Archive for the ‘My Garden’ Category

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!

A hedgehog living in my garden!!!

After many a post bemoaning the fact that I haven’t seen a live hedgehog in more than a decade I can finally and excitedly announce that last night, at about 10.30, I spotted a rather chubby little hedgehog making its way along the drive towards a combination of shrubs, weeds and fallen bird seed.

To begin with I thought that perhaps tiredness had overcome me to such a point that I was hallucinating, but as my wife saw the little critter first I quickly realised that this was in fact a living, breathing, occasionally scampering hedgehog. I was overjoyed and remain so knowing that there is atleast one out there around the garden (please don’t go near the road!).

And here he/she is:

Hedgehog on the move

Mesmerising Magnolias

On Tuesdays I spend the day gardening in a wonderful garden that sits at the top of gently inclining hill and is surrounded by farm land. The garden is around one and half acres and has numerous and very large beds in which grow a tremendous variety of plants, including many very large shrubs which are impressive in their scale.  I am particularly looking forward to the Autumn when Euonymous alatus will be a mass of fiery red foliage, though there is of course plenty of interest now and to come in the months ahead.

Today I noticed that since last Tuesday the Magnolias have suddenly burst into life; there are four in different parts of the garden, once of which is particularly large and impressive.  I am not enirely sure of the species or varieties but have given my best guess:

The first two shots (not great as taken in the middle of the day!) of the grand old tree show what I think is Magnolia x soulangeana.

The following two pictures show what I believe to be two varieties of Magnolia stellata.  The first is possibly ‘Waterlily’ [Update 24th April 2012: I have since discovered that the first of these is infact Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel] and the second ‘Centennial’, though this is just a guess and may be entirely wrong!

In the garden at home I noticed that the Osmanthus delavayi was a mass of frothy, delicate, scented white flowers. I do like this plant, its arching branches and evergreen glossy foliage are graceful and delicate.

And to finish, A shot looking across some of the many roses at Perryhill Nursery (where I also work a couple of days a week (there are not enough days in the week for all this working!!) as the day draws to an end.

March, the month of so much

The garden is alive with activity: on the warmer days bees are out in force looking for early nectar, bumping into me as they go; seeds are being sown at a frenetic pace ; a new border has been made on the edge of the drive using topsoil, garden compost and mushroom compost (that has been sitting around since last autumn), planted up and mulched with bark chippings; the first autumn sown sweet peas have been planted out as they were outgrowing the root trainers and starting to get rather unruly; pruning of Cornus, Buddjela, Hydrangea, grasses etc. has all finally been completed … the list of jobs that need to be done seems to grow far more quickly than I actually get things done!

On top of all of this life is taking a new and exciting turn; I am now working a couple of days week at Perryhill Nurseries in Hartfield, East Sussex.  Despite having only done this for a few weeks so far I am learning a great deal about plants that I think it would be difficult to pick up just from reading books and pottering about in my own garden and the garden of clients …. yes indeed, clients! I am now fully set up as a gardener (a.k.a Crafting Your Garden) and enjoying the challenges that this raises.  Today I spent 4 hours pruning a mass of Cornus and the list of things to be getting on with week-by-week grows with each visit.

Gardening for others is quite different to gardening for oneself; all those little shortcuts that you might take in your own garden you certainly don’t do in a client’s garden, everything must be completed to the highest standard.  I also think that it takes time to become completely comfortable both with the client and with their garden; it is necessary to watch and to learn how the client interacts with their garden, which parts and plants they most value, and to try and understand what their garden means to them.

So there we have it, short and sweet as I think most posts will have to be from now on as the season gets into full swing. Happy gardening to all!

Natural Splendour #7

One of my favourite images from the past year:


hanging around

Putting the Dahlias to bed

The relatively warm weather through November and the start of December has meant that the Dahlias have kept going longer than might otherwise have been expected; the first frost was only experienced at the end of the first week of December, the Dahlias blackening under the touch of icy fingers.

Dahlia after the frost

Dahlia tubers will continue to grow until the first frost, after which the choice is either to lift or to mulch.  This year we will lift and store the Dahlias; though planted in a raised bed, this part of the garden can suffer severe flooding during the winter months so the risk in leaving them in the ground is not worth taking as they will likely rot.

Dahlias cut back and ready to be lifted

Use a fork to gently loosen the soil around the tuber and lift the clump, tapping off the soil.  Place the tubers upside down in a crate to allow the water to drain fully from the hollow stems, and leave in this position for about week.  Ensure that they are not left somewhere where rodents can get to them and that they are not left anywhere frosty.

Can you tell what it is? Tubers galore!

After a week place them a box or crate and cover in old compost, coir or vermiculite, keeping the crowns uncovered.  They must be dry but not left to dry out completely, so check the once every few weeks and give them a light watering if ncecessary.  Store them in the dark, again in a frost and rodent free place.

Having dried them, and before packing them away for the wtiner, you can divide the tubers or they can be left in a clumo to divide in the spring.

When done properly, digging and dividing will keep your dahlias returning year after year.  Dahlias left in the ground will create a massive tuber clump underground that will send up many weak, unproductive stalks that have small blooms. Eventually these won’t come back at all.

Dividing Dahlias
Tap and brush all the soil off the dahlia clump. When dividing dahlias, the first thing to do is to remove all broken tubers, remove the original ‘mother’ tuber and remove any tubers that are rotten. You can divide now or keep the cleaned-up clump in tact and divide in the spring. In the spring, the eyes are easier to see. It’s very important to get a piece of the swollen part that is attached to last years’ stem and from which the eyes will emerge.  If your tuber does not have an eye, it will not sprout. Choose only strong, firm tubers. Weak tubers that show signs of rot, shriveling or decay should be tossed and not used in the garden.

Cut surfaces should be allowed to dry thoroughly before they are planted in the garden or stored for the winter. Lay out to dry for 3-5 days in a place that will not freeze, then store for the winter.

In the Spring

Another advantage of lifting Dahlias is that they can be potted up in early spring and with a little heat and protection forced into producing new shoots that can be taken for cuttings.  These should root very quickly if cut off from the junction of the tuber when they are about 7cm (3in) long; do this every year and you’ll have a vast store of Dahlias to brighten your garden late into the year.

If using this approach, the cuttings should be ready to plant out in about July, whilst the parent plant should can go outside in mid-May, or once the risk of frost has passed.  If you choose not to take cuttings in this way then the overwintered tuber can be planted out in early April in good rich soil and at a depth of about 15cm (6in).

The result will hopefully be this:

Dahlia 'Rip City'

A frosty morning

Last night was the first really cold night that we have had this winter, down to about -5oc or so.  It seems odd to be writing such a thing on the 10th December when ordinarily the cold weather would have well and truly set in and plants would not be sending forth new flower buds; but then the weather of the last few weeks has been anything but normal.

I’ve been looking foward to the onset of frosts and sunny, clear days for some time; I prefer this kind of proper winter weather far more than I do the cloudy, not-warm-but-not-cold days that we’ve been experiencing lately, so this morning I went out with the camera to capture the work of a million ice crystals and more.

Frosted Hydrangea


Leaves of a climbing rose

Saliva involucrata 'Joan'

Seed head


Lovely leaves

There’s nothing quite like the colour of Autumn leaves but better than this is the great pile of them now gathered to hopefully make a fine mulch next winter or Spring 2013.


Leaf pile


In the meantime I have no leaf mulch of my own so will be popping into the woods across the road, clearing back the leaves from around the old oaks, and digging out some of the leaf mulch that has been gathering there, untouched, for many a year.  This will be dug into the vegetable beds and used for mulching the borders; hopefully the results will be plenty of vigorous growth throughout next year.

Natural Splendour #5

Salvia involucrata 'Joan'


Salvias are still providing some lovely colour at the moment:  Salvia involucrata ‘Joan’ is a wonderful magenta colour and S. atrocyanea is a stunning blue (picture to follow when I get round to taking one!).


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