Sunday, 28 June 2015

Time to smell the roses ...

The way I am currently feeling reminds me of something, and it has taken me a while to identify what it is ... it is that Post exam feeling, which is a  strange mixture of relief and anti climax. Trouble is, it wasn't my Finals, or my 'A' Levels, but our NGS Open Day which was the cause!

Now, at last, we have free time to relax and smell the roses, but I am really missing that burning focus which propelled me from my bed at an unGodly hour to weed or hoe or stake, to get the garden ready before the gates opened. I can remember that same feeling after all life events which have taken a lot of preparation, and it takes a while to get back to normality. Prior to the big event, all you can think about is how wonderful it will be afterwards, and how great it will feel to do nothing, but the reality is often very different.

We opened last Sunday, 21st June, and had an excellent day, making the best part of £500 with entrance, plants and teas. All proceeds went to Macmillan, Hospice UK and other cancer charities.

So, cakes were eaten, plants were discussed, plants were bought ... and the sun shone! That is a minor miracle in this summer of cold grey skies. The day before was grey and rainy, as was the day after, so we were extremely lucky. We met lots of lovely people, saw many friends and made new ones. People were very kind and many said lovely things about the garden.

We found it very inspirational to be in the company of people who are so passionate about plants and gardening, and it has really fired us up for the future.

Since we opened though, we have worked really hard making changes and improvements - so much for sitting in deck chairs! I have already re-worked part of a bed, and re-planted it, and we have developed the more formal area further, adding more pots and rearranging.

We have another open day in a month, as we open along with lots of other gardens in our village, to raise funds for the church. This gives us time to make  any changes we want to, and to cut back things which have already gone over. It also gives time for me to plan and sow all the biennials for next year. Over the last few years I am becoming more and more reliant upon the colour they bring to the garden.

For 2016, I have chosen to grow foxgloves (Suttons Apricot), sweet williams (Single, mixed), dwarf wallflowers (Scarlet Bedder) and Sweet Rocket.

The biggest success, from seed, this year, for me, has been Suttons 'Apricot' foxgloves and I recommend them wholeheartedly. They are the most amazing soft colour, and make fabulous companions for roses and delphiniums. I will certainly be growing them every year from now on. They were easy to grow, and seem able to cope in varying conditions around the garden.

I also grew Sweet Rocket for the first time this year, but it had nearly finished by the time we opened the garden. In its prime it filled the garden with colour and scent. Again I will grow them again next year, as I have really enjoyed them . I believe they self seed, but I will give them a helping hand, anyway. They really fill the garden out at a time when their presence is much appreciated.

I have grown Sweet Williams again this year, and they are a very useful thing to grow, with their stabs of dark, jewel-like colour, and amazing scent. They are just coming into their own now, and are a very easy, cost effective way to introduce more colour into the garden.

Meanwhile, back in NGS land, we have already had the discussion! Are we going to do it again next year or not ? The Exotic Gardener is up for it, and would open again in an instant. I am not convinced.

I think it would be good to have at least a year off to relax and enjoy the garden without having to worry about how it is looking. We can make big changes and experiment with things.We have reached an impasse at the moment and I think we need lots more discussions over lots more cold beers, drunk from deck chairs in the sun ...

Monday, 1 June 2015

As May tips into June ...

We have the flowers, we have the foliage... now all we need is the sun. May has been a cold month here in deepest Lincolnshire, and has also been a bit grey and miserable, for the most part. Despite this, the plants have been blithely growing apace, especially the weeds which are definitely appearing overnight. Everything seems about two weeks later than last year I think, for example, my first rose bloomed mid May in 2014 whereas this year, the first one began to flower only a couple of days ago.

We are running round the garden like headless chickens at the moment, as it is our NGS (Yellow Book) Open Day on Sunday, 21st June . Not very far away now. Terrifying. I am having bad dreams where I open the gates to let people in, only to realise that we have forgotten to get the garden ready, and the lawn is knee high and the borders are overrun with weeds.

We have just bought this new terracotta pot and planted it up, but needless to say it is half full of polystyrene and a large upturned plant pot, to reduce the amount of compost needed. It has a heuchera ('Purple Palace'), two hostas, a lavender ('Hidcote') and a trailing fuchsia in.

The pots are all planted up now with a mix of dark purple petunias, geraniums, lobelia and purple nemesia, but I am disappointed with the nasturtiums i grew from seed. They are 'Empress of India' and I was expecting a subtle red, but they look as if they will be a bright brick red/ orange which is NOT what I wanted at all!

The hostas are so far unblemished by slugs and snails and I have to hang my head in shame and admit to using a few slug pellets. We were going to trial garlic wash this year, as we went to a talk about it at Tatton Park last year, given by a hosta grower, but we hadn't the confidence to give it a go ... maybe next year!

The tomatoes are in their final positions now, 'Romello' outside in the veg patch, and here in the greenhouse 'Sweet Aperitif', 'Sungold' and that reliable old favourite 'Gardener's Delight'.

Behind the toms is Abutilon Megapotamicum which scarcely stops flowering, even in winter. Not in the photo, but there is also a grapevine, 'Black Hamburg', which has its feet in the cold outside, and its head inside, in the warm. It seems to be enjoying this arrangement and is putting on terrific growth.

All the Erysimums are fantastic this year, and they would be right up there at the top of my list of favourite plants. Even the bees adore them. I have 'Bowles Mauve' of course, and also 'Gogh's Gold', 'Caribbean Island' , 'Winter Orchid' and 'Monet's Moment'.

I have  grown Sweet Rocket for the first time from seed, but am cross with myself as it has grown taller than I expected so it is nearly all planted in the wrong place, and is too near the front of the borders.

Below is the 'Top pond', home to lots of newts and baby newts at the moment.

Both the pink and the white Dicentra Spectabilis have been fantastic this year (yes I know there has been a name change, but I like their old name best!)

This bed has a core of bamboo, an acer  Palmatum, various Euphorbias, crocosmia, alchemilla mollis and a climbing rose.

Apologies for the rain spots on the camera lens, as it was absolutely hammering down when I took these shots!

The  background red is Cotinus Coggygria 'Royal Purple', and the yellowish shrub is an Aucuba. The dark red in the foreground is Lysimachia 'Firecracker'.

Colour is provided by Euphorbias and the dicentra, while the Fistuca Glauca grass and the hosta give the grey, glaucous foliage. Berberis Darwinii (at the back) has been tamed  into a neat little dumpling, but is a beast left to its own devices!

In the foreground is Prunus Serrula, with a sculpted Lonicera hedge behind. Young Berberis Thunbergii Atropurpurea are supposed to be forming a low curved hedge, growing up to the arch, but they are taking an age to reach a decent height and density.

Due to the imminent collapse of the old 'Bus shelter' we have had to invest in a new one, which doesn't need painting, and looks as though it could be used as a boat if we have a flash flood !

The sub tropical garden is growing as we watch, and most of the ferns have unfurled now. The Tree Ferns are nearly fully out too, and they all survived the winter, thank goodness.

This arch has two competing thugs which vie for supremacy - Golden Hop and Clematis Montana.
Both fantastic plants but both are extremely vigorous and fast growing.

The veg plot now has strawberry plants in flower, french beans, new potatoes, sweetcorn, courgettes, pumpkins, squashes, courgettes, onions and 'Romello' outdoor tomatoes.

The green beech arch is now thickening up, and needs a bit of attention, as new growth needs to be tied in.

It may look like a patch of weeds, but it is , in fact, a patch of wildflowers! I fear we have planted it too late for it to be in bloom when we open the garden, but it will come into its own later in the season, I hope.

The pond is the clearest it has ever been at the moment, because of the rain I think! It is alive with thousands of tadpoles, but the sticklebacks seem to have just about disappeared over winter for some reason. I catch the odd one in my net, but they are not in evidence anything like as much as they usually are. Something must have killed them off I think.

So, that's it! As May tips over into June the garden is at my favourite point of the whole year. I wish I could freeze it like this, before everything grows too big and starts to sprawl and go over. If I had a magic wand to wave this is the moment I would choose, when everything is new and fresh and so full of promise.

I am linking to Helen's 'End of the month' meme, over at the 'Patient Gardener'. There are lots of lovely EOMVs to explore there ...

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Party in the greenhouse and I wasn't on the guest list ...

Tendrils escape under the greenhouse door and plants press up to the glass, in their attempt to be set free ... yes, it's that tine of year again and the greenhouses are bursting with adolescents in the midst of uncontrollable growth spurts, desperate to party together. For a long time they were small and well behaved, staying quietly in their allocated spaces and growing in a seemly manner. Then May arrived and sent them into overdrive. The runner beans are twining round anything which comes within reach of their waving arms, and I have to constantly unwrap them as they suffocate some poor unsuspecting tomato plant. The giant Dahlias are living up to their name and the Tithonia clearly have a competitive streak as they strive to keep up. There is a wild, wild party going on in there, to which I have not been invited. I have to squeeze into the greenhouse, then sidle past temporary decorator's tables groaning under the weight of yet more plants to water them and try to control their random growth.

So, today is the day I set them free in the garden, to rampage to their heart's desire. They have been hardened off (a bit ! I'm a bit rubbish at that!)  so ... fly free my little ones ...

This year though, I have a secret weapon in my battle against the 'F' word - no, not THAT 'F' word, the really bad one ... FROST ! I truly hope that any danger of Frost is behind us now, but there is always a lurking suspicion in the back of my mind as we had one a few years ago in mid May, so it is not impossible to have one now I guess. But, it wouldn't be the end of the world as I can now deploy my secret weapon which is the RHS Frost Alert. It is a free App which I have downloaded onto my iPhone (don't know if it available for Android)  called 'RHS Grow your own'' and it is free. There is lots of other useful stuff on it, but the bit I love is that you can enter your post code, and a warning will be sent to your phone if frost is expected in your exact locality. Fantastic! Time to rush out with fleece/ bring them all back inside/ knit little jackets for them all.

So today is going to be a busy one for planting out and watering, but I love getting the greenhouse empty before setting it up to grow tomatoes, chillies, peppers and aubergines. The tomatoes are grown in a bed and the others are in pots on the benches. This year, at the instigation of my son, we are having a joint Chilli Challenge. When he was home, one cold grey weekend back in March, we trawled the sites of chilli fanatics before choosing the varieties we would both grow. The challenge will have different aspects and prizes will be awarded for taste, quality of plants and hotness - judged by my long suffering partner. The varieties we chose were Kashmiri Mirch, Royal Black, Black Habanero and Giant White Habanero.

Even though I sowed my seeds straight way and put them in a propagator, my son's germinated first, kept in his bedroom by a window. That room must be positively tropical. However, he came home for the weekend very recently and conceded that mine now have the edge and are taller. Time will tell !

I am growing several varieties of tomato this year, the main one being Thompson & Morgan's 'Sweet Aperitif'. When I was down at their Trial Grounds last year they had set up a blind tomato tasting and 'Sweet Aperitif' won hands down for taste and sweetness. Way ahead of the others. This is a tomato which will never be available commercially as it does not travel/ handle well apparently, so will be a delight only gardeners can experience. I am also growing 'Sungold' which are  sweet and yellow, and favourites of mine, and 'Romello' which are new to me. They are outdoor bush plum tomatoes with good blight resistance.

This year I have grown - Cosmos (dwarf and tall); Melianthus Major; Ricinus; nasturtium; Dahlias ('Bishop's Children' and 'Giant'); Tithonia 'Torchlight'; Hosta 'Sum and Substance); Datura; sweet peas ('Sweet Dreams' and 'Snoopea'); Musa Basjoo, Asters and Zinnia ('Hot Mix') and veg - sweetcorn ('Lark'); pumpkin ('Jack of all trades') ; Aubergine ('Black Enorma'); pepper ('Tropical Heat' and 'Summer Salad').

The biggest enemy they all have to fear is not blight or greenfly or whitefly but the dog, whose mission in life is to shimmy under all defensive barriers, get into the greenhouse and dig frantically in the soft soil of the bed. He delights in causing untold damage in seconds and never once has had the good grace to look guilty!

The garden is now a terrifying focus of our attention as the NGS Open Day is only 4 weeks away, on Sunday, 21st June 11.00 - 5.00. Please do pop in if you are anywhere near. Work in the garden will be full on and a bit hysterical from now on as we try to tick off all the jobs on the list. It has been totally neglected for the last fortnight as we have been on holiday to Florence, staying in a hotel in a 16th century palace, then celebrating a big birthday of mine. So, lots of weeding and catching up to do.

Today is also the day of the month when I have pledged to myself to buy a new plant for the garden which is in flower, and also out of my comfort zone. I have a little confession in that the one I fell in love with is not actually in bloom, but it is fantastic eye candy all the time, so it does tick the box. It is named as Ligularia 'Othello' on the label, but does not look like any of the online photos I have found, as they all have smooth, dark leaves. I fear it has been wrongly labelled. This one is, as you can see,  silver and hairy at the same time. The leaves are very tactile as the urge to stroke them is irresistible ... they are so soft and silky. I have not come across it before, so I am keen to see how it copes with conditions in our garden I am hoping that you clever gardeners out there will tell me what I've got !!