Category Archives: Box Blight

More than he could chew?

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So I’m finally getting it! Yeah! The greenhouse that I’ve been longing for.

However, as with most things in our life, it’s a long, slow process. The actual greenhouse arrived back on 25 October 2016. It was a present from me to me (courtesy of my mother) to celebrate my 60th birthday. Here it is, arriving all the way from England.

The man that drove the lorry was held up overnight by the clearance of the migrant camp at Sangatte, Calais. What an awful thing to drive into accidentally.

And yes – how else would the Bon Viveur celebrate the occasion? In fairness, I forced the glass of wine on him, because I was overcome with happiness …


An awful lot of money for just a few little boxes! It is a little Eden Orangery that we plan to paint pale blue (not the dark, experimental blue that is shown in my pictures, more like the blue of the pergola above it).

Only time and experience will prove whether this attempt to paint an aluminium greenhouse will work.


In the autumn last year the garden looked lovely. I was even quite proud of the vegetable garden (for once).

As soon as the greenhouse arrived I was kept busy moving the enormous heap of compost and material for the shredder that had been standing there since the spring of 2012 when I first started gardening the adjacent Rose Walk.



Here’s the heap. It took days – make that weeks – to shift it. It was bigger than it looks!


In March this year I was joined on the last leg by the Bon Viveur whose job it was/is to actually put the thing up. We were nearly at the finishing line! (I thought … )


But progress has been painfully slow. The measuring … well, I don’t even want to talk about it. This is a tricky (uneven and rocky) space. Come to think of it, all our spaces are rocky and uneven.


As with anything, the foundations are crucial. And we are fitting the greenhouse into a corner of the garden edged by the old village ramparts. Plus it has to line up with the planting already done in the Rose Walk.



The BV’s tasks have involved cutting away (safely) stone to fit the greenhouse into the corner and building a small wall on which it will rest.


The wall has been the most problematic factor in the whole operation. The BV had to cut each stone by hand (and I had to nod understandingly over the trials and tribulations involved). My oven was taken over for several days to dry stone and sand. And then the kitchen table was fully occupied to weigh said stone and sand.

The point was to achieve the perfect lime mortar mix for the wall. Apparently you have to assess the absorption level of your stone (ours is very absorbent) and the quality of your sand before you can arrive at the correct lime/sand ratio that will withstand the test of time. The standard advice is a mix of 1:3. In times gone past they used a 1:1.5/2 ratio – apparently more suitable for our absorbent walls. The water ratio to this is also important, but I’m told it’s like Easter – very variable.

Although the precise explanations of this process leave me yawning, I’ve only got to look around me to see the disastrous effect of much of the concrete pointing that has been done on our walls here. Concrete has no natural ‘give’ and during the winter it will be the stone (very soft and porous in our case) that takes the strain and cracks, rather than the mortar which is supposed to take up the strain.


He is now the world expert on mortar. I shake in my shoes when he describes the hours he intends to spend in the future righting the wrongs done on our many walls.

He’s got other stuff to do (of which more at a later date) …

I tried to focus on Narcissus ‘Jenny’ flowering in the Rose Walk instead.


For the time being the much promised ‘grand opening’ on Easter Sunday is a just a precious dream. I kind of wish I hadn’t sown those tomatoes after all. When all my carefully raised plants died of the blight last year – with barely a crop – I swore I’d never plant them in the open ground again. This was actually the fourth year of tomato misery. Something to do with the soil (the ghosts of many potatoes, perhaps?) and morning mist over the river.

Here he is, bless him. Head full of ratios and huge, huge plans for palm houses that will never materialise.


This blog isn’t called ‘Garden Dreaming’ for nothing.

In front of him is rather a decent show of tulips in the future Knot Garden. You may remember that I planted this from cuttings. The box plants were clipped in March last year and were immediately struck by the worst blight I’ve ever seen.


Tulips ‘Aladdin’ (red) and ‘Ballerina’ (orange)

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Tulip ‘Green Triumphator’ completes the colour scheme

This year I’m keeping the little box plants wild and woolly. Box plants in nature rarely suffer from blight, it’s the tight clipping that makes them susceptible – I think! And so, until the knot is of a better thickness and health I’m letting it grow (so far no sign of the wretched caterpillar in the garden).

The tulips are not thickly enough planted – I’m going to have to double the quantities in future.


This will been my main tulip area in the garden eventually. I’ll replace them every year and plant the current bulbs elsewhere in the garden.


But they are pretty in the evening sun, after a hard day’s work …

Hope to see you again next week? Meanwhile – have a wonderful, flowery Easter, full of hope for the garden in 2017.

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Tulip ‘Flaming Artist’ in the Long Border

Scottish Inspiration 2: Kellie Castle Garden


It’s been a long, difficult winter – and a very long time since I blogged. Hopefully the winter’s treated you well?

Today I’m looking back at what now seems like a kind of golden era last summer, and remembering how much I love Scottish gardens.

Those who read my blog regularly (when I post!) may remember that last year I took a look at a garden in Fife called  Cambo that had developed a prairie-style planting within an old walled garden. Today I’m featuring a very different garden visited on the same day, just a little bit further around the coastline from Cambo.

Who could say, looking at Kellie, that borders of nepeta, roses and delphiniums are hackneyed? They are rightly popular because they are so easy on the eye, especially in this soft summer light.


The garden at Kellie Castle is much more traditional than Cambo, the kind I remember visiting with so much enthusiasm when my gardening ambitions were only in bud. A garden that almost typifies the Scottish style.


Cool climate, lots of rain, an incredible jungle of lush growth during those wonderful June and July days when the countryside pulls out the stops and shows you what it can do.

Nowhere (that I’ve ever visited) can do herbaceous borders – perennial delphiniums and phlox, biennials like sweet william, annuals like sweet peas – better than Scotland can. Fortunately I don’t despair, although I garden in what is (by comparison) incredible heat.


Kellie Castle has been a National Trust for Scotland garden since 1970. You can read all about it here.  The earliest records of a castle on the site date back to 1150 and the Siward family, who owned the lands in the thirteenth century, have been linked to Malcolm Canmore, the Scottish king who overthrew Macbeth.


James VI of Scotland and I of England stayed here in 1617 during his only visit to Scotland after the Union of the Crowns on 24 March 1603. It was he who appointed Sir Thomas Erskine (the then owner) Earl of Kellie, in gratitude for the fact that Erskine had saved his life during an earlier conspiracy against the king.

Of quirky interest is that the fifth Earl of Kellie is reputed to have hidden in a burnt-out tree stump in the castle grounds for the entire summer following the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

The most highly cultivated part of the garden is  seventeenth century with late Victorian additions. There are several features that I particularly love.

The geometric lines of a walled garden always seem to beg for long walks that lead to definining focal points. The paths are narrow at Kellie, but their drama is not diminished by the proportion.


And – as in the best gardens – plenty of areas to sit and enjoy.


Some of the walks are in shade at the base of the main walls. Ferns and Aruncus sylvestris are really something to brag about. All that lovely soft rain.


The climate is not kind to box, in our blight-afflicted era. But Scottish gardeners seem to battle on undeterred. Is there a lesson there for us all? The long, double (and very narrow) herbaceous borders are a case in point. I don’t really notice the box damage with the exuberance behind to draw the eye. But what will the damage be like in a few years’ time?


The seedheads of the angelica really sing out against the billowing shapes behind it – and where would the form and sense of the planting be without the sharp lines of the box? Will they replace the box in years to come with something that will better tolerate close proximity to very tall border companions?

There are many plants in this border grouping that I think of as a bit thuggish on my own plot. Kellie Castle makes me think again. Goldenrod, Lysimachia punctata … Oh, and something to which I’m very partial: the pale yellow, fluffy flowers of Thalictrum speciossisum, rarely seen in such quantity.



A double form of Geranium himalayense (at a guess) is a bit more special.


The soil below is, as in all the best herbaceous borders, invisible. And here’s the secret of that incredibly tall – yet upright – growth in such a narrow space. A network of nylon webbing through which the plants grow in spring.


I was going to try the same in my own delphium borders, which are backed by michaelmas daisies. And then I realised it would be impossible, since I want to get in to cut the delphiniums.

Sometimes the dividing line between herbaceous border and lawn has been created by roses grown as swags on metal supports. A pretty solution for boundaries in a formal garden.



The organic vegetable plot doesn’t lack a decorative appeal either – and again, the path dressed with a rose-tumbled arch helps to pull the whole together.



There’s the odd little accent I’d kill for in my own garden – we don’t often see these forcers in this part of France. But the Kellie collection of rhubarb varieties is pretty spectacular and deserves the ornament.


And some quirky little trained fruit trees in an open area at the bottom of the garden.


Tropaeolum speciosum is not something I’m ever going to be trying at home. It loves acid soil and a cooler climate – it is hardy to -10 or -15 degrees centigrade. I’ve seen the best specimens climbing through yew hedges in Scottish gardens – not for nothing is the common name Scottish flame flower – although it actually comes from Chile. Kellie Castle’s sample is one of the nicest.



Finally, leave the walled garden for a breath of air on the beautiful Fife coastline.


I’ll be back with news from my own garden soon. Until then, have a good weekend!

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Birth of a Knot Garden

Birth of a knot garden 025My recent inspiration hasn’t translated itself to the keyboard. It took a new project and a day or so of much-needed rain for me to get up the desire to write about what I’ve been doing. My pictures are not exactly sparkling, because the weather was rather dull today (a bit like the photographer). Yesterday I finally began to set out the knot garden I’ve been planning for a couple of years. The box cuttings were taken from my existing box hedges in the garden last June and simply thrust in little bundles into the garden soil of the cold frame. During the heat of summer they had the protection of a small poly tunnel to stop them drying out. I’ve been amazed at how well they’ve done (although still pretty titchy by anyone’s standards). I didn’t have enough to finish my chosen pattern. It’s not – forgive the pun – a ‘true lovers knot’ (click on the link here for images of that design), but a more angled geometric design that I think will suit the site well. I took some pictures from the little balcony of our guest bedroom today and the fact that I had watered the plants in shows the design off perfectly. Birth of a knot garden 029 Now I’m feeling inclined to carry on this year and finish it, by dint of a method that some gardeners have used, but that I originally felt might not work on our hot slopes. In June, since I’ve nothing to lose, I’ve decided to direct-stick cuttings to finish off the little boxy bits in the corners of the design. The pattern below is is how it should look in the end (with a larger central circle). But I’m also going to do cuttings in the cold frame, since I’ve any amount of use for box in the garden. knot garden 1 (2)I’d like to add some topiary shapes, particularly in holly. Infilling? Not sure yet, but we thought originally to use peonies and summer-flowering bulbs with some foliage colour like artemesia, santolina, lavender. I think (like the design itself) it will be ‘make it up as you go along’ – but given that tulip time is just around the corner, I’m feeling intense yearnings tonight. Now that I’ve learnt to handle box blight better – not to mention the fact that a fungicide for amateur use has just been introduced, according to my February issue of The Garden  – I’m allowing box to take hold of my imagination. I knew there was a reason we bought a sixteenth century house … On the other side of the path from the knot garden (which I’m also calling a ‘winter garden’, since in harsh winter weather it may be almost all we see of the garden from the house) is the ‘wild winter/spring’ garden. Birth of a knot garden 031 It’s starting to come together, although I still haven’t enough ground cover to protect the clay soil from harsh summer sun. I’ve planted a silver-foliaged lamium, purple ajuga, epimediums, comfrey, vinca, and so on – I’ll split them up and spread them around. A little Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny) given me by a friend is very useful, but is already starting to assert itself a little too much. And a nice surprise to find that my ground-cover plantings have all survived a very wet winter. I had fears for the Lamium maculatum ‘Mega White’ (couldn’t get rust-resistant ‘White Nancy’), but it has its toes in now. It’s not that easy to find plants that will take lightly shaded, but still hot, conditions on a heavy clay soil that is either almost too wet to work or dried hard like concrete. I’m also considering bergenias and I have small pots of Mileum effuseum ‘Aureum’ (Bowles’ Golden Grass) and Corydalis solida to plant out. Both came from my mother’s garden in Scotland and, although C. solida is pretty tough, I’m not sure that it will survive my clay … but nothing ventured. In the autumn last year I started to add bulbs to this area. First Narcissus ‘Jet Fire’, which I used to have in my garden in Suffolk. Much-loved by my husband, Nick, who still (rather weirdly) remembers them fondly, although he is not really a ‘plant person’. The trumpet becomes much more orange as the flower matures. Birth of a knot garden 042 Also ‘Peeping Jenny’, presumably deemed to be a kind of mix of the best characteristics of white ‘Jenny’ and old ‘Peeping Tom’. I love ‘Jenny’, who I wanted to add to the Rose Walk this year for her white flowers. I was too late to order and bought this yellow trumpet version instead. A beautifully shaped daffodil. Birth of a knot garden 123 Then there were bluebells (taking liberties, because Hyacinthoides non-scripta is not native to this part of France). The foliage just appearing now. Birth of a knot garden 104 And, yes, Nick – we now have fritillaries! We thought Fritillaria meleagris would be perfect for the ground low down in the garden near the river (we do dream a lot – hence the blog’s name – and Nick and I visited nice wild colonies together in Suffolk). The 15 purchased in 2014 (only 3 have flowered) is my start, hopefully to raise more from seed for eventual naturalising. In the same area are what I now call ‘Beatrix’s anemone’. A dear friend in Basel who visited in 2012 presented me with bags of hostas (all still alive Beatrix!) and this little Anemone nemorosa came along for the ride. Wonderful to have such a plant-rich garden that little sweeties like this hitch a ride when you give something away. Birth of a knot garden 109 This week there was a sleepy bee on one of my Hayloft Plants hellebores, drunk in the warm sunshine (the bee, not the hellebore). Odd that it was a double flower – I thought pollinators didn’t like doubles? Tree Following March 262 Tree Following March 269 It lay inside that flower for such a long time that I thought it was dead, so I nudged it gently. It buzzed drowsily and was gone the next day. The hellebore wasn’t supposed to be double (it’s one of Hayloft’s ‘Pretty Ellen’ series), but I’m charmed regardless. Birth of a knot garden 168 The Rose Walk is at one of its nicest stages, in my opinion. Lots of allium and tulip foliage pushing through. Unfortunately I spent so much on other bulbs last autumn that I’d not really money in the budget to add to my plantings of ‘Queen of the Night’, ‘Sorbet’ and ‘China Pink’. I suspect the display will be rather disappointing, but they should come back again a bit next year after their ‘year off’, since they are amongst the most persistent of tulips. It will be interesting to see how many flowers they have in their second/third years without adding to them, as I originally planned. Further on down the Rose Walk I did add this tulip with the pretty white edge to the leaf, ‘Sweet Impression’. Birth of a knot garden 138 When we first moved here I had many, many bulbs in pots that I had raised from Alpine Garden Society seed. They had followed us from England to Ireland, to here. Many were killed in the first hard winter because I didn’t plunge them properly. The fritillarias and the cyclamen were the saddest loss, but the survivors are sweet, and just starting to flower now. Birth of a knot garden 175 Narcissus pseudonarcissus. I thought this was the Tenby daffodil (N. pseudonarcissus subsp. obvallaris, but it doesn’t look right with those pale-yellow petals. Perhaps simply N. pseudonarcissus, although I can’t imagine why I wanted to grow it from seed. Birth of a knot garden 184 Narcissus bulbocodium – hurrah! The first flower … Birth of a knot garden 201 On the banks right next to the Rose Walk where the hazels live I’ve managed to get foxgloves going as well as Angelica sylvestris and Hesperis matronalis from Hardy Plant Society seed. The last swamped all the roses in their first year, but I’ve persuaded it to migrate onto the slope were it will still partner without threatening. And finally, something else that came in under a different name. This was supposed to be Calamintha nepeta, but is clearly Pulsatilla vulgaris. I’m pleased because I know it did well on the clay of a previous garden and will increase easily from fresh seed. Birth of a knot garden 206