Rain!

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

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

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

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

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

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Chamaerops humilis on the balcony

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

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

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Lycianthes rantonnetii on the balcony

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

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

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

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

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September garden musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And some ‘after’ pictures …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The veg plot is a DISASTER!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In a vase on Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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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