Six on Sunday: Busy!

I took photographs for Jon the Propagator’s Saturday meme yesterday but got engrossed with something else and ran out of time to write a post – probably a good thing, having lots of distractions to stop us thinking about the new ‘C’ word. Personally, I haven’t needed to do any aimless thumb-twiddling at all since we fully locked down almost a week ago, but I know this may not be the case for everybody.

The first of my six are the fritillaries in the woodland (above) which have demanded a lot of gazing time in recent weeks. I used to buy separate packs of the white variety but they rarely did well, and I find that the mixed selections often have white amongst the wide range of plummy shades and am enjoying the natural mixtures. There has been a stiff breeze in the last couple of days, a shock after the lovely mild and sunny days earlier in the week, and the fritillaries have been bobbing about nicely.

Regular readers will know I receive a batch of mason bee cocoons every year and return all the new cocoons later in the season. This year’s batch arrived a week or so ago and I kept them inside in the clear lidded plastic dish because night time temperatures were down to freezing; fortunately, I happened to notice on Thursday that there was a bee moving about inside the dish and another couple breaking out of their cocoons, the warmth of the house having encouraged them to hatch. I took the dish outside, removed the lid and placed it in the release box from which the hatched bees quickly flew off in search of pollen. I have brought the dish back in each night since then, and hope those that hatched found somewhere cosy to spend the night. Unless you see them hatch, it is hard to imagine just how small they are – and very unlike a typical bee! Photos show the cocoons in the dish and, in the second picture below, the release box underneath the nesting tubes.

I was tempted by Karen of Bramble Garden to seek out some proper hazel beanpoles for my sweet peas this year, and was fortunate enough to find a local coppicer. The poles were over 8 feet tall and I had to saw the ends off to make them a manageable size for a shortie like me before I could construct the framework, which was made as an arch rather than two wigwams. The poles were too thick to use as horizontals, but it occurred to me that prunings from cornus would be perfect – having enjoyed their superb coloured stems over relatively colourless winters, I am always reluctant to carry out this severe early spring coppicing, but with an end purpose like this the task may become less unwelcome. I cut three stems as a trial and am pleased with the result, so this will become one of the week’s tasks and the sweet pea supports should soon be complete.

The outdoor sweet peas, now hardening off, are about 6-8″ tall; the indoor Winter Sunshine sweet peas, however, are more like 30″ tall and should be flowering in the greenhouse within a month. Exciting times ahead!

Rationalising space in the greenhouse to prepare for the exponential increase in the space required, I have been moving the hardiest things outside, including all the potted lilies which have been having a winter rest under cover. Astonishingly, many of them are in bud although I know from other years that open blooms are still 2 or 3 months away – plenty of time for the leaves to be nobbled by lily beetle before then!

The sixth six was a surprise to me, causing me to rush from the house with my camera – having spotted from the kitchen window the frothy blooms of Amelanchier lamarckii dancing in the breeze at the bottom of the garden, above our neighbour’s shed. What a glorious but short-lived sight, even better against a cloudless blue sky, sadly absent yesterday:

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Wordless Wednesday: Daisy, Daisy…

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March Blooms to Brighten Our Isolation

The joys of our gardens may become an increasingly precious commodity in the coming months and as our knowledgable blogging friend Chloris invites us to share our top ten blooms each month, so why not join in if you haven’t already done so? This month I am starting with some of the joys of the woodland – wood anemone Anemone nemerosa, snakeshead fritillary Fritillaria meliagris and Rhododendron ‘Cheers’, shown together above and individually below. A comment from Jude of Cornwall in Colours made me realise how much earlier the anemones are this year, several weeks earlier in fact.

Also early are the first tulips, the random ‘Spring Green’ that appeared under the holly tree last year and one of the few remnants of my effort to add tulips to the shrub border – I especially chose mostly Darwin tulips as they were reputed to reflower more reliably (and planted them deeply), but out of perhaps 50 or 60 not even a handful have returned. I could check previous bulb orders to see what variety the one on the right is, but I am not going to.

All the tulips I planted last year are in pots and I don’t even try to keep them from year to year now as the success rate is so poor. Many of them came as end of season bargains from our local garden centre, snapped up minutes before some chap came in and bought up all remaining bulb stock. To fill the pots until the tulips came through they were topped either with Bellis perennis (below), bought as plugs, or Aldi’s bright primroses. The bellis came in mixed colours (light and dark pink, red, white) which unfortunately are not randomly distributed between the pots.

Behind this pot you can see some of the hellebores in the snowdrop bed, in theory at their peak as the seedheads are now beginning to form, but in truth standing taller and prouder than all the preceding weeks. Unlike the numerous hellebores in the woodland edge borders, the ones here quickly made sizeable clumps, presumably preferring the more open bed and less competition from other roots. All the hellebores here are white or green, but I have included ‘Anna’s Red’ too, despite her recent damage, as she still looks stunning.

Most of the snowdrops are over now, but a few have lingered longer, like ‘Fanny’ and ‘Polar Bear’ below:

I am not a big fan of larger narcissi, but this year I have been taken with the clump below, under the apple trees and next to the stream, the only ones remaining from those I planted when the stream was first constructed about 17 years ago, when I planted a mix of three varieties – early, middle and late. A pale yellow, these have a distinctive darker rim around the trumpet, but I can’t find them on the current Peter Nyssen website and I won’t have records of my purchases from then – any suggestions? I would remember the name if it was mentioned.

At the other extreme is a pot of ‘Little Oliver’ miniature narcissi in the Coop, at least that’s what the yellow ones are – tiny little cups on stems of around 20cm and very cute – but even cuter is the cuckoo in the nest, about half the height and with a very flat white head…absolutely adorable, but what is it please? I would like more of them!

I could include pulmonarias and primroses in my ten, but instead will include (as Chloris has done) early flowering Clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’ and the first of the alpinas,  Clematis alpina ‘Constance’, which is gradually opening the fat buds I showed you last week, and the bed of comfrey Symphytum ‘Hidcote Blue’ which any early bees will be grateful for:

These are just some of my March blooms, the culmination of the long haul through a very mild (and wet) winter and the rapid approachment of spring: April’s blooms will be very different as the new season’s herbaceous perennials start to make an impact. Thank you to Chloris for giving us the opportunity to share these monthly blooms with her and the wider blogging community.

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In a Vase on Monday: Needs Must

We went for a walk yesterday morning and I found some comfrey* flowering on our route so decided to pluck it for Monday’s vase along with some nearby arum leaves. Having already passed an escapee branch of mahonia on the verge, I went back later with secateurs and cut some of their blooms too. Despite the potential in the garden itself, it suddenly seemed appropriate to have a ‘needs must’  or ‘make do and mend’ vase, given the far from ideal circumstances we are all finding ourselves in.

Joining the hedgerow offerings is a stem of my own Hellebore ‘Anna’s Red’, a casualty of thoughtless scaffolders who plonked a scaffold pole in the Coop Corner without so much as a ‘by your leave’. Our neighbour is having some roofing work done and such is the odd arrangement of land ownership he had asked us in advance if it was OK for them to have access in the strip of land I call the Shady Courtyard: fine, that wouldn’t be a problem. I don’t think he realised that they would also want to put scaffolding at right angles to this – and it may be that the scaffolders did not realise the Coop Corner was not his land, despite being directly behind his house. Even so, when it was looking as pretty as it was last Saturday, I find it hard to believe that even a non-gardener would put a scaffolding pole in the middle of a flourishing spring border, flattening and breaking plants, without seeking some sort of guidance first. When we looked out of the window and saw a post just to the left of Anna’s Red we flew outside and insisted it was moved. By then, Corydalis ‘GP Baker’ was flattened, several stems of the hellebore broken and the scaffolding base dumped on top of a geranium. Rather than risk further damage I removed some of the at-risk plants, but will replace them now the scaffolders have left – they have not heard the last of it!

The vase contents sat in a small galvanised bucket of water for a number of hours (something that doesn’t always happen, despite the perceived wisdom) before any thought was given to a vase, and liking the chunky proportions I wondered if one of my Caithness Glass ‘Ebony’ vases would suit: as you can see, one did. I love the tactile shape of it but it is rare I would have contents suitable to grace its elegance. I am luck to have all eight vases from this range, art glass that looks more like pottery, bought for their ornamental value rather than for use as vases; there used to be factory shop near where my Mum lives, and they were probably all ‘seconds’. You can see a close-up the typical decoration below, along with that of the citrine crystal point (looking very much like an extracted tooth!) that serves as a prop. Citrine is reputed to promote well-being and abundance, something we might all need for these uncertain times and their associated shortages…

Even if there seems to be nothing in our garden, please look in the hedgerows or on the verges too – a wild flower, a budded twig, a leaf, even the tiniest offering popped into a vase or jar will bring you guaranteed pleasure, a spiritual and mental boost at a time when the world may seem to lie heavy on your shoulders. All being well, IAVOM will continue to be here every week to remind you of this, so do join us and, if you like, please leave links to and from your post so we can see what is helping you through your week.

* My mistake, it has been correctly identified by Amanda as green alkanet, a plant I have not heard of before but will definitely remember in the future, although the piercingly blue flowers and rough green leaves are not dissimilar to comfrey

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Light and dark
Are equal,
Nothing else.
The garden
Is in flux,
Reaching for T shirts
Whilst pulling off
Its winter coat,
Snowdrops fading
Spring brightness,
Crab apples clothed
In green,
Birch and beech
And bare.

The corner
Will be fully turned,
And tulips
Will mark the point
Of no return,
That certain march
The glories of summer.
The continuity of the seasons
Is a constant,
A momentum
Over which
We have no control
And within which
The garden
Ebbs and flows.

In our gardens,
We are aware
Of this continuity,
This momentum.
We know
Spring follows
Then summer and autumn,
That winter
And spring
Will come again,
That all will
Be well,
That even in the bleakest months
There will be
A bloom.

This continuity
Is fractured,
Connections lost.
A cloud
Like the toxic mushroom
Of Hiroshima,
In these bleakest of times
In unexpected places
There will still be
A bloom.

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow: Audrey Hepburn (early 1990s)


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Eight Years and More Than Eight Benefits

As of today, I have been rambling in the garden on this blog for eight years – not that it seems anything like eight years of course. To celebrate, I thought I would share eight spring blooms plucked on one of today’s rambles, and a reminder of some of the many benefits of blogging.

Eight years ago I wrote ‘I had not intended to write a blog, but was talking to a friend about how, now I had more time,  I wanted amongst other things to keep a better record of the garden and nurture its spiritual aspects, as well as writing poetry more often. She suggested I did it online as a blog, and was born’. When I created my ‘About’ page, some months after my first post, I finished by saying ‘The blog reflects just one (but multi-faceted) part of me, to fulfil a particular need, but already it has gone beyond that and brought new and unanticipated pleasures’.

Eight years further on and that last statement is even more true, with an endless number of overlapping benefits arising from my blogging experiences. Right from the start I began to get to know my garden better, noticing the everyday changes, the passage of the seasons, beginning an intimate relationship rather than a casual friendship. After eight years that relationship runs very deep, and it is always a wrench to leave the garden or even have a day without spending any time in it: it undoubtedly ‘nurtures my soul’ as the blog’s tagline suggests.

Also from the beginning was the joy of writing, choosing the right words and developing my own style; likewise, satisfying the creative urge to write more poetry was one of the original motives and, although it doesn’t happen as often as I hoped it might, when my muse strikes there is always the thrill of creating with words, the right words in the right order, as one of my teachers used to say.

As I got to know the garden better I was more able to see it as a whole, and the overall rehash of the ‘bottom end’ began to take place at around the same time as the blog began. There have been many changes since then, but for the first time I was able to ‘feel’ how things might fit together. Most sections have still evolved and unfolded on their own, remarkably resulting in a layout that seems to work, but I still don’t feel I could plan a whole garden from scratch. However, my confidence in techniques other than design has grown exponentially as a result of blogging and the experience gained in those eight years, resulting in a comprehensive seed-sowing regime and on-going propagation by cuttings and other methods, as well as pruning and a host of other techniques.

Record keeping has made my gardening life much easier, knowing when I sowed certain seeds, how long they took to germinate (a mystery for novices), and when I pricked out, potted on, planted out and, if I remembered, when things flowered. A 5 year diary gives further insight, but the blog itself contains not only a comprehensive photographic record but also a search facility where I can quickly track down specific plants or tasks, whilst the continual uploading of photographs has seen my photo editing skills improve from non-existent to half-decent.

Not surprisingly, my plant knowledge has expanded perhaps a hundredfold – well no, that’s just a random figure, but you get the picture! Exchanging comments, reading other blogs, following up links, all these have contributed to my now seemingly vast knowledge (which nevertheless pales into insignificance compared to that of some bloggers who know who they are!) of a huge range of plants. I have learned to love roses, tulips, dahlias, certain chrysanthemums and other plants I might previously have shunned – I even found myself admiring a well-pruned forsythia today!

This leads on to the greatest benefit of my blog: the camaraderie of all those who read and comment on it regularly and especially my blogging friends, who have all contributed to the benefits already mentioned in one way or another. Sharing or exchanging information or advice, offering support in many guises, generously sharing and exchanging plants and seeds – the list is long. Not just publicly through our blogs, but by email and exciting little packages in the post, and sometimes in person too. I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart.

From the top, blooms used are: unnamed pulmonaria, Scilla siberica ‘Alba’, Bellis perennis, ex-potted hyacinth, Fritillaria meliagris, Cyclamen coum, Narcissus (probably Bridal Crown), Hellebore ‘Ashwood Single White Picotee Dark Nectaries). The test tubes are inserted in a display stand made for me by the Golfer that usually houses crystal points


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Wordless Wednesday: Fit to Burst

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