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 192015
 
Hydrangeas

Wells, Somerset

Is it just me, or have hydrangeas looked especially good this year? They must have enjoyed the wet weather. I liked this line of them along a shady bank in the Bishop’s Palace garden in Wells.

I have a Hydrangea paniculata in my garden, which has flowered its socks off for weeks. The white flowers are now turning pink and I’m dead pleased I got it.

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…