Serenity

It is now June, and other than some unwelcome slugs and snails munching away on the Hostas, Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ and the Delphiniums, the ‘cool’side of the herbaceous borders is doing well – as seen here.

I have stuck to my no dig policy and have only had to spend an hour or so hand weeding out what turned out to be mostly ranunculus and a few other pesky unwelcomes. The bark mulch has done a great job at keeping weeds down on this side, which reassures me about having mulched the other side this year.

I am leaving the top section of the garden to grow wild for a while. The grass has grown rapidly and there are some lovely wild flowers coming up. I have noticed that birds are far more likely to spend time up in the long grass pecking for worms and insects than they have been previously. I’ve also left out a large saucer of water in the veg section for birds to drink from as, despite rain, it is pretty parched around here.

All is peaceful in the garden at the moment…

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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.

IMAG3435

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.

IMAG3442

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!

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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.

Grow Your Own Smug

The raised beds that we built towards the end of last year, constructed from sleepers, sat empty overwinter. Finally, in late spring, after ordering four tons of topsoil and creating the new herbaceous bed at the front of the garden, there was soil to spare. (I can’t say that wasn’t a surprise. Calculations, be damned.) Enough soil, as it turned out, to half fill each of the raised beds designated for veg growing. These were duly heaped up, and topped up with a liberal, stinky dose of farmyard manure. I dug it all in, and cleared any lumps and bumps. Then I set about planting up some veg plugs. At last! A real chance for me to live the self-sufficiency dream, and attempt to grow all of my own vegetables in the back garden. It’s the modern, organic vegan’s idyll. Stick that in your capitalist, free-market pipes, supermarkets. I don’t need your produce any more! Well, I probably will, actually, at least for some time to come.

The smaller 1m x 2m raised bed was designated the ‘Salad Bed’. Salad Bed, meet Cut n Come Again lettuce, Lollo Rosso, Butterhead, Spinach and Pak Choi. I was super excited about the Pak Choi – I love to make vegan Thai Green Curry, and this is a fundamental and relatively expensive component in the curry. The thought of skipping down to the bottom of my garden and cutting off perfectly fresh, organic pak choi leaves to use in a lovely curry bubbling away on the hob gave me a singularly smug grin, I’m not ashamed to admit.

Well, smug dreams come true; I’ve since used up all of the first batch of pak choi (over, and over, and over again – may even admit to being very slightly bored of cooking Thai Green Curry now). I was half expecting a come-down from my organic dream – some disappointing payback for being an idealistic fool – but instead, the pak choi leaves were fresh, and crisp, and juicy, and perfect. Still grinning here, smugly.

The loose salad leaves were equally rewarding to grow. As we all know, the first step towards self-sufficiency is growing your own salad. Ok, it probably isn’t the first step at all and, ok, it can’t be compared to installing your own wind turbine, solar array, or reed filtration bed system, but it’s a step in the right direction. No more last-minute jump in the car and head to the local shop for a gassy and over-priced bag of salad. Oh no! Step outside into your own tranquil oasis, stroll down to the veg patch, and pull a few leaves off a plant. How simple is that? No fuel needed, takes a minute rather than ten, and there’s the satisfaction element. Yes, there’s that smug grin again.

The spinach leaves are best used up while young and fresh. Sadly, too many of mine shot up and started to go to seed. I understand that the hotter and drier both pak choi and spinach get, the more likely they are to run to seed. Next time, I’ll attempt to keep the salad bed far more moist; but a very hot and dry period fell quite soon after these had started to develop, and I think this caused them to run to seed early. I pulled out most of these, to allow the other leaves to develop.

I have given quite a few lettuce heads to family, as no matter how much you think you’ll use, you never use that much. Don’t over-estimate how much veg. a small family needs to grow. You actually don’t need a lot of space at all, if you sow and bring on your veg month by month, as and when you use it.

I’ve since done this with the pak choi – used it all up, and sown more in the cleared space – and these have germinated quickly and are starting to develop into small, healthy plants. I’ve tried to keep the watering well up with this second batch. I’ve sown red leaf and green leaf varieties. The red leaf variety of Pak Choi intrigues me – how much difference will there be in taste between red and green? Red leaves in salads are often much more bitter. I’ll find out in around a week, and report back.

In the 2m x 2m bed, I planted golden courgettes, mange tout, petit pois, runner bean ‘Streamline’ and leeks ‘Musselburgh’. As I’ve mentioned, the weather has been far too hot and far too dry. The only downside to having raised beds in the middle of a 200 foot south facing garden is that it is miles away from a hosepipe or water butt! This needs to be rectified. As a result, this bed has dried out quite a bit so far this year, on and off, and the legumes have suffered a little. The courgettes are… well, courgettes. You can’t go wrong with courgettes, can you? Plant them, watch them grow (and grow), and eat courgettes until they’re coming out of your ears. Job done. I can’t recommend growing your own courgettes highly enough. Great for beginner veg growers, and I feel I speak as one.

I’m really excited about the leeks; but I know I’ve planted them too close together this year so they won’t do as well as they could have. It’s a learning experience. Next time I’ll give them more space between plants. I love cooking with leeks so it will be great to have our own home-growns to cook with. The Streamline runner beans are finally rewarding me with fabulous, juicy long beans. Again, runners are a fave veg, so we are well pleased to be able to pick and cook these now.

We still have one remaining raised bed to finish. The gravel is down. There is also the greenhouse to install in this section, and guttering and water butts. This has had to be put on hold while other work in the garden is completed (now done). In that bed I’ll grow more brassicas, I think, and next year I plan to grow Jerusalem artichokes and salad potatoes, too.

Ashamedly In The Pink

It’s mid-July, and the rate of growth in the garden is quite astounding. The left-hand border, which was only created in April, has gone berserk. And contrary to my previous assertions on this blog that I don’t like pink, in any way at all, a disturbing development has occurred – there is a lot of pink in my garden. This is not the cutesy, pretty, delicate kind of pink, either. We’re talking shocking, in-your-face, you-can’t-pretend-this-isn’t-pink pink. I’m mildly ashamed, and slightly confused. Just take a look at the disturbing evidence of my garden’s overt fall into pink disgrace, as shown below.

Lewisia
Lewisia bringing a shocking splash of colour to the front of the border.
Monarda
Monarda ‘Mowhawk’ (Bergamot)
Monarda
Close up of the stunning hot pink Monarda ‘Mowhawk’ (Bergamot)
Salvia
Salvia x sylvestris ‘Rose Queen’
Pittosporum
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Elizabeth’
Rose
David Austin Rose ‘Princess Anne’
Rose
David Austin rose ‘Darcey Bussell’

 

The best rose?

This is, without a doubt, the best rose in my garden.

Rose 'The Lady of Shallot' (David Austin Roses)
Rose ‘The Lady of Shallot’ (David Austin Roses)

It’s vigorous, resistant to everything, blooms constantly, the blooms last for quite a few days, and it smells gorgeous.

Um. This is also the best rose in my garden.

Rose 'Boscobel' (David Austin Roses)
Rose ‘Boscobel’ (David Austin Roses)

Likewise, it’s vigorous, resistant, covered in blooms and buds, and smells delicious.

I thought ‘The Lady of Shallot’ was unbeatable, but clearly not so. These two are the stalwarts in my rose bed. However…

This rose is almost the best rose in my garden.

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

She flowers constantly, and her flowers change colour, which leads to an amazing grouping of perfectly matched colouring. The older roses fade to a lilac colour, while the new buds open as a deep pink colour. The effect is impressive. Put Rose ‘Princess Anne’ with Rose ‘Munstead Wood’, Rose ‘Darcey Bussell’, Rose ‘Sexy Rexy’ and Rose ‘Boscobel’ (as I have), and you have an impressive grouping of perfectly matched colours (see below).

Raised rose bed - June
Raised rose bed – June

Rose ‘The Lady of Shallot’ looks nice planted behind Rose ‘Indian Summer’ and Rose ‘Shine On’, all David Austin Roses (I really should get paid for all this good publicity). Always plant ‘The Lady of Shallot’ behind others – it’s vigorous and will grow high and wide. Ideal for the back of a border, not the front. Can also be grown as a climber.

All the yellows
All the yellows

Speaking of climbing roses, I have a new best rose in my garden. Hopefully, she will prove just as strong and resistant as all my other best roses!

Rose 'Teasing Georgia' (David Austin Roses)
Rose ‘Teasing Georgia’ (David Austin Roses)

Sadly, this rose (below) has so far proved not to be the best rose in my garden.

Rose 'Boule de Neige' (David Austin Roses)
Disastrous Rose ‘Boule de Neige’ (David Austin Roses)

Rose ‘Boule de Neige’ has suffered from either the early cold snap, thrips or aphid damage. The buds have turned yellow before fully formed, in some cases, and dropped off. The rest have remained on the plant and tried to develop, but have produced stunted, tiny flowers. I have sprayed twice with Rose Clear Ultra (active ingredients triticonazole and acetamiprid – acetamiprid is considered to be one of the neonicotinoids to blame for Colony Collapse Disorder in bees), and I’m reluctant to do so again. May try a washing up liquid mix and see if that helps. I suspect it’s too late for this particular rose to benefit from much help now. Hopefully, next year it won’t suffer the same fate. It’s obviously not particularly resistant. In the same bed, behind Boule de Neige, is Rose ‘Wollerton Old Hall’, and that seems to be thriving and starting to produce plenty of flowers.

Rose 'Wollerton Old Hall' (David Austin Roses)
Rose ‘Wollerton Old Hall’ (David Austin Roses)

Chaos Vs. Order – the conservationist gardener’s predicament

My plan for the garden here always involved leaving the top section of the 200 foot length to grow slightly wild and unkempt. The initial idea was to have a shady, slightly Japanese inspired oasis of bamboos and Acers, long grasses, a meandering path of slightly shorter grass, leading to a shallow ornamental pond and raised deck with a summer-house. Sounds good, right? So far, all I’ve managed is some seriously long grass and a ridiculous section of rotting turf at the very top of the garden. Yay (that was sarcasm).

Amongst the long grass, I’ve planted three fruit trees (two apple and one pear, all on semi-dwarf root stock) and three dark foliage ornamental trees (Prunus ‘Royal Burgundy’Prunus cerasifera Nigra and Malus ‘Royalty’. These aren’t showing much growth yet, but it’s the first year. I look forward to seeing these trees flourish (hopefully) and fill their allotted space in this section.

Last year, after moving in, I left the dog’s paddling pool in the long grass at the top of the garden. It filled with rain, then dried out, then filled with rain, and so on. It has been almost full for some time now, due to the rains we’ve had in May in the UK. I moved it to empty the nasty water over the trees a few weeks ago, only to spot a small newt plop out onto the soil as I poured. I was amazed, and horrified. I quickly put the paddling pool back in its previous spot in the long grass, then scooped up the newt (with difficulty – slippery things), and put it back in the water. In my panic, I put a large rock in the water with it, and a plant in a pot. I’m not sure why – something for it to do? In all seriousness, I was ecstatic to find this single example of unusual UK wildlife in my garden, and immediately went into action to encourage it to remain. The odd bank of rotting turf, weeds, long grasses, and self-seeded saplings popping up behind the paddling pool have obviously attracted small animals and birds. It is a rare area of uncultivated and undisturbed wilderness – small as it is – in an otherwise ordered and highly maintained row of urban gardens.

I mean, I knew we had foxes. I’ve even fed them once or twice, and they have rewarded me with some lovely dusk antics (and the occasional harmless digging in my veg bed). I’ve seen the occasional bat swooping low at dusk, and some swallows darting and screeching across the gardens in the last few days. All wonderful, but none of these seem too concerned with the wild state or otherwise of my garden. I realise they are dependent on insects, and how I plant and maintain my garden will affect insect populations and, thus, affect them (e.g. pesticide use and planting insect attracting plants); but that is slightly different to the implications of the actual physical state of the garden.

Since then, I have seen the same common newt in the paddling pool, but we now have two Great Crested Newts, a male and female. I’m out of my tiny mind with joy. I’ve also seen Burnet Moths (loads) stopping to enjoy the long grass and sanctuary, and a small common frog. This is great! My son, who was reared on long walks in the countryside and respect and love for wildlife, has spent more time in the garden in the last few days watching the newts and moths, than he ever has in the previous eleven months. Now, I’ve realised I have a bit of a quandary.

‘The Plan’ involves clearing this top section of garden, removing the bank of turf, clearing away the unwanted saplings, and building a raised deck and summer-house. It also involves putting in a very shallow ornamental pond. ‘The Plan’ never took into account existing wildlife, nor did it take into account any wildlife looking for refuge from other gardens and locally cleared areas. It should have.

When I think back to the garden as it was, when we moved in, it was ALL long grass and wilderness. What creatures lived in it, back then? What wildlife did we disturb in the process of creating something ordered and cultivated, and pleasing to the human eye? What the hell do you do if you want a horticulturist’s dream garden – trimmed lawn, herbaceous beds, well-maintained shrub borders, cultivated veg and rose beds, etc. – and at the same time wish to attract and nurture some of the UK’s most endangered wildlife? It seems to me to be a very serious issue. There is and has been a long-standing war between humans and wildlife, with many of the minor battles taking place within the average urban garden. Wildlife is losing.

Now I find myself completely re-considering ‘The Plan’ for the top section of garden, and it is having an effect on my maintenance, too. There is a small section of wild scrub running alongside Flame’s lawn, and I had been planning to clear it this weekend. Then, I saw a frog in there, and that activity went out of the window. What if that is its home? How many other small mammals live in there? I’d really like to encourage frogs, as my Hosta ‘Blue Wedgewood’ (decimated) will testify, so do I really want to clear away its home? No. And, again, that leads me to ponder which animals’ homes I removed when we initially cleared the garden. Shouldn’t we all consider the implications to our local wildlife when we move into a new garden and make plans to cultivate and clear? Should it even be a legal requirement to survey and monitor wildlife in a garden before making changes to the physical layout? Probably.

That may sound extreme, but I’m really anti human arrogance – the idea that we have the right to charge into an area and do what we like with it is seen as a perfectly acceptable one, but it isn’t. We are a part of a whole – we are interdependent, and when we do what we like with an area of land, there are implications to wildlife populations, whether we are aware of them or not. There is a knock-on effect. Frogs and toads control pests, insects feed birds and bats, yet we are constantly striving to remove both from our gardens using our own highly questionable methods. Those methods are now being called to account for the catastrophic decline in bee populations, along with the general trend in drastic decline in small mammals and invertebrate populations. Organic gardeners know that we must use and encourage natural controls, rather than using lethal chemicals and destructive gardening practices which are ultimately counter-productive and disastrous for wildlife (and us).

‘The Plan’ as it stands? To hurriedly rush up to the silly blue, scallop-shaped paddling pool every morning and every evening to study the newts and search the long grass for moths and butterflies. Long-term, I’m thinking of building a much-bigger-than-planned pond, something deeper, with ledges for marginal plants and invertebrates. I’ll wait until Winter to start clearing the old, rotting turf, when hopefully most animals will have found somewhere to hibernate or hide. I’ll leave some of it undisturbed. We should still be able to build a raised deck area for  a summer-house, and the space beneath would potentially be ideal to locate a hedgehog hide, and for foxes and other mammals to nest in. I’ll keep the grass longer than planned, with the hopes that once the dust has settled from the deck construction, existing wildlife will make use once again of the hidden spaces and wild bits. I’ve cleared away the mental image of Japanese-inspired, ordered space, and come to terms with a different, wilder, less ordered vision of garden tranquility. It will be wonderful and guilt-free, the best kind of garden.

To landscape or not to landscape, that is the question. Think I’ll be pondering this one for a while. Perhaps we should all ponder… Ha, ponder? Never mind.

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).