Late Spring Blog

A lot has happened since my last blog, which I am ashamed to say was a whole year ago. Life took over during the last year, but despite my attention often being elsewhere the garden has continued to do what gardens do. Some plants have survived and thrived, others have decided it wasn’t worth the effort. But despite quite a few casualties, this spring the garden is actually looking more splendiferous than ever. Structurally there haven’t been any changes, although some signature plants have had to be replaced. Generally though, everything is looking more mature and, as several friends have remarked, rather “Chelsea”. Result!

Success stories

After the disappointing turnout of my Alliums last year, I splashed out on new Allium Aflatunense and Allium Roseum bulbs in the autumn, and my efforts have paid off. I’ve decided it’s worth adding a few new bulbs each year to be sure of a good show. All through the winter my Hellebores and the heather did me proud by providing interest and colour. Early spring brought an impressive display of primroses – all self-seeded – which I hope will be a recurring feature. Now they are over, the foliage provides some welcome greening where there would otherwise be bare earth, giving garden a more established look.

A mass of Campanula flowers

Providing really showy colour hanging over the wall near the dining area, the Aubrietia and common Campanula have been really magnificent this year, and I’m hoping to get a second showing by cutting them back severely when they’ve finished flowering.

But the stars of the show this spring are without doubt three of my roses. The Shropshire Lad is burgeoning, and the Perennial Blue is just a mass of blooms, with loads more to come. The bees love them, and the air is heavy with contented buzzing. The new Summer Wine provides a lovely delicate contrast. The rose I planted to grow over the bower is valiantly struggling to provide a bit of colour despite the dark conditions.

Casualties and disappointments

The magnificent Perovskia which formed a cornerstone at the top right-hand corner of the garden decided to give up the ghost this year, so sadly I had to dig it up. The two Delphiniums I planted last spring complete with elaborate slug trap arrangement have survived being eaten but unfortunately are so weedy that I’m considering getting rid of them if they can’t prove their worth over the next couple of weeks. The Penstemon, Salvia Blue Note and Lobelia Speciosa have decided not to bother this year. My Heuchera was growing but not necessarily in the right places. It was looking decidedly tatty, so has been replaced.
As for the Foxgloves, just one rather delicate specimen seems to be left, and is very late getting going, but I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt at the moment.

New planting and other changes

As life never stays the same, and I expect to be away from home for extended periods this year, I decided not to go to the trouble and expense of filling the wall baskets with summer bedding flowers. I knew this would cause angst about whether they were being watered, and it was unfair to impose this on my neighbours, however willing.

I also decided that the herbs on the fence require too much watering and have reduced my herb growing activities to mint, parsley and coriander, which are in a very large pot further into the shade so they won’t require so much attention. To fill the gap on the fence, I’ve placed a token Geranium in each of my four terracotta semi-circular wall pots in the way I’ve seen done on the walls of houses in Mediterranean countries, in the hope that they’ll survive a bit of neglect.

The top row of plants nearest the upper terrace has seen the most changes. I donated the Buddleia Davidii to a far larger garden as it was getting somewhat out of hand and planted a giant poppy – Papaver Patty’s Plum –  which having produced three amazing blooms has decided to call it a day for the summer. We’ll see if it decides to spring back into activity. I’ve replaced the Lobelia Speciosa and Perovskia with two Hollyhocks – these have always been a favourite of mine but I’m not sure if this was a smart move. Possibly not.

I’ve also added a Lavatera Burgundy Wine next to the Hollyhocks, as I’m told this is a tough customer and is unlikely to let me down. These taller plants will hopefully be appreciated from the top terrace too. A cheekily self-sown Alchemilla Mollis has also decided to take root in the paving slabs, and I love its succulent freshness.

And finally, I’ve decided that the two Heathers are somewhat out of keeping with rest of the planting, as they are dense and heavy looking, although they do provide colour in winter. For the moment they have been given a severe haircut and next spring they will probably be replaced with something lighter.

Other newcomers dotted around the garded include most notably a Geum Scarlet Tempest – announced by the RHS as the Chelsea Plant of the Year no less (needless to say I had mine before). This vibrant peachy orange plant waves around in the breeze and steals the limelight at the centre of the bed.

Geum Scarlet Tempest

Also adding to the cottagy feel of the planting are a new Verbascum Sugar Plum, and a Hebe Caledonia to replace the Heuchera. In the difficult shaded area right at the front near the bottom terrace I’ve decided to do away with the spring bulbs (now just a slimy mess) and plant something more permanent that can bear the shade of the large fern. I’ve chosen an upright Veronica with blue spears and two alpine Veronicas in front.

Generally I’ve decided not to repeat the early spring bulbs I planted around the edge of the terrace for two reasons: One is that the sun doesn’t reach my garden until well into March, and I don’t spend much time out there until it does. The other reason is that the remaining foliage leaves an unsightly mess which can’t be cleared away.

Wildlife

There’s not much news to report here except that a colony of Tree Bumble Bees (Bombus hypnorum) has taken up residence in the robin nesting box which was left full of nesting material by a couple of hopeful wrens last year and then abandoned due to the attentions of a neighbouring cat. I’ve tried to capture the hive of activity on film, but they are just too fast flying in and out. Otherwise the garden is full of life with various types of bees and hoverflies. My latest feeder seems to have flummoxed the squirrels, so they have given up trying – good news for the birds.

An updated plan of the garden and plant list are available on the blog site. Happy gardening!

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Spring Update 2016

Suddenly everything has sprung into life again after the winter. There have been some successes and a fair few casualties, probably as a result of the long periods of cold and soggy conditions rather than sharp frosts. Slowly it’s becoming clear what has survived the winter and what hasn’t. There have been some highlights through the late winter and early spring in the form of the hellebores, the early flowering Japanese Quince and a delightful surprise in mid-December in the form of a valiant Clematis flower.

The new bulb border has been very successful with early irises, crocus, daffodils and grape hyacinths providing interest during the dull days of February and March. These were followed by the spectacular snakes head fritillaries – with plenty more still to look forward to with two types of alliums.

Casualities

As the garden becomes a little bit more established, I have had to admit defeat in one or two areas and also made some quite tough choices on plants that, frankly, don’t earn their keep. After all, in such a tiny space everything needs to pull its weight!
Of the three foxgloves I planted last year, two have decided to call it a day. One lavender of the three which graced the steps last year so beautifully has also gone to a better place, and been replaced by a rosemary. Also to the right of the steps two of the alpines I was hoping would spill out to soften the paving stones have been trampled by inconsiderate and very overweight pigeons – something to do with their position just under the bird feeder no doubt.

Two new alpines
Two new alpines

However, hope springs eternal and I have planted two more alpines – a Phlox and a Cerastium – further down.

One of my Sempervivums (house leeks) was also trampled on – unfortunately I was the culprit this time – one of the drawbacks of having to balance on stones to reach other plants!

Also sadly no longer with us: the Agastache that was so magnificent last year and the new Verbena Rigida. Enquiries at the nursery revealed that these two are only “semi-hardy”, so I’m not taking this personally. I have decided to try again, so new plants are on order.

I also took the decision to jettison the Vinca Azurea. It was perfectly healthy but in the end it is just a boring ground cover plant and I didn’t think it merited a seat in the front row. I have split the plant into several pots and hope to pass these on to some friends who really do have ground to cover!

The good news…

New Scabious behind my flourishing aubretia
New Scabious behind my flourishing aubretia

…. is that I now have gaps to fill!

I have added two more Scabious as these were among my favourites last year, great “doers” and beloved by bees and butterflies.

 

 

Slug traps
Slug traps

I’ve also taken the plunge with two Delphiniums (Excalibur Light Blue), despite dire warnings of the slug threat. Forewarned is forearmed, so I purchased some copper bands and a six-pack of best bitter. They love it! I have harvested quite a haul of sozzled slugs, and not a bite out of my precious delphiniums to date.

Phlox divaricata
Phlox Divaricata

 

Two other newcomers: a Salvia Pratensis at the back by the top wall and a delightful pale blue Phlox Divaricata in two of the gaps.

Spring jobs in the garden

Training the jasmine
Training the Jasmine

The roses and climbers have all survived the winter well, and I’ve added some more canes and wires to make sure they cover the fence neatly without going too wild.

Once the first sunlight came down into the garden in early March, it was time to trim back the dead wood which had been protecting the plants against wind rock over winter.

Preparation for wall basket planting
Preparation for wall basket planting

By mid-April, my thoughts turned to my summer wall baskets and summer bedding plants. As I have no over-wintering facility, it’s a fine balance to get this just right. Leave it too late and the available plants are too big to push through little gaps, too early and of course there’s a big risk of frost.

 

The answer – bubble wrap! I planted up my baskets and kept an eye on the forecast. Any low temperature warning sent me scurrying out to cover over my young plants. So far, so good.

Herb fence round two
Vertical herb garden round two

I loved the herb wall last year, and I’m going to make this is a regular feature of the garden. Last year’s plants had all become too woody so I turfed everything out and started again – this time with more of the things I use most, parsley, mint, coriander, oregano and chives.

I’ve also decided to definitely go ahead with my idea of a few choice edible plants, so will be attempting a couple of courgettes and tumbler tomatoes in my two large pots.
These plants are sitting on my window sill being fed and talked to until it’s time to put them outside.

Wildlife

Not a lot to report to report here except for one very exciting event. A wren nesting in the robin box! I hardly dared go out as I watched the pair building, and I managed to get some pictures, not great quality as they flit in and out so quickly.

Wren in residence!
Wren in residence!

Sadly, a neighbouring cat decided to take up a surveillance position on the trellis above so after a few days, they took fright and abandoned ship.

Other than that, there’s been a lot of bee activity already since early in the year, and baby blue tits have been enjoying the sunflower kernels.

Vacated cubicles
Vacated cubicles

It’s also been interesting to keep an eye on the bee hotel – most guests have now checked out so it’s nearly time for a spring clean.

All in all, not a bad start to the gardening year…

Autumn Update 2015

It’s been quite an eventful few weeks in the garden. The summer season was certainly exciting as I was able to watch my newly acquired plants burst into life one by one for the first time. Some of them exceeded expectation, providing luscious colour and attracting loads of bees over extended periods, while one or two others turned out to be something of a damp squib.

Sunny Sunday breakfast on the terrace
Sunny Sunday breakfast on the terrace

I have squeezed so much enjoyment out of the garden over the summer – lovely weekend breakfasts on the upper terrace, evening Italian classes grouped round the table under the awning, warm evenings spent primping round with secateurs in one hand and glass of wine in the other – bliss! As the sun drops ever lower in the sky, in early October as every year I’m losing the last precious drops of sunshine into my garden, and the summer seat cushions have now come indoors. Now’s the time to take stock and plan for improvements next year. Because it’s such a tiny area, I don’t have the space to carry “passengers” and no room for sentiment – what doesn’t work faces the chop!

What has to go:

Spectacular as it may have been for a short while, the massive Cynara cardunculus is simply too overpowering and somehow an odd man out in my tiny space. Also disappointing was the Eryngium varifolium – it never developed those luscious thistly looking grey-blue flower heads I was hoping for, just some insignificant little grey bobbles the size of a thimble. The Lysimachia atropurpurea was also something of a non-event and grew into an ugly shape (probably my fault!).

Another victim: the only remaining Cyprus tree from my old garden. This was of course continuing to put on a lot of growth and would require constant trimming, and was also stifling the two honeysuckles I planted to climb up the arbour – neither of which had flowered and were struggling up to the light.

The arbour area showing spaces ready for new plants
The arbour showing spaces ready for new plants

Now it’s gone, I realize that the Cyprus had been quite oppressive – this change has let in a lot of light at the side of the arbour and left some space for exciting new, more colourful additions to maximize the flowering season.

Success stories:

There have been one or two star plants in the garden this summer: Notably the Agastache “Blue Fortune”, the Verbena bonariensis (quite the flavour of the year around Bath!), the Scabious “Butterfly Blue Beauty” and the Perovskia “Blue Spire”. These were my absolute favourites in terms of continuous flowering and out-and-out gorgeousness. I’m not the only one to appreciate them, as these winged visitors prove:

I also got ridiculously excited about my clump of magnificent alliums. There were other great “doers” which just got on with the job quietly if less inclined to show off – the Fuchsia, Penstemon and Plumbago to name but a few. I was also very pleased to have finally successfully grown some healthy-looking Aubrietia for the first time ever – I just love those colourful cushions in spring and early summer but my past attempts were always doomed to failure.

My Shropshire Lad looking stunning for the second time this year!
Perennial Blue second flowering
Perennial Blue second flowering

I’m particularly excited though to have discovered the joy of roses for the first time – all three climbers are looking really healthy, two of them have flowered twice.

 

Planned new additions

Having gone through practically a whole year since the project started, it’s time to tweak and get a bit more selective about what I plant. Some things have already been moved to greater or lesser prominence as they turned out to be miles bigger or miles smaller than originally envisaged.

I quite like the idea of repeating things that have worked really well to create a more cohesive themed garden rather a scatter-gun approach, so in some of the gaps now left I’ve decided to plant a miniature version of the Verbena, another clump of Alliums higher up, and I will also find room for another Scabius or two. Filling the gap left by the Cyprus and Cynara will be yet another climbing rose to fan out in the corner over the fence and arbour – already on order from Peter Beale. New plants I’m going to try this year up in this corner: some tall Japanese Anemonies for late summer / autumn colour and a row of Delphiniums – slug traps at the ready!

Bulb border

This plain gravel border will burst into life in the spring
This plain gravel border will burst into life in the spring

I realized that the border area around the paving stones on my bottom terrace was a bit of a waste of space, so the previous chippings were removed and some decent soil and grit dug in. I then chose a selection of bulbs and planted them in clumps – snowdrops, crocus, snake’s head fritillary and others (see the revised list of plants). I then spread over a layer of gravel for a nice clean look. Hopefully this should provide a lovely show in spring and bring this previously forgotten edge strip to life.

Wall baskets and tubs next year

I am toying with the idea of something edible next year in my big wall basket and one or two tubs – previous half-hearted attempts ended in disappointment due to blight and other pests but I think I am ready to give some dwarf tomatoes and maybe a courgette another go next year.

Beautiful fuschias still in bloom in early October
Stunning fuschias or tasty tomatoes in 2016? We’ll see…

Mid-summer update July 2015

Needless to say, things have been moving on apace in the garden over June and July. The first flush of spring and early summer colour has muted, with some of the very dramatic early flowering such as the foxgloves, clematis, and alliums now sadly over but other equally stunning later flowering plants like the Perovskia, Agastache and the glorious Verbena coming into their own. One particular favourite of mine is the humble Scabius which just keeps flowering on and on.

Top patio
Top patio

There’s always something new happening. There have been a few steep learning curves: a couple of disappointing candidates such as the low-growing Ceanothus and Geranium Cinereum (which turned out to be a miniature variety!) have been repositioned or swapped for something more worthwhile – all documented in the updated planting plan. I have also suffered with my fair share of blackfly and slug damage, and have been faced with the dilemma of how to keep their voracious appetites in check without resorting to pesticides. Like a lot of novices at the gardening game, I’m impatient and can hardly wait for my roses and other climbers to be covering the entire fence and my arbour to be dripping with fragrant honeysuckle. All in good time, I know.

Big wall basket
Big wall basket

The lush hanging baskets are attracting a lot of compliments and a fair bit of envy from visitors, and help bring a permanent backdrop of colour to tide over any slightly less eventful periods between flowering by the permanent planting – although they do require quite a bit of watering and feeding.

In terms of garden design, finally my corner garden bench and integrated cupboard custom built by Emma Hubble is now in situ. Designed to provide storage space for cushions and garden implements, as well as protect the electric sockets and hide the hose, some ugly pipes and general garden stuff, the bench is also a perfect corner seating unit.

The most recent finishing touch: specially made cushions to turn the bench into a cosy spot for reading or taking in the mid-morning sun for coffee and a chat.

Office in the gardenWith this corner unit, the dining terrace and my arbour I now have three very different and lovely spaces to enjoy sunshine from early morning until reasonably late in the evening. As I work from home and thanks to wireless network technology, on fine days I am able to set up a fully equipped workstation in the garden under my awning complete with WiFi, telephone and dual screens. How good is that?

Wildlife visitors are really starting to discover the garden too. The feeders now host a regular stream of birds from tits, robins and dunnocks through to larger visitors including a pair of jays, quite a few magpies and of course wood pigeons. The garden is always full of various types of bees, and just over the past few days butterflies are now increasingly in evidence as well. Perhaps most satisfying of all, there is constant activity around the bee hotel, with various tubes holes bunged up and presumably incubating larvae.
Remember there are loads more pictures in the gallery.
All for now!
Ruth

 

Late Spring Update

Early May, and things are getting really quite exciting in the garden as the weather warms up and everything is slowly coming to life. All the permanent planting is finished for the time being, and as the prospect of summer is just round the corner the time has come to think about added summer colour and getting my herb garden sorted. I’m keeping a photographic record of new things coming into flower, as well as monthly views of the garden from above – so do have a look at photo gallery for all the latest views.

Herb garden

I haven’t always had the best of luck when it comes to herbs. In the past my parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme have been victim to snails and slugs, overshadowed by encroaching plants or simply seemed to disappear. Inspired by a TV programme featuring a vertical garden in South London, I decided to use my fence as dedicated growing area.

Vertical herb garden2
Vertical herb garden

I used my old wall planters from last year and a few terracotta hanging pots to create an eye-level herb garden right next to the kitchen door – which is actually thriving! Finally I can nip out and grab handfuls of these home-grown herbs: 2 sorts of mint, flat and curly leaf parsley, oregano, marjoram, chives.

Summer Beddding

Returning to my original idea of creating a “room outdoors”, it’s now time to think about adding a few ornaments and finishing touches for the summer. In the past I used annuals in summer to create some colour around the wall of conifers which dominated the garden; now I can restrict my summer bedding plants to a few pots and wall hangers to brighten up the walls and fences where nothing is growing –yet. In total, I have planted up: three large ceramic pots, two wall hangers and the chimney pot of my old chiminea.

Summer bedding shopping spree
Summer bedding shopping spree

Because I don’t have a greenhouse, and therefore no way of storing young bedding plants in the cold weather, I had to wait until around the start of May to buy my plants – which meant everything was already quite mature. Amazing how much you can cram in when you try, though. As I have concentrated on providing food for bees in the rest of the garden, I did treat myself to a few of my stock favourites which I know will give me reliable showy colour all through the summer – sorry bees!

Freshly planted summer bedding pots
Freshly planted blue pots
One week afer planting
Just one week after planting

 

 

 

 

Big wall basket (2)
Really big wall basket
DSCF4206
Chiminea feeling a bit stuffed!

 

 

 

 

 

In summary, this is what I’ve planted:
Begonias, lobelias, diascias, aquilegia, geraniums, helichrysum, violas, surfinia, verbena, isotoma (never tried this one before!) and hardy fuchsia. Need I say, all in keeping with the colour theme – largely different pinks, purples and blues.

That’s all for now, folks – happy gardening!

Ruth

March 6th, 2015

First bee spotted!

Welcome to my first guest!
Welcome to my first guest!

Here it is – the first bee I have noticed enjoying my hellebore. As the sun is not due to make its first appearance in the garden for a few days yet, I am optimistic this will be the first of many.

March 4th, 2015

Shopping Anyone?

Stewart and I set out on a round trip to Downside and Atworth nurseries bright and early to hunt down a second batch of plants now that the weather is starting to warm up. Not a bad haul!

Some great specimens
Some great specimens
Full shopping trolley
Full shopping trolley

 

February 15th, 2015

Peanut bird feeder
Nuts about this feeder!
Bird feeders
All tastes catered for

While we wait for the garden to spring into life, now’s the time to start thinking about attracting the right sort of visitors. We have put up a nut feeder, a seed one and also one containing fat balls. Although I’m impatient to see the first comers to my garden lunch party, I realize it will take a while for anyone flying past to notice these, let alone trust their contents.
Birdbox 15 Feb
This custom-built bird feeder courtesy of Stewart fits in snugly behind the ceanothus on the back wall. Let’s hope someone discovers it soon!