In a Vase on Monday: cornucopia

The lavender is blooming and the bees are going bonkers. It’s a veritable highway of busy apian foragers out there, all heavily and slightly drunkenly flying from flower to flower, stem to stem, plant to plant. There’s the heady scent of it, too, mingling with that of honeysuckle and privet, especially in the early evenings.

Hasn’t the weather been incredible? It’s so unusual to wake up in the UK and be confident that it’s going to be warm, or even hot. We’ve been pottering about in bare feet and summer clothes for a couple of weeks and the boys can’t believe their luck. No school and sunshine! I do love the blue skies and not having to bother about shoes, but the garden could really do with a good drink. It’s actually a little cooler this evening and it has turned quite grey and gloomy, as though it could crash with thunder and tip it down at any moment, but there’s no sign of any rain yet.

I started my vase pickings today with lavender and jasmine, which is coming into flower (and also packs a punch smell-wise), a multi-headed stem of pink cosmos, a single rudbeckia (the first flower) and added a load of different dried grass stems (dry from lack of rain) and a few poppy seedheads. There are also a few leftovers from a hasty table-centre I put together on Saturday (cornflowers, salvias and love-in-a-mist seedheads).

It is lovely to be joining in again with Cathy and her IAVOM-ers this week – last Monday I was in Cornwall visiting an old schoolfriend. We hadn’t seen each other for far too long and it was wonderful to see her, and our other friend who came too, and to see the beautiful part of the country she lives in. The three of us were military kids and boarders at a state school that had a small boarding wing in the late 70s and early 80s. There was no such thing as pastoral care in those days; benign neglect (putting it kindly) was the order of the day. It was character-building and we stuck together in adversity, making us firm friends for life. We are determined not to leave it so long until the next time.

If seeing them wasn’t fabulous enough, this weekend another old schoolfriend of mine came to visit. She was a day girl who I became great friends with and we have kept in touch over the intervening years. She now lives in Australia but is in the UK for a few weeks and slotted in a couple of days down our way. It was so lovely to spend time with her and to catch up. Honestly, I don’t see old friends for ages and then see three in two weekends! My heart is full and I feel enormously lucky to have such long-lasting and dear friends. It’ll keep me going for a while.

Right, I must go and find something in the fridge for dinner. I spotted half a pepper, an end of parmesan and some tired salad earlier. It’s going to be a scratch meal most probably involving pasta.

Wishing you a lovely week.

End of Month View – June (belatedly)

Hello! I hope you’re well. I was away in Cornwall last weekend at the turn of the month and straight into the fray on my return but here I am, on Friday afternoon, with a little window of opportunity for writing. Here goes…

The major excitement in the garden in June was having tree work carried out: removing a monstrous sycamore and reducing the crown of a yew (both were blocking the view of the sea from the house) and taking out a massive branch from our neighbour’s enormous copper beech which is too close to our house in the back garden. Removing this branch has made a huge difference to the light levels in the garden and my son’s bedroom. The tree surgeons will return in winter when the leaves are off the beech to thin it out and reduce the canopy.

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Before

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After

Elsewhere, it’s been a case of dead-heading and weeding when we have the time and watering, watering, watering. I was scrolling through my photos thinking they look rather bleached but that’s because everything is bleached. The grass is bleached, especially, and even the rose petals. It’s been so incredibly hot and sunny with the occasional overcast but still hot day. We have had a couple of frets, when mist rolls off the sea and the view disappears into an eerie fog for an hour or so and that has brought a little moisture but we have had no rain. At all. We’re giving everything that needs it – pots, newly planted stuff, young trees – a thorough watering every few days and this takes a couple of hours to do properly. It’s a great time to inspect the garden and notice what’s going on and the evenings have been so incredibly balmy that it’s been a pleasure to stand there, watering cans in hand, just taking it all in. Anyway, without further ado, here’s how the garden looks now (in early July; I haven’t tidied up any builders sacks, trugs, etc, for photographing purposes – you’ll have to take us as you find us!):

The raspberries are almost obscuring the greenhouse. They’re autumn-fruiting but we’ve had a few ripe ones already with loads to come.

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It’s only from the balcony that you can see how the lavender has been bashed about by the wind – it doesn’t look like this at ground level.
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Log pile from the tree work! All needs splitting and stacking. (And, yes, the trampoline is still here…)

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I love how the lavender is peeking above the wall now.

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The rose and jasmine on the rickety arch are starting to bloom. One is scented, the other is not.

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Apples on one of our new trees!
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Red gooseberries – we planted this bush and a green one last year. The birds ate all but 5 of the green gooseberries and about half of these…
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The path David built last month. Still to sort out the edge and plant up the bare soil…

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The wildflower area is looking a little bedraggled – we don’t water it.
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Yellow verbascums in the mini orchard.

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Look at the pond level! I’ve not seen it so low. (I am ignoring that pile of logs.)

Right, that’s it – window closed. Must get on. Sorry to dash.
Wishing you a wonderful weekend.

In a Vase on Monday: midsummer

Hello! I hope this finds you well. Is it glorious weather where you are? It is absolutely, most definitely, totally summer here. I can see the sea from my desk (which is a little too distracting) – it’s a gorgeous cerulean blue with lighter stripes where it must be completely calm; the sky is a lighter blue and there’s a slight yellow haze between the two which is a layer of fumes from the shipping. Despite this, I can see the cliffs on the opposite coast of France and ferries are crossing back and forth with the occasional yacht gliding past and massive container ships in the distance. I’m able to enjoy more of this view since we had a large sycamore felled last week and the height of the yew reduced. It’s made such a difference to the view from the house and I keep stopping to take it all in. Not good when you’ve got lots to be getting on with!

All is calm in this house. My boys have finished their exams and are on their summer holidays. They don’t quite know what to do with themselves. One has gone to visit a friend and the other is lying down somewhere. My daughter is due home from school any moment, so the peace will shortly be interrupted – she’s bring a friend home with her, so I’m braced. I’m busy working on a few book projects, which is keeping me out of mischief, away from my blog (and blog reading – I am very behind) and out of the garden. I walk around outside usually before I’ve walked the dog in the morning to water pots and anything else that needs it (tomatoes, newly planted stuff) and to check that the gooseberries are still ripening and haven’t been pinched by the bloody pigeons. They are ‘bloody’ pigeons not ordinary pigeons because they eat everything. They’re in cahoots with the slugs and snails, I reckon.

I snipped a few flowers for a Monday vase this morning and photographed it at lunchtime, not wanting to miss Cathy’s weekly gathering for two weeks on the trot. The flowers are a red-purple cornflower, deep pink pinks (with the most delicious clove-y scent), lavender (we are a week or two from peak lavender), Nigella seed heads, Alchemilla mollis, Erigeron karvinskianus from the steps and one stem of Cosmos atrosanguineus because I can only spare one flower!

Wishing you a lovely week. More soon…

In a Vase on Monday: kitchen flowers

I bumped into a friend this morning while walking the dog. She has three daughters, all in their 20s at various stages of university and work. She asked me how the exams were going and I remarked that she must be glad it’s all behind her. “Don’t think it’s ever over!” she said, and laughed. There was me, thinking we’re coming to the end of an era (which we sort of are) and feeling a little wistful already, when really we’re just moving towards another phase. I should know this by now, that parenting is a series of phases, but this one seems more dramatic because it’s the one where they start to leave home.

In the meantime, though, I am thankful that I work at home, that I can collect the children from the station and listen to their exam debriefs and soothe their frayed nerves, I can make sure they eat well and get enough sleep, I can bake cakes and I can put flowers on the table. Oh, wait… Those flowers are for me. They’re to brighten the kitchen and put a smile on my face.

This week’s IAVOM is a cop-out – they’re supermarket peonies, popped into the trolley during yet another whizz around the aisles to stock up on gallons of milk, bananas, apples, bread, Cheerios… But, look – aren’t they exquisite? Totally worth the few pounds they cost. And they need no accompaniment in the jug; they’re perfect as they are.

As a bonus, I’ve also refreshed last week’s vase which, apart from most of the roses, is still going strong. It’s good to know what lasts longer than a week in a vase. I’ve been reading up on the best way to get as much vase-life as possible – pick flowers that are mostly in bud, cut stems on a slant, pop a little vinegar or Milton in the water to deter bacteria, etc. Have you any other top tips?

Do visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden to see her Monday flowers and find links to many others. Wishing you a thoroughly good week (with flowers and cake, if that’s what takes your fancy).

 

In a Vase on Monday: roses

Each week, Cathy at Rambling in the Garden hosts In a Vase on Monday and encourages fellow bloggers to find something in their gardens to photograph and write about. It’s such a lovely thing to do on a Monday morning that I try to take part every week. Some weeks, it’s just not possible due to lack of time but whenever I can squeeze it in, it’s a prompt to get out into the garden and find something, anything, to stick in a vase. December can be tricky but June is not. June is when there is abundance in my garden and when I’m in the happy situation of being spoilt for choice.

I’ve grown increasingly fond of roses in recent years. I used to think they were fussy and over-the-top and too much like hard work to keep happy but I’ve come round to them. I mean, what’s not to love about layers of silken petals in delicate shades of pink, say, that smell delicious?! Our latest addition to the rose tribe in our garden is ‘The Generous Gardener’ and I snipped two blooms off it this morning (the two palest pink ones). They were heading in the wrong direction so can be spared for the vase. The other two roses are unknown varieties – they were overgrown in the garden when we moved here. The brighter pink one, in bud in the centre of the first photo, is from a rose growing at the base of a pillar in the windiest spot in the garden. We cut it right back to its base last year to paint the pillar but it’s come back brilliantly. The two darker pink roses are from an old climber at the base of the back garden wall that was also cut back to renovate it – the flowers smell amazing.

Joining the roses are Geum ‘Blazing Sunset’, a couple of pink scented pelargonium flowers, Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ (from a plant that was moved, trimmed and has come back mostly red, which I prefer), Linaria, one Heuchera flower stem and a couple of leaves, copper beech leaves, a stem of mint, a lovely snapdragon, and really tall Briza (which has seeded everywhere, thank you Cathy!).

You can see from the photos that the light is pretty low today. It’s been overcast and dull all day after a sunny summery day yesterday but that’s perhaps fitting as it’s back to school for everyone here and all the teenagers had exams. History GCSE for the younger son, Psychology A-level for the elder and Science, Spanish and RE end-of-year exams for my daughter. It’ll all be over quickly for her this week, and all over for the other two by 19th June, thank goodness. They’re all home now, tired, hungry and a little shell-shocked so I’m off to make a cake. I know we’re all meant to be reducing our sugar intake these days but sometimes a large slice of cake is just what you need.

Whether you’re taking exams, baking for exam-takers, working hard or holidaying, I hope you have a thoroughly good week.

End of Month View: May (gardening in action)

It’s been half term here this week and David and I have taken time off to catch up with each other and the garden and to be around for the revising teenagers. This has involved much chivvying, chatting, encouraging, shopping for mountains of food, cooking, clearing up after they’ve individually made various lunches (why they can’t cook together and make one lot of mess, I don’t know!), making copious pots of tea, listening to grumbles and exam anxiety and generally supporting from a short distance, i.e., the garden.

May is the month when it all really kicks off out there and it’s impossible to keep on top of the weeds, the planting, the pruning, the clearing. We’ve made a couple of trips to the tip, the car bulging with builders sacks full of perennial weeds and garden material too bulky to compost. We’re waging a war against bindweed and brambles here and, no, we don’t have the time or energy to clear whole beds, dig out every last scrap of root out and start again, so we constantly chip away. In between the ‘trying to get on top of it’, David has also been laying a new path to connect the bottom of some steps to the end of another path where there was a gap, using up bits of old paving. Crazy paving is hot. You read it here first.

Floriferous highlights for May that have been and gone were the apple blossom (delicious) and lilac (lovely but fleeting). My absolute favourite part of the garden for the past couple of weeks has been where the new fruit trees were planted last spring (first photo and below). These are underplanted with a grass and wildflower mix, plus many self-seeders, and to my eye it is perfection. Wild with a little cultivation. I recently described our garden as organised chaos – it’s definitely more chaos than organised at the moment but I love the abundance and tapestry that nature creates on its own. Whenever I’ve needed a break from my desk or fraught teenagers, I’ve wandered down to this spot with a mug of something and stood and gazed at it for a while. Five minutes is all I need to recalibrate.

Anyway, here’s how the back garden is looking:

The raspberries in front of the greenhouse are shooting up and out and along in all directions!
Open shed door, piles of stuff, this is how our garden looks most of the time.
Plants in trays waiting patiently to be planted. I have all the guilt associated with this scene!
Gladioli (I think they’re ‘byzantinus’) – we didn’t plant these, they appeared gradually from a load of topsoil we bought to fill these beds, but I’m very happy they’re there.
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I’m not convinced about this colour combo but I love both the Euphorbia oblongata and Nigella individually.
Rose ‘The Generous Gardener’, finally planted by the back wall and now covered with 18 (yes 18!) fat flower buds.

And here’s the front, sea-facing, terraced part of the garden (complete with gardener):

From the balcony looking down, front left.
Looking down, front right. (The trampoline is slowly being dismantled…) You can see the strip of hedge we planted last year on the boundary on the far right starting to bulk out.
Yellow flag iris in the pond (this was taken last week, by yesterday they’d gone over).

The bees, butterflies and other insects are abundant and I can spend a large amount of time watching all the goings on. We’ve more seeds to sow and plants to plant, all wildlife-friendly. This garden may be rather a jumble but it’s full of life. So, that’s our garden at the end of May (beginning of June!). I’m joining Helen at The Patient Gardener where you’ll find her EOMV and those of other garden bloggers.

Right, I’m off to the garden centre (I have a voucher burning a hole in my pocket) – wishing you a lovely weekend. More anon.

Layers, lupins and light: Chelsea 2018

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We forgot to take our hats to Chelsea this year, rushing out of the door to catch the train, calling out to our son to remember to walk the dog (as if she’d let him forget). A love of plants and gardening is something David and I share, so we try to visit the Chelsea Flower Show every year if we can. It means a day out together; sunshine (I can only remember one really wet year); inspiring displays of plants and colour; friendly crowds (there are always a few shovers but everybody seems happy, even the exhausted people on the gardens and trade stands); camera crews and celebrity-spotting; gawping at stands selling crazily expensive sculptures and garden furniture and every conceivable garden accessory; ice cream and Pimms; finding a spot in the usually rammed picnic glade to eat lunch; coughing as though you’re a 40-a-day smoker after inhaling some of the London plane tree fibres that fall like confetti over the showground at this time of year; people-watching (from fabulous dresses and smart suits to jeans and t-shirts, and people who are definitely dressing to be caught on camera); 10 Whistlefish greetings cards for £8 (great for stocking up); sponsorship bags bulging with leaflets and plant lists; sampling tiny porcelain bowls of interesting teas at the Wedgewood tea bar (David was rather mortified to be remembered from last year); listening to music of variable quality sitting next to the bandstand while taking a break; meeting old friends and new (we met up with the lovely Jenny of Duver Diary and her husband); going back to see the gardens in different light as the day wears on; trying to see everything – trying to not miss one single bit of it.

There’s been a whole heap of coverage of the show on social media and in the press but I hope you can bear a little more! You won’t find detailed background info or in-depth analysis here (if you want that, I highly recommend Dan’s blog), but I wanted to share some snapshots that caught my eye and a few observations from our visit on Tuesday. There are quite a few photos… (I’d put the kettle on.)

If you go to Chelsea as an ordinary visitor (as in, you’re not lucky enough to be there on Press Day or behind the scenes), you are unlikely to be able to absorb all the detail of the show gardens or to even see much of the incredibly intricate landscaping, fittings and finishes. There is so much that goes unseen by ‘the public’ because we have to stand at the edges of gardens along one of two sides (show gardens are generally on a corner plot) and not walk in them. As a visitor, it can be frustrating but I suppose you couldn’t have hordes of people traipsing through immaculate gardens. Unless there’s an unseemly scrum, you can usually find a spot to squat down and look more closely at the plants and try to get a peek at what’s going on in and behind the magnificent garden structures but much of the detail is for the scrutiny of the RHS judges alone. After all, the main point of Chelsea, for those who sponsor, design and build these gardens, is winning a coveted RHS medal. Gold medals, in particular, equal publicity. Publicity equals higher profile and more business, etc, etc.

Nevertheless, there is still an awful lot of pleasure to be gained from visiting as a punter and soaking up the horticultural atmosphere and seeing the gardens first-hand. The tv coverage might show you parts of the gardens you can’t get to but nothing quite beats seeing them in real life and you might even be able to chat to a designer or two. It’s wonderful to be able to gaze at the planting close up, to find new and interesting plant cultivars and meet the growers and experts in the Grand Pavilion. David and I discussed the garden merits of eucalyptus, whether we could ever get a clematis to grow in our garden and the bizarre world of bonsai with nursery-owners or growers who were hugely generous with their knowledge. We also asked the advice of the lovely chaps at Pennard Plants on the best wild flowers for bees (Phacelia tanacetifolia is a corker, apparently) and bought some of their wonderful heritage seeds.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s what captured my attention:

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Three pics above: I loved the overall effect of the M&G garden designed by Sarah Price – the naturalistic planting with gorgeous contrasts of soft and spiky textures, warm earthy colours, dripping water features and the terracotta structures (made with reclaimed French roof tiles and earth rammed in to shuttering).

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Two pics above and two below: another favourite was The Lemon Tree Trust garden designed by Tom Massey and inspired by his visit to a refugee camp in Iraq. Rills radiate from a central water feature and the planting includes beautiful pomegranate trees and heart-stopping combinations of alliums, euphorbias (including the lovely E.pithyusa below), salvias, poppies, roses, irises and a lemon tree. I loved the planting in a wall of concrete blocks.

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Two pics above: Lupins featured large throughout the show but I think they were used most brilliantly here in the Seedlip Garden, which was full of pea-related plants, designed by Dr Catherine MacDonald. The lushness and colours are swoon-y.

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Three pics above: I’m really into layering with plants – repeat planting, using ‘see-through’ plants, building up layers of colour and texture – and this garden boldly emphasised its layers with the use of sculpture. The message behind The David Harber and Savills garden (mankind’s evolving relationship with the environment) may have mostly been told through the bold sculpture but it was the planting that appealed to me.

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Above and below: a new-to-me shrub – Enkiathus – was used to great effect in the Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC, designed by Chris Beardshaw (above), and in the O-mo-te-na-shi no NIWA – The Hospitality Garden, designed by Kazuyuki Ishihara (below), which also featured his trademark moss. I do love a raised canopy that shows the detailed structure of a shrub or tree.

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Below: I loved the blue and copper colour scheme of The Silent Pool Gin Garden designed by David Neale. Again, there’s that bare-multi-stem-raised canopy thing going on.

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Above: The Welcome to Yorkshire garden was creating quite a buzz – it is a beautiful snapshot of the Dales, dry-stone wall, stone bothy with a beck running past, cottage planting and all, but… There’s no denying the skill and attention to detail but I think the countryside picked up and plonked at Chelsea has been done to death now.

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Above: this fantastic cornucopia of flowers was outside a recreated Cape Dutch homestead on the Trailfinders South African Wine Estate garden. It’s slightly bonkers but I loved it.

Above: hanging plant pots on the Burgon & Ball stand, garden sculpture and a detail from the pietra dura marble used on the British Council’s artisan garden (India: a billion dreams, designed by Sarah Eberle).

Below: plants in the Grand Pavilion that are now on my wish list – Digitalis x valinii ‘Illumination Cherry Brandy’, Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’ and Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’.

Below: detail from one of the many amazing floral arrangement displays inside the Pavilion.

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Below: gardens at Chelsea aren’t all about big business. This garden, called Laced With Hope, promoted the work of the charity Supershoes. It illustrates the typical journey of a child with a cancer diagnosis and the work the charity does to empower these children. The plan is for the garden to be moved to a children’s cancer hospital after the show so it can be used and enjoyed by patients and their families for years to come.

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Above: more top dry-stone walling on the artisan garden, A Very English Garden, designed by Janine Crimmins. I also loved the effect of the Erigeron around the central planter.

Below: I’ll leave you with another photo of a stand in the Grand Pavilion (I can’t remember which one it was, sorry) because it shows the stars of the show – the plants. Did you go to the show this year? If so, what were your highlights?

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