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Archive for July, 2010

alchemillamollis

The alchemilla mollis has always been the classic cottage garden favourite. Undemanding by nature, all she ever asks for is a little sunshine to show off her curvaceous leaves and frothy yellow petticoats.

She is commonly called ‘lady’s mantle’, a reference to the shape of her lobed leaves which resemble the cape worn by Victorian ladies.

The name ‘alchemilla’ has an even older origin. The shape of the leaf collects drops of rain that glisten with purity and these drops were preciously gathered by alchemists and used in their search for the transformation of base metals to gold.

In these parts though she is often affectionately called ‘aunty molly’ and will always be a firm favourite in our borders.

alchemilla mollis (1)

Some decry her voluptuous fecundity and certainly she has the tendency to generously spread her offspring throughout the garden if she is given half the chance. At this time of year her yellow cymes are turning a russet gold as the seed begins to form. Ruthlessly cutting the leaves and flowers back to the ground will prevent her seed from spreading everywhere. No doubt she will look forlorn and shaven for a few days but will soon grow new fresh leaf that will look good all the way through autumn.

One can always have too much of a good thing though and perhaps her ubiquity can make her seem too common but when she is used thoughtfully she remains a dearly beloved favourite who brings her own inimitable charm to the summer garden.

alchemilla mollis

Another hard-working companion in the borders is the hardy geranium ‘rozanne’ which is still in full swing when all the others have finished.

geranium rozanne

My day is spent pulling and cutting out the dead leaves of the hemerocallis and hostas and bergenias and afterwards they look satisfyingly refreshed. This is a pleasantly relaxing way of spending the day whilst listening to the cricket on the radio.

I don’t know whether all this crop-circle malarkey has gone to the heads of Charlie and Bones but they are both driving the tractors sporting sombreros, and very dashing they look too…

Come Sunday my wife and I headed off to Shearwater Lake that lies a few miles over the Wiltshire border. We settled on a grassy bank for our picnic and watched the antics of the dinghy sailors who were out in force for a competition, the klaxon blaring out whenever anyone crossed a line of buoys.

In front of us were three anglers laid back on loungers. Their rods were set up on stands with all the latest technological paraphernalia attached. Bleeping sounds from a monitor warned them as soon as a carp ever considered taking a bite of their bait. One angler was on the mobile phone to a friend on the other side of the lake; it seemed that nobody was having any luck catching anything and so our intrepid anglers settled stoically back into their loungers, took another sip of cider and waited patiently.

We finished our picnic and walked up the path that leads into the heart of a conifer forest. When we returned the anglers had left, gone elsewhere no doubt in pursuit of the elusive carp…

lake

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This week we have seen the usual hotchpotch of weathers, from grey skies to bright sunshine, showers and torrential rain and thunder passing ominously overhead and there is never a dull moment in Dorset on the meteorological front.

The roses have mostly come to an end for the moment though some will flower again later. I take the chance to feed them with a good rose feed such as Toprose and water those growing in dry positions against the walls of the house.

hemerocallis

The hemerocallis, the anthemis tinctoria and the argyranthemum are unashamedly on centre stage and grabbing the limelight in the garden this week…

anthemis

The vegetable garden is in full swing with trugs of beans, peas, lettuce and radish and the suchlike being taken up to the kitchen. The Duke and Duchess are rather fond of blackcurrant jam and Cook Jenny has prepared a veritable conveyor belt of preserving pans, jars and labels and the jam making operation is in full swing and casual visitors to the kitchen best beware….

A good neighbour called me over to give him some advice on a horse-chestnut tree that grows in his garden. The tree is a fine specimen of some eighty years old according to records but on the trunk are the rather horrible signs of a bleeding canker as shown on the photograph below.

horsechestnut canker 

This is a bacterial disease that is spreading fast in this country but is the first that I have seen of it. The disease is not necessarily fatal and some trees can manage to fight it off but the most vulnerable are young trees who succumb when the cankerous wounds reach completely around the girth of the tree.

The given advice is to avoid pruning the tree that can leave it open to infection but disinfect any tools used if pruning is necessary and dispose of the branches at a council incinerator rather than a bonfire. Care must also be taken not to touch the wounds and then transfer the bacteria to another tree. I hope that this tree does survive because it is a good specimen and is a main feature of the garden.

echinops

The burning topic of conversation amongst the villagers this week concerns the crop circles that have turned up in a neighbouring wheat field. This is hardly surprising since we live not a million miles away from  Stonehenge and Glastonbury Tor and the area to our north is renowned for flying saucer sightings.

The farmer who owns the field is incensed that the local freebie newspaper has printed photographs of the circles on their front page with directions of how to find them. Since then a modest horde of curious looking people have been scouring the fields and overlooking hills to catch a glance of this phenomenon which consists of some two hundred circles of differing diameters interlinked with each other. The police have been informed.

Meanwhile, Charlie and Bones have set up ‘crop circle headquarters’ in the pub and appointed themselves official tour guides. For a modest fee they are willing to take visitors for an evening stroll up the hills to admire the circles whilst entertaining them with fascinatingly lurid tales of dark northern Dorset.

It turns out that a world expert on the subject lives nearby. He has recently been commissioned to design a crop circle for the Californian rock band ‘Korn’, a group alas that does not seem to appear on my ipod playlist. His advice to everyone is to ‘stop worrying and enjoy the mystery’ which sounds like a fairly good philosophical approach to life and other matters.

A google search throws up various articles and photographs on the subject of crop circles but the question still remains: is this the work of pranksters with ropes and boards or an ornate landing strip for visitors from outer space?

I confess that I have not visited the circles myself; please understand that we are not lacking in hospitality and if a band of Martians were to knock on the door and ask for a bed for the night we would not turn them away providing they removed their shoes first and didn’t mind the spare camp bed. But this is a busy time of year, what with the jam and chutney making season upon us, and so sadly a welcome reception is quite out of the question…

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The forecast rain has come in the shape of blustery showers that beat against the windows by night. The parched land is gratefully refreshed and I am forced to dig out the waterproof clothing again. After such a dry spell it is hard to be working once more in the rain but needs must because there is too much work to be done and one resigns to getting jolly well wet.

The main work of the day involves cutting back the hardy geranium and nepetas in the main borders. Most of them have gone over and will quickly grow back fresh leaf if they are cut back hard. Both the geranium and the nepeta are hardworking plants and the border depends upon their stalwartness but one can rely on them too heavily and find the gaps left when they are cut back too much.

One nepeta ‘six hills giant’ in particular has grown far too big and the gap left when it is cut back is too painful to bear and will take more than a pot of lilies to fill the space until the leaf grows back again. And so I make a mental note to dig it up in the autumn and reduce its size and bring the neighbouring iris sibirica closer to reduce the gap left behind.

astrantia (2)

The astrantia major, the upright, prim, laced Victorian lady of the border has become rather frumpy and is discretely cut back to the ground to spare her blushes and she will soon return refreshed and elegant once more.

Cutting back these plants inevitably reveals weeds that have been lurking in the undergrowth. A cluster of white dead-nettle are growing merrily away and I quite enjoy their simple charm but they do spread and so I pull them out, only to find a canny, small stinging nettle growing amongst them that impudently nips my fingers.

The plants that are cut back are fed with a watering can of diluted comfrey stewing water that we make in a tub up by the compost bins in the woodland area. Pip the hound has been prowling around and I hope that in his thirst he has not been drinking from the tub of fermenting comfrey leaves but if he turns into a St. Bernard’s then we will all know why…

Cutting back the plants produces a mountain of material and soon the coffers of the compost bin is full to the brim. This reminds me to water the outer edges of the compost heap so they do not become too dry and slow the composting process down.

rose abertine

Sadly the rosa ‘albertine’ that lights up the front wall of the house has finished flowering. For the past two weeks I have been fastidiously taking off the spent flowers so that they do not mar the appearance of the emerging blooms but they have pretty much all gone over now and so I cut them all down, water the rose and give it a summer feed. It will hopefully give a second flowering but never to the scale or magnificence of its first display.

The meteorologists assure us that the hot weather will soon return. As the summer proceeds, the english pastels of the borders are replaced by the fiery yellows, reds and oranges of the hemerocallis, crocosmia and kniphofia, matched only by the Hawaiian shirts sported by Charlie and Bones down the pub in the evening.

My beautiful wife has flown off to the south of France to spend a week with her family, sob, sob, leaving me to fend for myself – where did she say she kept the washing-up liquid? – but still, its not all gloom and doom, she has left me the Waitrose store card so methinks I will buy a bottle of beer, just to drown my lonesome blues…

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There must be a very long and serious sounding name for someone who specialises in plant bugs and diseases but sadly the name remains beyond the boundaries of my vocabulary. The subject has never grabbed my interest. I do remember reading a book from the library on garden bugs but the close-up photographs had me waking up in the middle of the dark night in a cold sweat. There are monsters out there with very large teeth…

I am a typical daft male who has to be at death’s door with the hinges creaking before he will consult his doctor. Yet when a plant is steadily being devoured by an entomological – yes I did have to check the spelling in my dictionary – intruder then I am forced to ditch my ostrich hide-my-head-in-the-sand-and-hope-it-goes-away attitude and leap into action.

I have written before about the red beetles that are the curse of anyone growing lilies and how they can be caught basking in the sunshine on the top leaves and crushed with a sharp, strong, sadistic thumbnail. On passing the lilies the other day I noticed the slimy black balls of excrement on the lily and bite marks to the leaves as further evidence. I have included a rather out-of-focus photograph taken hastily without a tripod but you get the idea.

lily beetle

These balls of black excrement can be wiped off with tissue but inside some of these balls is a small larvae just a few millimetres long and a golden brown in colour which give a rather satisfying squelch when squeezed. They are destined to grow bigger by feeding on the leaves and then parachute down to the soil and re-emerge a fortnight later as young beetles with an attitude and appetite. Only one of the lilies is affected but one cannot afford to rest on one’s cherry laurels and vigilance in the coming days will be needed…

On the way to work I met George who runs an allotment down the lane. The scowl on his face told me that all was not well. Anyone who grows vegetables knows that a host of creatures watch from a distance just waiting for a chance for a free meal. Added to this list is the badger that has given up trying to catch earthworms in the bone hard ground and has taken a liking to potatoes that grow so temptingly in the allotments. The fencing designed to keep intruders out has been breeched with ease and the said badger has feasted well, danced a merry fandango amongst the sweet-corn, and left his customary smelly calling card behind…

pinks

One of the flat roofs of the house has been leaking and three men and a van turned up to fix it. I was working on one of the borders nearby and the men were standing around having a cup of tea and a smoke. All of a sudden one of them started walking towards me, big chap he was, with long greasy black hair and more muscles than the average gorilla and I started to get worried. His bare torso was covered in tattoos declaring his love for his mum and his disdain for the rest of humanity.

‘S’cuse me mate’ he said, you couldn’t tell me the name of that rose over there could ya’. It turned out that his three passions in life were motorbikes, pub brawls and gardening. We entered a conversation on the delights and disasters of allotments. ‘If I ever get me hands on the bloomin’ pigeon that done me cabbages’ he said, wringing his hands in a frightening manner. I resolved that if I ever came back in a future reincarnation as a pigeon I would stay well clear of his brassica patch. We talked for a while and then he shook me by the hand and I got back to work, my hand still throbbing from the handshake but at least I was still alive…

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On Monday, the first task of the day is to walk the estate and check, by observation and intuition, if any of the newly planted trees or shrubs are suffering from the continued dry spell of weather. In the vegetable garden the espaliered fruit trees are watered by a trickling hose-pipe along with the soon-to-crop currant bushes whose fruit will swell with the extra water. The fast growing courgettes, tomatoes and pumpkins are amongst those given a quarter of a large watering can’s worth each day and needless to say that the pots and containers receive their fair share of water too.

The sun beats down relentlessly and my wife keeps nagging me to wear a hat but sadly I have never found one that fits or that doesn’t make my head hotter than without or doesn’t make me look like the village fool. I do apply copious amounts of sun-block though, roll my shirtsleeves down, put my collar up and drink gallons of water.

In the village store the locals are beginning to complain about the weather being too hot and humid, ice-cream sales have soared and knobbly knees, both male and female, are to be seen in abundance. As the week rolls on, a low pressure tries to move in from the west bringing clouds and breezes and the promise of showers.

cynara

A brick wall divides the vegetable garden from the main herbaceous borders with the espaliered fruit trees on the vegetable side and climbing roses on the flower side. The wall itself is some ten feet tall – one needs a pair of steps to tend the roses – and is topped with tiles as is the fashion in these parts.

Half way along the wall grow two cardoons – or cynara cardunculus to give them their posh names – which are still young and virile with their handsome silver-blue-grey leaf. They are beginning to flower and parenthood will cause them to grow tired and ragged with all the effort, especially in the hot summer sun, but for now they are at their youthful best.

cephelaria (2)

The cardoons are grown six feet apart and between them and the wall grows a large group of cephalaria gigantea, or giant scabious as they are called, which grow around five feet tall and have flowers that are well-described as being a delightful primrose-yellow.

An obelisk to the front of the cephalaria supports a rosa ‘konigen von denmark’ whose warm pink alba blooms blend beautifully with the primrose-yellow of the cephalaria. An ocean of geranium ‘magnificum’ and iris sibirica ‘silver edge’ grow in front and have been competing boyishly for attention for the past month with their blue and violet shades but are now just going over.

rose queen denmark

Charlie and Bones are busy mowing the lawns but are setting the mowers far too low for this dry season. Every year I tell them to mow higher and every year they nod their heads in agreement and then continue to mow at the same low height and I guess that some things are reluctantly never meant to change.

The prize lawn that adjoins the grand patio is reserved for croquet matches at the weekend. Economy dictates that only this lawn receives the five-star treatment: scarification, aeration, top-dressing and mowing twice a week and the green sward with stripes is our pride and joy and offsets the herbaceous borders in a stately manner.

Wimbledon nears its finale and the Duchess has taken up residence in her chambers and is not to be disturbed and Cook Jenny has promised to jig down the village high street if Andy Murray should lift the trophy…at the time of posting Andy is due to face Nadal this afternoon.

Charlie and Bones spend their lunch-break debating England’s demise in the World Cup and the Frank Lampard goal that was disallowed despite the ball clearly going in the net and crossing the touchline by a country mile or two. I cannot repeat what they would do if they could ever get their hands on the referee but apparently it would involve baling twine, creosote and a pitchfork!

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