Friday, 5 December 2014

Winter exercise.

We have just had the first frost and this time of the year is now best reserved for going through the seed lists and ordering for next year. If you are feeling energetic this is also the best time of the year to make your structural alterations and I thought it might be of interest to show you one I did on my own over the winter about four years ago when I was pretty much retired. The site is at the foot of Kinder Scout in Derbyshire and had very limited access, all the materials had to be brought in from the front of the house and through the neighbours yard, and, as you can see, was so steep you could not actually climb it without something to lever yourself up with. The weather didn't help and the cottages were cut off around Christmas time and the snow was frequently too deep to work.

The rise was actually 18 feet from the yard floor.
Everything had to be brought through the gate via. the neighbour's garden.
 The retaining walls were essentially of drystone construction with some areas reinforced by concrete to the rear, unfortunately the budget wouldn't stretch to using York stone for the steps but the Indian Stone flags were more than adequate.

All the fencing was renewed.
A deck was installed at the top of the steps giving the client a leisure area which was actually in the sun as opposed to ground level which spent a great deal of the day in shade.

The whole of the lower level of paving was relaid and about six flags had to be replaced. Please ignore the plastic troughs but the client couldn't wait to add their own touches.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Who needs flowers?

Our amazing year continues, very low rainfall this month coupled with temperatures which are higher than normal. How many times after our usual poor Summer have we looked forward to September being a good month, all those promised Indian Summers, only to be let down as Winter closed in early. This year not only have we had a good Summer it is still going strong into October which has encouraged second flushes of flower from some hardy perennials but more importantly has remained dry enough for me to rip my overcrowded borders apart, a job which I have been wanting to do for ages, the great thing is that the soil is still warm enough for any plants which are disturbed to re-establish themselves.

Given that my garden is not exactly blessed with flowering plants at this time of the year I must look to all the trees and shrubs which are now providing colour especially as the dry weather has encouraged a good show......Flowers, who needs them?

Cotoneaster 'Chinese Hybrid'
 The nomenclature of the genus Cotoneaster was so confused by the numerous hybrids raise from crossing the many species that were introduced to cultivation that back in the 1970's this plant, which was widely used by landscapers, was known simply as a 'Chinese Hybrid'. The leaves will yellow shortly making the plant even more attractive. 

Sorbus 'Joseph Rock'

This Mountain Ash or Rowan is coming in to its own now, the yellow berries contrast beautifully with the reddening leaves, this small tree is one of my favourites. Notice the colour changes in the leaves of the Witch-hazel (Hamamelis mollis) bottom left, it won't be too long before this is in flower. The variegated foliage bottom right belongs to Pieris 'Forest Flame', which is now well over 2 meters tall.  

Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'
 One of my favourite Acers, the pink stems contrast really well with the pale summer foliage and really complement the glowing Autumn colours which are just coming through. For some reason one branch is turning earlier than the rest of the tree.

Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Veitchii')
  Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Veitchii') adheres to the wall by the use of small pads so does not damage the masonry. Frequently sold as 'Virginia Creeper' although the true plant is P.quinqefolia.
 A bit short of fruits this year because of major re-shaping, the berries of this unknown variety tone well with the bright green of the leaves and the Victorian brick.

Spirea japonica 'Golden Princess'
 Although always striking because of its light golden foliage it is now turning red. This Spirea did not flower this year for the first time I can remember, whether it has been affected by the increasing canopy of the Acer next to it or it is reacting to the fact it didn't get its usual trim I don't know. There is another specimen just up the road in the local park which after a poor showing in the Spring is now coming into full bloom? Not to be confused with Astilbe of course!

Azalea 'Exbury Hybrid'
Grown from seed this Exbury Hybrid Azalea flowered for the first time this year and is now treating us to a brief autumn show.

Betula pendula 'Youngii'
 To the best of my knowledge this is Young's Weeping Birch, the seeds from all the surrounding birch trees have produced a mini snowstorm over the last month getting everywhere. The leaves on the long slender stems are just turning yellow before they drop.

This exotic looking giant with its yellowing leaves is of course Aesculus hippocastanum or the Horse-chestnut. The squirrels are now busily burying conkers everywhere particularly where the ground is loose. Any plants or bulbs that have been recently put in are unceremoniously uprooted in the process, I hate them!
Cotinus coggygria 'Grace'
This Smoke-bush produces so many different shades during the year it is difficult to keep track, the growth rate is phenomenal. Unfortunately no sun on it this morning to show it at its best, if I can get a better shot in the next few days I will add it. 

And here it is, much better with a bit of sun.
  Hope you enjoyed a trip round the garden with not a flower in sight!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

In the shade.

I always seem to be banging on about having to garden in the shade, although the garden is generally wet being at the bottom of a hill the trees certainly suck up the moisture near them which causes quite a few problems in a dry Summer like the one we have just experienced. Under the trees I try to maintain a "woodland" habitat, which includes bulbs and many plants for shade particularly things like epimediums and geraniums. To maintain this I do have to irrigate sometimes during the dry months although other parts of the garden can be still quite damp. On the plus side the surrounding trees do provide shade for my favourite Meconopsis and Primulas in the damper parts of the garden, which coupled with our damp climate and heavy acid soil provide almost ideal conditions. I used to be concerned about excess water during the Winter as many of the Meconopsis have very hairy leaves but, although there are a few casualties on the whole they have proved to be as tough as old boots for example Meconopsis integrifolia flowered after being under water for most of the winter a couple of years ago.
I thought I would show a series of pictures which tracks the sun round the sky from sunrise to sunset to give an idea of just how much shade there is. I live in a Conservation Area and of course trees are protected up to the hilt anyway so there is going to be no solution to the problem. I am currently doing some judicious lopping of the lower branches on a few to try and raise the canopy and have also some lower level shade to address including a couple of acers which are beginning to get too dense which will have to be thinned as much as possible, not something they particularly like. The alternative would be to take them out and I just haven't the heart for that particularly as I grew one from seed.

As the sun rises it is obscured first by a birch and then the wild cherry, the berberis and viburnum in the foot of the trees are both around 10' high.

 Next to the cherry is a mature silver birch, a weeping birch and a larch which is the bane of my life when it sheds its needles.

 Following the sun through the sky, the next tree is a massive horse-chestnut, I should wear a hard hat under this at certain times of the year after having received a couple of painful blows to the head but I am yet to learn. 

 Next to the horse-chestnut is what is left of a leylandii which is slowly being whittled down and behind it a holly which is actually covered in an old glory vine which I am quite happy about.

 Another view shows an acer, a buddleia growing out of the top of a garden wall just in front of the garage and in the far distance a Cotoneaster 'Chinese Hybrid' which is actually flanked by some rhododendrons.

Looking up the side of the house to where the sun sets, you can see Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca' which has just been trimmed, you will also notice that the area with the least interference from the trees which faces almost due South, is limited to a narrow border at the side of the house which is itself shaded by the garage.

 This is a good example of gardening with what you have, years ago I should have perhaps done something with the trees, at least those which I planted, but there is always a stage when they are easily contained and then in the blink of an eye they have leapt upwards and besides all that I do like them. So I suppose no more grumbling...............get on with it!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Continuing the search for colour.

The weather has finally broken and the temperatures have dropped quite drastically, the garden is showing  massive damage from both slugs and lily beetle due to having been unavoidably neglected for a month earlier in the year, you can't put back what has been eaten!

A view through "Buddleia Alley"
A couple of Buddleias still flowering seen through a pot of lilies. This passage between the house and garage actually faces south but the garage itself plus several large trees on the other side of it pretty well negate a true southern aspect. There are five Buddleias on this stretch Hydrangea petiolaris,  Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Veitchii') and a Pyracantha all of which have to be cut back severely every few years, not only to allow passage but also to be able to paint the house. 

Buddleja davidii 'Pink Delight'
Although I have at least seven Buddleias, for colour this remains my favourite. Next we have three new lilies.

Lilium 'Anastasia' an Oriental-Trumpet Lily, OT Hybrid, Orienpet Lily whatever you want to call it.

Lillium 'Casablanca' a florists favourite.

Lilium 'Robert Swanson' another Oriental-Trumpet Lily.

  A few years ago I would not have looked at lilies as I thought they were far too artificial in their appearance, however, I now find even the large ones indispensable. I first tried them in pots and then after flowering I moved them into the open ground in the herbaceous borders as they have long been included as "cottage garden" plants by many gardeners. I am now a complete convert, they are easy to grow giving spectacular colour at the back end of the summer. There is only one cloud on the horizon, lily beetle which, until this year, I have kept in check mainly by pulling the adults off the plant and crushing them although I also usually spray as the plants emerge and find that two applications a year helps to keep them in check. 

Geranium 'Eureka Blue'

Geranium nodosum 'Swish Purple'

Geranium 'Rozanne'

Hardy Geraniums must must be one of the most useful plants in the gardener's arsenal these are just a few of the one's I grow which are flowering now, G.'Eureka Blue' and G.nodosum 'Swish Purple' I have been growing for a few years now but I must admit I am very impressed with my new plants of G. 'Rozanne' they definitely do seem to carry on flowering, G.'Eureka Blue' is finishing now, but I will continue to watch 'Rozanne', which I have planted in a number of situations, with interest.

Althaea officinalis

Hydrangea aspera (Villosa Group)

Rudbeckia hirta
A few more splashes of colour come from the Marshmallow plant, Althaea officinalis from seed, Hydrangea aspera which is only a young plant and on which, for some reason, the whole of the lead shoot died back to ground level over the winter. I cut it back and the side shoots have developed and flowered whilst several new flowerless lead shoots have shot up the middle to twice the height making it impossible to produce a decent picture of the whole. Rudbeckia hirta became a source of amusement, it was the only seedling from a batch of seed sown two winters ago, I planted it out and then began to wonder whether this very fast growing plant with the feathery leaves which didn't somehow look like Rudbeckia was in fact a rogue cannabis plant which had sprung up, anyway it eventually flowered to everyone's relief.

"Frosted" Berberis thunbergii 'Atropurpurea'
Growing as a perfect foil for the Viburnum plicatum 'Mariesii' next to it, every summer without fail the Berberis is covered in powdery mildew, I used to worry about it but now just think of it as its "Summer Frosting"

Meconopsis paniculata 'Ghunsa group'.
Still providing interest as the monocarpic plant dies back these "hairy" seed heads are quite stunning in their own way.

Clematis tangutica 'Lampton Park'
One of my favourite climbers, Clematis tangutica 'Lampton Park' has to be severely cut back every year otherwise it would soon take over the front of the house, as it is now it obscures half the porch and one of the front windows although it has been trimmed back recently to avoid this happening............... rampant!

Maurandya purpusii (Climbing snapdragon)

Parnassia palustris

  Grass of Parnassus, definitely a plant of damp meadows and woodlands. No longer common in England it can still be seen in Scotland and Ireland. I am extremely fortunate that this year  I have had both the Parnassia and Primula scotica in flower, both of which are seen growing together in the North of  Scotland. Known as the Bog Stars these beautiful plants seem to be very widespread in the northern Hemisphere. Legend has it that the cattle on Mount Parnassus in Greece rather liked to eat it so it became a "grass" and is therefore known as 'Grass of Parnassus'. My few plants are very small but I am hoping that they may colonise.

Cyclamen hederifolium and companion.
I was messing around taking a few close-ups and didn't spot the intruder until I viewed the shots later on.

Angelica 'Ebony'- Not quite
As a Chelsea introduction Angelica 'Ebony' became very popular and is still seen in many show-gardens, this however is a seedling cross with Angelica archangelica and is roughly twice the height it should be if it was 'Ebony'. Angelicas seed themselves all over my garden and I now discard anything which is not red with some pleasing results.

For Peat's Sake!
A good friend sent me a copy of an article by Monty Don from the Gardener's World magazine mainly because he knew it would give me apoplexy and he succeeded. In it he states "nobody with a hint of environmental responsibility should consider using peat in their garden" and then goes on to mention vandalism of wetlands etc. Nobody wants to damage precious wetland environments, but when you consider that most of northern Europe is one massive peat bog it must be that peat is probably one of the most sustainable resources on the planet. He admits that it is a good growing medium, in fact I have yet to see any RHS trial or even those carried out on such as Beechgrove Garden TV where peat-based composts do not prove to be superior to those such as coir-based, not only that they are cheaper. Please follow this link to a very informative piece more importantly written by someone without an axe to grind who has researched their subject thoroughly and sets the facts down as they are. When you have read it maybe you will agree with me that peat should have a future rather than become a casualty of environmentalists' propaganda.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Searching for colour.

Because my garden is very much one that is at its best in Spring with the displays of Primulas and Meconopsis, when the middle of the year comes it is sometimes difficult to find much colour. Although I do have a few coloured leaved trees and shrubs dotted about flowers are a bit thin on the ground. For various reasons the garden has been neglected for about a month so I have suffered terrible slug damage and have even lost some plants due to the drought conditions, something that is very rarely a problem here! Even the badgers have had to find the last wet spot in the garden which they have now ploughed up in their search for invertebrates.

In the foreground is Ligularia 'The Rocket' just behind which is a lily just about to flower next to fading Astilbes with the big Eupatorium purpureum subsp. maculatum 'Atropurpureum' just about to bloom. The lily in flower is Lilium 'African Queen' in front of Acer 'Bloodgood' whilst the variegations of the Hostas can be seen in the bed behind.

Last man standing.
Primula florindae, last of the big Primulas, still in flower despite the heat.

Iris ensata
In a previous post "Iris for shadier damp conditions." I managed to miss out the king of them all the Japanese Water Iris, Iris ensata, these magnificent floppy flower heads are up to 150mm across and are born more horizontal rather than the vertical flower we would normally expect, easy to grow but beware slugs just love the flowers!



A couple of examples of Potentilla fruticosa, whose names are lost in the mists of time, are to be found in one of the few sunnier spots in the garden. These plants are no longer as popular as they once were, but are very hardy and easy to grow. Members of the rose family, they have now migrated to the genus Dasiphora (Dasiphora fruticosa), does this mean we will now know them as Dasiphoras rather than Potentillas? I doubt it.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer'

Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora
The ubiquitous Crocosmia 'Lucifer' which has become the most popular of its genus and the original garden Montbretia (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora) which was at one time a feature of just about everyone's garden but has now been superseded by its bigger brighter cousins. This had died out in my garden but has recently re-emerged in two entirely different locations, but both in dry shade.

Although I have often grown Nasturtiums for a splash of colour, this year I thought I would try a few more hardy annuals which I haven't grown for a long time. Some were grown in cells slightly earlier than the rest which were direct sown into containers some of which contained lilies. The direct sown ones did best, although the Nigella still hasn't flowered. One thing I forgot is that the Cornflower is not so named for nothing, in nature it uses the corn as a support and is generally not very good at standing up on its own, but just look at that flower, beautiful.

When Impatiens was struck down by disease this meant other than Fuchsias and Begonias there was little choice of bedding material that would grow well in my shady garden. This is a new strain of Impatiens from Parkers Bulbs which is meant to be wilt resistant, it clearly has the New Guinea strain in its parentage and has enormous flowers although the plants are very small and compact in stature which was a bit disappointing until they got going as I thought I had planted them too far apart. So far no sign of wilt so fingers crossed.

Actaea rubra - Red baneberry.
 The heads of berries on this very poisonous plant were that heavy that I had to lift this up from the floor to photograph it. Great for woodland and a bit of a novelty but Actaea pachypoda (doll's-eyes, white baneberry), which I used to grow, has white berries with black "eyes" and is quite bizarre, unfortunately it died on me! 

Bupleurum longifolium
 Here is another oddity, lucky dip seed from the HPS a few years ago, I thought I wasn't going to like it at first but it has grown on me. Essentially for a sunny spot but it survives here at the front of the border. I will continue my search for colour shortly.