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.

In a Vase on Monday: flowers for Mum

My Mum is having a couple of weeks of respite care and I’d arranged to visit this morning with the boys so she could hear about one grandson’s Indian adventure and say goodbye to the other before he headed back to uni this evening. I picked a handful of flowers to take for her room and snapped a few quick photos before we left so I could join in with Cathy’s Monday gathering.

The cherry tree in our back garden is heavy with massive pom-poms of pink blossom, so I cut a couple of low-hanging sprigs. Joining the cherry blossom are Cerinthe major, forget-me-nots, tulip Queen of Night, rosemary (I can’t remember which variety this is – the flowers are much pinker than the bog-standard R. officinalis which we have elsewhere in the garden, plus it smells divine), and a few sprigs of Erigeron karvinskianus.

I was a little apprehensive about visiting her but it was lovely to see Mum looking so happy and relaxed and she loved the flowers. We sat in the sunshine in the beautifully planted garden of the home where she’s staying and exchanged news. The time flew and it was soon her lunchtime so we walked with her to the dining room where she introduced us to her friendly fellow diners and we said our goodbyes. Driving away, we all felt relieved that she’s being so well cared for, that she’s having lots of visitors and she seems very happy. It’s all new territory for our family and if I think about it too much it makes my head and my heart hurt. Thank goodness for flowers, hey?

It’s been a funny old Easter here. The day I wrote my previous post – thank goodness I had that glorious calm start to the day – my daughter developed a fever, spent the next 24 hours or so vomiting, then had a swollen and very sore throat for a few days. She’s been properly poorly, poor love, but is thankfully on the mend and will hopefully be ok to go back to school tomorrow. As a result, we had a very low-key weekend with just the five of us but that was fine. In between nursing duties, I exchanged my marigolds for my gardening gloves and spent as much time as I could outside.

My mother-in-law visited us last weekend and waved her magic wand of motivation and, hey presto, we have finally renovated our dilapidated garage. It’s at the bottom of the garden, we can’t see it from the house and it has been a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Suffice to say, we had been putting this big job off for a long time.

This photo was taken after the lintel over the door was repaired by professionals (!) and we’d sanded down the wooden doors (ie it used to look a lot worse). You can see where ivy had grown all over the left-hand side and it had even grown into the render on the right and lifted it away. We had to chip off where it had blown:

And this photo was taken yesterday. Once all the rendering has been sorted out and repainted and and some of the glazing in the doors replaced, it’ll look even better but it’s getting there and our neighbours in the flats below may now start talking to us again!

As well as sorting out the garage, we’ve also done masses of gardening – mostly clearing and weeding but it has been wonderful to be outside getting acquainted with everything again. My wrist has been fully exercised and my arm is definitely getting stronger although, bizarrely, my elbow is really feeling it. It is so good to be (almost) fully functioning again.

Right, there’s a pile of shirts to iron for school tomorrow. It feels a little brutal to be back to normal life so suddenly after the long Easter weekend – we waved David and elder son off earlier, back to work and uni respectively, and the house feels weirdly empty with just the three of us again. I need to move the cat off my lap, remind the two remaining children we’ll need to be out of the house at 7.35am tomorrow (ouch) and set up the ironing board.

Wishing you a good week.

In a Vase on Monday: floral perks

My Monday vases this week are full of flowers that a) I didn’t grow, b) I didn’t pay for, and c) I didn’t even pick. They’re all leftovers from our village Spring Show on Saturday. One of the perks of being on the gardeners’ association committee and helping to put on these shows is that you’re able to give a good home to any unwanted blooms that people leave behind.

I’m completely in love with the large pale pink tulip – it is one of the three stems that won ‘Best Exhibit in the Horticultural Section’ and they drew much admiration on the day. The woman who entered them didn’t know the variety of tulip but I think it could be ‘Pink Impression’. I also love the lily-flowered purple tulip which could be ‘Purple Dream’. If anyone knows for sure which varieties these are, please leave a comment below – thank you.

I was surprised by the number of entries of Narcissi because most of the daffs in my garden have either gone over or failed to flower. Only one of my beloved N. ‘Actaea’ has bloomed so far this year, the rest have come up blind. Talking to fellow gardeners around here, we reckon the very long dry summer last year is to blame. I’m hoping that if I feed and water them well this spring, they’ll recover and flower again next spring. If not, I’ll buy some more. (I’ll probably buy some more anyway!)

There was an impressive variety of beautiful Narcissi shown on Saturday and I was very lucky to bring a few home. They’re filling the room where I sit typing with the most delicious daffodil scent and brightening up a dull corner. There’s a white frilly edged tulip nestled in there, too, which could be ‘Daytona’. Again, if anyone knows, please let me know. I particularly like the pale daffs and have made a note to plant more this autumn. Good white and pale varieties are ‘Thalia’, ‘Elka’ and ‘Pueblo’. There are several multi-headed and highly scented varieties too. When you think of daffodils, it’s usually the traditional yellow version, but it’s amazing just how many varieties there are in all shades and combinations of yellow, cream and white, some with orange centres, tall and short, large flowers and small, single heads and multi-headed. As with most plants, there’s a variety to suit almost everyone.

It’s the school Easter holidays and with my two school-aged children off on their travels, I started the week off by having a lie-in. Bliss. It’s been such a full-on time recently that I’ve decided to take my foot off the pedal a little for a few days, to do as little around the house and as much out in the garden as possible. I hope you have a thoroughly good week, whatever you have planned.

As usual, I’m joining Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for her Monday vase gathering. Do visit her blog where you’ll also find links to other garden bloggers around the world.

In a Vase on Monday: Fool’s Day Flowers

I can’t believe it’s April already. Turning over the calendar this morning, seeing Easter in a few weeks, I almost did a double-take. The garden is about two weeks ahead in terms of flowering compared to this time last year – the daffs are almost over and about half of the tulips are already flowering. I had intended to pick some for my vase but I love seeing them where they are in the garden and decided instead to use more abundant blooms from plants that have spread around of their own accord: Muscari (grape hyacinth), Calendula (marigold) and Cerinthe major (honeywort). I added three ranunculus flowers snipped off the plants I bought on Saturday to add to the jewel-like colours. This colour combination is one that I’m drawn to time and time again – the warmth and richness of orange, red and blue/purple simply makes me happy.

It’s lovely to be joining Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and other bloggers for this weekly gathering. Do pop over there to see her vase (she does have tulips) and links to others from around the world.

In other news, we had a packed and thoroughly lovely day in London yesterday. David was racing in the Veterans’ Head of the River Race, on the Boat Race course on the Thames, so my daughter, the Spanish girls and I hitched a lift with him. We left the house early (which felt much earlier), and David dropped us off at Barnes station where we caught a train to Waterloo. First stop was the Royal Festival Hall for a large coffee for me and pastries all round. I used to hang out here often; it’s a great place to meet friends and there is always something going on – yesterday there was an orchestra practicing beautiful ballet music. From there we walked along the Southbank to Tate Modern, stopping frequently to admire street art, street performers or the view. I took them up to the 10th floor of the Tate to see the spectacular views, then we walked over the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral where the organist was practicing for a choral evensong and we were treated to another wall of wonderful sound. After that, we hopped in a black cab to Covent Garden so the girls could look at clothes shops (an experience that I could happily have missed!), then walked along the Strand, through Embankment Station, over Hungerford Bridge back to Waterloo and onto a train to Putney where we met a tired but happy post-race David.

The Spanish girls are lovely – friendly, polite, engaging – but everything (and I mean everything) has to be recorded on their phones and a few times I had to tell them to look around and not at their phones. Crossing roads, for example. The weirdest thing was an impromptu photoshoot at one of the old red phone boxes near St Paul’s. Both took a turn in the phone box with the door held open, on the phone, opening the door, posing this way and that, with no hint of self-consciousness. My daughter took it all in her stride but I found it bizarre. It’s all about the photo. I have never felt more middle-aged and old-fashioned!

Wishing you a good week.

 

 

In a Vase on Monday: minimal

There are plenty of flowers in the garden to make a pretty spring bunch for a Monday vase – loads of daffodils, grape hyacinths, pulmonaria, anemones, primroses, etc – but I decided to leave them where they are and instead snip a twig of the Chaenomeles (ornamental quince; not sure which species/variety it is) which arches over our top path.

It has more blossom on it this year than I’ve seen before, possibly because we thinned it out last summer and cut back it’s pushy neighbour, the lilac, letting in more light and air. That’s not saying much, though, because it is not nearly as floriferous as many other Chaenomeles I’ve seen. Maybe we should cut it back harder for more flowers next year. Ornamental quinces produce small, hard, knobbly fruit in the autumn which make a deliciously fragrant jelly with the most beautiful colour. You do need a load of fruit to make a relatively small amount of jelly, though, and our bush has never produced many. That might be a good enough reason to prune it harder this year.

Or perhaps not, as I’m not a fan of this flower colour – it’s an odd ‘salmon’ pink which I don’t usually go for, partly because it doesn’t go with anything (and it’s an incredibly difficult colour to photograph). But I do like the minimal nature of this sprig with its few flowers and buds in this blue spotty jug. I’ve added a couple of apple and pear sticks pruned from the young trees in our mini orchard.

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden. Do click on the link to see what she and other bloggers from all over the world have found to put in a vase today.

Have a good week.

 

 

In a Vase on Monday: rule breakers

“Blue and green should never be seen except with something in between”, goes the old saying. What a load of old tosh. Thanks to the commonsense of the plants in my garden, it’s my current favourite colour combination. I think the particular blue of this common Muscari (grape hyacinth) and the zingy chartreuse of the flowers of Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae (wood spurge) go together brilliantly. They’re growing together on the top of the wall by our path (in the third photo) and this is what inspired my simple Monday vase today.

A little rootling around on the internet to find the origin of the saying reveals that it may come from the days of black and white films where blue and green were too tonally similar to distinguish between the two. I suppose it makes sense in that situation. You learn something new every day…

Euphorbias (spurges) are poisonous plants and a drop of the vicious milky sap from any cut stems can burn the skin, so I wore my gardening gloves to snip a few flowers and then seared them in boiling water for a few seconds to seal them. (For goodness’ sake, don’t ever get any near or in your eyes.) Nasty sap aside, Euphorbias are great architectural plants. There are about 2000 species – from annuals and perennials to shrubs, trees and succulents. Some prefer a sunny spot but some thrive in shade; some are tall, others short; you can get purple ones and blue-green ones and chartreuse ones and ones with deep-red flowers. There’s a Euphorbia for every situation – all will add a lovely form and structure to a garden.

By the way, did you by any chance watch Monty Don’s two-parter on Japanese gardens recently? (He has the best job in the world, doesn’t he?) I was blown away by now neat everything is. And how colour-coordinated; all the gardeners seemed to wear the same blue utilitarian jackets (which coordinated beautifully with Monty’s scarves) that look perfectly gorgeous against the backdrop of the green gardens. Joking aside, the programme was a real inspiration and has definitely given me a new appreciation of Japanese design and of the moss in my garden. 

Do visit Cathy’s blog to see what she and others have found to put in a vase today.

Hope you have a lovely week.

 

In a Vase on Monday: quiet anticipation

If you stand outside and shut your eyes, you can definitely hear it – the birds know it’s coming; their songs have shifted up a gear – and in the warm sunshine of recent days it’s easy to feel in your bones that early spring is here. Of course, winter could come back and bite us but I’m taking it as it comes at the moment and savouring the simple pleasures of a blue sky, a calm sea, busy birds on our feeders and the joy of finding early spring flowers dotted around garden.

Snowdrops in the lawn and in clumps in the borders, primroses in the wildflower patch and in borders, violets and muscari in the cracks and crevices in the paving. We have divided clumps of snowdrops and spread them around the garden (post-flowering) in recent years but the violets, muscari and primroses appear where they want to and we’re happy to let them do their thing. Spears of the narcissi I planted in the lawn under the window where I sit at my desk are around 20cm tall so those will be flowering in the next few weeks and the new tulips in pots are coming up. The tulips in the borders are a little behind but they’re pushing through the soil and there are bluebell leaves already carpeting the area under the cherry tree by the bottom gate.

There is so much floral loveliness to look forward to but in the meantime I’m enjoying the bright sunshine colour of these daffs (4 bunches in tight bud for £3 at the market on Saturday which opened within 24 hours in the warmth indoors) and a small posy of tiny spring flowers I picked in the garden this morning – violets, primroses, snowdrops and a single muscari. I seared their stems for a few seconds in boiling water to hopefully keep them looking perky for a few days. For more flower therapy, do visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden to see what she and other garden bloggers from around the world have found to put in their Monday vases today.

It’s half term this week and my younger two are off school. My first-born has also come home from university for a few days for home cooking and laundry services. He’s still in bed (I think he misses his bed most of all) but my younger son is out having a driving lesson and my daughter is in town with a friend so all is quiet here. I can hear a robin singing its heart out in the garden and the soft snore of my dog dozing after a good walk this morning. It should be a fairly laid-back week with a few appointments and commitments but plenty of time to catch up. I have an appointment at the fracture clinic on Friday (oh, I am counting down the days) and I’m daring to hope that the cast will come off at last. I’m eager to start strengthening exercises so I can get busy in the garden as soon as possible. My secateurs are calling me!

Wishing you a thoroughly good week.