Poppylicious

The poppies have been magnificent this year.
Each flower starts off tucked away as a tiny bud.
They grow into plump, hairy nodding buds.
The stem starts to straighten, sending the bud skywards.
Nearly there.
The bud case turns turns brown and starts to split…
revealing the delicate, papery bright-red petals. They remind me of crumpled silk or crushed tissue paper.
They nod about for a couple of days, bringing joy to bees and gardeners.
Before discarding their petals on the ground and…
revealing their perfectly designed seed heads.

Hello. How’s it going with you? It’s been all about getting garden safari-ready here, which is very boring to everyone who isn’t interested in the garden, especially our teenagers. I was going to pull out these poppies – they’ve passed their peak but they’re still flowering so I’ve left the clumps where they are for now and noticed that they had flowers at each stage of development, so I thought I’d record it here. I find the whole process of seed to plant to flower to seed fascinating.

We had a massive push outside this weekend. My mother-in-law came to help and, as usual, galvanised us to do more than we’d planned, so it is looking great even if I’m not (exhausted, grubby, terrible hay fever-face at the end of each day). I’ll take some photos towards the end of the week so you can see – of the garden, not me, obvs!

The weather has been amazing but I’ve had such revolting hay fever which doesn’t combine well with sticking my head into ornamental grasses to remove bindweed. Nothing seems to be helping, so I just keep splashing water on my face and carrying on. What with all the gardening, having a nose like a tap and having everyone at home and all that entails, I am exhausted and looking forward to having an excuse to sit in the garden and do nothing other than chat to any visitors who wander in. In the meantime, I’m off outside with my pockets full of tissues.

Have a good week.

A good day

Mowed grass design at Wisley Salvia and bronze fennel Pink rose Tall alliums against roses and hedge Allium and peony View at RHS Wisley Phlomis The old laboratory at RHS Wisley Evergreen shrubs for topiary Candlabra primulas Wild meadow with willow edging Alliums Peony

My son is home. The dog gave him her special howl of happiness that she only does when her very favourite people are all together in their pack. There’s a mountain of bedding and clothes that need washing, boxes of books and bags of shoes. He’s already surveyed the contents of the fridge, cuddled the cats, commented on how lovely it is to be able to use a clean toilet and is now lying on his bed surrounded by suitcases and boxes. Happy. I’ve put a chicken in the oven to roast and we’ll have that in about an hour with new potatoes and salads, followed by scones with clotted cream and fruit. He’s been existing on pizza and skipping lunch and needs feeding up.

David had the bright idea that we should go and collect him today via the RHS garden at Wisley for a wander and a reminisce and coffee and cake en route. I didn’t need much persuasion. We used to live about 30 minutes away and would visit regularly when the children were small. I also volunteered here for a couple of years, working once a week in the Trials Department, and I also surveyed all the model gardens as part of my garden design course. I pretty much knew every metre of the gardens in detail, specific plants, views and buildings. But it’s changed quite dramatically since our previous visit about 4 years ago. There’s a major new visitor ‘experience’ (opening tomorrow, so the signs said), with a new plant nursery and various other attractions. All the model gardens have disappeared(!) and there’s construction work for a new plant laboratory, world kitchen garden and learning centre.

When we first used to visit with our babies and toddlers, we’d be among the youngest visitors by far, there was always room in the car park and you could easily wander round and not see many people. It felt like a horticultural haven where only Very Keen gardeners went. Today, there were car park attendants in hi-vis jackets, several overseas coaches, loads of people of all ages, lots of children running about, an outdoor music and dance performance going on for smaller children and a real sense that the garden was a destination, a great attraction. If it gets more people outdoors, looking at plants and enjoying all the benefits, I’m all for it but the place seems to have lost a little of its charm. Maybe there’s no place for charm at the forefront of horticultural progress.

Anyway, it was still possible to get photos without people in them of gorgeous plants! Alliums. Alliums everywhere – tall ones, taller than me, short ones, enormous globes and vibrant purples – all buzzing with bees. Glorious. And sumptuous peonies and roses whose scent hits you before you round the corner and clock them. There are still delightful touches here and there – a mown design in a patch of perfect lawn, lovely hooped hazel or willow (not sure) edging alongside the meadow. It was certainly a treat to spend a few hours here soaking up plant inspiration before collecting our boy and bringing him home for the summer.

Right, I must get that dinner on the table. Hope you’ve had a good weekend.

 

Friday flowers

I’ve missed posting Monday vases for the past couple of weeks so here are some flowers for Friday 🙂

The lupins and clematis are in my mother-in-law’s garden. We can’t grow lupins here because a red alert goes out for miles around and all the slugs and snails in the neighbourhood make a slimey trail straight for them. The same goes for delphiniums. And dahlias, although David is de-ter-mined to try growing them again this year so we have a few precious specimens in pots and I’ve been on snail watch… Also, it’s very windy here which plays havoc with tall top-heavy flowers. We don’t have much luck with clematis, either. Most varieties don’t like chalk, according to expert clematis growers. The sweetpeas are also not from our garden! They’re grown by a lovely friend whose garden I had an impromptu tour of this morning – it’s a wonderful cornucopia, a feast for the senses, and she kindly said I could go back with my camera some time.

So, there you are. Some beautiful Friday flowers not grown by me.

I hope all’s well with you. Life plods on here. My daughter and younger son are half way through their end-of-year exams and the eldest will be home from university on Sunday as it’s the end of his first year (which has flown by). His sister will have to vacate his bedroom which has become an extension of hers (because it has wifi and hers doesn’t!) and I’m clearing the backlog of laundry and filling the fridge and cupboards in readiness.

Have a lovely weekend.

PS I’ve been having trouble commenting on blogs that aren’t WordPress. Sorry to my blogging friends who are on Blogger, etc (CJ, CT et al). I am reading and would love to comment but for some reason I can’t! I will ask my technical support to take a look.

Rewilding – the Chelsea Flower Show 2019

Chelsea is as much a fantastic event for people-watching as it is a place to soak up horticultural inspiration and there was a noticeably incongruous juxtaposition yesterday between some of the gardens and the punters. Glossy, shiny, fashionably dressed visitors* vs lots and lots of wildflowers, liberal use of the naturalistic planting style and rusty steel. There were several areas that looked just like the bottom of our garden or a slice of any hedgerow or riverbank in the countryside. Nature knows best. Cow parsley, ragged robin, grasses, foxgloves, birch and beech and other hedgerow shrubs and trees. Lush, relaxed and ‘wild’ and it was a joy to see. One wildflower that really caught my eye was Adonis annua (Pheasant’s eye) which has scarlet flowers atop bright-green divided leaves. It was used to stunning effect on the Dubai Majlis garden (which was one of my favourites of the show). The most popular cultivated flowers were irises, foxgloves, roses and geums. Shrubs or trees that cropped up a few times were Pinus mugo, Cornus and Pittosporum tobira. One unusual tree that was getting a lot of attention was Aesculus pavia, a small form of horse chestnut native the the US with lovely flowers that were covered in bees.

While it was mostly magnificent, as usual, there was nothing particularly startling or thrillingly unusual at the show. There were some gorgeous gardens with beautiful colour palettes, lovely planting combinations and clever landscaping – and there’s no denying the incredible skill of making these gardens in 19 days – but there was nothing that struck me as totally out-of-the-blue new. It could be that Chelsea has become too corporate and is not the place to find exciting new and challenging design any more. I’m sure commentators have been saying this for several years but I properly noticed it this year. Maybe the RHS has sacrificed the cash cow of Chelsea to the movers and shakers of the business world and it’s the smaller, newer shows at Malvern or Chatsworth where you’ll find new ideas…

Anyway, we still had a lovely afternoon out (day tickets are over £100 each, so we went for the 3.30–8pm tickets which was long enough) – we had a lot of fun and it was a treat to be looking at skilfully put together gardens. I took my camera with the wrong lens (annoying) so all my photos are quite cropped but here’s what caught my eye:

PLANTS AND PLANTING COMBINATIONS

PLANTS AGAINST A COLOURED BACKGROUND

You can clearly see the red flowers of Adonis annua against the sandy-coloured wall.

WATER

EDGES

IN THE FLORAL MARQUEE

*Overheard at Chelsea –
An immaculate man: “I took the kids down to the Cotswolds last Bank Holiday.”
His equally well-dressed friend after a long pause: “What do you do there?”
Two women friends discussing slugs and snails: “I find that eggshells baked in the Aga then crushed works quite nicely.”
I wasn’t eavesdropping, honestly 🙂

In a Vase on Monday: the prince of marigolds

There’s a sturdy self-sown Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ that’s pumping out the most glorious blooms at the moment. I absolutely love this plant, with its deep orange flowers and burnished coppery tones on the reverse of the petals. I found the original seed packet (Sarah Raven) still had some seed in it a couple of weekends ago. The best before date was last year, but I sowed them anyway and kept my fingers crossed. Several seeds have germinated but were munched by *something* in the greenhouse, so I’ve brought the tray into the kitchen where I can keep an eye on it! Hopefully, there will be a few more plants to dot about the garden in a few weeks.

Anyway, the large plant in question is encroaching on a rose, so I cut the closest flowers off for a Monday vase. Joining them are some stems of red Salvia, Geum ‘Blazing Sunset’, some bronze fennel, some Linaria and several stems of Briza  – a lovely grass that Cathy at Rambling in the Garden kindly sent me a few years ago. (Cathy hosts this Monday-vase gathering; do click on the link to see her roses and links to many other vases.) The Briza has made itself very much at home in our garden but luckily, it’s easy to pull out where we don’t want it and seeds itself into gaps where we’re quite happy for it to be.

For the past several weekends, we’ve been spending every spare moment in the garden, working hard to tame and control the chaos all in readiness for the village garden safari at the end of June. A biannual event, the safari raises money for the Pilgrim’s Hospice and it’s a great motivator for Getting Things Done. We wouldn’t have achieved half as much as we have without this deadline. I love effervescent, naturalistic tapestry planting, so most of our borders are of the ‘let’s bung this here and that there and see if it works’ approach and I’m delighted with how it’s coming together so far.

Of course there have been failures, either because our chalky soil is too alkaline (even for some plants that are meant to tolerate it), because it’s been too dry (there’s only so much watering one can do) or because we have a ridiculous number of slugs and snails. My amateur science view is that our cats deter the blackbirds, etc, who eat the slugs and snails and so there is an imbalance. We decided to do something about it after we kept losing dahlias, sunflowers, etc, year after year and have introduced a biological control (the nematode Phasmarhabditis) which is watered onto the soil where they seek out snails and slugs and, well, kill them. They are harmless to other wildlife so are a much better alternative to chemicals. Hopefully, this may mean we can grow  dahlias and other slug-food plants without them being reduced to stumps within days. Has anyone else tried this? Did it work?

In other news: the coal tits are no more, sadly. I’m fairly confident it was not down to the cats as there was absolutely no evidence of harm done to birds at all. One day, standing within a few feet of the nest, you could hear the baby birds calling; a couple of days later you couldn’t. I don’t know what happened. Maybe they fledged while we weren’t looking and are happily hopping about the hedgerows. That’s what I hope, anyway.

Family-wise, my daughter has returned from a week in Barcelona on her return leg of the Spanish exchange. She loved it there, had an amazing time and isn’t particularly thrilled to be home. Let’s just leave it at that. One week left of school and then it’s half term, exams are after half term, then it’s the gentle slide into the summer holidays. My eldest will be home from uni in a couple of weeks to work for P&O over the summer. If you’re travelling to France via the Dover–Calais ferry, he might be checking you in 🙂

I’m off to the Chelsea Flower Show tomorrow for a massive dose of horticultural inspiration. I’ll report back soon. Hope you have a lovely week.

Difficult choices

At the risk of opening a large can of worms… We have two rescue moggies who the children love; who David keeps threatening to make into slippers; and about whom I have extremely conflicting feelings. Being a cat-owner and a nature-lover is not easy. I will let the cats sit on my lap and stroke them, I feed them, take care of their vaccinations, etc, but I absolutely hate their cat ways: despite the fact that they’re extremely well fed, their hunting instinct is strong. They catch creatures and sometimes they kill and eat parts of them and sometimes they bring them indoors still alive and kicking. We found a wood mouse nesting behind the freezer (definitely a cat ‘gift’), we’ve searched for hours for the source of the ‘back of the throat’ smell of dead mouse (if you’ve ever smelt it, you know what I mean), we’ve chased shrews up the stairs (yes, they can climb very well), we’ve been woken up by rustling in our bedroom (another wood mouse), we’ve had newts carefully deposited on the kitchen floor with a puddle of pond water, ditto goldfish, and a rabbit in the garden (see my previous post). We’ve found parts of dead rodents and even slow worms by the back door where the cat flap is.

Worse than all that for me, though, is the fact that they hunt, catch and often kill birds. I’ve found dead baby robins, wrens, blackbirds and even a blackcap. This does not sit well with my ex-RSPB staff credentials at all! In the past month, one cat has carefully carried indoors a robin which it deposited, still very much alive, under our bed and a coal tit (again, alive) which it took into my daughter’s bedroom. Luckily, in both instances, we clocked this happening and managed to open the upstairs windows so the poor creatures could fly out.

As it’s breeding season I’ve added ‘vigilant cat watch’ to my daily list. There are birds nesting in the garden hedges and one pair in particular that we’re on high alert for. Coal tits are nesting in a hole in the wall by the back door where the cat flap is… There are definitely chicks in the nest (we can hear them) and the parents have been diligently feeding them. We’ve watched the adults flit from the cherry tree to the fence, to the honeysuckle that’s overhanging the wall and then, when the coast is clear, zipping into the nest in the wall. The cats, however, know they’re there. They’ve been keeping watch. And every time we notice the cats hanging around, we’re shooing them away in no uncertain terms.

I know we should probably keep them indoors for the next couple of months (or even for the rest of their lives) and dust off the litter tray but they would go bonkers. They are very outdoors cats and no-one is volunteering to deal with the cat poo; it’d be down to me. So, there you have it, I love birds but probably not enough to have to incarcerate the cats and shovel their bodily waste every day. And it’s not that simple. There’s the issue of which cat litter to buy (not sustainable) and how to dispose of it (landfill). What’s more important – protecting a few garden birds from predators or avoiding unsustainable products (litter, bags, etc) and adding to the waste mountain?

Isn’t that a metaphor for the bigger problems in our world – we love the Earth but humans still fly in planes and buy goods wrapped in plastic and use disposable nappies and eat foods containing palm oil that’s farmed on land that used to be pristine rainforest. The latest UN report from an intergovernmental body on biodiversity and ecosystems that flagged up in the strongest terms that the natural world is under threat like never before must surely jolt everyone out of complacency. One million species are at risk of extinction and our wild places are under extreme pressure.

As well as revealing the incredible beauty of Earth, an amazing tv programme is revealing some of the impact humans have on our planet – BBC’s Earth from Space. Have you been watching it? One particular shot of huge fishing boats lighting up the oceans off the coast of Argentina to attract squid (they swim towards the light, which they think is the moon) has stayed with me. Thousands of squid swimming up towards the light only to be caught in massive nets and hauled on board. Thousands and thousands of squid, all to be factory processed and to end up on someone’s plate. Sigh.

There are difficult choices ahead and it’s all bloody complicated but we – governments, companies, people – have to do our best to make the right ones.

 

 

Wildlife

“Look! What’s that?” called David first thing this morning, pointing out of the kitchen window at our bird feeding station. At first I thought it was a small odd-looking jay but then I realised that it was an extremely large finch. I knew this was special, an unusual visitor, but it took a while for my brain to get into gear and flick through tucked away memories. I rushed to grab my glasses and managed a fleeting proper look before it flew off. A hawfinch. Yes, definitely a hawfinch! Wow. I’ve not seen one for years and years. They’re elusive birds and on the Red List (which means there is concern over the number of breeding pairs in the UK) so it was brilliant to see one here and a lovely start to the day. (This isn’t my photo. I am rubbish at taking photos of moving things! I found it on this website.)

Honestly, of all the changes we’ve made to this garden I think putting in a bird feeding ‘station’ has given us the most pleasure. We all stand in the kitchen watching the comings and goings of goldfinches, bluetits, coal tits, great tits, robins, greenfinches, dunnocks, chaffinches etc as we butter our toast. There’s a water spray bottle on the windowsill to blast at the cats when they sit underneath gazing up hopefully…

Talking of cats, a few hours later, I was sitting at my desk and heard a kerfuffle outside. I glanced up to see both cats on the wall, clearly up to no good. Grrr. I stormed outside to shoo them away and found the object of their attentions sheltering in the lavender hedge – a baby rabbit. Goodness knows what that was doing in our garden. I’m sure we haven’t had rabbits in here before so I reckon the pesky cats picked one up on the Leas, the National Trust land just up the road, and carried it back home to play with. The dog soon joined me and was very interested in the cowering rabbit. I called David to stand guard over it while I took the dog back indoors and found some gloves and a box to put the rabbit in. As soon as I returned and we tried to grab the rabbit, it scarpered between our legs and along the hedge into next door’s garden. Hopefully it found its way home. I’ve been keeping a weather eye on our pets ever since.

Later this evening: the hawfinch came back! It sat on the branch of our Heath Robinson bird feeder ‘tree’ for ages having a good look around. Now it knows we’re a good source of food, hopefully it’ll come again 🙂

Have you any plans for the bank holiday weekend? We’ve been invited to a party tomorrow but otherwise we’ll be taxi-ing our children around (the middle ones driving test booked in June!) and doing as much as possible in the garden, weather permitting. Hope you have a lovely one.