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.

Best intentions (and random thoughts)

I didn’t grow these (obvs!) but they still made me inordinately happy. It’s the colours.
Lop-sided houseplant and listing hyacinth – a metaphor for so many things.
Solitary Anemone coronaria ‘Syphide’ – very exciting. Hopefully there’ll be more to come.

:: The weather was glorious this weekend, teasing us with a hint of spring – warm sunshine, hardly any breeze, tweeting birds, calm glistening sea… It was blissful and motivated me to actually clean a few windows. (I know! Only on the inside, mind.) I thoroughly spring-cleaned the kitchen, scrubbing all the ledges, shelves and surfaces, putting stuff away, even cleaning the cooker hood grills in the dishwasher. It was all sparkling for about half an hour before everyone came to have a look and mess it up again.

:: On Sunday, we finally got round to pruning the apple and pear trees we planted last spring. It felt a little like vandalism, slicing off branches covered in fat buds, but I know it will lead to stronger, better fruiting trees. I brought all the fruity wands indoors and stuck them in a couple of vases of water. Hopefully they’ll come into leaf and possibly even blossom. You never know.

:: The balmy weekend weather brought out the wildlife. I saw my first butterfly of the year on Saturday – a pristine primrose-yellow brimstone energetically fluttering along the hedgerow. It wouldn’t stay still long enough for me to take a photo, unfortunately. But the bees on the snowdrops did; they were lazily buzzing about in the sunshine (see photos above). It’s been foul weather for the past couple of days, though, and I’ve been worrying about all those insects who were out and about. How will they survive? Hopefully, they’ve found cosy crevices to shelter in. The weatherman told of icy blasts coming from the Arctic later in the week. Winter is not over yet.

:: We’ve been planning our summer holiday. The boys will have both finished major exams and will need a break (as will we all), so we’re heading off for two weeks to the beautiful island of Mallorca. We had a few happy holidays there when the children were small and they’re excited to be going back. I’m excited, too, and hope it will live up to our memories. To be honest, I’ll be happy just to lie by a pool and read for as long as possible.

:: My parenting skills have been sorely stretched lately. Is the first child always the test one? The one we make mistakes over and possibly mess up, like the first pancake? (That’s probably not the best analogy…) If anyone tells you that parenting gets easier as children get older, give them a wary look – I’ve been at this game for 18 years and three months and I’m often none the wiser. If anyone has any magic tips for keeping a boy going to the final highest hurdle in this gruelling long-distance race called school, I’d be grateful.

I hope all’s well with you. More anon…

 

 

 

Work in Progress (a garden review) January 2018

Whenever my mojo wanders off, whether it’s for blogging or gardening or whatever, I find it’s best to step away from it for a while, then come up with a plan. Being organised – or shall we call it ‘being pragmatic’ – is key; it’s important to prioritise. I know I cannot do it all and rather than worrying about everything that needs to be done and isn’t, it’s better to focus on progress. And the great thing about the garden is that there will be progress, whether I’m involved or not. Plants generally get on with the business of growing without much help – they will do their thing and bring much joy in the process.

Following a garden month by month is extremely useful – it acts as an aide memoire and a boot up the bottom – so I’m setting myself the challenge this year. I’ve often thought of joining in with the Helen, The Patient Gardener’s, End of Month View or Sarah’s Through the Garden Gate but I haven’t managed to get my act together to take photos and review the garden at the right time. Until now…

When I went outside earlier to take the photos, I did hesitate. I saw all the full rubble sacks  dotted around the place, all the jobs that need doing, the plants that need cutting back and all the weeds. I usually crop my garden photos to spare you the mess but I’ve decided this should be an honest look at our garden – warts (weeds) and all. On the plus side, there is new growth everywhere. It’s still cold but you can sense the earth turning – beautiful fresh spears of spring bulbs are shooting up, buds are starting to swell and the birds are definitely gearing up for spring.

I don’t think I’ve shown you round the whole garden in one go before. Not that it’s huge – it’s approximately one-third of an acre, with about half in front of the house and half behind (the house sits in the middle). Come with me and let’s see what’s going on…

DSC_0638

This is the view from the back door – the beds need clearing to make way for the spring flowers that are shooting up. (That thing covered in green tarpaulin next to the shed is the outdoor table-tennis table.)

To the left of the steps looking up the slope is a long slim bed of a line of Miscanthus and small rose bushes edged by box plants – we planted the box as c.20cm plug plants three years ago this spring and they’re filling out nicely. The rose bushes aren’t very happy though; this whole area is overshadowed by a huge copper beech in our neighbour’s garden and it just doesn’t get enough sunshine in the summer when the tree is in full leaf. We plan to dig them up and move them, and replace them with something that won’t mind the lack of sun. There are loads of Narcissus Actaea planted along here and the sight and scent of them in a couple of months will be, well, fantastic.

At the top of the path is a terraced bed (photo above bottom right) with Acanthus mollis, Bergenia, evergreen Euphorbia, geraniums and osteospermum. And weeds. There are lots of Muscari, too, which edge the wall with their beautiful blue flowers in spring.

Looking down from the path onto the back garden, the lawn looks like it needs a little tlc. Our neighbour’s holm oaks shed their plastic-coated leaves onto this part of the garden and they’re a pain. The beds and lawn underneath don’t like it. The area by the greenhouse needs a good sort out and the raspberry canes should be cut back this month. If you look very closely at the photo on the bottom right above, you’ll see a few raspberries still clinging on! I obviously missed them when I did my final pick last autumn. The above bottom left photo shows the pear (left) and greengage (right) which were already here when we moved in. The greenhouse desperately needs renovating (it leaks and wooden frames are rotting) – that’s on our list of jobs for this year…

Walking round to the front (the sea-facing) garden, this rosemary is romping away. I stuck it in here a couple of years ago because it wasn’t thriving where it was. Top right you can see how hardy and determined Californian poppies can be – these have seeded themselves into the paving cracks. It all adds to the general relaxed feeling of our garden! Above bottom left is one of our lavender hedges (there’s another one in the left-hand photo). It doesn’t look much now but it should look spectacular in the summer when it will be buzzing with drunk bees. I’ve written about it before here.

Down the steps (the Erigeron is having a short rest from flowering) to the tatty looking veg patch on the right (bottom left photo). We had potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes and squash growing here last summer (you can see a few remnants that haven’t been cleared!) and there are leeks and purple sprouting broccoli still growing, although the pigeons have helped themselves to the broccoli. Grr. To the left (above bottom right photo; how confusing!) is our experimental perennial/annual bed. It looks a bit of a mess now but it will have daffs and tulips popping up soon, in among the grasses (Stipa tenuissima and Calamagrostis). I’m thinking of giving the Stipa a haircut this year, like they do in Le Jardin Secret in Marrakech (which I spotted on Paradise Gardens the other week). I have high aspirations 🙂  There’s also a small olive tree this end and a plum tree the other end, plus a wigwam (which you can just see) that was covered with sweet peas last year.

On the next level down (the garden is terraced) is the pond area on one side of the steps and the mini-orchard on the other. The apple and pear trees that we planted here last year need to be pruned about now. Another job for the weekend.

Almost at the bottom of the garden and looking back up you get a glimpse of the lower terracing. That’s a cherry tree re-homed from a friend’s garden in Twickenham. David drove it home in the car last year – he had to severely chop it top and bottom to get it in the car; I’m amazed it survived. It could do with reshaping but we’ll let it recover first. You can see the bright-green stems of dreaded crocosmia starting to grow again around the base of the tree which covered this whole area – we’re slowly digging it all out.

We did a huge amount of clearing and wall rebuilding down here last year and  we planted 15 white Himalayan birch whips (Betula utilis Jaquemontii) (you may be able to make out their slender, stick-like proportions among the Miscanthus). The plan is that they will eventually form a drift of white-barked gorgeousness, interspersed with grasses and pops of colour throughout the year from various bulbs and perennials. The photo above bottom right shows the wildflower area that was cut back at the end of the year. This has primroses and narcissus dotted throughout (no flowers yet) and will be full of wildflowers in summer.

Finally, a couple of close-ups of plants that obviously don’t realise that it’s January and they should be taking a break – marguerites and osteospermums, take a bow:

So, that’s the garden at acoastalplot at the end of January/start of February.

I hope all’s well with you and the first month of the year has been good to you. More soon…

Oh, yes! The snowdrops are coming… Hurrah!

Five flowers for July

Choris at The Blooming Garden is showcasing 10 of her favourite July flowers and encouraging other bloggers to do the same; I’ve chosen 5 because these are the ones that are looking good in my garden right now and are my absolute favourites.

1  I’ve said before that Verbena bonariensis is one of my top-ten favourite plants of all time. It’s the most striking, useful, gorgeous bee-magnet you can plant. It adds height, structure, colour and interest; I love the criss-crossing erect stems holding aloft purple flowerheads. They look airy and delicate but they’re tough as old boots and withstand the winds round these parts.

Verbena bonariensis
V. bonariensis is a great ‘see-through’ plant so you can put it anywhere in the border.
Verbena bonariensis and Crocosmia 'Lucifer'
Here with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.
Verbena bonariensis and bee
The flowerheads are made up of loads of tiny flowers full of nectar for pollinators.
Verbena bonariensis and plum tree
I know it’s fanciful but I think they look like tall, cheerful stick people waving big hands.

Verbena is a group of hugely versatile perennials – we also have Verbena rigida, which is another gorgeous purple and grows to about 50cm, and the semi-trailing, bright pink Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’, which is great in pots.

Verbena rigida
Verbena rigida
Verbena 'Sissinghurst'
Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’ growing in a pot with Nemesia.

 

2 Sweet peas. I can’t think of a better-value plant for cutting flowers – the more you cut them, the more flowers you get. It’s like magic. You can cut flowers every day if you have enough plants. They’re delicate, beautiful, easy to grow (in my experience, but beware slugs and snails early on), come in a wide range of colours and the fragrance is heavenly. Everyone has their own methods of growing and planting sweet peas but I grow mine from seed in tall pots (or even old toilet roll holders) in spring, pinch out the tips when they’re about 30–40cm tall to encourage side shoots (which flower), then plant out in May. Our soil is very free-draining so I shovel in compost and keep them well watered. I feed mine when I feed my tomatoes – once a week with a tomato feed – but everyone has their own methods. We have one plant that self-seeded from last year, grew throughout the winter and has borne loads of flowers since late May! They’re tougher than you think.

Sweet peas need support to climb up – a wigwam of twiggy branches is perfect, or beanpoles with twine tied around, or some people use trellis. Their tendrils will grab hold of anything nearby so it’s good to check where they’re heading occasionally and redirect them. Anyway, once they start flowering, you start cutting and, if you’re lucky, you’ll have so many sweetly-scented flowers you’ll have jugs of them wafting their glorious fragrance in every room with enough left over to give handfuls to friends. Get them going early enough and you could have flowers from as early as May through to October or even the first frosts but peak sweet pea month here is July. If you follow Sultanabun on Instagram, you’ll have seen it’s her peak sweet pea time, too.

Sweetpea tendrils
Sweetpea tendrils will grab hold of anything as they grow.
Sweet pea
If you give sweetpeas a little love (water well and often, feed them occasionally, plant in good soil) they’ll reward you with flowers and flowers and flowers.

3 Ammi visnaga. All the Ammi plants growing in our garden this year have grown themselves. They self-seeded from plants I grew from seed last year and have multiplied tenfold which tells you how easy and undemanding they are. If you want to grow Ammi and don’t want it spreading everywhere, make sure you dead-head rigorously… The best thing about them is that the flower heads are great big landing pads for bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Made up of hundreds of tiny white flowers, the heads are compound flowers providing rich nectar for pollinators. The foliage is a lovely green, delicate and feathery, so stems of Ammi make great cutting material for vases.

4 Another fantastic flower for pollinators (are you sensing a theme here?!) is Scabious atropurpurea. We have two colours here – white and pink. The seed packet I grew them from last year showed rich dark colours, so I was a little disappointed when they turned out to be pale pink, lilac and white. But they’ve come back this year strongly (they’re perennials) and the bees love them, so they can stay. I plan to grow some richer colours at some point.

It’s another plant that pumps out flowers all summer long and into the autumn if you dead-head regularly (or cut the flowers for vases). I sowed a £2-packet of seeds last year and have three large patches of plants for the second year running. Excellent value, I’d say.

White scabious
Here you can see a full flowerhead, one that’s turning into a seedhead (fluffy with a few petals still attached) and a tightly budded head at the bottom.
See – bees LOVE scabious.
White scabious
Grown here with linaria (going to seed) and hardy geranium in the background. This one needs staking (the twigs) as it grows to about 80cm tall.

5 Finally, here’s a flower I’ve grown for the first time this year and I’ll definitely grow it again – Salvia viridis (or clary sage). It’s a hardy annual and the striking blue/purple flowers you can see are actually coloured bracts, not flowers. The real flowers are tiny and grow close to the stem further down.

I planted them out in early June and they’ve been looking fabulous for a few weeks now and have been buzzing with pollinators. The stems are upright and quite striking, with real impact when grown together. We have a patch of about 5 plants, then others dotted between other grasses and perennials. They like free-draining soil and full sun.

Salvia viridis
Look down the stems and you can see the little purple and white flowers.
Salvia viridis
A drift of clary sage makes a big impact in the border. It’s upright and quite tidy so would also work well lining a path (which I might try next year).
Salvia viridis flowers
Close-up of the flowers.

Right, I’m off out into the garden to pick some sweet peas 🙂 Have a lovely weekend.

In a vase on Monday: A–Z

With so much to choose from in the garden this week, I’ve picked just two different flowers – Ammi and Zinnia – for a Monday vase.

All the ammi (Ammi visnaga) are self-seeded from plants I grew from seed last year; they’re over-crowded and some are growing where I don’t want them. Rather than chuck those I’ve pulled up onto the compost heap, I chopped their roots and lower leaves off and plonked them in water.

This is the first year I’ve grown zinnias and I expected them to be rather prima-donna-ish but they seem pretty tough. According to what I’ve read, they hate root disturbance, don’t like overwatering and can’t be planted out until it’s warm enough to sit outside in the evening without wearing a cashmere wrap (I made that last but up). I was quite careful about potting on the seedlings, but not overly so, and there’s not much danger of them being overwatered around here. I was a bit worried about the temperature but I needn’t have as it’s been almost Mediterranean-like here. The major problem has been our slimy foes, the slugs and snails. A fair few pristine zinnias have been toppled and munched, sadly, – I reckon I’ve lost a third of the plants – but the survivors are hitting their stride now and starting to pump out flowers. They’re great for cutting as they last for ages in a vase, the colours are fantastic and they’re like sweet peas – the more flowers you cut, the more you’ll get, so that’s what I’m doing.

How’s life with you? It’s the last week of school before the summer holidays here and everyone is weary; the children are especially weary this afternoon as it was Sports Day today. Despite emails from the school inviting parents along to watch, my three pleaded with me not to go: ‘It would be social suicide, Mum!’. Mortifying our children seems to be something we’re particularly good at but I graciously stayed at home. It seems only five minutes since they were telling me where to stand so they could see me and to shout loudly. How times change.

‘In a Vase on Monday’ is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden. I recommend visiting her blog to see what she and other bloggers from around the world have found to put in a vase today; it’s always inspiring.

Wishing you a good week.

Checking in

Ha, just spotted my m-in-l top left taking photos!
Dog looking shifty.
Remember that bare bank of soil?
Terracing starting to come together. The grasses – Calamagrostis, Miscanthus and Stipa t. will soften it.
Aha, the pond! We didn’t realise there were paving slabs this end of the pond until we cleared the big pile of rocks, soil and brambles…
This jasmine smells divine.
Climbing rose over the wonky arch. No idea what variety it is.
Lavender and briza.
Pink scabious (bees love it), with ammi, sweetpeas, marigolds, Verbena b. and grasses behind; blue Campanula to the left.
The new veg patch on the other side of the steps.
Colour-pop pots.
The zinnias are coming!
Gaura ‘The Bride’.
Two ‘Turk’s Turban’ squashes growing in the compost heap. They’re now taking over that whole corner…
Front left (looking towards the sea) taken from the balcony.
Front right.
The back garden which has been a bit neglected, tbh, while we’ve been beaming on the front garden. Goodness knows what we were thinking when we took this on…

 

Hello, how are you?! It’s been all work and no play for the past couple of weeks here at acoastalplot, hence the radio silence. It’s good to be busy (freelance work tends to be like buses) but I have missed you 🙂 I’ve also found it slightly excruciating (if it’s possible to be excruciated in degrees) being indoors at my desk during some completely glorious weather; looming deadlines meant that I couldn’t down tools and head to the beach with my family at the weekend. But, hey, there’ll be other days.

The garden has had to pretty much fend for itself, so thank goodness it’s finally raining! Hoo-flipping-rah. The sky has been full of grey clouds all day but it didn’t start properly raining until early evening. It’s now bouncing off the skylights and I’m imagining the plants are cheering, especially the grass which has lost most of its green. The snails are probably cheering, too, so I expect I’ll find more destruction in the morning. I must take a photo of one of the dahlias to show you – it’s a poor dahlia skeleton. Curse those slimy creatures.

These photos were taken in the garden just after the garden safari weekend. We were still planting, moving rocks and laying paths right up to the night before, but it all went well and we had lots of lovely people through the garden, met new neighbours and locals we hadn’t met before, and chatted to fellow keen gardeners. It was lovely to be able to take a breather and to enjoy being in the garden and we even managed to visit a few inspiring gardens recommended to us. A decent amount of money was raised for the hospice and everyone declared it a success. Looking at the photos, it’s amazing how much everything has settled in and grown since they were taken. The little orchard area is now full of wildflowers, the ornamental grasses and perennials are filling out, we’ve courgettes, tomatoes and squashes growing like crazy, and enough flowers to keep me in vase material for a good while yet. I can’t wait to have time to get out there again. When it stops raining.

Have a lovely rest of the week. More anon. x

 

Self-seeders

Forget-me-nots and aquilegia, with nasturtium leaves in the foreground.
Erigeron karvinskianus and campanula on the front steps.
Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ with self-sown sweet peas.
Aquilegias and borage.
Briza
Aquilegia forest
Cerinthe, centranthus and more aquilegia.
Fluffy nigella lining the path.

A sunny May day is when the garden shifts into full-on growing mode, especially after a few damp days. You can feel it, there is exuberance in the air. Plants that were appearing in nooks and crannies now show themselves confidently and everything looks lush.

I can now distinguish the seedlings of self-sown plants that I want to keep – forget-me-nots, aquilegia, cerinthe, nigella, calendula, nasturtiums, ammi, cosmos, erigeron – from weeds that I don’t but it always takes me by surprise just how many pop up. There seem to be more aquilegias this year, most of them a deep purple with a few pink/lilac ones, and the forget-me-nots are spreading beautifully. I don’t mind how many of these little blue beauties grow, they can seed themselves all over the garden if they like. All of the ones that have grown this year are from a few plants my mother-in-law brought with her last year.

The briza is from a few small plants that fellow blogger Cathy kindly sent me last year – they have definitely settled in and made themselves at home (thank you, Cathy!). The borage and cerinthe are from plants I grew from seed last year. I read somewhere that once you have these in the garden you’ll have them for ever but I’m quite happy about that. The great thing about self-seeders is that you can hoik them out if they appear in the wrong place or carefully transplant them to the right place. The abundance of these plants fills me with happiness. Really, there is little more pleasing than finding a whole load of seedlings that will grow to produce some of my favourite flowers with absolutely no effort on my part!

Meanwhile, there are pots and pots, and trays and trays of young plants waiting in the wings for the weather to warm up a bit. Then it’ll be all systems go to get them in the ground, settling in and growing away in time for the great Garden Safari.