How splendid are these orange Crocosmia? The colour absolutely sings out, and looks especially good in late afternoon/early evening light. Sadly these weren't from my garden, but I definitely want to plant lots of these beauties next year, enough that I can regularly have a vase full in the house.
What I am going to have waaaay too many of next year - if I don't take action - are foxgloves. As I didn't cut the spires off the ones that'd finished flowering in the front garden they've been self seeding like crazy maniacs. It's going to be choc a bloc with foxgloves if I don't get out there and weed some of the little seedlings out. That'll be a job for tomorrow, if the rain holds off.
(In the photo above - Swan River daisies)
I had a productive morning - a two hour walk, plus an hour and a half of yoga, I bought some groceries and joined the library. Then came home and have been languishing like a consumptive Victorian heroine in dire need of smelling salts ever since. I'm in the conservatory which is creaking like old bones as it's a ridiculously windy day. My back garden's surrounded by a fairly low fence which lets the wind gust over. (Need to get higher fencing and some trellis.) The top heavy sunflowers are bending and swaying and - despite being staked - one of them's broken off.
Anyway, I'm inside, eating far too many digestives - so dunkable in a nice cuppa tea - and reading 'Designing with Plants' by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury. I've only recently become familiar with the term 'prairie planting' and quite by chance stumbled across the 'leading plantsman in Europe' Piet Oudolf who is massively influential with that style of gardening.
I'd gone into the local village library and mooched around the shelves, and was amazed to find this book available. I really want to learn how to put together successful borders, and love this idea of prairie planting - mixing perennials with grasses, getting the mix of colours and textures, allowing the plants to go through their life cycle and finding pleasure in the seed heads and decay as much as the stunning summer flowers.
I'm trying to teach myself garden design.
I'd love to do a course in it, but they look too technical and dry. They look the kind of courses that require you to fiddle with spreadsheets and stare at a computer screen for much of the day.
(Sorry, this and the rest of the photos used are stock images, so don't know the specific plant varieties.)
So I'm going to teach myself the parts of garden design that appeal to me, and the Piet Oudolf book begins with taking you through 'FORM'. The shape of plants. These are divided into main groups:
SPIRES - these are what they sound like, tall spikes of plants. Think of foxgloves reaching skyward, stems packed with flowers. Other spires are: Verbena Hastata, Salvia 'Dear Anja' or Baptisia Iactea. The more tightly packed the flowers on the stems are, the purer and cleaner the shape. Spires are best planted in clumps rather than a single plant on its own.
BUTTONS & GLOBES - think of Echinops, those globe like thistles or Allium seedheads once the flowers have finished. Buttons and globes are described by the authors as defined points. They're clusters of tightly packed flowers. Other examples are Knautia macedonica or Astrantia major 'Roma'.
PLUMES - think of plumes as soft connections between your spires. in a border They're made up of a myriad of tiny little flowers arranged in loose, sometimes transparent ways. Plumes look good en masse. If you've planted lots of bold shapes in your border you can use plumes to soften the more clearly defined planting. Examples of plumes are Rodgersia, Persicaria polymorpha or Filipendula rubra 'Venusta'.
UMBELS - lots of common wildflowers and weeds have these shapes. Think of upturned bowls (or the frame of an upturned umbrella). These gently rounded shapes contrast with those reach-for-the-sky, energetic spires. Examples of umbels are fennel, Angelica gigas, Sedum 'Stardust' or Achillea 'Terracotta'.
DAISIES - I think we're all pretty familiar with daisies, whether we're talking about Rudbeckia, Asters, Heleniums or Echinacea purpurea. We associate daisies with sunshine and happiness, and long summer days when hopes are high.
SCREENS & CURTAINS - These are plants that aren't solid and chunky, but thin enough to be seen through. You get networks of stems, leaves and flowers. They're insubstantial plants, such as Stipa gigantea or the young fennel plant when its got narrow leaves and sparse umbels. Think of Verbena bonariensis when it's at the front of a border. You can look past it and through it to what's behind.
The book then moves on to COLOURS, grouping them as:
HOT - your reds and oranges. Colours that shout 'hey! look at me!'. The authors caution you to use these colours sparingly. Also - interesting to realise - red's the first colour to disappear at dusk, meaning a red border takes on a sombre quality in the evening light. Hot colours are found with red tulips and poppies, or red peonies.
COOL - blue is a cool colour and one that seems to recede, so if you plant it in a border you're adding depth. Most blue flowers contain some red, meaning you can pair them up nicely with purples and violets (which contain even more red). If you're using a blue flowering plant that has a very grey or metallic quality to it, you need to place it carefully. Allow it's unusual colouring to be appreciated.
Examples are Campanula latifolia 'Gloaming' or Clematis integrifolia.
The next grouping of colours are -
SWEET - think pink. Whether that's baby pink or shocking. It's a superb linking colour that can be used to make connections between other stronger shades, but take care with some pinks as overusing them can be cloying. Too sickly sweet and bland. Examples of pink flowers abound, and include pink poppies, Sanguisorba stipulata and Salvia pratensis 'Lapis Lazuli'.
Next up are -
SOMBRE - these are the unusual colours, the ones with a sense of mystery to them. The sort of plants that make people bend down to take a look and ask 'what's this one called?'. Every garden needs an element of surprise, and touches of sombre colours can provide that. Examples are: Astrantia major 'Claret' and Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum' (which is a red thistle).
Finally, we come to -
EARTHY - these are the browns found in grasses, and in plants that're going to seed and dying back. There's beauty to be found in plants that're past their best, as well as habitat for small insects. Examples of earthy colours are found, as already noted, in grasses but also in Echinacea purpurea once it's finished flowering and has gone to seed. Also Veratrum nigrum.
Well, that's what I've learnt so far. I hope you've found that useful too as I'm certainly looking at plants with new eyes now. That one's a classic globe shape. That's an umbel. That's a sweet colour, that's earthy.
Anyone else intrigued by the work of Piet Oudolf? Maybe you've been familiar with his work for years?
I thought I knew what verbena looked like. Tall and slender, with tiny clusters of purple flowers. Only it turns out there're different varieties of verbena. There's the tall and slender Verbena bonariensis, so beloved of garden designers at RHS Chelsea. Then there's Verbena rigida Venosa, which has the same purple flowers but in a compact version, about 30cm tall.
A Sunday afternoon stroll to the local horiticultural nursery and a modest £2.50 got me two more. On the left in the photo is Verbena Lanai Twister Pink. Described on its plant label as 'A compact plant with a trailing habit producing clusters of bright flowers. Ideal for window boxes, patio containers and borders.' Height reached should be between 10 and 20cm. Trails to 20cm. The colours are vivid, and I did wonder if they were a bit too gaudy, but actually in the softer evening light they look really pretty. On the right is Verbena Venturi Violet. This one's label tells us 'Compact plant with branching stems. Ideal for pots and containers. Remove dead blooms to encourage further growth.' Height s/b 35 to 50cm. Trails to 20cm. I love that deep violet colour, and it sits well in the blue glazed container.
I know I shouldn't have spent any more money on plants - I'm supposed to be in a thrifty frame of mind - but I'm not sorry I bought them. In fact I quite fancy trying to see how many varieties of verbena I can squish into my garden.
If verbena doesn't float your boat, what type of flower is guaranteed to get you reaching into your purse and parting with your pennies?
Is anyone good at identifying plants? Not the one on the left sneaking into the photo - that's Scabious - but the one with a compact base of green leaves and long, slender flower stems. The flowers, when they're out, are purple, and when they're finished the plant produces seeds that're sticky and catch on your clothes and in your hair!
No idea what it is, and haven't yet found it when I've browsed through gardening books (of which I have far too many ...) but if anyone can point me in the right direction I'd be grateful.
Apart from the mystery plant, this one's doing well considering it's start in life. Among the Oxalis and by the lupin (Lupinus West Country Desert Sun) is Crocosmia Carmen Briljant. It's not really planted in a position best suited to show it off, so may get moved at some point. It was bought from Wilko, one of those yellow sticker purchases, reduced to 50p for a quick sale. The dry little thing was brown and crisped up, looking ready for the compost bin. But those kind of plants can be deceptive as often they've not been well cared for by busy shop staff, but still have healthy enough roots to do well once re-potted and watered.
The front garden's home to at least 3 rosemary plants. (I do have a weakness for buying herbs.) I love their smell, and of course you get the flowers to please the pollinators. It's funny how differently varieties develop.
The one on the left of the thyme (in the photo above) stands tall and upright, like a guardsman on parade. While the one on the right droops over, as if it's all too much bother. I don't think the variety of rosemary was listed on the plant labels when I bought them, both being spur of the moment supermarket buys rather than coming from a proper horticultural nursery. Those tempting tiers of shelving. Plants that canny grocery stores put by the door, so you pick up a basket or a trolley and lob a few cheap herbs or houseplants in with your teabags and cereals.
Are you someone who's easily seduced by supermarket plants? Or do you sail past temptation and not succumb to impulse buys?
This little area's started to look rather nice, mainly because of the verbena of which I'm ridiculously fond. It started out as resembling a building site. Weeds, gravel, bits of buried concrete slabs, there was little to love. But gradually I got on top of it.
I used bricks that I'd taken up from the front garden, and improvised about the layout.
Things looked a heck of a lot better once some greenery made an appearance.
There's a perennial sunflower by the fence, along with a foxglove, plus a couple of thymes - both a variety called 'Silver Queen', one in the ground, the other in a container - plus marjoram (or is it oregano?) and leggy verbena. Still too much bare ground for my liking, but that'll get filled up with plants in years to come.
When I'm flagging it's good to look at photos like these and see that progress is -slowly - being made.
When I'm not messing about in the garden or writing short stories then I can generally be found sewing patchwork or doing needlepoint. (Anything to avoid dusting and hoovering!) When you're crafting then colour is important. Choosing the right shade of wool or fabric, it can make the difference between a design being vibrant and zingy and a design being dull as ditchwater. Sometimes I've come up with a colour scheme for a cushion I'm doing as a needlepoint and began stitching it, only to find it fails to have any impact. Maybe there're two colours that look good on their own, but next to each other they get muddy and lack interest. The only thing to do is get the seam un-ripper out and pull out those stitches and choose something else.
When it comes to gardening I've decided that - despite their pretty name - these zinnias won't be making a repeat appearance next year. I like the shape of the flowers, but the colours? Nah. Too bright. Too clashing. I much prefer something softer.
The blue-ish purple of the lavender.
The paler purple of the flowering thyme alongside the creamy white yarrow.
Next year I'm going to be more ruthless about editing my colour choices, but then again I don't want the scheme to look boring. It's all about injecting the odd shot of contrasting colour without that splash of orange or red sticking out like a sore thumb. I think it'll be a case of trial and error, but then isn't all gardening?
Today was gloriously hot and the tomato plants are wilting like month old lettuce. I'm holding off with the watering though as the weather forecast reckons it's raining cats & dogs overnight and tomorrow. So I get to lounge on my ample backside and watch Channel 4's para-athletics coverage instead. Happy days.
P.S. The lemon tree's looking more like a lime tree at the mo. How cute are they?!
It was still light enough yesterday evening to pop out at 10.00pm and do some watering I'd forgotten about. I love these long, sunny days. They lift everyone's spirits. We were lucky with the weather last week for our visit to the Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. Crikey, it's huge! We saw as much as we could pack in to a single day - approx 18,000 steps according to a FitBit - but still probably didn't scratch the service. It's a real mix of proper agricultural fair (sheep, pigs, tractors and combine harvesters) and upmarket shopping experience. (It is Harrogate, after all ...) If you've never been, then get your tickets for next year, but I'd definitely suggest you spend at least two days at the event. Wear flat shoes too - I shook my head in disbelief at some women tottering around in heels or high wedge sandals. Their feet must've been killing 'em by teatime. Take lots of water, sunscreen and a picnic if you're vegetarian or gluten free. If you like burgers and chips, followed by ice cream you'll be well provided for food-wise though.
At home the front garden is graced by a tall pink hollyhock.
The leaves have been affected by rust, so don't look quite so appealing, but it's worth it for the flowers.
These Scabious are pretty too, though not an attractive sounding name, is it? The flowers are described as pincushion-like, which is apt. They're leggy and do need staking, which I've inexpertly done with some bamboo and string. The flowers are white, with just the odd pale pink bloom dotted among them.
These two little plants nestling with their white flowers among the Oxtalis (which incidentally self seeds like crazy, be warned) are Ageratum, bought for 50p each from the Yorkshire Show. They're compact and ideal for edging a border. Apparently they're also known as Floss flowers, according to my 'Enclyclopedia of Garden Plants and Flowers'. Yeah, there would've been a time I devoured novels, everything from Jane Austen to Willa Cather, via the Brontes, Virginia Woolf, Poppy Z Brite, Judy Budnitz and Beryl Bainbridge. Now it's plant books that catch my imagination. Time rolls on ...
I've got a tray of flapjacks baking in the oven. My second attempt as the first weren't quite sticky and yummy enough. I'm off to the Yorkshire Show tomorrow, so thought I'd make flapjacks for us to take along. As my bruv and niece are gluten free, I bought GF porridge oats. Crikey, they're expensive compared to the regular kind. Anyway, let's see if the second lot are more successful.
Before my attempt at being Mary Berry I did some pootling around in the front garden. I've been popping small thyme plants in between cracks or gaps in the bricks, and this little one in the photo above should hopefully spread out in weeks to come, and cover that gap entirely.
These Californian Poppies are tumbling out of their flower bed, and I loved the shape the petals made as they weren't fully open.
This dill plant seems to shoot up another inch or two by the day. It's pretty enough to go in any herbaceous border, don't you think?
Another photo of the dill, which would look better without the plastic washing up bowl loitering in the background! It's useful for chucking weeds into, or general fetching and carrying. Another old washing up bowl has had holes punched into the base and now has catmint growing in it. Waste not, want not, as the saying goes.
Okay, time to sample a flapjack. Let's see if it comes up to scratch.
July already, and we've had some amazingly hot days. It's been gorgeous, and I'm developing a Yorkshire tan from all this sunshine. It does mean an evening traipse around with the watering can, and the tomato plants and sunflowers are greedy 'uns when it comes to water.
The front garden's looking disheveled. It's got its bedhead on, and no one's around with a hairbrush or some straightners! This photo shows the upper level, the front being split into two levels from when previous residents flattened the sloping ground and paved it over. (In the background is the not-so-charming sight of many bags of sand and limestone I've removed after lifting bricks. I'm waiting till I've got a skipful before getting rid of 'em. Plus there's a trio of hulking plastic bins. Unsightly, but those wooden 'bin tidies' are ridiculously expensive.)
When I created these flower beds I was in such a rush to get plants - anything green! - into this barren space, so in it all went. Jumbled up and squished together. Consequently it's messy but at least the bees love all the nectar sources.
Having visited some public gardens over the summer, and having watched Mr Montague Don on 'Gardeners World' I've got more idea now of what plants I like and am beginning to understand the theory behind how to plant a successful border. I spent last night chopping up seed catalogues, cutting out pictures of plants I aspire to grow and noting their height. I'm working out what looks best at the back of a border (tall spires like foxgloves and delphiniums), what's of medium height (Achillea, alliums, lavender and Cosmos) and what's compact (Forget-Me-Not, daisies). I've got a colour scheme. Actually, more than one. The upper beds will be whites, purples (from pale lilac through to a deep imperial purple), pinks (from blush through to shocking pink), with the odd blue (such as the Himalayan poppy) and a touch of yellow, but only the softest creamy lemon. (The lupin you can see in the photo is 'Lupinus West Country Desert Sun' and is a beauty.)
On the lower level will be a 'white' bed - home to yarrow (which is self seeding like a maniac), a Cosmos like 'White Knight', some Gypsophilia maybe and I'd love an ornamental grass like 'Bunny Tails'. Finally I'd like an 'orange/yellow' bed - a home for all those vivid look-at-me blooms, such as orange or red Crocosmia, vibrant Heleniums, lots of Californian poppies and Echinacea 'Paradiso'. Plus some Chinese lanterns and a chocolate scented Cosmos 'Choca Mocha'. Oh, and of course lots of sunflowers. I want to grow those outrageously tall ones that you can get nose to nose with from the upstairs windows.
Yup, I've got big plans for a gal with a small budget. But seeds are cheap, and there're worse things to spend your cash on than prettying up your home and providing wildlife with a tasty buffet. Actually, it's turns out I've got loads more seeds than I thought away. The tartan patterned former shortbread tin that I use to store them has plenty, plus I recently ordered a fair few from a £1.00 per pack sale on Forthergills website. I may have to be brutal much later this year and into the start of next, ripping out what I've planted so far and redoing all those borders from scratch. It'd be worth it to get some proper structure in place, and to also make sure I dig in a load of organic materal, to ensure the soil's as good as I can get it.
You know, I don't understand what people who don't garden do with their time ... seriously folks, you need to get 'with it'. It's great exercise, you're creative, you can indulge in a love of colour and texture. What's not to like? Who else has got bitten by the gardening bug? Or maybe you're a frustrated would-be gardener who's got no more space than a window box?
Earlier in the year the woods and lanes around me were scattered with bluebells and there was wild garlic to be picked. Lately the brilliant yellow of buttercups have been shining out, and the bike path I regularly used has been flanked by clouds of frothy white cow parsley. In my front garden there're masses of pale yellow and bright orange California poppies, the fragrant thyme's been flowering, and now the verbena's joined in the party. I've got Verbena rigida Venosa which is a compact plant, and Verbena bonariensis which is the leggy, slender stemmed plant beloved of fancy RHS Chelsea gardeners (and me!). The back garden's home to an array of container plants, mainly tomatoes, courgettes and strawberries, and I thought I'd note down some of the 'lessons learnt' so far, as we come almost to the end of June. (Yikes! It'll be autumnal before we know it if this year keeps racing along like a thoroughbred.)
So what've I learnt, or at least realised I lack knowledge of?
1 - Fresh strawberries for breakfast is an achievable luxury. It's very pleasing to pop outside in my dressing gown and gather a small handful of berries to go with my chopped apple and yoghurt. It's not taken a massive effort either. I bought four or five plants last years, which I think cost a fiver, and spent money on potting compost and containers. But for that small investment I've had lots of fruit, plus the plants send out runners which produce baby plants, so you end up getting a lot of 'bang for your buck'.
2 - Broad beans are super-easy to grow. They've really been no trouble at all, apart from just needing staking with some pea sticks or bamboo poles to stop them getting too wind blown.
3 - Courgettes and tomatoes need large containers to grow in. I've belatedly realised how pointless it is to scrimp on large containers and try to squeeze these space hungry plants into too-small tubs. By large I mean containers that're at least 32cm in diameter. The containers are robust. They'll last for years, so it's a false economy not to buy a few more. If the plants have room they'll respond by producing lots of veggies for my dinner plate. I can save money by not splurging on expensive plants as impulse buys from garden centres instead of being miserly about buying suitable containers.
4 - When your water supply's metered, it pays to get a rainwater butt. Yorkshire rain falls freely, so I need to buy and get fitted a water butt to ensure I'm not wasting tap water during dry spells.
5 - Sunflowers are instant mood-lifters. There's something very appealing about their wide, generous faces held up to the sun, and I need to grow more of 'em next year. Lots more.
6 - I'm gradually learning the volume of planting and the forward thinking that needs to go into growing veggies in particular. If I want to seriously grow enough to keep myself in salad leaves, tomatoes, courgettes, yellow squash, runner beans, broad beans, as well as berries and herbs over the summer months I need to be less slapdash and 'oh! me and my tiny appetite'. I need to be more systematic about, for instance, growing salad leaves like rocket as 'come and cut again' crops. I need to think 'oh! me and my not-so-tiny-appetite'. I need to think like the manager of a veggie and soft fruit production line. How can I get a constant crop so I don't have to nip down to the Co-op for a bag of pre-washed salad leaves as I've run out? Plus, I need to grow staples like spring onions and spuds. Prices in the shops are only headed one way (up, up, up!) so the more I can grow, the better.
Gardening does seem to be the constant realization that you know next to nothing. Whether that's about how to get rid of aphids or about how to pronounce complicated Latin names for flowers or which shrubs grow well in shady spots. It's all about learning, and thankfully there're plenty of ways to do that, from 'Gardeners World' on telly to online resources like the RHS website, and to cheap-as-chips gardening books available secondhand in most charity shops. Though the best way to learn is getting stuck in. Literally getting your hands dirty. Try. Fail. Succeed. Gardening is, to use that hideously overused word, a 'journey' and in a complicated and increasingly bat-shit crazy world it's one of the most peaceful and life enriching interests you can have.
Moved from a garden-less city flat in the South West to a Yorkshire village in 2016. I now have a garden ... of sorts.