Whilst Cyprus enjoys an Indian summer, (or even a Cypriot summer for that matter,) the UK is plunging head first into winter. Having just spent a glorious week in 26ᵒc Paphos, staying with friend Naomi – how thoughtful of her to relocate to such a lovely home – it was quite a shock to the system to return to dreary 13ᵒc London. (Feel guilty now saying that, as if being disloyal to a family member!) However, I actually find myself to be more acclimatised to the cooler weather, spending so much time as I do outdoors. Who would have thought it ! In fact today we are experiencing a lovely crisp sunny day in Finchley and I feel invigorated as I pick the last of the windfall apples from underneath our ancient tree. For some reason they are the size of cricket balls this year so quite glad I wasn’t underneath when they fell.
Excuse my ignorance but until our recent visits to Cyprus I had no idea just how close to the Middle East it was, and how that impacted on its flowers. Plants that we treat as annuals here grow into shrubs and trees over there! Lantana: neighbour Anne nurses her cherished lantanas over the winter like delicate invalids, but Over There they grow into huge hedges with stems as thick as your fingers. The collective fool’s errand of trying to grow lavender successfully in the clay soil of the Hampstead Garden Suburb (henceforth to be referred to as The Suburb) is in deep contrast with the robust dense aromatic shrubs thriving in the thin stony soil of the Med. When visiting mountainside Monastery Neophytos we were captivated by the sunken courtyard garden, viewed from its ancient cloisters. Colour and vigour on a grand scale. Huge clumps of ginger and canna lilies, brugmansias growing into trees, Ali Baba pots of bougainvillaea and oleander, all surrounded by characteristic *Cypress trees. And the roses! We shouldn’t be surprised by their presence amongst all this exotica, considering their origins:
The first known paintings of a rose are actually frescoes, the earliest example of which was discovered in Crete around 1600 B.C.
Crusader Robert de Brie is often given credit for bringing the Damask rose from Persia to Europe sometime between 1254 and 1276. It takes its name from Damascus in Syria.
(*As to the reason why its Cypress trees and not Cyprus trees, I just don’t want to know.)
Bearing in mind that this is a gardening blog, I shall make my next paragraph brief: Second only to the flora, Cyprus means Cats to me. Cats at Naomi’s apartment complex, cats around your ankles at bars and restaurants, and above all, due no doubt to the significant British ex-pat community, cat sanctuaries, the largest of which Tala Cat Sanctuary, run by two Brits, has at present over 750 cats. For those of you feline phobics I make no apologies for including a photo of feeding time, a frenzy reminiscent of piranha fish! There is a tenuous link to horticulture here – feral cat communities thrive in the shelter of oleander and lantana hedges planted in raised beds all over the island!
And so to our return. I had imagined that autumn would have turned to winter in our absence and that I would be able to run amok with the secateurs, cutting everything back. I’m tired, I wish everything would die so that I can come indoors and have a rest! But what do I find? Salvias in full flower, a rainbow of colours; no way was I going to dig them up, having waited so long for their finest hour. Leaves still stubbornly sticking to their branches so no point raking until they are all down. Ergo, no chance of applying mulch to borders yet. (How daft are we? We rake off leaves then apply mulch. Why not just leave leaves to rot? Looks messy. Expensive intensive counterintuitive step!)
Still, there’s plenty to do in the meantime. In the Control Room (aka greenhouse) the salvia, fuchsia and penstemon cuttings I took last month are flourishing in their propagator (as is the electricity bill.) I’ve been so encouraged by my success that I have taken cuttings of coleus Campfire, and, fingers crossed, so far so good. I suppose now that the aforementioned cuttings are sprouting new leaves that means they’ve rooted, so I need to pot them on now, do I? Or do I wait until spring? Decisions, decisions!
And I shall not be idle outside either. (Why not? Please, can I be idle soon?) For the two large terracotta pots flanking the rustic arch into the fernery (now doesn’t that sound grand) I have bought a pair of cornus Alba Sibirica and half a dozen ophio-watsit black grasses to surround them. Now I come to think of it, some white bulbs would make a good contrast so I might just have to go to the nursery again; what a hardship! In the two black planters outside the front door I’ve planted Madonna tulips, Pueblo, Minnou and Falconet species narsissi, topped off with evergreen ferns and white cyclamen. Quite uncharacteristically tasteful for me.
Last Christmas I treated myself to six T&M hyacinth Midnight Mystic bulbs for a festive display in our front porch. Having carefully lifted them after flowering, I transferred them to the greenhouse to dry off, finally removing their dead foliage and roots ready for storage. I must have got bored or distracted because there they sat in a 6” plastic pot under the staging all through the rest of this year until I accidentally found them when tidying up in October! Still, they felt firm enough so I potted them up in shallow terracotta bulb pans and put them in a dark cupboard for a couple of weeks, and hey presto, they produced shoots! Now happily ensconced in the porch once again, they are sprouting away with visible buds. Amazing resilience!
There are some strange combinations going on in the borders right now, no doubt due to Mother Nature’s seasonal confusion: Late summer flowering Salvia Black & Blue with early spring flowering Coronilla valentina glauca ‘Citrina’ (or Bastard Senna – who knew?) It’s mortal outside but with no frosts and plenty of bright sunshine I feel like the grim reaper pulling up the annual container displays on the patio.
And whilst we talking of odd weather conditions, don’t ever moan to me about the vagaries of the British weather. Whilst In Cyprus it was too hot for me to sit in the sun during the day, but as soon as the sun went down, out came my suede fur lined jacket (travelling attire – I come from a bygone generation who still dress up to travel)) for evening excursions!
And as one of our favourite celebrated gardeners would say: whatever the weather, enjoy your garden.
I hate my allotment!
Dahlias, windfall apples and lots of grapes!
Just when I thought, that’s it for another year, I find dozens of windfall apples, pounds of grapes and enough dahlias to fill a church, all needing to be harvested, sorted, washed, displayed or cooked. Mercifully my fig plant didn’t produce any viable fruits (hate figs, don’t know what all the fuss is about) and the gojiberry, (nasty little fruits, taste like cough syrup) only had about a dozen berries on it so the birds are welcome to those. So here I am, trawling the internet for grape recipes. Here we go: ’35 Grape Recipes‘ Foie gras, peanuts and grapes, hmm I think not. Chilled cucumber, apple and grape gazpacho; that’s more like it. Do I want to make grape jelly? Frankly no, I have enough preserves for breakfast to last me out. This is what happens if you try to palm off excess produce onto your unsuspecting friends; they gratefully make jams, pickles and jellies to give back to you!
A late show of autumn colour.
There is nothing gradual about the onset of Autumn Colour you know. A long weekend in the National Forest Derbyshire mid-October proved disappointing in that department. Likewise on our return home, a quick inspection of the ‘Grounds’ revealed a rather windswept tableau of same old tired vistas. But come the following morning and hey presto, as if by magic, autumn colour had transformed the garden overnight. I kid you not! Miscanthus to buttery yellow, cotinus to crimson, lythrum to orange. And we’ve had some eerie visual effects created by Hurricane Ophelia; early afternoon light levels dropped to a mustard yellow, a red sun hanging from leaden grey skies, intensifying the seasonal tones with a fluorescent glow. But, here’s a thing! I was having my highlights done at the time, blonde and red streaks, but my hairstylist and I were so busy speculating as to whether the end of the world was nigh, that we left the colour on too long and the blonde streaks turned out pink! So now I have my very own autumn colour! Synchronicity! And as for Hurricane Brian, (really?) no sooner had the autumn colour got into its stride than it was all blown off the trees by the gales. Not Mother Nature’s finest hour.
Giant salvia, melianthus major and cordyline
Anyway, back to the serious world of gardening (never). Having captured the brief flash of autumn colour on camera, (blink and you would have missed it!) it was off with your heads as far as fading perennials were concerned: Down came veronicastrum, eupatorium, sanguisorba & thalictrum, once dominant in the late summer early autumn landscape, now well past their best. Contrary to popular belief I find that this does not deplete the garden, it merely shifts the focus onto current showstoppers: giant salvias, miscanthus & calamagrostis, verbena bonariensis in the back, with magnificent melianthus major (silly thing is just sending up its first flower of the year) and cordyline in the front. In fact I will go as far as to say it’s given the garden a whole new lease of life and I am once again in love with it!
Bidens putting on a late show & tomato ‘indigo cherry drops’
When I am truly too wet through to carry on working outside – tell me something, why does it always start pouring down when you are right in the throes of shovelling a huge pile of manure onto the flower beds – I’ve been pottering about happily in the greenhouse. It’s more like a grown up Wendy House; you can play for hours, sweeping, rearranging and tidying up. Looks like the mice might be back too. Salvia cuttings are in the propagator, sick heucheras are recovering from the ravages of vine weevil. And my tomatoes are a revelation. T&M Indigo Cherry Drops and Garnet are so prolific, and I found Mountain Magic and Gardeners Delight amongst the cordons, which I must have grown from seed. Such fun! With so many trusses just at the point of ripening I am loath to take them out of the greenhouse beds, but I so desperately need the space for my salvias and cannas to be overwintered. Still, I dare say I am exaggerating. (Moi?) It can wait. Chillies and sweet peppers produced zilch so they can go and anyway, the salvias have only just really got into their stride and the cannas are flowering in the stratosphere they are so tall.
The T&M begonias (why would I get them from anyone else, they are so easy to grow from tubers and last from year to year) are just beginning to get a bit leggy, their vibrant flowers valiantly blooming away on the patio. Friend Anne has read my previous blog and sussed out my accidental theft so this year I shall be labelling them up meticulously. But not just yet, I reckon I can get another week or two out of them.
So recently we attended the London Gardens Society 2017 awards ceremony and jolly-good-buffet-with-plenty-of-wine at The Guildhall, City of London. I spotted horticultural editor, Claire Foggett who used to work for Garden News, and who instigated the Over The Fence feature that I have been writing for since its inception about 12 years ago. (I’ve seen’em come and I’ve seen’em go: I am their longest standing contributor, but who’s bragging). Anyway, who was she chatting to but a very tall gentleman who, as it turns out, was none other than T&M’s very own Managing Director Paul Hansord! He was of course at a distinct disadvantage, as I recognised him instantly from their catalogues and he of course didn’t know me from Adam. Oh and by the way, WE WON AGAIN: Best Small Back Garden 2017. As did friend Diane, who won Best Large Back Garden for the second year running. Good job too, as I had warned her beforehand, “If you win and I don’t, I am not entirely sure I will ever speak to you again!”
Listen, I’m all for a challenge but opening your garden for charity in October? That’s a new one on me! Way, way back in April our garden was recommended to a local U3A group by A Friend (you know who you are!) as ideal for visiting in autumn. How flattering, I preened, that said friend thought our garden was interesting and attractive enough to warrant paying guests at that time of year. So I said yes. Of course.
Well, when other NGS Garden Openers are hanging up their secateurs and tea towels, here I am, pruning, feeding, sweeping, planting and baking. OK so it’s only 15 visitors but all the same………… Usually by now I have started cutting back spent perennials, emptying hanging baskets, lifting semi-hardies, but with Open Day in mind it’s a whole new ball game! Cutting back has been minimal, a balancing act between leaving on waning top growth and creating gaps in the borders. Normally I allow dead foliage and fallen leaves to rot down where they land in the borders, but as this just adds to the overall look of decay, I have swept them up. I realise that as gardeners, the group will understand the natural seasonal process of decline, but with so much still in flower I want to promote a sense of vigour and vitality in the garden. Still, to a certain extent it’s all smoke and mirrors whatever the time of year, so with well swept paths and patio, a fresh top dressing of mulch and some judicious deadheading, the garden should not disappoint.
Ipomea growing through the roof of the pergola and Bidens still showing some lovely colour
In the process of preparation I have however been subjected to a deeply distressing experience from which I may never fully recover! Winky the Sphynx cat (bless her, her one tooth is never going to do anything more harmful than frighten critters to death) brought a live toad into the living room! I found her frothing at the mouth, the toad playing dead at her feet. On seeing me she picked up said toad and ran upstairs with it, final destination under-the-bed, hotly pursued by a retinue of fellow felines, with me bringing up the rear. David to the rescue, toad liberated to the pond, Winky given mouth wash and floor given the Wet Wipe treatment.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, preparations. Having started propagating perennials for next year’s plant sales (which includes grading plastic pots by size, with corresponding pot carry trays, for ease of storage, transportation and pricing – can’t you just tell I have a background in retail!) I find I have nowhere to put them during the visit. Can’t leave them out for people to trip over. Can’t just shove’em in the greenhouse in case visitors fancy taking a look at my Fabulous Tomatoes (more of that later). “I know,” says David, “they can go on the roof terrace, no-one’s gonna wanna to climb up there”, (not to put too fine a point on it, the visitors being somewhat elderly). No-one, that is, other than me, having to get them up there (the plants not the visitors) and back down again with ‘My Knees’.
Tomatoes ripening on the vine and a beautiful begonia bloom
Talking of Fabulous Tomatoes, my T&M Cherry Drops and Garnet, grown from seed, are finally ripening. I offered one of the purple jewels to David to try and, after wrinkling up his nose at it, murmuring suspiciously, “What’s that? Are you trying to poison me?” he reluctantly popped it into his mouth. His expression changed to one of pleasurable surprise. Tangy and sweet, he pronounced it to be the nicest tomato he’d ever tasted! Trouble is I am not sure if it was Cherry Drops or Garnet so I shall just have to keep comparing them as they ripen on the vine. They’re never going to reach the salad bowl.
And begonias, big, bright, blowsey blooms. (Ooh alliteration!) As well as overwintering my own tubers, I store friend Anne’s for her and I guess somehow the tubers must have got muddled up because I have one that I’ve never seen before: 4” wide orange doubles with red edges. Passiflora and T&M ipomoeas have climbed through the pergola, flowering right under our bedroom window.
Canna lilies still looking magnificent
But surely it’s the Wyoming and Durban cannas that will cause the most stir. At 8ft tall, multiple orange flower spikes, emerging from giant black paddle shaped leaves, have bloomed continuously since July. I was astonished to find that the root ball of one such plant, recently lifted from the raised bed out front, had easily tripled in size: it went in in May at about 4” and came out mid-September at over 12”. I’ve had to store it in half an old compost sack. So let’s do the math (as they say in good old USA): if I created 9 such divisions from three giant overwintered clumps this spring, then next spring I could potentially end up with 27 such plants!
Shame the visitors won’t get to see my prized dahlias (yes, they won first prize at our Horticultural Society autumn flower show). They must have been on my allotment for at least four years, never dug up, protected by a thick layer of multipurpose compost, and they too are record size this summer. Trebbiano and Fox Mix, T&M trial plants from summer 2012, have reached 6ft and have yielded at least 2 dozen flowers on a weekly basis with plenty more to come. I hope that the as–yet-unnamed dahlias in this year’s trial, now planted alongside, will perform this well in time.
Salvias confertiflora and miscanthus
Oh well, must get on, it’s been raining all night, the miscanthus grass is all splayed out at 45 degrees, the 7ft salvias confertiflora and involucrata (I do love a good Latin name don’t you?) are leaning dangerously, so tall that their stakes have become woefully inadequate. Forecast for Visitor Day not good. Still hopefully the cakes won’t collapse even if the plants do.
Happy gardening, love, Caroline
After a busy week with barely a peep outside, I went into the garden this morning and I felt a none too subtle shift from high summer towards early autumn. There I was last Sunday extolling the virtues of planting for late summer colour, marvelling at the fact that my plot had yet to reach its peak. And this morning, well, I realised it had gone ahead without me!
Experience tells me that we should be able to enjoy the garden until well into October and to a lesser extent into November too. But it’s a bitter sweet knowledge. And it doesn’t help that it’s just started pouring down outside when, in 15 minutes, a party of nonagenarians is due for a spot of horticultural therapy a la NGS Garden and Health Week! OMG it’s pelting down…………..
Phew, that went well. Sun came out. One of the ladies visiting the garden had been a WW2 Land Army Girl in Middlesex for five years. What she doesn’t know about spuds isn’t worth knowing. Eve, my neighbour, from whom we inherited our allotment when her lovely Ted died, (he was 91; we’re bred to last round ‘ere in Finchley!) remembers going down to the plot with her grandfather when she was seven to pick blackberries. (Trish, is that what you call split infinitives?) The blackberry hedge was well established by then. Eve is now 87 so it’s at least 80 years old. I’ve contacted the allotment committee to see if they have any records as to whether it is the oldest cultivated blackberry bush on the allotment site.
Anyway…. With the turn of the season comes reflection (and re-registering for NGS 2018: I Really Must update our garden description. Even I am bored with same-old same-old year after year!) So I thought it would be a good time to review some of this summer’s planting schemes (whilst I can still see them that is!) First then, T&M annual bedding plants:
- First Prize goes to Non Stop Mocca Bright Orange for its stunning bright red(!) double flowers above deep dark foliage. Many more next year. Plant with everything!
- Durability Prize: Petunia Mini Rosebud Romantic Peachy. Although not much of a spreader, its dense mats of flowers need no deadheading and sparse watering. (Good job too, seeing as their hanging baskets just fall short of hose distance, and are just above comfortable watering can height.)
- Greatest Endeavour: Begonia Glowing Embers. Poor things; when I planted them out with coleus Redhead, amongst some 2016 black canna divisions, who was to know that they would be completely dwarfed by the canna’s 6ft tall paddle leaves. Still, their delicate little orange gems managed to poke out of the darkness. Talk about hiding your light under a bushel.
- Forgot I Had Them Prize: Bidens Collection. Having trialled these bidens last summer I was more than happy to plug another lot into the shady hosta and heuchera baskets in the fernery (posh name for shady bit at back where nothing else grows) this year. Once planted I promptly forgot about them until towards the end of July,when their starry little daisy like flowers started popping up, clearly no offence taken.
And a special prize goes to the T&M trial dahlia plugs that I trialled on the allotment:
- Didn’t Think I Could Grow Them Prize: Trial Dahlia Plug Plants. Having never grown dahlias from anything other than tubers, I was hesitant to take on this trial. That said, wasn’t I likely to be the ideal candidate as, if they proved successful, then surely they could be catalogued as Idiot Proof! Three plugs each of four experimental varieties. Due to lack of space I planted each group of three into a 12” pot to start them off and eventually transplanted them onto the allotment. Well, within a fortnight two out of the four came into bloom, with more robust buds coming on. One group seemed particularly prone to slugs so I collared them with plastic tomato auto watering rings, which put a stop to that problem. I swear by those rings! Never have used them on tomatoes though…….
Now for performance review of the established plants in the garden, bearing in mind one always loves the plants that are Flowering Right Now the best:
- Variegated version with pinky white flowers, mixed with deep blue and white varieties, breathe new life into the mid-summer borders.
- Pastel carpet roses from Flower Carpet Range and County Series, Chelsea Rose of Year 2015 For Your Eyes Only, just keep flowering away all summer long.
- Shrubby salvias, salvia Uliginosa and huge tender salvias Confertifolia and Involucrata. In fact all salvias. Except sage, I can’t grow sage. I have even broken my cardinal rule of not having any tender perennials in the borders, by lifting the most vulnerable ones for over wintering under cover.
- Anything tall. Miscanthus, calamagrostis, eupatorium, thalictrum, veronica Virginucum Fascination. With exceptions: tansy has to go; sick of it, better things in the offing at Plant Heritage Plant Sale in September, oh, and rampant filipendula should carry a government health warning.
And in conclusion, the prize for the most innovative hanging basket must go to Catus Jitterbuggus, who enjoys the shade of the patio in her very own hammock.
Make the most of the next few weeks, and remember it’s never too late to do a bit of plant buying…. Love, Caroline
GAPS KEEP APPEARING
I feel sorry for David, I really do! He can’t help getting nervous when every time I go into the garden I dig up any plant that displeases me, seemingly on a whim. He reckons if he stands still too long I‘ll get rid of him an’all! I felt so vindicated when, a couple of weeks ago, Monty said that in his opinion it was perfectly acceptable to get rid of a plant if you had “gawn awf” it. Sell it for charity, give it away to friends, compost it, but replace it with something you love. I suppose I have always felt guilty about doing that, as if somehow I had a duty of care to those plants which have fallen out of favour, disloyal in a way. Not so anymore! I have been whipping them out with obscene abandon and thus have ended up with immense new planting possibilities.
Well, obviously (you know me, he who hesitates is lost) by the time you read this those gaps will have been filled, so let me tell you about the provenance of some new additions to the borders:
In early July David and I went on our annual pilgrimage aka The Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society coach holiday. Based in Kings Lynn for three days, we visited Easton Walled Garden (compost bins spotted on Google Earth) on the way up, Henstead Exotic Garden in Beccles and Bishop’s House Gardens (Diocese of Norwich) to the East, and Cathy Brown’s Garden and the late lamented Geoff Hamilton’s Barnsdale on the way back. Plants to the right of me, plants to the left!
You could be forgiven for thinking you were in the midst of the Burmese jungle at Henstead Exotic Garden, that is until you reached the wire boundary overlooking the neighbouring housing estate. Point of Interest: Compost toilet Throne Room. Souvenirs of visit: Papyrus, Aeonium Schwarzkopf and miniature gunnera magellanica. Amazing host, worth a visit to meet him alone.
Barnsdale. Well, what a walk down Memory Lane! The Gentleman’s Cottage Garden, the Artisan’s Cottage Garden, and as soon as we entered the Paradise Country Garden my head was full of the haunting TV series sound track. I am a sucker for a celebrity so our visit to their nursery (Paradise indeed) was all the more special because of the presence of Nick Hamilton, who even identified a plant for me. Talk about Plant Lust though: Revered (and oft feared for her unlimited knowledge of Latin plant names, most notably vernonia crinita) group leader Diane was on the hunt for a potentilla Gibson’s Scarlet. Oh the dilemma when she found it! I can’t have those flower stems flopping over my edges, but she did succumb in the end. My folly? Moisture loving astilbes Lollipop and chinensis Vision for the driest part of my garden. Solution? Plant them by the irrigation hose. Sorted!
So, (I do so hate this current trend of opening a sentence with So, don’t you) before The Trip there was the small matter of the NGS Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society Group Gardens Open Day June 25th. What a dream! The sun shone, we welcomed 435 visitors, served 240 helpings of tea and cake, sold over 400 raffle tickets and raised nearly £700 on locally propagated plants and produce alone. Grand Total Donation to NGS £5585.76 (one wonders how the 76p crept in). How about that then, eh! Fab-u-lous!
This week? Well, this coming Sunday 30th July David & I are having our NGS Open Day. The thrice daily visit to the Met Office website for weather forecast updates is in full swing. Not looking great I have to say at the moment. (I have been known to log out then straight back in to the website just in case it’s been updated.) But after so much recent horticultural activity I am feeling quite Zen about the whole thing this time around. Seeing as the garden had to be Band Box perfect last Sunday for the judging of the London Gardens Society competition, it’s been coasting along nicely since then. Yesterday I filled my last remaining gap (yeah right, I can see me not planting another thing until next year.) A rigorous regime of dead heading along with a favorable balance of rain and shine (and several doses of Tomato feed, Mother Nature shan’t take all the credit) has brought the late summer flowers out right on cue. That is, apart from the T&M tree lilies, which of course have gone over! Now comes the real preparation for Open Garden Day: Cakes. New recipe from Cathy Brown’s garden (You will be served tea at 3.55pm precisely) Orange and Almond cake Gluten and Dairy Free amongst other old favourites. Pricing up plants-for-sale, distributing signage, organizing Float money, buying paper plates, plastic cutlery etcetera etcetera etcetera.
Hoovering the paths and patio can wait until Sunday morning. Wish us luck, hope to see some of you in our garden on Sunday, come rain or shine, as the saying goes………