Mar 102017
 

IMG_1203

I haven’t blogged for ages – I have been very busy, writing a book on top of all of my other work commitments. And here it is: How Not To Kill Your Houseplant, published by Dorling Kindersley.

I’ve become more and more obsessed by houseplants recently – to me, a room feels empty without one. I’ve got masses of spider plants, succulents and parlour palms, a Boston fern, an asparagus fern, several parlour palms, a peace lily, a rubber plant, several streptocarpus, some unusual pileas, an air plant and my pride and joy, a tiny Pilea peperomiodes, given to me by a colleague. I’ve even managed to get an orchid to reflower, which is suprisingly easy.

This is quite a turnaround, as for years my Mum used to joke that many of my houseplants would leave the building ‘pot first’. I think I made that classic mistake of putting plants in a dusty corner, then forgetting and neglecting them and somehow expecting them to survive.

Nowadays, houseplants are back in vogue, especially among millennials. What I love about the new wave of young houseplant fans is that they are appreciating them, celebrating them and making them a key feature of their home. I now enjoy spending a few minutes every week checking my plants over, keeping an eye out for new leaves or flower buds (always exciting), and watering and feeding them if necessary (I never used to bother feeding them, and it makes such a difference).

Many people, including my Mum, say they don’t like houseplants – I’ve got one friend who says they give her the creeps. Mum says she had Swiss cheese plants, spider plants and macrame plant hangers in the 1970s, and she’s not going there again. Mind you, she did request three succulents for her kitchen windowsill for her birthday, so perhaps she’s changing her mind. Houseplants are everywhere now – I bought her the aforementioned succulents in the supermarket (at her request!) and my local garden centre is full of interesting new plants. And plant pots have come on in leaps and bounds too – all kinds of interesting containers are available, from bronze to concrete. It’s time to give houseplants another look.

 

Jun 072016
 

Stauntonia

Inspired by my neighbour, who has one in her garden, I planted a stauntonia at the back of the border last year. I was a bit disappointed with it – it was billed as ‘vigorous’ but didn’t grow much. In fact, it didn’t do much at all. I feared for it over the winter – it’s supposed to be planted in a sheltered spot, and I had planted it in an exposed, windy one (as has my neighbour).

This year, it has romped away, clothing several feet of fence, which is exactly what I wanted it to do. But it’s main virtue is its incredible scent, which comes from the tiny, insignificant flowers. It’s so intoxicating that I can’t tear myself away, and as a result the border has never been so well weeded.

May 162016
 
Daisies in lawn

Bath

I never thought I’d be that bothered about having a manicured lawn, but I’ve realised that I like a healthy sward and a crisp edge as much as the next person. I love it when my lawn (which is actually more of a long, wide grass path) has been recently cut and edged, and I find myself feeling frustrated when daisies spoil the look, seemingly within minutes of mowing.

This spring, however, I haven’t mowed much. There are lots of ashy mining bees (Andrena cineraria) that cruise just above the grass and pause to sup on the daisies – and they don’t budge when a mower comes along. They gather nectar from the daisies (and the blossom of fruit trees) and I don’t want to deprive them, or chew them up in the mower.

As a result, the lawn has grown quite long. I’ve realised that once it’s got past a certain length, the daisies cease to irk me – the effect is more that of a wildflower meadow. The bees will be gone by the beginning of June, and I’ll be quite reluctant to start mowing again. I’m going to leave an area under the apple tree unmowed to keep the meadow effect going. I did it last year, and it’s fascinating to see what appears there.

The whole garden is teetering on the edge of chaos at the moment – everything is growing so fast that weeds and self-seeders are appearing daily. I planted some hedgerow plug plants under the edible hedge last autumn, and I can’t tell what’s a wildflower and what’s a weed – if there’s even a difference. I’ll have to intervene at some point, but at the moment I’m just enjoying watching everything grow.

May 052016
 
Tulip 'Orange Favourite' and Tulip 'Rococo'

Bath

I’m back! Sorry it’s been so long. I’ve been snowed under with freelance work, and I’ve been ill, and it’s been the longest winter ever. So much so that I haven’t been out much, or had the opportunity to just wander about with my camera.

I’ve also been wondering what to do with this blog. It strikes me that much of what I do on here – taking pictures of things that provide inspiration my own garden (and, I hope, you too) – is now being done very well by many people on Instagram. I too have an Instagram account, and it’s much quicker and easier to post on there. But what I can’t do on Instagram is write a great deal, and that’s what I love to do. So I’ll carry on doing that here when I feel I have something to say. I’ve also been working on a little project with Naomi over at Out of My Shed – more about that soon.

In the meantime, here are some tulips for you. They’re from my cutting patch, and have all flowered at once – I’ll have to plant more varieties next year for a longer period of interest. They’re ‘Orange Favourite’ and ‘Rococo’, and they positively glow.

Oct 252015
 
Garden-in-Oct

Bath

This is my least favourite day of the year – the day when the clocks have gone back. But for the time being at least, my garden still thinks it’s summer. Penstemons, phlox, Geranium ‘Patricia’ and verbascums are all going strong, along with the old stalwarts, Erysimum Bowles’s Mauve, Verbena bonariensis and Gaura lindheimeri. Further down the garden, dahlias, marigolds, rudbeckias and cosmos are oblivious to the season. Frosts are on their way, though, so I’m making the most of every flower and leaf.

Below is a shot of the same border in March. The clocks had just gone forward, and all the fences had blown down in a gale. Many of the perennials and bulbs planted the previous autumn were refusing to appear and I was beginning to think that nothing was going to grow. So in the dark days of winter, when the garden is stubbornly dormant, I’ll console myself that it will look lovely again.

Garden-before

Sep 302015
 
Cut-flowers

Bath

At the time of writing, my garden finally looks OK. All year, I’ve been willing my young, newly planted perennials and shrubs to grow upwards and outwards, knitting together to cover the bare earth. And finally, they have. Many of the young perennials I planted last autumn and in spring are flowering (some for a second time), the lawn looks reasonably lush, and the climbers are gradually covering the fences. The weather has finally been sunny and mild, and I can’t believe that the show will inevitably end soon.

I’ve spent a lot of this summer fretting about the garden, rather than enjoying it. Now I feel a bit foolish, as it all turned out alright. My boyfriend has found my impatience and negativity exasperating – he’s not a gardener, but he understands that gardens take time to make, and that it’s a process of trial and error. In my defence, this is a new garden, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Plus, it has mostly been cold, wet and very windy – not the ideal conditions for new plants. Also, in my day job, I see hundreds of images of beautiful gardens, so my standards were unreasonably high.

In my new spirit of positivity, here’s what has thrived in a cold, wet summer on heavy clay soil at the top of a windy hill – and if they can survive here, they could surely survive anywhere…

Cut flowers

At the end of the garden, where it’s more sheltered, I’ve started a little potager/cutting patch, edged with stepover apples, backed with cordon fruits, and with standard fruit bushes dotted about. I’ve grown Ammi majus, dahlias, Calendula officinalis ‘Indian Prince’, Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’, white cosmos and tanacetum. I’ve picked small bunches every other day, and they’re still all powering on. It will be a sad day when they finally run out of steam. I’ve enjoyed growing them more than I have veg.

Wind-tolerant plants

When I planted up the garden, I trawled the internet for wind-tolerant plants, or plants that don’t mind exposed conditions, for my south-facing, wind-blasted border. I planted Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’, Gaura lindheimeri, Rosa rugosa, Verbena bonariensis, sedums, grasses and honeysuckle, plus agapanthus for pots. Hardy geraniums, giant fennel, Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfennii, Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Penstemon ‘Garnet’, Phlox paniculata ‘David’ and verbascums have also done fine. I do think some plants were a little stunted by the cold winds, and they all lean a little away from the fence, where the wind hits. I may stake a few next year.

Edible hedge

I planted a bare-root hedge in March, in a partly shady, narrow area that I couldn’t think what to do with. It’s comprised of Rosa rugosa, sloes, hawthorn, cherry plums, hazel etc, and it’s bulked out pretty well. I’m going to underplant it with some hedgerow plug plants this autumn.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Phantom’

What a brilliant plant. I bought this at a plant sale earlier in the year. It started flowering in July, and is still going strong now. The cone-shaped flowers have turned from pure white to a deep pink.

Raspberry ‘Joan J’

I planted these because they’re a Which? Best Buy. The big, tasty fruits just keep on coming. Next year I’m going to try double cropping.

Uninvited but welcome guests

In June, July and August, I had loads of orange poppies that would pop up, flower for a couple of days, then go over. I’ve no idea where they hitched a ride from, but I really liked them. Orange was never part of my planting plan, but now, I think I want more of it. Cow parsley has also popped up, rather fetchingly next to some foxgloves in my shady border, and I’ve even had a couple of sheafs of wheat.

Sep 032015
 
Wildlife-home

St Albans

I spotted this wildlife home at Notcutts in St Albans recently. It wasn’t for sale, but it looked pretty do-able – I’ve got an old wine crate, and I might give it a go.

This summer, I’ve been thinking about ‘wildlife gardening’ and what it means. I’ve been quite shocked at the amount of wildlife I have in my garden, a lot of which is the ‘wrong’ kind for gardeners. Something ate all my strawberries in one fell swoop (ripe and unripe – I’m still not quite over it), and a mystery creature is digging up my lawn. I have earwigs everywhere (except, weirdly, on my dahlias) and omnipresent slugs, snails, greenfly and whitefly – more than I remember from previous years. I live close to countryside, so heaven knows what’s coming into my garden when I’m not looking.

I’m satisfied that I’m doing my bit for bees, as I’ve seen plenty of them. But I’ve seen only a few butterflies, and very few birds. I don’t think I have enough cover for them – or maybe they have plenty of food in the countryside?

I don’t use chemicals, and I don’t like killing things – I  put caterpillars, slugs and snails in my green bin in the hope that they’ll munch on stuff in there. I know, of course, that losses will occur, but sometimes I feel I need to build a fortress of chicken wire and insect-proof mesh over my crops so that I can actually eat something. I’ve got many of the elements that wildlife gardens are supposed to have – trees, an edible hedge, nectar-rich plants, even a patch of nettles). And yet I wouldn’t say my garden has the ‘natural balance’ that is supposed to keep pests in check. Or is the idea of a ‘natural balance’ a myth? Do I just have unrealistic expectations?

Next year, I’m going to experiment with companion planting, and I might give up on some of my more vulnerable crops. I’m going to make a log pile, and an insect hotel. I hope it attracts the ‘right’ insects, though. If I end up making accommodation for even more earwigs I won’t be too pleased…

May 072015
 

Border

Whenever the weather forecast says it’s going to be windy, my heart sinks. ‘Windy’ means ‘gale force winds’ in my garden. It’s positioned in such a way that it gets the full force of south westerlies, and there’s nothing I can really do about it, as I’ve explained before. All I can do is plant wind-resistant plants such as Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ and grasses, and try not to look out of the window while violent gusts toss my precious plants about.

So hats off to the two tulips you can see here, ‘White Triumphator’ and ‘Attila’s Graffiti’, which have endured two days and nights of very strong winds. Some lost their petals, but the stems on all of them stood firm. ‘White Triumphator’ in particular looks almost as good as they did before the windy weather.

I saw ‘White Triumphator’ tulips at the Walled Garden at Mells last spring and loved them as they looked so classy. I chose ‘Attila’s Graffiti’ because they’re ‘Triumph’ tulips, said to stand up to bad weather. I’ve been really pleased with them, too – the flowers have been huge and have flowered for ages, and they contrast really well with the acid yellow flowers of Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfennii and the purple erysimums. I’m defnitely going to grow more Triumph varieties next year.

The same can’t be said of ‘Prinses Irene’ in pots in the front garden – they’ve all been decapitated.

Apr 032015
 
Prunus-incisa-kojo-no-mai

Bath

I’ve been on the lookout for a shrub for my main border for a while – something multi-stemmed that would give a bit of structure, with spring blossom and autumn colour. I had set my heart on a Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’, but  I read said that it needed a sheltered, well-drained spot – and my garden is anything but sheltered, or well drained. Plus, I thought it might get too big. So in the end, I plumped for a Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’.

I’m glad I did. Not only has it brought some welcome early spring colour (and contrasts nicely with the acid-green Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfennii close by, just seen in the background of the pic) but it is proving as tough as old boots. The garden has been battered non-stop by strong south-westerlies that have howled up the valley, but the Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ has stood firm, hanging on to every bit of blossom. I guess it’s not surprising that it’s so robust, seeing as it can be found growing on the exposed slopes of Mount Fuji.

Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ also has good autumn colour, and twisted stems in winter. I plan to underplant with early spring bulbs (it’s already looking good with some Cyclamen coum beneath it).

I’m still hankering after the Cercis, though. Apparently they can be grown in pots, so maybe I can squeeze one into the garden that way…

Oct 302014
 
Pelargoniums and paperwhite narcissisi in conservatory

Bath

There’s a clash of the seasons in my conservatory at the moment. Some paperwhite narcissi have flowered way earlier than I was expecting, and some pelargoniums (including the wonderfully named ‘Happy Thought’, in the front) have decided to flower again.

The tiny space is getting very congested – I’ve already brought in some tender plants, such as lemon verbenas, which was a bit premature given the ridiculously mild weather we’ve been having. Soon a couple of bananas and a fuchsia will be making their way in. Mind you, the effect I’m going for is Andie McDowell’s indoor greenhouse in the film Green Card, so a bit of congestion is fine by me.