Monday, 18 July 2016

Just like the Inflatable boy ...

Just like the Inflatable boy with a pin, some plants have let themselves down badly this year! Every year there are the star performers and then there are those which have disappointed beyond belief. The alchemy of each summer's heady brew of temperature, moisture and sunshine produces different over- achievers every year and, sadly, under achievers too.

I don't want to dwell on the under- achievers, but you know who you are ... hang your heads in shame all those of you in the Amaranthus family, and all of you in the Celosia family too. You have failed to thrive and grow despite being lavished with care and attention. Although you showed early promise, it has never been realised, and if I want to find you in the garden, I need a magnifying glass. Most of you, however, are no longer with us, having been devoured by any number of bugs, and, to be honest, you deserved your fate. You've let yourselves and the the garden down.

Hang your head in shame, too, Pennesetum 'Purple Majesty' ( maize) which looked so great in the seed catalogue, you zinnias with your microscopic flowers and the pathetic Thompson & Morgan Cosmos 'Xanthos'. I always thought Cosmos couldn't go wrong, as it has been so reliable over the years, but I have been proved wrong. This year I have one plant left from all my healthy seedlings in April, and it has grown into a sickly, stunted plant with nondescript, no - colour flowers the size of a button.

But enough of the failures! I want to celebrate those plants which are putting on a death - defying extravaganza of colour, despite what the weather has thrown at them this summer.

Rosa Wollerton Old Hall

The roses got off to a late start after a cold spring, and just as they were getting into their stride, along came frequent heavy downpours, causing many blooms to ball and rot. Whilst some could be saved by gently peeling off the dried outer petals, many could not. However, they have overcome all, and are finally in gorgeous, billowy bloom.

My current favourite is a new rose to me, 'Pomponella', with unusual, almost spherical flowers, of a strong pink. As it is a repeat flowerer, I hope there will be a succession throughout the summer. It looks very healthy so far, and is showing resistance to blackspot and  insect infestation.

Always reliable are the dahlias, and I am growing both old favourites and new varieties this year. I grew 'Victoriana', 'Redskin' and also some Cactus dahlias from seed, but have not seen them flower yet, so they may join the Invisible boy, in his class, if they fail to live up to expectations. I do tend to prefer the dark, rich colours, so the one pictured below is a bit of a disappointment, as it looks very washed out, particularly when the sun is on it.

This new bi-colour certainly smacks you in the face, and brings colour to the new sub-tropical area, as does the un - named dark red one too.

When I went to Chelsea earlier in the year, I bought some Abutilon plug plants, and also found out more about these lovely shrubs. In the intervening weeks they have put a lot of growth on, and have started to flower. The photo below shows Abutilon 'Mayan Magi', which is a lovely soft apricot colour, shot through with red veins. I am hoping to take cuttings a little later in the season, as I would like to try growing some in a sheltered position outside, but don't want to risk losing them.

Not quite as spectacular in flower is Abutilon 'Milleri Variegatum', but it more than makes up for it with  fantastic variegated leaves.

The flowers on all three varieties are not large, but are a very graceful bell shape. Below is Abutilon 'Kentish Belle'. The variegated form is the most tender, but the others can stand a few degrees of frost, and will survive mild winters in a sheltered spot, so I am reliably informed by the nursery owner I bought them from ('T3 Wall End Nursery').

Above is an un-named variety I bought from a nursery, and it has been covered with glossy, almost waxy flowers continually. It is a lovely plant, which I am also hoping to propagate.

Abutilon 'Megapotamicum' looks like little hot air balloons, and it flowers very freely. The shrub is in the greenhouse and is clearly enjoying the temperatures in there.

Last summer we went to Easton Walled Garden, which specialises in sweet peas, and gives the opportunity to see many different varieties growing, and also to purchase the seed. We chose six varieties, and all are doing well, and the flowers are spectacular. The varieties pictured below are 'Our Harry' (lilac), and 'Black Knight' (deep maroon) .

The pink sweet pea below came from seed which I seem to remember, came free with a garden magazine.

Now, we come to the biggest star in the garden this season, Salvia 'Love and wishes', dark and luscious, with fairly loose, lax growth. It's pink and plum colouration make it a good foil for many garden plants, and works well in the border with Acer Palmatum, a dark foliaged Dahlia 'Bishop's Children', and a dark heuchera.

Salvia 'Love and wishes' is in the centre of the photo above. It prefers a sunny position and will grow to about 32 inches in height. It has a long flowering season, if dead headed regularly, and it is hardy to about minus five, so needs protection in very cold weather.

I grew Lychnis (pink and white) from seed a couple of years ago, and it is really fantastic this year. The hot pink flowers and silver grey foliage contrast well with the dark red of Cotinus Coggyggria and the pink of the Sweet Williams (also grown from seed).

So, perhaps it is too early in the season to be evaluating individual performances, but I think I already know the winners and the losers!

Saturday, 18 June 2016

It's all a bit Gertrude Jekyll

A friend leaned over my garden gate and gazed down the garden, then shook his head slightly and said "Oh dear, it's all getting a bit Gertrude Jekyll isn't it..."

I don't think he meant 'It's all wonderfully planned, planted and managed, isn't it ?', as, of course, Gertrude Jekyll's gardens all are. Sadly I think he meant, 'It's all a bit out of control and wild as the wind, isn't it?'

Taking my friend's interpretation of a Gertrude Jekyll garden, I can say, with my hand on my heart that I am glad it is 'a bit Gertrude Jekyll', as, if a garden can't be wild, rambling and overflowing in June, then when can it ! It isn't well manicured, but it does celebrate all the many plants which are accelerating towards their zenith, outgrowing their allotted spaces as they do so.

There is so much work to do out there, trying to keep them staked, tied in, cut back, cut down, that I did wonder today if I am a weeny bit crazy, and really I should be lying in a hammock on a square of artificial grass with not a leaf or flower in sight. I could smell the BBQ's firing up in other gardens, and hear people starting to relax and to enjoy the evening, but I just couldn't justify stopping. Whilst the process of gardening is infinitely enjoyable and rewarding ... so is just sitting sometimes.

So, I have resolved to let it become even more 'Gertrude Jekyll' and take time to smell the roses, as well as weed around them. I will sit on the deck chair which has served only as a resting place for my gardening gloves ! I will take the time to enjoy the days of summer which are slipping by so quickly.

We have been busy with new projects, that there has been little time for relaxing. We have developed  three new areas in the garden since March, and they have all needed digging, hard landscaping and  planting but are now well on the way to completion. 

The fourth new area is shown below, and still has a long way to go.

We didn't do the decking ourselves, as we know 'a man who can', but we are beginning work on the raised bed. Topsoil is on order, and then we can start planting hostas and ferns, as it is an area of partial shade. The whole bed will be lined with heavy duty plastic sheeting to keep adjoining walls free from damp. I am in the process of selecting a couple of climbers too.The area is very sheltered so I could try something reasonably tender - perhaps a couple of the Abutilons which I bought at Chelsea.

Above is one of the new areas we have made this season. It is using land which we have never cultivated in 30 + years, so was very hard to dig initially. It is an extension of the exotic garden, and very much in its infancy. Skeleton planting of palms and small tree ferns has been completed and underplanting, such as hostas and brunnera is in place. I have grown loads of annuals to fill gaps, and am waiting impatiently for these to get moving.

 I have grown Amaranthus Caudatus, Amaranthus 'China Town' and Amaranthus 'Velvet Curtain', all for the first time. I will not be growing 'China Town' as you need a magnifying glass to see them, even though I sowed the seed very early! Although you can't see them in the photo there are also Tithonia 'Torch', coleus and zinnias 'Candy Cane. You can just see, bottom right, Ricinus and nasturtiums, starting to put on some growth.

As well as making new areas in the garden, we have been planting up annuals, in pots and tubs.

Again, they need time to fill out, but at least the hard work is done - just watering and dead heading from now on ...

We have also made a purchase from our new, local reclamation yard - a Victorian/ Edwardian garden gate. It has seen better days and needs some tlc, but there is something very quintessentially English - garden about it, and I love opening it, and thinking of the other hands, down across the generations, which have done the same. Cost is not important, but it was actually only £30, which is the equivalent of a few basics in the trolley at Tesco, which seems slightly ridiculous, for all that history.

Underneath the gate as a sort of ornamental threshold, we have put another piece of salvage. This is  a panel from an Indian railing, and shows a depiction of the young Queen Victoria.

What a strange journey indeed, from India to deepest Lincolnshire...

Monday, 30 May 2016

Woke up it was a Chelsea morning ...

A visit to the Chelsea Flower show is probably on the bucket list of most passionate gardeners, and has been on mine for years, but work has always prevented me from attending. Not this year though, so I bought my partner tickets for Christmas - a very cunning plan, as I had to buy one for myself as well!

Our show day was Thursday, and it dawned warm and sunny, and it stayed like that all day, making the weather as perfect as you imagine it will be.

 We headed to the Show Gardens first, and they were absolutely amazing. We were not disappointed!

The BBC were out in force, filming, in the show gardens and it was an interesting process to watch . We also saw the presenters around the site too - Monty Don, Joe Sharp, Toby Buckland and Nicky Chapman. Carol Klein would have completed the set, but it was not to be !

Toby Buckland being filmed for BBC Chelsea coverage

Nicky Chapman in the David Austin stand

The garden designers were also much in evidence, and many were in their gardens, chatting to the public, or giving interviews. Diarmuid Gavin exited from the little gothic tower in his bonkers garden, along with many friends ! How did they all fit in?

The highlights for me were the Japanese designer Kazuyuki Ishihara's garden which was suitably quirky and, although small, was perfectly formed. We happened along at just the right moment when he was showing the crowd his awards.

The garden pictured below was designed by Charlie Albone, sponsored by Husqvarna and was my favourite. I loved the rich, dark palette of the planting, featuring lots of purples and dark pinks. Exotics such as Acacia and Protea were planted alongside more traditional european perennials and all were offset by tiered formal hedging, and flashes of white. 

The garden above was designed by Chris Beardshaw and is the Morgan Stanley garden for Great Ormond Street. Once the show has finished it will be moved to its permanent home there, serving as a place of "privacy and reflection" for parents and families. Considering the terrifying amount of waste 
which Chelsea must create, it is good to know that this garden, at least, is here to stay.

The garden above was designed by Hay Joung Hwang and sponsored by L G Electronics. It represents a Scandinavian lifestyle garden. I loved the way the cool, pale hard landscaping contrasted with the dense informal planting.

On the whole the planting was very similar in many of  the gardens, and using a palette of pastel colours, it utilised cottage garden perennials, packed densely to create a rich, relaxed and informal effect. All the trusty favourites were there - roses, foxgloves,verbascum and poppies, to name but a few!

The Great Pavilion was all I had hoped for - an extravagance of gorgeous flowers and foliage all at their very peak. There were fantastic displays all around, from the New Covent Garden Flower market's all white extravaganza...

... to the stunning colours of begonia Rex and streptocarpus ...

... and the over the top exuberance of the gladioli.

We have been to several other of the 'big' RHS shows over the years, and thoroughly enjoyed them, but Chelsea is clearly the King of them all . The Show Gardens are in a league of their own, and are the heart of the whole event. The quality of the planting and the build is fabulous, and there is so much to learn from them. 

One of the highlights of Chelsea for me was one of the exhibitors, 'Wall End Nursery' featuring  abutilons, with a gorgeous stand, showcasing the range of varieties and colours available. Leila Jackson and Eric Turner hold the National Collection, and are very happy to give oodles  of really good advice . Now I have always loved Abutilons, and have grown them over the years, but have always assumed that they are unable to tolerate low temperatures. Not so! They are much tougher than they look, and some are tougher than others.

After talking with Leila, I bought 2 collections of plug plants, priced, very reasonably, at £10 for 3 plants, and she advised me which of the collection contained the most hardy varieties .

I will post in more detail next time about these beautiful plants, and how they have fared. Needless to say I am excited to start growing them, and get them into the greenhouse and garden.

We had a great day and Chelsea really lived up to expectations. I had envisaged it being uncomfortably crowded, but that was not the case, and in fact it was easy to move around and see the gardens. We left around 3.30 p.m. as the 'late ticket' visitors were coming in, and for a short while it was ridiculously busy.

So, go if you get the chance and immerse yourself in all things planty for a few sublime hours ...