I fell out with my garden last year. It was too cold, and then it was too hot and the ground baked hard. A tough gig when you have clay soil. Some parts of the garden did not get touched at all. This year I am regretting the laxness and trying hard to catch up. We’re in early June and I haven’t yet sown any veg, such is my state of advanced behindness.
Bindweed is everywhere and has pushed its way further down one of the main borders. Bindweed can penetrate the thickest, nastiest clay. I’ve had to lift a number of plants already to try and extricate the fat creamy, snappy bindweed roots. Elsewhere Ground Elder laps at the borders.
But another garden foe is wreaking malicious damage. Every year is different. This spring we had the warmth and then a few nasty frosts in April which took the first growth of a number of shrubs and woodlanders.
I was so proud of my Disporum longistylum ‘Night Heron’, it had put out a lusty big shoot, it was going to be a great show – wiped out overnight, lusty shoot, limp, dead. So I’ve been hoping for new shoots just to keep it ticking over this year, nothing much seemed to be happening, and then I looked more closely, lots of little severed stumps at ground level, slugs and snails had been having a whale of a time.
And now as I clear back the jungle of weeds elsewhere in the garden, the story is the same. So many snails and slugs. There are the usual hefty garden snails and tiger striped beige slugs, there are also some pretty coloured small snails as well as the stripeys – but it all adds up to lace-like hostas and knocked-back new growth. Is it because we lost our local thrush? The gentle tap-tapping of snail on rock is no longer heard. No-one else seems to be eating them.
So I must console myself, this year is not going to be a great hosta year.
Nice to see you again!
Last year Irises Patina, Provencal and Nassak didn’t flower. Some gave up with the heat and the buds shrivelled. Overnight snails toppled all 6 flower stems of Iris Patina. The year before, the late frost killed all the buds on these irises. So this year I am grateful, I’ve seen them flower for the first time in 2 years.
I am enjoying my Epiphyllums at the moment. London Glamour (main pic), flowered last year. London Youth (I think) and Lassie have flowered for the first time this year. London Glamour must have a dash of Epiphyllum oxypetalum, Queen of the Night. she has a light scent reminiscent of the queen, and opened in the evening, although unlike the queen the flowers last longer than a few hours. All bought a few years ago from The Cactus Shop.
While they budded up in the conservatory they are now suspended in the branches of an old apple tree. A bit of a surprise in an English summer garden, (hopefully they’ll not be too put off by today’s rain and wind).
Just because it’s winter, early February, and many plants seem dormant, it doesn’t mean things aren’t growing, or are at least poised to do their thing; to be the first, get in early, go for domination, seed and run everywhere!
I would agree with the old saw, a weed is just a plant in the wrong place, and that wrong place is often in my flowerbeds.
Ground Ivy : Glechoma hederacea
A running ground-hugging perennial, rooting as it runs. Pungently scented leaves in a medicinal kind of way. Blue-purple flowers in late spring, early summer. Anne Pratt recounts that it is often bothersome in meadows for its running and carpeting habit, and is said by some to be injurious to livestock, although many won’t eat it anyway.
Common names include, Gill-over-the-Ground,Alehoof, and Tunhoof. The second two names allude to the fact it was used before hops by the ‘alewives’ who usually made the beer for both commercial and household consumption. Some sources suggest the plant helped the mash to ‘work’ in the tun. Others that it clarified the beer.*
Cuckoo Flower : Cardamine pratensis
I have a soft spot for this weed, but not in my garden where it pops up particularly all over the rhizomes of various Iris germanica cultivars. Wherever the latent seed has come from, they much prefer the bare earth of the flowerbeds and lack of competition to the watery pasture habitat it belongs in. This perennial flowers in late April and early May when the pale lilac flowers are a welcome sight.
Hereabouts the land is damp, but although a few fitfully flower on the village green, it’s not in the profusion I’ve seen elsewhere. The best massed display a few years ago was in Savernake Forest by the roadside outside Marlborough and Maids Causeway near Chippenham in a wet meadow grazed by cows bordering the river Avon.
Also known as Cuckoo Flower, Milkmaidens and Lady’s Smock. Cuckoo Flower because it appears around the time cuckoos arrive with us, (although it seems that cuckoo is another bawdy reference).
The smock element also alludes to a more earthy side to this plant’s associations. Smock apparently was the equivalent of ‘a bit of skirt’. According to ‘Notes and Queries’ 1866, young ladies in some villages, such as Chilham Castle in Kent would ‘run for the smock,’ a distance of 100 yards on new turf for the sheer fun of it and the chance of a new smock, until such practices were deemed unladylike and ceased forthwith.
Cuckoo flower is a food plant for caterpillars of the the Orange-Tip butterfly and Green-Veined White, (of which we had quite a few last year).
Bitter Cress : Cardamine hirsuta
Incorrectly I call this annual, Shepherds Purse, which correctly belongs to the taller-growing Capsella bursa-pastoris which has a legion of stories and uses but is not my weed! The seed pods on Bitter Cress are long and thin not little ‘purses’.
Bitter cress has small white flowers, it never seems to stop growing and seeding. The seeds fling themselves far and wide at a touch when ripe. It’s another great coloniser of bare ground especially pots. The bane of many a nursery I’m sure. Easy to hand weed or hoe, its hold in the earth is light!
A pleasantly tangy plant, fleshier and sweeter than watercress. Richard Mabey, Food for Free
Marsh Willowherb : Epilobium palustre
Self seeds prolifically, the long seedpods split open and let fly windblown parachutes in summer. A low-growing perennial and of itself not very thuggish. It hides slyly amongst other plants so is hard to see in summer. The fine-rooted shallow growing overwintering rosettes can be hand forked out now. This particular willowherb goes generally unremarked in the herbals unlike its loftier cousins.
Ground Elder : Aegopodium podagraria
A member of the umbellifer family, another running coloniser. Once you have this perennial, it’s very difficult to eradicate completely. Threading its way into plant roots, keeping it at-bay is the best many of us can achieve. The top growth dies away, in winter you can kid yourself it’s gone, only to find in spring it’s colonised another few feet of ground in the meantime. Manual removal is a hand fork job, patiently excavating the runners punctuated by rooted leaf nodes.
Gout Weed, Bishop’s Weed, has long been associated with good living. First introduced to Britain as a pot herb.
“Ground Elder makes spicy and tolerable eating if the leaves are boiled like spinach.” Geoffrey Grigson, The Englishman’s Flora
Health warning: many native (and other) umbels are v poisonous make sure you identify correctly.
Herb Robert : Geranium robertianum
An aromatic annual/biennial plant, you know it by the smell when you grab it and hoick a rosette out. A pungent irony, old caves sort of scent. The rather lovely ferny rosettes often take on red tints. The flower is pale lilac although there are white variants including Celtic White should you have wilder gardening in mind.
It reminds me of a miniature version of the more garden-worthy tenderish Geranium palmatum which sporadically self-sows. A native of the Canary Islands where it may be a weed – I don’t know!
Herb Robert has the familiar geranium (crane-beaked) seedpods and is another weed with a seed flinging habit. Other names include Granny’s Needles, and alluding to the scent, Stinking Jenny. Grigson suggests that because it is so often to be found growing around our homes it has been linked to Robin Goodfellow, (Robin is a derivative of Robert) with colloquial names such as Robin Redshanks and Poor Robin.
“It is effective for curing old ulcers in the privities and other parts.” Culpepper, 1653.
The less said the better perhaps.
Pendulous sedge : Carex pendula
Lovely plant but enough already! There is a bit of a damp theme running through the weed selection. This perennial native sedge eventually makes huge evergreen mounds which swamp anything else around them. Voles will happily live under the clumps as I have found when trying to banish it from one of the flowerbeds. Prefers damp woodland edges and streamsides.
Creeping buttercup :
Yet another perennial that roots as it goes. The long white roots drive into the ground quite deeply so it can be a bit of a nuisance to extract from the soil, often a trowel rather than hand fork operation. Sitfast,Cats Claws and Toad Tether are some of the names ascribed to this plant.
So there you have it. I haven’t gone into detail on White Dead Nettle; Woundwort (which apparently harbours over winter the aphids that cause blistering on currants); Tufted Vetch, Vicia cracca which I allowed to remain because bees love it, but is beginning to become a problem, and Figwort.
*Britten and Holland, A Dictionary of Plant Names, 1878
On Twitter there seems to be a split between those looking back on summer from the depths of winter, (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), and those who want to keep it real – this is now, snow, frost. rain! Me, I’m sitting on the fence. This is looking back but the lateness of the post is due to laziness and the need now to get cracking with ordering dahlias for this year .
Last year’s dahlias were a bit of a disaster, partly due to the weather (very cold/hot, little rain), although old faithful’s came through the winter and flowered fitfully, including Sam Hopkins, Karma Choc and Dark Desire.
This was my first visit to the National Dahlia Collecton at Varfell Farm in Cornwall and to be fair we had had a very hot summer followed by the remnants of a storm with heavy wind and rain the day before our September visit.
I have a soft spot for the whoppers of the dahlia world and although many had been downed by the wind and rain, I liked the zing this one has with the slight purpling in the orange.
Neater all round, zingy orange again but with darker leaves and stems, a possible for the exotic border this year
Well behaved, medium height, another possible.
Quite an attractive single as a replacement for Honka Yellow which has more spidery petals.
Could I love a pompon dahlia? Perhaps one for the old rose bed. I’ve lost a couple in this bed and there’s a dumpy lilac coloured waterlily dahlia Rosella that I don’t like at all. The colour is ‘right’, it reminds me of the old, later flowering Clematis viticella ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’.
Not so sure about Buttercup in an open border… too stiff?
A bit of fun, I’ve grown him in the past, pots of this dahlia would be very jolly (and more bee friendly!)
After weeks and weeks and weeks of sun – gloomy grey weather and belting rain. The ground in the parish field remains hard. Plants still wilt within a few days without rain.
Much of our grass seems to be recovering. In Dorset on Friday the hard-cropped hills near the coast still seemed parched looking. It’s odd seeing our ‘green and pleasant land’ scorched to beige, accentuated by flaxen grasses and fields of early ripening corn, reminiscent of Southern Europe. At the peak of the heat the chalk bones of the plain and Pewsey Vale showed stark. The cleaned Westbury White Horse stands resplendent on its slope.
Without wishing to bring the hordes down upon me, apparently there is an over sufficiency of wasps this year. There are a few about here but I haven’t noticed any nests in the garden. Very few hornets just one or two. It’s the dragonflies (mainly Emperors) I’ve really noticed this year, making slow deliberate forays along the paths with quick darts into the borders and a wild clattering of cellophane wings if they venture into the kitchen skylights. They are gently shooed-out with a soft broom. Thankfully the new kitten appears to have got bored felling and crunching on them – not very tasty I presume.
Some plants are about two thirds the height they would be in a wetter year, Eryngium pandanifolium is one such and the wild angelica also.
But as many have commented, other plants have thrived. This is the first time the Lagerstroemia has flowered and the Vitex agnus-castus is also quite resplendent.
Others are reporting a surfeit of figs – not me, sum total 2, one from Brunswick (right) and one from Precoce de Dalmatie.
No courgettes either, too much shade, not enough feeding probably. I am mocked by the allotments up the road who put out marrow-sized courgettes – Help yourself it says on the sign – Hah!
Today it’s 31C and I’ve retreated inside, it’s too hot and humid to garden seriously!
A couple of weeks ago we visited June Blake’s Garden in County Wicklow, (actually we stayed at The Cow House which is in the gardens so had free access). An evening stroll was particularly pleasurable, even though we had the garden completely to ourselves on one evening, I didn’t quite dare to potter round with a glass of wine in-hand! Although there are plenty of spaces to sit and contemplate the garden from.
June wasn’t at home. We found out she was with her brother Jimi who gardens at Hunting Brook, literally just up the road, giving talks in Seattle.
Interesting spade for precision planting.
It’s hard to do justice to garden borders in photograph’s, even professional images often cannot convey the real sense of place. And to be honest paintings don’t always hack it either. Hopefully you’ll get the gist.
I was very jealous of the granitic sandy type soil, very Scandinavian. Scandinavian gardeners (and any other nationalities) would find a lot of interest here they can take back to their own gardens.
There are sunny and shady areas within the garden which allow for a huge range of plants to be used. I very much enjoyed the planting combinations, the more ‘common’ mixed in with real plantsman’s plants.
In June the garden is very green with gentle washes of colour. Masses of alliums were just going over. Whites, blues, deep purples and bronzy-oranges wove through the beds. The big display will be later summer when the dahlias and other later flowering plants really get going, the mood goes hot and intense to suit the season.
The use of the loose gawky Aralia echinocaulis which Jimi apparently brought back from a plant hunting expedition to China, add height and interest, as well as cooling lightly dappled shade.
Hard landscaping, including drystone walls and gravelled and cobbled paths, and precise use of hedging provide crispness and texture.
We loved the simple planting of Stipa gigantea along the drystone retaining wall by the pool, the awns dancing and shimmering against the backdrop of the wildflower meadow behind.
The meadow has lovely fine grasses which allow other plants, including orchids to thrive. I’d copy the wooden ‘steps’ emerging like ship’s bones from the grass to wind you up the hill if I could.
Maybe in some ways it was good not to meet the gardener. All around you you can feel the intensity of thought, effort and creativity that goes into this really rather special place. And if you have an opportunity to visit ‘out of hours’ take it and have it (almost) to yourself!
What a lovely day it was yesterday – the sun shone, the bees buzzed amongst the pulmonaria, the Carrion Crow pair saw off a rival nest builder, and after looking up into the blue cloudless sky all day, a swallow in late afternoon.
The warmth is bringing on tulips fast, some of the smaller species tulips flung themselves open with complete abandon to the sun. Daffodils are beginning to outstay their welcome although we’ve still got Sir Winston Churchill to open, one of the scented heavy hitters.
In your face yellows
Let’s hear it for the humble British native Marsh Marigold – a sunny sight indeed
Or is it? A Dutch website Tulips in the Wild suggests that Tulip kolpakowskiana is too difficult to grow in general cultivation so those offered in the trade for general garden use are from the T. ferganica group.
The flowers are much paler than ‘normal’ – grown from seed.
This year the most flowers I’ve had on Arum creticum so far. The winter emerging foliage has stood up to the low temperatures and snow.
Friday was a lovely day – so very spring-like. All the odds and sods of crocuses threw themselves open to the sun. I’ve been adding various named and regular tommies but can’t remember which are which. And due to a lack of rigour on my part some pots go from year to year without being changed out – so what survives survives, hence random crocuses.
A few foraging bees were on the wing and the first butterfly, a Tortoiseshell.
Soil just dry enough to start weeding in earnest and play catch-up before March hoves into view and things start to really get cracking.
Sweet pea seeds starting to come up in the unheated greenhouse.
Told to muck out the potting shed – 5 year’s worth of old pots went to the tip. I do re-use pots but I had rather too many!
The warmer weather is bringing bulbs up. Today I’ve seen daffodils out in a number of places already. I’m guessing they are Rijnveldt’s Early Sensation. Not in my garden though, none are anywhere close. Although as if from nowhere, the Tete a Tete have appeared over the last couple of days mightily heaving out of our horrid clay.
The rain and wind has battered iris and crocuses, some standing up to the elements better than others. Today snowdrops Brenda Troyle and Magnet started to really show off. Magnet opened up his petals wide for the first time with a bit of sun – and then it rained.
That Dan Pearson is messing with my head, (as they used to say back in the day).
Last week’s Dig Delve was all about Cyclamen coum, and I agree it’s a real sweetie for late winter flowers, especially when there is little else out. It also bookends the year with autumn flowering C hederifolium.
I have big pats of white with red nosed C coum, a dainty pale pink one and a shaded cerise in places one – but I don’t have any of the really shouty look at me, in your face, deep shocking pink! The one’s Dan says he prefers.
Should I care what Dan thinks? Should I be led by Dan? I was happy with my mainly icily white choices, but perhaps I see the error of my ways, too careful, too conservative.
Back to the drawing board? C coum shouty pink, then later Bergenia Overture followed by a dash of Incarvillea delavayi – that should do it! Happier now!!
Actually I do have one C repandum which comes in a more positive pink, quietly shouty in April and delicately scented too.
Gardening in winter is always a bit hit and miss. Sometimes on a wet grey day I look out at the soggy lawn and bedraggled browned stems, sorry remnants of summer and autumn’s grand finale and think, Nah! Not going out today.
Then I might take a tour round the garden and notice all the weeds that have grown undercover through the autumn, now exposed; Ground Ivy, Creeping Buttercup, Bittercress, Cuckoo Flower and the winter rosettes of a Willowherb, (possibly Marsh Willowherb). The thought of working the claggy soil with cold wet muddy gloves – Nah!
Yesterday I briefly ventured into the fray, the frost didn’t leave the main border all day in places. The frosty crust did make it slightly easier to walk on the lawn which had had its first inundation of the winter season and was a little squelchy under foot.
I tackled a Lonicera japonica Halliana which continues to wind its way insidiously up into trees and along the hedge through the winter, blocking the low sun from some of the beds, starving the iris and others of precious light.
Then it was on to cutting back the various Iris sibirica which are useful during the growing season for their upright stance but now collapsed and splayed out the foliage will smother anything as it emerges. A partial tidy has been done mindful that,
Small beasties still need winter cover
Foliage offers some frost protection to other plants around them
We may still be in December but Nah! days and impossible to garden days will soon have us thrust into March when growth begins and tidying proper must be done.
There are drifts of mouldering leaves yet to be swept up (I have done some!) And I have cut back and burned the old peony leaves to try to stop the blight they seem to get in spring. But I will still wish that I had got on more enthusiastically earlier with some of the mundane but necessary tasks.
The parish field has water in the dips of what may be old ridge and furrow, these pools will ebb and fill until April. One year a family of ducks had time to raise a brood on the temporary waterways. Yesterday a flock of starlings took advantage of this new waterscape briefly, until they sensed me trying to take a picture and off they went in a swirling mass.
Some farmers around the country, but particularly those based on the chalkland sheep grazing / corn economy built systems to flood fields deliberately through the winter. The water raises the temperature which is said to encourage grass into growth earlier and the silt deposited fertilised the fields. The job of the ‘drowners’ who managed these systems was to ensure the water flowed rather than staying in stagnant pools as ours does.
What’s in flower?
Most of the purple-nosed white Cyclamen coum have been in flower for a couple of months, the rich pink cultivars are only just starting to flower. These cyclamen do provide a good value splash of colour through the bleaker months.
Sarcoccoca confusa, Daphne Jacqueline Postill and D odora Aureomarginata show promise of scented flowers soon.
The Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis has the most flowers I’ve seen on it in 5 years. The gusty wind though scattering the tiny flecks of petal far and wide as another squall line moves through.
The Witch Hazel remains firmly budded, here and there just a glimpse of yellow. My parents in Somerset have one already in full beribboned flower.
Bob Brown in a talk he gave last Autumn extolled the virtues of Anisodontea El Royo (Or El Rayo), this pink mallow flowered shrub from South Africa does remain evergreen and flower on and on. Can be borderline hardy as I lost the woodier parent when we had a few days of -7C this spring. Seems to take easily from late summer cuttings and I think I prefer the younger growth, when woody it loses its litheness!
In the unheated greenhouse a couple of abutilon still flower fitfully. The Acacia dealbata I had high hopes of a spring show from is however moping and dropping leaves not a good sign.
Hellebores various are lining themselves up for flowering, one H argutifolius has been flowering through the autumn, the other plant is still in bud. A H niger cross, Snow Love, looks like it will be the first hybrid in flower well ahead of the orientalis.
Babington’s Leek and Elephant Garlic leaves are thrusting through the soil enthusiastically.The first daffs up are the scented Trevithian, although we have the roughest weather yet to come and quite a wait to see the flowers.
It seems a few days ago I was tripping about in August waiting for some sunshine to ripen tomatoes and set squashes and then suddenly here we are in mid October.
It was getting very dry again but now the rain is tipping it down outside; the dahlia flowers mushing into rotting brown balls, asters bending to swamp their neighbours and any late roses now look sad.
The normally cheery, rich yellow daisies of Rudbeckia triloba at over 2M high are rendered dreary by the rain. (I met a lady last night at a garden talk who absolutely hates yellow flowers..)
I’m not really in a gardening place at the moment but know I have to continue to take the tenders I want, in, because who knows when frost will arrive?
Luckily despite the eerie portents of darkening skies and pink muted sun we had on Monday morning caused by Storm Ophelia, the winds largely passed us by. Poor old Brians everywhere, he’s waiting in the wings to caress us with storm force winds on Saturday – hold on to yer hats!
Is it worth taking some late dahlia cuttings and overwintering? Sources say you need to boost light levels over the winter to succeed.
Any which way, Dahlia campanulata and yet again D imperialis have failed to flower. The tuber on imperialis is getting huge after 4 years (one autumn cutting did take root last year). I had her in a big pot this summer having run out of places to plant her, at over 2M tall she was taking up over 1.5 gallons of water a day.
The jury seems to be out on whether dahlias root easily in water, maybe I’ll have a go with some. I may try a few singles like Magenta Star and the dark red Bishop of Auckland. Magenta Star seems to be a bit in vogue at the moment, a larger more open version of D australis and with dark purple foliage. It has added a lightness to the planting. Being single the bees appreciate it.
Wot I have learnt recently
Gunnera can’t grow in totally waterlogged conditions. The Gunnera pot filled with rainwater and with no drainage at that point, sat in water. It didn’t like it and the leaves started to collapse one by one. Drainage holes duly made in pot, small amount of new leaf growth made again means much winter protection. It was bought from Heligan as G manicata (not tinctoria which is said to be more sensitive to waterlogging).
At a talk by Bob Brown from Cotswold Garden Flowers last night, that Kniphofia Atlanta (the quintessential yellow and red poker hated by many) was named after a Cornish seaside hotel in the UK in the 1930’s nothing to do with the US city. We can’t blame the Americans. (NB: or 1962 by Treseder’s Nursery – typo? )
Don’t grow courgettes in the shade of your runner bean poles, (makes a 3 bed rotation a bit tricky). Far too much shade and lots of powdery mildew = 2 courgettes from 5 plants.
Sweet potatoes don’t like my conditions – nary a tuber, not even an attempt at one when dug up at the beginning of October. The courgettes will get this sunnier spot back next year.
Let’s end this on a cheery note…. over to you Crocus speciosus (even if you don’t last very long in wild autumn weather!)