Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Two weddings and a planting session.

Gearing up for a two wedding weekend and my garden is living up to the challenge.  This early warm spring has brought everything on really early this year - my roses are bursting into bloom which I don't usually expect til June. Perfect for filling teacups with for Wedding Two on Sunday - hooray.

The visiting florist for Wedding One requires English cottage garden flowers in blue, yellow, purple and white.  Each colour box is ticked and I've just realised that my crop of buttercups at the allotment might have a purpose after all!  Those glossy, dainty and luminous flowers will make a perfect filler in country wedding bunches.
Tuckshop Flowers

Had a good session at the plot today, planting out dahlias. It really makes me feel like summer is on the way when I take the plunge and put these South American visitors in their final flowering positions.  Have got half a bed full at the moment  - just twenty five more plants to go!  The success of dahlias at the allotment last year made me realise how much they love having lots of sunshine and space in which to extend themselves.  The plants I put in mixed borders at home were nowhere near as productive, so that is one lesson to chalk up to experience.

Am using the newly emptied end of the border in the back garden for dahlias as well - the soil is rich with compost as the bins have been standing on this area for several years, and it has been completely emptied, so will give the dahlias breathing space.

Have interspersed the home dahlias with American Potomac snapdragons - the seed was probably more expensive than gold dust, but the baby snaps are looking sturdy now that the weather has warmed up and it is surely time to give them their head.  From £15 worth of seed, I've got 24 plants - wasn't quick enough to whip them out of the propagator initially, so lost quite a lot of seedlings to damping off - they just flopped and shrivelled in the warm fug of their enclosure.   Another lesson learned which has stood me in good stead with the seed trays that followed them - at the first sign of germination, the lid came off and everything thrived much better.  Pity I didn't sow cheap seed first mind!

Cosmos have also been planted out into the garden today after a couple of weeks coming in and out of the greenhouse to toughen up their stems.  Hopefully they've developed a bit of woody resilience as a first line of defence against marauding molluscs.

Must try to sow a tray a day for the rest of May to keep the flower borders well stocked later in the season and to avoid the July hiatus which usually overtakes me.

Rain is forecast tomorrow and I welcome it as two of my waterbutts are now empty.  It will also hydrate my flowers beautifully before I chop them for Wedding One on Thursday evening if all goes to plan.  Let's just hope the slugs don't come out for a feast before I can get to them…

The roses return.

Monday, 12 May 2014

East Ruston Old Vicarage

It's not everyday you see a lighthouse through the hedge. But at East Ruston Old Vicarage, the many sneaky peeks borrowed from the Norfolk landscape beyond serve to mock the digital zoom on my phone camera and leave me pining for the heavy DSLR camera I've left at home.  The regret grows as I walk around this stunning garden, a photographers' paradise with its clever contrasts between restraint and exuberance, and find floral thunderbolts to zap me at virtually every turn.  Vistas, walkways with dramatic topiary shadows, contrasting textures and rivulets of colour abound.  I walk, grateful to live in the digital age, unconstrained by the number of exposures on a roll of film.  It's a relief for my trigger finger to come across areas newly cleared or cut back for regeneration - a break from having my mind boggled by plants and design-envy.

And it's also a sign that this is a garden on the move - no resting on laurels here.

Weaving through the maze like garden rooms, there is  always something to draw you on - viewpoints are cut, window-like into carefully tended hedges:  St Mary's Church in the neighbouring village of Happisburgh is the focal point of a series of consecutive hedge windows, while the much-photographed view of the Happisburgh lighthouse is framed by greenery and big East Anglian skies.

This is a garden that makes you smile. And go 'OOOOOOH!'. And gasp in astonishment. Sometimes all at once.  The owners, Graham Robeson and Alan Gray, say that visitors may find the planting either shocking or soothing, but their eye for form, structure and colour rarely goes astray.  

When I visited, the Rembrant tulip displays in the Dutch Garden were fading, but gave an inkling of the glorious display which they must have made in their pomp during the previous weeks.  Stuffed into the spaces in disciplined topiary, they reminded me of red and yellow football fans yelling from within terraced enclosures. More restrained tulips preened, still silky and sleek: Queen of the Night and a variety with petals the colour of cinder toffee combined with studied ease to complement their mossy terracotta container.

(If you'd like to see these and more photos of the East Ruston, you can visit my Pinterest board.)

Tree peonies were the flower of the moment - the yellow 'lutea' and unnamed, fragrant pink and deep cerise varieties with blooms the size of your head.  Sharp intakes of breath (metaphorical and literal) when approaching those.  If anyone out there knows the variety name, please share!  Even Alan Gray says it is long lost when I tweeted him to try to discover it.

Covering a total of 32 acres, the East Ruston Old Vicarage garden is a joy. At first I thought the Mediterranean garden was my favourite, with the delicious racemes of cascading wisteria dripping from the walls of a small brick sumer house, but on entering the Arizona themed Desert Garden, my allegiances shifted again. Initially, I was taken simply by the plants and set out to capture their portraits, but discovered that when photographed and compressed into two dimensions, the Desert Garden becomes something really special: its layers and colours and textures blending like an embroiderer's dream to form a deep rich tapestry - not at all what I first saw when looking at the dry river bed and acid green hummocks of euphorbias

But its not just the garden rooms of this vicarage that are special - even the hallways and corridors are designed with consummate care: who wouldn't want an entrance hall like this?

or a carpet to emulate the one below?

 But just when you've decided that precision and formality are the strengths of the design (and you'd be right), you come across places where nature is allowed just to do its thing - except it has to keep off the paths - and it's brilliant!

With my tastebuds still hankering after the delicate delights of the lavender and lemon polenta cake from the tearooms, I'll leave you with my departing view of the gardens. Not a topiary in sight, just glorious flowers.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Disorderly conduct

I know as a grower of cut flowers I'm supposed to grow in rows.  But while my back garden provides most of my flowers, I'm still primarily a gardener and a garden is what I grow.  So rather than rows, I've got my usual scramble of patches and blobs - which mean that picking takes longer and I perhaps don't get as much out of the garden as I could in terms of harvests.  But the compensation is that I still can look out on a tapestry of flowers, which comes together as much from luck as from judgement and design.

mixed border in early spring with tulips, bluebells and forgetmenots

Blue is the colour at the moment with swathes of bluebells in the shady dry patch under the trees at the bottom of the garden and forgetmenots squiggling their way through any other bits they can fling their seed into.  The vivid blue centaurea or annual cornflower is just coming into flower now as well and the irises will be the next thing to take over the blue baton in the flowery relay.

I've even got roses coming into bud and it's only early May.  Don't usually expect to see that until early June so it's a sign of how mild and warm the winter has been despite the wet.

My greenhouse is full and I've still got lots of things to prick out from their trays - planting seedlings into individual pots for them to grow on big and strong.  I love that job but never fail to be horrified when I realise how much more space they're going to take up.  Mind you, when I look at the hundreds of rudbeckia seedlings that have germinated so brilliantly, I quake at the thought of potting them up!  Only some of them are going to get done as I'd need to be a large scale producer to have the space for all of them.  Wonder if any friends would like some?  I'm sure some of my gardening clients might have space to rehome a few when they're a bit bigger.

Snails seem to be very happy in the garden at present and have munched through a fair number of my baby stocks and have been snacking on dahlia leaves in the cold frame.  It pays to check on the latter regularly as it is easy to get on the molluscs slimy trail and to locate and subsequently squish them.

Have also been purging the blackfly which have set up camp on my centaurea.  Sprayed the whole area with soap solution and blasted the plants with a strong spray from the hosepipe yesterday to force the aphids to release their evil grip on the soft stems.  The plant looked a little shocked initially, but has now regained an upright position and seems non the worse for its ordeal.

Blue centaurea
Centuarea - now free of pests.