My new obsession (it was hydrangea last year) are peonies. Above is Paeonia officinalis ‘Rubra Plena’ which blooms in late spring in spectacular fashion. The large buds below burst into fluffy deep crimson balls and make a magnificent combination mingling with old roses and astrantia in mixed borders. All peonies make great cut flowers with species available in primrose yellow, white and various shades of pink. The scent is difficult to define and varies for each cultivar but is slightly spicy and quite similar to roses. I would suggest a trip to a garden centre or a specialist nursery to get the full impact of the flowers and scent when the plants are in bloom. If you’re choosing them for cut flowers and you have the room then a large bed made up of cultivars with a variety of flowering times would be money well spent.
Naomi Schillinger outofmyshed.co.uk/ who this year published her book Veg Street on community gardening would love the garden above and below. I spotted it last year and today I met the owner who started growing vegetables five years ago after a subsidence repair and an insurance clause that disallowed any plants with roots deeper than 15 cm. It’s a front garden in full sun and measures about 3m by 4m and proximity to the house ensures regular watering and weeding. From picking to eating it could be less than five minutes with many of these healthy vegetables and salad crops. Planted in a window box in a narrow space on the path to the front door are cucumbers fronted with rocket and red and green oak-leaf lettuce … And the peas were doing fantastically well ( I wish I’d asked the secret since mine are half this size) … But my onions are getting bigger by the day… And the broad beans are free of blackfly… and I am cropping lots of lettuce planted from a supermarket tray of living salad… A neighbour picked six huge red poppies -Papaver orientale -from a bed where they thrive in very dry conditions in full sun. She cut them into a bucket of water and seared the end over a flame on the stove and claimed they would last for four to five days in a vase. I shall buy a plant or two for the patch at the back of the house where I rarely to do much watering .
Three weeks ago we spotted this little wren bobbing in and out of a nest pouch with a beak-full of straw. I’m sorry to say it set up home but then decided it was too close to the house and it hasn’t been seen since.
Meanwhile the bees are busy doing their bit for cross-pollination of the aquilegia…
and gathering pollen on Persicaria bistorta ‘Superba’…
And while I was photographing a combination of the pink and green flowers of Tellima grandiflora against the lime green flowers of Euphorbia robbiae a bee lowered itself into the heart of a Welsh poppy in the foreground and emerged smothered in pollen.
I planted four bronze fennel Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ and added four Achillea ‘Desert Eve’ (who thinks of these names) to improve a bed near the house. I chose the achillea for its pale yellow flowers and because it grows to a medium height of 60cms. It looks lovely with the grey/green leaves of Sedum ‘Autumn Glory’ and it will look very lovely when the green flower heads of the sedums emerge in a month or two. I particularly like sedum flowers at the early stage when they resemble fat broccoli heads. They are also lovely when they turn green and red at the end of summer before they become full red in autumn.
And waste not want not -below are the flowers of purple sprouting broccoli cheering up the garden table.
A long, narrow garden in the middle of the city has bang in the centre of it an enormous and ancient ash tree. This could have inhibited the design but instead it enhances it by distinctly separating the planting styles in borders in front of the tree and behind it. A gently curved path -just visible above-takes you from a paved sitting area next to the kitchen through wide herbaceous borders and round the side of the tree to a grassed area at the far end. This area has a mixture of bold, architectural planting: a large Fatsia japonica hides the shed and a bamboo hides the compost bins whilst buttercups, bluebells and borage are allowed to grow wild. Buttercups colonised on a bank at the base of the tree trunk shine brightly in the shade of the tree. Surprisingly the leafy canopy of this huge deciduous ash tree creates very little shade on the deep borders on either side of the path. This planting is a lush and varied mix of herbaceous perennials and shrubs carefully selected for their contrasting textures and tones in the leaves. Below a variegated Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Irene Paterson’ provides evergreen interest throughout winter and repeats the green and plum tones of many of the herbaceous plants surrounding it.Now in early summer the herbaceous mix is particularly inspiring. It’s three weeks before most of the plants will flower but the leaves of Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ below
edging the paths along side Alchemilla mollis (below) make a gorgeous rich tapestry.
And a large shrub of Weigelia ‘Bristol Ruby’ sits in the middle of the border giving height and substance whilst picking up the plums and green leaves of the low-growing plants. With birdsong from the tree and beds full to bursting you could be in the middle of the countryside rather than the centre of a busy city. And although little is in flower till next month there is enough interest in the textures and leaf forms to inspire. Below is Angelica archangelica with its magnificent seedhead which is just as stunning at this stage as it will be when it bursts into flower in a week or two.
The garden is lined with crumbling brick walls so a haven for slugs and snails and the owner is experimenting with a new product Slug Gone. These wool pellets are placed round the soil next to vulnerable plants to deter slugs apparentlymaking it difficult to move over. They are safe for birds and more or less invisible and will dissolve over time. I’ll report back on the effectiveness of the product in a week or two.
I had a blissful afternoon at one of my favourite NT gardens this week -Lytes Cary http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk near Somerton in Somerset. It has everything I enjoy in a well-designed garden-formality in the exquisitely pruned yew trees and hedging plus textured plant combinations in the herbaceous borders. Below the fat heads of Tulip ‘Queen of the Night’ burst through swathes of Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ punctuating and supported by the soft clouds of catmint. It’s simple, relatively inexpensive to achieve and low-maintenance.
And below an immaculate clump of Hosta sieboldiana supporting tall, cream Darwin tulips which were growing through it. The combination of the fat cream tulip heads with the green-grey leaves of the hosta was stunning.
The house and garden sit in a sublime part of the south-west and the perimeter grounds are carefully managed to integrate into the surrounding countryside. In fields of mature trees cow parsley mingles with bluebells, Fritillaria and Cammassia leichtlinii gently link the managed estate to the fields and hills surrounding it. This naturalistic planting is sublime and relaxes the eye after the formality of the more structured parts of the garden.
I had a lovely chat with a gardener in the field of community allotments next to the car park. The Lytes Cary garden management team have a plot and I loved this willow structure for growing climbing beans.
It was a relief to be out of the house and garden to get away from fretting about germination which seems to have stalled currently. I flit hourly from the heated propagator to the pop-up greenhouse via the cold frame to check on any signs of germination and it’s boring me. I am obsessively sowing seeds in my determination to fill the allotment and germination is totally unpredictable. In freshly purchased seed compost I sowed a half tray of Zinnia ‘Envy’ and six seeds germinated. I sowed the same amount six weeks ago and they came through within days and twenty seedlings were transplanted last week in the cut flower bed. I think it’s a combination of lack of sunlight and natural warmth from the sun on the surface of the compost. That’s my theory and there’s small consolation in that everyone on the allotment seems to be experiencing the same. On the other hand our local garden centre http://www.riversidegardencentre.com/ today had the most amazing courgettes, tomatoes, runner beans and dwarf French bean plants on sale. Quite frankly in terms of faffing about watering and potting on and purchasing seeds and compost plus mega frustration it would have been cheaper and simpler to have swept in there today and bought 20 quids worth of healthy lovely plants.
However the allotment is slowly filling up and looking good for May and I spotted and adored these self-seeded aquilegias growing round a neighbour’s compost bins.
The garden is full of mostly self-seeded aquilegia and those that were helped on their way by a small person scattering the seeds from a pod late last summer. They make very fine cut flowers -these were picked three days ago along with ‘White Triumphator’ tulips that were lying horizontal over the path after heavy rain and both have remained fresh and sprightly. Last year’s challenge to pick a vase of flowers from the garden each week for a year has left me addicted to fresh flowers throughout the house. Whatever size the bunch there’s something uplifting and calming about bringing nature into different rooms. This Euphorbia robbiae has been in flower for four weeks in the garden and looks great at the foot of a beech hedge where it tolerates dry shade. It ‘s evergreen which is a plus and bursts into flower in mid-April before much else has come into bloom. I love it in this turquoise glass vase which is the perfect blue tone with the acid green. Yesterday I checked on the tomatoes I had daringly planted on the allotment last week and it has to be said they looked very resentful indeed. Still snugly covered in a secure micro-mesh tunnel they were somewhat less bonny than when planted. And then this morning I unzipped the pop up greenhouse which was steamy and damp and the six pots of wild tomatoes had succumbed to wilt. Since both were sharing this space until a week ago I suspect it will not be long before the San Marzanos collapse too. It’s a bit daft trying to grow tomatoes on my end of the allotment site because plants do well until July then suddenly the leaves blacken and that’s it. At the other end of the site tomatoes seem to thrive. I will resist trying again and use the bed for something more reliable but I needed one last go. With cut flowers for the house in mind I bought two Peony ‘ Sarah Bernhardt’ plants this week and put them in a sunny border behind Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’. I thought carefully about where to place them since they are long-lived and resent being moved.
A friend sowed a packet of ox-eye daisy seeds (Leucanthemum vulgare) a few weeks back in order to plug the seedlings into the grass in a woodland area next to her house. They germinated fast and were at a size to transplant within eight weeks of sowing.
I’ve taken a chance and planted my San Marzano bush tomatoes on the allotment. They’re in a row, individually tied to supports and covered with a heavy length of micromesh draped over hoops for protection.
Provided there’s no frost and provided the mesh stays put (it’s weighed down with bricks) I feel they’ll be fine. And the wild tomato plants, Golden Currant, are getting leggy in the pop up greenhouse so they’ll need to go in a bed as soon as possible too.
Above is a joyful collection of Aladdin tulips under-planted with orange and mauve pansies in a container in the next door garden. And below a more sedate group of lily flowered tulips White Triumphator in the ground in my garden here.
They deserve a medal for battling through a mass of celandine that’s smothering the ground at their feet. I’ve dug it out of two huge beds in the last month but there’s still much more to get rid of on this side of the garden.
Earthing up the spuds for the first time this season was satisfying and a bit of a relief. They were planted in March just before a week of severe frosts and it took a while for the first green leaves to emerge through the soil. I anticipate three or four more earthing up sessions over the next few weeks.
About a year ago I finally admitted to myself that I was finding it difficult to manage my huge allotment and that I really needed to relinquished half. So it was split down the length leaving me with a still substantial growing space of about 4m wide by 20m long divided into eight beds. That’s plenty of ground for produce for the two of us and it’s now manageable. Several years ago I had been offered a corner plot almost twice the size of what I now garden and I’d naively imagined that I would have no difficulty in stuffing it full all year round. I planned to bottle and preserve the fruit and to make pickles and jams. There would be fresh produce daily and any surplus made into soups for the freezer. I would pass on produce to family and friends. In reality for that to happen I would need to be there at least four hours a day most days between March and October and physically it would be pretty exhausting. So I now go to the allotment with renewed vigour knowing that I can achieve plenty in an hour or two and I no longer return home needing to pump in the pain killers or climb the stairs one step at a time. So yesterday when I had an unexpected spare afternoon I managed to weed both the strawberry and asparagus beds which took ten minutes, then I stained the shed, then I emptied a compost bin on to the Autumn Bliss raspberries.
I plan to grow more produce here at home so I was delighted to be sent a copy of Growing Up the Wall: How to grow food in vertical places, on roofs and in small spaces. by Sue Fisher http://www.greenbooks.co.uk/
As a result of a first read I’ve just sown carrots in a wooden wine box and took the author’s advice to choose a small-space variety Rondo which has round roots and needs a soil depth of just 15cms. I also sowed radishes in another wine box and dried peas for pea shoot salads in a third box. Sue Fisher offers good advice on how to green a roof and how to plant ‘ladder allotments’ a cross between a raised bed and a living wall unit. It’s all together an immensely useful book to get you started whatever size outdoor space you might have.
I just love this pastel drawing of an oak leaf lettuce by Sue Deakin. There’s a great opportunity to see and to buy her work and the work of others on May 25th, 26th and 27th at Harbertonford Open Studios nr Totnes S.Devon.