear friend Helen died last September, life changed for all the people who knew and loved her. Our way of coping with her loss was to do something, to design and plant a garden where we could go, and sit, and remember her. She was a passionate gardener and keen plantswoman and we wanted to try to recreate her sort of garden, using some of her favourite plants.

We used a part of the garden that had been the site of a polytunnel, which fell victim to the weight of  snow one bad winter, and basically imploded!

After the collapse of said Polytunnel two years ago, we retained its footprint, using the beds for outdoor tomatoes and courgettes (with spectacular lack of success I have to say !)

In September, we cleared and dug over the area and then discussed and drew out the design for the new garden. We then started to work on it almost immediately and I found it very therapeutic to get out there and expend some energy in digging.

This is how it looked two months ago in March - bleak and uninviting ! In the foreground you may just be able to spot the newly planted bareroot Rose hedge of the old Gallica rose 'Charles de Mills'. It has a single flush of fully double, flat-faced blooms in colours described as 'variable' from crimson, to magenta pink. All plants have taken successfully and were a fantastically cheap way to grow this curving, informal hedge, to mark the boundary of 'Helen's Garden'. 

The following photos were all taken today, and show, hopefully, how a pile of gravel can help to transform an area and give it definition. This is before we started, we knew where the paths would be, so I planted geraniums as edging back in October. You can already see them marking the edges of the new paths.

So, our task today was to clear any weeds, then lay a weed-proof membrane and barrow this into position ...

I can say with authority, that this pile looks deceptively teeny, and that it contains a lot more sweaty barrow-loads than you would imagine !

This is the start of the gravel-shifting ...

And on it goes ...

And on ...

Here it is, all finished, with a bench to sit on, plus a small table and chairs as well. I think we need a few pots on the gravel, with something like Dryopteris ferns in (clue is in the name !) as these would not need constant watering.

It is still a work in progress with lots still to do... there are big gaps with bare earth, and the plants need to fill out in places. The edges of the paths need softening further with more geraniums, and we also need 'something' on that central spot in the gravel ... maybe some sculpture, or a statue, or a bird table, or some driftwood ... I don't know what it will be, but I think we will know it when we see it. And we will enjoy looking ...

Monday, 27 May 2013

Plant out ... and repeat !

The sun is shining, the birds are singing, so am I lying in my hammock with a glass of chilled white in my hand ? No, I am on my knees with my hands in the soil, madly planting out all the tender stuff from the greenhouse which I have grown from seed.

I am hoping that all likelihood of frost is now passed, but this year, who knows ? All I can say is that from past experience it would be most unlikely to have a frost this late. Unlikely ... but not impossible. However, there is so much to get in the earth, that I could not miss the opportunity of a whole, sunny day spent solely in the garden.

There has been little room in the greenhouse since April, as seeds grew into seedlings, and seedlings grew into vigorous young plants. They have taken up every surface and most of the floor too. However, this is the day they have all vacated the greenhouse, and moved out into the big wide world.

The photo above shows some of the plants, and the photo below shows even more ...

Firstly, I planted out lots of Cosmos Cosmonaut in between young box hedging, which has not yet 'joined up' !  I have done this for the past 2 years and when I started planting, I was really pleased to see Cosmos seedlings growing there already, where last year's Cosmos has self- seeded. I had to stake each one because ... well ... dogs + young plants = plants 0, dogs 1!

 For anyone who isn't familiar with Cosmos, it is a fantastic annual, growing into a big feathery plant with lovely single flowers. You can also grow dwarf, and/or semi-double as well. They are easy to grow, seem to flourish in most parts of the garden, and flower forever, as long as they are regularly dead headed. They also make a good cut flower, and the foliage is particularly useful in flower arrangements. 'Cosmonaut' is a lovely pure white semi-double, which is almost luminous at dusk. This variety is earlier to bloom then other Cosmos, and they grow up to about 120 cm, so quite tall. The tall ones do need staking, as they get top heavy with flowers, but the dwarf ones are fine, in my experience.

I have grown Datura again this year as they are very exotic looking but really easy to grow, and I just save seed every year to sow the following Spring. Although the plants are still quite small they are already beginning to flower. Hopefully they will look good in pots and in the sub-tropical garden. I know that they can be overwintered inside, and so grow into very substantial plants/ small trees, but I have managed to kill them off every single year, so I just grow them as annuals now. As you can see, mine are now coming into bloom, nice and early, I may add ! I am not exactly sure if they will be yellow or cream, but I am guessing pale yellow ... watch this space !

My 'Bishop's Children' Dahlias are well grown plants and also ready to begin their new life outside. Again, I treat these as annuals and do not bother to over winter them, as they grow so readily from seed every year. They are offspring of 'Bishop of Llandaff' and are all very dark-leaved, with flowers in reds, russets  or oranges. Very exciting as you never know quite what will occur !

I have also grown Rudbeckia Cherry Brandy and Ricinus Communis from seed, and planted them out today.

Failures ? Oh there have been failures - 3 different kinds of bananas which never germinated, Ammas 'African Queen' which you need a microscope to see, they are so tiny, and Agaves (only 2 have bothered to grow !) ... need I go on ...

Friday, 24 May 2013

Freeze frame now !

If I could stop time, I would do it now, this instant, when the roses are in bud, the lupins are waiting in the wings, and the Aquilegia are in flower. We are in that most perfect moment of equilibrium when summer has begun and there is lots in bloom, but still so much, as yet unseen. There is the expectant promise of the roses, tantalisingly close, but not quite given. They are nearly all in bud and I am just waiting for the first one to break ranks and flower. I think it may be 'Paul's Scarlet' a red climber which has grown along a west facing stone wall for many years.

This is the time of year when the garden is reaching its height, but nothing has yet 'gone over' so, yes, if I could freeze time, I would do it now, when that balance is perfect and the season is nearly at its zenith.

Nearly all bare earth has disappeared in the borders and the days of hoeing endlessly are nearly behind us. Soon, no one will notice the odd weed popping up between the flowers ! The borders are looking full and fresh and everything is still experiencing that first flush of growth. I have planted out Sweet Peas in any large gaps, but they will take a while to take off and flourish.

Colour is provided by ... erm ... the hosepipe (!), nemesia, Ajuga, Euphorbia (wheelbarrows full), Honesty, Aquilegia and geraniums.

Colour here is provided by an Acer palmatum Dissectum, Choisya 'Sundance', Cardoon, Euonymus and Bluebells. I like to pack plants very closely together so that, in theory, they almost form a tapestry. In reality, I think this border may just be packed so tight that the plants are squeaking a bit ! I fear I may need to wade in with secateurs  and define everything a little more.

Here are some of the individuals who make up these borders and deserve to be viewed in splendid isolation...


Angelica, now officially taller than me !

Is there anything more beautiful than Apple Blossom ?

Chives - such a useful plant ! I started with one clump and split it so many times that it is dotted all over the garden. It seems to flourish anywhere and is very easy going. It fills many odd little spaces with its lovely architectural shape and delicate flowers. I give it a haircut when it finishes flowering and within a few weeks , it is re-growing nice fresh foliage.

This is the first verbascum I have grown. For years I could only find them in a rather unpleasant acid yellow, but I love this soft creamy-white.

The flowers of this Tree Peony look far more exotic than they really are, as it is very hardy. 

There is something primeval about this big fat poppy bud. I am hoping it will be a subtle rose pink, rather than the brick-red I have in another part of the garden. You know that feeling, when you don't reallylike a plant, but you haven't the heart to dig it out ? The red one is so bright - an assault on the eyes, but I still can't quite bring myself to be judge and executioner !

And here is some promise, unfulfilled. Lovely lupins, the staples of the English cottage garden. There is no clue yet as to colour, and, of course, I can't remember what colour they are from last year, so it will be a surprise. 

So many surprises at this time of year ...

Monday, 20 May 2013

May time, play time ...

I think that this is the very best best bit of the year, in the garden.There is so much colour and interest, yet so much still to come. Things are growing so rapidly, that changes seem to occur almost overnight. Foliage is still fresh and young, and everything is still in the first flush of growth. Geraniums are in neat little mounds, not yet sprawling across the paths, delphiniums are still standing up straight and foliage on the roses is still shining with health ! There is so much to photograph in the garden, it is hard to know what to choose.

The following photos are just a representation of some of the things currently in flower in the garden. For the camera geeks who are interested, it has been a trial run for my new Macro lens, which I am using on my CanonEOS300D. It is a Sigma 70 - 300 mm f4-5.6 APO DG- Macro lens. The lens is capable of Macro photography with 1:2 magnification ratio.

Dicentra Spectabilis

Tree Fern frond unfurling

Tulip - not a clue which one !

Apple blossom




Japanese Painted fern

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