Category Archives: Garden development

Mostly Irises

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One reason I don’t blog more is because I feel I endlessly repeat myself. But the truth is that the garden repeats itself too … there may be more areas developed each season, but the stars (the ones that endure on heavy clay with fierce summer heat) give me more of the same (but better) every year.

Seven years into gardening here, I am really beginning to appreciate what I’ve created. The Rose Walk (always hard to photograph, because the path is too narrow) is rising to its exciting peak with the first rose, ‘Fantin Latour’, starting to flower in the warmth today.

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The Bon Viveur’s little Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’ has found what I hope is a happy home.

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And down at the bottom, Crambe cordifolia has exciting buds emerging.

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Let’s hope something (an insect?) does not come along and blight my pleasure as it did last year.

The Knot Garden continues to give its best, and it seems I have won a small battle against the wretched Box Tree Moth caterpillar: box provides the crucial structure (all from cuttings, so it’s taking a while). This year the tulips were exactly the same as last – but muddled up. I lifted them, mixed them, and then replanted in November. Going over now …

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The tulips were lilac ‘Blue Heron’, purple-black ‘Paul Scherer’ and a rather pretty primose called  ‘Cistula’. The last was a bad choice because it flowers earlier than the other two. Last year I had no flowers from ‘Cistula’ and this year, a smidgeon. I nearly complained to Peter Nyssen’s about it. But complaining is not something I enjoy.

The ground here is now covered in purple heucheras, Alchemilla mollis and Stachys lanata to mark out the patterns that the box makes. The other day I had a brain wave (well, I think it was) and decided to add a purple Ajuga reptans as edging to show off the silvery stachys and compliment the heucheras.

The peonies are not really supposed to be here, but the Stachys shows them off nicely.

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The Long Border is coming into its peak as well. Asphodeline lutea and thalictrum time again. I wish the asphodeline didn’t annoy me so much from mid-June onwards. But when it arrives in late May, I forget all about last year’s annoyance. A repeated plant is so very much more satisfying, but difficult when it doesn’t die back gracefully.

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This year the cardoon is much bigger and more dramatic. Must move the Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ that overshadows it from mid-July. Too late again this year. I’ll have to water anything (continually) that I move from now onwards.

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And the grey of this and Artemesia ‘Lambrook Silver’ really highlights the foliage of one of my favourite roses. Its either Rosa rubrifolia or R. glauca. I can’t keep up with the times and have stopped trying.

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But I wish Rosa ‘Canary Bird’ wouldn’t die off quite as much as it does. The whole shrub shouldn’t look so tatty with dead stems when it flowers. Some day?

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But the main thing I’m falling in love with all over again at the moment are the irises. Just like the old roses. How could you live without this plant that does it just once every year, but when it arrives it sweeps you away?

I was reading a lot of Eckhart Tolle in the winter. But I wonder if I can ever be ‘saved’? He says that, in the ‘now’, the best way to appreciate something in nature is not to know, or think of its name. He’s right. When I look at a tree, and don’t think ‘tree’, I do see it with fresher, more delighted eyes – especially in spring. Unfortunately this is a hard trick for a gardener hung up on the history and names of plants.

So – the name of the iris? Here are those that I do know and am appreciating at the moment. Many destined for a new, more accomodating border down below in the garden when it comes time in July to divide and replant. The first is obviously ‘Carnaby’, which heads up this post (look back).

Then there’s ‘Blue-Eyed Blonde’ (the slugs love it as much as I do) …

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And ‘Kent Pride’ …

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‘Blue Rhythm’ is just coming into flower.

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‘Raspberry Blush’ is luscious …

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‘Langport Storm’ has already been and gone (a really precious plant, although not a big ‘doer’).

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And (with ‘Carnaby’), the most recent to flower in the heat today, ‘Foggy Dew’ …

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And now a few whose names I do not know – a fact that’s driving me crazy! Can you help?

First is one of the commonest of garden irises – let’s call it the ‘old brown’ iris. In villages around here if you don’t see wild iris, Iris pallida ‘Dalmatica’, or a yellow (nameless – much like mine) it will be this one. I imagine it may be the same where you live?

The closest I can come is a thing called ‘Bruno’, which dates back to the 1920s. Someone must have a name for it. I even suspect I used to know it!

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Then there are the two – one white, one yellow – that I probably look at most in the garden, since they are on the Vine Terrace where I relax at the end of the day. I think it’s hopeless imagining that I’ll ever find a name for the white, but maybe the yellow?

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Finally, always amongst my very favourites, a plant I simply call ‘Sylvia’.

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It was given to me by a friend (strangely enough, called Sylvia) who found it in a heap by the side of the road. Someone just had too much – and not enough friends! Now, with a sumptious colour like this and the vigour that means you have so much you need to throw it away, this is some special plant.

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And it looks particularly rich with the Bon Viveur’s valerian. Now seeding upwards from their original bed. How do they do that? Do the seed heads pop? They were always supposed to go on the wall, but I thought I’d have to go up to the Mirror Garden and shake seed downwards. Aren’t plants very, very clever? Sometimes (but not often here, at Chatillon) they even do what we want.

All of these iris have all seduced me into buying more cultivars from Iris Cayeux (wish I could see their fields right now). Including one call ‘Black Suited’, which they reckon is the best ‘black’ they’ve created. Oh, and since I love yellow irises and can’t resist the name, ‘Common un Oeuf’ is also to be added to my ever-growing collection.

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Easter Sunday 2019 & the Mirror Garden

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I was up very early on Easter Sunday this year, because I couldn’t sleep.

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A special experience to sit on our balcony and watch the sun come up over Chatillon from about 6.30am. I’ve done this often enough during the summer when that time of day is the only relief we get from the sun until the cool of the evening.

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But I love my bed too much to do it often on a cold April morning. The old village on the ramparts and its little chateau are always enchanting in the early light.

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Fired with enthusiasm, I rushed upstairs in my dressing gown to the little Juliet balcony off our spare room to take pictures of the Mirror Garden.

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This is the oldest part of the garden, created by the sculptor who previously owned the house as an outdoor exhibition space for his work.

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I tend to take it for granted now, but with the grass just cut the day before, even this difficult part of the garden was looking superb.

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Why is it difficult? Well, there’s perhaps a foot of topsoil up here (at the very most) before you begin to hit the rock on which the ramparts were built. The ‘lawn’ was previously watered by the sculptor during dry summer weather, but I don’t bother. And it shows. A paradise for dandelions and other weeds.

Originally I wanted to make a garden in grey, green and yellow, simply to compliment the view and the mirror. I won’t clip the box until I see the first signs of the Box Tree Moth caterpillar. Clipping the beasts off and then spraying with Bacillus thuringiensis was quite successful last year, although the little dumplings are still trying to recover properly.

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Euphorbia rigida (above) and E. characias subsp. wulfenii are happy, but my favourite E. characias subsp. characias (with the black eyes on its frogspawn flower faces) died.

With a difficult garden like this, you have to learn to love plants that many gardeners consider to be weeds. The number of complaints I’ve read about self-seeding habits on other blogs. I’m just glad something showy can create a pretty picture.

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I put in a special request with the Bon Viveur to bring more Euphorbia cultivars (particularly ‘Black Pearl’) back from England. Unfortunately when he arrived it was with ‘Silver Swan’.

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An elegant but less than tough form that will expire without a doubt up here. I’m going to plant it down on the Rose Walk and then maybe take cuttings, so I can try it in different places in the garden.

The two Helleborus x sternii seedlings (from a  Hardy Plant Society member’s plant of ‘Boughton Beauty’) do well – the pink-flushed seedling, closer to the parent, has not died although I thought the weather might be too cold for it.

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The blue pots sit in place of the two large sculptures for which the garden was made. Overall, the design is very architectural and the layout of the box hedges leads the eye and begs for something more dramatic than my blue pots and their contents. So far I have tried to fill my pots with artichokes, Melianthus major and (last summer) the tall Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’. Nothing works!

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I want delicately twisting double-helix metal shapes, in a kind of wild, modern style, to evoke the ‘spirit of the place’.

The border below the mirror should be full of greys and yellows. But there is only about 6 inches of soil, so most things struggle.

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The climbing yellow rose ‘Lady Hillingdon’ hated it here and is now living elsewhere in the garden. Artemsia ‘Powis Castle’ and ‘Lambrook Silver’ don’t do badly, but I realise that I need to regularly replace them. This year 4 new seedlings were planted out.

What do you suggest?

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The crowning glory at this time of the year is always the Banksian rose, Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’.

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It was cut hard back in autumn 2018 and has proved to flower well on the new wood. The haircut was to save the tower wall (incorporated into the house, but part of the old ramparts) from being covered in the aggressive seedlings of Muelhenbeckia complexa – that planting was definitely a mistake!

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The only chemical I use in the garden is glyphosate (Roundup). The Muelhenbeckia is giving way, but I don’t know what I’ll do when I get through my stock pile of glyphosate. Hopefully I’ll have won the battle by then.

The other side of the rampart wall is the village street and, as you can see, our car parking area (we are gilets-jaunes friendly around here).

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From over the wall the tourists can enjoy the lavenders I planted to edge the Mirror Garden. But the bees enjoy them more …

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It’s a bit late to be wishing you Happy Easter, so I’ll wish you happy May Day instead!

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Catching up & looking over my shoulder

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I’m a singularly uncommitted blogger, but that doesn’t mean I’m not out there, almost daily, still doing it! My garden calls to me more than the computer does, I’m afraid.

Every year it’s more rewarding. Having started the garden in 2012, there are some shrubs I’ve planted during the last five years that have probably given me real pleasure for the first time this year.

The winter-flowering honeysuckles finally did that thing of wafting their scent to me as I passed them. I planted two: Lonicera fragrantissima and Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’. Blow me if I can tell the difference (did I used to know?), but the pictures are of ‘Winter Beauty’.

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Up in the Mirror Garden, the Chimonanthus praecox ‘Grandiflorus’ is actually flowering a little in its first year. Hurrah – I thought it might only begin after I was long gone from Chatillon and I was hanging back on the planting. Sad that the Bon Viveur was not here to see it, since he egged me on (his speciality).

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At the top of the Long Border I finally have a nice show from Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Charles Lamont’.

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In the same area of the garden I’m beginning to think that perhaps the bank (full of rubbish and the debris from the days when no one had the privilege of a regular bin collection) really will be covered in comfrey and hellebores before I’m gone.

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Shame the honesty (Lunaria annua) won’t settle down in there – this year I’m trying my seedlings elsewhere in the garden.

The little woodland garden doesn’t look too shabby this year either. The Cornus mas is eventually going to live up to memories I have of wandering through large plantings of this sweetly scented winter shrub as a student, while I learned my plant names. Strange thing about the past … at the time we never realise that a hurried moment sandwiched between lunch and the afternoon slog will become such a precious memory. Savour those moments!

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The woodland corner gives me much of what I ever wanted from a spring garden. Primroses …

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…hellebores, Cyclamen coum …

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… and the odd Fritillaria meleagris (they don’t really like the summer heat here, even in the shade).

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Snowdrops and the happy little winter aconites are a memory now, but there’s still the pictures.

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Narcissus ‘Jet Fire’ and ‘Peeping Jenny’ now in full flood. ‘Jet Fire’ is always the first daff here.

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For some reason little white ‘Jenny’ (in the Rose Walk) does not ‘stay’ and bulk up as much as yellow and white ‘Peeping Jenny’. Don’t know if it’s the position (drier, more shade in summer), or perhaps something else.

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I’m still excited when the daffs appear. Sadly, this year there will be far fewer tulips, because the budget allowed me to purchase zero bulbs last autumn. But even that has a bonus, because now I can look at the garden and see what are real ‘stayers’ and make notes.

 

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Meanwhile, although many clumps don’t carry two leaves curled around each other to announce the arrival of a flower bud in the centre, the foliage of Tulip ‘Sweet Impression’ is still good value for money at this time of year in the Rose Walk.

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And, for the first time (in the frame that stands to the back of the Rose Walk), I have some lovely juicy lettuces, raddichio, kale and rocket that passed this mild winter under a cover of fleece.

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Time to start sowing again. This garden has the reputation of being the ‘earliest’ in the village (salad being an esssential ingredient of every French meal) and, after spring 2019, it seems I am finally beginning to live up to it!

I’m still getting muddy digging new borders in the rain – this must be an immutable facet of my stubborn personality, because I remember when I was little in my grandmother’s large garden I’d spend hours playing in the wet ditch that surrounded her rockery or raking autumn leaves to form the rooms of ‘mansions’ on the lawn. I do come in on time for my tea these days, however, and I’ve graduated to the pleasure of feeling clean after a nice hot bath.

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Finally finished – my first orchard border, which now needs the mirroring border on the other side to make up the symmetrical pair.  Next year. This year will involve removing a lot of couch grass that I’ll have left behind when I dug, but it doesn’t matter really … the first year is always a battle, then it gets increasingly easier if you stay on top.

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The hemerocallis you see in the picture below are shooting in the Long Border. At this time of year they look so lush with young angelicas that have seeded about.

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But, since this is the only stage at which I like them, they are due to go down to the new orchard border and the slopes above. The slopes are a (very) wild planting on a hard-to-garden site that is increasingly crammed with cast-off bulbs and shrubs moved from elsewhere

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The Hornbeam Garden hedges (planted in 2015, I think) are finally beginning to look like something and spring is the best time down here. I need to increase spring and particularly autumn bulbs, since it’s dry and parched in the height of summer.

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Unfortunately I seem to have lost two lovely spring shrubs (Viburnum ‘Watanabe’ and Philadelphus ‘Virginal’ – still small) in the summer drought last year, so I’ve definitely got to think again about how to clothe what is essentially a steppe or dry prairie habitat.

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I’ve now forgotten about the problems with the voles that ate every damn thing I planted (unless it was in a wire basket) in my first and second years, the ‘vers blancs’ (chafer grubs) that consumed all my lovely dahlias – then started on the sedums – in the third year, even the box tree moth caterpillar that threatened the plants so important to the structure of the garden last year.

Although it has to be said that the moth and its evil progeny are an ever-looming problem. My pheromone traps are currently up at the house to be recharged for late March, April, May duty. You can see one hanging on the Vine Terrace in the picture below (no tulips in the blue pots this year).

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Enough chat and on with the show … the sap is rising on the two old vines on the Vine Terrace under which the Bon Viveur had to painstakingly create his blue pergola.

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And the insects were busy really early this year, during our lovely fortnight of sun and warmth at the end of February.

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Curious – I’ve noticed that the carpenter bees that must be lodging in our stone walls love Helleborus foetidus more than Helleborus orientalis.

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Before lunch last year the Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’ next to the greenhouse brought them out in droves, to be replaced by honey bees in the afternoon. Perhaps they have a long afternoon nap?

Since it is now pouring with rain (again! – how I love spring rain), they’re well advised to doze away the rest of this wet Monday.

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A few favourites … daffodils and tulips

 

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So there I was this morning – all chirpy and free like the birds, with a day to spend in the garden. All is going so well down there – things shooting that I never expected to see again, plants establishing nicely with the warmth and a drop of rain.

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Lots of things ticked off my open days ‘to do’ list – forget about clipping the box, visitors will have to experience it wild and woolly! (I got nervous about clipping it because tightly clipped box is more susceptible to box blight. Little did I know that was the least of my worries!)

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Cheerfully I went down, weeding bucket in hand, to attend to revamping my delphinium and aster border in the cut flower garden.

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That was then, and this is now, with me sitting in front of the computer on a still bright April evening. Not my style. How did that happen?

I’ll explain later – first I want to record (as much for my own sake as anything) a few of my ‘favourite things’ over the last four weeks. (Note to self: blog more frequently … and more briefly!)

I haven’t many different daffodils in the garden, but I do treasure the ones I have. First to flower is always the Bon Viveur’s ‘Jet Fire’.

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He develops obsessions with particular plants (two peas in a pod?) and so in it went, first in 2014, and another 10 in 2017.

Then there are the Jennys – ‘Jenny’ and ‘Peeping Jenny’. ‘Peeping Jenny’ starts before ‘Jenny’, in March. Gazing up in search of something … it is all that a daffodil should be.

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‘Jenny’ is my favourite, much shyer and with a paler trumpet. A little confused, with all the little heads looking in different directions. Where is danger coming from? Is it the voles today?

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‘Mount Hood’ was a new addition this year, although I’ve grown it in the past when it just kept on giving and increasing. The Bon Viveur bought the bulbs when he was in Ireland last summer – they came from our previous home in West Cork (where we never grew it!). If you like white daffodils, definitely give this one a go.

 

 

Narcissus ‘Actaea’ is amongst the last of the narcissus to flower – with a delicious scent.

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‘Actaea’ is followed by Narcissus poeticus ‘Recurvus’, the wild poet’s narcissus. It comes into flower at least a week later and is still going strong here, down in the wilder shrub area I’m trying to create in the Hornbeam Gardens.

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This area is a bit like me … it photographs poorly!

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Another new addition (which I don’t recall flowering last year, although it was planted in Autumn 2016) is ‘Goose Green’. Also in this Narcissus poeticus group,  I love it for the pronounced green inside the little coronet. But I’m a sucker for green in flowers.

 

 

And the tulips – ahhh … will I ever get enough of them?

The first, flowering from about 8 April,  was ‘Sweet Impression’ in the Rose Walk.

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There were three little species tulips in the Rose Walk as well. A dainty little Lady tulip, Tulipa clusiana, called ‘Cynthia’ …

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Tulipa tarda

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And Tulipa batalinii ‘Bronze Charm’, which was still flowering this morning.

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Tulipa  saxatilis  ‘Lilac Wonder’ was on the go in the Hornbeam Gardens just before before Narcissus poeticus ‘Recurvus’ started into bloom. When I first planted them in 2016 I had only leaves – this year some flowers!

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I always eagerly await ‘Queen of the Night’ and ‘China Pink’ in the Rose Walk. These were planted because they persisted in a previous garden. However, after much thought, I’ve decided that the persistence of a tulip depends on the soil: that previous garden was on clay too – but not as heavy and the garden not as hot as at Chatillon. The Queen and ‘China Pink’ have to be topped up every year in this garden if I want a decent show. The message seems to be that just because a tulip is persistent for someone else doesn’t mean it will work in your garden!

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‘China Pink’ in the background, with ‘Sorbet’ in the foreground.

On the other hand ‘Sorbet’, which hasn’t been planted since 2015, comes back in fairly satisfying numbers each year. It’s a very nice surprise, indeed, when it arrives.

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This is what I love about the Rose Walk at this time of year. I have been equally entranced by stitchwort growing in long grass on road verges – I could look for hours. It’s the allium buds that have me spellbound here.

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I have some rather good ‘West Point’ and ‘Flaming Spring Green’ in the Long Border, which reappear and have done so since planting in autumn 2013 – and I don’t think their number has ever dwindled.

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As planned, I took the ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Aladdin’ (which I had in the Knot Garden in 2017) down to the Long Border this year and they’ve been quite a treat, especially as I managed to plant Euphorbia polychroma (an old favourite of mine for the spring contrast it makes to tulips) last spring. I really love this plant – it’s as delightful in the same way as that old trouper, Alchemilla mollis.

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‘Ballerina’

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‘Ballerina’ with the grey foliage of Asphodeline lutea

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‘Aladdin’ just going over, with Euphorbia polychroma.

In pots I’ve also been enjoying a NOT ‘Queen of the Night’ on the Mirror Garden in my blue pots. It’s really charming, but definitely not what I wanted. Any ideas?

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And on the supper terrace are two pots full of dear little cheapies from Lidl – ‘Greenland’. I adore the Viridiflora tulips. Again that passion for green in flowers …

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And so – in the Knot Garden this morning I met my nemesis (for the next year or so, I reckon). I was admiring the individual charms of purple-black ‘Paul Scherer’ …

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teamed with the fringed violet of ‘Blue Heron’ …

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… while swearing also that such a dark tulip as ‘Paul Sherer’ should never be planted in the centre of the knot again – it disappears – and regretting the fact that pale yellow ‘Cistula’ hadn’t shown up at all (I’ve never complained to a bulb merchant before, but there’s always a first time).

And then I noticed some suspicious webbing on the box plants. Yes, it’s here – box tree moth caterpillar. In fact I suspect that it was lurking last year, but I was in denial at that stage because 2017 saw me in a bit of a Greta Garbo phase!

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I have now trawled over the entire garden and it is everywhere – not a single hedge or plant is untouched (and I have a few hedges).

XenTari has been ordered, and sprayer from Amazon (XenTari is a Bacillus thuringiensis biological control which gets a good press). All arriving Saturday. But I fear the fight to save the box will prove too costly, both in time and money. In my head I’m already planning their replacements. I think lavender would be nice for all the terrace edges where we have box at present. But what about my sweet little dumplings in the Mirror Garden?

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Ilex crenata might look to be a good idea, but I don’t think holly is very happy on our heavy soil. And apparently the only other plant that box moth likes is euonymus … so my back-up plan to replace box with Euonymus japonicus ‘Microphyllus’ is out of the question.

I’ll be afraid to go out into the garden tomorrow morning – will all the box be dead already? Will I spend another 2 hours (as I did today) hand-picking the little blighters?

At times like this you have to go a bit Scarlett O’Hara don’t you?

Otherwise you’d be as sombre (and not as beautiful) as a black tulip.

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Delphiniums and other dreams

 

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Euphorbia x martinii & Tulipa praestans

This site is called ‘Garden Dreaming at Chatillon’, but I never really write about the main dream. Today, when the dream seemed so far away, I refocused and pondered whether or not I actually needed some help in the garden.

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Tulip ‘Sweet Impression’. Still flowering since planting in autumn 2014. Definitely a ‘stayer’.

Since I was about 26 years old my biggest dream has been to have a very large, very beautiful garden and to share its beauty with other people. Sad, I know, but that’s kind of the way some of us think. That dream led me through endless evening classes in London, jobs in parks departments and finally to RBG Kew, where I did rather well.

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Narcissus ‘Peeping Jenny’.  I add to them every year.

Ok – there were other dreams too. I wanted, for instance, to be an excellent flautist (now I am the worst flautist in the local orchestra). I also wanted to be a passing good artist (I love it, but find very little time to do ‘the work’). I also dreamed of playing the violin (I still do, but the cats leave the room).

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News today! Narcissus poeticus ‘Actaea’ is flowering. So sweetly scented and one of my favourites, but later this year with the cold weather and rain.

That’s life, isn’t it: if you don’t dream and reach, what are you?

I’m about 1 and a half months behind with work in the garden at the moment (there are very good reasons, but I won’t bore you with details).

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The veg plot is a mess. But there are broad beans, and soon there will be peas!

And it’s going to be open to the public for the first time on Sundays May 27 and June 10 under the Jardins Ouverts scheme here in France. Today I looked at the garden and thought: how can you possibly say that this garden is worth looking at? It’s a mess! Sometimes I think it looks a bit like a four-year-old’s drawing of what a garden should be!

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Euphorbia characias subsp wulfenii doing its thing in the (weedy) Mirror Garden

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The steps by which visitors will enter the garden. The hazel at the bottom of the steps needs a close eye kept on it – otherwise people will feel less than welcomed!

Moreover, since I now write a monthly column in an Anglo-French paper called The Connexion, I have a very small reputation to keep up. Ok, so I am a trained horticulturist and I do know what I’m talking about. But it’s starting to feel like ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’.

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The Hornbeam Gardens, where I was working today. Weeds – and scarce a delphinium in sight!

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The geranium and grass border in the Hornbeam Gardens is now overrun by weeds and Saponaria officinalis. I was attracted by the knowledge that the National Trust still clean their fabrics using a solution concocted from this plant.  I had no experience of its desperate tendency to run – and only the odd tapestry to clean.

There are weeds everywhere (I can rationalise and say that most of my borders were virgin soil in 2012 to 2015, and I’m still getting rid of field weeds, but how is that going to help me when people are actually walking around this place?)

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My little Magnolia stellata still braving it out on its weedy bank. Another slope in our garden planned to be ‘managed’ with thick shrub plantings … cough, a natural planting?

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So pleased that the cowslips like us – they are early this year, I think.

So, what I think I need is something called a ‘WWoofer’. The daughter of my Canadian cousin introduced me to this idea when she stayed with us in 2015. She was working her way around Europe, mostly cooking (magnificently) for other people on organic farms. WWoofers are young people who travel round organic smallholdings and are given bed, board and ‘knowledge’, in exchange for their physical labour. When she spoke to me about the concept, I really didn’t take it seriously. Now I’m tempted. Any WWoofers wanting a month in north-east France apply here!

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In the midst of everything I did still manage to replace my hazel clematis supports in the Rose Walk. Not bad – the previous lasted 3 years and I would have spent a lot of money on something that rots just as fast as the hazel I already have growing here.

The delphiniums of the title are another dream gone bad. I have spent so much money on them since the Bon Viveur forced this passion on me about 3 years ago. They have systematically died away after giving their best. His was a passing whim, but now mine is a real addiction.

Long nights over the winter trying to work out why I lost them. The answer is probably that I’m growing (or rather, buying and killing) the ‘Pacific Giant’ series that were bred in on the west coast of the States in the 20th century. They were specifically bred as biennials/short-lived perennials. Which is why they are much cheaper than your standard Blackmore and Langdon type. So, having established that I am buying cheap, short-lived delphiniums, what’s the next move?

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The greenhouse is just grand (although not properly set up yet) and I finally have seedlings germinating that will not be lop-sided.

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Annual lupin ‘Blue Javelin’ making a dramatic showing today.

I decided this year to buy yet a few more cheap Pacific Giants (one is already dead, still in the pot!) …

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My pathetic delphiniums …

… and to invest in some seed of a new New Zealand strain which is bred to be truly perennial. (I could also invest in Blackmore and Langdon plants – I may still! – but it would set me back about £70 for 6 plants, including delivery to France). So, I now have two packets of seed from the ‘New Millenium’ strain (‘Super Stars’ and ‘Pagan Purples’), courtesy of Jelitto Seeds in Germany.

I will be sowing them this week – more internet research here! – after leaving them to moisten for 48 hours in the embrace of 2 damp towels. I hope to goodness this works! Delphiniums are an expensive habit. Watch this space if you are unfortunate enough to share this addiction …

Gone are the days when I used to pride myself on not losing plants!

What’s your dream – and do you have any tips for keeping the dream alive when all seems lost?

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Grateful this Christmas …

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Counting my blessings this Christmas. A lot of money has flowed under the bridge since this time last year (what with a greenhouse and one and a half bathrooms!).

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I also lost my precious mum at the start of January 2017: Christmas Day 2016 was spent (very happily, actually) by a hospital bed in Perth, while the Bon Viveur tended to things at home in Chatillon.

But wow – she must be so delighted when she looks down and sees what we have created in 2017!

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This is a very special greenhouse – it was my personal present to myself, for my sixtieth birthday in December 2016 (courtesy of financial help from my loving mother).

The BV has made an incredible job of constructing it – over a very long period of time. We started clearing the compost heaps that previously stood in this corner in October 2016. That took about a month on its own.

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Then the actual construction commenced in March. Due to the layout of my garden, this was the only possible place to put it. The bijou Eden Orangery was chosen for its small size and price tag – but mainly for the interest of its shape in a prominent position.  It was painted blue by us for the same reason. We imported it to France using a British company based in Brittany, since the French aren’t too hot on glass greenhouses (poly tunnels and workman-like spaces, no problem!).

We were toasting the final panes of glass going in with champagne as we greeted our second dump of snow for the year. And took the opportunity to show the first plants (lavender and santolina cuttings) their new home.

Can you see in the picture below that I go into my local supermarket to beg the polystyrene boxes that fish is delivered in? They make superb seed trays, pricking out boxes and carrying crates – and they last for an amazingly long time. I started doing this (on the recommendation of a local florist) when it became clear that I couldn’t get decent, rigid and reusable plastic seed trays in my part of  France.

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Not content with constructing the greenhouse, the BV also got his finger out for my wooden compost bins, painting and positioning them in the place I’ve had in my mind’s eye for the last five years or so. I kind of wanted little beehive shapes … but these will do nicely, thank you!

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They were purchased when the refuse collection system in our area changed to a ‘by weight’ calculation (I was already composting kitchen waste, but took advantage of the offer). The bins were supplied at a cost of only 36€ each by the company charged with refuse collection in the area. Each came with a nice little green compost container for the kitchen (so I have three that I can wash out and have on stand-by) and a stirring implement for each bin, looking a little like Neptune’s trident. Sicotral (the company in charge) even ran a day course on composting when the new scheme was introduced in May 2017. The French are so very, very thorough!

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The BV also created some temporarily duck boards so I don’t slip in the mud and crash into the glass of the greenhouse. We’ll use them lower down in the garden when I’ve re-established the grass path.

The upper level (to the right, in the picture below), where the greenhouse entrance is, will be a small wisteria-covered pergola, tailor-made for this gardener to pot and prick out to her heart’s content.

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There’s a lot of tidying to do, but next spring is already filling me with excitement and getting me to the serious seasonal task of seed-catalogue browsing.

Yes – it is going to be hot in there in the summer – very, very hot. Apart from the usual damping down and venting, I’m looking at purchasing something called ‘aluminium shading’ (clipped to the outside of the greenhouse), sold by a company in the UK called Simply Protect. I found them through an article in The Guardian and it looks like a fairly efficient solution – and not too very expensive. The technology appears to have been researched and developed by someone in North Carolina. Click here to take a look.

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We are also thinking of making a case at the back of the greenhouse so that several of the very long panes of safety glass on the sides can be removed and stored without fear of breakage – until we put them back in again in the autumn. Other ‘cooling’ ideas gratefully received!

I have been totally unable to raise tomatoes at Chatillon, due to blight (and I thought living on south-facing slopes would give me the best tomatoes I’ve ever experienced!). So, really, the greenhouse is a summer home for tomatoes.

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But I’m slowly realising that it will be more useful in the winter. Lettuces, spinach, oriental greens from September through to February, perhaps? The best, however, will be raising veggies and annuals from seed. I’ve experience only about 60% success rates with propagation in our sun room, up at the house – it only gets full, good light for half the day. I used to be quietly confident that I was good at this in the past!

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At the end of the day, I’d say the thing I’ve got to be most grateful for is the darling BV who has worked so hard on this project over months and cheered me beyond belief during a tricky year. Here’s to you!

I hope that all of you who have taken time to read my blog over the last year have a splendid Christmas! I know that I’m not always the best gardening blogger ‘friend’, but your kind comments have brought the sun out for me on many occasions.

If this Christmas turns out to be a sadder one than you would have wished, please accept a spiritual hug from me and my very best wishes for 2018.

A toast to the warm-hearted world of gardening bloggers and a very merry Christmas to you all!

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An August indulgence (the long read …)

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Wow, even in a wet summer like the current one, our grass on the Mirror Garden is still parched.

I first started my blog quite a while ago (you can find my original here). It was a seed that sprouted from a desire to communicate what was happening in my garden here in France to my husband (endlessly working abroad) and my mother (living in Scotland).

The Bon Viveur is again absent working in England, so I’m taking him on our  customary tour of the garden. It’s been a long time since I took an objective look at the garden; this will consequently be a little lengthy. If you haven’t got the stamina for the walk (and the endless photos) goodbye until we meet again!

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We’re up on the balcony. It’s a cloudy Saturday evening; I can sit up here tonight without my sunglasses on. It’s been a bit of a battle to get plants to grow on the balcony, because it’s like an oven when hot. And since we are always going to be sharing our space at close quarters, the traditional suspects such as agaves are not an option. Even lavender has been a really tricky thing to get going – I can’t tell you how many plants have gone into my troughs in the last 3 years. And I actually had to google why my cactus were going funny colours: too much light (can you believe it?).

On Saturday 12 August, Châtillon-sur-Saône was preparing itself for the big, annual August Fête de la Renaissance.

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The château grounds next to our garden have been clipped to within an inch of their lives and the ‘other’ Bon Viveurs have put up their flamboyant little canopy in preparation for the sun, which didn’t quite arrive this weekend.

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Walking down to our supper terrace, below the balcony (see the map here, if you think you’ll get lost!), I’m celebrating the fact that my own special Bon Viveur has removed all the old gravel (in preparation for paving), reorganised the foliage plants and put up an artificial hedge.

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I was a bit doubtful about the latter – but it works. No space consumed, lots of privacy. I love the stripey Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ against the ‘hedge’ and my little Gingko biloba has new growth, which makes me want to sing.

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The next level is the Mirror Garden, looking as tranquil as always, after the tulips finish putting  in an appearance in May.

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The blanket of green on the tower is, rather surprisingly, a Muehlenbeckia species

I like the Mirror Garden like this – it’s fairly straightforward to manage and easy on the eye. But I’d like some more euphorbias and yellow/white thingeys up here in spring. I was shocked to see that my special baby, Euphorbia characias subsp characias was killed by our low temperatures this winter (down, probably, to -20 degrees). Start again time!

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Peaceful except for those little white bags that have sprouted furiously over our nameless white dessert grape on the tower. This is the kind of slow, loving job that the BV does the best. This grape is so sweetly delicious that the wasps always get to it before we do. Foiled!

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And, my dear friend Beatrix, did you notice that the tiny little Muehlenbeckia you gave me about 7 years ago is now holding up Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’? Just go back and look at the second Mirror Garden picture again! To think that I was cross with the BV for strimming it and ‘killing’ it only 5 years ago! Now it may take over the village. It certainly has designs on our guest bedroom.

As I come out of the Mirror Garden, the Vine Terrace is one level below. Currently being (again) revamped by the BV.

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I have a water reservoir with no water (all the pipework has been disconnected!) – but joy, oh joy – yes, another artifical hedge. I am not being tongue in cheek here – really. I spend hours and hours battling with ivy and parthenocissus growing on all the old walls in this garden. An artificial hedge seems a bit like heaven on earth. And it doesn’t look half bad either! Thank you Lidl (and Nick).

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This ‘haie artificiel’ has been done in only one layer – the one up on the Supper Terrace is 2 layers and a million times better. Try it yourself. The BV spends hours over a flora at the moment trying to discover what species of plant this is. And how will it mature?

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To my left, walking down by the steps, is the Iris Garden. Again tranquilly green after the once flowering of Rose ‘Blairii No. 2’ and the irises themselves. Although ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ still throws out the odd bloom – and I think you can probably see two in the photo?

It’s such a privilege to have a large enough garden so that you can enjoy things in season and forget about them later.

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I never fail to enjoy the BV’s lovely blue pergola in the Vine Terrace when I look up at it from the Iris Garden – in fact you can see it from most points in the garden.

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The blue pergola on the Vine Terrace – and you can also see the balcony above.

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I’m going to bulk up Eucomis comosa in the Iris Garden. I was too mean to buy more than 2 bulbs, initially – but we have our first flower spike, and it’s luscious! What a lift in August, when everything is looking sad and hope leaves the gardener’s heart (unless he/she understands that this month is actually the start of the new gardening year).

Although the Rose Walk was the first place where I started to garden, it now looks like a building site and has been the source of a lot of depression this summer. I felt so sorry for the poor old roses doing their thing in the midst of heaps of soil and stone rubble. And I longed for my paved path up the middle – definition in wildness, that’s what my goal is.

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The greenhouse is still a twinkle …

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Although I do have a lovely new compost bin (one of a trio).

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Unfortunately I’m getting used to the building site – can you see that I even weeded around the ‘greenhouse’, Nick? In future I hope it won’t involve climbing over great heaps of soil.

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Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ is beautiful. But it’s the strangest thing here – whenever I divide herbaceous perennials they have a tendency to peter out. I used to have 6 of this Echinacea, and made a couple of divisions. Then they all started to die. So I’m quite nervous about dividing this one decent plant.

Although much of the Rose Walk is a bit scorched looking, repeated plantings of Stachys lanata and Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ help to keep it fresh.

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And I’m really enjoying the little picture that Perovskia atriplicifolia is making with the new growth of the rosemary.

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Turning down into the Long Border …

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The Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ are finished flowering and all is pretty parched now (this is probably the hottest part of the garden).

But Echinacea purpurea …

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Cannas and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’…

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and young Helenium and Phalaris arundinacea ‘Picta’ are all looking good. When the hazels are coppiced in winter these will be so much better in 2018. At the moment everything is leaning forwards.

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Straight on from the Long Border is the veggie plot. Looks tidy, but is singularly unproductive.

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We had some nice spinach and peas earlier, before the heat set in, and I even managed to grow carrots this year, finally recognising that they had to be sprayed over every day to get them to germinate (and with a long germination time, that can be 20 days of spraying!).

Brassicas absolutely loath heat (to my chagrin, because I adore broccoli), but then recover in autumn, so the sprouts do fine (and I get late broccoli). This year there have been many, many failures in contrast to previous years.

When the greenhouse is up, I reckon the trick with this very hot site will be to sow in late February under glass, with a view to planting out in March.

From the Long Border I can look down onto the cut flower garden. That, and the fact that I had just completed all my strimming, were what made me decide to post today.

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It looks good although it is – wait for it! – unfinished. But you know, it’s a lot of work. I underestimated how much would be involved on our sloping site.

This year was my worst year for cut flowers. I had no sunflowers, no Ammi spp, no larkspur. But the sweet peas were good – over now! – and I am filled with joy when I look at the strong zinnia plants.

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Disappointing snapdragons, bought from Special Seeds. The cultivar ‘Black Prince’ looks to be completely dwarf, so useless as a cut flower. Why, oh why, do seed companies not do single colour packets any more? I know the answer, you don’t need to tell me!

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You can see more clearly why I call it a building site!

I started sowing too late, hence 2017’s cut flower disaster. I think I always underestimate how much work there will be in spring, given that I’m developing new areas all the time. All that digging and heaving means there isn’t a lot of time for pleasurable things like sowing. I really do hope I/we are nearly at the end of garden development – then I can begin to take pleasure in real horticulture!

As well as all the wooden/ turf steps in the Hornbeam Gardens (the top is the cut flower garden, the bottom the wild shrub garden), the BV has had to completely redo the stone steps that descend down there. I’m no longer in danger of breaking my neck, but it has been so time-consuming.

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Our cheap little Aldi metal arches that we bought to frame the entrances are really rather pretty – they won’t last forever, of course, but I’m hoping that by the time they are dust to dust the horbeam hedge itself will have grown up to make the arches. This week I had to be rather brutal with the hedges, because I realised that I was letting them grow up beyond something that would be beyond my control in the future.

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You will notice in the photographs above that I still haven’t decided what the eventual surface of these steps will be – but you can be sure it won’t stay like this! The easiest would be to sow some decent grass (involving weedkilling the ‘bad’ grass in September). Haven’t made my mind up yet.

This stretch of ground from the Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ arch up to the ‘delphinum’ border is probably the path most impacted by the decision I make.

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I’m enjoying what Deschampsia cespitosa is doing down in the bottom part of the Hornbeam Gardens … it’s not all good though!

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To the right the lower Hornbeam Garden is completely scorched and horrid (although it looked pretty in spring). I’m thinking buddleias and sedums to withstand the intense drought here, caused in part by overhanging neighbour trees (no shade, just sucking!). Magnolias also seem to do really rather well in drought conditions. There is one here that battles on in the midst of the mess!

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The other side is really rather jolly, although it needs a lot of tweaking. The flowering shrubs here are all spring things – lilac, deutzia, Exochorda macrantha ‘The Bride’, Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’.

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There were hydrangeas for later, but all but one has given up the ghost – and that one remaining plant, H. paniculata ‘Limelight’, is not too happy. This is definitely not the place for the superb Hydrangea aspera.

Walking out into the orchard, this is the last area that I believe HAS to be developed in the garden – although I could go on down to the river with wild plantings (this is REALLY dreaming!). Much of the fruit is planted to make espaliers (although some poor souls don’t even have wires at the moment).

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Am in the midst of trimming hedges and strimming by the lines of espaliers (to the right)

There will be a meadow-style herbaceous planting underneath four Prunus ‘Tai-haku’ in the ‘will-be’ borders (we do need shade here, although you may not understand this) .

I have planted 4 yews to make strong boxy statements at the corners of the two broad borders. I intend to dig at least one side this winter – the side that already has some plants in it (roses, oxe-eye daisies, etc.)

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The little brown boy at the front is actually doing something very natural and unmentionable. I’m sorry you had to see this!

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My vision is for the cherries to flower with Narcissus poeticus ‘Recurvus’ below, followed by wilder roses and daisies. I’m learning what seeds itself well here, and this will be so very important in the future. Opium poppies do well (although I couldn’t get ‘Lauren’s Grape’ to germinate this year), verbascum and – miraculously – Verbena bonariensis. All the old verbena plants were killed in our very hard winter of 2016/17. I thought I’d lost it, but it’s popped up beautifully in the Hornbeam Gardens.

Knautia macedonica is becoming a menace and I never have to worry about losing nigella (although, again, have not managed to get ‘African Bride’  to germinate).

I am really, really looking forward to seeing this part of the garden swaying with species roses, daisies and wild carrot (‘Purple Kisses’ is a pretty one I tried this year).

And I so very much hope that this is the last winter with a huge amount of heavy work to do. Someday I’ll get sowing early instead of wallowing around in March still digging.

Well done if you made it through to here! And do cut me a bit of slack and remember that when we blog we are recording for ourselves too!

Nick – hope you enjoyed the walk around your garden?