Posts Tagged ‘roses’

The Duchess purchases numerous garden periodicals every month. She spends her days marking them with a red pen, highlighting a plant she feels the garden needs or a task that simply must be done poste-haste. She then leaves them in a neat pile in the boot-room for me to collect.

The magazines inevitably leave me feeling guilty, wondering how on earth I am supposed to compete with the perfection of the gardens illustrated. The ‘what to do this month’ articles are always helpful reminders of what needs to be done. Since I don’t receive the magazines until the end of the month, that means that many jobs are done one month later than elsewhere but the garden survives never-the-less.


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A parcel of bare-root roses has arrived. I have bought many roses from Peter Beales over the years and they have always arrived in first-class condition and this time was no exception. The ground has already been prepared beforehand to allow the soil level to settle down. The sacred law of roses is to plant them with the union – where the branches leave the root stock – below the ground to protect this vulnerable area from frost.

I have planted five roses – including my favourite Empereur du Maroc – in a quarter-circle around a plum-leaved ‘Prunus pissardii nigra’ I will hopefully show photographs later. The last task is to prune them down to buds roughly six inches above soil-level to encourage low shoots to grow and keep the rose compact rather than leggy.

A dead branch on the old sweet chestnut has caught the attention of a great spotted woodpecker. I wish I had binoculars or a camera with a long lens but alas I have neither on me. I can see the woodpecker though, his head rattling away like a pneumatic drill. It does rather remind me – and I share this with slight embarrassment – of my adolescent youth spent head-banging to rock music with my long locks flailing in the air. This was all rather good fun at the time. We probably caused irreversible neurological damage to ourselves, but one is eternal when one is young.


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I still have a couple of trees left to plant. I cannot stress the need to get the soil gently placed within the arches of the roots so that the roots are in contact with the soil rather than left in air-pockets. And then before piling the soil back in and stomping down I like to step back and see if the tree is upright. To be honest the trees from the nursery will never be perfectly straight. They have been grown outside in the elements rather than in a test-tube. Compromises will have to be made. But by looking from all four corners one can put the tree as straight as possible and then replace the soil.

Whilst planting the trees I have forgotten a tool and have to traipse all the way back to the stables to get it. Upon arriving at the tool-shed I realise that I have not the slightest notion of which tool I have forgotten. I stand there for a good few minutes like a sad fool. Shaking my head I return to the other side of the garden where I am planting the trees. And then I remember that I needed a knife to cut the twine that holds the tree branches together. I make my way back to the stables again. It is not easy being a gardener sometimes.


leaf beech-1


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Well, no, we don’t actually have any roses in bloom in Dorset at the moment as the title suggests but the weather has been so blooming awful that I thought I would offer this delightful poem by John O’Reilly and some photos from last summer to cheer us all up….

rosa felicite perpetue

rosa felicite-perpetue

The red rose whispers of passion

And the white rose breathes of love

O, the red rose is a falcon

And the white rose is a dove

But I send you a cream-white rosebud

With a flush on its petal tips

For the love that is purest and sweetest

Has a kiss of desire on the lips

by John Boyle O’Reilly

Stop press: a gorgeous day out there with crisp sunshine so things are looking up already!

rosa felicte perpetue

rosa felicite-perpetue

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The recent frosts, light winds and dry sunny weather have joined forces to create a most memorable autumn leaf display. Garden writers across the land stumble with clumsy words to describe this golden magnificence in all its glory.

Copper beech leaves gather in tree-lined avenues for children and young lovers to scamper through. Gleefully they kick them in the air and laugh as they fall upon their noses. A gentle breeze catches a handful of leaves and sends them spinning, dancing gaily across the terrace, to the joy of the Duchess who stands at the study window, clapping her hands in childish delight.

The ash trees have cast their leaves now to reveal their unmistakeable branches that curl up delightfully at the ends. The old oak tree has thrown down enough acorns to grow a forest but will shed its leaves in its own time and nobody else’s.

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The first job of the day is to give the hybrid teas their autumn prune. This is not as extreme as the spring pruning but mostly a way of reducing their height and bulk so that the gales that will surely come do not cause any damage. The height is reduced by about one-third and any dead or crossing branches growing into the middle are taken out so that the winds can blow through more easily. This inevitably involves cutting out fresh buds and flowers but they will never amount to much with the rain and frosts that await us and it is always far better in my opinion to allow the rose a full dormant season rather than being greedy and insisting on flowers in every season.

The theory holds that the wind can shake a rose that causes the roots to rock and create gaps in the soil around the roots. These gaps then fill with rain water which will expand if it freezes which in turn will damage the fine hairs of the roots which in turn damages the rose itself. The theory of roses changes all the time but never-the-less any gardener worth his salt will reduce his roses to prevent any damage from wind rock. It’s a matter of instinct.

The buddleja davidii that grow in exposed parts of the garden are also cut down by one-third. I am always in two minds about this because the blackened flower-heads have a certain dark beauty but these are shallow-rooted top-heavy shrubs and our soil is light and they can easily blow over in a gale. The hard pruning will come in February but a one-third pruning will do for now.






It seems that everyone is revelling in the autumn glory. Everyone that is, except for Grumpy George, who passes by on his way to the allotment.

‘Look’, he says, pointing in all directions with his pipe. ‘Have you seen the berries on the pyracantha and the holly? You know what that means don’t you?’

‘It will be a hard winter?’ I venture.

‘A very hard winter’ he replies, shaking his head and glancing up into the skies as if expecting it to snow at any moment. And with that he gets on his bicycle and rides off down the lane whistling a merry tune for George is never so happy as when he is being the prophet of doom.


stourhead (5)

stourhead gothic cottage


The leaves of the pond lilies are turning brown with earnest and it’s time to take them out. Mercifully there are no over-hanging trees and not many leaves tend to fall in so there is no need to net the pond which is always a chore. The leaves are slimy and falling apart so I gather them with a small net on the end of a bamboo pole, the sort that children love to use to catch sea-creatures in rock-pools.

The squirmy leaves detach themselves quite easily. The smell is simply quite gorgeous in a boggy sort of way and childhood memories come flooding back of chasing newts in green ponds. I’ve developed the art of gathering a net of leaves and then flipping the net upside down so that they fall neatly into a bucket ready to be taken to the compost bin. I am rather proud of my accomplished dexterity. Ah well, simple things please simple gardeners, as my wife is always telling me!

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someone is watching…

Half a year ago we looked eagerly for the first signs of spring and now in turn we welcome the first cobwebs, mists and melancholy thoughts of autumn. In the orchards the curiously pleasing sweet aroma of rotting apples begins to work its magic.

Monday is spent tackling the weeds that have invaded the kitchen garden. The courgette plants are over for the year and are hauled out unceremoniously. We have not had a huge harvest this year but enough to meet everybody’s courgette needs and then some. The soil is now ready for the garlic, shallots and broad beans which will be sown soon. Ideally the soil is never left barren: when one crop is finished then another takes its place and so the cycle revolves.

rain leaf


On the kitchen wall is a sepia photograph of an erstwhile head-gardener looking suitably stern with his four assistants. They are standing outside the potting shed that still stands today. Previous gardeners have toiled to leave their mark on the garden and although many changes to the design have taken place over the years it is the stonework and trees that link the past with the future. The garden is our inheritance handed down through the generations. Sometimes on an autumn day you can be digging the borders under the majestic beech tree and know that you are not alone, that someone is watching you, hopefully with approving eyes.

In large clay pots we grow sweet peas on bamboo tee-pees but these are now finished for the year and are cut down. The very last of the flowers are given to the kitchen and the foliage is chopped up and added to the compost heap. The bamboo poles are cleaned and dried and tied up with twine and stored in the sheds. We have a good stock of bamboo but are using more and more native hazel sticks these days. Once again we are cutting back and putting away but there is no time for melancholy sadness for already we must consider sowing the sweet peas for next year. There is no rest for the wicked and not much for the righteous either!


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The sweet chestnut is throwing its heavy leaves in earnest but the beech, oak and hazel have cast just a few. It is an untidy mid-way sort of time: there are not enough leaves on the ground to bother gathering them up and so they remain and make the place look uncared for.

Time is spent pruning back hard the roses growing on the walls and tying them in well. The wires are also checked to make sure they are secure. The autumn will bring its gales which will test the strength of any plant growing in such an exposed position.


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A well-tended garden is ephemeral at the best of times, no more than a collection of fragmented memories. Perhaps the dizzy romance of May or, surprisingly, during the heavy frosts of winter, one can glance over the shoulder and turn and snap a photograph, knowing that one has caught the garden in perfection. Oh, no doubt the glossy magazines will hoodwink us into believing that the ideal garden is constantly on tap, sealed and packaged, available at a moment’s notice. But in truth the well-tended garden is as permanent as a sand-castle built below the tide-line. The weeds I pull today will return grinning tomorrow and in the garden I am no more the master of my destiny than a leaf falling, fluttering, from a tree.

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Five lanes lead into the village. Each one winds uphill and down, flanked by steep banks, scrubland and over-hanging trees. Their narrowness comes from a by-gone era when horse and ox carts would wend their way to the weekly market. These days it is the fleet of wives and their children heading for the local schools that battle against the counter-flow of tradesmen drafted in to repair broken boilers and leaky taps.

These lanes were not built to accommodate people carriers and work-vans and so passing points have been carved out of the banks. A well-choreographed juggling of vehicles takes place during this rush-hour with general goodwill and just the occasional exasperated raising of eyebrows and muttering of oaths under the breath at the inability or disinclination of some to reverse or make way.

Fortunately I arrive at the estate early before the congestion begins and the only other souls on the road are a dozen pheasant hens who bustle around in the middle of the road, going one way then the other, before deciding that jumping up the bank out of harms way is the best option.

The autumn equinox has been and gone, the time when day and night are of equal length and from now onwards the nights draw in. The harvest moon is the full moon closest to this time. By then the farmers of old would have finished their harvesting and slaughtered any animals needed for preserving for the winter months.

Michaelmas Day is the third of the quarter days and falls on the twenty-ninth of September. St Michael is an angelic warrior who fights against the darkness of the night and defends us against the hardships of the winter to come. The Michaelmas daisy brings a certain light to the autumn garden and the promise of protection afforded by our guardian angels.

Many of the roses are blooming again in defiance of any coming winter. Reverend Pemberton’s hybrid musk rose ‘Penelope’ is one of the best and throws forth some gorgeous flowers.

rose penelope

Not forgetting the Rosa ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde…

rose ghislaine (2)

And the verbena bonariensis is graced by a small copper which is one of my favourite butterflies.

butterfly small copper

I am working by the house and a red van roars up the drive and screeches to a halt with its music system blasting out pop music at mega-decibels. The post man leaps out and runs to the door to deliver the mail and runs back to his van. ‘Blimey, your music is loud’ I shout. ‘You what?’ he shouts back. ‘Your music is very loud’ I shout, even louder. ‘Can’t hear you mate, I’m a bit deaf’ he says, pointing to his ears and then leaps back into his van and roars off again down the drive.

The weather remains warm and clement despite the rain showers. Nobody is fooled though and soon enough we will be grappling with frost and gales. But tomorrow will bring what tomorrow will bring!

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The weather remains an unsettled hotchpotch of sunshine and showers. Summer has well and truly gone. Every sunny moment is a bonus and not to be taken for granted for surely we have had our allotted share already. The michaelmas daisies need no excuse to luxuriate in the last warm rays of the afternoon.




We have a fig tree that has been planted in the most awkward of places by one of the doorways from the kitchen garden into the main garden. It has to be kept well trimmed back if we are to be able to squeeze past. Nevertheless, this corner catches the sun and we always have a few figs to pick to the delight of my wife.


fig (1)


In the greenhouse grows a chasselas rose royal dessert grape that was planted five years ago and has given a good crop of grapes every year since.


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The rain has caused the earthworms to the surface and the moles have come with them. Fresh brown mole-hills are to be seen on the verges of the village and in the cemetery and no doubt some will appear on our lawns sooner or later. Already Charlie and Bones are tuning the hair-triggers of their traps.

There was a time when I worked as a jobbing gardener for a mother and daughter who lived next door to each other. The mother was well into her nineties but still came out to help me in the garden. In the summer she would bring me cool lemonade and in the winter she would bring a mug of steaming hot cocoa with lots of sugar to give me energy. She always made sure I was well padded up to keep the cold out. She loved roses and I will always remember her smelling a bloom and raising her eyes to the heavens with a smile on her face. She adored her garden and was always appreciative of my help.

By contrast, her daughter never seemed to have the time to bring me a cup of anything. She seemed to be more concerned with the black-spot disease on her roses. I tried to explain that the pure Dorset air was lacking in industrial sulphur which keeps this disease at bay. I also talked of the need for watering well in the spring and to gather and burn the diseased leaves and disinfect the soil at the base of the rose in the winter. Her roses still gave fresh lovely blooms but I fear that she never really saw them, let alone smell them, so consumed was she by the sight of the black-spot on their leaves.

In truth, both gardens had their successes and failures, but the vision of one gardener gave great delight and the attitude of the other caused grief. When we look out of our window at the garden below all we ever see is ourselves.

A ‘speckled wood’ butterfly lands nearby, posing, teasing, before fluttering off elsewhere. A green wood-pecker flashes past and then lands and pokes around in the grass in search of ants.

I stop to enjoy the last of the ‘marjorie seedling’ plums whilst resting against a young oak tree. The sweet memory comes back to me of that dear old lady bringing me a steaming hot mug of cocoa and just for a moment the garden is filled with an intense and heavenly perfume…

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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.


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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