January – not so blue

January. I think I love it; correction, I know I love it. This hasn’t always been the case; for many years, office bound and staring out of the window at walls, windows, a leaden sky, January seemed anything but lovable, it was a chore to be worked through from the dark morning start to the dark evening finish.  But then life changed, the office was left behind, the shirts and ties left to gather dust in the wardrobe and I stepped in to a new existence, one in which January becomes a month full of possibility, beginnings, tantalizing glimpses of the seasons yet to come, beautiful mornings of frost and mist and the chill air invigorating one’s entire body, though don’t stand still for too long lest you freeze on the spot.

I see the snow drops quietly shouting their gentle existence; hellebores, sometimes shyly downcast, sometimes proudly upright (I do love the modern hybrids); catkins dangling idly from the graceful hazel; and buds fat with possibility.  January is a time to observe, to scrutinise, to get as close to nature as one can and spot the first stirrings of the new year. Yes it can be dreary, wet, dank, windy in a way that chills one to the core; but through all of this the days are drawing out, the light emerging a little earlier each morning and lingering a little longer each night.  And there are good days, there always are, and these are days to be treasured, to point one’s face to the winter sun and draw it down and into one’s soul.  They are days for work too: for planting, for clearing, for cleaning and sharpening tools; for flicking thought the pages of innumerable seed catalogues and planning the year head; for thinking about the garden and how it is, how it could be.  But don’t rush it, don’t wish January away before you have had the chance to embrace it, to discover its myriad, often minute wonders; January may just surprise you if you allow it and you may just love it too.



Education with a conscience

Nothing to do with gardening but a this a great article by a friend of mine who is a journalist out in Indonesia:


Education with a conscience.

Natural Splendour # 8

Trollius chinensis ‘Golden Queen’

Out and about in the Kent countryside

My wife and I took a day off over the Jubilee weekend from our hectic working lives.  We decided to trundle around the Kent countryside, winding our way through the quiet back lanes and enjoying the serenity of a landscape which never fails to delight, both in terms of wonderful rural scenery and the vernacular architecture.  Even a short tour such as this rejuvinates the soul and refreshes the mind.

The rural shots are from around village of Frittenden and the buildings are in the village of Smarden, very much the quintissential English village:


June in the fields of Kent


Cottages backing on to the graveyard of St Michael’s Church, Smarden


The Chequers Inn, Smarden



RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2012

The heat has sapped my energy so completely that all I can manage are a few photographs I took from our visit on Tuesday; hopefully they speak for themselves:

The Satoyama Life garden by the Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory

The Satoyama Life garden by the Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory

M&G Garden by Andy Sturgeon

M&G Garden by Andy Sturgeon

The lavender walk in Arne Maynard’s garden

Pleached copper beech walk in Arne Maynard’s garden

The L’Occitane Immortelle Garden by Peter Dowle

The Telegraph Garden by Sarah Price

Dappled evening light in Sarah Price’s garden

Joe Swift’s garden

London Plane tree in Joe Swift’s garden

Topiary in Cleve West’s garden

Planting detail in Cleve West’s garden

Water detail in Cleve West’s garden

And last but not least:

Corgies for the Golden Jubilee

When the weather brings both wonder and despair

As someone who gardens for a living the past few weeks have been particularly trying; the unseasonably warm weather in March resulted in a rush to start getting on with jobs in clients’ gardens and a nice early tan but since then, due to rain of Biblical proportions, it has been difficult to get on with a number of jobs where clearing beds of weeds has been the main task.

In one instance the constant rains of April and early May turned turned the heavy clay into a claggy, gloopy mess from which it was near impossible to extricate anything successfully; stepping on the beds was possible though highly unadvisable as it resulted in rusty water oozing out from within the clay and severe compaction.  Where there has been the odd sunny interlude or dry day I have pressed on, juggling clients according to need and always hoping that tomorrow the weather will hold.

In my own garden the ground is largely saturated and in some places the water is thigh deep and requires wellys to wade through.  A clump of three large Delphinium that were looking stately and vigorous have been ravaged by a combined onslaught of slugs and snails (mainly the latter, of which there are so many this year, a consequence perhaps of not having any sustained period of cold over the winter); two have been almost entirely taken down to within a couple of inches from the ground, my only consolation being that they have had in effect an early ‘Chelsea Chop’; the remaining plant is still standing and I wake every morning hoping that it has made it through another night without suffering the same fate as its brethren.

Mutilated Delphinium

But all is not as ghastly as it sounds and indeed there is much to be enjoyed: the water that sits and glistens on the leaves of Alchemilla and Euphorbia is enchanting,

Euphorbia characias subsp. 'Wulfenii'

the vibrant and invigorating colour of the first Alliums never fails but to leave one slightly overawed and enraptured,

Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation'

the gentle flowers of Polemonium ‘Bressingham Purple’ are by contrast shy and timorous but none-the-less beguiling

Polemonium 'Bressingham Purple'

and the sun piercing a stormy sky fills the body and soul with an elemental energy that is drawn from myth and swirling history.

Sun following a storm

Weather infects our moods, both caresses and lashes at our senses and dictates the labour that we may or may not undertake.  It reminds us, or atleast it should do, of our fragility, mortality, and our position as caretakers rather than as masters of this world that we share with so much other life.

Compost, lovely compost

Oh yes, compost is a divine thing, crumbly, dark, woodland scented, truly a wondrous thing.  I have been using it to mulch the beds, particularly on new planting and it is certainly doing a good job at keeping down the weeds and keeping in the moisture.  It will also be slowly pulled down into the earth over the coming year improving the structure.

Not content with 3 compost bays I decided it was time for a few additions to the composting area of the garden; I’ve therefore added an extra bay so that there are now 4 for composting garden and kitchen waste.  I’ve also added a proper structure for the leaf mould as it has just been a pile in the corner whereas now it is all neatly packed into a large chicken wire cylinder where it can happily do its thing.  I intend to add another two of these and have the leaf mould on a three year cycle; I am even tempted to pop into the woods with a wheelbarrow and bring back some additional oak leaves from last autumn’s fall … but perhaps this is getting a little obsessive?!?!

Having spent a number of hours turning the 3 exisitng heaps with an orinary garden fork I decided that a new tool was required to make the job a bit easier and so I’m eagerly awaiting a new compost fork with larger tines than the average fork for effective turning.  Should be delivered by the weekend so more turning will be done and I will doubtless be left exhausted but satisfied!

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