In a vase on Monday

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This is kind of an ‘hello’, ‘I’m still here’ vase, rather than a proper post! The Bon Viveur is home at the moment (until Wednesday), and so there’s little time, but a desire nonetheless to pick flowers.

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These were for our dinner table on Friday night. Still looking lovely on a misty, first day of October. We were lucky enough to get some rain and the temperatures have finally dropped.

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The michaelmas daisies (divided and replanted in the spring) are looking irresistible. They came as small plugs from Hayloft Plants about 3 years ago and were worth every penny, because asters do so well on the clay, in dry conditions.

With them is Zinnia ‘Benary’s Giant Lime’.

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I like the way that even when the zinnia doesn’t do its double ‘thing’ (and it frequently doesn’t), it still sometimes makes a small effort!

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Go over and look at the other lovely vases on Cathy’s ‘Rambling in the Garden‘. I will do my best to visit everyone’s vases after life has returned to a less than sparkling ‘normal’ speed!

In a vase on Monday

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I have a bit of a secret passion for Hybrid Tea roses – this isn’t very trendy at the moment, but I’ve never been ‘cool’; I just can’t help it! I love their perfectly shaped flowers when in bud and half open. I grow so many old-fashioned roses, but they never quite do that bud-perfection thing, in my eyes.

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About three years ago I planted three HTs in the cut flower garden: white ‘Pascali’, red ‘Mr Lincoln’ and (for the Bon Viveur who has a fetish for all yellow flowers), ‘Grandpa Dickson’. The white and red are great successes, which is just as well because I spent hours researching ‘best red HT for cutting’, and so on. ‘Grandpa Dickson’ has been less than willing, however, showing the usual problems with roses on my soil – they take two or three years to settle, before quitting their habit of dying back a bit during the season.

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I teamed ‘Pascali’ with cornflowers and clary sage (Salvia hormium), both from a very disappointing sowing of Sarah Raven’s ‘Amethyst & Sapphire Mix’ annuals. I tried to keep the ground moist, but the Alkinet (Anchusa ‘Blue Angel’) that I really wanted didn’t show. I think I might buy seed separately and sow in cells in the greenhouse next year. I wasn’t so bothered about the lack of Verbena bonariensis, also included in this four-variety mixture, because there’s plenty self-sowing elsewhere in the garden. It’s a nice idea – although it remains ‘theory’ here!

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I just scattered seed, which doesn’t usually work on my soil. Usually I sow cornflowers in situ with pot marigolds and nigella, because I like the way they all flower for a long time and hold each other up.

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But this year I had planned to change the position in which I put them (down in new beds in the orchard). Unfortunately the beds never got dug, so the annuals were never sown! But I’m already flexing my digging muscles to get it done this autumn.

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There’s also some statice (Limonium sinuatum), which started producing very late this year. In the past I’ve grown the more perennial sea lavender, Limonium latifolium, from seed. But when planted in the garden they just petered out.

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The container was a present from an ex-partner over 30 years ago. The little duck’s a bit of a cutie, but he’s usually swimming away from his vase in another (dusty) part of the house, currently being decorated.

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It was quite nice to reunite them – for probably the first time in about 10 years – with this IAVOM post. Hopefully they’ll become inseparable again now.

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The duck is actually a little trinket box. For the same incredibly long 30 years he’s been home to some flowers of edelweiss given to me by the gardeners when I left an garden in the Bavarian Alps where I did an exchange for a few weeks. I swore I’d go back, but they were right, I never did.  How many poignant little memories we all have tucked into dusty corners of our homes!

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The ususal cluttered home for my Monday vases!

Go on over and see what all the Monday vasers are doing at Cathy’s ‘Rambling in the Garden‘ blog.

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September musings 2

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My first proper harvest of Cox’s Orange Pippin. Shame this isn’t a French heritage variety – but I love it so much and I did get the scions from the Croqueurs de Pommes to graft, so someone around here also appreciates it!

My goodness, doesn’t failure excelerate the rate at which we learn?

The top half of the Hornbeam Gardens, where the cut flowers are, is doing just fine because they are treated like vegetables and watered regularly.

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Asters, of course, don’t really mind dry conditions. But these are just behind my delphiniums and are watered regularly.

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Self-sown Ammi visagna beginning to set some lovely seed for 2019

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The arch next to the dahlias has been ‘sort of ‘clipped now, but needs refinement, because the hedging is still being established. It is also where ‘Rambling Rector’ is growing.

But the lower Hornbeam Gardens have not at all lived up to the picture I had for them in my mind’s eye. I imagined a natural spring shrub garden, that would feature grasses and perennials during the summer.

The arch in the picture below is the gateway to a kind of little hell on earth for plants.

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I’ve been losing a lot of shrubs down there, because of dry conditions – and I do water, but only when I feel it’s essential. So far this year I seem to have lost a Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ and my little Viburnum plicatum ‘Watanabe’. Also feared dead is Philadelphus ‘Virginal’, although this may be shooting from the base. I am vaguely hopeful that ‘Black Lace’ will come back again next spring.

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I’ve watered down there on average once every 7 days during our dry spell (I’m of the Beth Chatto school, when it comes to watering). This dry period lasted roughly  from 8 June through until the present. We had rain for maybe 1-2 hours (once for a whole morning) every fortnight, but it was not really enough given the temperatures. In 2016 the temperatures were actually higher – regularly up to 37- 39 degrees celsius – but that lasted for only 2 months. This year it’s been 4 months of average 33-35 daytime temperatures, although it does seem to have broken now (fingers crossed!).

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So, how to make this part of the garden more beautiful in summer? The things that do well: bulbs, Knautia macedonica (a menace here, self-seeding into any other ‘precious’ plant), Salvia nemorosa cultivars (‘Caradonna’ and ‘Rose Queen’), Sedum spectabile ‘Brilliant group’, Monarda ‘Beauty of Cobham’ and ‘Cambridge Scarlet’, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, Coreopsis verticillata, asters like A.  lateriflorus var. horizontalis, Geum ‘Lady Strathenden’ and ‘Mrs Bradshaw’, aquilegias, Campanula persicifolia, Amsonia tabernaemontana ‘Blue Ice’ and – especially – grasses like Deschampsia cespitosa and the species tulips. The hardy geraniums are also doing not badly and, surprisingly, Aconitum carmichaelii hangs on in there (but is never satisfying).

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I should have recognised the fact that the grass in this area (previously just field) was thin before I dug it up – for some stupid reason I didn’t listen to the alarm bells that were definitely ringing. After research and dredging up memories from the past, I’ve concluded that what I have here is a ‘dry prairie’ (the soil is much lighter on this slope). And, surprise, surprise, the species that are doing well down there are either the same that thrive in dry prairie, or relations. I’m currently compiling a list of plants that could suit.

I’m about to get a bit adventurous: ceanothus, if I can find hardy enough species, Panicum virgatum, Smilacina stellataBaptisia and prairie clovers (Dalea), Delphinium exaltatum, Asclepias (although perhaps not hardy enough, like Agastache, which dies in the winter here), Symphyotrichum sericeum, and so on. Currently I’m feeling inspired although nervous – any suggestions to add to the list I’m trying to compile (which I hope to eventually post on this blog) gratefully received.

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Just outside the lower Hornbeam Gardens, towards the river. I’m nearly finished clipping the hedges down here now. I’m quite pleased with the way they are establishing, but I think a midsummer clip next year would help them to really thicken and look tidier.

Another problem with my original planting is the sloping nature of the site. This means that relatively middle height sedums planted at the front of a border obscure anything behind them (coreopsis, for example). And the shrubs that are doing well (lilacs are terrific, as is Viburnum opulus) tend to want to run/slope downhill! It’s annoying, but again I’ve learnt something huge as a first-time ‘slope’ gardener.

Further up the garden I’ve learnt that things like lettuce, carrots, spinach, spring onions and radish (all benefiting from water and a little shade in the intense heat) should go in small (one person) quantities in what I call my ‘cold frame’.

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This is handy for the greenhouse, so gets watered easily once a day.

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The greenhouse is probably ready to have shading removed. This area is still being developed but I’m very pleased at how tidy it is starting to look in comparison with when it was finished in December last year.

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And also pleased that the yew hedge that was planted to the back of the Rose Walk (to disguise another slope and an ugly concrete retaining wall) is providing a much-needed bit of part-day shade for plants which are growing in the hottest part of the garden.

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And, in spite of the weather, I still have a grass path here! The hedge itself (went in in about 2014, I think) is beginning to thicken up and develop, although it still has a way to go. Although I’m an experienced gardener, and should know better, I still can’t help marvelling at how far a little protection from overhead sun can go to protect and allow even sun-loving plants to flourish without much water.

Clematis ‘Arabella’ is below. The clematis in the Rose Walk are clearly doing nicely, thanks very much, because as we all know ‘feet in the shade, head in the sun’ is the rule.

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Because the soil stays moist for longer in this area, I get quite a lot of self-sowers. Although this self-sown Nicotiana (probably sylvestris) can cope with a lot of drought – they do very, very well here and I strongly recommend them for dry gardens on clay soil.

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Long may my learning curve continue!

I’d love to hear about your failures – and particularly about the plants you think would suit a dry prairie planting.

In a vase on Monday

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‘Noordwijks Glory’ is the dahlia face on here, with ‘Karma Choc’ to the right. Rose ‘Wollerton Old Hall’ just behind, with one flower of ‘Sweet Juliet’ to the right.

Here’s my contribution to Cathy’s meme at Rambling in the Garden. I used only dahlias and roses – and probably not as much foliage as I ought to have used!

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Dahlia ‘Karma Lagoon’

The dahlias are: ‘Karma Irene’ (red), ‘Karma Lagoon’ (purple), ‘La Recoleta’ (pom-pom, dark purple), ‘Karma Choc’, ‘Noordwijks Glory’ and the little single anemone-flowered ‘Totally Tangerine. Roses were ‘Wollerton Old Hall’, ‘Sweet Juliet’ and HT ‘Mr Lincoln’.

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‘Wollerton Old Hall’ (left), ‘Sweet Juliet’ (right), with a hint of Dahlia ‘Karma Irene’ beside it.

All are included just because they were ‘there’ and I wanted to try out a new plant-holder/vase, given to me by the kind parents of two 5- and 9-year-old children who I tutored in English this summer.

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This young couple from Lyon have close ties to Chatillon – both grandmother and great-grandmother live here – and spent the summer in the village before immigrating to New Zealand on 11 September.

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‘Sweet Juliet’

It’s a sad fact that rural France, in some areas, is increasingly depopulated with only oldies like me left. The French establishment and press refer endlessly to our ‘medical deserts’. And these are, of course, the areas where the oldies live! Places where the old doctors are retiring (or dying) and to which the young ones don’t wish to relocate.

The French health service is arguably unsurpassed in the world (a clever combination of a free public service and a top-up insurance service (referred to as your ‘complémentaire santé’), which patients pay for themselves monthly. So the public input is shored up financially by our own private input. But if you have a ‘carte vitale’ (and every French person has one, from a child) you are always entitled to all the health care basics.

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A slightly battered Dahlia ‘Totally Tangerine’

However, due to the size of the country, if you fall and break your leg (or neck, as has happened to two people I know), the emergency service in an area like ours will have to helicopter you to the nearest large hospital. Meanwhile, on the roads, fleets of taxi-ambulances (paid for by our ‘complementaires’) ferry patients the 50 minutes to hospitals for treatments such as dialysis or radiotherapy. And even as far as Paris (about 3.5 hours away), sometimes as often as once a fortnight, if you can only be treated there.

In winter the villages are quiet and nearly dead. But summer brings an inrush of grandchildren from Paris and further afield. Shouts of joy down by the river and bicycles in the streets again!

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It must be hard when parents, such as my students’ parents, decide to relocate to the other side of the world for a better life. Thiebault, the oldest, when asked what he was looking forward to most in New Zealand told me: ‘Living in a house!’ Apartment life in a city is the norm, life in the country the exception for most children. I hope they are settling in well, even if they are not in the house he dreams of yet!

I did try out my vase with different dahlias as well – more ‘Karma Serena’ and some ‘Playa Blanca’ – and this time added some snapdragons. The touch of green and the spikiness make it altogether a ‘perkier’ vase.

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Go on over and see the other vases at ‘Rambling in the Garden‘. They are always so different and inspiring. And have gifted me lots of new ideas over the years.

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Rain!

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In spite of my fears, we were incredibly lucky and the rain did not pass us by! Although it has just stopped, it came and I’m thankful.

Every gardener (except maybe in gardens like Inverewe, in Scotland, where it rains 1.5 days out of 3) loves rain. I love it because it reminds me of that exceptional feeling of being ‘saved’ from double digging or wheeling barrels of manure when I worked as a professional gardener.

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This is not something that we would share with someone else – except if it was your partner – it’s not ‘cool’, in that world, to allow any doubt that physical work is anything other than ideal. If you let the doubt creep, the blues creep in too. But we all knew by each other’s cheerful faces as we filed into our messroom or shed.

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Whenever it was raining (or snowing) we had the luxury of joining the more civilised world indoors where everyone’s clothing was not covered in mud from head to toe.

For a brief time our backs and arms would stop aching and we were free to calmly pot and top-dress amazing plants, with the leisure to properly admire as we worked. Or we cleaned seed and chatted away sorting out the world … nice memories of rain on a glasshouse roof and the knowledge that the soil was going to be too wet to work, at least for the day.

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Chamaerops humilis on the balcony

I love the way the colours of plants glow when it rains so that you want to rush and get the camera or to paint them.

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Self-sown seedlings of Nicotiana ‘Perfume Mixed’ on the balcony

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Lycianthes rantonnetii on the balcony

The way that the sun stops scorching the earth that you’ve worked so hard to make a good home for your plants. And the way that the plants themselves seem to almost be reaching up for the gift (spot of anthropomorphism here!). They never look like that when you turn the hosepipe on …

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The things I don’t love about rain are, on balance, much less important. The knowledge that all of that seed I was ‘just about’ to collect is now soaking wet. The picture of the downpipe that I broke when pruning pouring its contents down an old stone wall I’m trying to caretake.

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Most of all I just think – aren’t I lucky to live in a part of the world which is still green, proof positive that (at least for a few years to come) rain will always arrive in the end?

If you feel like it, I’d like to know what rain makes you think of?

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September garden musings

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If you happened to drop by and you enjoy looking at pictures of my garden – welcome!

But be aware that this post is mostly for the benefit of my absent husband who likes to keep up with what’s happening – it may be too long for you! Also – although I love garden memes, I sometimes find them really exhausting. When I first started blogging, I did it because I wanted to record some of my own garden experiences. To be honest, I wasn’t too bothered if nobody else read what I wrote. The memes have taken some of the pleasure out of that experience … added to which my eyes are not taking kindly to the hours in front of the computer demanded if you truly try to ‘keep up’ and be a good blogging friend.  So these are just ramblings. And I’m giving myself permission to do more!

Here’s your parched garden, Nick. Still no rain to speak of and temperatures have climbed a little again into the low 30s. We are forecast a little rain tomorrow after 12 days – but it often passes us by. And then there seem to be no dark clouds for days to come. Hey ho …

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The supper terrace has been the most luscious place this summer, the foliage so huge, the blooms of hydrangea so welcome (must get more) when it’s hot. This just proves what watering can do.

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And the orchids do seem to be enjoying the trick of hanging outside with a regular spray over. I really enjoy them, because they look more like the orchids I remember from my botanic garden days.

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As epiphytes they relish that regular touch of cool and damp. Unfortunately I haven’t got it automated and so I have to run down (or up!) regularly with my little hand sprayer. But they are looking cool and much happier. The idea is that they are whisked into the house in flower.

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On the Mirror Garden we have a desert aspect. The only things left in the lawn are the Verbascum thapsus that grow everywhere in Chatillon. They have to have their heads chopped regularly.

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I had to cut back the Banksian rose (Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’) hard in July, mainly to dispose of Muelenbeckia complexa. It looked so sweet in that little pot – and remember how I gave out when you accidentally strimmed it Nick? But it’s a horror, and I do wish I’d read how invasive it is before planting it. Below are before pictures …

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It was growing in all the crevices of the old tower which is part of the medieval ramparts. I was fearful for the stone. I’ve sprayed it twice with weedkiller since rooting it out, but it will need more and I noticed yesterday that a tuft in the wall is greening up again.

And some ‘after’ pictures …

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You can see how much pruning I had to throw down to the next terrace (and then throw down to the next – my disposal method for woody prunings). You can also see that I accidentally broke the downpipe from the roof! Even that rusty old thing had Muehlenbeckia growing in it!

Fortunately the rose is coming back after the massacre, although we won’t have much flower for next year.

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Following attacks by the box tree moth caterpillar (Pyrole de buis) I sprayed twice with Bacillus thuringiensis (May and late July) and set three pheromone traps (which caught a lot of adult moths). My box is still alive and, if not thriving, still providing the structural element I like.

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Back in May I did clip all the garden box at the same time when I first discovered the caterpillar (I usually do it in stages). And that removed tonnes of the little blighters, so quite an important step! It took me about 3 days, with 3-hour stints each day. The actual spraying takes about 2.5 hours to cover everything in the garden. It’s debatable if this process is for everyone.

I still like to think the box tree moth can be controlled. It was so bad this year – decimating everyone’s box for miles around – but I think that may have been due to the fact that no one in the area paid much attention to the first onslaught in 2017, myself included. Next year I am also going to try a French nurseryman’s recommendation that box be clipped in late February – he says this can remove any ‘problems’ that are over-wintering in the top growth.

The Vine Terrace is looking sweetly autumnal – although the birds and wasps have had the grapes as usual. Next year, maybe? We need to be bottling our own wine in this house!

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The greenhouse still has some tomatoes coming on, although it’s all slowing down now.

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Outside I’ve been really enjoying the Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’ and white antirrhinums that were planted in the two new pots you bought me, Nick. They look good with the Ricinus communis that were never planted out in the Long Border due to the early heat. And what I think are carpenter bees (comments anyone?) are enjoying them too. These big black bees come in the morning (perhaps nesting in the rampart walls?) and are replaced by honey bees in the afternoon. Curious.

I’m so glad that Eryngium ‘Mrs Willmott’s Ghost’ is seeding and spreading in the Rose Walk.

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Biennials and annuals that like to self-seed here are to be treasured because the heavy clay is not for everyone. So far we have Salvia sclarea, Papaver rhoes, P. somniferum and Verbascum thapsus that seem to like us. I notice that all of these like heat and have quite fleshy taproots (with the exception of the annual poppy). For the life of me I can’t establish Dame’s Violet (Hesperis matronalis) or Honesty (Lunaria annua) or Forget-me-not (Mysotis) although I keep on trying, and perhaps they will do better below where there’s more space for self-seeders.

The veg plot is a DISASTER!

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I am still waiting for my brassicas to recover (they usually do in September, but we haven’t had the rain and cool they like). The pumpkins did quite well, but surprisingly little fruit, and the french beans didn’t get enough water after my first great pickings, so petered out quickly. On the other hand, the autumn-sown broad beans were great and I still have perpetual spinach and chard to pick (chard running up to seed slightly), since they can take a bit of heat.

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The Long Border looks pretty messy and dry, but that always spurs you on to plan constructive changes for the following year. There are many shrubs due to be replanted down below and I’m sick of the vast swathes of hemerocallis that I inherited with the garden. It’s a pretty boring plant, in my opinion. But it does love it here and perhaps I should experiment with different, prettier, colours than the standard orange.

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Still roses flowering. ‘Jude the Obscure’ hasn’t been too bad this year, after slowly moving into gear for the last two seasons.

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A friend has a ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, consumed by what I think is brown canker. David Austin should think twice before naming roses after tragic heroes and heroines. But I think Jude will win out, unlike his namesake.

This is the first year that the Reverend Pemberton’s Hybrid Musk rose ‘Felicia’ has risen to her full height.

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There are one or two interesting perennials still flowering (many of my flowers were over far too soon in the Long Border this year, although fortunately it looked good in May and until the end of June when the garden was open). Aster ‘Monch’ is always nice …

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Funnily enough the other asters (michaelmas) haven’t really got into their stride yet. One helenium remains in flower. My least favourite called ‘Loysden Wieke’. I should take it back to the nursery, because they swore I’d love its quirkiness …

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The Hornbeam Gardens are still taking shape from what used to be their field – with the expected weeding (especially of crab grass) that comes with the transformation.

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I’ve managed to clip the hedge in the top half, which is the cut flower garden. You can see my ladder working on the arch …

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But the hedge at the bottom remains hairy and wild. The bottom is also proving a bit of a problem because it is incredibly dry down there, owing to heat and the greedy roots of an ash tree just beyond our boundary. No matter how big your garden, this is a problem that you always seem to encounter. But maybe I should rejoice that the ash is not yet dead, as it is in Britain?

Finally – the little cyclamen, many of which came from your mother’s garden in County Wicklow, Nick, are still alive and starting to bloom really well. A terrible picture, but in the life they are more than whispy ghosts! Hopefully they will still be on the go when you are back at the end of September!

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This summer has given many of us pause for thought. We do not all love gardens that are ‘bedded out’ every year, and some of us feel immoral when we over-use the hosepipe. I water my spaces no more than once a week. In the past this has worked, but this year when I look at the pots that are watered every day and the borders that are rationed I can note a huge difference in growth.

I do not feed borders either, because I believe this just plays into the hands of the big businesses that want to take my precious pennies. And I prefer a natural style of gardening. Instead I use a little slow release, organic fertiliser on roses and I hope that mulching with the product of my new compost bins and the material that runs through the recently purchased shredder will give the soil back what it needs.

I refuse competition. My garden is for our pleasure, not to make somebody I’ve never met a lot of money or to impress my neighbours. But it’s difficult when you encounter climate change as we are doing at the moment. Ideally I’d have a low maintenance Mediterranean-style planting here, with lots of greys and drought-tolerant plants. That’s also why I’m so interested in things that like to self-sow. But the soil does militate against this style of planting. It is cold and very wet in the winter and dry as – well, fired clay, in the summer!

My new year resolution (did you know that September is traditionally thought to be the start of a new gardening year?) is to try and evolve a planting style that is appropriate for this place and not so based on the traditional English herbaceous style that I ‘grew up’ with. So lots of lists – and lots of seed to purchase! I do think grasses and bulbs will figure large, with early-flowering perennials, because the late-comers can’t take the heat. Just wish I could add succulents and dramatic shapes to the Long Border, but it will be way too cold for them here. Could be fun, if and when I rise to the challenge!

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In a vase on Monday

DSC_0009 (2)Long time, once again, no vase!

Grand plans to post more in August never materialised. But hey, a new month, new efforts called for! And new, seasonal, things to love.

One of the things I’m liking most at the moment is Dahlia ‘Café au Lait’.

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It has massive dinner-plate flowers (not usually my kind of thing), but it’s the colour that makes it perfection.

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Starting out really quite a strong pastel pink and then fading to a creamy, frothy, brown, before flattening out to a delicate white.

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With it in my vase are asters (Callistephus chinensis), Zinnia ‘Purple Prince’ (yes!), some Gladiolus ‘Purple Flora’ from Peter Nyssen’s ‘Jewel Collection’ (highly recommended), statice (Limonium sinuatum) and two dahlias from the Peter Nyssen ‘Karma’ collection: ‘Karma Serena’ and ‘Karma Irene’.

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The dahlias were gorgeous this year – so much pleasure from them, although once again I didn’t get time to support them properly or disbud, so I don’t always get the best flowers for cutting.

Have a happy Monday and go on over and see everyone else’s vase at Cathy’s great blog, Rambling in the Garden.