I have really enjoyed getting to grips with the garden this year. Having given up our day jobs we now have much more time to work on the projects we have been thinking about for some time.
There is still a great deal to do (a garden is always evolving and changing) but I thought it would be nice to capture the end of June by offering a virtual garden tour. I have spent many happy hours simply wandering around smelling the roses and admiring the colour combinations that appear.
The tour takes you around the garden at the back of the house, down the old rose garden to the vegetable garden and then into the orchard. We then walk through the small woodland copse into the top of the new flower garden (now in its second year). Look out here for the garden visitor that was caught on camera.
After a look around the new flower garden we move back towards the house to admire the magnificant climbing roses, the circular garden near the house and then finally the garden and views to the front.
I warn you now this is not intended to be a glossy video that hides all the ‘sub-optimal’ bits of the garden! My intention is to capture the essence at a moment in time and love the way that the video picks out all the bird song. Hope you enjoy the tour.
(You can either watch the video through the embedded video below on this page or click here to view it on YouTube itself.)
We planted a number of bare root Prince Jardinier roses in the new flower garden last year. For this garden we have deliberately chosen roses with a powerful scent that we can enjoy as we move around this area in the summer months. Prince Jardinier is certainly performing as expected and has a lovely perfume.
We have grouped these roses with three other varieties (A whiter shade of pale, White perfumella and Sweet parfum de Provence) to give a mix of deep pink through to white. Prince Jardinier has delicate pink outer petals with a transition to a more intense pink centre.
This week’s Six on Saturday highlights six very different plants that have caught my attention this week as I have worked in the garden. A few showers of rain have brought the garden to life without damaging the blooms.
This is a first for us this year. It has a tiny flower, perhaps not much bigger than your thumbnail, but in only a few short weeks it has grown up from seed (sown on 25th March) and is already flowering profusely. We have included this in our patio pots and it seems to be settling in nicely. As well as being a charming little flower it is the movement of the stems in the gentle breeze which adds to its character.
We have a range of lupins across the garden but this one (name unknown) is particularly striking in the old rose garden. It is a scrumptious colour and goes so beautifully with the foxgloves.
Three: Nigella damascena (Love-in-a-mist)
We have grown Nigella damascena and Nigella hispanica for a number of years to include in our country flower bouquets. It has now seeded itself across much of the flower garden and we are happy to allow it to develop amongst more established plants. It is very easy to weed out if we have too much of it growing in the wrong place. Both the flowers and the resulting seed heads make excellent additions to any bouquet.
We have also seen a significant increase in goldfinches in the garden in recent years. Whether this is a result of the increased availability of niger seeds who knows but it is a happy coincidence.
Four: Aquilegia ‘Blue Star’
As with Nigella, we love to let the Aquilegias seed themselves throughout the cottage garden. They are definitely an important part of our spring garden but they do tend to be consistently in the pink/purple ‘granny’s bonnet’ range.
To introduce a slightly different form and colour range we sowed Aquilegia ‘Blue Star’ seeds last year and put the plants out last autumn. These have established well and are now producing these lovely delicate flowers. For some reason these choicer varieties have tended to be short lived perennials and have not always lasted very long in the garden.
Five: Clematis ‘Voluceau’
Over nearly 25 years we have planted a large number of different clematis throughout the garden. Some have absolutely romped away whilst others have only had very limited vigour.
I don’t recall seeing this Clematis ‘Voluceau’ for many years but Carol assures me it has been there all along. This year it has sprung into life. It was probably planted over 15 years ago and has gently chugged way over the years without any great show. It may be that we have recently cleared, improved and fed the rather tired bed that it sits in. I am not sure the picture really shows off the real-life velvety plum purple of this variety. It has a really rich colour.
Another favourite from our commercial flower growing days. These intricate, pin-cushion, rose coloured flowers are always a joy. They seem to like our soil and come back reliably year after year as long as you keep the weeds at bay.
One of the most spectacular roses in the old rose garden is the pink climbing rose Constance Spry. It is heavily scented and produces masses of beautiful blooms. The plant is now some 15 years old and performs wonderfully year after year if pruned annually. It is certainly quite a vigorous rose and needs plenty of space- it is currently over 2 metres high and at least the same across.
Today’s rose from the garden is the large flowered climbing rose Ena Harkness. It has striking Hybrid Tea crimson-red flowers that are enormous and seems to have done particularly well this year.
One of the down sides of this rose is that the flower heads are very large and seem to be too large for the flower stalks to support. Because of this the flower heads do tend to hang downwards and face the ground rather than show themselves to full effect. However, this is still a very lovely rose.
There are so many lovely things happening in the garden at the moment that it has proved really difficult to decide what to include here today. I’ve tried in this six to simply give an idea of six contrasting parts of the garden.
One: Hesperis matronalis (Sweet Rocket)
I am delighted with how this bed of sweet rocket has performed this year. Growing to about 4 feet in height this mix of the white and purple plants has flowered for weeks. As a biennial planted last June it is well worth the effort and the space. The scent, particularly in the evening, just hangs in the air and always strikes you as you pass the summer house.
It is nearly time to start sowing again so I can enjoy it all again next year. I usually sow biennials around the summer solstice so that the plants are large enough to plant out by the autumn equinox.
Two: Cornus kousa
This Japanese (or Chinese) dogwood is a small tree that seems to start the year well and then later in the year starts to struggle a little. Perhaps its position in the garden is not ideal but it has survived for many years now. It is particularly striking at the moment and is ‘flowering’ well. I say ‘flowering’ as it is the crisp white bracts against the fresh green leaves that produce the show rather than the small yellow-green flowers that are rather inconspicuous. I think it looks really good against the grey-green leaves of the eucalyptus behind. All planned of course!
Three: The new flower garden
Regular visitors to the blog will know that we have retired from commercial flower growing and are converting the old (rather utilitarian) production space into a new more aesthetically pleasing flower garden. It has been a lot of hard work but this year it is really taking off.
The Chandelier (yellow) and Noble Maiden (white) lupins sown from seed last year have established well and look wonderful. Here they are planted amongst dutch iris in blues, whites and yellows and set off by the lime green of the Euphorbia oblongata which seeds itself freely around the plot but sets off other plants beautifully.
The delphiniums, Aconitum and roses are all budding up and can be seen here as well and will create the follow on display.
Four: Anthriscus sylvestris in the copse
Some may consider Cow Parsley a weed but we love it, encouraging it to grow freely in the dappled shade of the woodland areas of the garden. It is a delight to walk through this area in the early morning sun.
One of our pleasures in life, when we are not gardening, is to visit other peoples gardens! This time last year we came across Amsonia when the village of Wasperton opened its gardens in aid of the local church. We just had to have one but struggled to find it in any of the local nurseries.
However, as usual, Avondale nurseries came up trumps. This nursery in Baginton on the outskirts of Coventry is always worth a visit. Take some money with you though as I promise you will be tempted with something.
Having found Amsonia at last we could not buy just one. I am happy to report that both have survived the winter and started to flower. I am really looking forward to seeing them develop over the years.
I have always known Valerian as Centranthus rubra but Wikipedia seems to list it as Valeriana officinalis at the moment. It is very common and easy to grow but placed in the right location it can create a stunning display especially when you mix up the slightly different shades of red, pink and white.
Here we have a patch in a very dry area of poor soil in hot sun just above the garage. It creates a beautiful cottage garden display at this time of year growing amongst the self sown Aquilegia, the Bearded Iris and Oriental Poppies. The white of the Spirea immediately behind provides a lovely back drop.
After an unseasonably warm February we are now back to a more traditional March menu of sunshine and showers and windy days. In between showers it is nice to just wander and browse. Every day now there is something different emerging. Green shoots are visible on many perennials and the peonies that we moved in the autumn to a new home in more sunshine are all looking very promising.
At this time of year it is the little things that matter. There is no full-on show of summer flowers but the small clumps of bulbs and other spring flowers that come back year after year are always very special.
It will be interesting to see whether the warm February will bring on the spring flowers earlier this year. These photographs were all taken on 11th March 2019.
Whilst sitting enjoying a well earned cuppa, it struck me how wonderful the two flowering cherries (Prunus incisa ‘Paean’) that flank the patio steps were looking. They are in full flower and certainly the significant pruning that we gave them last year after flowering to get them back into shape has done them no harm at all.
Even when not in leaf or flower the old twisted wisteria stems add real character to this patio area.
In the more shaded areas and in the top copse the primroses are now beginning to emerge taking over from the snowdrops that seemed to go over quickly this year in the warm weather. One of the jobs for the next week or so will be to lift and divide some of the snowdrop clumps whilst they are in the green. The snowdrop walk in the top copse has developed well but the individual clumps look ready to be divided and spread around to develop the walk even further.
Also in the woodland walk the first of the Anemone blanda are starting to emerge. We planted these some years ago now but although they seem to come back year after year they do not seem to have multiplied up to any great extent. They appear to be very delicate but seem to withstand the wind, rain and cold.
Somewhat unexpectedly we have found that some of the Anemone coronaria corms that we grew when we were growing commercially for Honey Pot Flowers have survived well over the winter and are flowering again. When growing for sale we tended to replant each year to ensure that we had good quality long stemmed flowers. This is less important in a private garden and if they continue to survive and establish more naturally they will be a great addition to the new flowering garden.
Regular readers will know that we are transforming what used to be our flower farm into a more aesthetically pleasing flower garden where we can just enjoy growing flowers for ourselves rather than for sale. The structural work is now all complete and the formal hedge is beginning to establish. We think it has all survived the hot dry summer last year but only time will tell. There is plenty more scope for plants that will give more winter interest in this part of the garden and we are currently planting a new area of colourful Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ and the red stemmed Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ on the moist bank at the north end.
One of our favourite spring flowers that seem to thrive here in Warwickshire are the Hellebores. They seed themselves freely around the garden and are pretty trouble free. It is such a pleasure to bend down and lift their heads to see the beautiful markings on the inside of the flowers.
Another plant that is flowering its socks off is the perennial wallflower (Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’). Although we always admire this plant in other people’s gardens, especially when combined with striking orange colours later in the year, it has been some years since we have had one in our garden. It was planted last year in an open position in full sun and has established very well, remaining evergreen with some flower throughout most of the winter. It is now getting into its stride as the weather warms up. Luckily it is very easy to propagate from cuttings and we have a good number of young plants growing well in the greenhouse that will allow us to create an excellent show across the flower garden and create some continuity in different beds.
Not much is happening in the orchard yet although the young apricot is beginning to flower. The buds of the pear blossom are beginning to swell and new green leaves are just emerging on the quince. Whether it is just too early for the apricot fruit to set remains to be seen but we were very successful last year despite the bitterly cold weather. Thankfully all the orchard pruning is now complete and the new tripod ladder that I wrote about in an earlier article has helped enormously (both with pruning the orchard and bringing down an enormous Pyracantha to a manageable height).
Many of the evergreen foliage plants are certainly earning their place in the garden at this time of year. The neatly clipped Lonicera nitada hedges, the evergreen Hebe, Skimmia, Pittisporum and trailing ivy all create structure throughout the garden and have done all winter. Alongside these green shades new leaves are emerging. Very striking is the rich golden foliage of Spirea japonica ‘Goldflame’ which shines out in the spring sunshine.
The stars of the show at this time though are the bulbs. Small clumps of the miniature narcissus are returning like old friends in flower beds throughout the garden.
Hyacinths that we grew in pots in previous years and could not bear to simply throw away are now establishing themselves and creating a lovely spring show amongst the evergreen shrubs.
Even more exciting are the delicate flowers of the Chinodoxa that we are slowly building up around the garden. Their delicate pink and blue flowers seem to be establishing well at the base of the long hawthorn hedgerow and amongst the primroses on a sunny bank in the top copse.
I could go on! This is always an exciting time of year and there will be plenty to talk about over the coming weeks.
Although some days remain cold and grey the garden is on the move. The green shoots of many bulbs are beginning to emerge from under the ground and there is an array of small, exquisite blooms to enjoy throughout the garden.
Without doubt the Snowdrops are in their prime in February. Over the years we have spread them around the garden here at Waverley and every year we have the pleasure of seeing them emerge (even though we have long forgotten where exactly we planted them all).
Over a number of years we have sought to create a snowdrop walk in the copse at the north end of the garden. The bulbs of the common snowdrop Galanthus nivalis that we lifted and divided in the green have established well and bulked up into substantial clumps. Each of these could probably be lifted again this year and spread out further under the trees.
It is always wise to stop and turn over some of these beautiful flowers. I was surprised to come across this double variety in the leaf litter of the woodland. We must have planted it deliberately in this position at some time in the past.
Some of my favourites are the larger, glaucus leaved Galanthus elwesii which tend to stand tall and bloom on much longer individual stems. They also start flowering soon after Christmas. This group contrast well with these dark hellebores that flower at the same time.
Similarly the naturalised snowdrops sit so comfortably with the first of the emerging primroses.
But it is not all about snowdrops at this time of year. The yellow crocus have now pushed their way through the winter lawn and as soon as the sun shines will open into their full glory.
Also complementing the snowdrops are these tiny pink blooms of Cyclamen coum surrounded by a carpet of their mottled green leaves.
The striking blue flowers of the Iris reticulata are also starting to emerge. We have tried to grow these in the flower beds but they do not seem to thrive in our cold damp winter soil. However, growing them in bowls of gritty compost seems to work well and they are a delight to see each year on the patio.
It certainly will not be long until more spring flowers begin to appear but for now it is the snowdrops that take centre stage all over the garden.
With the Christmas and New year festivities behind us our thoughts are turning to the new gardening year. Sowing sweet peas just after Christmas has become a bit of a tradition and makes you feel that the new year has begun even though the January weather is cold and uninviting.
This year we have decided to create two themes using the following varieties (all available from Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (www.rpsweetpeas.com)). For us a sweet pea must have a good scent to be worth growing. We also look for varieties that have a longer flower stem so that they sit well amongst other cottage garden flowers when brought into the house.
Details on how we sow our sweet peas and bring on our plants are also included below.
Pink, red and white selection
Emily (tall grandiflora type – rose pink on a white ground)
Millennium (tall spencer type – crimson)
Zorija Rose (tall grandiflora type – deep rose shades)
Hannah Dale (tall early grandiflora type – purple maroon)
Mollie Rilstone (tall spencer type – cream with a pink edge)
CCC (tall grandiflora type – white)
Blue and white collection
Blue Danube (tall spencer type – mid-blue)
Just Jenny (tall spencer type – navy blue)
King Size Navy Blue (tall semi-grandiflora type – navy blue)
Greenfingers (tall grandiflora type – cream with a violet edge)
Adorabel (tall grandiflora type – lavender turning mauve blue)
Dragonfly (tall semi-grandiflora type – cream marked with lavender)
CCC (tall grandiflora type – white)
Sowing and growing sweet peas
There seems to be a lot of mystique around sowing sweet peas but we have always found them very easy to grow and need no specialist equipment or seed treatment. Although in the past we have soaked the seed overnight before sowing we have not found this necessary to get good germination. Roger Parsons ( www.rpsweetpeas.com ) indicates that soaking or chipping the seed may in fact reduce germination.
We certainly have good success with the following approach:
Sow 3 or 4 seeds in January in standard 9cm pots in a mix of multi-purpose compost and perlite.
Water well and place on the kitchen window sill (this is usually around a constant 18°C-20°C). Do not water again until the seedlings start to emerge.
You will typically see the first seedlings show themselves in about 7-14 days.
Once the seedlings have emerged we move them out into a cold, unheated greenhouse. They are best grown on hard in plenty of light so that they do not get leggy. If the temperature drops to below -5°C they may need some protection.
We keep the seedlings up high on the greenhouse staging so that there is less risk of mice and other rodents getting to them.
Once the plants have reached four leaves, pinch out the tops of all the plants so that they bush out.
In around mid-March, we harden off for a couple of weeks before planting out into the garden. We have grown them up canes in the past but this requires a lot of attention to ensure the plants are tied in effectively. More recently we have found that standard pea and bean netting works particularly well as long as you buy a decent quality that can be used again and again over a number of years.
You should create a deep well dug planting trench incorporating lots of well-rotted organic matter into the soil both to hold the moisture and feed the hungry plants through the season.
Plant out the whole pot of 3 or 4 plants together without disturbing the roots and water in well. Each pot should be planted around 12 inches apart and the tendrils gently encouraged to take a grip of the netting.
The final stage for us (if we don’t want to have wasted all our hard work) is to run chicken wire around the base of the row to keep the rabbits at bay.
All you need to do now is stand back and watch them grow making sure that you keep them regularly watered and fed with a liquid feed every couple of weeks once they are flowering. As soon as they start to flower pick them regularly (probably every day). The more you pick the more flowers you will get!
Each year we plant literally thousands of bulbs around the garden and if you suffer from any kind of wrist or hand problems it can be very difficult and somewhat painful. To date we have got on best using a standard sturdy trowel but it is hard work especially when planting into turf or uncultivated ground. Over the years we have also tried the stand-up bulb planters but found these very tedious. The plug of soil in the planter never comes out again as easily as it should to refill the hole.
When we saw the adverts for Powerplanter we were intrigued. It seemed like a simple and obvious solution. It is basically a large soil drill that fits into a cordless hand drill and digs you a hole for your bulbs, plug plants or larger plants grown in 9cm pots.
At the time of writing there are four types in the range (www.powerplanter.co.uk) in various sizes ranging from one for planting seeds through to a longer one for ‘stand-up’ digging. The one we chose was the mid-range planter, the 307 model (7 inches long x 3 inches wide). It describes itself as being suitable for ‘potted colour and bulbs’ and cost just under £40.
We have used it for planting autumn bulbs over a number of weeks now and in a nutshell it works! Here are some of our observations:
If you are going to use if for any length of time you do need a good quality cordless drill. I found my old drill battery was just not up to the job so treated myself to a new DeWalt DCD776S2T-GB 18V 1.5Ah Li-Ion Cordless Combi Drill. This comes with 2 rechargeable battery packs and is certainly able to keep going longer than I can!
The planter works well in moist soil in the cultivated flower beds. It also made light work of creating planting holes in previously uncultivated turf that we had killed off over the summer and had never been dug over. It did begin to struggle cutting into hard dry soil under a large oak tree but I was having difficulty getting a garden fork into that anyway.
You do need to be quite organised to avoid your drill getting covered in mud or wet. At this time of year the grass can be damp with dew in the morning and you need somewhere to put your drill down as you move around. I just use an old dog towel which keeps everything dry and clean.
When planting the bulbs I have got into the habit of working with one gloved ‘dirty hand’ and one ‘dry clean hand’. The dry clean hand operates the drill whilst the gloved ‘dirty’ hand plants the bulbs and covers over the hole with the loose soil. You can work very fast this way.
I have found that the planter is quite accurate and you can easily plant bulbs between other plants without damaging them. For example we have been planting bulbs amongst wall flowers that were set out about 9 inches apart in September.
If you are using someone else’s drill you might like to get their permission first. You do have to be quite careful not to get mud into the chuck which certainly could be a pain if the drill is normally used for indoor jobs. The 7 inch planter is only just long enough for digging holes for tulip bulbs and in hind site the longer 12 inch planter might have been better.
Finally do read the safety instructions and wear appropriate eye protection. Running on a slow speed it does not throw much soil up towards your face but it could.
Finally for the action movie 😉
For some reason my niece dissolved into fits of laughter seeing me drilling holes in the garden! The youngsters of today have no imagination!