Saturday, 22 August 2009

Side garden

Yesterday the trellis went up in the side garden. Ian made it from scrap wood and we painted in a soft dark green. It seemed to take years to paint but it looks great.

Today I planted out a melianthus which I bought as a tiny and very cheap plant and which I have been growing on. I also planted the dierama pulcherrima which I bought when F and I went to Aberconwy nursery after our Bodnant visit. Then there was a catmint and a soft yellow potentilla. I moved a bit of sedum from the other bed and planted out a dark purple sedum Picolette. It all looks a bit empty and thin at the moment. It needs some climbers and they must be able to be cut back fairly hard from time to time to maintain access to the tank. Clematis viticella would work well and we have also ordered some honeysuckles, two each of Tellmaniana - large copper yellow flowers in June-July, Halliana - white flowers changing to yellow. Fl. June-Sept., Belgica - early purple and yellow flowers from May to July. Might not be room for the clematis as well.
The side garden is doing quite well for its first year. The clary has been a big success, lovely colours of soft pink and blue. I think it is an annual type which I would certainly grow again. The white foxgloves which I grew from seed are still flowering and have been stunning. The major problem with them has been the wind which has sent the flowers every which way. I suppose I should have staked them but had not thought foxgloves would need it. Certainly last year's were fine without staking. Perhaps we have just had much more wind this year.

The colours are mainly purples, pinks and blues with some strong magenta from a geranium, Ann Folkard I think. I have planted out an Artemisia Powys Castle which I grew from a cutting last year and hope the silvery foliage will be good in there. At the moment it is more about foliage than flower which is ok by me.

The other bed, the one which was there when we came, or at least half of it was, is a bit of a curate's egg. The oriental poppies are superb when in flower but smother everything else and leave a huge bare swathe when they are cut down. It still looks a bit sad and stony and bare. I tried to fill the gaps with cosmos which self sowed from last year in the cutting garden but there are not enough to fill out properly as they don't make a big meaty plant in my stony soil. The ones in the cutting garden are quite a bit bigger than the ones in the side garden. Next year I shall grow lots more from seed and plant out ten or twelve in the space where I currently have five. At one end it is looking quite good now with a crocosmia lucifer just going over and three fennel plants which I grew from seed coming into flower. Fennel is good here. I shall sow some more this autumn. The Johnson's Blue geranium looks good and should be split a bit more so that some can go on the edge of the new bed by the trellis.
I need to work out what bulbs to put out there. I should have a lot more tulips I think. Last year I put some Ballerina out in the side bed and they were lovely. Think we need more ballerina in both beds and some Spring Green as well.

Friday, 7 August 2009

We dug up the early potatoes last week. These are Arran Pilot which has cropped well. We also dug up the Charlotte potatoes, great taste, definitely one to grow again and a single line of Ratte which we had from Emma and Ian and which produced a heavy crop, though with perhaps not the most interesting taste.

I lifted the garlic a month or so ago. Goodish crop of Cristo, fine crop of Arno, nothing much from Marco. The red onions produced a very disappointing crop but the white onions are spectacular, big onions, very little damage of any kind. They are drying on the slatted bench in the wooden greenhouse. Need to check the variety and consider growing again.

The peas are still cropping well and the beans are reaching for the sky. There is a lot of blossom on the green and runner beans although not much to be seen amongst the riot of leaf of the borlotti and the Trail of Tears. The broad beans have stopped now. I think it is worth having a go at an autumn sowing to try to elongate the cropping season. My second sowing in late spring produced beans which were only a week or two behind the early spring sown ones.In the cutting garden the echinacea has established much better this year. I love it and will look for some other varieties to have another row. All the cosmos is self sown bar a couple of plants which came up from my greenhouse sowing. I think the seed was not fresh enough but if they self seed as well again next year they will become something which the garden is never without. I loved the white cosmos at Bodnant. I will try growing quite a lot from seed next year as they are an ideal plant to put in front of chopped down oriental poppies.The fennel is lovely again. I will sow some more from the kitchen garden one when it sets seed. Three plants from last year's sowing are in the side garden and are beginning to bulk up. They are a lovely plant. Perhaps I should look for a bronze one too.

The sweetpeas are better than ever. These are the sweetest smelling. I am particularly pleased that I grew these myself from seed. They include some Sarah Raven seeds given to me by Zoe which I think are these deep coloured ones.They all have lovely long stems and are ideal as cut flowers - just what the cutting garden is supposed to be doing!A rather bleached out picture of some of the new bed in the side garden. The euphorbias really earn their keep as do the erysimum bowles mauve. The clary which I grew from seed has also been a good and tough addition. The white foxgloves have been a lovely flower but really suffered from the wind tunnel effect at the side of the house.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Busy day

Another sorting day. I planted out the scabious and the knifophia in the side garden and sowed some more radishes, beetroot and carrots in the field, helped by Em. Her Ian did some digging and it was a hot, hot day. After not too much time she had to decamp to the stone bench under the wild cherry tree and we joined her not too much later.

The tomatoes are planted out now, with only one solitary pot still languishing in the greenhouse.

Yesterday I planted out nicotiana and cosmos in the side garden in front of the warzone which is the cut down oriental poppies. I have tried to weed the side garden today too but the stony soil and the prolific weeds which have sprung up from the mulching (moral, use compost to fill planting holes, not as a mulch) makes it a thankless task. Still everything looks green and fresh and growing again after the cold start to spring.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

End of June

Where did the last couple of months go? One minute I was blogging away fairly frequently about the garden and suddenly here we are and I have said nothing for weeks.

The garden is slowly returning to its usual state of semi-wildness as opposed to the total overgrown mess it was when I got back from my long walk. One of the problems with a naturalistic garden, full of self sown seedlings and every thing jostling for position, is that it easily tips over into chaos. Three weeks of neglect had left it so overgrown it made me want to cry. Now a week of hours of cutting back, weeding, taking out some of the thousands of opium poppies threatening to drown out everything else in the new bed, has just about returned it to something which looks as if it is meant. Not great, not perfect, but in the loosest sense a garden rather than a mess.

I must must must remember next year that the oriental poppies and the foxgloves need staking. Every year I am seduced by how sturdy they look in May and every year we get a ferocious wind slicing along the valley which leaves everything tipsy and twisted. I have also cut back the huge amounts of growth on the poppies as the flowering finishes and am left with a lot of bare soil and mess. I am wondering about zinnias or more cosmos. I suspect zinnias would be better. next year I should try growing some from seed.

to do:
Sow more lettuce and other salad stuff - done
Sow more carrots and beetroot - done
Finish cutting back poppies - done
Weed poppy bed - started
Plant annual succession (??)
Move heuchera
Move marguerites - done
Weed behind new bed
Mulch path with wood chippings
Tie up sweet peas -done
Weed side bed - started
Dig up lavender - done

so much to do

Friday, 17 April 2009

mid April


A lot has been happening over the last week or two. Last weekend we planted the potatoes, at Easter as tradition dictates: Arran Pilot (first early), Charlotte (second early), Pink Fir Apple (maincrop). We also planted a couple of rows of samples given to us by Emma: eight Ratte, five Belle de Fontenay, and six Rooster. All these went into the new bed in the field between the raspberry rows where there will eventually be rhubarb, and in the new lower half of the cutting bed where there will eventually be flowers.

The first sowing of broad beans, peas and mangetout are coming along well in the greenhouse and will soon need to be planted out. I have also sown carrots (just showing today), celeriac (no sign) and beetroot (up and growing strongly). Yesterday I sowed chard and a couple of days ago two sorts of cabbage, Greyhound and Calibos. A couple of weeks ago I sowed some Little Gem lettuce and some mixed salad leaves and they are growing quite strongly.

Ian has sowed more tomatoes this week, together with cucumber and courgettes. So far there is very little outside except for the garlic and onions, all growing well.

I need to weed and rake the slice of the cutting garden which will have to take root veg. There is just no room in the kitchen garden.

Side garden

I have planted out the three fennel plants that I grew from our own seed, sown in October of last year and overwintered in the greenhouse. They are in the sunnier of the two beds in the side garden. I also planted out seven dianthus, also grown from seed and looking a bit sad and straggly having been in the coldframe for a couple of months, three pulsatilla and three more white foxgloves. Into there also went a phlomis from Great Dixter and three eremurus.

In the shady bed went the other three eremurus, three smyrnium perfoliatum , five arum creticum (these last two also from Great Dixter) and the other three pulsatilla. I know the eremurus really like full sun, but there is sun for a fair part of the day and just not enough room in the other bed for all of them.

The side garden is starting to look a bit more garden like now, although still with patches of bare soil. All these plants sound great but they are tiny! Once the alchemilla and the hardy geraniums have filled out it will be better. The grass seed on the resown lawn is a bit hopeless. Perhaps it will need to be done again.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The side garden

Further progress on the side garden today. I planted out 12 white foxgloves and lifted and moved 8 alchemilla mollis from the gravel in front of the house to the edges of the new bed. I also planted out two new hardy geraniums from Crug Farm Plants. Shamefacedly I have to admit that I don't know the varieties as I have had these in pots for about a year and have lost the labels.

The side garden is still looking empty but not quite as desolate as last month. I still have some potted tulips to plant out and some eremurus later in April. I suspect the eremurus will be happier in the other bed. This one is likely to be too shady but I have so many I will give it a go. It is a pain to plant things out in here at the moment. The soil as always here is stony and shallow. I wonder how much of what has gone in will survive.
In the greenhouse I sowed Clary and Orlaya Grandiflora, both hardy annuals. I also sowed some carrots and celeriac in guttering which, perhaps surprisingly, worked well last year.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Rhubarb and grass seed

A cold day today, dry but windy, bursts of sun but a two fleece day. This morning we went up to some friends' house to collect a trailer full of manure - marvellous stuff, gold dust. We have nine bags of last year's collection rotted down to perfect richness. This morning's hoard is stacked in one of the compost bays. On land like this with thin, stony soil, manure is the magic transformational ingredient which produces sweet peas in abundance, green beans and mangetout, courgettes and squash.

We bought some new rhubarb in the autumn. We ordered some very cheaply with our bare rooted plants for the hedging from Buckingham Nurseries and also ordered a collection. The plants were all very small, some laughably so, in 3 in pots and looking totally unlike anything which would ever provide a crop. We heeled them in one of the raised beds while deciding what to do with them. The plan had been to put them into the new bed in the field with the new raspberries but they are so tiny, and we have so many seed potatoes clamouring for space, that we have potted them up today in pots of mixed soil and well rotted manure. We will let them put on some growth over this year in their pots before they go into their permanent home. Ultimately each of these crowns will need about three foot of space. Hard to believe.
They are:
3 Sutton, all of a decent size, one smaller than the others,
3 decent sized Victoria
2 small Victoria which came in 3 in pots and don't look much bigger for having spent three months in the ground
3 reasonable sized Timperley Early
1 mingy little Glasnevin Perpetual.

We also raked and riddled the bank in front of the workshop which now contains the soil from the spoil pile after the utility build. The ground breeds stone, it wells up like water in a spring. We have bags and bags of stone which we have removed. With luck this bank will take grass seed now and will soon be part of the field again. I also want to reseed the side garden.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


Today on the way home from the station (last day at work yesterday!) I stopped to buy some sweetpea seeds. I bought Elegant Ladies, heritage varieties with good scent. As I came away I thought I did not have enough and had been thinking about buying some of Sarah Raven's seeds. At home a card was waiting from a lovely friend, welcoming me to my new workless life and enclosing a packet of Sarah Raven's Dark Colour Mix. Synchonicity writ large.

This afternoon I split each packet in two and put half of each packet into water to soak overnight. The other halves I sowed in three inch pots and put into the propagator. I have read contradictory things about the value of soaking sweet peas so I thought I would do a mini trial. Sweetpeas should germinate within seven to twenty one days so there is plenty of room for manoeuvre there!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

In the greenhouse

Much weeding today and discovering more things that did not survive the winter, this time one of my globe artichokes.
I have also sown beetroot in the greenhouse in guttering and two seedtrays, one of Little Gem and one of mixed salad leaves.
Ian built me another cold frame so now all the foxgloves, the tulips in pots and the eremurus are out of the greenhouse leaving more space for starting vegetables. Ian also sowed some tomatoes which are in the kitchen on the windowsill.

Friday, 20 March 2009

A packed afternoon

This is the time of year when it all starts again, that sense when you walk round the garden that there is so much to do and you could be out there all day.

This afternoon I sowed some sweetpeas in the greenhouse, split snowdrops for nearly three hours and began planting out the new bed in the side garden. I have so many white foxgloves that there are 12 out there already and loads still to put in. The soil is only about six or seven inches deep though, stony as always round here and laid on a bed of rock. Will my bed grow? I hope so. I have tried really hard to avoid the temptation to grow things I love which need moisture and rich soil and to focus on the kind of plants which I know thrive here. However this is my first attempt at making a bed which is in sun for the morning and then in shade for the rest of the day. Most of the beds here are in full sun and the oriental poppies, lavender and penstemons which thrive in them are not likely to be happy in half shade. The hellebores seem to be ok in the other bed so I have risked quite a number of other hybrids. I must remember that they should be fed after they have finished flowering and again in September. There are hardy geraniums and some more to move and put in. There are lots of self seeded alchemilla mollis in front of the house which I shall lift and move to the new bed.

Monday, 16 March 2009

The Side Garden

For the last eight months or so the side garden has been a building site as the old stone utility building has been rebuilt with its corner further away from the ancient yew tree. New drains had to be laid and the small lawn was dug up. We lifted a lot of plants from the main flower bed and kept them in old potting compost bags ready for replanting when the garden came back into its own.

It is still far from finished. The grass needs to be reseeded, paths need to be laid and a piece of trellis erected to hide the oil tank for the cottage. It is not currently a lovely spot. It is also not a piece of garden that will be easy to create: the soil is stony and thin, some of the garden gets sun for most of the day but some is in shade for a good while. In the winter the wind is funnelled past the house.

In its favour: the utility is a stone building under a slate roof and you enter the garden by walking under a really noble yew tree; one boundary is a ramshackle stone wall topped by a hornbeam hedge, one boundary is a tumbledown wall and one is a thick, properly disciplined Leyandii hedge. There is a glorious pink rhododendron which has singlehandedly cured me of my dislike of rhododendrons and a Viburnum bodnantense which is lovely but needs a bit of restorative pruning. Many plants just won't grow here at all but there are some already that will: oriental poppies, day lilies, hardy geraniums and crocosmia Lucifer and some daffodils. There are snowdrops along the bottom of the horbeam hedge and wall.

This makes it sound rather more prepossessing that it actually is. At the moment it looks bare, stone filled and totally unpromising.

I have made another big bed, quadrupling what was a narrow bed, perhaps four foot wide, which I dug out and treated with manure a couple of years ago. That strip has been fertile enough to support foxgloves and penstemons so my hope is that with a little cosseting with compost and watering in the first season and careful plant choice, I might be able to create something which will last and look beautiful from the kitchen window.

This is the new bed, at the end of February, to prove the unprepossessing point! The blue thing at the back is a small tree fern under its winter protection.

Plants to go in:

Euonymous Fortuneii Emerald and Gold (H 4 ft, S 5ft 6ins)

Snakes head Fritillaries (7)

Pulmonaria Blue Ensign

Pulmonaria Diana Clare (2)

Euphorbia martini (2)

5 Hellebore orientalis, 4 single, 1 double

another five white foxgloves

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The start of the year


I love snowdrops. We have only the common snowdrop here, galanthus nivalis. I planted five hundred bulbs the first spring we were here. They went nowhere, a tiny trickle of white, drips and drops and puddles when I saw rivulets and streams. In the following February of 2007 I planted another five hundred. This year there are more. For the first time they are bulking up and I intend to split them over the next couple of weeks and spread them further.

I read with interest on VP's gardening blog that she counts her snowdrops so I intend to do a count this year and will put it on here. The side of the drive on the other side of the wall from the compost heaps needs snowdrops so some must go there. The side garden snowdrops also need splitting so that more snowdrops are further away from the wall. A count today (18/03/09) shows 730 snowdrops. This suggests that not everything I planted has taken but what is there now is looking settled and happy.


We have very few crocuses. This is a reminder of where to put some more in come the autumn. I walked with Emma in the Oxford Botanical Gardens on the 6th March and there were pools of glorious pale creams and lilacs as well as the dark purple which we have already. This spot by the lower gate would be perfect for more.