A cold January 2018

 

 

The garden is wintery and the pond has frozen again. The weather has not been conducive to gardening to-day as the rain lashed down most of the day.

However I have had days in the garden as things are definitely moving out there. My snowdrops are really coming into their own, hellebores are in flower, winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) are just appearing, my Mum’s Iris unguicularis (stylosa) is still producing numerous flowers and I am thrilled that the Hamamelis intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’  that I planted last year in the damp bed is flowering.

Poor Garrya elliptica was given the heave-ho. I had given it due warning – if it did not perform with a good display of green tassels this year, it would be out as most of the time the dark evergreen leaves do not brighten my day and the tassels gradually start to go brown and just look sorry for themselves. So on Wednesday we removed it leaving me with space in a small North-facing bed that is now replete with fresh compost, top soil and manure. I am going to put in Daphne blagayana at the front. I will enjoy the fragrant, creamy-white terminal clusters of flowers each spring. There will still be space for another small choice shrub and I may also add the odd bulb or even an alpine.

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Garrya elliptica has gone leaving space for something new

 

In fact I have ordered a number of alpines from a small Scottish nursery (Craigiehall Nursery) that I found on-line when I was sitting in bed feeling sorry for myself with a streaming cold over the New Year. Nothing like plants to cheer one up. I am looking forward to their arrival.

I tackled the Michaelmas daisies after looking at the photographs I took last autumn. I have moved them around to provide a better mix of colours and I also split some of the older clumps to rejuvenate the plants. Inevitably there was the odd crunch as the fork hit some of the very large clumps of Nerine bowdenii bulbs, most of which do not flower now because the soil is really too heavy and over the years the bulbs have got covered far too deeply when the bed has been mulched. Nerine lilies do best in a well-drained site with full sun and would love to be at the base of a sunny, south-facing wall if I had one. I have replanted many of them more superficially and moved some to the bed at the base of the cottage wall (south-east facing) – we will see what happens.

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Winter Bulbs and Scent

 

Bulbs- snowdrops, irises and even a daffodil

Some snowdrops are in flower, including the fine tall Mrs MacNamara, and many more are nosing their way above ground, but will those I divided last year flower well or sulk? I was delighted to see the little pointed buds of the dwarf iris, Iris reticulata ‘Sheila Ann Germany’ , just showing and the clump seems to have fattened up. By January, I hope a number of these little irises will be in flower providing bright splashes of colour in the gravel garden, rock bed, drive bed and pots.

 

To my delight I found one trumpet daffodil flowering – Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’, an award-winning hybrid dating from the 1940s. It is certainly early. I planted a few bulbs in 2016 because it provides winter colour and even stands up to snowfalls. The others in my small clump are probably only a week or so behind and I have more than last year, so eventually  I hope to have a good sized clump .

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Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’

Winter Scent

Winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima,  was one of the first plants my mother gave me and the shrub has been flowering since the beginning of December. I am going to cut some twigs for the house so we can enjoy the fragrance of the dainty white 2-lipped blossoms indoors as well as out. I know it would flower better if I grew it in a sunnier spot, but then I would not have the benefit of scent by the back door.

Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox, is also in flower. The small scented waxy yellow blooms have almost no stem and look as if they have been stuck directly onto the bare twigs. I pruned it hard last spring and now it has flowers that I can reach. It was probably a mistake to plant it so close to the honeysuckle- I should have spread scent around the garden. The pink flower-buds of Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’  are also almost open. The perfume will fill the gravel bed and reach the front door where I have another tiny Daphne, Daphne cneorum var. pygmaea, in the small alpine trough. It has highly scented flowers in May. Both my troughs now have smart new covers provided by Mr B – what wonderful Christmas presents.

Leaf mould

The leaf mould bin which looked so full is now half full (or half empty depending on your attitude). The snow compressed the leaves so I am going to have to do some more collecting.  Something to do when the weather improves.

Snow, path-making and winter flowers

Winter arrived with a dump of wet snow. House and garden looked very picturesque.

We knocked the heavy snow off the branches of shrubs and trees and most have come through unscathed, but Buddleja davidii ‘Royal Red’ did take a hit. However buddlejas are tough, so it will be right as rain after a little judicious pruning.

Prior to the snow, I managed to persuade Mr B. that we could remove a narrow strip of lawn between two flower-beds. Chris, our very knowledgeable gardener, has made me a short path with a thick layer of bark chippings laid on a water-permeable and weed suppressing membrane. It looks great, giving a woodland feel to that part of the garden, where I already grow a number of ferns as well as the Pheasant’s tail grass, Anemanthele lessoniana. I shall mulch the adjacent beds thickly with my precious leaf mold and hope to have more success with woodland plants such as our native wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa, which do not thrive on the heavy clay.

The lovely blue flowers and fat flower buds of my mother’s Iris unguicularis (previously known as I. stylosa) are a welcome winter surprise, hiding amongst the long untidy leaves. I think the variety is probably ‘Walter Butt’. The flower buds are frost-resistant, but the flowers themselves are not. This iris continues to flower sporadically for several months and my mother used to take great pleasure in picking a few of the sweetly scented blossoms for the table. The iris flourishes in the most unpromising of conditions, at the base of the cottage wall where the ground is both dry and without much nutrient. Anemone pavonina in the gravel bed is also in flower and seems to have survived despite the snow and frost. These treats make a garden stroll worthwhile despite the weather.

 

 

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!

 

 

 

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.