Messy Job, This Gardening Lark

Autumn colour came late this year, and puff, it was gone, leaving chaos and disorder in its wake. Now I’m a bit fussy about tidiness, not the best character trait for a gardener. And I’m not a fan of formal or minimalist gardens, preferring the organised chaos of more naturalistic schemes. This time of year I just have to man up and get on with the annual clear up. The recent mild weather has meant that whist some plants have well and truly crumbled, others are stubbornly growing on. No wholesale cutting back and mulching in this garden, oh no, flowers keep popping up, (quell damage, colour in December!) and deciduous ground cover keeps growing back, thinking its spring no doubt. So far we’ve filled six of our non-gardening neighbours’ bins and with one week to go before the council stop collecting the green bins until end January, the pressure’s on! Oh how I long for the leaves on the contorted hazel to drop awf to reveal its mystical twisted stems, but on the other hand I shall be so sorry to see its neighbouring blood red Ricinus inevitably succumb to the frost. And when do the grasses change from being architectural to a frightful mess? I can certainly relate to the expression on a friend’s ornamental bunny. (How I restrained myself from snaffling that little fellow home with me I shall never know!)

Contorted hazel, silver hellebore, ricinus and the brilliant bunny!

Contorted hazel, silver hellebore, ricinus and the brilliant bunny!
© Caroline Broome

With all the tender salvias finally lifted and tucked up in the greenhouse along with the heuchera waifs and strays recuperating from the evil vine weevil, I can while away the time daydreaming and reflecting as I tidy up and file away Garden 2018. A challenging year, certainly on the weather front, with The Beast from the East then the Long Hot Summer, but what a learning curve. Confidence built, lessons learnt (yuck, cliché). Salvias, melianthus major & agastaches, which weren’t supposed to like the intense cold, survived. Reliable roses Rhapsody in Blue and For Your Eyes Only failed to flower in the heat. Slugs and snails almost extinct, hardly any wasps. But still the cannas didn’t come into flower until August. Win some, lose some.

And in general terms it’s been a year of extremes. Great pride and joy at winning the London Gardens Society Best Small Back Garden third year running; great shock at losing two of our cherished cats but great relief that two of our other cats survived serious illness. Deep sorrow at losing my wonderful 106-year-old friend Ethel. I first met Ethel when she asked me to do her garden for her as she could no longer climb the ladder to prune her honeysuckle. She was 100. She had nerines that were older than me! Ethel was a great believer in the adage, ‘Adapt or Die’. As it is in life, so it is in the garden. When Ethel eventually moved into a care home I continued to visit her every fortnight. Even then, she was always Up For It. Countless number of times she would reel off a poem she had leant as a child and I would look it up on Google and join in. I learnt so much through Google with Ethel that I would never have known otherwise: Why are yawns catching; do the nails on your dominant hand grow faster than on the other? And as a postscript, we are about to introduce a new Siamese kitten into our household. And her name? Why, Ethel of course!

December colour and Caroline with her friend Ethel

December colour and Caroline with her friend Ethel
© Caroline Broome

We had holidays in Cornwall in October and Cyprus in November. Do you realise that it took the same amount of time to drive to our friends Bob’n’Patti in Manaccan near Helford, as it took to reach our friend Naomi in Paphos? 7 hours, door to door on both counts. Never mind Friends in High Places, its Friends in the Right Places as far as we are concerned! B&P recently had their garden landscaped, including the regeneration of their wildlife friendly perimeter hedge. Their house isn’t called Fair Winds for nothing, so all the plants must be resistant to severe exposure (something I am not, being the cossetted Londoner that I am). The temperate climate is host to all variety of plants that I have little experience of, or at least ones that I am used to treating as annuals. Echiums spread like weeds in their garden; so-called tender fuchsias & agapanthus grow in robust clumps. Nerines everywhere (again?). Schitzostylis Major on steroids! And imagine having a Trachycarpus Fortunei as the focal point of your borders. (Can’t help name dropping now.) We spent a happy couple of hours at a local nursery choosing a second wave of shrubs for the gaps in the original design, common to both of our gardens, such as hebes, hydrangeas and viburnum.

Bob and Patti's Cornwall Garden

Bob and Patti’s Cornwall Garden
© Caroline Broome

For poor travelers like me Cyprus is a perfect holiday location; driving on the left-hand side, same power points, taxi drivers with cousins in Turnpike Lane. You can tell a British ex-pat by the number of roses in their gardens. The only lawns to be seen are at the luxury beach side hotels, expensive enough to employ gardeners and sprinklers 24/7 – somehow they just don’t go with the local terrain anyway. Parasol shaped pergolas, intertwined with bougainvillea, frame the pavement cafes lining the streets of Paphos harbour. Oleanders and brugmansias adorn every suburban villa; ipomoea winds its way through the wire fencing of every parking lot; wild rose, lantana and rosemary hedges. Coastal paths lined with trachycarpus, olive trees, and banana palms. Cannas along the road side verges. Mega-aromatic pots of basil, lemon balm, rosemary and oregano, placed casually up the steps to Naomi’s apartment.

A banana palm and a contemporary seaside garden

A banana palm and a contemporary seaside garden
© Caroline Broome

Of course, we made our annual pilgrimage to Tala Monastery Cat Sanctuary, currently home to 800 abandoned and stray cats, all named and loved and cared for by English manager Dawn Foote and husband Mark. Whether a fine pedigree or a one- eyed feral, all cats are pragmatic but barmy, illustrated here in some truly ludicrous sleeping poses.

Cats

Cats
© Caroline Broome

So there it is for another year, life chez Broome: gardening, friends and cats. We’ll be raising a glass to 2018 and toasting new challenges for 2019. I make no apologies for my sentimentality. Season’s Greetings, keep healthy, live and love well. Laugh a lot. Caroline xxxx

Pass Me My WW1 Trenching Tool

Oh but wasn’t I right – as the nights draw in we wistfully reminisce about the long hot summer of 2018. Get over it! Time to move on! And move on we have; half the garden is enjoying the extrovert opulence of autumn and half, well, the other half has been dug up! The prospect of a year out of charity open days and competitions (more of that later) has been liberating to say the least.

No more Kilmarnock Willow
© Caroline Broome

Armed with my WW1 trenching tool and my shiny new rabbiting spade no clay is too impervious to the dislodgement (new word that) of plants that have either outstayed their welcome or aren’t earning their keep. Funny thing, the more plants I dig up the more opportunities I see. If I keep on going like this there won’t be a perennial left standing in the borders. That’s not to say I’m discarding them, on the contrary, I’m dividing them and potting them on so that I can relocate them next spring where they can create more impact. Shrubs are another matter: gone for good are fuchsia magelanica Alba, replaced by viburnum Mariesii, cotinus coggygria Royal Purple giving way to photinia Pink Crispy, Kilmarnock willow in favour of red stemmed contorted willow, and as soon as its stops raining elaeagnus Limelight gets it. From the patio, miniature ornamental cherry Kojo-No-Mai and hydrangea King George are off down the road to a friend’s woodland garden, and hydrangea Zorro Pink off up the road to NGS fellow Rosie. Along with two large containers that displayed annual climbers this summer I have now created five new planting opportunities to savour over the coming winter months.

And so to this summer’s star performers:

  • T&M Ricinus Impala. Transformation from seed to 4ft triffid in 20 weeks, withstanding the exposed north winds of our front garden and roof terrace. Real show stopper.
  • Salvia Involucrata Boutin. Not reliably hardy? Well if it managed to get through last winter in North London I’d say take the risk. In its third year outside now, all I’ve done to protect it is to cut the stems down to about 45cms and mulch deeply around the crown. Right now it’s at its peak, unrestrained; it’s the size of a small country! Arching spires of bright magenta flowers reaching 7ft high. Overall span in excess of 8ft with neighbouring plants intermingling through its loose habit. And so easy to take cuttings.
Ricinus Impala, Salvia Involucrata Boutin and Salvia Confertuflora with rudbeckias 'Prairie Glow' and 'Goldsturm'

Left to right: Ricinus Impala, Salvia Involucrata Boutin and Salvia Confertuflora with rudbeckias ‘Prairie Glow’ and ‘Goldsturm’
© Caroline Broome

  • Salvia Confertiflora with rudbeckias Prairie Glow & Goldsturm and patrinia scabiosifolia. My embroidery teacher (yes, well, I’ve got ‘O’ level Embroidery as it happens) always believed that red and yellow should never be seen together. Well you’re so wrong!
  • Salvia Black and Blue with rudbeckia Prairie Glow. Accidental pairing in the potting area will become next year’s most striking combination.
  • Coleus Campfire with Ipomoea Black Tone and Solar Power Green.
Accidental combination of salvia and rudbeckia, Begonia elata ‘Solenia Apricot’ and Begonia x tuberhybrida ‘Non-stop Mocca’

Left to right: Combination of salvia and rudbeckia, Begonia elata ‘Solenia Apricot’ and Begonia x tuberhybrida ‘Non-stop Mocca’
© Caroline Broome

  • T & M begonias. If I could only buy one plant from T & M it would be begonia. This year Solenia Apricot, Non Stop Mocca, Fragrant Falls Orange Delight. Easy to grow plugs, extensive and prolific flowering habit, versatile placement, reliable tubers for overwintering. Can never have too many.
Tomato 'Sweet Baby'

Tomato ‘Sweet Baby’
© Caroline Broome

Having almost given up on the greenhouse tomatoes ever ripening, I am now relieved to report that T&M trials of Sweet Baby, Artisan Mixed and Rainbow Blend were, er, marginally successful in the end. Although all three varieties were deliciously tart, the skins of Artisan and Rainbow were quite thick. I feel vindicated as other growers have experienced similar results even after judicious feeding and regular watering, so I recon it’s to do with the excessive heat. Bound to be some chemical explanation available somewhere. Cucumber Nimrod supplied us with loads of fruits for weeks on end, so I came up with a lovely salad idea:

  • Thinly slice cucumbers, multi-coloured tomatoes, red onions and radishes.
  • No peeling, salting or draining required.
  • Marinate in French dressing overnight.
  • Eat! Simples!

Not all my culinary efforts have been so fruitful (boom boom!) Apples and pears on the allotment have been few and far between this autumn, no plums at all, but plenty of tiny sweet bunches of black grapes. Pride certainly comes before a fall. After bragging about my blackberry jam triumph in my last blog, not so with grape jelly this time! Having followed the recipe to the letter, sterilised everything, bought muslin cloth and a thermometer, it failed to set. Boiled it up again, sterilised everything again, still didn’t set. Five jars of deeply rich grape syrup anyone? Not one to admit defeat, certainly with no intention of wasting it, I am poaching nectarines to preserve in the syrup instead. Job done!

……..And talking of competitions, The London Gardens Society All London Championship Awards 2018 were held at The Guildhall, City of London last Thursday evening. David & I were shortlisted for the Best Small Back Garden, Diane for the Best Large Back Garden and Rosie for Best Patio. Having both won the cup two years running in our respective categories, Diane and I entered the hall with severe trepidation: dark thoughts of rivalry and one-upmanship bubbled away at the prospect of Diane scoring a hat trick and us not. How was I to be her friend anymore should that come to pass? (I’ve already had to reign in my canna envy – she does nothing to them from year to year I tell you, and they are still the tallest I’ve ever seen in a domestic garden and in pots at that!) Well readers, as it happens WE BOTH RETAINED OUR TITLES so all was well. Haha! Rosie won a silver medal in Best Patio category (she was robbed!) and we won bronze in the Best Small Front Garden class (must try harder) so celebrations all round.

Carolines friend Diane with her Canna Lilies and David and Caroline with their awards

Left to right: Caroline’s friend Diane with her Canna Lilies and David and Caroline with their awards
© Caroline Broome

With autumn in full swing now thoughts are turning to next year’s horticultural activities and challenges. Plans are already underway for our Hampstead Garden Suburb Hort Soc three day coach trip to Hampshire and the Isle of Wight next July. A week later the Hort Soc is having its second National Garden Scheme Group Open Day with twelve gardens and one allotment this time. Having said that we were not opening our garden next year, I think it highly likely that David and I will have a pop-up Open Day in aid of the London Gardens Society, but not until late summer. I am so looking forward to being able to make radical changes without having to face deadlines, so that NGS visitors can return in 2020 to rejuvenated and innovative planting schemes. I can’t believe that I’m anticipating two years hence, and being of a superstitious nature, I say all this with my fingers firmly crossed behind my back (quite a feat if you’re typing) with the caveat that We Make Plans and Fate Laughs.

Enjoy the autumn. It’s a long winter ahead!

July – Anyone for Blackberry Jam?

So here we are in early August, it’s 33c outside, and I’m making blackberry jam! What on earth is going on? No sooner had the strawberries finished fruiting than the blackberries were ripe for picking! Is it me or has there been a worldwide conspiracy perpetuating the mysteries of jam making? 10 minutes, some jam sugar and fruit and it’s done. How simple was that. I’ve even gone on to make blackberry coulis. No doubt the apples will be rotting off the trees by the end of the month so I’ll try my luck at Apple Cheese. Blackberry and apple pie in a heatwave is just a bridge too far.

As we enjoy a glorious respite in the garden I’m reflecting upon our eventful summer: first our Hort Soc coach trip to Kent and East Sussex, then Thompson & Morgan Press Open Day, followed by our NGS Open Day hot on the heels of the London Gardens Society competition.

Amazing trees at Goodnestone Park Gardens

On July 1st, 29 of us set off on our three day Jolly amid gardens great and small, no responsibilities, no driving, no phone calls, no housework, no gardening. Yikes, what about the watering? Our irrigation system (aka leaky hose, some lengths leakier than others, due to careless forkage) only runs along the back of the borders. The central island bed, fernery, front borders and containers all need daily watering, if not twice daily. (Yeah, I know, Right Plant Right Place, but what exactly constitutes The Right Plant for this searing heat in clay soil, eh?) Patio no problem; the veterinary nurse who comes in to minister to ours cats’ needs (go on, say it, They Have Their Own Nurse Maid?) was happy to water. But the garden beyond is out of bounds (my Dearly Beloved bolts the gate with an iron bar to ward off intruders) so at the eleventh hour, he managed to rig up a timer onto our oscillating sprinkler (had to look that up, I had no idea what those up-and-over sprinklers were called, did you?). Next decision: which part of the border gets lucky? In the end we opted for the hot border that was about to come into flower and all was well.

T&M Press day!

A couple of weeks later, as T&M plant triallists, we were invited to attend Press Day, held at RHS Hyde Hall. T&M’s new show ground is so breathtakingly colourful that surely you could see the floral displays from space.  Swathes of vibrant flowers and foliage to inspire and motivate you. A new range of echinacea, improved alstroemerias, petunias and begonias. And of course hydrangea ‘Runaway Bride Snow White’, winner of Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year 2018. New trends for 2019 include Climate Gardening, Stress Relief and Extending Summer. Venerable British gardening writer and TV broadcaster Peter Seabrook was there (I do love a celebrity, don’t you) to present an award to T&M’s very own veg guru, Colin Randell for 50 years in the horticultural industry. Most of all though it was lovely to meet the team and talk about future plans.

Ready for NGS and looking great!

Back on the home front, it was time to start preparing the garden for the London Garden Society judges and NGS Open Day visitors alike, and that included filling the gaps that I had left for some last minute judicious planting. And boy, did I heal’em in! The long awaited day of the annual Chenies Manor Plant Fair dawned. Over 30c it was, quite hideous in fact, but did it put me off, no way. Plants were purchased and abandoned for collection later by my long suffering DB (David Broome/Dearly Beloved – get it!?) Such is my bewildering sense of direction I had to photograph the plant stalls on my phone so that we could find them again later! A sudden urge to redesign the planting on the roof terrace meant loads of new grasses and red hot pokers. I felt sorry for the plantsman who was selling the elusive willowy rudbeckia Prairie Glow; I swooped upon him with such excitement he must have thought I was unhinged. Friends Yvonne and Marjorie, clearly also in the throes of plant lust, filled up the car with their finds until it steamed up. The back seat was dominated by towering lythrum, showering its flowers like confetti in an attempt to pollinate the upholstery.

The drying barn at Great Dixter & Hydrangea ‘True Blue’ at Goodestone

Long story short, after weeks and weeks of subtropical temperatures, the day before our NGS Open Day the heavens opened, the winds blew. Saturday morning I was out there in my babydolls, staking and stringing up the wayward thalictrum, filipendula, lythrum. (Felt like stringing myself up actually.) Having baked cakes all the previous week, max temp 35c, and bought a glass drinks dispenser with tap to serve elderflower cordial (for visitors) and Pimms (for after party-party-party), come the morning in question it was heavy rain, thick cloud and gusty wind! Bitter sweet or what? I’m not bitter…..Two cakes stayed in the freezer and out came the tea urn. (Why oh why is there always one visitor who wants decaffeinated tea?) But by 2pm opening time it had cleared and in point of fact the general consensus was that cool air had brought the visitors out whereas 90c would have kept them away. Could have done with those two cakes an’all. Still, you never can tell. 120 visitors, £1000 donated to NGS charities. Result!

The very next day the heat wave resumed and here we are in August, enjoying the slower pace of school holidays: roads and back gardens are quiet, parking is a joy, watering goes on and on. After such intense preparation I feel as if I’m neglecting the garden but in truth, apart from regular deadheading, feeding and watering, its doing its own thing quite happily with the minimum of intervention.  Actually I feel like a spare part.

One or two loose ends. I regret to admit that as far as T&M trial tomatoes are concerned there’s not an awful lot to report. Despite the better light levels, regular feeding, damping down and watering in the greenhouse, I have about a grand total of half a dozen trusses resulting from six cordons. And they are climbing out of the window! Cucumber Nimrod is another story – lovely fruits and loads more to come. I have managed to make a gazpacho so all is not lost.

More by luck than judgement my patio theme 2018 has been very definitely Red! Red T&M begonias – what was I going to do with 36 Non Stop Mocca red begonias? No problem, they are everywhere, front and back, punctuating all the container displays – red thalia fuchsias, red salvias, red cannas, red coleus Campfire, red ricinus communis, red seat cushions, red framed wooden wall art, red hose and watering can even. Of course when it came to the LGS judge’s observation that this simple colour theme was strikingly effective in it simplicity, I had to concur, didn’t I.

And finally…..on our aforementioned coach trip we visited fellow T&M triallist Geoff Stonebanks’ Driftwood garden in Seaford. What a showman, a great host with a larger than life garden, with quirky plants and ornamentals everywhere. No wonder he’s been so successful in his charity fundraising. Well done Geoff, keep up the good work. We’re having a year off next year. Eat your heart out!

 

 

The Summer of 2018 will be remembered with mixed feelings, but one thing’s for sure, once the heatwave has gone and the nights start drawing in, we’ll miss it, you know.

Therapeutic Gardening? My nerves are in tatters!

Thompson and Morgan Triallist’s Blog – June 2018

I have this fantasy image of myself in diaphanous summer dress, wandering around my garden with a woven willow trug and floral secateurs, in the hazy lazy afternoon sunshine, listening to the soporific buzzing of the bees, whilst gently snipping deadheads off my beautiful pristine roses. STOP! I’m actually crawling around the borders on my knees peering at the shredded foliage of the edging plants caused by my Dearly Beloved pressure washing the paths.

Having recently swelled with optimism at the pronouncement that spraying diluted garlic solution on hostas repels slugs and snails, despondency came in the form of leaf shredding pigeons and a leaf nibbling Oriental called Fred (cat, silly!), clearly neither species in the slightest bit phased by garlic fumes.

T & M Foxgloves Illumination Flame have disappeared under the filipendula seemingly in a matter of hours after planting in a suitable gap. The astrantia has crawled all over the dicentra and alchemilla molis. Such an unassuming plant, huh, roots like thatch, needed the WW1 trenching tool to hack some clumps out of the soil along with all the daffodil bulbs. Looks totally decimated, should have left well alone. Talking of daffodils, the wretched things bloomed so late that their leaves will be sprawling all over the place until end June if I want any flowers next Spring. All the phormiums died so out came the trenching tool yet again to prise them out. Why can’t the shallow rooted plants die?

Why oh why does the salix integra hakuro nishiki morph into a thatched beach parasol just as the perennial ground cover starts to really take off underneath? The time had come, the time that I dread beyond all other times, to let David loose on the hedge trimmer. Always a row first about methodology and a row afterwards about clearing up.

Caroline#s garden June 2018

….And breathe! Well, the worst is over. Today’s somewhat less contentious task was to get the plant loops and stakes into the melee of jostling perennials before everything toppled over. I know I say this every year, but the roses are going to be spectacular. I’ve never seem such prolific sprays of buds, their branches in serious danger of collapse from the weight. And the T&M tree lilies (at least 6 years old now) are in bud already. They don’t usually flower until our NGS Open Day end July, another potential worry then. I put all this growth acceleration down to the recent tropical storms followed by hot humid sunshine. By the way, how many of you watched the eerily soundless lightning storm a couple of Saturday nights ago and thought of War of the Worlds? But lightning is supposed to be good for the garden; it fixes nitrogen into the soil or something like that. (Please feel free to correct me if I am way off the mark.)

Caroline's Garden June 2018

So having finally planted up all the patio containers and baskets – T&M begonia Non-Stop Mocca red, Solenia Apricot, Fragrant Falls Orange Delight and petunia Suzie Storm – we turned our attention to the garden accessories. Tatty old white cast iron table and chairs are now subtle sage green, shady fencing where nothing will grow now adorned with pale grey framed mirror, with added bonus of bouncing light back into dingy border as well as reflecting bright sunny border opposite. All planned of course! The driftwood fence is up and is a real feature, a perfect backdrop to ferns, heucheras and a brand new acer. Which brings to mind What Does Good Taste Actually Mean? A certain celebrity gardener (famous parents, you know who you are!) opined to readers of his column in one Sunday paper, that whilst lime green foliage was a characteristic Spring charmer, ideal for lifting shady areas,  to mix it with purple foliage, or perish the thought, silver, was a bridge way too far! Well I DON’T CARE. I love my limes and purples and oranges So There! And to celebrate the subjectivity of Good Taste I have created a window box of contrasts: bronze coleus Campfire, lime green ipomoea and black ipomoea, dichondra Silver Falls and lysimachia nummularia Aurea!

National Garden Scheme June 2018

Here we are again, coming into the height of the gardening season. What better way to spend a Sunday than by visiting other NGS Open Gardens, talking plants, eating cake and oohing and ahhing at unusual and innovative schemes that you wish you had come up with first. The first week of June was NGS Festival Weekend and so we spent a leisurely Sunday visiting three of my gardens (i.e. gardens under my watch as local Assistant County Organiser.)  Marjorie’s small but perfectly formed cottage garden in Hampstead Garden Suburb, full of hidden pathways clothed in old roses and clematis; Sandra’s sweeping lawns, leading to a glamorous sunken pool area surrounded by tropical raised beds and swathes of bamboo, a world away from Finchley Central! Ian and Michael’s Oakwood garden, transformed in two years from traditional lawn to terraced decking, exotic architectural planting, water features and pergola, worthy of Chelsea Flower Show. We truly are a nation of gardeners.

RHS Chelsea highlights June 2018

Talking of Chelsea, first time in twenty years, I went this year: RHS Members’ Day Tuesday. Not wishing to sound churlish, I was quite sceptical about how much I would enjoy it, as last time I barely saw the show gardens for crowds five deep in front of me and the old tented plant pavilion was sticky hot, cramped and made my hair frizz up! So I am delighted to report that I thoroughly enjoyed it. The fun started on the previous Sunday when my Chelsea companion Rosie came over with the programme, and we sat on the patio for a happy hour, drinking strawberry laden prosecco, whilst marking up our route in order of preference. Large show gardens first, then refreshments, Space to Grow show gardens, Great Pavilion, more refreshments, and back again, followed by Artisan show gardens, refreshments and finally, when I didn’t care if ever saw another plant again as long as I lived, the trade stands. Sunny day, the right dress, comfortable shoes and a hands free shoulder bag made manoeuvring through the crowds virtually painless. My highlights? Matt Keightley’s’s Feel Good Garden, currently being recreated down the road from here, for patients and staff at Highgate NHS Mental Health Centre. In the Great Pavilion, Tom Stuart-Smith created a garden for Garfield Weston Foundation, all shapes, sizes, textures and shades of green, green, green. Cool, tranquil magic. I could live there. Favourite plants? Evolution Group hellebore hybrids and variegated hellebores, rosa Jacqueline Du Pré and new Solomon’s Seal varieties.  And of the trade stands, a pair of huge wire mesh boxing hares.

the cats enjoying the sun - June 2018

And even after looking at all that perfection, I was still happy to return to my own plot. I’ve fallen in love with our garden all over again this Spring. It never ceases to surprise, delight and challenge me. Until the next horticultural trauma, that is.…………..Happy gardening.

Spring? Blink and You’ve Missed It!

So on Thursday 19th April we went away for The Long Weekend (more of that later). 27ᵒc. Evidence of new shoots emerging in garden at last. Daffodils coming into bloom. Last minute seed sowing completed.

Fast forward to Sunday 22nd, 24ᵒc, daffs gone over, tulips out already! Fern coils, emerging from the soil, now 12” tall; hostas, from spears to full leaf in three days; ricinus seedlings sown on Wednesday, up 4”. Woodruff marching all over the central bed and helianthus Lemon Queen rampaging through the tubs on the roof terrace.

And now, one week later, 13ᵒc. If the plants knew how to retract their foliage, now would be the ideal time. My poor cannas, liberated from under cover one minute, back inside the next. Greenhouse needs a revolving door.

Seeds Sowed!

Still, undeterred, I’ve been keeping busy (and active, just to keep warm) in the greenhouse, potting on all the T&M Trial seeds: tomatoes Artisan, Rainbow Blend & Sweet Baby and cucumber Nimrod (100% germination – note to self: need a polytunnel!), ricinus (4 out of 6 seeds germinated), mina lobata (supposed to be so easy, eh? 4 out of 16 seeds germinated, huh!) & cerinthe Purple Belle (5 out of 10 seeds germinated). Rooted cuttings of fuchsia thymifolia, erysimum Bowles Mauve and salvias Confertiflora and Involucrata are sulking now that I have switched off the propagators. Jumbo plugs Petunia Sweetunia Suzie Storm are storming ahead (ha, got it?) as are Begonia Fragrant Falls Orange Delight and Solenia Apricot, but I’ve lost over a third of my 36 Begonia Non-Stop Mocca cartridge plugs; I think I’ll stick to the larger plugs in future. What exactly was I going to do with 3 dozen of them anyway? Prize for the Greatest Endeavour goes to Foxglove Illumination Flame, already potted on twice and ready for planting out after all risk of frost has passed. (August maybe?)

 

Overwintering

What a learning curve this winter has been though, seriously. Plants I felt sure would perish, such as salvias involucrata Boutin and Black & Blue, are up and about, whilst other more robust shrubby salvias, deadski as one New Yorker friend used to say. Melianthus major and fuchsia thymifolia are resurrected from the depths of the earth, while I’ve managed to lose lamium. Who could kill that? Just shows how crucial it is to apply thick autumn mulch. That, coupled with the T&M plastic tomato rings, has saved the day. To that end, I carried out a controlled experiment: two agastache Golden Jubilee with ring surrounds and one without. (In truth a happy accident, as one of the rings was blown away in a gale). All three survived, however the unprotected one is markedly smaller at this stage in the game.

Ascot Spring Gardening Show

We’ve been getting out and about. The new Ascot Spring Gardening Show mid-April was a real treat, especially as it wasn’t actually raining or snowing for once. Much larger than I had anticipated, there was  a Plant Village with about 3 dozen specialist nurseries, and as Spring is my favourite time of year (hmmm, usually…) the array of pulmonaria, brunnera and ferns was right up my street. Good job there was a Plant Crèche too! There were six show gardens from established designers and six created by talented horticultural students for the Young Gardeners of the Year Competition, horticultural trade exhibitors, and a programme of free talks, as well as floral demos by royal florist Simon Lycett.

 

 

 

Norfolk

So, to the birthday celebration weekend in Norfolk, bathed in glorious 28ᵒc sunshine, so brief but so welcome. (Enshrined in the canon of clichés since the 1730s, George II is supposed to have characterized the British summer as “three fine days and a thunderstorm”.) We had a lovely time; the boutique hotel was very shishi, the food surely cooked by a Master Chef finalist, and the two resident cats begrudgingly graced us with their presence. At Sandringham, my new concessionary status saved me £2 on the entry fee. But it was the Norfolk Nursery Network that was the highlight for me. Poor David, destined to languish, with all the other bored partners, in the café of one such nursery, while I ran around semi-hysterical, swooping up such gems as clianthus puniceus (Lobster Claw climber), nepeta Six Hills Gold (variegated version of Giant) and centurea pulchra Major (pink thistle to the uninitiated), clematis recta purpurea and geum coccineam EOS. Pure Joy. Where are they going to go? Who cares! Mind you, David satisfied his craving for buying Souvenirs That Seem like a Good Idea At The time. In Southwold he got some funny looks as we strolled around the town centre, swinging an anchor from his shoulder, (it’s for our Beech Hut Summer House, silly) and in Swaffham it was a rusty old petrol can. (I stand corrected – it’s  Vintage apparently. Heaven knows what he’s got in store for that!)

Another highlight was our visit to Holkham Hall to see the 6 acre walled garden, surely the largest in England. An exciting project is underway to restore the walled garden which was originally laid out by Samuel Wyatt during the late 1700s. Huge greenhouses adjacent to the substantial walls, others sunken to avoid extreme temperature fluctuations; an  ‘Arena’ of plants, vineyard, kitchen garden, one ‘room’ complete with lawn surrounded by ornamental beds. A veritable work in progress with knowledgeable guides and a team of local volunteers. How I wish I could have rolled up my sleeves and joined in. Nearby Gooderstone Water Gardens was a haven of tranquility:  One Man’s Dream fulfilled. Billy Knights, a retired farmer, began designing and creating the Water Gardens in 1970 in his 70th year, on a damp site too wet to grace cattle. He worked on his garden until he died aged 93.

Inspiration was another thing we brought back from Norfolk. Driftwood is very prevalent in the coastal gardens of East Anglia, and so on the patio, our multistriped fence will be transformed into a driftwood groyne, engineered from old scaffold planks. Mercifully the stripy bench has now fallen apart (nasty looking thing) to be replaced by a stylish (by that I mean subtle, not a concept usually associated with us Broomes) bleached wooden bench.

The weather forecast is set fair from early May so maybe now I can get on and do some actual gardening! There’s the new plants to go in, the overwintered ones to go back out. The hardstanding is smothered in slippery moss but the reclaimed sets are too delicate for pressure washing, so its hands and knees time. The rill is fowl – full of pond weed, rotting leaves and stagnant water, but also full of tadpoles so no action required for now. The living wall needs replanting. The hanging baskets need filling.

 

 

 

And so it goes on……..Happy gardening! Love, Caroline

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