Approach of winter, a new glasshouse and snowdrops

The cold weather has arrived (goodbye slugs and snails) and I am relieved that I have wrapped up pots and protected tender plants, although I suspect the salvias are doomed.

I am the proud owner of a mini “growhouse” courtesy of Mr B. “It is essential to square the frame”. Why is it never so easy to put these things together as the instructions suggest? We managed to break 2 panes of glass (much to the amusement of our lovely neighbour working on his compost heap on the other side of the hedge) and now the cracks between the paving slabs in the patio are embellished with sparkling diamonds of safety glass. It is done and the growhouse is nestled up against the wall of the house. My small alpine pots, pelargoniums and fuschias are snuggled up inside- time will tell how effective it is for over-wintering pots, but it should be useful for germinating seeds.

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Much more successfully, Mr B made me a proper stable lid my small alpine trough, so I am not reliant on an odd assortment of bricks and flowerpots to support, and string to secure, the perspex lid. I have still to persuade him to tackle the larger trough, the lid of which is far from a professional job. I am working on it.

The first snowdrops are almost over- the elwesii, Peter Gatehouse, is always out in November and may even flower in October. I only have a tiny clump, but there were 3 flowers this year. The clay bank is really not conducive to spread so perhaps I should replant the bulbs somewhere else. I have mulched all my snowdrops with leaf mold and a little bone meal, so I am hopeful there will be a good display.

 

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Autumn at Upper Green

Autumn highlights

My missouri sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius) finally did its stuff- what a plant. The 11 foot stems, clothed by long hanging leaves, are now topped by a tuft of small yellow daisies that are almost out of view. It has withstood the gales and continues to tower over everything else in the border. I love it despite its ridiculous appearance but see why it is grown for architectural value rather than flowers.

The garden is tousled but full of colour. The cockspur thorn ( Crataegus crus-galli) always puts on a wonderful autumnal display, although there are few berries this year. Grasses such as Molinia litoralis are turning rich shades of orange and yellow and some roses are still in flower, including the hybrid musk ‘Buff Beauty’.

Salvias

The salvias are still flowering.  Salvia ‘Amstad’ is particularly dramatic with long spikes of purple flowers arising from very dark purple bracts- but I suspect it is also the least hardy.  I might dig up the plants and try to overwinter them somewhere sheltered.  I have taken cuttings from Salvia x jamensis but I think it is relatively tough. I am pleased with the overall effect. They all look much more at home in this bed alongside the drive than they did in the large herbaceous bed in the back garden.

Planning for spring

Leaves are beginning to fall and we are making leaf mold – gold dust for free! Large leaves are chopped with the lawn mower before stacking in an open-topped compost bin, where they will get plenty of rain (you can just use bin bags but make sure the leaves are wet). The fungus needs a damp environment to break down the leaves and the whole process will take one to two years so we are going to make another leaf container with posts and wire netting. My snowdrops thrive with a little of the brown crumbly mulch and it is essential for the woodland plants that struggle in our heavy clay- wood anemones, winter aconites, and dog’s tooth violets to name a few. Really I should not attempt to grow them but I do love our native spring flowers. Primroses, on the other hand, flourish here without any help from me.

 

Seeds and seed-heads

 

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Striking seedhead of Allium schubertii. The seeds are ready to collect.

Seed collection…..

The dry and sunny autumnal weather has been perfect for collecting seeds for next year. I never have the right containers (note to self- keep more old plastic food containers) but end up with an odd assortment on the windowsill. The seedpods or seeds must be completely dry before I store them, in labelled envelopes, in a water-tight container at the bottom of the fridge. Beware- some pods, as they dry, suddenly uncurl dramatically firing seeds out of the labelled container.

….and mice

I still remember going into my 80-year old Auntie Margery’s dark walk-in cupboard in her sitting room. The cupboard was full to bursting point of “stuff”- old envelopes, newspapers, gardening magazines stacked up on the floor, vases and a large number of carefully labelled plastic margarine pots full of seeds for planting the following year, including beans and peas. I put my hand on the shelf and there was a snap. I emerged with a plastic mouse trap attached to my fore-finger-no mice in my fridge.

When to stop deadheading?

I have to decide when to stop dead-heading. Deadheading encourages plants to continue to flower, but some seedheads may be wonderfully decorative in their own right and I want seeds for next year. Cosmos are still flowering so I am continuing to deadhead. Nicotiana glutinosa was a success with small coppery flowers that complemented the brickwork, but the flowers are over and I have collected seeds. I have also collected seeds from plants such as allium, lunaria (honesty) and scabious. The nasturtiums are looking wonderful tickling the belly of my sheep- but no seeds yet as I planted them rather late.

Christmas decorations

Eryngium giganteum (Miss Wilmott’s ghost) did look wonderfully structural in the gravel bed, but it is a biennial and now was grey and sad dominating the small space. In a larger bed I might have left it but I have removed it (wearing protective gloves as the spines are so unfriendly), collected seeds and will keep the plant for Christmas decorations. It will look wonderful with a spray of silver paint. The oval seed pods of honesty also make great decorations if one strips off the outer cover leaving a fragile silvery oval pod. I will leave that fun activity for the grandchildren.

Slugs and Snails

Snails

I suspect it is snails that cause most damage in my garden –  by now the hostas have filigree leaves. In hot dry weather large numbers aestivate (rest in a state of dormancy) in the shelter of walls or under stones. I confess I crush them without compunction. I also destroy the clusters of pearl-like eggs under leaf-litter in the flower beds.

Slugs

Large slugs provide a useful recycling service by eating decaying plant material. Small slugs do most damage. I protect choice plants with copper rings and the mulch of Strulch that I applied in the spring also seemed to be a useful slug deterrent. I was not impressed by the effect of fleece pellets. Gravel and egg-shells may make some difference. We encourage birds, newts, toads which keep down the population of both slugs and snails. I have not seen a hedgehog in years (eaten by the growing population of badgers?). Even ground beetles eat slugs. Biological control with nematodes would be expensive in a large area. I have slug-collected on damp evenings and cut them in half with scissors or dropped them into a strong salt solution, but in the end, on occasion, I somewhat guiltily do resort to poison starting with the organic pellets containing ferric phosphate before progressing to metaldehyde.

Have your say!

Poison in the garden -how guilty should I feel?  Let me know what you do to control the pests in your garden!

 

 

 

The pond and autumn colour

Pond clearance

The annual clearance of the pond has been completed without mishap. Once more the step-ladder was put to good use as a pond bridge. I have suggested to Mr B. that a Monet Chinese bridge would not only look attractive, but make life much easier for the poor gardener (pond-clearer). However I have to agree that the pond, more of a puddle by Monet’s standards, hardly justifies a bridge, although the grandchildren would have fun.  Anyway, yet again I  suspended myself precariously over the pond by lying on my stomach on said step-ladder, bony prominences on hips and knees cushioned by various kneeling mats, and clothing protected by waterproof trousers and gauntlets.  A female Emperor dragonfly coursed back and forwards over my head looking for somewhere to lay, but unfortunately I had removed most of the long stems of the flowering rush, Butomus umbellatus, which in our case is most definitely non-flowering. The rush is too congested in the small pond, but removing the roots is problematic as the stems tend to snap off. I suspect it will do no better in 2018. What a job, but at least it is done and the pond does look bigger and better.

 

Disappearing ramshorn snails

I am puzzled by the dearth of ramshorn snails which used to be two-a-penny in the pond. Over the last two years the population seems to have dropped. They are vital scavengers, munching up blanket weed and other algae. I may have to introduce more as now the pond is clearer, blanket weed is sure to return.

 

Invasive marsh plants

Thugs have engulfed the small marshy area adjacent to the pond and I have lost, or almost lost, a number of choice plants. I planted Darmera peltata, Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ and Houttuynia cordata ‘Flore Plena’ when I made the pond with marsh, some 25 years ago – definitely a mistake. I should not have taken my eyes off them. Houttuynias have spread inexorably through the heavy clay, their fleshy underground rhizomes choking delicate plants. Darmera, which is marketed as an alternative to Gunnera manicata, “more suitable for the smaller garden”,  produces dense layers of thick hard rhizomes. Plants do not flourish in the shade under the umbrella-like leaves and the solid clumps of rhizomes are impenetrable. We have made progress on extracting the unyielding Damara rhizomes, but I am afraid I have resorted to weedkiller (and crossed fingers) for the houttuynia.

Autumn flowers

Asters (symphyotrichum), sedums (hylotelephium), and japanese anemones are providing plenty of colour.

 

Cyclamen hederifolium are opening under shrubs and the leaves of the little Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Seiryu’ on the patio have just developed a reddish tinge. Mornings are cool, apples are ripe and autumn has arrived.

 

Apples, onions and a moth

Apples

The apples are ripening -a huge crop again- and it feels autumnal already. Wasps are homing in on all the windfalls covering the lawn (making more work for the man doing the mowing but they are “his” apples), and we have started to pick the James Grieve. The greengages are pretty much finished but the vegetables hold promise.

Pots and dead-heading

We have had some rain, but I have also had to do quite a bit of watering. Pots and tubs do create more work. Fortunately Mr B increased our capacity to collect rainwater with a substantial new container, which is already full. I have been busy dead-heading in pots and beds, so the hot bed still looks good. Helenium, “Sahins Early Flowerer”, will soon have a second flush of flowers and Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’  has just opened but the most dramatic flower has to be the velvety lush Gladiolus papilio ‘Ruby’ .

Missouri sunflower

I am waiting for the magnificent willow-leaved sunflower Helianthus salicifolius , a Missouri native plant, to produce flowers at the tips of the stems, but it still seems to be growing. How tall is it going to get? It can reach 10 foot and it is already over 6 foot. I should not complain as I am growing it for its delicate foliage, not the golden-yellow flowers, but I suspect it is going to need more space than I have given it….I hope it does not turn out to be a thug. It dwarfs the white cosmos- I am glad I grew a tall variety.

Know your onions

Allium carinatum subsp. pulchellum in the gravel bed has been lovely, especially the white form, but I must remove the flower-heads which are looking tatty. I have cleared away the flower-heads of Allium christophii as the seedlings can become a nuisance (I am afraid I was too late and some seed has scattered). I am leaving the heads of Allium sphaerocephalon, Allium hollandicum and Allium schubertii  in place in the hope that they will gently self-sow and spread around. One more allium is still to come -little Allium senescens does not flower until the end of August.

Humming-bird hawk-moth

I was delighted to get a really close view of a Humming-bird hawk-moth, an immigrant from southern Europe and Africa, supping from Lathyrus latifolius ‘Red Pearl’ at the back door. It flew off before I could get a picture of it feeding, but I did take one when it was resting on a leaf.

Rain and open garden

The garden is open for NGS charities tomorrow (Sunday 23rd July) afternoon, but torrential rain is knocking the remaining lily blossoms onto the ground as well as much else. I know we need rain but I do hope it stops on Sunday as viewing the garden under umbrellas in July was not what I had anticipated.

The gravel bed looks wonderful and is filled with dancing heads of Allium carinatum subsp. pulchellum, both the white and lilac forms. They are resilient and should withstand the downpour. Most of the lavender is pretty much finished and I gently trimmed both lavender and santolina (cotton lavender) the other day.

Buddlejas are in flower but where are all the butterflies? There are depressingly few this year. White shasta daisies (Leucanthemum × superbum) and Geranium pratense ‘Plenum Violaceum’ provide shape and colour in the central bed, where Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ is just starting to open.

I am delighted by the impact of my new Helianthus salicifolius (willow-leaved sunflower). It is a magnificent erect foliage plant, now more than 6 feet tall, and after another few years, should make a substantial clump. I am not sure what I will think of the yellow daisies, when they finally appear, but I hope they will provide a pleasing contrast to the adjacent michaelmas daisies:  Aster laevis ‘Arcturus’  with purple flowers over very dark, almost black stems and Aster novae-angliae ‘Marina Wolkonsky’ with very dark purple flowers.

 

 

Moths and Lilies

The lilies have been magnificent- my first serious attempt to grow them. The scent from the pots of Lilium regale drifts around the patio and is a real treat when we sit outside. Sadly they will soon be over (the hot weather has not helped) and I have resolved to supplement the collection with some which will flower later next year, but I am only going to plant scented lilies and be more careful about the colours . I like “Yellow County” although it has no scent, but “Forever Susan” (which I really chose because of the name) is a rather garish orange-purple mix and again has no scent, so I will not be upset of she does not reappear in 2018.

The warm weather has been good for moths. I ran my moth trap and amongst the 32 species in the trap the next morning were 4 varieties of hawkmoth – Privet, Lime, Elephant and Poplar- what a treat. I released them with great care, hiding them in the shrubs, in the hope that the birds would not find them.  I also trapped a Scarlet Tiger, which often flies during the day, and a Buff Arches, a moth which looks just like a piece of flint. Sadly the numbers of moths have decreased over the years, but I avoid sprays and am happy to supply foodplants for both adults and caterpillars.

The hot bed is soon going to be full of colour. Heleniums (yellow and orange), Knautia macedonica (purple) and Coreopsis verticillata (yellow) are all in flower. I seem to have lost my lovely orange potentilla “William Rollinson”- I must investigate to see what has happened. I also realised that a  self-seeded purple fennel had inserted itself on top a previously large clump of the purple egg-headed late-flowering Allium sphaerocephalon. I have removed the fennel with difficulty and found few  surviving alliums- just in time!

Summer at Upper Green

We have been away for a week and returned to a garden bursting with colour and scents as well as a lawn desperately in need of a hair cut. The oriental poppies were beautiful before we left. I love their colours and crinkly tissue-paper like petals, but they never hang around for long and now the plants are ready to be cut back. The first poppy I fell for 40 years ago was probably ‘Mrs Perry’. She had delicate pale salmon-pink flowers and came from my Auntie B. I grew her successfully until we moved house. Oriental poppies are supposed to be long-lived but I have lost a number, I suspect because the soil is too heavy and I over-mulched. I must plant some more in well-drained sunny spots ……and find another ‘Mrs Perry’.

Roses are in full bloom but in this heat (30 degrees centigrade to-day) I do not think they will last long and nor will I be doing much gardening. The ramblers ‘Francis E Lester’ (pale pink single flowers) and ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ (clusters of pink double flowers) have scrambled to the top of their respective supporting apple trees. ‘Bobbie James’ (clusters of creamy white double flowers) a vigorous rambler is covering the trellis in the front garden and ‘Kiftsgate’ (clusters of white single flowers), the most vigorous of all, is in the back hedge.

The best scent comes from the old-fashioned shrub roses and my all time favourite is still the gallica “Charles de Mills” which looks magnificent in combination with another gallica, “Camaieux”.

Summer has arrived!

Rattle and roses

Despite the drought, the garden looks great, especially when Mr. B. cuts the lawn. My gardening activities have been temporarily curtailed by acute low back pain (I could barely stand up after bending to pick a flower), but I am now into week 3 and on the mend. Alpines such as Ramonda myconi and many saxifrages are flowering in the alpine troughs and the gravel bed is full of colour.

The recent rain is very welcome, but the weeds are making a come back. I planted out my white cosmos  seedlings (one can do a lot while crawling) just before it rained and I hope they get away before the slugs find them.The Chiltern Seeds catalogue tempted me to purchase a number of nicotianas (alata ‘Lime Green’, langsdorfii ‘Lemon Tree’, glutinosa and sylvestris ‘Only the Lady’). Now the seedlings need to be potted up and then I will put some plants in the pots that had tulips and tall varieties in the borders. Our yellow rattle (also know as hay rattle) has been a real success in the ha-ha and is flowering. I am hopeful that my mini-meadow will take off now the grass has been weakened by the rattle. I will plant the Chiltern Seeds ‘Cornfield mixture’ in the autumn.

Roses are beginning to open. Rosa Nevada (a modern shrub rose) is covered in frothy creamy-white scented blossom. Agnes, a yellow rugosa rose, is also in full bloom. The china rose, Rosa mutabilis, (not scented) is also in flower. Ramblers up the apple trees are covered in buds and should be magnificent in June.

So far the slugs have not attacked the hostas, probably because it has been so dry, so the foliage of the plants in the damp bed provides a wonderful mix of shape and colour set off by plants such as white bachelor’s buttons, Ranunculus aconitifolius ‘Flore Pleno’ and masterwort, Astrantia major subsp. involucrata ‘Shaggy’ both of which look lovely at this time of year.