28 February 2009


They've been at it again!
This three year old hypericum grown from a right royal cutting has had its head snapped off. 

After winning the battle to establish against all the odds; being planted out too small, hard growing conditions, drought, all the other possible causes of failure, it has had a run in with the single biggest cause of plant damage in the garden - go on - guess!

That I get infuriated is probably understandable. What isn't is how this plant, still only eighteen inches high and really rather insignificant, attracted such unwanted attention tucked away as it is in the middle of a bed.  It is broken in the wrong direction for a football (beat that, Marple!).  It must have taken effort to reach it and to avoid damaging anything else - it seems strangely specific.  Maybe someone with a hatred of hypericum.

I cut the damage out.  It will grow away, invigorated for the hard prune, and be better than before.  

Victory is mine!

good giving, bad giving

This is the sort of gift I like to find waiting for me.  Left on the stage was this carrier bag bulging with snowdrops.  

Nice simple, undouble, nowt fancy, proper snowdrops. 

These were left following a conversation last week.  A 'would you like some of' type of conversation.  I am wary these days after years of being ceremoniously presented with much loved mange-blasted balcony casualties time and time again so these were a joy.  

We gratefully receive anything but on enquiry I now recite this litany - "if we can't use it we'll pass it on, if we can't pass it on we'll compost it". This has kept the worse offenders safely and diplomatically out of our beds.  Even with careful inspection some have carried unwelcome hitchhikers whose descendants run willy-nilly eating all before them (I will again be bemoaning lily and rosemary beetles come summer no doubt).

The right plant healthy and ready to grow will usually find a place.  These 'drops are destined to be split into single bulbs and planted to the same depth through the new south end beds.  In three years or so they'll have bulked up to carpet the beds at just this time.  

I'll be getting down on my knees to smell their delicate fragrance - will you?  

27 February 2009

BOING! it's spring!

The first of the frogs is there in the pond and the first butterfly is on the wing, the blackthorn is flowering and so today spring is upon us.  Of course there may well be further snow and ice, you can't count those chickens just yet, but we can rest assured it will be spring snow and ice. 

For some reason the first frog I've seen this year is a particularly gormless looking individual (but which one isn't?).  He sat at the surface in full view for hours warming himself in the sun and is now pictured on any number of local mobile phones - frogs are popular.     Relying on the 'keep still and they won't see you' strategy to keep safe from predators does seem somewhat basic.  I'm sure a hungry heron would not be at all convinced. 

It's the male frogs that appear first each year getting in position for the arrival of the females a bit later once the water has warmed slightly.  In a couple of weeks the amphibian orgy will be in full swing.  

I hope they are successful breeding this year. The 'temporary' pond (it's been five years) they have had to use in previous years is very shaded and just hasn't provided adequate conditions. Two severe drought years took a toll and it is clear that the frog population in the garden has fallen from the 105 adults counted in 2005.  Fingers crossed the wildlife pond, completed last spring, will provide just what they need.  We'll know in five years or so.  They are slow to grow.

The first butterfly was a red admiral.  Out of hibernation and refueling on a big yellow South African daisy.  It may have only just woken from a few months sleep but it was too quick for me - so no photo.  

In the wood the Blackthorn has opened blossom from the small pearly buds strung along it's twigs.  Our plants growing in the shade of oak and rowan trees are willowy open shrubs so different from the gnarled twisted hedgerow plants you can see countrywide.  They have the same, and for some end of winter reason, exciting whiter than white confetti flowers - beautiful.  

It really is very warm - see - it must be spring.

26 February 2009

dust under cyclamen carpet

I don't like to see bare soil, particularly dusty dry bare soil.  Some people do, I imagine for the illusion of control, but scorched earth gardens of regimented rows make me anxious.  How much better to lay a carpet like this.

Underneath the Firethorn tree in the driest dustiest soil is this tapestry of green hardy cyclamen leaves and parchment dry leaves from last autumn.  Isn't it pretty?  

(or do you think messy?  Shame on you! Insects live here!)  

These are Cyclamen hederifolium.  Originally from southern Europe they are now grown commercially, easy to get hold of, easy to grow once established and very, very long lived.  They grow from a just buried tuber and bloom in August, before the leaves appear, with small flowers of reflexed petals of pink or white.   The beautifully patterned leaves unfurl in September and carpet the soil from then until they wither in  June.  They can thrive in dry shady places making the most of winter rain and prefer open stony soil just like the rubble filled soil at the Phoenix.  

I have seen them growing wild in Umbria and it was clear why they are sometimes called Sowbread - it was obvious by the trail of crunched up tuber leftovers where the wildboar had been rooting in the night!

coronilla glauca, again

I know I keep going on about the Coronilla, but just look at it!  

This will flower, as it has for the past two months, until May and even then the odd intermittent bloom will appear.  It wafts great clouds of 'lily' scent around - fantastic!  

This one I grew from seed and at three years old is five foot high and four across.  Easy peasy if well drained and not in a wind tunnel.

To fill the gap that needs yellow and winter/spring flowering go for this and leave the Forsythia to be 'enjoyed' in someone else's garden.

Though come to think of it I like forsythia too.

planting workshop - peas n pot marigolds - Sunday 21st

I'm running planting workshops this spring as part of the build up to the St Giles Seven Dials In Bloom competition.  Most of them are going to be food based and this, the first, was to plant up pots of peas and pot marigolds.

Advertising for the day had been minimal, the posters and leaflet drop had not happened and posters had only gone up in three housing blocks and on the garden railings.  Seven people turned up to do pots.

The peas came in two variations, the first to grow traditionally for peas in pods with ten seeds in a  ten inch pot (Kelvedon Wonder variety - dwarf and early), the other had the peas sown really densely in smaller pots to give a crop of pea shoots for salads - these should 'cut and come again'.  The idea had been to sow some pot marigolds - calendula - in the same pots as the peas but instead they went into their own pots.  They're called pot marigolds because they are good for the pot/edible, they were used to colour food before saffron, turmeric and the rest of the expensive yellows were introduced and being so easily grown were available for everyone (dont mix them up with Tagetes marigolds, the African and French ones - these are repellent smelling, tasting - and looking!).

They are good companions plants for veg attracting aphid predators like hoverflies.  

I'll keep the leftover seed for the next workshops and peas and marigolds can still be on the menu next month. 

thomas in what?

Its the end of winter!  You can always tell as pointed buds of Crocus tommasinianus push up throughout the garden next to planters and in paving cracks.  Called winter flowering crocus they are some of the first bulbs to get going and only open their flowers when the temperatures are high enough - that means its spring in my mind!  
All the books say these will seed themselves about, whether they do or not it's easy enough to stuff some corms here and there each autumn, and they are very forgiving.  Unlike most crocus they will flower in semi-shade and don't need the actual touch of sun beams to open.  
In St Giles church front garden next door I planted three thousand of these four years ago, my knees remember that well, and they look great - even with the inevitable foot prints squashed right through them.

19 February 2009

talking dead banana

Work in the garden today, to clear some of the dead stems and make some space for new things, was really a long chat interrupted with only
occasional action. I didn't get much done.

For some reason, it wasn't a particularly cheery day, the garden had a steady stream of visitors - most of whom wanted to talk. Apart from the all-weather regulars there were the first of the returning fair-weather ones, nice to see some of them back (though not all - one or two will need watching again this year), and new faces too.

People were very complimentary and congratulated the good work. Lots of comments re:global warming and everything being in flower 'this time of year'. I explained, increasingly automatically as the day wore on I'm sure, that the plants were doing what they do at the right time and reeled off the list of plants that flower in winter, and got them to sniff the coronilla (now staked) that was performing today. Some days it seems to have no fragrance whatsoever but when the temperature is just right it is smashing.

Had to advise that poking the goldfish with a stick was not a good idea.
A slightly confusing conversation with a lady - about the banana not being dead. She wanted to know what would replace the dead banana. I said it just looked tatty and wasn't dead so nothing. For some reason she clearly thought this was ridiculous. It sort of went back and forth between us for a minute until she demanded to know "why, in that case, is it crisp and brown?". "It's winter! The leaves fall off!" I replied rather bluntly.

I try and answer questions about the garden but am not at my best whilst off-balance, on one leg, half-doubled and trimming helichrysum. Some people do pick their moment.

17 February 2009

sunday workday - iron post erection

Sunday Workday - Garrad, Alison, me.

The old iron gate posts have been sitting in the garden since the front railings were replaced five years ago.  They are ridiculously heavy but despite this they have travelled round the garden repeatedly, usually accompanied by ridiculously-heavy lifting hilarity.  At last their final positions have been decided, the larger of the two was installed in the autumn for a pair of clematis at the south end, the other has now found its home adjacent to the path in front of the bramble patch.

Teas all round and after Alison and Garrad got cracking on the excavation. Plants up and to the compost, topsoil off and to the new beds, then the wrecking bar to get the bricks out (1 1/2 bucket) all accompanied by the most dreadful sulphurous smell emanating from below ground.

After investigating and lots of discussion decided it may be from the rotting eucalyptus roots that were left after this tree was felled, we'd experienced similar when digging around the stump of a Pseudoacacia that was cut down a few years ago.  Whether this is normal I don't know but plants have grown well in both these areas since the trees were removed. 

The hole was dug two foot deep by a bit less wide and some metal rods were hammered in at an angle into the base of the hole.  The three of us just managed to carry the post from the back of the garden 
- not without a few giggle breaks. 

 Alison learnt how to mix cement - you go girl!

Lifting the post into place was slightly hairy, it would probably have been better done with a couple more people, but it dropped into the hole nicely without any problem. We secured it by tying sections of an old climbing frame to it, braced with metal stakes hammered into the ground.  Cement and hardcore filled in around the base and was packed in firmly.  A bit of fiddling to get it level and we were done. 

More tea. 

Tools away.

Good days work.

Garden closed forty eight hours for HnS - I'll see what its like when the concrete's hard.  I do hope it holds - it is very heavy. 

14 February 2009

jack frost squashed it


Despite expecting a garden full of frosted mush the ice and snow has done surprisingly little harm.  A week of sub-zero night-time temperatures and earth as 'hard as i-yon' has only really finished off the remainder of last years softer leaves that were hanging on.  These had the  general look of 'too long in the drawer' lettuce, not fully alive, not yet quite departed.  They won't be missed and there's now a winter dormant tidyness that's usually missing here.

The cold itself seems to have had little effect on supposedly tender plants, even the Echiums that were floppy and drooped now are up and ready to grow.   The blanket of snow is supposed to insulate the plants but there was hard frost for days after the snow had melted so why there isn't more damage I don't know. 

The biggest problem has been the very weight of the snow on everything.  Some plants simply could not hold the weight  Not surprisingly all the Coronilla, full of scented blossom, are now face down in the mud but these always seem to go over at the first gust of wind.  The scented Pelargonium shrublets have grown woody over the years and seem surprisingly tough but they are frustratingly brittle and now a three year old Copthorne has had its 'legs' broken.  The big clumps of Stinking Hellebore (it doesn't) have been pushed apart, exposing smooth green 'canes' laying flat on the ground, but the big soft green flower heads have already started to turned up to the light - business as usual it seems.  Shame they're over the path and will get walked on if left, I must remember to tie them up.                                                                                                                                                                                        

13 February 2009

the last nest box

Today I finally got the last bird box cleaned out.  Birds can choose a nest site early in winter and it's best not to go fiddling around with the boxes late in the season.  The rest were done months ago but what with a missing ladder and no head for heights this very high one was easy to leave late. Preserved inside, since last summer, I found this sad little scene. 

Eight unhatched eggs in a feather lined cup and a dead adult blue tit.   

The amount of nesting material collected is impressive. There must have been so many trips to collect all the bits of  moss, grass, strips of bark and feathers.  

There was also a healthy and hopping population of fleas patiently waiting for this years occupants.  A kettle of hot water deals with these effectively, they are a good reason to clean out nest boxes regularly. 

Better luck this year.

11 February 2009

the big chill

(from a week ago)                                       Bbbbrrrr! Cold indeed and the garden blanketed under six inches of snow.  Everyone in town is, like myself, snow-insane and over-excited, this equals unsafe, so the garden remained closed.  When asked 'why?', replied  'health and safety', and dodged accusations of being a spoilsport - then dodged snowballs aplenty. 

(wondered at everyones eagerness to scrape up snow from StGiles Passage corner - this informal urinal reeks in summer - white doesn't always mean  clean)

The beds are all invisible and I 'crossed fingers' that the more tender things make it through. The garden hasn't seen the like for years and it will definitely test the mettle of some.   Maybe this summer will see a reduction in half-hardy shrub smugness on my part.