Hello, poor neglected blog! I’ve thought of you a lot over these past few months and yet never found the time / energy to pop in and say hi…
Late pregnancy this time round has been a total crusher of energy. Partly, I suppose, because I’m older, partly because I have two other little people to look after and partly because I seem to have been ill with one thing or another at least once a week. (Though the last of those is down to the first two, I am pretty sure…)
Anyway, here we are with ten days to go before the baby is due, and I’m finally managing to drop in and share some pictures of our trip to Sissinghurst from a few weekends ago.
It was one of those glorious Autumnal days, the sky blue, the sun shining, the leaves just starting to turn and the fruit trees dripping in bounty.
The kids ran around, I slowly wandered about admiring the planting and ruminating on the how the garden design fit the architecture and surrounding environment (I was compiling a sketchbook on said topic for one of my garden design assignments) and we all ate heartily at the (rather expensive) cafe.
I don’t need to say much about Sissinghurst, I’m sure, as it must be one of the most famous gardens in the country. But, despite the glamour and renown of the garden rooms, I have to confess that I find some of the outlying parts a little more appealing. The kitchen garden, surrounded by views of the fields, was fat with pumpkins. The orchard was full of apples, crabapples and pears. The lakes, towards the very perimeter of the “gardened” land were looking beautiful with huge stately oak trees shaking their branches over the top. And perhaps my favourite parts are where you can catch glimpses out to the Kentish farmland beyond, the gentle chug of a tractor in the distance, a few faraway figures walking the dogs through the yellow fields… I do love the domestic romance of the English countryside.
I noticed, for the first time, that there is a B&B on the grounds of the estate. (Website here: sissinghurstcastlefarmhouse.com) One to add to the list for a child-free weekend away at some unspecified point in the future!
Anyway, I hope you’re all well. I suspect I won’t have time to drop in again now until after the baby arrives, until when I am busy trying to finish my last assignment for the course (designing a show garden for Chelsea / Hampton Court!) and finishing off the blanket that I have only just started knitting. (You can see it on my IG account here: baby blanket) Oh dear, little baby, I am sorry that before you are even born I have had less time to spend on you than I did on your siblings!
Thames Barrier Park is one of those slightly random places in London that I tend to read about and never visit.
Built in 2001, next to, you guessed it, the Thames Barrier, it’s a really cutting edge bit of garden design and I’ve seen photos of it in magazines, online, and, frequently, in lectures at my garden design course.
And yet, it always seemed so far away and hard to reach that I’d never had quite enough impetus to go and visit. And that’s coming from someone who already lives in London.
But at the end of July, we had a scheduled visit on my course, so I hit the jubilee line and then the DLR and set off for Pontoon Dock, the station beside the park. (Side note: Pontoon Dock! What a fabulous name!)
My reservations about travelling so far must be shared by others. It was a gloriously sunny day, but the park was all but deserted, apart from my gaggle of eager garden designers to be.
The park is surrounded by a huge amount of new buildings and new building work, bordered at one edge by the river and the barriers, and at the other by the DLR line, and directly under the flight path of City Airport, with planes taking off and landing every few minutes. Yet, despite the noise and the bustle, it’s a surprisingly relaxing place to be.
At the centre of the design is the sunken garden: the one you’ll probably already recognise from photos. Clipped hedges of yew are shaped into huge rows of undulating waves, the long lines leading your eye all the way down the barriers. Interspersed with the green yew is a range of colourful perennials and grasses which, when we visited, were at peak bloom.
It’s an impressive and innovative spectacle, no doubt, but maintenance issues were apparent when we visited (and, I think, all the time) as the clipped forms need constant care and were growing straggly in places and had even died off completely in others.
You can walk down into the garden and wander along the lines of plants, but it’s really designed to be viewed from one of the bridges that cross over its width.
Around the main area, is a swathe of wildflower meadows, interspersed with a grid of birch trees and, I have to confess, I found this a more enjoyable place to sit and spend time. The semi-natural environment provided more of a relief from all the construction and hard lines around, and it was lovely to watch the grasses waft in the wind and the bees landing on the flowers.
I would say it’s well worth a visit if you’re already in the area, but that begs the question who would be in the area and why? I wondered exactly why such a contemporary garden had been built here and whether the original intention was to draw people to this rather neglected part of the docklands simply to come and see it? If so, I’m not sure it’s been successful, but I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve visited…
I am delighted to say I am joining in with Annie Spratt’s wonderful How does your garden grow once again. Annie’s has long been one of my fave blogs to visit and I was really sad when Annie announced her decision to stop blogging recently, and over the moon when she decided to resurrect HDYGG again. Do go over and visit everyone else’s posts, there’s always some great inspiration to be found…
When I first got into gardening, I was always slightly embarrassed by my own garden in the middle of summer. Springtime tended to be luscious and green, Autumn was russet-toned and lovely but in the very middle of summer… …well, quite often not much seemed to be going on.
Where were the flowers? Should the grass be that brown? Why did everything look like it might be about to shuffle off this mortal coil?
In fact, since learning a bit more about horticulture, I realise that high summer is one of the trickier times in the garden. Lots of the earlier blooming flowers are over, those that wait for the cooler days of Autumn are yet to impress, and everything tends to be in good need of a large drink of water.
Thankfully, I’ve also learnt it’s not that tricky to resolve the situation, so here are six easy tricks for sprucing up your garden.
I used to dismiss bedding as old fashioned, blousy and, frankly a bit naff. If someone mentioned “plugging up the gaps in your beds with bedding” I’d immediately think of petunias or marigolds. Garish flowers that would look perfect in an Victorian park, with head gardeners wasting endless supplies of water keeping them alive, only to rip them up at the end of the season and start again.
Actually, though, there’s plenty of tasteful, beautiful, non-garish and even modern bedding around.
Technically speaking, bedding can refer to any plant that’s an annual, or lives only for a year. Because it’s just a one season thing, it’s cheaper to buy than perennials (nobody has had to look after it for years before it blooms) and often easy to grow from seed.
Some of my favourites, all of which should be available in a good plant shop near you, are cosmos, snapdragons, sweet peas and Nicotiana alata. The last of these has the most incredible scent in the evening, but is fairly toxic, so make sure you plant it towards the back of a bed if you have kids or animals roaming around.
The best thing to do if you’re planning on buying bedding, though, is just taking a browse at a garden centre or (even better) a plant nursery and grabbing anything that takes your fancy and is looking good right now. Remember that it won’t be around next year, so make sure it looks like it’s got a good bit of flower production still left for the season and then just plant it anywhere that needs an extra dash of interest…
This is the quickest win of all when it comes to gardening. Buy some plants already in flower (bedding, or perennials) and put them in a pot in a prominent position.
Gardens Illustrated always has brilliant combinations for plants in containers if you need inspiration, or just follow your heart and choose things you think look nice.
The really great thing about pots is that you can move them around, so once a display is over, put the pot into a hidden corner to wait until next year, or dig up the plants, re-plant in your garden if appropriate and put something new in.
I know, sorry, what a boring option! But if you’ve not got the time / money / inclination to re-paint fences or furniture, then just giving them a really good scrub can often work wonders to perking up the whole look of your garden.
Endless spring showers (and often summer ones too) mean that tables and chairs can get dirty and everything can start to look a bit drab and brown.
This is especially true if you have a very modern-looking white-rendered wall style of garden, where every stain and mark shows up. A friend of mine who works as maintenance gardener once described working in these gardens as being a bit like an outdoor cleaner: more often than pruning shrubs or weeding, she found that cleaning the walls made the biggest difference to how everything looked.
Mow the lawn
I am constantly, constantly amazed what a huge difference it makes to my garden once we’ve given the grass a good mow. Suddenly, everything looks neater and more intentional when set against the backdrop of a finely trimmed sward
Choose some lighting
High summer is prime time for late night suppers in the garden. In an ideal world, we’d all have atmospheric mood lighting to accompany the event. You know the kind: dramatic uplighters highlighting a stately tree trunk, or a string of romantic bare bulbed lights over our eating area. In real life, this is often a fairly expensive option for the rare evenings in this country where we want to be sitting in the garden at night.
But mood lighting can be simple (and cheap) too; candles for eating dinner are perfect. Perhaps a hurricane lamp strung from a tree. Or just some outdoor fairy lights festooning a fence. Anything that twinkles, basically, is a good bet…
6. Add some fabrics
I can sometimes be guilty of not bothering to carry things outside to the garden, because I know I’ll just have to take them back inside at the end of the day.
But a picnic blanket, some cushions, a hammock strung between the trees: these are the things of comfort and relaxation and long days spent soaking up the sun. Our kids love their red and white striped teepee and can spend hours minutes sitting inside quite happily on their own and pretending it’s a space rocket.
Do you have any other tips for quick fixes to make your garden look inviting? Do share them below…
Well, wasn’t the last week of June utterly depressing. Like so many, I was knocked for six with the results of the referendum.
I find the whole thing terrifying and bleak. The result itself, the reports of increased racism that have peppered the news this past week, the furious packpedalling of the Leave campaigners, the Leave voter regretters, but also the really unpleasant bile and accusations that have been rife on my Facebook feed ever since — predominantly from those who share my political views and also voted to remain.
Yes, I agree, it is bloody miserable that more people said leave than stay, but I don’t think that justifies branding half the population either racist or moronic. Nor do I feel much empathy for those who want to take London out of the UK (erm, doesn’t that kind of go against the whole point of staying stronger together?) or moan about how they’ll no longer be able to retire to a lovely villa in Spain.
Anyway, let’s hope that something comes up to stop us actually following through and leaving and that the unpleasant racism and Facebook fighting dies down and maybe, just maybe, we can all stand up against a political system filled with lies and nonsense pedalled merely as a desire for personal gain, irrespective of the good of the country.
In the meantime, pottering in the garden has provided me with some respite from the bleak outlook. June is often a bit of a “flower gap” in my garden, a time when the Spring blooms are over, but high Summer is yet to hit its peak. But there’s just enough of interest to keep me wandering around between all the rainstorms.
My complete obsession at the moment are my stunning thalictrum plants. They’re Thalictrum delavayi ‘album’ and the flower buds form perfect white circles that bob about on slender stems, before opening to reveal delicate yellow stamens. I have about nine plants dotted throughout the garden and I just adore them. They were newly planted in the Autumn, but I shall put them in every garden I ever own from now on…
Another favourite is this scabious; I love watching it unfold from tightly packed bud to luscious flower and then into a rather glorious seedhead. I planted it next to some salvia argentea, which is a huge fat-leaved, hairy silver plant, that looked absolutely amazing for about a week. And then the slugs devoured every last bit of it. Three plants, completely munched through, with only the leaf veins left. Grrrr.
Regular reads might chuckle to know that, yes, my wallflower is — as ever — in full bloom. Not only does it flower pretty much continuously for 11 months of the year, but the bees love it. It’s a garden staple, I think, if a little unglamorous.
I planted a beautiful pittosporum towards the back of the garden, but it has become a breeding ground for aphids. Every time I see a ladybird anywhere in the garden, I put it on the pittosporum in the hope it will munch those little pests right up. But, a few minutes later, there will be no sign of the ladybird and hundreds more of the little black dots multiplying in front of my eyes. I think I need a more effective form of control, but the hose doesn’t reach that far down the garden to blast them away, and I always feel a little queasy, I have to confess, about wiping them off between my fingers.
There is lots on the verge of flowering at the moment too. Some poppies that have grown from seed that I asked the sproglet to chuck liberally across the flower beds are growing well. I can no longer remember what type we sowed, so I watch them every day in eager anticipation, waiting to see what colour the flowers will be. And my newly-planted echinops is getting taller and taller, the flower buds fattening. I can’t wait for them all to burst open.
Finally, a rather crappy shot of the garden as viewed from the patio looking away from the house. It’s not quite as short as it appears in the photo, but we cleared all the plastic kids crap away to put up the much more attractive fabric tent last weekend, so I thought it needed a quick snap. You can just make out the chicken house and the veg beds at the far end…
So, roll on July. Here’s to less rain, more flowers and, hopefully, a little more optimism in the whole political situation. Fingers tightly crossed.
Oh May! Such a fabulous month in the garden. Blossom dripping off trees, new buds emerging in the beds, bees drowsily buzzing. May is probably my favourite month, horticulturally. Summer is almost upon us, but the greens are still fresh and green and the dew glistens on the grass in the mornings.
In the last month, the back garden has really been taken over by the chickens and the kids. We bought two news chooks to add to the flock, which was brilliant but also necessitated buying a spare coop in case they all decided to peck each other to death. Luckily, they didn’t, but the empty coop now sits squeezed between the vegetable beds and the original chicken run and its orange-stained wooden frame is in direct line of sight at almost every point in the garden. At the end of April, the littlest had his second birthday and was the happy recipient of a brand new, bright blue plastic slide, that takes up almost all of our tiny lawn space. But, away from the blue plastic and orangina wood, the fruit trees are all in blossom and the flower beds are going great guns, with all our new plants growing well, if a little surrounded by weeds at the moment….
In the evening, the sinking sun sets right behind the fabulous acer and its leaves glow bright bronze. It’s one of my favourite sights at this time of year (and one of the few plants we kept from the previous owners…) And I’m delighted with my new bright lime green eupborbia, which is just as stunning as I’d hoped it might be. I had meant to plant some ruby red aquilegias around it, but instead it seems to be surrounded by weeds at the moment. Ah well.
In our front garden, the morello cherry tree has been in spectacular bloom, the rock roses covered in white flowers and the Sicilan honey garlic (Nectaroscordum siculum) just starting to peep out above the rest. I can see the first long shoot of the perennial sweet pea starting to make its way up the obelisk, promising a profusion of bright pink blooms later in the year.
Yes, life in sweet in May – the only obstacle to my garden utopia that we’re about to go on holiday to Sicily for a couple of weeks and I’ve not got anybody lined up to do any watering in case of no rain here. Still, the weeds, at least will survive our absence, I’m sure.
So, after 3.5 years living here, we’ve finally – finally – landscaped and planted the garden. Hurrah! I’ll show you proper photos next month as it’s still all looking a bit bare and unimpressive while the plants establish, but in the meantime, here’s a little look at some of the recent additions to our little patch of turf.
On a sunny Friday at the end of Feb, we hired a van and drove to a plant nursery in Surrey. I’m still beside myself with excitement about the brilliant trade prices I’m now eligible for as a trainee garden designer, and wandering round a nursery stuffed full of plants, feeling the first of the Spring sunshine on my face, was pretty much my idea of heaven.
Lots of what I bought is nothing more than a small mound of leaves at the moment, but these are the ones with something to show right now…
I’ve been obsessed with corkscrew hazels (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) for a good few years now and couldn’t pass up the chance to have one in my own garden. The twisting stems look rather Tim Burton-esque to me (in a good way) and then there’s the delights of all the catkins in Spring and hazelnuts in Autumn.
Also a huge obsession, though a more recent one, since my visit to Beth Chatto’s garden last year, is this incredible Euphorbia myrsinites. Those grey spiky leaves, lime green flowers and flowing stems are just quite spectacular as far as I’m concerned. I’ve planted a couple of other euphorbias, too, which will hopefully be in full flower by next month.
The famous wallflower is still going strong (no photos this month, since I’ve shared them a gazillion times) and clustered around its base, a flurry of bright blue bulbs have come up: Chionodoxa forbesii, that I planted last year and I had completely forgotten about. There is something magical about bulbs, the way they pop up and down, year after year, and you can never quite remember what is going to come up where. (Or is that just me?!) These blue beauties are a welcome sight, though I think the slugs and snails agree with me, since their leaves (as you can see) are almost always bitten off, and I often find whole flowers disappear overnight.
I’m hoping these new ipheion (‘Alberto Castillo’) will do just as well. I grabbed them from the nursery on an impulse as they were looking so stunning, and I was pleased to then find them recommended by Dan Pearson as one of his all time top plants in Gardens Illustrated later in the month. They’re very beautiful, with their long stems and white star-shaped flowers, striped down the middle with a faint line.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I can’t resist plants with fluffy leaves. So it is, the garden is heaving with Salvia argentea (which is a bit ratty looking to show you at the moment) and the lamb’s ear above (Stachys byzantina), which looks especially fantastic when it catches dew in the morning.
I’ve also added a few grasses. The beautiful Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima), above top, which glows in the sunlight and waves around in the wind in a most fantastic way. I might have to try and take a video sometime. And some brilliant miscanthus, to provide huge seed heads throughout the winter.
Finally, a blossom shot, hooray! Not, actually, a tree in my garden, but from my neighbour’s. Spring is so very, very nearly here.
Slipping in, just in time, on this fabulous extra day of the year to share some photos of the February garden, taken throughout this month.
If you were to look at a year in gardening, February would be the month of planning. Reading the seed catalogues, choosing the fruit and veg for the year ahead, deciding about changes to make in the garden and – above all – checking the air for signs of imminent Spring.
In the garden itself, not much is new in February. And this is especially true this year with the unseasonably warm Winter meaning that all my Spring plants put their heads above soil last month in January. But everything is looking that little bit more wonderful.
The magnolia flowers are almost all fully unfurled, their petals luxuriating in the odd day of sunshine. The daffodils are bobbing about in the windowboxes, shaking off early morning raindrops and enjoying the lighter evenings.
Buds are everywhere: on the cherry tree in the front garden and the apple and pear in the back. The acer is showing signs of bursting into leaf any time soon. And the catkins from next door are drooping over the fence…
The almost-overwhelming temptation, for this month’s UJB theme of jungle animals, was to bring the chickens inside and create a little jungle for them to wander around in the kitchen.
The downsides to this plan are many, the two most obvious being a kitchen floor covered in chicken poo and the inevitable demise of all my plants as the chickens devour them entirely in the time I snap a few photos. (I saw them strip a rogue fern outside of all green foliage in about five minutes the other day…)
The upsides are few, but oh-so-good: a photo of the chickens surrounded by my houseplants!
Sadly for artistic expression, sanity prevailed and I have saved the houseplants and the wooden kitchen floor by leaving the chickens to peck around outside.
Instead, you have some photos of this non-crapping and non-eating but still rather lovely netsuke bunny rabbit, wandering in its own little plantopia.
The rabbit was a present from my grandparents, many many years ago when I was deemed too small to play with a stone ornament. I don’t remember being particularly interested by it at the time of receiving it (the ungrateful nature of children, ha ha) but I really do love it now.
It’s satisfyingly heavy and cold to the touch, though it normally resides in a vintage printer’s tray, surrounded by random natural things brought inside by the kids.
As for the plants (really the point of this post, and one to which I turn rather late in the day), the models in this picture are my little alpines – newly repotted in honour of this photo session – along with my beloved echeveria in the back, all draped with my even-more-beloved string of hearts. All are plants that have taken pretty good care of themselves, so far, with a minimum intervention of watering from me. Just what I like in a plant…
So, no chickens, no poo, houseplants still alive and a rather sweet rabbit allowed to be the star of the show. I probably made the right choice…
Do go and check out other people’s (frequently far more impressive) interpretations over at the Urban Jungle Bloggers website: February 2016 jungle animals.
I wrote this last year but completely failed to gather enough twigs to photograph and illustrate the article. Waddya know, exactly the same thing has happened this year, so instead I’ve unearthed some lovely old botanical illustrations which include the look of the trees bare branches and which, hopefully, illustrate the various differences. Perhaps next winter I will manage to collect all the twigs and include them here too!
Long term readers with excellent memories might recall that this time last year I told you about the “idents” of my horticulture course: weekly tests to correctly identify and name (in Latin, natch) various different plants.
And my garden design course this year continues in a similar vein. Though, if the first week is anything to go by, at a slightly more advanced and brain-taxing level.
For, yesterday, I had to identify eight trees by looking at twigs. Twigs!
I’ve been keen to improve my tree knowledge for some time now, so I attacked this (rather difficult) task with gusto.
I thought I’d share my newly-gleaned knowledge with you, in case anyone else has a burning desire to match twig to tree in these bleak leaf-free months.
All illustrations below are from wikimedia.
If I remember, I’ll come back to these trees in the summer and show you photos of them all in full leaf as well.
The thing to look out for identify ash branches in winter are the dark black buds at the end of the twigs, right at the end of the twigs.
The rest of the year, you can spot an ash from its leaves: a group of them held together on a leaf stem (actually, each “leaf” is really known as a “leaflet,” horticultural fact lovers…) They turn yellow in Autumn.
It’s a beautiful tree, I think, though suffering from ash dieback in the UK at the moment, and therefore not planted very often. (I remember a bit of a hoo-hah when someone used one at Chelsea a few years back. The designer (I can no longer remember who, I’m afraid) argued that the tree would be fine for 10 years or so, after which point you would probably be planning to replace trees in your garden anyway, whether they were suffering from a disease or not. It struck me as a bit of a poor argument at the time…)
The cool thing about an alder in winter is that it has both catkins and fruits on the plant at once. The catkins arrive in late winter / early Spring, starting out as small purple bobbly things and the fruit remains from the Summer before, by winter time turned to a dark brown oval shape.
In mild winters, beech trees will keep their leaves until Spring. The dried out, brown leaves cling to the branches and can look absolutely stunning, especially with sun shining through them.
If the branches do retain the leaves, they’re fairly easy to recognise since few trees do this. You’re likely looking at a beech or a hornbeam and the way to tell the difference between them is to look at the edge of the leaf. A beech’s leaf edge is smooth (see the pic above), whereas a hornbeam’s leaf edge has lots and lots of little jaggedy teeth (see the hornbeam entry below for more…)
You can also take a look at the emerging leaf buds which come out in sharp points at the end of the twigs, sharper than those of the hornbeam.
Very similar, when in leaf, to the beech (above), a hornbeam also retains its dried leaves throughout winter and is often used as a hedge for this reason.
Look for the jagged teeth along the edges of the leaves and you’ve likely got a hornbeam.
Ah the lovely oak; probably the one tree most people can happily identify. From its distinctive leaves to the acorns, it’s fairly easy to spot for most of the year. Sometimes it, too, keeps its leaves in winter which makes life a lot easier.
If not, look out for clusters of smooth brown buds at the very tips of the twigs.
6. Horse chestnut
Easy to spot in winter, despite the lack of conkers, by the large brown sticky bud at the very end of the twig.
A fabulous tree in parks, with attractive leaves, lovely white flowers in the Spring and, of course, the brilliant Autumnal conkers.