Wordless Wednesday: Enjoying the Spring Sunshine

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In a Vase on Monday: Stark/Contrast

On one of our recent walks I picked up a beautifully lichen encrusted twig, knowing it would appear in a vase sometime soon, and today popped back to the alleyway I mentioned in Friday’s post to pick a stem of garden escapee euphorbia to join it. Rather than detract from the yellowish highlights of the twig and the euphorbia  by introducing more colour, I cut five stems of creamy white Narcissus ‘Snow Baby’, the perfect foil for the dark green leaves of the latter.

Firstly, I popped the twig and euphorbia into the vase already earmarked, another Caithness Glass one, similar to last week’s but in the ‘moss’ colourway’ and with a narrower neck. The stark effect was immediate and additional material would be…well, just completely gratuitous. Somehow the vase was solid and complete as it was, seemingly making a statement. But what to do with the narcissus? Obviously I wouldn’t just throw them out, so retrieved a matching (it may look a lighter shade, but this is due to the difference in style) Caithness vase from the shelf  and popped the narcissus in, ready to display elsewhere.

Suddenly, a metaphor occurred to me, and I knew it was important to display them together: the stark first vase contained items fashioned by nature, a twig blown from a hedgerow tree, maybe decades old, covered in lichen as result of a natural process, and a stem breaking free of its own volition from a garden setting, no human intervention required. By way of contrast, the narcissi were bought as bulbs and planted by Man (well, me), nurtured and admired at all stages of growth, and fed and watered as required – but despite this intervention their fragile beauty is short lived (although as bulbs we may be lucky and see them return) and the blooms will soon fade.

We are all in the throes of something we have never experienced before as the restrictions of lockdown continue to bite, as our routines disintegrate and the fragility of the lives that we have carefully crafted is exposed, as fear for ourselves and the health of our nearest and dearest lurks. Life as we know it is unlikely ever to be the same again and there will be many unforeseen social and economic adjustments to be made. However, some things will not change – lichen and their host hedgerow trees, for example, and the countryside and natural world generally, things which can continue to bring stability to our lives. We are fortunate ourselves to be able to step out of our house into the countryside, and our daily walks leave us feeling well-grounded and a world away from COVID-19, especially when we see three different butterflies within the space of a minute (tortoiseshell, orange tipped and brimstone) as we did yesterday, the last being a first. Meanwhile, in the garden too, the freshness and fragrance and birdsong of mild spring days will also continue regardless.

Our Monday vases also bring stability and a reminder of what day of the week it is, so do join us if you can, with material found in your garden or foraged locally. They will brighten your isolation and if you would like others to share the pleasure, albeit at a distance, then leave links to and from this post.

The crystal, by the way, is serpentine, believed to be beneficial for the emotions and meditation, and to encourage art and creativity.

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Six on Saturday: 322 Plug Plants and Some Sweet Peas

For the second year running, I placed an order in November for all the bedding plants* needed to fill all the pots, troughs and baskets for the following year. Trying to plan and choose in advance was really hard, and equally so on the second occasion as some of the previous combinations hadn’t been especially successful, but it was worth the effort to avoid ad hoc purchases in spring and early summer – and even more so in the current circumstances with garden centres being forced to shut.

I have bought from Brookside Nursery in recent years and like the way you can choose which week your plants will be ready; an added bonus is that it is only about five miles from here and local purchasers can collect directly from the nursery, absolving the plants from spending time in transit. I had arranged for mine to be available from Monday of this week, but COVID-19 restrictions led me to ask for delivery instead. Fortunately, the plants were dispatched on Monday and arrived the next day, fresh as the proverbial daisies, but in an alarming number of boxes – three big boxes but each with little boxes inside!

I can’t fault the packaging though (normally when I collect the plants would just be loose in their trays) as the condition of everything was perfect, and when all the boxes were emptied of their contents the prospect of potting them up didn’t look quite as daunting – huge, but no longer daunting.

Fortunately, I had stocked up on decent compost before the garden centres closed (it took almost a full bag), and a couple of hours later everything was potted up (the larger plugs in 6 cell trays, the smaller in 12s) and space found for them in the greenhouse. In recent days I have been moving as much as I can outside to harden off, in readiness for this week, as the greenhouse is rapidly approaching saturation point as seeds get pricked out and potted on. The plug plants now occupy nearly one third of the main staging, all of the top shelf and just over one level of a freestanding unit I use for peak growth periods.

Just outside the greenhouse, I used some of the cornus prunings from earlier in the week to embellish the beanpoles for the outdoor sweet peas creating, in my humble opinion, attractive and functional supports. If they do indeed prove to be successful and fit for purpose I suspect this will become another of my annual rituals: prune the cornus, erect supports for the sweet peas. The promise of warm and sunny weather in the coming days encouraged me to make use them straight away, planting out the first batch of hardened off sweet peas. Sadly, I also know we are not due any rain, so will need to be prepared to water them regularly. For the first time in a while, these are January rather than autumn sown sweet peas, largely because a later planting of a trial variety last year seemed to give superior results; this batch consists of two varieties, Gwendoline and King George VI, a pink and red colour combination I had admired elsewhere last year.

Inside the greenhouse, now naked after shedding its bubble wrap in anticipation of the coming warmer days, the indoor early sweet peas (Winter Sunshine) continue to press ahead and, as I suggested last week, are on target to flower towards the end of April – now producing buds to prove the point:

Gardens are exciting places in April, and I am sure everyone else who is contributing to Jon the Propagator’s Six on Saturday meme today will have something exciting to share with us – do check out Jon’s blog to see what this is.

* petunia, verbena, calibrachoa, Busy Lizzie, argyanthemum, lobelia, pelargonium, etc

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Rambling Outwith the Garden

Much as I enjoy rambling in the garden, a daily ramble outwith the garden has become a necessity since official lockdown and self-isolation began 11 days ago. Outwith is what I assumed was an old fashioned word meaning ‘outside’ or ‘beyond’, but on checking today it is in fact purely a Scottish word and one still used in modern parlance – being of Scottish descent, we perhaps choose to use it when we are being deliberately pedantic! Anyway, I thought I would share one of these walks with you to give you an idea of the environs wherein (!) we live. This was a typical walk and perhaps our most regular one, taken last Tuesday, but it could easily have been last yadseuT as it is just as often done in reverse.

Turning right from outside our front door we pass a large detached house, before walking down the path at the side of it with a wall on the left (above). Behind this wall is the ‘playground’ of the old school which the owners let us use for car parking on our open days. This leads into the churchyard with its tiny church of Norman origins and, being in a commanding position at the top of a hill, with a wonderful and widespread view along the valley.

The Golfer prefers the walk in this direction, as the hill is at its steepest and therefore a downward stretch:

We turn left at the bottom, walking between lakes on either side, the result of shallow coal mines collapsing after being abandoned perhaps as late as the end of the 1960s, leaving a series of lakes along this stretch of the river, a haven for wildlife and fishermen – and a tendency for the roads to flood. There used to a footpath across where these two lakes are, used by children from a nearby village to reach the school in ours. Overhanging trees have been cut back very recently here, wisely, as they were increasingly unsafe and prone to dropping branches, opening up the views on either side.

A little further on you can see the final part of our route at the top of the hill, along the hedge line; already it has been interesting to watch the changes taking places in these fields which seem to be used for both barley and grazing in turn. Currently, one field has been ploughed whereas the adjacent one is being used a maternity unit for sheep awaiting the birth of their spring lambikins.

Turning left up the lane just to the right of this picture, the gradient is relatively gentle and, together with the gradual rise along the last stretch, equates to the steepness of the original downhill stretch but less noticeably so.

On reaching the kissing gate (there are five on this route, well-used), we turn left into the field and enjoy the view down into the valley. As well as the river, this valley hosts a canal and the main London to Scotland railway, so a good place for train spotters!

Two or three weeks without rain and a lot of sunshine means this stretch has been dry and firm in recent weeks; at other times parts of it can be surprisingly boggy considering the location at the top of a hill. On this occasion we arrived home with dry boots , squeezing through the narrow alleyway (always interesting to see what’s growing here, both wild and garden escapees) between the hedge and the school house’s garden, a walk of about two and a half miles in total and just under 6000 steps for me, but less for the less-short legged Golfer, and in time for a mid-morning cup of tea.

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Wordless Wednesday: Cutting Cornus

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End of Month View: a Visual First

For the first time, as well as the usual photographs showing the main parts of the garden at the end of the month, I am including a link to a video ramble. For me, the EOMV posts are a useful record of the garden from month to month and from year to year and  I often refer back to them to check when what might flowering at certain times. Regular readers will know these areas well by now (and there is a map under The Garden tab above), but a video will provide a more immersive experience and a greater understanding of how the different sections fit together. I wasn’t sure about including a commentary, but this month you do have one, along with birdsong, roof maintenance and COVID-19 contained children.

First things first, and the usual still photos, starting with the paved area and sitooterie, the main view from our kitchen windows (above), and the streamside and shrub border to the right of this, taken from both ends (below). The Tête-à-Tête in the grass are still cheerful, albeit a little weary now, whilst the bright stems of cornus at the far end of the shrub border need to be cut right down to ensure a similar display throughout next winter.

The woodland is full of wood anemones and fritillaries, joined this month by Rhododendron ‘Cheers’ which I realise can’t be seen in this photo!

From the bothy, looking out over the main borders, and the same area from ground level. In the borders, the perennials are gathering momentum, whilst the hostas are all beginning to poke their noses out of the soil in their pots, so I must make a start with slug prevention. I am using nematodes again, but starting earlier than I did last year.

The clematis colonnade with the bronze heuchera bed in the foreground:

The woodland edge border from both directions, the common snowdrops over but their foliage making a big impact amongst all the hellebores:

The three bold borders, still timid rather than bold:

The extended cutting beds, with many plants hardening off and supports ready for sweet peas:

More cutting beds, and yet more plants hardening off, space in the working greenhouse being at a premium:

The blue & white border, with the amelanchier in full flower:

Through the rose garden…

…and back towards the house and the naked wisteria, past the snowdrop border and its white and green hellebore companions:

Down the side of the house we pop into the Coop, fragrant with spring bulbs, and finish at the Coop Corner behind it, avoiding the scaffolding:

Thanks for rambling with me, and now please click on the link for a personal guided tour

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In a Vase in Monday: Dodecahedral

There were no preconceived ideas in my head when I ventured forth on my mission yesterday to cut blooms for Monday’s vase – if anything, I was perhaps expecting a posy of little stems, a mix of the best of the garden’s spring blooms. That was not to be, as I was drawn to a random wallflower, something I have occasionally grown from seed, but not for a few years, so this is certainly a relict. The buds are not open yet, but at the moment they are blood red, a fairly typical wallflower colour and not what I would have voluntarily chosen when sowing them.

Armed with this wallflower I was now looking for longer stemmed blooms to accompany it, and chose partially spent Hellebore ‘Double Ellen White Spotted’ with its faded but deep red spotted petals, or sepals as they really are, and three stems of Narcissus ‘Bridal Crown’, bulbs bought 4 years ago to provide flowers for Younger Daughter’s wedding posy. Already looking elegant together, I decided on this occasion that ‘less is more’ and left my search at that, so was pleased to be able to enhance their elegance with a Caithness Glass vase I had forgotten I had, another of the original 60s art glass range in the ‘peat’ colourway which complemented the wallflower and spotting of the hellebores.

Joining the vase and the blooms is today’s prop, a dodecahedral garnet, a ‘dodecahedron’ being any polyhedron with twelve flat faces. A regular

dodecahedron has twelve regular pentagonal faces, three meeting at each vertex, and has 12 faces, 20 vertices, 30 edges, and 160 diagonals (60 face diagonals, 100 space diagonals). Garnet occurs naturally in this form and although irregular, most of the faces are still pentagons. I chose it because the blood red colour reflects similar shades within the vase, but then had to smile when I checked its healing qualities: amongst other things, it is believed to bring courage and creative energy, and assistance in times of chaos, disruption and emotional trauma… Enough said…!

What blooms could you find to help reduce the chaos and disruption that we are all facing at the moment? The regular habit of creating a vase on Monday brings structure into our week, a little bit of normality, so please join us if you can, adding links to and from this post.

ps the wind must have disturbed the arrangement whilst I was photographing it, so here is a belated view showing the wallflower and, sadly, the now-drooping hellebores (I thought they would be ‘spent’ enough to hold up well to being in a vase…)

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