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.

Springtime goings on

Before I go on, I must say thank you for the lovely comments on my previous post. Sorry I haven’t responded individually. I can’t believe it’s been over two weeks since I wrote it – the days are flying by with little time for blogging or taking photographs. I meant to write this yesterday but here I am, on Saturday evening, tapping at my keyboard.

It’s been the most beautiful couple of days here – blue sky, warm sunshine, birds singing their socks off, butterflies flitting about (brimstones, whites, tortoiseshells) and bees busy in the flowers. It’s the time of year for daily garden inspections, if possible, to see which trees are blossoming, how many buds, say hello to the tulips, pinch off the faded daffodil heads, pull out gigantic weeds (already!), so I took my camera out with me yesterday to take these pictures. I’ve had to be very relaxed about what’s going on (or rather not going on) out there lately. I haven’t sown any seeds at all yet and I’m only part way through cutting back the ornamental grasses and perennials. It doesn’t matter. All the plants carry on regardless and I will catch up.

We will need to start getting our act together in the next few weeks because we are opening our garden again for the local Garden Safari at the end of June. It’s good to have a deadline… In the spirit of perking things up outside and to make a small start, I bought a few pink Bellis and red-pink Ranunculus this morning to plant together in an old stone trough and, amazingly, have tucked them into their new bed already. It was so good to get my hands in the soil again. Gosh, I’ve missed it.

I am itching to spend a good amount of time out there – several hours would be wonderful; hopefully next weekend. It’s a little full-on here chez acoastalplot at the moment. On Thursday morning my younger son flew to Delhi for an 18-day trip, working in a school in West Bengal, then trekking in the Himalayas (not jealous at all…). I won’t bore you with the preparations for that! On Thursday evening, two Spanish exchange students arrived to stay with us for a week and later that night my eldest child returned home from university for the Easter holidays. The Spanish girls lovely, very appreciative and polite and they both seem to get on well with my daughter. There’s lots of laughter and chatter. We’re their tour guides this weekend – today we did the beach, Deal and Dover Castle, tomorrow we’re taking them to London – and they have a packed schedule with their classmates next week. They fly back to Barcelona on Thursday, then my daughter heads off on a long coach trip to Austria on Friday for a school skiing trip. Apparently there is still snow.

For the following 10 days there will be just me, David and one grown-up child here and he mostly does his own thing. It’s going to be quiet and strange but there should be plenty of time for gardening 🙂

Hope you’re having a lovely weekend. Bye for now x

 

 

 

 

 

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.
Gladioli close-up
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.

In a Vase on Monday: effervescent

The starter for today’s vase was cow parsley – there is so much of this lacy loveliness billowing along the lanes and some has even crept into the garden. Joining it in the larger vase are several stems of dark purple aquilegia, some nigella, a few fronds of fennel and some long stems of Briza media (quaking grass), a lovely grass that is perfect for vases. This is yet another self seeder which has generously spread itself widely.

In the small green vase are some pink scented pelargonium flowers that I snipped off a couple of leggy plants we bought at a plant sale at the weekend, some more briza, a fennel frond and the very last of the ‘Black Parrot’ tulips I found hiding among the foliage.

There’s a lot going on in the garden – we completely cleared the rampant weeds from one half of the terrace where we grew veg and annuals for cutting last year and we moved five of the Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ to here to add height and rhythm. We didn’t realise quite how chunky they’d be when we planted them last year and several were planted too close together or too near other plants. Hopefully they’ll transplant and settle in well.

It was a weekend of plant sales – a large one at the local National Trust visitor centre and a smaller one in a nearby village – and we bought a load of lovely plants to fill gaps and to go into this newly cleared area. Foxgloves, salvias, ajuga, verbascums, Centaurea nigra, cornflowers, cosmos and more. Lots of beauty to come.

In other news… Study leave has started here. My daughter went into school on her own this morning remarking ‘Well, this is a vision of the future!’. Indeed. Exams for my younger son are scattered throughout the next five weeks; the eldest’s start after half term. I’m doing my best to not stick my oar in but instead stick to tea-making, cake-providing and exuding an air of calm…

Thank you for your comments on my blog in recent weeks, sorry I haven’t responded or visited many blogs recently. It’s all been a bit full-on but I’m hoping to catch up soon. I’m starting with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden to see her flowers and what others have found to put in a vase this fine Monday.

Wishing you a very good week. Bye for now.

[By the way, there’s been some good news for Agnes recently (for those of you who’ve been cheering it on; thank you). The website appeared in The Guardian Weekend magazine last weekend in Annalisa Barbieri’s advice column and an education guru tweeted about it a couple of days ago; the stats have since rocketed. Sixteen months after launching, Agnes seems to be gaining traction and hopefully it will become more widely known and inform and inspire more girls.]

 

Arrivals and departures

Arrivals

  • Frothy, abundant swathes of cow parsley are lining the hedgerows and verges and lending a certain romance to the landscape.
  • Hawthorn blossom is covering the hedges in its white flowers (and wafting its love-it-or-hate-it scent).
  • The swallows have returned and are getting ready to nest again in the goat shed (I wrote about them last year here).
  • As I sat in the car waiting for my daughter to finish her ballet class in town yesterday evening, I watched a flock of swifts wheeling about and scything through the sky and it lifted my heart. There were always loads each summer when we lived in London but we don’t often see them here on the cliffs and I miss them.
  • Our Californian poppies have started flowering – many of these are self-sown but they’re easy to pull out from where I don’t want them. Other flowers that are exceedingly generous with their presence here are borage, Ammi, Nigella, Cerinthe major, Linaria, forget-me-nots, nasturtiums. I mostly let them do what they want because I am very relaxed in my approach to the garden. Controlled chaos is the order of the day. (Much like indoors.)

Departures

  • Apart from a few stalwart ‘Queen of Night’, the tulips are over for another year. They’ve been wonderful but it’s time to snap off the fat seed pods developing atop the stems and let the leaves photosynthesise away and pump nutrients back into the bulbs as they fade. I am intending to dig most of them up and store them somewhere dark, dry and cool until November when I’ll replant those that are still plump and healthy. But I say that every year…
  • Today is Leavers’ Day at school and my eldest boy’s last day. He’ll go back in to sit his A-levels but his time in the school system is over. No more lessons. He and his friends spent yesterday afternoon and very early this morning ‘decorating’ the school in readiness for a morning of chaos and fun. I hope we managed to dissuade them from some of the more extreme pranks they’d planned but I am waiting slightly nervously to hear how it went. It’s a last hurrah before the exams. He has mixed feelings about leaving school – he’s definitely outgrown the place but feels sad it’s come to an end. Any end of an era is unsettling. I also have mixed feelings about this so I am keeping as busy as it is possible to be. After 18 plus years of three children at home, they’re about to start fledging…
  • My 16-yr-old son also has his final day at school today and will be on study leave from Monday. Again, he’ll go back in to school to take his GCSEs (which started with a ‘terrible’ French speaking exam this Wednesday) but formal school is over until September when he’ll be in the sixth form (as long as he does well enough in the exams!). It’s all go here.

I have a packed weekend ahead – village duties, gardening, plant fairs (I may indulge) and calming my teenagers. Wishing you a lovely one.

End of Month View: Enchanted April

April began with a chilly and rainy Easter, saw high-20-degree summer temperatures mid-month with glorious, long sunny days and is ending as it began – chilly and rainy (boo). The dramatic rise in temperatures and sunshine that we had for a week or so boosted flowering (and the weeds) and it feels as though everything has rushed to catch up, flowering-wise. There are bluebells at the bottom of the garden and some of my long-awaited, much-loved tulips are already past their best with others just reaching their peak. Today’s heavy rain with more forecast for tomorrow may well finish them off so I’ve picked a load to bring inside to enjoy a little longer.

As well as tulips, the highlight of April has been the forget-me-nots. There were none in this garden when we moved here but my mother-in-law brought a few plants with her from her garden a couple of years ago and they have made themselves very much at home. I absolutely love them – the tiny blue flowers with yellow centres, their delicate but robust nature and the fact that they spread about the place without any help. The trick is to recognise their leaves and not weed them out (unless you want to, of course!).

All our Narcissi have either finished flowering or have been munched by slugs and snails. The ones in the front (sea-facing) garden fared much better this year than those in the back garden where we are overrun by garden molluscs. Sadly, the wonderful display of N. ‘Actaea’ we had last year wasn’t to be repeated, despite planting more bulbs in the winter. The slimy critters didn’t even wait for many of them to flower, they munched the flower buds right off! Grrr. We have frogs and toads (I disturbed a huge one yesterday when I was weeding), and there are definitely thrushes and blackbirds around, but they don’t seem to be eating enough to control the levels. So, the time has come to unleash the nematodes. With one of the best names ever, Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita, is a parasite that kills slugs and snails without harming other creatures. You mix them with water, sprinkle onto your soil and let them get to work.

Elsewhere, the pear, cherry and greengage blossom is starting to go over but the apple blossom (my favourite) is starting to appear. There are deep-pink buds dotted all over the trees, their petals tightly bound together like miniature pink sprouts. I love how these unfurl, releasing their delicate scent and clothing the trees in beautiful flowers – expect lots of photos!

All the grasses we’ve planted in the sea-facing side of the garden over the last couple of years – Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, Miscanthus ‘can’t remember’ and Stipa tennuisima – are all going great guns and bulking up, adding interest, structure and rhythm to the planting. I’m really chuffed with how well the tulips work with the grasses and I’m looking forward to seeing how the perennials here (Linaria, Campanula, Scabious, Eryngium etc) do this year. I intend to plant some more brightly coloured perennials to create a longer-lasting tapestry of colour, form and texture. There will also be annuals – sweet peas and cosmos at least – to add to the mix.

Soon the lilac tree will put on its fleeting, beautiful and deliciously-scented show and there will be aquilegias dotted all over the place – these are already sending up their flower buds – and I’ll be pleased I didn’t dig them out. Nigella foliage is everywhere (but it’s easy to pull it out where it’s not wanted), with flower buds starting to appear, and tidy mounds of geraniums are getting ready to flower. And, if I get a move on with the Phasmarhabditis, hopefully more alliums will make it through to flowering this year.

Here are rather a lot of photos of the garden at the end of April. You might like to make a cup of tea…

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Tulips. I’m making notes of ones to plant for next year – I’d like to add some dusky pinky ones like ‘Belle Epoque’ and ‘Apricot Impression’ for a start…

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David has been planting Luzula nivea (Snowy woodrush) – a lovely grass for dry shade – to the right of the path. The lilac (top right of pic) is covered with buds.
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A row of Euphorbia oblongata (to the mid-right of the pic), Nigella, daffs that flowered and were promptly shredded by slugs and snails, rhubarb growing well and weeds…
New growth on the lavender hedge (plus rogue strappy leaves which could be gladioli or crocosmia).
The steps after the Erigeron was cut back quite  hard.
Looking down, to the left of the steps, with weed clearing and mulching the young fruit trees in progress.
Baby gooseberries!
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Looking down to the right of the steps (with trashed trampoline – the winter storms wrecked it; its days are numbered).
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Himalayan birch whip with fresh leaves and a flower.
Bluebells and builder’s sack (full of perennial weeds).
Cassie the wonder-dog keeping an eye on David who had treats!
Iris in the bluebells

New flag iris leaves in the pond

Erigeron recovering after its short back and sides last week.

 

EOMV (End of Month View) is hosted by Helen, The Patient Gardener.

Interlude

All these photos were taken at about 5pm yesterday. I’d spent a couple of hours in the garden pruning our gnarly old apple trees, balancing on a rickety step ladder with my head in among the branches without – get this – wearing a coat! Standing there, perched in the tree, listening to birdsong and feeling the warmth (yes, warmth) of the March sunshine on my back was blissful. Even more wonderful because it was the first opportunity I’d had for a few weeks to be in the garden for any length of time – work has been busy lately, which I’m very happy about but it does take over my life somewhat. Anyway, some time outdoors concentrating on pruning (which I wholeheartedly recommend as a tonic for anyone!) put a spring in my step, fresh air in my lungs and joy in my heart.

This morning, we’ve woken up to an icy wind and a forecast of heavy snow showers all day. All those poor bees who were buzzing about yesterday, and the flowers that were showing their faces to the warm spring sun… Hopefully, we’ll miss the worst of the weather here and all will be well. It’s a good thing that we hadn’t got round to cutting back the grasses and other plants – these will provide shelter – and we take a wildlife-friendly approach to our borders. Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) is seen as a weed by many but it is an important wildflower that provides early nectar for bees (see the photo above). It happily grows in cultivated soils and we have several patches in our garden. Look at it closely and you’ll see how pretty it is.

I’m frustrated that we’ll probably lose another weekend of gardening because of the weather but I’ll try to make the most of it indoors. There’s a load of housework and sorting to do, a larger desk to squeeze into my 16-year-old’s room so he can spread out his books for revising (which will take spacial awareness powers) and we have several 14-year-old girls descending on us. My daughter’s birthday was on Tuesday (14!) and today is the day for her celebration with friends. She has elaborate plans to spend a few hours shopping in Canterbury then back to ours for a film, dinner and a sleepover. For once, she’s totally fed up at the thought of snow – what would usually have her watching out for the first falling flakes has her stomping about, grumbling and fretting at the potential ruining of plans. Hopefully, it will All Be Fine. And, anyway, there’s always the possibility of snow balls…

Whatever your plans this weekend, I hope that they’re not affected by the weather and you have a lovely relaxing couple of days. I have another cake to bake and furniture to move.