Whatever the weather

It’s been a funny old year so far weatherwise. Most of the plants that were hit by that hard frost in late April have come through, albeit with less vigour having had to put out new growth a second time.

The hostas don’t have quite the same stature as normal, some still show the damage in limp and twisted leaves. I lost a lot of flower buds as well which may have been due to the lack of water this spring. One week buds on I sibirica’s and I germanica’s coming on fine, then on some plants in a few days they were just dried husks.

I’m late getting in bedding and changing out spring pots this year, and where I have added bedding and water, the moles follow. I can understand that with the dry ground worms are finding it hard which makes the moles more desperate, and if we have breeding females all the more desperate and destructive. Plants wilt and can’t put out roots to more firmly anchor them in the soil and draw up what moisture there is if moles continue to create air spaces by running rings around them.

Plus we’ve had some really battering winds toppling plants and swirling and flattening clumps of others.

My (over optimistic anyway) raised woodland border. ‘The Himalayas’, which faces south but is behind one of our workshops, so sort of shaded, took a hammering from the 31C temperatures this week.

Roses at least came out (rather than balling as they do in wet weather) but too quickly. Deep red Souvenir du Docteur Jamain scorched even in a north-facing border. Note to self Blanchefleur’s flowers all go crispy brown – not a pretty sight.


This year too we seem to have more thieving birds again. Last year the currants despite being uncovered were left alone – this year they have all been taken not yet ripe. I covered the strawberries to keep out the birds but presumably rodents have taken them – not one left for us. And yesterday a blackbird started taking half-ripe blackberries from Waldo, it too will soon be stripped.

So what’s good?

Rosa mutabilis
Rosa mutabilis

The scent of our much maligned Lonicera japonica Halliana fills the garden especially towards the evening.

Rosa mutabilis lost its first flush of flowers (as did climbing deep red rose Guinée earlier on) frost/dry?, now she’s in full pink and pale orange bloom.

The grass bed is coming into its own and the grasses starting to flower, Penstemon Firebird is again really good value, it withstood the winter with its roots in pretty much pure clay, I have less luck with Andenken en Friedrich Hahn (Garnet).

Papaver spicatum

Papaver spicatum with its furry leaves and buds and soft orange petals is holding its own this year against a clump of Pennisetum Fairy Tales which was frosted so is not so far on as last year. I’ve been enjoying the more subtle yellow with a hint of burnt orange colouring of our native Glaucium flavum this year which are just finishing, the long horned seedpods which give it its name of Horned Poppy are taking over.

The majority of last year’s dahlias overwintered in the ground so have a bit of a head-start. Luckily most emerging growth missed the frost unlike the fuchsias overwintered in the ground which are struggling.

The first in flower is single dark red, dark leaved dwarf dahlia – Sarah (National Dahlia Collection). Although as the flower ages it goes biscuity not retaining the depth of red.

Galtonia viridiflora

I’ve never grown Galtonia viridiflora before – an interesting curiosity and earlier than the white G candicans.

The smell of rain-wet earth

I thought I could smell rain – I’ve just looked up and a light misting is moving across the field. According to a piece on the Metoffice website what we smell when it rains after a period of dry weather is called petrichor, a combination of plant oils secreted in the soil and soil bacteria which are released when water drops hit the ground.

Neither one thing or the other

Iris danfordiae planted late so flowering later

A low pink smudge across the sky to the east is dissipating, although brightening, the sun remains hidden in grey murk (the weather station is optimistically showing sunshine). The wind is from the NE and it’s 2.4C, officially we’re in the last few days of winter. The beginning of March next week heralds spring.

The wash of snowdrops in the copse at the bottom of the garden is starting to look bedraggled on closer inspection. In the woodbed Galanthus Brenda Troyle has long outlasted Magnet. Crocuses have given their best, petals growing translucent with repeated battering by winds, rain, frost, and the effort of opening and closing to embrace spells of sunshine. Blue Pearl and the golden chestnut-backed petals of Herald have been particularly showy in pots left over from last year.

Continue reading “Neither one thing or the other”

A green tomato year

Queen of the Night in Flower
Epiphyllum oxypetalum flowering for the first time a few weeks ago.

A funny old summer. A couple of blisteringly hot energy sapping days interspersed with temperature plummeting days of solid rain and normal english summer weather in between. Today it’s raining heavily again, on Saturday it was warm, sunny and humid, a couple of flashes of lightning on Saturday night.

The tomatoes in the re-sited greenhouse aren’t ripening very quickly as we shift into autumn gear. The greenhouse is more shaded than previously, it used to get full-on south facing light most of the day. One Gardener’s Delight today is displaying a faint blush, Costoluto Fiorentino and Big Rainbow are still in various shades of pale jade green, Gypsy is a darker green altogether with even darker green shoulders.

I was hoping to do some gardening today – forget it! The oceans of Fat Hen that came in with the cow muck will have to await uprooting and the cutting back too. I’m not in the mood for being showered and slapped by sodden and rotting foliage. The hornbeams should be trimmed – but not today.

I also need to start taking loads of cuttings, maybe this afternoon i’ll retreat to the leaky potting shed and commune with the spiders whose webs festoon everything. Miss Havisham would be proud. My auriculas also go un-repotted

Late summer flowers and produce

As I look down the rainy garden border blobs of doubled white Shasta Daisy Beauty of Droitwich catch the eye, then on to the downward belled Galtonia candicans towards the cloud of golden daises of Rudbeckia triloba. Dots of blue agapanthus add a more subtle eye line down the front of the border.  In the rose bed Lilium Black Beauty (in reality dark ruby and white) rear over 6 feet up out of the surrounding foliage, heads bowed by the rain.

The courgettes have started sulking with the dull cold weather and maybe i’ll get two squash out of 3 plants this year? This morning a Lungo Bianco courgette presses against the greenhouse glass palely looming out of the shadows, maybe the last at this rate!

Epiphyllum oxypetalum in bud
Epiphyllum oxypetalum in bud – very Little Shop of Horrors but she doesn’t sing

The new greenhouse position has suited Epiphyllum oxypetalum, the Queen of the Night, a great gangly grower with paddle bladed leaves, she rewarded me after quite a number of years of sulking with a huge white heavily scented flower a few weeks ago. The flower did stay open into daylight but certainly darkness triggered the dramatic opening. There is another scaly maroon bud on its way but I may have to move her back to the lighter conservatory which may upset things!

An abundance of empurpled golden Victoria Plums  plop to the ground from overladen branches where legions of flies are enjoying the harvest but seemingly few wasps. One can only eat so many and the jam is a bit insipid attested to by the fact I still have jars from two years ago lurking in the back of a cupboard.

No hornets so far are seen to be taking advantage of the somewhat smaller apples this year which are littering the ground unchewed, tipsy Red Admirals are few and far between.

The fruits of the Merryweather damson whose leaves were damaged by a heavy infestation of aphids earlier on are just turning (the aphids were also in the hazel trees, sticky honeydew rained down on my washing annoyingly for a couple of weeks and left sooty streaks on the polygonatum leaves before presumably nature balanced things out again). The Greengage decided not to flower this year and the Quince flowered with no set. Whichever critter likes the Early Rivers plums whipped them again, one minute the sparse crop was there, next day gone.

Brambles are aggressively thrusting their way out of the hedges, putting on it seems inches daily in another push of growth and the honeysuckle which has been cut back a number of times tries yet again to envelop bordering plants.

Self-seeded and planted Wild Angelica add a fuzzy froth of off-white to mauve flowers to the late summer streambanks and wood margins. The flower heads appear less defined en masse than some umbels, the supporting branches held aloft on sturdy stems complemented by broad leaves.

Thunbergia gregorii
Thunbergia gregorii

I’m enjoying Thunbergia gregorii bought from Hill House Nursery earlier this year. Huge orange flowers emerge from rusty furred pods. It’s only slightly behind a Morning Glory in the race to the top of an obelisk.

Crickets, blues and hobbies

Last weekend in the parish field a number of Common Blue butterflies (I think) were shut up for the night each having attached itself high up on a browned grass stem, and amongst the grasshoppers Dark Brown Crickets chirred. The Speckled Wood butterflies have emerged and occasional Peacocks and Commas dodge the showers. A new crop of Cabbage White caterpillars is steadily chewing it’s way through the rampant self-seeded nasturtiums.

The swirling Tree Bee activity stopped a few weeks ago. Our odd Starling is still it seems living in the nest under the eaves emerging in the morning and in the evening. We thought we saw a Hobby pass by a few weeks ago with its distinctive Swift outline. The Sparrowhawk has come crashing through the shrubs in the main border twice in the past week.

A mole is as usual taking advantage of the softened clay to go earth swimming, some plants in the newish (not as shady as I thought it would be) border are continually being uprooted by one of the many velvet coated pests which infest the garden!

The honeyfungus issue is still vexing me, I’ve lost a Stachyurus suddenly as well. How does a manky old plum tree survive? And honeyfungus must exist in a woodland environment so how does that work? Do other fungi compete with it and lessen its impact?


It’s quiet here in the country … not

Stemmacantha buds
Stemmacantha buds

Outside at this moment blackbirds are sounding persistent warnings and trying to fend off squirrels (I think) in a nearby tree, we’ve got some cocky squirrely youngsters who’re also raiding the bird food. Which is also going down at an alarming rate as we are host to hordes of greenfinch, bullfinch, chaffinch and various tit fledgies.

Earlier four or five buzzards, probably youngsters (the underwing markings were not so definite), were exploring the thermals, loop the looping and making daring low level forays over the garden until a grumpy carrion crow decided to spoil their fun and see them off.

Last night two tawny owl youngsters in nearby oak trees were rustily “sfweeping” in competition presumably for parental food. I gave up watching for an incoming silhouette as the daylight turned down and the moon got brighter. One night last year we had a youngster right by the house that went on and on, and on, until finally a parent turned up with a frog offering.

The magpies continue to run egg forays and it’s their excited yakking and ratattating that now alerts me to the possibility that the chickens have laid, 3 – 0 to me today, 1 – 1 to the magpies yesterday.

The evening light makes the towering white foxgloves glow briefly and then fade out reminding me of a Tove Jansson Midsummer Madness moomin illustration. Soon the foxgloves will have had their time, the gloves are dropping one by one accompanied by the trumpet amplified buzzing of bees.

Sweet Pea Matucana
Sweet Pea Matucana

Scent is starting to build as I walk out from the back door, heliotrope, brugmansia, nemesia, honeysuckle and sweet pea Matucana, a heady mix.

But damn the bl***y mole, the courgette plants were all undermined today and wilting in the sun, newly planted iris set all askew and rings run around plants whose soil I stamped down yesterday.

Things I quite like at the moment

Iris Provencal with I Katie Koo in the background
Iris Provencal with I Katie Koo in the background

Apart from magpies, moles, squirrels, capsid bugs, chlorosis and various fungal blights and diseases.

The magpies are stealing the chicken eggs. One or other of a pair hop up to the little ramp into the chicken house, cock one eye towards the opening,  if there’s an egg it’s in and gashing at it to empty it enough to get it away to a place of safety to finish it off.

Luckily it’s raining at the moment and the chickens are in the hen house, but I can hear the magpies chakking and skreaking close by, just watching, (as are the jackdaws and less often the rather magnificent Carrion Crows). Is someone molesting the Goldcrest nest (magpie/squirrel)? I’ve found mossy nest remnants over the last two weeks under the tree they are active in.

The mole is running rings round plants and dehydrating them. On the River Dart in Devon last week a dead mole gently floated by,  its large white paddle paws raised to the sky.

I’ve enjoyed a number of the iris for the first time this year, I bought some a while back which languished in pots during the move. Madame Chereau has been good value, the white flowers have strong blue plicate edges and are smaller than “normal”, held on elegant candelabra. She’s been in flower for a good few weeks, just coming to an end now. Nassak has pale blue standards and white falls with blue plicate markings, it is beautifully scented like English Cottage, and like EC was toppled by heavy rain. Katie Koo is a smaller I germanica, earlier flowering with purple-blue flowers, a good sturdy do’er and strongly scented. The picture above shows Provencal which along with Patina will be relocated to the south facing garden, with their odd colouring they don’t fit in the cream/blue getting more pinky mauve (oh no!) border. Ya gotta be disciplined with this colour scheme thing,  it ain’t happening for me yet. Iris suppliers Woottens and Cayeux

Allium schubertii with Carex buchananii
Allium schubertii with Carex buchananii
Thalictrum Elin with Pimpinella major Rosea
Pimpinella major Rosea with foliage of Thalictrum Elin
Clematis Lasurstern with elder
Clematis Lasurstern and a dark leaved elder
Allium christophii viola Louisa
Allium christophii with viola Louisa

I like this mad explosion of the allium with the swirling Carex. The pinky russet tones complement each other.

Bees like alliums too.





This picture doesn’t capture the metallic glaucous gorgeousness of Thalictrum Elin’s foliage (the flowerheads are another few feet up in the air). The pointillist panicles of the pimpinella airily float around it. The pimpinella flowers are a light crushed blueberry and cream sort of pink.




This clematis had been left by the previous owner on a south facing wall and I relocated it. I’m guessing it’s Lasurstern which is described as having dinner plate sized flowers. I’ll keep the elder clipped fairly tight, this year it caught up with the clematis. Later on Morning Glory Heavenly Blue will become intertwined for a late summer/autumn contrast show (slugs permitting).


Who’d have thought these starry alliums would have a sweet scent? Weeding has its bonuses when you get down and personal with the soil. Viola Louisa from Elizabeth McGregor’s nursery is also a good do’er, long flowering and scented. Rosa Chapeau de Napoleon is struggling to get a look in in the mix at the moment, the crested buds are in the middle of the picture.

What a difference a week makes

Last sunday standing up on Kelston Hill the sun was warm facing south, even if the wind was pretty fierce on the other parts of the circuit. Winter Heliotrope, Petasites fragrans was flowering in the steep banked lane on the way up to the hill. The fringed purple and white flowers lightly scented. Some huge flowered snowdrops bobbed in the sun. Passing by the high walled gardens of some of the big old victorian mansions in Weston, the whiff of sarcoccoca and lonicera could be detected. A few daffodils also fully out.

This weekend dull cold and grey, around 3C. The crocus struggling to open and the Prunus subhirtella looking sad. Snow and minus temperatures are predicted tonight and into the week, not so balmy after all!

The mole continues to create havoc having made its way round the house and into the front garden as well, not keen on his/her tricks in frosty weather lifting whole plants up on mounds.