winter warming

Having turned my back on the garden for the past month, it’s lovely to connect again and to feel the love for my little space.  The garden is full of birds, the bulbs are on the move and, surprisingly, I’m still enjoying quite a few vegetables from the plot.  Three varieties of kale – used as a key ingredient in a warming winter soup!

Downing tools has given me the chance to sew a special birthday quilt for a surf-loving brother.  It has also given me time to reflect on the year that has been, and of course, to consider what I’d like to achieve for the year ahead.  Opening for the NGS last year was physically really tiring – so I’m very happy this year to garden for myself – to make improvements and finish a few projects, but most of all to enjoy the garden, to sit and read, to pick more flowers and take more photographs.

There are some aspects that I don’t think worked for me last year.  The cutting garden has gone, primarily because it was at its peak in July / August when I head away for the summer – all that work and no-one to harvest and enjoy it seemed a bit sad.  Edible flowers will remain, and I will certainly do the sweet peas and cornflowers – but I’ll go back to picking (sparingly) from the borders!

My other real ‘failure’ was my Sissinghurst-esque tie down of the roses.  I believe the mistake I made was pulling them too strongly – so many of the branches that were tied didn’t flower at all, and some died.  Big error.  I will attempt it again, but will be kinder on the poor rose!  I loved a post by The Dahlia Papers on Sissinghurst – and can picture the rose lace adorning my stone walls…  I have a trip planned to Sissinghurst in June so can check if mine looks like theirs…  I can but try.

 

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open garden results

Our first year of participation in the NGS is over.  Pour me a glass of wine!  We welcomed 254 guests. We served 21 cakes and many, many cups of tea.  We raised £986.  Not bad for our first year given the dreadful weather on our last open event.

Would I do it all again?  Yes, now that much of the structural work has been completed. Perhaps not every year – if we open every 2nd year then I get a chance to visit some lovely gardens myself in the June/July period.  I had a lot of people saying they would like to come back in a couple of years to see our progress (orchard, walled garden, spring border…).   Perhaps some rejuvenation time over the summer will help me to make up my mind!

While the torrential rain of the last couple of weeks flattened a few plants in the border, this week of summer sunshine has progressed other plants beautifully.  The water lilies are stunning.  Alba – seen above – planted just this year has two flowers and many, many buds.  The most beautiful waterlily – white with a very subtle touch of pink on the outer petals as it opens. Stunning.

Also in the pond we have seen the annual emergence of the Emperor Dragonfly.  I was able to capture the adult breaking through the larval skin where it then ‘hangs’ to allow the legs to harden.  Despite some high winds it was very safely secured.  The emerged dragonfly then clings to the vegetation for approximately 24 hours, allowing its wings to dry.  Watching the full emergence took about 3 hours – my little one and I sat in the sun as it unfolded in front of us – incredible.

In the potager the flowers are finally here.  The cow parsley has been beautiful in bouquets. The cornflowers are still going strong.  And the dahlias have started to arrive. Early I believe.  I have also had a good crop of Autumn-fruiting raspberries?  Why so early when everything else is so late?  Now, with fairly mixed feelings, I leave the garden for 4 weeks to head for the beach, ready to enjoy some R&R but also sad that I don’t see my flowers every day.

Dahlia

 

 

 

pond dipping

We have finally managed to clear an enormous mass of blanket weed from the pond – so my baby-newt finders have been busy!  They tell me that there are ‘loads of babies’. Brilliant!  Our pond certainly is a haven for wildlife.  In the pond the irises are in flower and the water lilies are in bud, so if the weather stays mild these should be glorious for the July open gardens.

The borders in the garden are looking quite lovely.  Most of the roses have started to flower, as have the peonies (which are very late this year).  My ‘jewel garden’ is a picture – the Clematis ‘Westerplatte’ and Cirsium rivulare look stunning planted with purple thistles, deep red astrantia and pink roses.   I’ve kept white and yellow out of that border and the rich colours blend together beautifully.

However – while the borders are coming on nicely, my harvest so far this year is a totally different story.  There are a few things that are doing exceptionally well – and from memory these were planted out just prior to our very hot weather back in May (note to self, improve your records!) – but the majority aren’t performing as I would expect.  Not enough rain, now too much.  I have courgettes, carrots, sweet corn, beans, peas and strawberries that really need some good ‘hot’ weather.

But, as is life in the vegetable garden, it’s not all gloomy.  Had a gorgeous tea tonight using chilli, basil, mangetout and garlic.  I like to use one element every day – to have four, plus a vase of flowers – is enough.  If I remain focused on the aim of the vegetable patch – to feed us consistently through the year, including the hungry gap – then the kale bed and all the alliums are doing their job, in the timeframe required!  Must relax!

 

 

the essence of summer

Suddenly the garden is full of flowers.  I’ve had my first sweet peas, cornflowers and ranunculus, all going into a sweet posy to adorn my dressing table.  I’m a huge fan of a posy of flowers – always scented, preferably taken from the garden, usually displayed in a jam jar!  Small but perfect.

My cornflowers are an annual favourite, reminding me of many years ago when I visited Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech.  Planted by Jacques Majorelle and later owned and maintained by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge, the stunning garden was brought to life for me by the buildings painted ‘Majorelle blue’.  The colour has been described as “strong, deep and intense, it accentuates the green of the leaves and makes them sing!”  In England, the closest I get is the cornflower!

In years past the essence of summer for me would have included intense heat, humidity, a swimming pool or the ocean.  My Buxton summer has included none of these!  We have had some warm days (22 degrees, not exactly hot!) and plenty of rain.  But when the sun does shine the countryside is so very charming and beautiful.

What makes the English summer so stunning is the flowers – cornflowers, roses, iris, sweet peas, peonies, floxgloves.  They make our summer very beautiful.  They are my essence of summer.

Please enjoy the earth laughs in flowers where garden bloggers share their ideas on the essence of summer!

 

first open garden

My first open garden has happened.  The ‘guinea pigs’ were 61 people from Glossop Gardeners, all needing tea, coffee and cake at the same time.  I made the cakes (5, yes, 5 cakes).  I had a good friend and my lovely daughter to manage the tea service.  And I had a wonderful time walking around the garden talking to our visitors.

It rained for a large part of the day, then just as they arrived the sun shone.  The gods were smiling on us.  The garden did look really lovely.  There were plenty of flowers – persicaria, euphorbia, rhododendrons, iris, astrantia, geraniums…  I could go on.  One of the most popular flowers was a beautiful pink lilac – in the 8 years that I have lived in this house this is the first time that it has flowered.  I didn’t even know that it was a lilac. I think the hot spring spurred it into into action.  Amazing.  The white climbing rose that I tied horizontally at the front of the house looked superb.

Most asked about plant was a new Filipendula ‘Red Umbrellas’ that I put in a couple of months back.  I’ll be surprised if the lady at Hollies Plant Centre doesn’t sell a few more in the weeks to come.

The vegetable patch has been roaring along – but has now started to slow as the weather cools down again.  I’m pleased that we’ve had some rain – with all the water butts empty the garden did need a really good soak – but I’m happy for the rain to slow down for a few weeks now!  The sweet peas have started to flower, mangetout are ready for picking, salads are lovely, cutting flowers are coming along nicely, chillis are excellent, herbs, potatoes, herbaceous borders…  there is a lot of good news.

What hasn’t been so great are the slugs.  I’ve done a double nematode application but they keep on coming.  The kale / early spring bed has not fared so well under the onslaught. And the warm, sultry weather has been terrible for greenfly which have covered the roses. I have been diligently spraying with warm soapy water and am now winning.  The other really sad thing in my garden is the absolute dearth of bees – I’ve had plenty of bumble bees, but very few honey bees this year so far.  Next year’s hive installation should fix that.

 

rhubarb

Finally, I have something to harvest.  Rhubarb.  Was given a beautiful terracotta forcer for Christmas that I have put to good use.  I admit, I did only harvest about 8 stems, but they were very sweet and very tender.  Enough for a tart and half a crumble – I really did notice a difference between the forced and un-forced.

We had glorious weather in Buxton last week and things have finally started to grow.  The tulips are just coming into flower, as is the cherry.  The new roses have a proliferation of new shoots, hoping for a glorious display in all the borders.

In the potager things are off to a slow start.  Have finally got the sweet peas and the first lot of peas planted.  I have lots of crops hardening-off and in the greenhouse….  The delicate balance between being too early and actually having a worthwhile harvest is a continued challenge at this time of year.  I have a polytunnel that has sat in my shed (still boxed I’m embarrassed to say) and the lateness of spring has given me some real motivation to set that up to extend the season in at least one bed.

The negative side of this glorious sunshine is a sudden huge bloom of blanket weed in my pond.  I have seen about 10 newts in there – so obviously the wildlife are happy – but aesthetically it’s very disappointing.  I’ve just ordered ‘a miracle organic cure’ and hope it helps to clear what is there now – then must order another couple of waterlilies so the natural balance is reached.

A busy time in the garden, particularly as the countdown to the opening gets ever closer!

 

april showers

Seedlings

My desire to feed the family – even just a member of the family – every day in the year has hit the hungry gap.  As I knew it would.  The only produce I have left from last year is garlic and a lonely bottle of hot chilli jam…. and even I’m not prepared to make them eat that every day to achieve my growing/feeding goal!  So there will be a few gaps, hopefully filled next year with brassicas and some early leaves.

My forced rhubarb is looking glorious – so that is soon to come – but aside from that, the very cold spring that we have experienced so far (aside from 5 or so days of glorious sunshine) has been fairly challenging for the seedlings.  Each night this week has been below freezing – which means no slug nematodes have gone in, no hardening-off has started and I’ve held off sowing lots of the veg and salad crops that I fear won’t survive the wild temperature fluctuations.  As I sit writing this the sun is shining… and snow is falling.  Even for Buxton these are extreme conditions.

On a positive note, the annual flower seeds that have been sown seem to be doing ok.  The cooler weather has kept their growth in check and none have yet grown too leggy.  As the open garden draws ever closer I hope this good luck will continue and there will be flowers in the garden for the summer.  Sweet peas in particular.  At the moment, that certainly seems a long way off!

The cooler weather has been a bonus for the wildlife hedge that we have planted to form a separation between the front and back gardens.  With 50% Blackthorn (sloes, lovely) and the remainder split between Bird Cherry, Hazel, Dog Rose, Hawthorn and Field Maple – there should be lots of lovely protection and food for the birds for many, many years to come.