Preparing for the summer show

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Delphinium ‘spires’

A break in the weather from a succession of warm, dry, sultry days to a breezy mixture of sunshine and showers is welcome. These past two weekends there has been much ferrying of watering cans to far-flung corners of the garden just to keep the newly planted bedding plants in existence but they don’t really develop properly without a decent shower of real rain.

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Aquilegia and Foxgloves

This weekend saw the final lot of summer bedding being planted out; the Good Lady has been planting up the Dahlia beds (Bishops Children and T&M Dwarf Mixed) and Mesembryanthemums under the hybrid tea roses; these will knit together over the summer providing a wonderful multi-coloured backdrop of brightly-coloured daisies. Meanwhile the Cosmos and Sunflowers are developing thick stems and putting on good growth.  The dayglo-flowering Californian poppies have also been planted into the borders, providing a shock of neon brilliance to the demure herbaceous visitor! We’ve had good germination of bedding this year so have been filling spaces in the borders with more Dahlias and African marigolds (Calendula) and have also been planting up a few more terracotta pots.

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French marigolds, which smell as good as they look!

This year, the spring bedding has been really excellent, with the black tulips only just going over now and the winter pansies still merrily flowering their heads off! 20130626-202225.jpgWhile we’ve planted up most of the pots with summer bedding (Cosmos, French marigolds mainly), we’ll let the spring ones run full-term as I always despair at the Council parks which proceed to rip up their spring bedding just when it is at its best, only to replace it with several weeks of bare soil before they put their summer bedding in!

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the colourful shade border, just coming into its best – the subject of a future post!

We’ve also been planting out and potting on some of this, and last, year’s biennials and perennials. The Echium fastuosum ‘Pride of Madeira’ and the baby Hostas I’ve been moving onto larger pots for planting out next spring; the former is frost-tender, won’t flower until next year and I’ll need to be able to move them into the greenhouse come the autumn. The latter, while making good growth and starting to show some interesting leaf variations (in terms of shape, size and colour) are just too little to put out, but they should be fine for next spring. The Pyrethrums we’ve been planting out in various places and we now have a line of young Catmint (Nepeta) along the front of the west-facing Yew hedge; I don’t think it will flower this year (it normally flowers in June/ July) but the young plants are thickening up well and should make a good show this time next year. The Aquilegia ‘Firecracker’, Acanthus ‘Bears’ Breeches’, and the Echinacea “Magic Box” should be ready in a couple of weeks. Other herbaceous seedlings are making rather slower progress and will be gradually potted on as they develop.

So the greenhouse is gradually emptying, leaving more space for the tomatoes, now planted into the soil, which are making good progress, with some early fruit forming already. Our Black Hamburg grape too is showing many clusters of fruit; it requires a weekly prune at this time of the year, its shoots growing about a metre a week!

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shrub rose in the Kitchen Garden, variety unknown, which has never flowered like this before. It was cut back hard two years ago, produced lots of growth but no flowers last year, was not pruned over the winter (I never quite got round to it) and is now covered with these amazing 5 inch flowers!

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When the swallows return…

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Primula ‘Wanda’

Those masters of the sky, with their unparalleled aeronautical brilliance, the swallows have returned. How these tiny, light-as-a-feather birds make it all the way from Africa amazes me, but they do, and here they are, albeit a little later than usual. Wheeling and screaming round the house, they re-familiarise themselves with their mud nests of previous years, which they will lovingly repair before the first clutch of eggs appears. They will be joined in the next few days by the House Martins, who nest on the East and West sides of the house.

The bumble bees, the Lancaster bombers of the insect world with their low, comforting hum have more to choose from on their menu now, as every few days new plants come into bloom.

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Spring has finally arrived!

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Magnolia ‘Susan’

All the daffodils are now in bloom, to be joined by the first of the photo 16flowering trees, the cherries in the Policies. Our Magnolia soulangiana ‘Susan’ (we think), in the south-facing border, is pushing out its purple candles which will in time open into large goblets, all before the leaves start to appear. We have planted a new, lighter pink, Magnolia soulangiana further down this border, so hopefully it will provide a welcome contrast.

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early Plum blossom

Behind the north wall, the shelter belt of larch, Scots Pine and broadleaves has come to life, now joined by the first of the fruit trees in the walled garden. On lifeless twigs, the delicate snow-white blossom of the plums has been joined by the first of the pears.photo 14photo 1

There’s been quite a lot of activity in the garden this weekend. We’ve given the new grass we sowed last summer its first cut, which will help thicken it up. It’s looking good, though, and a lovely shade of emerald, helped by the showery weather we’ve had recently. In the east- and south-facing borders, we’ve been trying to fork out the more tenacious weeds – creeping buttercup, nettle and willow-herb, which I hope will reap dividends later in the season. Good to see plenty seedlings that we would wish to keep coming through, though, including foxglove, golden feverfew and honesty – all good cottage-garden favourites.photo 12

photo 2 - CopyIn the greenhouse, most of the perennial seeds we planted a few weeks ago are at least starting to come through, which is encouraging! The first of these to emerge, the Pyrethrums I have now pricked out into modules. In the hardy annual department, I’ve also been pricking out the cosmos, french marigolds and Californian poppies. Last year, we had quite a lot of root-rot with the Californian poppies while we were growing them on, so I’m using more perlite in their compost as an experiment to see if we can avoid this.

I’ve also started off some Verbena bonariensis from seed as it looks as if few, if any, of last year’s plants have made it through the winter. It’s at the limit of its territory for winter hardiness here – some times it gets through, sometimes it doesn’t.

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Forsythia

The Good Lady has been refurbishing the herb bed; unfortunately our elderly curry plant and lavenders didn’t make it through the winter, but we have planted some new lavenders which we grew from seed last year. She’s also been planting spinach and rocket in short lines, with spring onions, basil, parsley and a second sowing of lettuce started off in the greenhouse.

Earlier in the week, The Good Lady potted up small handfuls of wildflowers into 5 inch pots to get them really well established before we plant them out, and the speed they are growing is incredible, even in the space of a few days. We’ve also started off a second tray of ‘Bee Mix’ which we found in the seed box, photo 15which should help out the insect population later in the summer. Meanwhile we’re giving last year’s perennial seedlings a really good feed each week to really push them on as I’m keen to get at least some of them into the open ground and established such that they will flower next year.

A little piece of California

imageSo there I was earlier on, transporting the leaves and the dead Dahlia stems round to the compost heap when I was distracted by the incredibly bright, day-glo orange, yellow and red flowers of the Californian Poppies (Escholtzia). Still flowering in the weak November sun, despite some white frosts on the grass at the beginning of the week. Fairly warmed me up just looking at them!image Mind you, growing under the roses, we’ve still got some Livingston Daisies (Mesembryanthemum)  almost flowering – they’re producing nice buds but there’s sadly now not quite enough power in the sun to open them fully.

A November wander round the walled garden…

imageThe beginning of November heralds the onset of the quieter winter period. We’ve finished the strimming of the longer grass areas of the policies and very likely witnessed the last lawn-mowing in the walled garden. The leaf raking is in full swing and one might be forgiven for assuming that the garden is now ‘closed for the season’.

And yet, there are flowers to be found. While the tea roses are now a bit lanky, mild spells encourage buds to break and fine blooms to result.

imageOur David Austin roses are probably at their best now; while they have bloomed almost continously since June, many of their blooms have ‘balled up’ and been spoilt  in all the rain we had during the summer. As long as we don’t get it too severe, they could still be flowering at Christmas!

imageThe herbaceous border continues to present interest – we have pink mallows still flowering and the wonderful Rudbeckia shoots out its cheery flamboyant bright yellow daisies like the big finish in the Fireworks display.

Talking of fireworks, in the south facing border, our pink Nerines have put on an excellent show this autumn – such an exotic, tender looking thing and yet tough as anything,image as long as it gets some hot sun to toast its toes in during the summer – ah, well, maybe next year….

A few weeks ago, we cut back our Lupins and they are now putting out a new flush of smaller, but still very imageattractive blooms. Not to be outdone, a nearby Delphinium is giving them a run for their money with its sky blue and white spires.

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With such a mild winter last year, our 2011 sowing of Verbena bonariensis has really delivered this summer and autumn with its spectacular explosions of lavender-coloured clusters. They’ve been really good this year round in the kitchen garden against a very late-flowering buddleia and providing a variation on a theme to the metallic blue of the Eryngium sea hollies, but if we get a hard winter we’ll need to repeat-sow next spring.

Lurking at the back of the west border I discovered the beautiful white goblets of a Colchicum spec. album; how it got there is somewhat of a mystery! In the spring, when its strappy leaves start to appear, I shall lift the clump, divide it, and give it a new home where we can appreciate it. Colchicums are one of a range of autumn flower corms and bulbs which really deliver value at this time of the year. Another are Cyclamen, and we got some recently from the garden centre which we’re trialling in a pot. imageThey are supposedly hardy, but we shall see; so far, they have coped well with a few frosty nights! Next year, I’m hoping to grow some C. hederifolium from seed, which is the autumn variety you usually see at this time of year, often naturalising under established trees.

Our new East facing border has done quite well this year, although we have used annuals to deliver the colour. We transplanted some Antirrhinums from another area of the garden and they have never stopped flowering. Same story with the African Marigolds and the Californian Poppies (Escholtzia) in their shockingly bright colours of yellow, red and orange, and you’d think that hailing from these countries, they’d have given up at the merest hint of autumn. While most of the herbaceous perennials in this border have been too young to flower this year, the Achillea ‘Summer Berries’ imagehave put on a great show – a nice contrast to ‘Gold Plate’ which we have elsewhere in the garden.

Finally in the shade border, which faces north and gets little sun, the Hellebore ‘Ballard Red’ imagehas thrown up its new clutch of flowers –  a real touch of the exotic at this time of year. We have other Hellebores in the garden, but none flower in the autumn.  The Japanese anemones – we have the white ‘Honerine Jobert’ and the imagepurple ‘Praecox’ –  too have been superb this year, relishing all the damp weather.

And yes, round in the kitchen garden, we are still getting modest pickings of sweet peas with their marvellous scent, evocative of those warm summer evenings we occasionally had a few months ago…image