A 'Blooming' Good Reason for Growing Houseleeks
Succulents have, by and large, passed me by for most of my green-fingered life. It was only when I began planning my wedding and looking at more masculine table settings and bouquets, that I began to realise just how wonderful Sempervivum (houseleeks) are. Until then I knew them only for nostalgic r…
Making a Case for Violas
There’s no love lost between Pansies and I. I’m not really a big fan of gaudy flowers, and I’m afraid I normally put pansies in this category. Add the fact there’s a vast amount of deadheading to do throughout the season, not to mention these plants tend to be short-lived and get very straggly, and …
Plant Pick - Growing Hollyhocks
I’m the first to admit I’m not a fan of short-lived plants. I like to plop a plant in and leave it, allowing its perennial nature to keep it growing year after year. All this annual and biennial sowing nonsense; no, I can’t be doing with that. Aside from a few plants, however. And one of these is th…
Plant Pick - Growing Dahlias
‘Tis very much the season for dahlias. I’m a huge fan of these blooms, though I admit, I have a slight love/hate relationship. There are a vast array of varieties in the dahlia collection, from sinewy, single-petalled bloomers to small, clump forming plants with huge, gaudy flowers. It’s the latter …
Plant Pick - Growing Tulips
If you hadn’t heard, it’s September already. That means it’s time to plant bulbs for a spring show in 2015. And, if you’re stocking up, then it’s definitely time to be thinking about tulips.
I often think that tulips are one of the more overlooked bulbs. We all fill our gardens with daffs, crocus…
Plant Pick - Growing Osteospermum (Cape Daisy)
I always feel as if some plants are vastly overlooked for tropical looking species and varieties that are new on the scene. Osteospermum (African Daisy), for example, seems to have a new colour shade coming out every years. However, I still have an extremely strong affection for Osteospermum jucundu…
Plant Pick - Growing Sedum (Herbsfreude)
Okay, hear me out; Yes, Sedum Herbstfreude is an extremely common plant that may seem rather dull to you. BUT, I feel this plant is often overlooked. It has a huge number of positives; it’s wildlife friendly, it’s easy to grow, it has fantastic cover during late summer/early autumn AND it provides s…
Plant Pick - Growing Skimmia
Okay, I know it’s still summer, but winter will be here before you know it. I’m honestly hoping for a cold snap this year – the wet, grey winter of 2013 was horrendous; I don’t think we had even one frost in London. That’s BAD for plants – they need dormancy. And it’s BAD for gardeners – we need a r…
Plant Pick - Growing Thrift (Armeria)
I think I must’ve first come across Thrift (Armeria) when I was a lad holidaying in Scotland. Our family didn’t head abroad, but jumped in the car and journeyed to the stunning landscapes of the Lake District, Scotland and Northumberland. I distinctly remember great swathes of thrift clinging to the…
Plant Pick - Growing Aquilegia
I grew up with aquilegia’s in the garden, and remember being around these plants from when I was tiny. As such, I don’t really think of them as all that exciting. Many species, particularly the wilder varieties, can be fairly bland and though the dainty flowers offer a welcome treat spring…
When it comes to gardening, simple is best. If you’re into horticulture, you’ve got to be prepared for lifelong learning – there’s a vast amount of knowledge and I’m always finding out new stuff every year. So, when a gardening cheat sheet comes along – a simple guide of common lawn care jobs to do each month – I’m all for it. This is exactly what Heiton Buckley have put together, making life a little easier to get that bright green lawn so many of us crave!
Take a look at the video and infographic below. There’s also a really fun interactive lawn care guide available here.
When it comes to gardening books, I have huge stacks of how-to, design, allotmenting books, in addition to several large garden encyclopedia’s. So when I came across the First Ladies of Gardening, it was nice to sit back and enjoy a little gardening history instead of being reminded of the many jobs I haven’t gotten around to yet (though, you’ll certainly be inspired by these pioneers and will add new dreams to your gardening wishlist)!
The book isn’t one to sit down and absorb all at once. You need to come back to it time and time again, taking each ladies resume. There are many you may well be familiar with; Beth Chatto and Vita Sackville-West, for example. But I didn’t know of Rosamund Wallinger, for instance, and the decades she’d spent restoring a Gertrude Jekyll garden. And not creating a reflection of Jekyll’s design, but taking the time, care and dedication to recreate it piece by piece, plant by plant. Nor did I realise just how gloriously Gill Richardson has managed to blend grasses, bulbs, trees and perennials in Lincolnshire’s Manor Farm.
It was also a joy to read about Helmingham Hall’s transformation to a modern garden whilst keeping its historical structure in place. Having grown up in Suffolk, I have a special affinity for this place; a visited a lot throughout my teens, and always have a gentle nostalgic kick when I read about it.
If you’re looking for a relaxing read that will thrill, inspire and also add a few new gardens on your to-visit list, then I highly recommend First Ladies of Gardening. We’re headed into winter, so what’s better than sitting down with a cuppa, biscuit and good gardening book to lift the mood ready for 2016?
First, some grim news. I had another break-in. Yes; that’s THREE in 10 days. And, rather than steal any birds, this evil scum smashed their way into the shed, pulled a nestbox from the aviary and squished the plucky male finch who was sat inside on his clutch of eggs. He, and the nest, were then just discarded and thrown to the floor.
Horrible. Just Horrible.
As you can imagine, it’s taken a few days to get myself together. I’m pretty shocked. We have a new garden alarm system. It’ll probably go off every time a cat, fox, bird, falling leaf affects the motion sensor. It’ll probably piss the neighbours off. I don’t care. I REALLY don’t care. If it stops this kind of thing happening every again, it’ll be worth it. To have a complete disregard for life and purposefully kill a little bird – these people need to get their comeuppance. The only unfortunate thing is I won’t be there to watch.
So….I’m trying to turn my attention to other things and focus upon this past autumn and what’s been.
As many of you know, this year I began the Wildflower Meadow Campaign. We managed to raise almost £500 to help buy the seed for a new 1.5acre meadow being set up in Suffolk. We sowed the seed in the spring, and last month we went back to check on its progress and scythe – can I just say that scything is extremely good fun!
Now – there’s a few things we’re overcoming. Firstly – whilst you need a fine till to sow in, we have undulating clay that nothing short of a tractor is going to sort out. I don’t have a tractor. Nor do I have a pair of heavy horses. As such, we have to stick with the undulating ground – in fact, I think it helped a little because there are GREAT flocks of wood pigeons, and the cracks in the earth allowed the seeds to find some safety. Secondly, though oil seed rape was not sown in the field, it seems there’s been some self-sowing from the vast Texan-esc fields of next door’s farm. So, scything these dry stems was made quite difficult, AND we were scattering oil seed rape seed too. Now, Suffolk has a problem with cabbage stem flea beetle – a bad problem. I’m hoping that if the oil seed rape germinates in 2016, the flea beetles will get in and help kill it off. In addition, we’ll do an early scythe to help cut off the young plants too.
Upon first inspection of the field, I was extremely disappointed. A couple of poppies made it, and Ox-eye daisies were abound. But that typified idea of waist high flowers as far as the eye can see? Ermm…not so. However, upon beginning to scythe I quickly realised A LOT of the perennial wildflowers had taken hold. That means that next year should be much better.
Also, it’s a bloody massive field and we’re doing the work manually, without anything larger than a strimmer! Eek. So, it’s a slow process. But it is a process. It’s also all an experiment. So, without further ado, here’s some photo’s from the weekend. I can’t wait to get back and do more. I can’t wait to get back and be there permanently!
It’s been extremely foggy here the past few days. Living closer to a river, the pervading moisture never lifts either, so it’s been very damp; not that I’ve minded. In fact, I quite enjoy the atmospheric mystery it creates. The garden’s happier too with a little moisture, and though the poland chickens crests are all a little lacklustre, the flock don’t seem to mind the creeping mist and falling temperatures.
There’s quite a few jobs to do here on my oasis; not that I’ve gotten around to them. The Pak Choi, winter lettuce and winter spinach need potting on. There are some self-seeded echiums that I must rescue from the ground and overwinter in the greenhouse – only problem is, I have a bit of an aphid issue in there. I’m squishing like frenzy but I could do with a good hard frost to kill ’em. I’ve also got to lift a few plants – dahlias, chocolate cosmos etc, but I’ll wait until the first zero temperature arrives. For now they’re still flowering and I’m not keen to stop that.
There are a couple of nice foliage pairings in the garden too which I’m enjoying, particularly on these mornings when there’s still dew settled on the green.
And, of course, there remains many hen antics, especially as my obsession grows. It’s hard to even imagine these lovely ex-batts in their former bedraggled, thin and plucked forms. They’ve recovered so well and are the nicest of hens though, unlike the bantams, they do tend to tear up the garden more.
As plants recede ready for winter and the garden outside begins to fade, one thing that becomes all too apparent is hard-landscaping, or the lack thereof. Plant hoarding is in my nature, so I’m quick to grab new flowers and foliage at a regular rate. Thinking about the ongoing permanent structure of the garden, however, is something I have to constantly remind myself about. I think, partly, it’s because of the high perceived cost. BUT, if I actually sat down and totted up all the money I’ve spent on plants, I’m sure I’d be giddy with guilt.
One of the most important parts of hard-landscaping, in my opinion, is the threshold between home and garden. Why? Because you want to garden to call you into it, and if the boundaries between living spaces are too abrupt, there’s no natural flow. There are a wide variety of materials you could use, but the three I’m concentrating on, and those that I, myself, am considering for my own oasis, are aggregates, paving and decking.
Using aggregates has to be the easiest and cheapest option of the three. One of the best things is that you can do it yourself without much input. Once the area’s cleaned of debris and a boundary layer like weed-suppressant membrane or plastic has been put down (remember to pop a few holes in the plastic or you’ll get a stagnant pool), you can just shovel the gravel out. There’s no need to level the area as you can rake aggregates flat, and any dips and troughs will disappear. Yes, this stuff covers a multitude of sins. There are also a wide variety of coloured stones, pebbles, slates and even recycled materials like glass, rubber and plastic that can be used.
However, there are downsides too. Pottering about in bare feet, especially if you’re using this area as a summer breakfast patio, is not going to be comfortable. Aggregates can become pretty dirty over time too; for instance, I used Cotswold stone at my last house. The marigolds look fantastic against it, but after a couple of years, a lot of the pebbles were stained green. Even with a good jet wash, it couldn’t all be cleaned. And, even though you’ll suppress weeds from beneath, you’ll still get plants growing through.
If you’re looking for a stylish and contemporary look, paving is often the route to go. It’s harder and pricier to do, and you may need a professional in because those slabs have got to be laid perfectly flat if you’re to get the right finish. But, paving stone is far simpler to clean, sweep and keep looking tidy. It’s also a brilliant way to meld home and garden as you can easily use the same paving inside and out so as to lose boundaries altogether. And, because it’s far more static than aggregates are, it’s easier to create steps and ramps that need little maintenance.
Of course, weeding can be an issue, particularly in old paving where the mortar’s cracked and roots have taken hold. To avoid this, you can seal paving areas with a hydrophobic sealant. This stops weeds taking hold, and also prevents water getting in; you can simply sweep the puddles off the surface.
I’ll start by saying I’m no fan of decking. In all my experiences with it, it requires a lot of maintenance, becomes extremely slippery when wet and can quickly become dirty, covered in algae and unsightly. However, it is an extremely useful hard-landscaping material if you’re dealing with uneven gardens. For example, it’s FAR easier to erect decking on stilts than to flatten and level the land for paving. It’s also more easily altered, in the case you want to extend it or create another terraced component, for instance. But, I would argue the cost, both in time and money, for regular cleaning and staining isn’t worth it unless you really love the look. And, of course, in some styles, beach gardens for example, decking is perfect.
I’m yet to decide just which option I’ll choose for the Mediterranean garden; the first garden you come to when stepping out the backdoor.
What’s your top choice? Any loves or hates regarding these materials?
As most readers of this blog are well aware of, I’ve had some unwanted guests in my garden – of the homosapien kind. To be fair, I made the first theft easy. I’d moved from London into Essex and was naively enjoying a more rural lifestyle (it’s not rural at all; just the perception) when someone just walked through the back gate and took my pet chicken. There was nothing to stop then, not even a lock. The second time, however, there were locks, trellising and even motion sensor lights. The passage of time had lulled me into a false sense of security. Yes, I’d put some trellis up and I’d planted a few pyracantha. It was enough, right? Wrong. Very wrong. So now I’m on a mission to make the boundaries of my garden as prickly and inhospitable as possible.
Trellising and Fencing
First, of course, comes the need for adequate fencing and trellising. As well as preventing people coming into your garden, you need to stop opportunists and nosy eyes peering in to see what’s of value. After all, what a thief can’t see is less likely to attract them. A six foot fence is great, but I strongly advise adding trellising to the top. Why? Because a fence is nice and sturdy to climb over – I know this to my peril as I’m sure my neighbours new concrete fence gave the latest thief an easy step-up. A trellis, however, is flimsy and likely to break. A burglar wants an easy route, not to end up in a heap on the floor covered in broken wood and splinters; not to mention the sound such an incident would make.
Something which I’m yet to do is add anti-climb paint. This isn’t for everyone. If, for example, you’ve got a rather nimble cat, the last thing you want is jet-black paw prints all over the house. But, in my situation, where I’ve experienced two invasions in under six months, I’m probably going to opt for this. A simple line of paint along the top of the trellis and any exposed parts of the wall will leave thieves in a mucky mess. In addition, though you can’t legally use upturned nails, glass shards, barbed wire etc, you can use carpet runners; you know the type – those grips that keep carpets down and hurt like hell if you stand on them barefoot. Nail a few of those to the top of fencing and your burglars are in for a nasty surprise.
Planting boundaries is a somewhat frustrating endeavour because though you may love the process of growing, you’ll want a boundary to establish itself fairly quickly. As a result, I’m attempting a two-pronged approach with plants that’ll take time to establish, and others that are fast growing.
Your thorny blackberry, for example, is ideal. Given the right circumstances, blackberry canes can grow 10 feet or more in a year. Plus, they remain prickly throughout the winter months AND will provide bountiful berries to you and all the birds during late summer. In addition, you might like to try less lethal plants that will grow through the trellis and provide some screening. Alas, now we’re approaching winter it’s too late for that, but if you’re starting this process in spring, pop in a few Virginia creepers, clematis Montana or Honeysuckles. Annuals will do well too, and some sweet peas, black-eyed Susan, morning glory or even runner beans/French beans will help provide some screening for one season. This isn’t the long time aim, of course, but it allows the slower, thornier growers to get going whilst screening out prying eyes looking for an easy steal.
As a gardener, the most vicious specimen I’ve ever come across is pyracantha. Damn, this plant hurts like hell. It has thorns that’ll make you bleed, and they snap off as well, leaving you cursing the splinters etched across your hands. It is, therefore, a fabulous boundary plant. It also provides colourful berries in the autumn, and it’s evergreen. It takes some pretty harsh pruning too, so you can trim it flat against a fence so as not to take up much room. Once established it’ll grow quite quickly, but to get a full hedge you’ll have to wait a few years first, carefully tying the new shoots to the trellis so you can get the shape desired.
Other hedge options include blackthorn and hawthorn; both of which have vicious spikes for protection and offer some other goodies. Haws come in reds and oranges, and blossom of pink or white makes quite a show. Blackthorn (Prunus spinoso), meanwhile, offers pretty white blossom that is a sure sign of spring. AND there’s sloes. What more persuasion do you need? Thorns and now you can make sloe gin too! And, if you really want to create a thorny hedge, some of the wild roses are brutal with their spikes. Combine these with shrubs and you’ll get added interest throughout the year with flowers and hips.
So, though my thorny boundary project has been going some time, I’m ramping it up with a vengeance; I will make it as hard and painful as possible to come into my garden uninvited. And, though I’ve certainly been inspired even more to make our move to a rural retreat as quick as possible, I’m going to be leaving a beautiful yet vicious safeguard.