Hollyhocks add decadent architecture to any garden

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…

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Design With Dahlias for Autumn Colour

‘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 …

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It's time for 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…

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An African daisy to add simplistic chic

I always feel as if some plants are vastly overlooked for tropical looking species and varieties that are new on the scene. Osteosperumum (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 jucund…

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Prepare your winter garden with Sedum Herbstfreude

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…

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Create vibrant winter pots with 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…

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Smother a rockery with thrift

I think I must’ve first come across Thrift (Ameria) 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 …

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Delve into the world of 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…

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Prepare for bees with Pulmonaria

 

Practically everyone’s heard about how troubled the world’s bee population is, and as gardeners, it’s our responsibility to help these guys out a little. Though I hate wasps, I love the sound a few friendly bumbles buzzing through the foliage in early spring, and if you’re looking for a pl…

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Create a carpet with Ajuga reptans

It’s fair to say that I love this little plant and I can never understand why it’s not used more. Interesting foliage? Check. Quick growing? Queck. Beautiful flowers? Check. Yet, when I look around gardens, especially show gardens, it’s obvious in its absence. Who knows why – maybe it just hasn’t ca…

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On My Oasis – New Pets and New Plants

This weekend was an extremely exciting one in our house as the 21st day of chick incubation arrived. I basically spent every waking moment from Friday onwards sat next to the eggs, staring through the perspex and waiting for the slightest signs of a pip. I was rewarded at about 3pm on Friday (day 21) when one Polish bantam and one Barbu d’anver egg had a little hole. Whilst the polish chick made short work of its shell, the little black d’anver did nothing, and I worried, and stressed, and worried some more.

On Saturday another three Polish bantams arrived, and another d’anver egg pipped but still….no signs of this variety hatching. Finally, on Sunday, after the first d’anver had started to unzip (a process where they roll around in the egg to peck through a circumference of membrane and shell), the chick became stuck for three hours. I finally intervened and broke the top away. A few minutes later and some forceful pushes, and the little mite was out. Number two was in a similar position and had to be helped out the shell this morning. Alas, it’s got a leg deformity and can’t stand – I’m unsure this happened because of the long hatch time or the chick wasn’t able to get out of the shell due to this. At the moment I’m now worrying, stressing, and worrying some more about this chick. We’ve strapped its toes to try and uncurl them but it still can’t stand – rather sad.

New plants

I also headed to the local garden centre this past Saturday and, being unable to control myself, bought some more plants. This is how my last garden became a mess; I just bought all the plants I liked and any thought of design went out the window. Unfortunately a similar thing seems to be occurring here….though the dark leaved dahlia is ideal for the tropical border. I got a gorgeous white wisteria for the front of the house – hopefully to hide some of that 1930’s architecture or lack thereof – and also a chocolate cosmos. It’s the latter that doesn’t really fit into any of my design, but I’ll find a worthy spot for it.

One plant that is coming into it’s own is Verbena ‘Bampton’. I’ve planted this in the Mediterranean garden amongst the lavender and grasses, and against the coal bunker. It’s looking beautiful!

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The stunning new dahlia

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Verbena Bampton

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Chocolate cosmos – I’ll need to take cuttings from this as it’s only half hardy

With the oncoming heatwave – I’m not looking forward to it – this week is going to be ALL about watering the garden and trying to keep things alive, particularly in a newly established patch where roots haven’t had a chance to properly penetrate the soil. So…get through the heat, don’t melt and most importantly of all, enjoy the garden!

It’s Hatching Day!

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been being paying careful attention to the incubator – making sure it’s the right heat, has the right humidity etc. Today – is hatching day! We’ve got 12 Polish bantam eggs and 6 Barbu’ danver eggs on the go, and June 26th marks the important day when we discover how many will hatch.

I got home at 3pm and the first chick was out; a little wet and weak, so it’s probably only been out for an hour. These bantams are showy birds, so we’ve decided to name them after drag queens (Ru-Paul, you have a lot to answer for) so this first little one is Ivvvvvy Winters.

I’ll update throughout the day as, hopefully, more littl’uns arrive.

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The first beautiful chick has arrived!



Sowing a Wildflower Meadow

If you followed my IndieGoGo campaign or noticed my Wildflower Meadow Campaign page, you’ll know that this year is about doing, not dreaming. My family has several acres of Suffolk farmland that’s left fallow and not managed. A local farmer grows a few arable crops, but the place is largely left to itself. So, having been inspired and realising that the time to act is now, I started the first campaign of many (I hope) to transform Brimwood Farm into a nature/wildlife haven.

Though we didn’t raise enough money to sow the entire field, we got about one third of that cash. Excellent, and I’m totally grateful for everyone that helped. The lovely folks at Meadow Mania also threw in a few extra seeds for us. So, this May (a little later than planned due to other commitments), I headed off to Suffolk – with a merry band of helpers – to sow the former arable field.

When you’re sowing a small wildflower patch in your garden, it’s relatively easy to prepare the ground. It involves removing the top layer of fertile soil, digging out as much grass as possible and creating a fine till. On a larger scale (think 2.5 acres) this is harder to do. The field was last used for barley, so I’m hoping that removed a lot of the nutrients. The oilseed rape field has sown itself onto the land rather a lot too, but the plants (though they might not look it) aren’t very close together. With the number of wood pigeons breakfasting on that field as I peeled myself out of a damp tent, I think it’s probably quite good there’s some foliage already there. Also, the previous use means, at least, that grass is extremely sparse.

We also weren’t, in any way, able to create a fine till to sow into. It’s heavy clay, and it had been dry for several weeks….no amount of hoeing would’ve solved that. However, I’m hoping that the cracks across the somewhat undulating field will protect some of the seeds until they germinate. There are already quite a few ox-eye daisies growing, so for some wildflowers at least, it’s a suitable habitat.

Armed with a pot of seed (carefully measured out for an even spread) and a spoon, we marched across the field in a line, sowing as we went and accompanied by the dogs who woke the occasional snoozing hare.

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I’m really excited to see how these seeds grow, and will be checking back in at the field in a few weeks – though, we haven’t had a lot of rain so I’m slightly worried I’ll be rather disappointed at the lack of growth. We’ll scythe the whole lot down in the autumn. We’ve also got some more projects planned…..one being to plant a British bluebell wood and add additional native trees. There’s also other ideas like a bird nesting project, pond dredging and hedgerow maintenance scheme. There is A LOT to do, but it’s thrilled to actually get working and encourage as much local wildlife as possible into this new sanctuary. We’re quite close to Minsmere (for anyone who watched Springwatch), so adding another local area for creatures to live and breed will be a big boost.

On My Oasis – Dealing with Droughts

Argh! So, this year seems to be intensely dry. I think I’m noticing the lack of rain mainly because of the new garden. These are not established plants. Their roots haven’t had a chance to taper into the soil and search out the natural moisture. As such, I seem to be battling with the desperate need to water whilst remembering that we’ve just been put onto a water meter. Yep; the time has come for hubby and I to stop showering just so the plants can get their drink! I’m trying not to water too much, but with only a couple of downpours over the past month, there’s no other choice than to get out the house.

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A scraggy hen wanders through the Mediterranean garden.

The Mediterranean garden

One area that is coming on relatively well is the Mediterranean garden. I’m really pleased to see the lavenders taking hold and my carex grasses flowering and setting up those beautiful fronds, adding not only structure, but movement as they sway in the wind. The jasmine’s in, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on a new variety of Stipa. ‘Goldilocks‘ is a medium-sized variety; perfect for smaller gardens. I also have some New Zealand flax to give some evergreen structure and I expect, as all gardens, the patch will evolve over the years.

I have to say, when it comes to my gardens ‘themes‘, I’m taking several liberties with the plants I’m growing. I’m aiming for a feel, not an exact copy. My Mediterranean garden, for example, might not seem ‘Mediterraneany’ enough for some people; it has grasses, lavender, jasmine, flax and cyclamen. These plants remind me of a Greek holiday on Paxos, and it’s that feeling of nostalgia I’m looking to recreate. Likewise, the ‘tropical garden’ doesn’t actually contain many typical tropical plants. Large leaves, lots of green and explosions of hot colours, yes. But lots of species that need winter care? No. I’m a strong believer that a garden is a personal place. You can create themes and ideas based on horticultural knowledge and specific design but, ultimately, your space should please you. Cyclamen in my Mediterranean garden? Well that makes me instantly think of Paxos where these lovely plants were growing out of the stone walls on the rugged mountainous paths.

Chickens

In the past few weeks, the new chooks have come on leaps and bounds, both in their health and personality. I’m getting two to three eggs a day which is pretty good, and they don’t last long, I can tell you! The first new feathers are starting to come through – notably on their throats and backs – and their wattles and combs are red and fat. We’ve named them Matilda, Cersie, Arya and Guillyflower; you can see the theme there I think. Cersei certainly lives up to her Games of Thrones namesake.

I’ve been letting them out in the garden for a potter around on most days. Due to their current moult, they’re far more interested in dust bathing in my dry, barren soil, than pecking my plants to death but I know better than to go off and leave them. Left to their own devices in a relatively small garden, hens will cause devastation!

We also have some more chicks on the way – on Friday, in fact. 18 bantam eggs have been incubating for 18 days so, fingers crossed, we’ll have new lives hatching out soon.

Established plants

Luckily, I do have some summer colour in the garden, thanks to plants I inherited with the garden and some favourites I brought with me that have been grown, and will stay in, pots. Despite them being in the wrong place at the moment, the daylillies are throwing stunning oranges into the garden. I’ll let them all flower and then divide and move them later in the year to free up the cordon fruit tree bed. Meanwhile, a small rose I found growing from seed in a compost heap a few years ago is finally coming into itself and producing some beautiful flowers. And the sedum and succulent collection currently residing in terracotta pots on top of the coal bunker are doing splendidly.

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So….this week I’m basically waiting with great anticipation for Friday and the potential of new chicks! What’s happening in your garden?

Four ways to create a stylish garden

RHS Chelsea’s long gone, disappearing with the blink of an eye to make way for the summer and the plethora of other shows on the horizon. However, for many of us, the inspiration of those chic garden oases remain, along with that questions – ‘How do I get a garden like that?‘. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the money or access to an acclaimed designer to recreate one of those stunning show gardens in our own backyards. But there are a few simple tricks which can help create a stylish space befitting any garden party.

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A variety of blue hues is ideal for this shady spot

1) Limit the colour palette

If you’re anything like me, your garden is crammed full of every beloved plant, along with its vibrant and colourful flowers. I’m not saying that every designed garden has a limited colour palette – they don’t – but it’s one of the simplest ways to get a carefully crafted look. Use just two or three hues, or even various tones of the same colour, and you instantly make a cluttered space look extremely on-point. If, like me, you’re a fan of various colours, simply limit the palette in various areas. For example, my Mediterranean garden is blues and whites, whilst my cutting garden is crammed full of every colour possible. Meanwhile, the tropical patch uses bold reds, oranges and yellows against a backdrop of green ferns .

2) Add Garden Lighting

Garden lighting can be a great design addition to any garden, but don’t simply just plonk a load of solar power columns either side of a path. The point of lighting should be to create atmosphere, often one that’s completely different to the garden’s daylight ambiance. Sure, you might need some bright lighting on the patio area if you want to entertain, but when it comes to the garden, get a little creative. Use lighting to highlight special plants, or wind fairy lights not along a fence, but through a thicket of foliage. Coloured lights work especially well, whilst lighting an area at the bottom of the garden, will draw guests down to discover something new.

3) Invest in good garden furniture

I’ve mentioned this before – I’m not very good at remembering to put furniture into a garden; I’m too busy with the plants. However, when it does come to buying, it’s best to actually get a product that’ll last a long time and won’t give your guests splinters the first time they sit on it. I’m a huge fan of fake rattan, not only because it looks amazing, but due to it’s low maintenance. Aside from the cushions, which will need bringing in and looking after, the rest only needs a brush down now and then and can survive outside all year round. For some great examples, take a look at Skyline Design. There’s no sanding down and cleaning off, no new cupronol’ing every few years; it’s easy, stylish and comfortable furniture that’ll make you want to actually use your garden.

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Box balls look incredible all year round

4) Go for Greens

If you want your garden to look amazing all year round, it’s essential to have evergreen plants. During most of the year these work as a backdrop to the rest of your plants. It’s in the winter that they come to the forefront, keeping a grey outlook full of cheer. Box, bay, holly and laurel are just a few great plants to use. All can be shaped if you’re looking for something a little more formal; there’s nothing quite like a box ball covered with a drift of snow to get you in the festive spirit!

On My Oasis – New Hens!

I’m ecstatic – I have hens again! Having lost all faith in humanity after someone snuck into my garden and pinched Charlotte – presumably for the pot – I was a little worried about bolstering my flock again. I love having hens, I love eggs, and I love being able to feed the slugs to my feathered warriors, but was I ready for more heartache? Well, it seems as if I was because I headed to Great Totham yesterday to pick up four new ladies from the Battery Hen Welfare Trust.

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Over the past few weeks we’ve secured the garden a little more, putting up padlocks, motion sensor lights and barricades. We’ve added some rather wonky trellising (the more wonky, the better – if anyone tries to get over, it’ll break and they’ll hurt themselves), and, yes, there’s even a trip wire of sorts at the bottom. If someone comes in I hope they’ll smash themselves on the way to the ground. I’ve also planted two pyracantha bushes and some very thorny blackberries with the idea that the brambles will take over quickly and then, over the years, I can train the pyracantha into a perimeter fence. So, with all that – and FOUR padlocks added to the coop itself – I hope I’ve done everything I can. It might seem like overkill to see padlocks and bolts everywhere, but these new hens barely escaped slaughter – I’m not having some bastard come and take them for his own pot!

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The BHWT do an amazing job saving as many of these hens as possible. There were an astounding number of people picking up their new feathered family members, and I was over the moon to see happy hens (well, actually bedraggled and starving hens as the farmer hadn’t fed them and it was pouring down) going to new homes. My four have settled in extremely well and though they’ve spent almost all the past day, this evening the first two ventured outside. It’ll have been the first time they’ve felt grass beneath their feet, and probably the first time they’ve ever tasted anything green too! Can you imagine?! These hens are around 18 months old which is deemed end-of-life because their egg laying potential begins to drop. Seriously?! The world is *ucked. Especially as, even in their apparent OAP state, I got four eggs today.

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So, now I am with hens again. I have quails too, and those trio of chicks are growing rapidly. Food (onions, beans, tomatoes, spinach and an assortment of other things) are all in the ground. I’m really starting to enjoy this little smallholding again….what next? A milking goat, perhaps?

I jest…..kind of…..there’s the perfect goat-house at the bottom of the garden……..

Welcome to The Guide to Gay Gardening!

Living in the grey smog of London utopia, I forge my little existence in a slightly loopy, hermity, hippy manner, sharing my life with the hens, cats and other menagerie that have somehow taken over my life.

If I'm not enjoying the great outdoors with my netbook in hand, I'll be snipping, pruning, planting, cutting, propagating, shovelling, or just plain admiring. You can even catch the occasional glimpse of me on the TV now and then!

Take the weight off for a while. Sit back, relax, read, send me feedback, but mostly just take a moment and look around you.....mother nature is beautiful.

Geoff Wakeling

Mail Me: geoffwakeling(at) theguidetogaygardening(dot)com
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