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 .

P1220826
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.

Advertisements

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.

 

 

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.

P1220445

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.

 

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

 

P1220137
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!