The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies. Gertrude Jekyll

Annie's Little Plot

Annie's Little Plot
Dreaming of my summer garden

Friday, 2 December 2016

First snow and some garden thugs

Well no sooner had a written about a calm autumn when there was all change and it feels like its been a very blustery, cold, grey end to November. We have had our first snow of the year, in fact two lots, none lasting for much more than a day but very early even for here in Huddersfield.

It was unusual to see snow on the last of the stunning red leaves of my Japanese Maples.
My two Japanese Maples have been fabulous this year, the best colour they've ever been.
Just had a beautiful moment while writing this blog, was just looking out of the window, I get easily distracted, and a tiny wren came and clung to the wall at the side of my window and looked in at me! Its hard to say who was the most surprised. Ah, what a treat you usually hear wrens rather than see them.
Anyway where was I...
Yes autumn colour has been great, but most leaves have fallen now and shrubs and trees are bare, though I have got a deciduous azalea in my garden which has vibrant orange flowers in the spring and has now dark red almost purple leaves on.
Over the autumn I have been battling with some of the thugs that have taken over my front garden and been doing some severe editing. I used to love Alchemilla mollis and in early summer when it has those sharp acid green flowers which look great it bouquets then I love it all over again but it likes my garden too much and seeds everywhere. I don't just mean a few here and then, it pops up everywhere like when you used to sow cress on a tissue at school. The seedlings aren't too hard to remove but I've got heavy clay soil in my garden and as soon as the plants get to certain size then the roots just seem to get wedged in the clay and they are really hard to dig up. 
Another self-seeder in my garden is the Aquilegia but I mostly tolerate that one, though it can get a bit out of hand. I'm going to wait till spring for this one now and see what comes up and have a proper clear of some plants then. 
Another spreader which needs a bit of editing every now and again is the low-growing Saxifraga x urbium or London Pride. It had spread over quite an area but this is easy to dig up and can spread it around a garden. From a quick Google search I learnt why it is called London Pride. Apparantly it was a plant that spread and colonised bomb sites after the Second World War and said to represent the resilience of London after the Blitz. Its one of those plants that many gardens have but they've probably never bought it, its a plant for passing onto other gardeners!! I know I got mine from my mum and its great for the edge of the borders, with its evergreen succulent foliage and then has a haze of pretty pink flowers in the late spring.
I also gave the heave-ho to a Crocosmia 'Meteore' which just seems to just be all leaf and no flower and was spreading into massive clumps at a rate of knots. I know for definite that I will not have got out all the tiny corms so will have to go back to those spots and dig out any more that come up but I've got the biggest clumps out. I think the soil is just too rich for them and the leaves develop rather than the flowers. 
Anyway after all that digging up, weeding and tidying I had some bare soil and so I emptied the compost bin and spread it out over the top all over the front garden, which will hopefully help the soil structure. I also planted lots of Allium bulbs so it should look nice in the spring and I can add some less thuggish perennials then too. So looking forward to a purple spring.

Finally its the countdown to Christmas now and while sorting out my mums things this year we found this advent calendar which we all remember well from our childhood. It came out every year along with the dodgy decorations which we had made for the tree. Much nicer than the chocolate throwaway ones you get now. Its probably at least 40 years old. An antique advent calendar. Brings back lots of happy memories.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

A calm autumn

I've been loving this extended settled weather, we have had lots of sunshine and calm days with a bit of rain here and there. There has been the odd cold night but until this week not really that winter chill. Looking at the weather forecast though looks like that could soon change. But in other words its been almost perfect weather and my cut flower patch has been reinvigorated with a second flush of flowering by many of the annuals which were flagging a bit. Having cut them back quite hard I've had second flushes of Calendula's and Californian poppies, also from Nigella and the vibrant blue Clary sage. Then there are some flowers that have just gone on and on, like the Scabious and Cosmos, they have been fabulous. I've also grown a lovely single Dahlia this year which has been vibrant and flowered well with the Cosmos. It is called 'Bright Eyes' which I bought from Sarah Raven.

Regarding the veggies on my plot I've planted my overwintering onions which have all got going well. I'm growing the red onion 'Electric' and then a variety called 'Senshu Yellow' both reliable and easy to grow. They can look a bit battered after a hard winter especially if we have snow but a bit of a extra feed of fish, blood and bone in the spring soon gets them going again. I'm wondering whether to even bother with a maincrop onion next year as these last well for me too and with my shallots I have onions to last me all year almost. The garlic is in the ground too. I'm growing some more elephant garlic and then two other varieties which I'm not sure of the cultivar names now. I'm just splitting some of the garlic that I grew myself this year rather than buying in a new bulb. I need to look back and get their names though as I've been a bit neglectful at labelling. Here are the onions growing either side of my parsnips, again an unnamed variety collected from a plant that was allowed to seed. They were nice big parsnips and the great thing about collecting seed is you have loads and can sow lots of this sometimes difficult to germinate crop. I plan to allow one of these to flower and set seed again as parsnip seed doesn't keep very well.
I've also been harvesting some cauliflowers, now I've often struggled with this as a crop and I know lots of people do. I often get the white curd developing but then it gets damaged or goes off-coloured. They often need protecting by folding the leaves around to protect the developing head. Anyway this year I tried a variety called 'Di Sicilia Violetto' from Suttons which I bought in the half price seed sale at my local garden centre. It is, as its name suggests, a variety from Sicily and is said to be winter hardy. It is said to produce side shoots after you pick the main head so I will see if any develop. I've found this a lot easier but maybe that is because we have had good weather when the curd was developing. Anyway, I've still got a few more to come, the florets turn green when cooked. I will hopefully grow this variety again next year
In the Brassica bed I still have some calabrese 'Marathon' which I'm still harvesting the side shoots from. I also have some sprouts, I've grown the purple sprouts that I grew last year, though these have stayed very short this year and I'm not sure why. I'm also trialling a new crop called Flower Sprouts, which are a cross between a Brussel sprout and kale. These have grown well and are just starting to develop the 'sprouts', so more about these later in the year. 
Another winter crop are leeks and they are doing well, though I've not got as many as I'd normally grow as they got eaten by slugs in the seed tray! But I managed to salvage some. These are a heritage variety called 'Walton Mammoth' which I'm loving the blueness of. I often get some rust on my leeks but these look to be clear of that which is great, they've certainly developed quickly into a thick stem as I was a bit late transplanting these this year. I must write about my experimenting with a few Heritage varieties this year.
So things are looking set for a good crop of vegetables over the winter though one crop that I'm really missing this year is Kale, I usually have a few varieties but I especially love the Cavolo Nero variety. But the slugs put paid to my whole crop this year which is really frustrating and with everything going on this year I wasn't organised enough at the time to resow. Oh well you win some and you lose some.
The nasturtiums continue to take over and hide my pile of cutdown thick stems from last season. There is a mix of varieties now from vibrant orange to dark brown, and look so lovely when backlit my sunshine with dewdrops glistening.

I'm making the most of them as with the frosts forecast for this week I fear they will soon be gone.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

A tour of .......Arlington Court

A belated post about a visit to the National Trust property Arlington Court on our recent holiday in Devon in September. Two areas stood out for me on this visit, one was the hot border in the Victorian garden and the other was the walled kitchen garden. I always seem to find a walled garden on my holidays and this year I found two, more of the other one in a separate post.
There are two main gardens on this estate, a Victorian garden which leads then into the walled garden. The Victorian garden is as your might expect very formal with bedding and ornate climbing structures. There were lots of Senecio cineraria the silver leaved bedding plant and begonia's galore. Not really my thing, certainly of its time, but there was a fabulous border running along the right edge of the Victorian garden.

It was a fabulous example of a hot border, and certainly at its peak when we visited. But there was one glaring anomaly can you spot it on the view looking back across at it.
Yes a great big blowsy pale insipid Hydrangea right in the middle of this stunning border.
It was definitely the odd one out on this border that was otherwise zinging with colour and vibrancy. So lets ignore that and look a bit closer at the planting which was largely half-hardy annuals, Dahlias, Cannas and bedding. There were sunflowers, Tithonia, Salvias, Rudbeckias all jostling and mingling with vibrant, colour clashing joy.

This is a lovely combination, the true blue of Salvia patens with the big almost green-black leaves of the Ricinus communis (the castor oil plant) and at the bottom the cherry-pie scented Heliotrope with its dark purple flowers.
Then moving into a yellow medley.
There were some lovely Dahlia's

The butterflies were enjoying the single-flowered varieties.
There was one annual which I didn't recognise which looked like a nice flower for cutting with also interesting buds.
I've actually recently spotted this in the Chiltern seeds preview catalogue which popped through my door this week. Its called Hibiscus trionum 'Simply Love', what a lovely name. So that will be going in my order for next year's cutting patch I think.
You move into the walled garden from the Victorian garden and its a perfect site for growing vegetables.
Covering one acre, it is south-facing and has good free-draining soil which they improve using seaweed from nearby Ilfracombe. They look to be pretty organic in their methods, using barrier methods to protect crops from pests, they rotate their crops to prevent any specific pest build-up and also to prevent exhaustion of nutrients from the soil. Where they do have pest problems they use organic methods of control such as insecticidal soaps and pheromone traps. They also encourage beneficial insects using companion planting and the placement of various bug hotels such as this fabulous one.

You could see the difference down in the south compared to my plot in Huddersfield with the squash, sprouts and other crops all at at an earlier stage than mine.

They had a few beds of flowers for cutting.
They had big areas for growing squashes and pumpkins.

 Beautiful archways for apples and a lot of espaliers on the walls themselves,.
I was talking in my previous post about a bird 'pest' which was eating some of my crops. Here is the bird pest at Arlington, a little bit bigger, but I think it does cause a few problems eating the crops and grubbing up the soil. Beautiful though. Look at that blue, looking good against the glaucous blue of the leeks!
From here we went on a walk through the woods and came across so woolly creatures.
 Some more bizarre than others.
There were owls, birds, bats, hedgehogs, mice, all shapes and sizes!
Some flowers too.
A lovely robin
 These were the Woollen woods, which is a regular event I gather in the autumn. Where local knitters, crocheters and felters make some pieces for display on the trail much loved by kids.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

A new lettuce pest

Thats odd, I don't know how that happened but it seems that an email went out yesterday notifying people of a post that I wrote in July last year. Very odd! So apologies if there was some confusion.

I've been sorting my photos out that I've been taking this year and reflecting on some of the quirky things that have been going on in my garden this year. I decided early on in the year this year that I was going to grow my salad crops in my garden rather than at the allotment where I have a constant battle with slugs and snails. I don't go up frequently enough to keep on top of the problem. I'd bought a couple of new tin containers from Southport flower show last year and also had aquired some very handy mushroom trays and some wooden crates which I though would be the ideal container, once lined, to grow salad crops in. So I sowed some seeds in the greenhouse in modules, potted on a bit and then planted then out into the containers in May. Hardened off and then moved outside and had visions of picking salad crops over the next few weeks. Here they are looking splendid on first planting.

The varieties that I grew were some tried and tested ones which I knew were pretty reliable and a couple of new ones. So there was a variety called 'Bijou' which is a frilly dark red leaves, almost black and I've found in the past less likely to be eaten by slugs. 'Rosedale' a Cos type lettuce with dark-red tinged leaves and green centre, plus 'Little Gem' the classic short cos-type, which I've grown often before. Plus some mixed salad leaves seeds.
Now where to put them to keep them away from the slugs and I had the idea of placing them on my wheelie bins which are inevitable these days in most gardens. Slugs won't get up there I thought. So all well and good and they got going and grew on and I did get some leaves off, but then I noticed that something was nibbling the edges of the leaves. Slugs, I thought, managing to climb up there or had there been some in the compost. I kept an eye on them in the evenings when usually I go round picking off slugs and snails from my plants but no signs.
Now I like to think of myself as quite a natural gardener, I love trying to encourage bees and butterflies onto my plot by planting their favourite flowers. I have a number of bird feeders in my old apple tree to encourage the birds, one of the most common birds in my garden is the house sparrow and I'm pleased with that. Once a common bird but, if you look at the link above according to the RSPB, they are a bird in severe decline and they actually have a red status meaning that they have the highest conservation priority, with the species needing urgent action. They are a noisy lot, flitting around the gardens round here in quite big flocks and when the babies are there sat on the fence quivering away waiting for the parents to feed them I love to watch them. Anyway they congregate in my laurel bushes down the side of the house next to where I put my wheelie bins and often flit away as I walk down to get to the back door. I started to suspect them as my lettuce nibbler but struggled to catch them at it. Until one morning I caught them from the window of my utility room.

Caught in the act and as you can see the lettuce plants (this is the 'Little Gem') have been  almost demolished. They must love the tender green leaves. They definitely seem discerning about this as they didn't touch the red/black leaved lettuces. So I did get a good harvest off them. So here is a hint to gardeners, they are less often eaten by slugs and birds, do they know something we don't. Less sweet more bitter. I don't know.

In the end I was very relaxed about it and as you can see I just left them to it. I have noticed the house sparrows quite a few times since flitting amongst by flowers and plants nibbling I think. Could they be picking off bugs, drops of water or pecking the flowers? Probably all three. I'm sure they like the primrose flowers as they are often nibbled. But I'm just pleased to see the house sparrows thriving here and long may it continue.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

A tour of ......Trentham gardens

One of my gardening heroes is Nigel Dunnett, he specialises in research of 'modern' meadows and planting schemes using diverse plants with wildlife in mind but also plants to give a long flowering season. He was involved in developing the Pictorial meadows seed mixes, colourful flower meadow seed mix which are less reliant on nutrient poor soil. Originally I guess he had more of a lean towards landscape design in an urban setting and he was one of the designers for the Olympic park planting, he's transformed parts of Sheffield with his innovative planting plans and designs and he's also done the planting round the Barbican in London. He's a big advocate of green roofs and water management within garden design and has designed a number of gardens with these sorts of themes for the Chelsea Flower Show. I heard that he was developing some new perennial meadows and planting schemes at Trentham Gardens near Stoke and so this was on my summer list of gardens to visit.
Trentham was obviously a very big and impressive estate at one time but there are only a few remains of the house left. The demise of the estate was partly blamed on pollution in this once very industrial area and the house was abandoned in 1905, eventually sold and demolished in 1911. It seems there have been a few semi-revivals of the estate in the 1930s and again in the 1980s. My sisters have very fond memories of visits there as children, remembering the outdoor swimming pool there. But there appeared to be no big redevelopment until it was bought by a property company, who went on to build a shopping village with restaurants and a large garden centre at one side of the estate. This might make you cringe a bit but maybe it was necesary to revive the garden. They certainly seem to been innovative regarding the garden, bringing in experienced designers and plantsman such as Piet Oudolf, Tom Stuart-Smith and Nigel Dunnett.
After my visit there I feel excited for its development, it feels like a garden continually evolving and on the move embracing new concepts and ideas. It has a rich garden history, including the man of the moment Capability Brown who did a lot of work on the estate enlarging the lake and designing the main landscaped park. This is where we bring in Nigel Dunnett as he has been asked to develop the planting around this Brownian landscape to mark the tercentenary of the the man himself. There is more evidence within the garden of this concept of retaining the old but invigorating it with modern planting in the 19th century Italian garden, designed by Charles Barry. These have seen a makeover by Tom Stuart-Smith with perennial planting.

Piet Oudolf created the long borders flanking the Italian Garden.

Piet Oudolf was involved in the initial redevelopment where some new areas were created including the Rivers of Grass area.
Plus the Floral labyrinth where you can get up close and walk amongst fabulously tall perennial planting.

At the far end of the garden are some of the remains from the original big house.
However to see the new meadow planting schemes you need to walk round the lake through the estate. You can go on boat trips on the lake and also you may see rowers and other boat users as at the far end is the Trentham boat and canoe club who train here.
This summer there has been a scheme to engage children on the walk round the lake and through the estate where you can seek out the Trentham fairies which can be found dotted around the lake. These were delightful little wire creations which certainly engaged the child in me!

Around the estate there were also some stunning wood sculptures by Andy Burgess who is based in Cheshire and creates them from old tree stumps using a chain saw!
This top one was my favourite, a group of otters.

But there were a couple more...

But on to the meadow planting that I wanted to see, there were some perennial meadows close to the entrance at the side of the lake. Looking very purple with Verbena bonariensis, Leucanthemum, Achillea, Scabious, Lychnis coronaria Alba, Sanguisorba amongst the grasses.

Then there are a couple of areas of annual meadow planting, one a frothy mix of pinks and blues, mostly Cosmos when we went but there were cornflowers, Ammi, poppies and corncockles in the mix.

There was some tantalising shady meadow planting in the woodland areas of the lakeside, there was some mass planting of Michaelmas daisies. Unfortunately I couldn't get any very good photos of these. But they lit up this shady area.

Further along was some newer planting of spring flowering shade lovers a mix of Brunnera, Lamium, Ferns, Epimediums, Geraniums which will be interesting to follow its development.
But then as you walk back to the far end of the lake the woodland opens out into a meadow full of sunshine, looking glorious under the tall giants of the Redwoods.
Hope this wasn't too long a post but there was just so much to see in this beautiful estate, great for a good walk, lots of fabulous planting to see, there are big play areas for kids, a couple of cafes, you could spend the whole day there and I definitely recommend that you do just that.