Category Archives: Annuals

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

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.

Greenhouse & end of month view

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The greenhouse has been a terrific success for the tomatoes, sweet peppers and chilli peppers.

I was worried that it would be too hot, but the Coolaroo shading the Bon Viveur put up in May seems to have worked well, even though the south side and the roof have not yet been shaded.

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It’s a 50% shading from Australia and seems mainly to be used for sails and shaded pergolas in the garden. Not my first choice, but it works. Although with the disadvantage that it has been trapping a fair few butterflies and moths, for whom I feel sorry every day as I rush past in the heat.

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Perhaps some more traditional green shading for the roof next year would keep it cooler, but temperatures have not risen about 35.2 degrees C. Sounds bad, but the thermometer on the supper terrace (open on all sides, but shaded) shows me temperatures have been up to 36.8 degrees there.

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I received a very welcome present of a vine cutting from a friend, and I’m planning to use it as a more natural ‘shading’ – at the moment the little thing is trying to climb up the Coolaroo – so pretty successful! I’m also toying with the idea of a tub of water in the centre, which would be filled with cooling water and in which, who knows, I might even be able to grow a tiny waterlily like ‘Perry’s Baby Red’. Mmm … could be nice.

At the beginning of July we also put in the louvre ventilation purchased with the greenhouse, but not installed straight off. Instantly we noticed a really big difference in air-flow.

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‘Joe’s Long’ chilli pepper with louvred vents in the background

So – my bad dreams of the whole thing exploding in a burst of broken glass and melted metal in the first summer turned out to just be nightmares.

I wish I had started my annual seeds off earlier, however. I was forced to sow everything at the beginning of April, since I was away at the end of March and knew that everything would die if left untended.

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In some cases this was a big mistake, because it meant that I was still planting out in the second half of June when the heat struck us – much earlier than usual this year. The heat came so early, in fact, that my cannas and castor oil plants have never seen soil and remain in pots. At least the cannas will be fine for next year, but they’ll need to be planted out as soon as possible after the Saints de glace (Ice Saints) next year, so quickly after 11-13 May.

For some annuals the heat was too much – they should have seen their permanent summer positions by the end of May, latest. I was so excited about the good germination of little Rudbeckia ‘Cappuchino’. But when planted out in pots in mid-June, no amount of spraying over could save them from shrivelling in the sun. I think I have only 2 plants left. Other failures were my little ‘Cactus Mix’ dahlias, from Sarah Raven. The plants in the street (shaded for some of the day) are oksh, but those in the garden have never really found their feet after first being ravaged by slugs and then exposed to fierce sun as struggling babies.

But the joy of watching all those little seedlings germinate so easily and then grow into small plants that were – for the first time at Chatillon – not etiolated and miserable will not be forgotten in a hurry. There’s always next year.

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We had some shading left, so the BV created a little canopy over my frame where I attempt to grow lettuce, radish, carrots and rocket. It’s working quite nicely (sprayed over once a day), but I’m not having any luck with germinating lettuce in there at the moment. Predictably, since lettuce tends not to germinate above 26 degrees C. Those days are far behind us now!

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The tomatoes in the greenhouse are fabulous! I grew two from Thompson & Morgan called ‘Big Daddy’ and ‘Mountain Magic’, as well as a tomato reputed to be the best for pizzas – ‘Cuore di Bue’.

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Tomato ‘Cuore di Bue’

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Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’

Pointless to tell the BV that with three plants we would, if lucky, have enough fruit for three pizzas. Luckily, the ‘Cuore di Bue’ are equally lovely in sandwiches and on burgers.

The tomatoes show heat stress by rolling their lower leaves, but I’ve been cutting those away and they are ripening nicely. Similarly, the best sweet peppers (‘Californian Wonder’) that I’ve ever had and already some nice green chillis from ‘Joe’s Long’. The last is a variety I strongly recommend. It produces prolifically, even in the open ground here – so much so that I still have dried chillis in the kitchen that I grew about 3 years ago. I think I’m going to have a glut this year because I’m growing 5 plants.

The sweet peppers should be thinned – but I’m so proud of them! I’ve also read that you should prune them to open the centres up a little and ripen the fruit. Next year.

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I even have two melons (I know, but I’m only a beginner!) and the best pot herbs – marjoram, basil and lemon basil – I’ve ever managed to raise here.

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The greenhouse was definitely at its most exciting when all the annuals were germinating in April. But the late sowings meant that the newly planted sweet peas struggled to survive the sudden onslaught of heat in June. The delphinium seed that I so lovingly moistened with damp tea towels were a complete flop, because the temperatures had risen so that I panicked a little and started to move them around – up to the house where, predictably, they were frazzled by sun in the space of an afternoon.

The lupins, ‘Chandeleer’ (pale yellow) and ‘The Governor’ (blue) were my greatest sadness. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m not succeeding. I lost a lot of seedlings when they were pricked out into lovingly purchased John Innes No. 2. Then I noticed that they were yellowing (chlorosis) and potted them on. Instant death. Next year I’ll not give up and I’ll try a peat-based compost and restrict watering to rain water (our water is very, very hard). A friend to whom I gave some seedlings says hers are doing brilliantly – so it must be my poor cultivation technique – possibly over-watering? Always something to learn!

Happy Eclipse season! I hope to be back very soon. August is my most hated month and I’ve set myself the challenge of posting very regularly to compensate. We’ll see …

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In a vase on Monday

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Horrors, it seems that the last time I posted anything on my blog I was focused on daffodils and tulips! How time flies for this lazy gardener.

I vow to make it short and sweet from now on – so that I post more, instead of just thinking about it.

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This is my contribution to Cathy’s lovely meme at Rambling in the Garden. I picked more than two vases yesterday – four in all. The dahlias, zinnias and everything else are really getting up some steam now, in spite of the hot weather.

Last night, sitting eating my supper, I couldn’t stop looking at the zinnias, ‘Purple Prince’ and ‘Benary’s Giant Lime’. If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I could ever love something as ‘in your face’ as a zinnia, I’d have denied it. Can you notice in the pictures how ‘Purple Prince’ shows quite a lot of interesting variation. (Or maybe I just forgot I also sowed something else?!)

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Today the Ammi visagna that I put in to partner them is wilting. But then, everything is wilting at the moment.

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Fortunately the snapdragons, ‘White Giant’, ‘Crimson F1’ and ‘Appleblossom’ are heat-resistant, both in the house and in the garden.

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I can never thank Christina at Creating My Own Garden of the Hesperides enough for turning me on to them (although she doesn’t like them herself – what a twist!).

Because everything is so scorched and miserable, I think I’m loving my second vase more. The larkspur ‘Giant Imperial Mixed’ look nothing special against the parched earth, but in a vase with the red and white snappers, they are truly lush.

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Go on over and see everyone else’s vases – and I hope you come back here soon for a little update on my long-coveted greenhouse … which has not let me down this year, unlike the sweet peas!