May 2016: Long time, no post.

It’s been a while. Having embarked on a degree, I thought the garden might become fully neglected. Instead, it has only become partially neglected… June/July 2015 saw the ‘hot’ border grow to this epic magnitude.


Impressive? I felt it was worth the hard work to get it to that point. It had grown incredibly full (this was late summer, when all of the ‘jewel’ colours in the garden are at their peak). In the foreground, the heuchera and sedum compete for darkest leaf award, the sedum winning out with its nicely contrasted dark pink flower. Behind it are a dark pink monarda, Burgundy Ice rose, cannas, dark leafed dahlias and a stunning pink salvia. Behind them are the yellows and some oranges. Scorching.

Below is an image of (mostly) both sides of the first section of the garden after one full year’s growth. It is clear from this image how one side has been planted with cool colours and the other with hot colours, and how well it works. Flame the German Shepherd is enjoying the garden too (she likes to chase the buzzy things). You can also see pink sedums, pink Japanese anemones and some antique pink sweet peas in this image.


You can see that the newly laid brick path we put in last year has wintered, weathered, cracked in places, become overgrown with moss and a few weeds, and generally looks like it has been there for years. That was the idea!

After overwintering and dying back – as herbaceous borders do – I spent a bit of time on it in February, pulling out weeds and throwing on a thick layer of bark mulch to try to control them this year. I’m going fully ‘no dig’ in 2016 so it is all hand pulling of weeds and keeping on top of them, whilst spending as little time as possible doing it as I simply don’t have a lot of time to devote to this section for the next couple of years while I complete my degree.

Here is the border newly mulched and cleared, ready for all new growth. Since this image was taken (below) the hot border has really grown thanks to the lovely warm weather we’ve had in early May in the UK, coupled with the odd torrential downpour!


All cut back and looking bare! This was taken at the end of February 2016. What a difference a few months of cold weather makes. Hopefully, it will be back to lush, vibrancy in no time. I will update.


Roses in May

The first David Austin roses are budding and flowering. The first variety of the year to flower, three days ago, was Princess Anne (why I bought this rose I don’t know, as I don’t love pink and I certainly have no affinity with Princess Anne!). Here she is:

Rose 'Princess Anne' (David Austin Roses)
Rose ‘Princess Anne’ (David Austin Roses)

As it has consistently shown for the last two years, David Austin’s The Lady of Shallot is enthusiastically lush and full of buds in early May. It is the tallest plant in the rose bed, by about a foot, and full of stems, leaf and buds. She has flowered very closely on the heels of Princess Anne.

David Austin 'The Lady of Shallot' rose
David Austin ‘The Lady of Shallot’ rose

Despite feeding the roses, and giving them all a light prune in March, they haven’t looked especially healthy so far this year (excluding ‘Lady of Shallot’, which always looks healthy, regardless). I will need to keep up the feeding, and mulch the whole raised bed soon with rotted manure. Rose ‘Blue Moon’ is looking especially ill, and I don’t know why. The roses are all now affected by greenfly, some worse than others, and a third have black spot. They were sprayed once with Rose Clear in April, but now need a repeat spraying. I’ll keep up the spraying of Rose Clear every two weeks from now on. I’m picking off the leaves affected by black spot and putting them in the brown bin (I should burn them – I have no incinerator).

I’ve decided that – in the spirit of the Chelsea Flower Show – the ‘Lady of Shallot’ rose will be my rose of the decade! I am so impressed with its vigour and repeat flowering, it’s almost evergreen nature and strong, climber-like habit. Everyone should grow one of these roses. I recommend it all the time to our customers at work, as you can be a complete beginner or a rose aficionado, and you’ll still find this rose has endless merits and is unbelievably trouble-free to grow. It’s a rose to restore your faith in roses (we all know how frustrating and disheartening they can be to grow).

The Plan.

After the grass had been mowed on shorter and shorter settings, and the dust had settled, it was time to start putting plans into action. After first looking around the garden, it was obvious (to some degree) what needed to happen.

Speaking as someone who hasn’t had much formal training in garden design, I’m at least aware that one of the fundamentals of garden design is to break up any large area into smaller, manageable sections, and to avoid creating a garden that is entirely visible from any one line of sight. When dealing with a garden like mine, which is very long and not especially wide, the best course of action is to cut it into sections, or areas.

This is the plan. So, to decide on how many sections, where each area began and ended, and what function each section would provide. Every garden should have function and purpose, even if that purpose is simply to be a wild flower meadow. An urban garden needs to be planned if it is to work well and make the most use of the space available.

When planning a garden, it should be measured out in length and width, and the angles of the terrain taken into account. Next up is aspect – which direction is North and South? To some extent, this will dictate what you can and can’t grow in a garden. Then, soil type; use a PH soil kit to test the PH of your soil. Again, this will very much dictate what plants will and will not grow. After taking into account these things, and any obstructions growing or present in and around your garden, a garden plan can be formulated. It doesn’t have to be a formal design, but anything written down is easier to adhere to and follow step-by-step.

I’m lucky. My new garden is South-West facing, with no nearby trees or buildings to obscure light, spread unwanted seeds or interfere with the growth of plants in my garden. So, the first step was to replace the cobbled-together mix of different fencing that lined one side of the garden (my boundary fence) when I moved in. This wasn’t cheap. I opted for lap panels, which are longer-lasting and more robust, with concrete gravel boards and posts.  The length of the garden thirty panels! Here’s the fencing going in. It took a team of two people three days to build.

Fence construction.
Fence construction.

I don’t relish the idea of using concrete anywhere, so this wasn’t ideal. More importantly, this kind of fencing is partially responsible for the huge and worrying decline in British hedgehog numbers. They can’t move from garden to garden during their nightly forage for food, and so they now really struggle to survive in urban areas. This is to all gardeners’ detriment as well as the poor hogs; we rely on these small, nocturnal mammals to control pests such as slugs and snails, so creating such barriers to their vital movements is a very bad thing for the health of our gardens. In time, I will be looking to replace the concrete gravel boards with something sturdy but less of an obstacle to creatures trying to move from one garden to the next. Any ideas welcome! 


A Brave New…Garden.

In June 2013 I moved into a new home. A 1930s house in urban Derby. One of the main reasons for buying the house was its garden. At almost 200ft long, and about 25ft wide, it’s a typical urban 1930s long plot (the kind they don’t build just one house on any more). My previous garden had been a square of grass approximately 30ft by 30ft and, although it looked good by the time I’d finished with it, it was small. I needed more space to grow more plants and try new things.

This was my previous garden, in 2012.

Previous Garden
Mature shrubs and herbaceous perennial borders.

I felt I had done all I could with this garden. In particular, I wanted to grow more fruit and veg, and there just wasn’t the space to do so. I feel it’s important to become more self-sufficient and to grow our own food where possible. Being vegan, those fruit and veggies are important to me! And I’d rather not pay a fortune for something I can grow in my own small space. I’d also rather not consume anything laden with pesticides. Time to move!

When I moved into the new house, this is what the garden looked like…

A freshly mowed meadow.
A freshly mowed meadow.

…after we’d spent three days mowing what had been an incredibly overgrown 200ft of mixed grasses. The grass was around 2 metres high on the day we moved in! It was slightly shocking, given that the two times I’d looked at the garden before buying, the grass had been nicely mowed.

The job of clearing it began with a petrol strimmer and ended with a number of progressively shorter mows with a heavy-duty petrol mower. At last, the canvas was clear. I discovered a fairly mature but straggly Forsythia, a very mature and tall Lauris nobilis (culinary Bay), an overgrown Syringa vulgaris (Lilac), and various leafy remnants as evidence of a few bulbs (Muscari and Galanthus) planted in the ground, here and there. What stood out the most was a very old and slightly gnarled Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’, so mature that it is now a tree. With some light pruning and removal of a couple of branches to improve its shape, it is a very welcome small tree in this new garden.

Sometimes, just one interesting, unusual or pretty plant in a garden can be enough to inspire us to build upon it and create something wonderful. A delightfully scented flower, or a showy flowering plant, an unusual tree or shrub – it can be enough to stimulate the creative urge to plant and experiment.