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………
ANYONE FOR HOSTAS?
Its 7.30am on a June Sunday morning and you wouldn’t want to see what I am wearing as I type this! But if I leave it until later and go into the garden, I know I won’t come in any time soon.
Flaming June? I’ll say! Flaming nightmare more like. Working outside has felt like running on the spot: Maximum effort, minimum progress! The recent gales, which always put me in such a foul mood, have played havoc. No stakes are tall or robust enough to support the towering thalictrums, meadow rue, climbing roses & veronicastrum. Trying to control these wayward giants puts me in mind of plate spinning! Add hot dry air coming at you through some invisible wind tunnel and everything is burnt to a crisp and dry as dust! And then the deluges: Roses, so good this year, rendered brown and soggy, their stems bent from saturation.
Don’t you just love the propensity of us Brits to open a conversation with The Weather? Well, at least it’s got me started on my June blog.
It seems strange not to be opening our garden this June. Our choice admittedly, enabling me to concentrate instead on organising the Hampstead Garden Suburb NGS Open Day 25th June. We’ve been opening mid-June since 2010 so have always worked towards a well-oiled deadline. This year however the mid-summer garden has been somewhat chaotic to say the least.
But as we approach the longest day (what, already? Its downhill all the way from now on!) we seem to be in the midst of some stable conditions at last and diligent pottering has resumed. In a rush of enthusiasm (and relief to be outside without protective clothing) David has installed his new water features: copper kettle and teacup in the ornamental pond at one end of the rill and his washing dolly (the mind boggles) at t’other. Oh, the arguments about what constitutes an acceptable position for the aquatic plants, so as not to obscure the view of his masterpieces, you wouldn’t believe!
I have been unleashing my inner artiste whilst creating the patio displays. No holding back this year, containers a combination of T & M Begonia Non-Stop Mocca Bright Orange, Begonia Glowing Embers and Petunia Mini Rosebud Peachy with cannas, gingers & eucomis, whilst hanging baskets are crammed with foliage plants ipomoea, T&M nasturtiums, coleus Redhead and Campfire, heucheras and – hope over experience – hostas.
I blame esteemed Horticultural Society Chair, Doc Page, entirely! Fancy giving away two sacks full of hosta divisions to a plantaholic like me! So I diligently potted them up for charity sales, back in March, and nurtured them from slugs (and cat, more of that later!) , only to become so attached to them that I have planted them into every suspended receptacle I could find. But they are spectacular, and having smugly displayed them out of Fred’s reach, I now have to find a way of protecting the canna leaves from his grazing. And whilst we are on the subject of Fred, he and his feline cohorts are enjoying the benefits of a superfluous basket, which now hangs resplendent from the pergola, complete with fleecy lining, doubling up as a sun lounger! (Note to all interested cat lovers: Billy our Sphynx cat has actually got a sun tan).
Right, back to hostas, briefly: I think I may have started a local trend. Whilst selling said plants at our Hort Soc Summer Flower Show yesterday, any customer considering the wisdom of purchasing one of these slug magnets, was instructed to grow them in hanging baskets!
I’ve been having fun with my potatoes too. (Good grief, my excitement knows no bounds!) I am trialling a new T&M variety, which is supposed to produce bumper crops from the smallest grow bags ever made. No problem with space then, they are wedged into a gap on the patio. These triffids were growing before my eyes & needed earthing up daily. It can’t be that long before they are ready to harvest and it’s all I can do to stop myself poking around in the bags for clues. Oh sweet anticipation! And a recent delivery of trial dahlia plugs, 3 each of four varieties, is a learning curve for me. Having only ever grown dahlias from tubers I am not entirely sure I know what I am doing. But for now I have planted each trio into a large pot, smothered them in gravel, (didn’t take long for those pesky snails to sniff them out – do snails have the olfactory sense?) and hope to grow them on to the stage where I can plant them out with previous successful T&M dahlias on the allotment.
At last I feel Garden Ready! In fact we unofficially launched the New Season with the grand opening of the Beach Hut (you would find me celebrating at the opening of an envelope!) It’s all under control, (haha we make plans and God laughs) everything in its place, and the sun is shining. There is of course the small matter of the severed irrigation system, the leaky hose, the gap that nothing will fill, the patio wall that needs painting………………..ah yes, gardening is about the process not the finished result, ‘innit.
So next month’s blog will no doubt be full of our NGS Hampstead Garden Suburb Group Open Day 25th June. If you are within a 50 mile radius of NW11 please come along, I am so bursting with excitement I just can’t contain myself!
FIVE SWEETPEAS AND A CUCUMBER
Like a fine wine I don’t travel well so I have only ventured abroad twice in 20 years (that’s if you don’t count Jersey). However a promise is a promise: We have just returned from a visit to Cyprus, home of my oldest friend Naomi, to celebrate her 60th birthday. (I bet she’ll thank me for that announcement!). I had forgotten how exotic the Mediterranean was. Oh the flowers! So the British have their privet and box hedges, but the Cypriots have oleander, lantana and hibiscus hedges! Cannas growing like weeds at the road side, ipomoea scrambling through wire mesh fences, callistemon in flower now. Little gems (well not literally lettuces but nothing would surprise me) like gentians and eryngium, nestling in shingle on beaches and rock faces. Banana plantations! Cactus flowers 20ft tall! Whether it’s the British ex-pat community over there or just brute adaptability, the roses were magnificent: I have to say though that the species roses growing wild amongst other indigenous shrubs looked more comfortable than the cultivated ones, somehow incongruous, in domestic gardens. And green lawns, hmmm, a sure sign of British ownership methinks.
As well as being in flora heaven, the fauna was highly entertaining too. Opportunist sparrows, more like our robins, silently prospecting our alfresco dining – unnerving if you are not a fan of Hitchcock’s The Birds – quick as a flash, dive bombing for French Fries in formation, the final flourish provided by a hooded crow who swooped down and carried off half of an 8” seeded baguette complete with cream cheese topping. (I wonder if foreign tourists find seagulls quite so entertaining in Southend when they steal your chips; come to think of it, do foreign tourists go to Southend?) As in so many other Mediterranean resorts, the feral cat population is alive and well thank you. By and large they are in good condition due to trapping and neutering programs established by the numerous cat sanctuaries on Cyprus. At Naomi’s apartment complex, her Russian neighbour regularly feeds the resident feral community and it was highly entertaining to see them gathering around at dawn and dusk, staring intently up at her balcony willing her to hurry up with the grub. (Evidently there are Mad Cat Women the world over.) Like a scene out of West Side Story they roamed around in their gangs, lazing arrogantly around the pool in the sunshine, occasionally brushing up against rival factions. Clearly not starving, they barely lifted their heads to register the swifts that were dive bombing the surface of the water for insects.
However, here we are again in East Finchley. One week since our return and I find myself reflecting upon the joys of travel. Although I appear to be well on the way to conquering yet another phobia, this time flying, I don’t think that I shall be making a habit of it. Holidays are all very well but I won’t be leaving the garden to its own devises again any time soon! Oh the stress of it! Should I leave the irrigation system running or switch it off? Will I return to scorched earth or sodden borders? Two days prior to departure I decided it was prudent to relocate the dozen or so trays of seedlings and annuals from the greenhouse to our spare room. With temperatures so unpredictable and access so hazardous (plants-for-sale, hastily moved into the shade, were blocking the path to the back of the garden) at least this way friend Anne could keep an eye on them when she fed the cats.
After only five days away (trip dates had to work around our local Plant Heritage sale, never mind Naomi’s birthday) the garden had gone berserk! How do other gardeners manage to go away for a fortnight? Having loaded up the washing machine for the ninetieth time in 12 hours (slight exaggeration, but still, yet another reason not to go on holiday) I could at last concentrate on the garden. Once the nursery trays had been returned to the greenhouse (thanks Anne, what’s your secret, they have doubled in size!) and the plants-for-sale had been revived, it was time to plant up the T&M tomatoes, Garnet, Mountain Magic & Indigo Cherry Drops, into their final positions, then turn my attention to the patio.
With the assorted T&M jonquils finally over, I turfed them out of their pots, foliage and all, ready for replanting on the allotment. Not known for my patience or adherence to the six week rule, out came the rest of the spent bulb leaves from the permanent planting schemes. I’ll take my chances! You may remember my concerns regarding my two towering abutilons, well readers, they are well deadski, as my friend Laurie from the Bronx used to say! Quel dommage! ………..And five minutes later I muse that golden hop might look striking combined with blue ipomoea and black eyed Susan. There’s no sentiment in war, or gardening it seems.
So anyway, with Spring Phase One out of the way, next weekend is Hanging Basket and Container Display time. Yippee! Having successfully overwintered several cannas on the patio for the first time, I planted out some additional divisions in April. Hostas and heucheras, suspended in hanging baskets out of harm’s way, are slug (and Fred the cat) free. The piece de resistance will be T&M Begonia Non-Stop Mocca Bright Orange, Begonia Glowing Embers, Petunia Mini Rosebud Peachy combined with coleus Campfire & black and lime green ipomoeas. I love creating the patio displays, and whilst I was reminded by fellow blogger Julie Quinn that gardening is about the process not the finished result (more of that later), summer bedding schemes are like stage sets with a definite beginning and end.
Talking of Julie Quinn, isn’t it a small world. There she is, gardening away no more than 2 miles down the road from me, attending all the same local plant sales, with friends and acquaintances in common, loves cats and has medical connections. Julie made me very welcome for afternoon tea at her house where we shared horticultural experiences, knowledge and opinions in her beautiful paved garden. Thank you Julie, it was a pleasure to meet you and I look forward to seeing you again soon.
Last Saturday we held our Hort. Soc. plant sale in the Hampstead Garden Suburb. My spy tells me that, whilst queuing to get in, visitors were enthusing about this annual event as one of the highlights of the neighbourhood social whirl, not to be missed. I love selling – once a retailer always a retailer; shoppers still stop me in department stores and ask me where the loo is – so I was in my element amongst the trailing lobelia and petunias, “All plants on sale for £1.40 each.” I have however lost the art of adding up in my head and so hastily produced a crib sheet of £1.40 times table. There was a huge selection of veg and salad plugs and of course I couldn’t resist some extras for the greenhouse and allotment. Having guarded my purchases throughout the morning (funny how seemingly civilized locals can turn into marauding rabble when there’s a bargain to be had) I took my eye off the ball, for one minute I tell you, and they were gone! Panic set in; the Great Clear Up had begun, car boots were searched to no avail, fellow committee members were eyeing me with caution as I interrupted conversations to enquire, “Has anyone seem my five sweet peas and a cucumber?” Indeed, ever efficient chairperson Doc Page and the team had tidied them away ready to be returned to the local nursery, so I guiltily retrieved them and beat a hasty retreat! I am happy to report that they are all now happily in situ and growing on well.
So much to do, and without our usual mid-June NGS Open Day deadline it feels strange to be just ambling along with tasks at a leisurely pace. But my new mantra, “Gardening is about the process not the finished result” ringing in my ears, I can finally allow myself to potter gently on. Yeah right, until the next disaster…..