Thursday, 17 July 2014

An explosion in a paint factory...

It was all going so well. The muted colours of early summer mingled tastefully in the borders. The blues of the delphiniums complemented the soft pink of the roses, and a walk down the garden was a tranquil experience. Nothing jarred the senses or offended the eyes. Soft pastels ruled.

Then, the carnival hit town.

I need sunglasses just to hang the washing out.

Any colour coordination has gone out of the window, and I am ashamed to see orange shrieking at its pink neighbour, and chrome yellow cheek by jowl with scarlet.

What went wrong ?

What possessed me to put yellow day lilies next to  Crocosmia 'Lucifer', and to plant neon pink Lychnis liberally throughout every single bed. (I grew the Lychnis from seed and EVERY ONE germinated !!)

I planned for the tasteful bit of early summer, choosing complementary shades of soft pinks, blues and mauves, but I forgot that the pink rose, chosen to coordinate with the delphiniums, would still be flowering long after the delphiniums had gone to seed, and would be standing next to an orange day lily.

The romantic pastel hues are now long gone, replaced by hot pinks, sizzling oranges and lipstick reds.

There's nothing I can do but embrace it ! Learn to love psychedelia and comic strip colours which smack you straight in the face.

The carnival is here all right, warming up for the Mardi Gras which is late summer.

I don't recognise what the garden has become, from a romantic English garden it has transformed into a bold, strong, contrasting, jarring space. Love it or hate it !

This post is part of the 'Blogger's Bloom Day' meme , over at  May Dreams Gardens . Do hop over and see all the lovely blogs !

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The fig tree and the roofer

My poor old fig tree - things just go from bad to worse with every month that passes.

In early June, when I last posted about it, it was just recovering from the massacre that I called 'pruning' ! After that shock it managed to rally, and had begun to put on lots of growth and new foliage. I was beginning to feel a little better about it, as it seemed to have recovered so well.

Then ... the roofer arrived !

The fig tree is growing up against the brick wall of our garden shed, which is in turn connected to the cart shed, which connects to the main shed. All these outhouses are pantiled, and lets just say, the
pantiles were past their best! They leaked in many places and had slipped and broken in some cases. Goodness knows when they were last replaced.

So, the work had to be done and the roofer duly arrived to strip the old pantiles off and replace with new. I had my fingers crossed, hoping he could work around my poor fig tree, but he couldn't even make a start until it was pruned back severely (AGAIN!) to allow him access ! I could see what he meant, as he couldn't even get to the roof until the tree had been considerably reduced in size.

The 'Polish Spirit' clematis was in full, gorgeous flower, but it had to be chopped right back too.

It was with a heavy heart that I wielded my secateurs and loppers.

Once the cutting back was finished, the poor tree looked brutalised.

So, now the roof is finished, and it is all watertight and ready for the next forty years !

I hope the fig tree will cope yet again with the shock of hard pruning, especially mid season.

This post is linked to the monthly meme, 'Tree Following, hosted by Lucy at  'Loose and Leafy'. There are some cracking blogs over there !

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Ways to spend a summer afternoon

There are many ways to relax in a garden, when the sun is hot and the sky is blue. So many different ways to enjoy the season and make the most of every moment.

Vintage Afternoon Tea parties are a very civilised way to spend time with family and friends, and, if the sun is shining, they are so much nicer outside.

Set up in the dappled shade of a silver birch, using a vintage Art Deco tea set and my great grandmother's dragon spout tea pot. Photo bombed by a greedy and expectant labradoodle !

I even broke the habit of a lifetime and picked a  small jug of roses.

If the pleasure is solitary, then swinging gently in a hammock soothes the soul.

A good book, a glass of wine ...

And, if the wind is a little chill, there is always the shelter of the summerhouse, with the smell of timber warmed by the sun.

It stays so warm in there that you can still be out there late into the night, the darkness filled with owls softly hooting.

So many ways to relax and enjoy the garden ... and yet, do gardeners ever actually sit in a chair for more than ten minutes, lie in the hammock after they have spotted a lily beetle or  eat cucumber sandwiches when they could be deadheading ? We may intend to relax but in reality, we are more likely to be found doing this in the searing heat...

And this ...

And this ...

I have realised, after all this time, that the joy is in the doing rather than in contemplating what has been done. We may intend to relax, but in reality, the secateurs get much more use than the hammock!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Best bib and tucker

I don't know if this is just me, or whether we are all the same, but when friends or family are due to visit, I clean in places I hardly knew existed. Who is going to run their finger along the top of a wardrobe, or check for rolls of dust under a chest of drawers ? But somehow I feel impelled to clean there, just in case. The rest of the time I can live happily surrounded by dust, as I am out in the garden anyway !

I feel the same way about the garden too, and happily share with nettles and weeds without a second thought, but when I know that people are coming to look around the garden, I get the same hysterical urge to make it look its best. I venture into every nook and cranny and make sure that  everything is staked, deadheaded and behaving itself. Working until dark is fine ...

So, when my partner and I were idly chatting a couple of weeks ago about the garden, one of us - probably him - mentioned the NGS  (Yellow book), and suggested that we apply to open our garden for them next year. We had had a couple of glasses of wine. It seemed like a good idea.

We opened our garden for the NGS (National garden Scheme) in 2010 and thoroughly enjoyed the experience although the thought of it was quite scary initially. We intended to open again the following year but the terrible winter totally decimated the garden, killing lots of large exotics like tree ferns and palms and also the extensive hebe hedging. The low temperatures caused such devastation that we had to pull out of opening and replant. It has taken this long for new planting to establish itself.

Opening your garden for the NGS is a fantastic opportunity to make lots of money for charity and to chat with lots of passionate gardeners and swap ideas. Before we opened I had expected those visitors to be very knowledgable and very critical, if I am honest. Turns out that the former was true and the latter was false! Everyone was very forgiving and friendly, willing to share knowledge and ideas and to overlook the flaws in the garden.

So, that decision taken after a couple of glasses of wine became a reality, and we quickly received notification that Helen, our local organiser would be paying us a visit. Boy, did that goad us into action! We gardened through torrential rain, searing sun and darkness to get the metaphorical dust off the top of the wardrobe . We bought new plants to fill in gaps, and cut back unruly ones. We did unheard of things like raking the gravel and  weeding between the raspberry canes. We waded into the ponds to remove excess weeds and cut back the marginals. 'Headless chickens' wouldn't begin to describe us, we worked every hour to get that garden to look as good as we possibly could. When we looked around it we saw only the flaws, the work undone, the rough edges. We asked ourselves why we were bothering to apply when we would surely be turned down.

Helen, our local organiser duly came, one warm sunny morning last week, and we showed her around the garden. She was lovely and very positive, and not critical in the slightest. And she told us, as we enjoyed tea and carrot cake sitting in the garden, that we are IN!  Fantastic news ! And, to be fair, she actually told us BEFORE the carrot cake was in view, so it was a fair decision and not cake-based at all !

Euphoria presided at our house for all of a day. We drank more wine, we had a meal with friends, we drank some fizz... then reality set in !

Instead of spending a little time resting on our tiny laurels, one of us said "So, what improvements do we need to make before next year ?" and then we made a list. A very long list !

So now we are back out in the garden, planting, pruning, weeding and planning until late in the evening ... working towards our opening day next summer.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Sacrificial lambs

I know when I plant them, that one day they may have to be sacrificed to the Great Deity of Planting Distances. I water them, feed them and nurture them, in the full knowledge, that in the future, they will be dug out and slung, unceremoniously, on the compost heap.

overcrowded border in need of a good cull !

When I began to garden, all those years ago, I adhered strictly to planting distances, and lived with acres of bare soil, until the plants filled out. This could take years, if shrubs were involved. Now, I have always disliked bare soil, as my mother used to say 'nature abhors a vacuum', so what does nature do ? Why, encourage weeds to colonise the bareness, that's what !

Taxi for the Daylily and the Ligularia !

My inexperienced self was discussing this with a gardening friend, and bemoaning the vast tracts of brown, around my tiny plants, and she gave me the benefit of her wisdom. Her advice was 'cram them in' ! She probably phrased it better than that, but that was the essence of it.

A difficult call ... the fern and the Penstemon in front of it ?

She said she planted things close together initially, to give an instant effect, and to cut down on the weeding. When things began to grow, and fill out, and the plants were becoming crowded, she dug them up and moved them elsewhere. Brilliance ! Simple yet so effective !

What's needed here ? drastic cut back of the geranium and the Heuchera outed, perhaps ?

So that is what I did from then on - planted densely, then when plants began to encroach, dug them up and into a new bed. This worked effectively for 30 years, as the garden grew and developed, as there was always an area I could move the plants into. Always a new bed to dig, or an existing bed to extend. Until now ...

No contest - get your coat poppy!

To be honest, I couldn't think of anywhere to move my excess plants too, as after thirty plus years, all beds have been dug. It was an odd sensation to realise that my usual method would no longer work.

And you !
About this time every year I have to do a sweep of the garden, and define every plant, making sure that it has its own space to grow in. I plant very densely anyway, so have to monitor growth closely. This is a very personal thing, as one woman's well spaced plants, are another woman's overcrowded ones. I am always interested to see how other gardener's manage spacings, and the results differ greatly. Some people prefer a circle of bare soil, or visible mulch, around each plant, whereas others have the plants tumbling over each other, in a dense tapestry.

All the photos in this post are the 'before' shots ! They all show the evidence of my over planting , and my next job is to go round and gently dig up the plants which are suffering through overcrowding and find them a new home.

A poor Ligularia desperate for a new home where it can spread its wings !

My own tapestry is extremely dense by this point in the year, so there are quite a few plants which will have to be carefully dug out and rehomed - some in the compost (erm, the brick red perennial poppy) and others potted up and given to friends.

There is a young peony in there begging for release !

While I was walking round, deciding on my sacrificial lambs, a cunning plan started to form... I spotted a border which could do with being cleared out, extended and replanted. Yippee ! A double whammy ! A home for those crowded out plants, and an opportunity for more colour. The part of the border needed fettling, too much thuggish lamium, too many self seeded aquilegias and not enough structure. I had thought of it as a difficult border as it is shady, but it was only shady because the silver birch had low branches, which could be removed. I lifted the canopy of the birch, allowing much more sunlight in, and all my sacrificial lambs escaped the compost heap !

Nature's way of telling me to get digging!

And now I have the dreaded bare earth again!