Early February – spring is definitely on the horizon

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.

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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.

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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.

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Similarly the naturalised snowdrops sit so comfortably with the first of the emerging primroses.

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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.

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Also complementing the snowdrops are these tiny pink blooms of Cyclamen coum surrounded by a carpet of their mottled green leaves.

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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.

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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.

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Six on Saturday – January blooms

In spite of the rather uninspiring grey (but mild) weather after Christmas we have been out and about in the garden cutting back and pruning ready for spring.  We have just about finished the winter pruning of the orchard, made much easier this year by the purchase of a new Niwaki tripod ladder.  Just the clearing up and shredding of the resulting pile of prunings is left to be completed.

Winter is not devoid of flowers and many of the shrubs in bloom at this time of year give off a strong fragrance to attract the few pollinating insects that are out and about.  In January you get the chance to stop and appreciate the few plants that are braving the weather.  Many are exquisite and well worth a closer look.

Here are my six for this week.


Sarcococca confusa

This small evergreen shrub, a native of western china, is producing a lovely honey scent that hangs in the air around the patio by the kitchen.

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Daphne

Again in full bloom at the moment, this slow growing shrub was originally a rooted sucker that we obtained from a relative in Cornwall.  It is now establishing well and flowers profusely every year giving a wonderful fragrance in the winter months.  Many of the plants we have collected together over the years remind us of friends and family, holidays and special garden visits.  A subject of a blog in its own right perhaps.

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Snowdrops

We really associate snowdrops with February in our garden but the first few that emerge are a real pleasure and herald the beginning of the new year.  They are such charming, perfectly formed flowers.  See last year’s more in-depth blog on snowdrops for more background and their associated folk-lore.

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Winter flowering cherry

A number of the trees around the garden mark certain events.  This particular tree was planted in memory of our very first German Shepherd Dog, Lenka.  It is a lovely reminder of her each spring.

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Helleborus orientalis

Just budding up and starting to emerge throughout the garden are our hellebores.  We love them and they seem to love it here in the garden.  We are quite happy to see them seeding new plants all over the garden and never quite know what hybrids and colours are likely to result.  (See last years blog for more background)

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Viburnum x bodnantense

Another highly reliably plant that flowers consistently year after year in the winter months and produces a lovely scent.  Yet another hardwood cutting from someone’s garden over 20 years ago (Carol and I can’t recall quite where it came from but thank you anyway if it was you!).  This now substantial shrub (nearly 8 feet in height) is situated just near the path and we enjoy its fragrance whenever we walk out into the garden at this time of year.

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The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Powerplanter – reflections on using a new gadget to try and ease the hard work of planting bulbs

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!

October 28th and maybe the last flowers of the summer

This weekend saw the first forecast frosts of the winter months and so we took the opportunity to pick a selection of the remaining summer flowers to arrange and enjoy in the house.

Included in the top arrangement are a selection of apricot and burgundy dahlias, white Chincherinchee ((Ornithogalum thyrsoides), achillea and the delightfully transparent seed heads of honesty.

In the vase arrangement below are pink, white and apricot dahlias, the deep red rose ‘Ingrid Bergman’ and the fragrant rose ‘Boscabel’, purple Verbena bonariensis, Chincherinchee and blue grey eucalyptus foliage.

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The final table centre piece for this evening’s Sunday dinner with family contains rose ‘Ingrid Berman’, white and pink waterlily type dahlias, honesty seed heads, the blue of Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’, pink Schizostylis, blue-grey eucalyptus and Cotoneaster foliage.

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The clocks may have changed and the nights are drawing in but we will still be able to enjoy the colour and fragrance of summer for a few days yet!

Beyond the autumn equinox

As we move beyond the autumn equinox the hours of darkness now exceed the day light hours.  However, there still seems to be plenty of sunshine on offer and it has been very pleasant this week outside in the fresh air.  We still haven’t had our first frost of the winter and there is a remarkable amount of colour around the garden.

Here are my six for this weekend.


One:  Saxifraga fortunei

Earlier in the year we wrote about the patio at the back of the house to demonstrate the wide range of foliage and textures that make this area such an attractive shady location.  The fleshy leaves of Saxifraga fortunei with their dark green top surface and reddish bronze under surface look good all year.  However, it is only in September and October that they start to flower producing a haze of tiny white flowers which shine out as the evenings close in.

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This week we were fortunate to be able to attend the RHS lecture by Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers at Pershore College.  As always at these events there is a nice selection of things to spend your money on and we could not resist this pink flowered Saxifraga fortunei ‘Sibyll Trelawney JP’.  It sits beautifully along side the white ones and I am sure will give us a lot of pleasure for years to come.

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Two:  Nerine

A couple of years ago we bought a number of Nerine bulbs which we originally grew on in pots to look after them and then planted out into a hot sunny, well drained border at the front of the house.  Although they have produced leaves each year they seem to have taken a very long time to settle in.  This year for the first time they have flowered but are not yet the spectacular display I have been hoping for.  Perhaps they are now beginning to take off!

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Three: Rudbeckia

Every year without fail the annual and perennial Rudbeckia perform for us.  This year is no exception and they will carry on flowering until the first frosts.  Because they are such successful garden plants they perhaps do not get celebrated as much as they should and so here they are.  This variety is ‘Autumn Forest’.

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Four:  Rosemary

One of our more unlikely flowering plants for this week is the prostrate Rosemary.  Although growing to less than 12 inches in height it is currently in full bloom amongst the gravel herb borders at the side of the house.

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Five:  Schizostylis (Kaffir Lily)

Performing at their best at this time of year are the various Schizostylis clumps that we have around the garden.  Ranging from delicate pink to full on scarlet they provide a welcome shot of new colour at this time of year.

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A new purchase of the variety ‘Princess Pink’ (below) has survived its first year and is showing real promise.

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Six:  Michaelmas daisies

Last but not least this week are the Michaelmas daisies.  Ranging from tall 5 feet plants to small neat clumps these plants really do bring the garden to life at this time of year (and the butterflies love them).

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More information at Michaelmas daisies in the autumn sunshine


 

The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Mid-October in the flower garden

Autumn is very much with us.  We have been busy harvesting the excess apples in the orchard and having fun making cider to last us most of the year, cutting and chopping the quinces and making quince crumble tarts for the freezer and the neighbours have been busy sawing and chopping wood for the winter fires.

Despite the trees turning we have not yet had a real frost here in Warwickshire and there is still plenty of colour in the garden.  In fact some things that have struggled with the heat and lack of water during the summer have burst into flower.  The roses have a new flush of fresh flowers and many of the perennials are showing a second flush of bloom.

Here are six things for this week that have particularly caught my eye:


One:  Begonia ‘Angelique’

As soon as we get any sign of frost I am sure that these tuberous begonias will curl up and die back but as we come to the end of the season I think they are worth celebrating.  Planted out in large patio tubs in the spring they often seem slow to get going but by early August they are in full bloom.  These have been blooming consistently ever since and are very low maintenance – they even dead head themselves.  I always try and lift the tubers and keep them alive if possible.  Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail but I will certainly look to keep this variety going and plant them again next year.

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Two:  Cobaea scandens (cup-and-saucer vine)

Cobaea is not something we have grown before but we wanted something to quickly cover the new rose trellis in this first year whilst the new climbing roses get established.   It is certainly one of the fastest growing annuals that I have seen.  It has interesting but not spectacular bell shaped flowers and certainly did the job of covering the new bare trellis.

One added benefit at this time of year is that it produces these charming fairy lights hanging from a curvy, kinked stem once the flowers have dropped.  You almost feel that you should collect them, dry them and spray them silver for winter decorations.

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Three:  Hardy Fushia

One of the shrubs that come into their own at this time of year are the hardy fushias.  They are so easy to grow and also to propagate.  Many of ours have been grown from cuttings that we have been given by friends or relatives.

The first of these is a very delicate white/pink fushia with tiny ballerina flowers.  We have moved it around the garden because it did not thrive initially.  It is now in the part of the garden we describe as the woodland walk and is in part shade and on a woodland edge.  It seems to love it here and produces masses of these tiny white flowers that shine out in the darker semi-shade.

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Another hardy fushia taken from a cutting a couple of years ago and grown on in a terracotta pot, was planted out last autumn.  It is now establishing well with a couple of Eupatorium plants (also taken from cuttings from a garden in Cornwall – thank you Auntie Wendy!).

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Four:  Autumn Crocus

I think of spring as the time for crocus around the garden but I am always pleasantly surprised to see the autumn crocus emerge (although we must have planted them at some point).  Planted at the foot of some of our mature trees they avoid the mower and emerge as the leaves fall.

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Five:  Roses

The warmer, moister weather in September and early October has really brought on the repeat flowering roses.  Many of these are now flowering profusely.   Two that are looking particularly good are the apricot variety ‘Simply the Best’ and pink/orange ‘Fragrant Delight’.  As the name describes ‘Fragrant Delight’ has a wonderful and powerful perfume that hangs in the evening air at this time of year.

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Rose ‘Simply the Best’
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Rose ‘Fragrant Delight’

Six: Astrantia (Granny’s pincushion)

Perhaps rather surprisingly the rose/lilac tinted Astrantia is flowering again.  This is something we often use in our flower arrangements earlier in the season.  It has strong stems and holds very well if conditioned correctly.

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The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

 

 

Full of late summer colour – Aston Pottery and Gardens, Oxfordshire

Last week we had the great pleasure of visiting the flower gardens at Aston Pottery in Oxfordshire.  At a time of year when many gardens are beginning to decline and look rather tired, the garden here at Aston Pottery was bursting with colour and intensity.

The sheer range of flowers and the quality of the blooms was extremely impressive.  Many people have reported that the Dahlias this year have been poor in their gardens but there was no sign of a bad year here at Aston Pottery.  I was particularly struck by the way the borders had been laid out in triangles giving them both structure and allowing the complementary colours and forms to work well together.

There was no doubt that a huge amount of effort had gone into the planning, planting and subsequent plant husbandry to create a wonderful effect.

Well worth a visit if you get the chance at this time of year.

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Location:  Aston Pottery, The Stables, Kingsway Farm, Aston, Oxfordshire OX18 2BT

Website: http://astonpottery.co.uk/