In a Vase on Monday: Blue’n’White

IMG_4514Today’s little vase was prompted by a the sight of the tiny blue flower shown below left, a handful of which were left from bulbs planted in the blue & white border some years ago. I am not absolutely sure what they are as the label has long since disappeared. Less than 10cm tall with very spindly stems and minimal leaves they don’t fit the description of scilla, but I am sure someone can remind me what they are…

Blue.n.whiteThe welcome shot of blue set me looking for other blue signs, with a touch of white for contrast, and my search found a self-seeded pulmonaria and P Sissinghurst White, that useful comrey ‘Hidcote Blue’ that has been covered in flowers for over a month and as always a haven for any passing bee, the first muscari (contained in a pot to reduce over-exuberance), the first few flowers and variegated foliage of  Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ and some Viola ‘Cool Wave Frost’ grown from seed. Oh, and a stem of Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’, cut very short to match the lack of height of the others.

IMG_4516The short stems demanded a shallow vase so this little blue and white bowl was chosen from various random blue and white bits of mismatched china displayed on a plate shelf in the downstairs spare bedroom. The stems were gently pushed into a pin holder and the space around this filled with moss before the water was added. Rejecting the speckled blue and white and gold lapis lazuli crystals originally intended as a prop, the bowl was placed on china plate and positioned on a piece of white fabric and photographed outside.

I fondly remember a blue and white vase on a Monday last year, one of my favourites (which, on checking, contained similar material), and I am pleased with the end result of this one too, despite minimal material and minimal preparation – but then most of my Monday vases fit into that category and explain why this weekly activity continues to bring so much pleasure. Today’s vase joins last week’s which, without the tulips, is still going strong – the tulips didn’t ever full open, but stood up tall and straight and elegant for 5 or 6 days before the petals began to shrivel although the aquilegia leaves and Sweet William continue to look good.

IMG_4511 IMG_4512I wonder what you might find in your garden today to cut and bring inside to bring you pleasure? To share it with us, just leave links to and from this post – look forward to seeing you soon!


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A Cunning Plan?

CuttingBedsNot so much cunning, but at least it is A Plan – which is more than be said of my cutting bed activities so far. Julie of Peonies and Posies is posting a review of her cutting beds today so I made a bit of an effort to get some sort of organisation into mine. I may be up to date on my sowing (listed under the ‘Sowing 2014-15‘ tab), but until today I had little clue where the resultant plants were going to end up, or whether I would even have room for them all! It was more a matter of – ‘ooh it would nice to grow those’, ‘they would like nice in a vase’, ‘they’re free, I’ll have them’ or ‘yes please, I would love some of your seeds’ – you know the sort of thing….

This week I planted out the rest of the late summer sown Sweet Williams, centaurea, Poppy ‘Swansdown’ and Californian Poppy ‘Ivory Castle’, mostly elsewhere in the garden, but I could have incorporated them into the cutting beds if I had prepared a plan earlier so I will have learned from this for next year. Once I had drawn up the basic plan, I divided the beds into sections a little less than 0.5m square and, having IMG_4509roughly listing the seeds by colour and height, I allocated them each a section (the number of plants per section will vary). The original intention was to plant dahlias in the corner bed where the rhubarb used to be, but with alliums and tulips already planted here incorporating dahlias later would be too disruptive (there are in fact more than 4 dahlias to find homes for but the others can go somewhere else – don’t know where yet!).

Of course not all the seedlings may successfully reach planting out stage, but coincidentally there was just enough space to allocate a section to all the seeds I am growing so far! It will be some weeks before any more seedlings are ready to be planted out, but November sown Ammi visnaga and Bupleurium are looking promising, whilst  sweet peas sown at the same time have put on a spurt and probably desperately want to get going in the big wide world (some to be planted against the fence that edges most of the cutting beds). Cerinthe seedlings also look sturdy, unlike previous attempts.

APlan.1Included in the list of seeds planted this year is a key to say whether they were last year’s seeds, seeds collected, freebies or for a Which? Gardening trial. Most of the seed sown from left over packets still germinated, but not always reliably. Seed was collected from Ruby Eclipse and Topolino sunflowers, but the latter were obviously not completely dry when packaged and have rotted but the Ruby Eclipse seeds are doing well. Most seeds germinated within 3-5 days on my ‘contraption’ next to the Aga and were immediately moved to the greenhouse, and there have been virtually no failures – although it IMG_4500took about a fortnight before nigella seeds began to show in any quantity. Seeds sown in quarter trays have been pricked out as  soon as they have their first pair of true leaves, usually within 2-3 weeks, and keeping records of these timings will be helpful in future. The slowest progress is from antirrhinums which germinated promptly but are still not ready to be pricked out, despite being sown in early February. Perhaps someone can tell me if this is the norm?

Having just sown larkspur seeds today for the first time I note from the packet than they can also be sown in late summer for earlier flowering – looking into what else can be sown then or in autumn is a definite must, as my late 2014 sowings have been very successful. Last year, with no real plan at all and some very dodgy compost the cutting beds were far from productive. This year, with half a plan and better compost things are looking more promising and my knowledge and experience are growing. I wonder how other bloggers are getting on with their cutting beds? Do have a look at Julie’s blog where they will be leaving links in due course and to see her progress too – there is something for us all to learn from these shared experiences.


Posted in cutting beds, Gardening, Gardens, seed sowing | Tagged | 22 Comments

Spreading the Net Wider

IMG_4428When you have been a member of an organisation like the National Trust for a number of years there comes a time when you will have visited all your nearest properties, as well as those within an easy day out reach, at least once. This is certainly the case with us so we were pleased to take advantage of one of NT’s newest properties last week, Stoneywell, in Leicestershire.

Nestled against a granite outcrop the house is as organic inside as it is outside, the Arts and Crafts architect designer Ernest Gimson having used the location and local material to full advantage, the house being literally built into the rock and excess granite used for lintels, steps, fire surrounds, etc, often in its natural state. The house was built for Ernest’s brother Sydney at the turn of the 19th century and is full of original furniture made for the house by the Gimson’s contempories – and was offered to the National Trust by the third generation of Gimsons to prevent the property and its contents going the same way as several local properties also designed by Ernest for members of his family. It’s a small property and booking is essential because of this, but it is a real gem and every room is a delight.

The first generation of Gimsons wanted the house to appear as part of the surrounding landscape, so restricted planting to naturalised rhododendrons and heathers and the like. There were numerous rhododendrons in full flower when we went, many of which must have some age to them.

Stoneywell.1The third generation developed the area next to the house into more of ‘a garden’ but when the National Trust took it over the borders were so choked with couch grass that all plants were removed and labelled (where possible) pending a complete overhaul. Nevertheless (and especially as it was a Monday!), I was delighted that NT volunteers had gone to the trouble of having a vase in every single room of the house, filled with what they could pick from around the garden – a lovely touch:

Stoneywell.2National Trust ‘tunnel vision’ does mean that there are many other properties with or without gardens that we may have missed out on, and particularly now we have the campervan this is something we intend to remedy. It was a lovely surprise, therefore, to be invited in my blogging capacity to a media event at Renishaw Hall near Sheffield in May, the Historic Houses Association, sponsored by Christie’s, having just declared the property and its gardens as their Garden of the Year. This award is now in its 31st year and is designed to recognise the importance of some of the country’s most spectacular gardens with outstanding horticultural and public appeal.

Home to the Sitwell family for nearly 400 years, Renishaw Hall and Gardens is predominantly an Italianate garden set in traditional English countryside. The house and formal grounds date from the 1620s, but it was the passion and commitment of the fourth baronet, Sir George Sitwell,  and his admiration for the classical Italian gardens that forms the landscape of Renishaw Hall and Gardens still enjoyed by visitors today. Created between the years of 1886 to 1936, Sir George’s legacy has since been preserved by his grandson, the late Sir Reresby and his wife Lady Sitwell and their daughter and current owner Alexandra, all who have devoted their time to nurturing and developing the stunning gardens.

From the photographs I received in advance any visitors will be in for a real treat throughout the March-September opening period and I am certainly looking forward to our visit in May when I can take you all on a personal ramble around these award winning gardens. Hmm… I wonder if these roses will be in bloom by then…….?

nicola bilson photography

nicola bilson photography

Renishaw Hall border

Renishaw Hall border

(with thanks to Charlotte at HHA for her kind invitation)

Posted in Gardening, Gardens, Visiting gardens & days out | Tagged , , , | 18 Comments

Wordless Wednesday: It Must Be Spring!


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In a Vase on Monday: Between Sweet William’s Two Lips…

IMG_4489…might in the circumstances be a mug of frothy Ovaltine, but in truth is some beautiful foliage from an unknown aquilegia.

I found myself quite excited yesterday in anticipation of today’s vase, partly because the last two week’s were prepared, photographed and written about on the Sunday and scheduled for posting on Monday, and also because I had no real certainty of how things IMG_4495might come together. The tulips were in one of the lead effect planters visible from the kitchen window, from a cheap batch that were literally ‘shoved’ into the pot two or three seasons ago and have reappeared each year since, despite complete neglect – unlike the ones similarly shoved alongside the two Sundaville plants which spend the winter in the sitooterie and are thus even more neglected as they haven’t had the benefit of any rain. Hmm, memo to self – don’t bother with any indoor plants that need even the slightest attention!

The Sweet Williams are from the batch grown from seed, sown at the end of August, and having only just been planted out had begun to flower in their cell trays in the greenhouse. The variety is ‘Black Prince’ and as the packet had no picture I had forgotten what colour they were meant to be – dark red with dark leaves, so I am not absolutely convinced by the aptness of the name but they are attractive enough, and flowering in March! I had noticed the bright green aquilegia leaves with their hint of red on my rambles recently, and when they were cut and added to the tulips and Sweet William I was really taken with how well they combined, deciding instantly they didn’t need any further embellishment.

betweenSWIMG_4490Choosing a suitable vase was not as easy as I had envisaged a plain and simple slim glass one – which I  knew I didn’t have, so had to scout around for alternatives, looking through boxes of newly acquired vases, trawling my kitchenalia and searching through other IMG_4486ornaments. This vintage Ovaltine mixing glass was the best I could find (although ideally I wanted something slimmer and shorter) and the pickings were quickly plonked in and taken outside for photographs. The vase was initially lost amongst the mossy rocks and then the camera’s batteries were exhausted, but a quick recharge and some black felt finally brought acceptable results.

From the moment the tulips were cut and brought inside they began to open their tightly closed petals and will no doubt be fully open before the day is out. Like last week’s vase I am fairly confident that this one will last the whole week, as tulips tend to have a good life in a vase. I can report that the hyacinths have only just ‘gone over’ and the tulip leaves are only now beginning to curl, whilst the euphorbia looks as fresh as ever. It is so exciting to see what appears in a vase on my kitchen table each week, so multiply that by the number of other bloggers posting a vase on Monday….. can we cope with all that excitement?! I am sure there will be other tulips appearing today – will they be in your vase? Flowers, twigs, leaves, vegetables, pebbles – what will you find in your garden today to pop into a vase or other container? Please share your pleasure with us by leaving links to and from this post.


Posted in bulbs, corms and tubers, Gardening, Gardens, In a Vase on Monday | Tagged , , , | 69 Comments

Garden Bloggers Foliage Day: Fresh

IMG_4466Before focusing on foliage, I would like to thank everyone who commented on my blogging anniversary post – I took the decision not to reply individually as you were all saying such complementary things and I just accepted them graciously, the point inherently being proved about how supportive our blogging community is.

Today, the 22nd of the month, we are invited by Christina of  My Hesperides Garden to look at the foliage in our gardens, so following on from my recent foliage posts I am looking at just one particular aspect which for this month is new foliage. I never cease to be amazed by the new foliage on roses (above) – all of mine seem to start out pink as the leaves unfold before greening up and leaving just distinctively pink serrated outer edges and veins underneath the leaves. Do these turn green too in due course? That’s an observation to be made in the future.

That pinkness seems to occur in the fresh foliage of many plants – who could not admire the expectant shoots of this dicentra (sorry, it’s ‘new’ name does not yet trip off my tongue) and the first signs of Campanula ‘Sarastro’ are definitely rhubarb coloured too, something I have not noticed before:

GBFD.March15.1Many honeysuckles (left) seem to start out with a bit of a blush too, and when you consider the usual almost metallic grey foliage of Artemisia lactifola it is particularly odd to see the colour of the same foliage early in the year:

GBFD.March15.2I especially enjoy the easy recognition of leaf shape on fresh foliage, even as soon as the first true leaves appear on seedlings – like the molucella, malva, tagetes and hellebore seedlings in the greenhouse:

GBFD.March15.3Perfect miniatures of full grown leaves, as I also found outside today on Astrantia ‘Roma’, Aquilegia ‘Green Apples’ and tiny candelabra primulas – I was particularly pleased to see the latter as they were grown from seed last year, planted out in the autumn and had duly disappeared!

GBFD.March15.4At this time of year I will have been watching out for the first signs of wood anemones emerging in the woodland for a couple of weeks – they tend to be so well camouflaged that they often take my by surprise, but they are certainly here now, in their hundreds. Fortunately, holly seedlings like the one shown in the second picture are not nearly as numerous!

GBFD.March15.5I have today planted out the rest of the Poppy ‘Swansdown’ (left) grown from seed, and have been admiring that crinkly scrunched up foliage for a number of weeks – if the slugs find them now they won’t be admiring them for that long as they could disappear overnight (the poppies that is and not, despite wishful thinking, the slugs!). Equally worthy of admiration is the fresh foliage on all the early clematis, regular recent inspections having been made on the lookout for buds on the alpinas, many new last year and flowering eagerly anticipated – this one is Clematis alpina ‘Rosy Pagoda':GBFD.March15.6There are already signs of activity in the buds on trees and shrubs so perhaps this will be a focus for next month, as spring will definitely be in full flow then. In the meantime do visit Christina’s blog to see her foliage this month and find links to foliage posts in other blogger’s gardens too.



Posted in Garden Bloggers Foliage day, Gardening, Gardens | 28 Comments


Eclipsed 20-03-2015 10-21-57With each
Ray of sun,
Each small
Mercurial rise,
Each drop
Of gentler rain
Another bud appears
And swells,
Another leaf bursts out,
Stems push higher
Every day,
When light
And dark meet
As equals,
When Spring
Makes her
Official entrance
And snowdrops
Are at last
By hellebores.

Posted in Gardening, Gardens, Poetry, Spring | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments