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Archive for June, 2010

High pressure has settled over the land for a few days and we are basking in the sunshine. My time is still taken up predominantly with the first wave of cutting back in the herbaceous borders. It feels like the interlude of some great battle and we have been sent out to gather the fallen casualties. There is no time for tears though, the battle is about to recommence with the big guns, the day-lilies and delphiniums, waiting and ready to burst into action.

There are still some papavers to be cut down. Papaver ‘patty’s plum’ that grows at the base of a young weigela ‘bristol ruby’, encircled by heuchera ‘obsidian’ are still in flower and perhaps we can squeeze one more drop of glory from them but they are very much battered from the previous rains. The crimson-scarlet papaver ‘beauty of livermere’ that grows dramatically silhouetted against the silver eleagnus are definitely past their prime. The seed pods can be flipped off quite easily and gathered into a bucket and make fine table decorations in a primordial sort of way. The remaining foliage is cut down and composted, wearing gloves to protect the skin from the irritation of the fine hairs of the stem.

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Cornflowers or centaurea seem to wander around the garden, snuckling down amongst the geraniums and popping up in the early spring with their blue flower or the occasional white, and welcome they are whilst they are young and nomadic but if they settle for more than a year then they grow too big and collapse into an undignified heap after flowering, leaving an awkward gap, and then I prefer to dig them up and do away with them.

Whilst wandering down the border, I look once more at the small clump of inula with their bright golden yellow flower-heads that seem somewhat incongruous amongst the english pastels and I remain undecided whether they should be dug up and moved to another part of the garden or dug up and moved to someone else’s garden. Indecision and laziness being the perfect partners, the inula gets a reprieve for the moment.

Two pyracantha grow as buttresses against the south face of the house, a clematis montana nonchalantly straddles a fence and a honeysuckle climbs gracefully over a wooden archway. All three are in full flower and have sent up their usual growth stems, quite unneeded as they have already filled their allotted space so the growth stems are cut back flush to the mother plant.

lonicera

England is agog with excitement. The ancient monument of Stonehenge is just a few miles down the road from here. It has been a few years since I draped myself in blankets and stayed up all night with the pagans and tourists to watch the sunrise on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, which is normally a cloudy affair anyway. According to the grapevine, this year has been exceptional and they were blessed with clear skies and a perfect sunrise to the sound of a warbling flute which is probably a portent for something but I know not what.

Worthy Farm in the sleepy village of Pilton is transformed this week into Glastonbury, the largest pop festival in Europe. Funny looking vans with even funnier looking people at the wheel have been seen driving down the country lanes around here. I have sweet memories of wading through a musical mud swamp in torrential rain but this year it looks like a sun-drenched festival although it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without at least one thunderous downpour.

salvia osterland

Team England march triumphantly into the next round of the World Cup, oh, and our cousins from across the pond did quite well too…

Charlie and Bones, stripped down to the waist, adorned with straw hats and smothered in suntan oil, are both driving the tractors on the periphery of the estate. I would include a photograph but I can assure you that it is not a pretty sight….

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On Monday morning the garden is wet from overnight rain but soon the sun comes to dry everything out and the day is spent cutting back some of the plants in the herbaceous borders.

The papavers that have been so daring and dramatic in the beds are now coming to the end of their brief sojourn and look clumsy and bedraggled by the overnight rains. With a sorry heart they are cut down to the ground but new fresh leaf will soon grow back with the occasional promise of a late second flowering.

A fledgling wren passes by at nose height on his first aeronautical excursion. Despite furiously beating his tiny wings he is travelling no faster than slow-motion but eventually lands on a hazel branch and looks around hoping his proud mum and dad were watching…

geum bradshaw geum mrs bradshaw

The lupins look as gorgeous as ever but as the stems finish flowering and begin to set seed they are promptly cut out lest they mar the appearance. Eventually the whole plant will be cut down and will hopefully flower again later. Several of the hardy geraniums have enthusiastically spread themselves over the edge of the border and will damage the lawn underneath if they are allowed to remain so they are discretely clipped back.

The ceanothus that grows in the corner surrounded by the semi-circle of rosa rugosa ‘double de coubert’ looked as dead as the proverbial dodo after the travails of last winter but walking past this morning I noticed that it has sprung back to life albeit with a fair amount of dead wood within it. I must admit that this shrub was due to be chopped out any day now but this just goes to prove the old countryman’s adage that all good things come to those who put off until tomorrow what one needs to do today!

rose golden anniversary

Wednesday finds me visiting another garden open to the public. An herbaceous border spreads out before me, some three yards wide and twenty yards in length. The curved end nearest me is dominated by a young and handsome cotinus coggygria ‘royal purple’ emerging from a semi-circle of geranium ‘magnificum’ leading to a group of nepeta ‘six hills giant’ followed by knautia ‘macedonica’.

Already my eye is being enticed to follow the river of colours that will lead me through the pale yellows and pinks to much richer colours that lie beyond. This simple and well-used design is a delight; the gardener has clearly put much thought into his, or her, planting, this is more than just a collection of plants that go well together but rather a design that leads one somewhere, the gardener has a story to tell and this is a journey that I am happy to embark upon.

Quite exhausted, I head for a park bench and promptly fall asleep in the mid-day sun. I awake with a start some time later and have that horrible nagging feeling that I may have been snoring whilst asleep. Heaven forbid that a coach load of tourists, armed to the teeth with cameras and camcorders, should have passed by. I furtively look around but mercifully everyone else in the garden seems far more interested in admiring the roses than sniggering at some snoring fool so I may possibly have just gotten away with it…

alchemillamollisalchemilla mollis

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alpaca poo spreader…

 

On Monday the clouds thicken and it feels that rain is coming and I spend some time in the morning hoeing the vegetable garden, partly because the weeds are getting a little dense and partly so that the loosened earth will drink up the rain more easily.

For the first time this year I find myself dead-heading the climbing roses in earnest. I’m quite particular about this task; nothing annoys me more than a healthy climber with fresh young buds unfolding and old dead-heads spoiling the picture. Up the ladder I cut off the spent old heads and crumple them into a compact ball and then lob them into a bucket waiting below.

rosa abraham darbyrose abraham darby

The Duke and Duchess are having a small garden gathering this weekend, and this being Wednesday I not only cut out any dead-heads but also those about to go over as well so that by the time the weekend has arrived the roses will be looking their very best. Apparently the tea-party season is upon us and Charlie and Bones have been dispatched to dig out the croquet equipment from the sheds.

geranium

At this time of year I become a lily beetle vigilante. We grow some twenty pots of lilies, lined up against the greenhouse ready to be placed around the garden as they come into flower. It is now that the lily beetle comes to life and, given half a chance, will munch its way through the lily leaf, laying its orange-red eggs on the underside of the leaf which will hatch quickly into pupae usually covered in its own black mess as they too munch on the lily leaf before descending to the soil to emerge a fortnight later as adult beetles.

On a sunny day, these long black and red beetles come to the surface and rest on the top of the leaves of the lily, quite literally basking in the sunshine. I’m afraid to say that you often find two beetles together, romancing as it were. With a steady hand and a sharp thumbnail one can crush the backs of these beetles and stop their devastation. I’ll pass the lily pots every half an hour or so and I’ll always spot three or four beetles. By acting so vigilantly I’ll save the lilies without resorting to chemicals. One has to give a thought perhaps to the poor beetles, mercilessly killed whilst in the heat of a passionate exchange. But what a way to go though!

geranium magnificum

The Duchess has returned from visiting some friends and has brought back two bags of alpaca poo with her which is supposed to be excellent for the garden. I spend the rest of the morning forkling the stuff into the soil. I suppose that my teachers at school, frustrated in their fruitless attempts to download calculus and syntax into my feeble brain, must have thought that eventually I would end up one day being an alpaca poo spreader and I am so pleased to have fulfilled their prophecies…

For those who read my post last week and may be wondering if Charlie and Bones are still with us, well, the holiday in Barbados has been put on hold for the moment, their horse in the Derby crossed the finishing line, eventually, but sadly coming third to last does not pay dividends…

Later in the day a gentle refreshing rain falls that only the mean-hearted would begrudge and the dry earth drinks gratefully…

foxglove

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Hello and welcome. If you have arrived by ‘spaceship blotanical’ – the very best gardening online community ever – may I ask you possibly to push the ‘View Blog Normally’ button to see this post in its full glory and if you have arrived some other way then kindly ignore these past few words! Thank you!

 

Anyone who knows anything about anything knows that there are different types of rain: the sort that chills the bone and taunts us of coming old age and the sort that cause us to dance with wild abandon. The sweetest rain comes in the night whilst we are tucked up in our dreams, waters the earth, and then politely leaves before we have finished our porridge. Such was the rain last night.

The early summer party is well under way in the garden and the geraniums, nepetas, papavers, paeonies, aquilegias and alliums are all putting in a hard day’s work. Meanwhile, the hibiscus and young walnut tree at the bottom of the garden have just begun to wake up, unfold their leaves, wipe the sleepy byes from their eyes and look around them, wondering what all the fuss is about…

 

rose meg 

 

 

 

 

Meg rose is old favourite, with  its peachy apricot almost single flowers and russet-red stamens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Chelsea Flower Show has been and gone. The plans I submitted featuring one hundred and one garden gnomes and a tractor tyre tastefully planted with petunias was rejected. I know not why. I spent my time instead doing the ‘chelsea chop’, the term given to a pruning technique where certain herbaceous perennials are cut down by a third or a half, according to one’s temperament and daring, so that they grow more compact rather than tall and lanky and falling all over themselves. On our estate the heleniums, leucanthemums, sedums and anthemis are all worthy subjects of this benign pruning.

 

rosa reveil dijonnais

 

 

Reveil Dijonnais is a most original rose, well-suited for growing on a pillar and is said to cope with hot dry conditions. The outer colour of crimson and  orange meets with a bright yellow centre.

 

 

 

Derby day is traditionally the date given for the start of the box hedge pruning. On the estate we have small box hedges on the parterres and box balls on the corners of the main borders but no main hedges or topiary sculptures which is probably just as well given my lack of talent with the garden shears.

For the historically interested, the Derby was inaugurated in 1780 at Epsom race course by Edward Smith-Stanley the 12th Earl of Derby. The race is held in the first week of June and gardeners have always understood that cutting box before this date tempts the bite of a late frost and if you cut after the end of June the new growth may not be tough enough to cope with the first autumn frosts. Therefore, somewhere in the middle of June is reckoned the best time and the experts from above now counsel cutting just once in the year to minimise the risk of box blight of which I have written at more length in the ‘how to’ section.

 

papaver coral reef (1)

 

 

 

 

papaver coral reef…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charlie and Bones have chosen the sure-fire winner of the Derby this Saturday based on inside information. It seems that one of them has a cousin who knows a friend who goes out with a stable-boy who overheard a conversation…Their choice is a well-guarded secret but they spend their coffee breaks planning what to spend their sure-fire winnings on…

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