Helleborus x hybridus double

Happy Days

This week I’ve been thinking about happiness.

I mention this because on Monday, at around about midday, I was suddenly aware of being happy. And it occurred to me that it’s not often that I am aware of happiness at the moment of feeling it.

Monday was one of those rare perfect days we sometimes get in early spring, when the sky is a clean clear blue, the temperature blissfully warm. I was in the greenhouse, seed sowing. The doors were open, the automatic vents in the roof had risen silently of their own accord as the warmth from the sun worked its magic; there was the smell of potting compost and fresh air. I was sitting on my new, very exciting seat/compost bin, bought for the princely sum of £14.93 from Amazon, scooping seed compost into pots from my new, very exciting potting tray also bought from Amazon for £12.95. And I was happy.

Monday was the day when broad beans were sown into root-trainers, aubergines and cucumbers and tomatoes were settled into their pots and put into the propagator on the windowsill, together with sunflower seeds for the cutting garden. Antirrhinum, papaver and nigella were scattered across trays of compost and covered with black plastic a la Sarah Raven. This time last year I was busy working on another garden so, with time for my own garden in short supply, I went down the plug plant route for my veg. And very good it was too. This year I’ve got a bit more time, and seeds hanging around from the year before, and I’m experimenting with a few different ways of germination on the basis that, as with so many garden tasks, there seem to be a number of different approaches, so it’s a suck-it-and-see situation. Messing around with these things on Monday made me happy.

Added to which, this week in the garden my new hamamelis is blooming.

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Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’

The February Gold daffodils I planted a few years back are getting ready to live up to their names, the new bulbs I planted last year in the long grass of the field garden are appearing in their dozens, there are tulips showing their leaves in the cutting bed, hellebores by the drive.

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Heavenly Hellebores 

Everything is stepping up a gear. More reasons to be happy.

Another day this week with more than its fair share of happy moments was Sunday, when I went to the Snowdrop Fair at Great Comp. I had thought the snowdrops in my garden were looking pretty darn good.

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Snowdrops in my garden

Until I saw the spectacular scenes in the wooded acres of this well known garden and nursery. Dysons Nurseries at Great Comp are famous for their salvias, but at this time of year it’s the snowdrops that are doing their spectacular thing. But more than the snowdrops, it was the great drifts of the spring snowflake, that took my breath away.

I hadn’t been aware of this particular Leocojum vernum with its delicate double bonnets.  I am now. Came home with a couple of plants to start them off in my own garden.

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Leocojum vernum var.vagneri

I also bought one snowdrop plant to put a bit of wind up the chaps back home and remind them not to be complacent. This is Galanthus ‘Mrs Thompson’ – which according to the label can have 3, 4 or even 5 ‘outers’, and increases well. Which as the sole representative of this particular plant in my garden it’s going to have to do!

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Galanthus ‘Mrs Thompson’

I flirted with buying Galanthus Seagull, but the £20 the bulb cost wasn’t in my purse. Probably a good thing. I was getting carried away.

My other purchase was a stunning Helleborus x hybridus double. To go with my rather varied selection of hellebores in the bed by the drive.

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Helleborus x hybridus double

Who couldn’t feel happy looking at this beauty!

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Cursing the muscari

 

This week in the garden it’s been more slow build than mad dash. The snowdrops are filling out splendidly, the scent of the sarcococca is noticeably gathering in the air, the hamamelis buds are beginning to show their spidery finery. And this is all good stuff. But the muscari…

This is the week that I curse the muscari.

These are the muscari that I chucked into the edge of a couple of borders one year after they had done their lovely thing in my containers.

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The right place for muscaris!

 

Let me tell you that this was a big mistake! Because around about now is when they pop up where they aren’t wanted, looking all grassy and meh. They hang around in tatty clumps and annoy the hell out of me. Last year I had a purge and thought I’d got rid of them all. I moved a whole heap of the little blighters to fill the area under the espaliered apples in the veg garden. But here they are, back again in the borders. And particularly annoying, they are mustering right outside the kitchen window.

So I’m staring right at them, right this very minute.

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Maddened by muscari

My advice for what it’s worth is to be cautious of anything described as vigorous. Invasive is self evident; we all know to steer clear of invasive. But vigorous can sound like a really good thing. The problem is that once you’ve got vigorous in your garden, it’s going to be with you for a very long time. So you’d better be sure you like it.

My current offenders are the aforementioned muscari, an acid yellow primula that popped up out of nowhere and at first I rather liked, an alstromeria I innocently bought at a plant fair. There are others that turn up a bit later, like alchemilla mollis, centranthus ruber, valeriana officianalis, verbena boniarensis and tellima that I like enough to forgive their overenthusiasm. But you can have too much of a good thing and liking can turn to loathing when there is an overabundance.

In my opinion muscari are best in containers or borders where their clumping habit is acceptable. This is not in full view of where I sit to eat my breakfast.

Apart from muscari madness we have had another bit of excitement in an otherwise quiet week in the garden. This morning saw the arrival of…

The Ferretman.

If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that I wage constant war with the rabbits in my garden. And nine times out of ten – actually make that ten times out of ten – they win. A couple of weeks ago we noticed that a mound of earth had appeared in the corner bed on the drive side of the house. Seemed like the demon bunnies were tunnelling their way in. Quick call to the pest control people who have helped with a rat problem in the past. Vanessa the pest lady pops round and tells us that this time round we have a rabbit problem.

Now I don’t need this spelling out. But under the house is a new one on us. Vanessa suggests that ferrets could be the answer. My favourite ever answer phone message is the one that begins: ‘Hello, this is The Ferretman speaking…’

So Martin turns up with his ferrets. And it’s all very exciting. And he gets going with nets and ferrets. But the rabbits are too clever for us. They appear to have gone elsewhere. For the time being at least. I know full well that they will be right back the moment that The Ferretman has gone.

So the week outside has been a source of irritation. Inside I’ve been much happier. Inside I’ve been obsessed with my hippeastrum.

Last year my sister Lucy and I each bought a hippeastrum bulb from Petersham Nursery. Simply described as ‘orange’. We planted them at the same time in the middle of November. Hers went ballistic, grew about two foot tall in what seemed like a matter of days, and was flowering by Christmas. Mine did pretty much nothing. For weeks I thought it was dead. Until it showed a little tongue of green. And grew. And grew.

And then last week it began to flower.

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I’ve been recording its progress.

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First one flower began to open.

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It opened a little bit more.

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Then another flower got going.

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I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

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At night, under a spotlight, it glistened and gleamed. It was hard to believe that it was real.

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Hippeastrum Rilona

 

This morning it was in full flower. Taking up so much space that my problem was a lack of a background to shoot it against. I tried black velvet – not a large enough piece to fit in the whole flower head. But enough to give an idea of its fabulousness.

I’ve had more pleasure from this one bulb than from a million muscari. But they will have their chance to redeem themselves when they start to flower. Then I will forgive them anything.

 

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Big Brother and Bokeh

So it’s Week Five in the Big Brother house.

What am I saying…? I’m not in the Big Brother house. I don’t watch the Big Brother house. I have no interest in the Big Brother house. But, since I started these weekly posts, whenever I start to think about the next one I hear a booming voice in my head saying ‘Week Five (or four or three or whatever week it happens to be) in the Big Brother garden.’ And I know it’s time to get writing.

Maybe it’s the weather that’s making me hear voices. This week it feels colder and greyer than ever and I’m beginning to feel a little bit stir crazy. I’m looking out at the garden, and I have absolutely no desire to go out there. Which is making it something of a challenge to come up with what to write.

But, luckily for me, there was a day this week that the Great Garden God smiled. And the day he did was Tuesday, which happened to be the day that Chris, the Rose Pruner, was coming to help me with pruning the roses on the pergola that are too high for me to get to on my own. It was the day that the wind dropped and the the sun shone, and we were able to get on with pruning, and I tidied up the apple trees which have been nagging me  for weeks. And apart from discovering that the pergola that holds up the roses and wisteria is rotting away, which is one of those one step forward, two steps back moments that go hand in hand with being a gardener, it was a really good garden day.

One of the best things about it was that I got to use my new Niwaki telescopic pruner for cutting stuff that is very high up. I bought it for myself in January after last year’s purchase of Niwaki shears changed the box shaping/pittosporum sculpting task forever. (I find it hard to believe that I am the woman who gets excited over a garden tool. But hey ho.)

So I was too busy wielding my new toy to have much time to take photos for this post. Which is not such a bad thing because as much as I love my roses they are not at their photogenic best when they’ve just had a short back and sides. But I did manage to stop and take some shots of the seedheads of the Hydrangea Annabelle to send in for the last assignment of my online photography course.

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Bokeh!

This was my attempt at achieving/creating Bokeh. Have you heard of Bokeh? Me neither. (Or maybe you have heard of Bokeh, and it’s just me.) For the uninitiated let me tell you that Bokeh is ‘the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens.’ It means ‘blur’ in Japanese.

I used to think blur was a bad thing in photography. Which just goes to show how much you can learn in a short space of time.

Each of the four assignments I have had to complete for the course have required me to send in two to three photos. With the lack of flower action in the garden and the inclement weather I had to resort to sending a photo I took last year of Amelanchier blossom shot against Tulip Apricot Beauty as an example of using a contrasting background.

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I was worried it might be cheating to use last year’s material. But I’ve just heard back from Clive (did I mention how much I love Clive!) and he loved the combination of white and apricot. And said it was an ‘attractive flower study’. And he thought the ‘Bokeh’ shot was the best one I’ve sent him.

So I’m happy. In spite of the weather it’s been another good week. And who knows what next week will bring!

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The Garden Shuffle

It’s been another damp and drizzly week in the garden. Until yesterday, when there were proper blue patches between the clouds, a bit of proper sunshine. And for the first time this year I was able to go outside and do a proper shuffle.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the garden shuffle? It’s one of my favourite things: the slow meander around the garden, usually with cup of tea in hand, not doing, just seeing. It’s when I take the time to properly look at what is happening out there, without feeling I have to do anything about it. (Apart from pulling up the odd weed!) My favourite time to shuffle is first thing in the morning. Ideally the temperature is warm enough for me to go out in my dressing gown. Although we’ve got a while to go before that happens!

Yesterday the sunshine didn’t appear until the afternoon, so a dressing gown would have been entirely inappropriate. But still it was warm enough to wander, and within minutes of being out there, cup of tea and me were shuffling in perfect harmony.

There’s more to see than you might imagine. Snowdrops are opening, yellow aconites are bright against the brown earth under the ash tree by the drive, the unfolding heads of the hellebores are rising up out of the leaf mould.

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Snowdrops are opening

And yesterday the low sun of afternoon was playing wonderful tricks with the leaves of the Asplenium scolopendrium fern.

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Asplenium scolopendrium

This is the week that the green shoots have really started to get going, pushing up all over the place, and as I shuffle I’m thinking about all the bulbs I planted last autumn. (One of the great joys of bulb planting when your memory isn’t what it used to be is the element of surprise!) It’s coming back to me that I crammed the recently re-edited centre bed with tulips, choosing my selection after reading an article in Country Life by Tom Coward at Gravetye Manor… but what were they? I can’t remember and I can’t find the article.

There are the narcissus I planted under the new hornbeams in the field garden, selected following advice from The Cut Flower Patch by Louise Curley that was my bible last year and will be again in 2017. There are more alliums in the front garden, a row of muscari under the espaliered apples in the vegetable garden. Probably other stuff that I’ve forgotten about. I can’t wait to see what comes up!

And this week I’ve been writing lists of plants to buy to fill the gaps I didn’t get round to last year, and I’ve ordered my dahlias, (one of my choices is Otto’s Thrill after seeing it at Petersham Nurseries), and I’m sorting through my seed packets, and watering my pelargonium cuttings. And next week there are roses and wisteria to be pruned, and I’m hoping for another dry day so that I can tidy up the apple trees.

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Dahlia Otto’s Thrill

And finally, I’ve been getting on with Assignment 3 for the Photography course I’m doing with mygardenschool. One of the topics set for us was still life sequences, shooting the same subject from different angles. This is a shot of a moth orchid I submitted – now I’m waiting for feedback.

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Moth Orchid still life

Hope Clive likes it!

All in all it’s been a good week. This weekly challenge I’ve set myself for this blog is forcing me to pay attention. And I’m looking forward to seeing what I can find for next week’s post.

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Bad Timing

It’s beginning to dawn on me that my timing may be a little out, it being January, and here I am committed to weekly posts about my garden, which at the moment is grey and gloomy and perishingly cold, and reluctant to offer up too many good stories.

So it’s a challenge.

But January feels like a good time for a challenge. And I’m telling myself that if I can come up with something to write about for a post at this miserable time of year, and if I can come up with subject matter to shoot for the online plant and flower photography course I’m doing at the moment with the great Clive Nichols at mygardenschool, then it’s going to seem like a piece of cake when things warm up.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself!

And when I’m really struggling it helps to remind myself of the damp and dismal winter we had last year, when it didn’t get cold, it just got murky. This year we have had more than our fair share of frosty mornings when the the sun shines and the world is ice encrusted and glistening. The silhouettes of the trees stand like sculptures against the winter skies, the sunsets take my breath away. And why is it that on these glorious days I don’t have time to get outside with my camera and only have spare time on days like today when it’s perishing and grey and…

Oh stop moaning woman and get on with the job in hand.

Because the truth is there’s still so much to enjoy in the garden. I just have to brave the elements, whatever the elements happen to be. And even though it’s freezing degrees fahrenheit outside and the ground is rock hard, the plants know that spring is around the corner and they are getting themselves in shape for it.

First the Galanthus nivalis, the snowdrops. Never ones to be put off by the cold they are getting ready to flower any day now.

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Snowdrops getting ready for action

Then there’s the Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ I planted in the autumn. It’s clustering beautifully and getting ready to put on a show at any moment.

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Enough buds

One of my all time favourite plants, the Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, which has delivered its structural elegance to the winter garden, is limbering up and preparing to put on it’s lime green loveliness for the benefit of contrast, so that when the tulips and the daffodils and the scillas and the muscari come into flower they have something to work with. I have several strategically placed around the garden. Last year’s mild winter saw it flowering from November. This year we have to wait. But it’s so worth it.

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Euphorbia with rain

The hellebores are getting ready by the driveway. The Sarcococca confusa is wafting occasional bursts of scent, but really wants it to warm up a couple of degrees in order for it to release the full strength of its sweetness. The Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is laden with buds whose scent is one of the most exquisite of any I know, so that people who rarely notice such things comment as they walk past it to the kitchen door.

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Euphorbia with Daphne and red stemmed Cornus

In the front garden buds are showing on the Amalanchier and the guelder rose and the Prunus. Once you start paying attention it’s amazing how much is happening out there.

And inside I’m playing around with reflectors and backgrounds and apertures. And  I’m breaking my resolution not to buy flowers because at the moment I have no option.

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Tulip against black velvet
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Ranunculus from above
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Don’t know what this is but I like it!
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Inner tulip

I can’t wait until the cutting garden starts delivering because this year I’m hoping that I will have much more of a clue about how to take photos of what comes out of it.

So… I’ve written myself into a good mood. This week’s post has delivered a whole lot more than I imagined it would. And there’s next week to look forward to.

Looking back at the house

Bare bones and skeletons

So it begins.

With snow.

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Not very much snow. But still a chance to see the bare bones of the garden. Which is as good a place to start this year of weekly posts as any.

But before I embark let me fill you in on a bit of background.

For those who may not know the history of this garden, I should explain that sixteen years ago it wasn’t… a garden that is. What it was was an awkward triangle of about half an acre of sloping lawn surrounded by stock fencing. The kind of space you look over and out of rather than into. It was the garden developers leave for you when they’ve finished. Need I say more!

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Room for improvement….

And this is how it stayed for a couple of years. Until the time came to ask for help from my mate Judes; who happens to be a garden designer of the very best kind. One of that rare breed who understand space and function and form.

Under Judy’s expert eye the contractors got going and the garden began its transformation. Once the landscaping was done it was time to get on with the planting. In a haphazard, unplanned, suck it and see kind of way that taught me a great deal about what goes where and what doesn’t, I bought plants I liked and put them in the ground. Which gave me an unimagined amount of pleasure, along with a fair amount of pain, as things outgrew their allotted spaces, self seeded, spread, grew this way when I wanted them to grow that, looked wrong, failed to thrive, died; in fact did all those things that plants do when you add a bit of sun and rain, and wait to see what happens.

Because when I started out as a novice gardener I was under the impression that you just planted things and left them to get on with it. I had no idea that shoving a drought loving plant into my heavy clay soil was like uprooting a camel from the Sahara and expecting it to thrive in Greenland. Plants know what they like and I learned that trying to force them to do anything different is an expensive mistake.

As for leaving them to get on with it. I realise now that this is akin to believing that the hair on your head should be left to grow as nature intended. Without interference. Now there may be many who are completely fine with this approach, but I’ve always been a seek out a good hairdresser and visit them regularly kind of girl. Plants need to be shaped, fed, nurtured. They need to be re-assessed and re-styled every now and then. It’s not that I don’t love natural. I just think it needs some help along the way.

Two years ago, with the benefit of all the years of hard work in my own garden, along with garden visits, trips to flower shows, books read, garden magazines thumbed, catalogues poured over, conversations had, and my garden design course under my belt, I took a step back, looked at what was in front of me, and realised that it was time for a major re-edit.

I went through the garden bed by bed, plant by plant, getting rid of any that didn’t please me. I drew up proper planting plans for the main beds. I reworked the area on the other side of the hedge which had been field, and was now home to a very uneven lawn, greenhouse and vegetable garden.

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Work in progress!

Over the past couple of years I’ve rejected, replanted, moved, cut back and generally overhauled the entire space. This year I hope to see the fruits of my labours start to deliver. Which is another reason I want to keep this blog/diary.

This week the garden is resting, for a couple of days slumbering under a light blanket of snow, with the odd downpour thrown in for good measure, and today a burst of winter sunshine. I’ve been out there with my camera. This is the time when the structure of the garden is revealed. Now is when I can see if it’s working. And I’m pleased to report that the skeleton is looking pretty good.

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Snowy garden

At this time of year it’s easy to believe that there’s nothing going on in the garden. But when it seems that there isn’t much to look at, you just have to look a little harder!

There’s beauty to be found in the bones.

January garden

My Gardening Year

I gave up on New Year resolutions a long time ago. Too easy to make; too hard to keep.

But with the Christmas decorations back in the attic, the pine needles swept away with the Christmas tree, the Christmas cards sent off for recycling, I’m beginning to feel the shiver of anticipation that is one of the joys of being a gardener at this time of year. It comes from spotting the silver green shoots of the snowdrops pushing up through the cold bare soil, from catching a waft of scent from the Sarcococca by the back door when I put out the rubbish, from seeing the spiky fronds of the Muscari assembling along the edges of the pathways. I sit in my kitchen and look out at the bare bones of the outdoor space that I’ve made for myself and I’m full of excitement for the year ahead.

So I know we’ve got Trump and Brexit and melting ice caps and all manner of scary things going on in the world. But – right here, right now – deep in the brown earth of my garden things are gathering strength and energy and getting ready to put on a show. Whatever else happens the garden will do it’s thing for better or worse. And I’m going to be right there with it.

Because this year I’m going to do what I’ve been promising myself for years and keep a regular record. This January of 2017 my resolution is to write a weekly post about whatever is happening in my garden that captures my attention, so that one day I can look back and be reminded of what a year in my garden really feels like. One of my birthday presents at the beginning of December was a subscription to Clive Nichols’ online photography course with The English Gardening School. (Which I’m about to start!) So hopefully, as the year progresses, the photos that go with my posts will have that extra edge. But whatever happens I will do my best to post something, anything to give you, me, and anybody else who is interested, an account of the ups and downs of my gardening year.

So…

Watch this space.