Midsummer makeover

20130728-193733.jpgThis past week has seen a change in the weather, still warm but thundery downpours have appeared on the scene. Good news for the garden as no need now for supplementary watering. I’m waiting for a barrage of previously dormant weed seedlings however!

This week  we’ve been giving the garden a mid-season makeover, hence a rather longer post than usual.

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Making hay…with the sunflowers in the background and the giant thistle to their left

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Giant Thistle (Onopordum acantheum

The new grass areas in the walled garden whose seed heads gave us that rippling velvet effect earlier in May have now been strimmed down and the hay cleared; the rain and wind had flattened it so it was time to clear it. From now on until the end of the growing season, we’ll mow it short like the rest of the grass in the walled garden. We’ve left two long drifts of long grass under the old apple trees though as the wild flowers we planted there are still flowering and we want to give them a chance of setting seed.  Some of the hay is now drying under the staging in the greenhouse; it will be appreciated by the hens and the elderly resident in the greenhouse when dry.

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the first of the Dahlias

20130728-193836.jpgThe dahlias, cosmos, and mesembryanthemums underplanting the roses have  been enjoying the sun and this has started them into bloom so we’ve been keeping the hoe going around them to keep them tidy. The sweet peas too have been excellent, although shorter-stemmed this year- we can pretty much pick a vase-full a day at the moment and indeed we need to otherwise they will stop flowering!

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Cosmos

The other annuals we’ve given their own bed to are the younger son’s giant sunflowers which at around 4 feet at present are not particularly giant but they are very stocky which means they won’t be subject to wind- blow. They’ve been lapping up the sun, they’ve starred to flower and I’m pretty sure they’ll put on a great show – one flower that can’t help make you smile! Not bad for a small bag of parrot seed…

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The area I’m most pleased to have got under control is the shade border as that had become somewhat overrun with our old favourite- willow herb and creeping buttercup, I was a bit concerned that it might suffer during the dry spell – particularly the damp-loving Ferns ( including Shuttlecock and Royal ferns), the Candelabra primulas and the Ligularia, but this border lives in almost total shade of a high wall with no overhanging trees; it locks in whatever rain falls like a giant swampy sponge and all plants sailed through, although I did give a can- full to the Ligularia as it is in full bloom at the moment and did look a little stressed.

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In the greenhouse, everything that doesn’t answer to the name of tomato has been moved outside for a break in the sun, including the perennials which we have still to plant in the  new west-facing bed; this area has now been sprayed with glyphosate to clean the ground of perennial weeds, ready for planting in 2-3 weeks’ time.

We’ve been selectively spraying glyphosate in the woodland too – just nettles this time. We started this spraying programme last spring as the whole area was overcome with nettles making it virtually impenetrable to humans as well as stifling the other plants that were attempting to grow. Most of the wood is now clear and we’ll only need to spray occasionally, just to get rid of nettle seedlings. So far we’ve only planted new rhododendrons into this area but I’m keen to plant it with some woodland perennials too if we can get the ground clean enough.

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Hosta

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Nymphea Colonel AJ Welch

 And finally, proof that plants can  pick up the internet! In a recent post, I was bemoaning the fact that my yellow waterlily never flowered and that I would probably be replacing it. No sooner had I written this this that not only the original plant but also it’s rather annoying and similarly useless progeny,replanted at the other end of the pond courtesy of one of the gardening ducks, decided to revolt by each producing not one but two splendid canary yellow blooms! The compost heap grim-reaper no longer beckons!

P.s while on pond matters, large blue 3 inch dragonfly spotted hovering over the pond this past week. These almost prehistoric insects fill me with awe; we have nothing else like them in Scotland, closely resembling a mini helicopter. Sheer magic!

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Consider the lilies…

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Gonnere, the Snowball Lily in the background, Attraction in the foreground

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M. Carnea

Now, I’m no Claude Monet and this is certainly no Giverny, but you can dream, can’t you?

My favourite flower is probably the water lily, probably because it’s the first ever plant I bought, for myself, with my own money for my first pond, which I dug, all by myself,  when a young lad.

It was a light pink water lily; I would have liked a red one but my pocket money couldn’t stretch to that, so I made do with a pink one. And a bare-rooted one at that – they didn’t sell them in baskets in those days!

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Gonnere – apologies for the over-exposure but this lily is seriously white!

Since then I’ve dug out a further three ponds, each one slightly bigger than the last.  This one, though, was designed for water lilies and most of it is relatively shallow (18″ or so) apart from a deep sump in the middle, originally designed to overwinter fish.

As I had hoped, the water lilies have survived the attention of the now-departed ducks and the recent hot sunny weather has made them all come into bloom. They’ll continue to flower, now, until well into September when the water starts to cool and the sun begins to weaken.

In addition to the native Brandy Bottle (Nuphar luteum), we have 6 species of Nymphea. Most floriferous are the two Marliaceas, Carnea (which incidentally was my first water lily all those years ago) –  a light pink, and Albida, a white with a yellow centre. Both are not too big, and ideal for a smallish pond. Another good flowerer is Attraction, a carmine red. We also have James Brydon, probably my favourite but a little shyer to flower – I look forward to seeing its wine-red peony- shaped flowers soon!

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Attraction

Probably the showiest in the pond is Gonnere, known as the Snowball Lily, and a photographer’s nightmare. It’s a brilliant snow-white double with masses of incurved petals – a real show-off!

And finally one which takes up a lot of space but doesn’t do very much, the yellow Colonel A. J. Welch. It does flower but with much reluctance  – perhaps the water is just a little too shallow? I might replace it one day with another Marliacea – Chromatella, this one with primrose yellow flowers.

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M.Albida

Over the years, I hope to add to the collection. They’re not particularly cheap although I bought these ones bare-rooted from a marvellous nursery called Honeysome Aquatic Nursery, which is still going (www.honeysomeaquaticnursery.co.uk); the plants are a fraction of the cost you’d pay in a garden centre and in much better condition!

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waiting for James…the lily at the back without the flowers!

Pond water gets Yellow Flag!

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Iris Pseudacorus, the ‘Yellow Flag’

Despite the annual invasion of amorous frogs and toads, and the trio of Mallards which have decided to stay rather longer than they usually do, the water in the pond has returned to crystal clarity. Our web-footed friends have been doing some weeding in the pond so the oxygenators have been thinned and the water lilies are, shall we say, a little behind this year, but they are still alive and will hopefully recover from their trimming! That said, I note that the Brandy Bottle, the yellow water lily look-alike, Nuphar luteum, is now in flower (with its curiously alcoholic scent so attractive to flies), so this fills me with some hope that the other water lilies will follow suit shortly!

Under the water, there is much activity from a wealth of insect larvae, diving beetles, pond skaters, tadpoles, caddis fly larvae, bloodworm, not to mention our colony of endearing smooth newts of which there are many. It’s the breeding season at the moment and they can be seen displaying to each other waggling their tales furiously!

It’s great to be able to see all this wealth of pondlife but it’s only the last couple of years that we’ve had clear water. Previously, it was pea green with zero visibility and not much of an attraction! The water clearly wasn’t ‘balanced’ – too many nitrates, not enough plant matter to use it up, so the algae took over.

The game-changers were the Yellow Flag irises (I.pseudacorus) which we put in the pond a few years ago; they are greedy consumers of nitrates and as their clumps have gradually expanded, they have served to filter the water to perfect clarity. Much cheaper than running pond filters with UV clarifiers and no maintenance, although on warm days at this time of the year, they do ‘drink’ pond water by the gallon, necessitating a top-up with the garden hose from time to time!

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Nuphar luteum, ‘Brandy Bottle’

Now that the water’s clear, it’s very tempting to re-stock with a few choice goldfish or the majestic golden orfe. But we would say farewell to much of the pond life as the hungry fish hoovered it up, the water almost certainly would return to its ‘pea soup’ consistency, and before long, Mr Heron would return looking to feed his family, so I think we’ll leave things as they are!