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Nest Building Wrens

May 23, 2015

A dear little wren, just visible halfway up the rusty iron upright, was busy making a nest in the ivy all week. It became increasingly confident flying back and forth past my head, almost insect-like, carrying a beak full of leaves and feathers. He let me know he was back with a penetrating trill which he repeated four times in a very short space. Apparently the males do the building and often make two nests and the female chooses which one she considers the best construction for her egg laying – sweet.



Outside the kitchen door a large pot of Vicia faba Crimson Flowered broad beans are doing well.  These were planted to increase my scented plants in the garden and for occasions when a trip to the allotment is impractical. They smell deliciously of sweet peas, the bees love them and they are my scented plant for May.



I’ve had six weeks of cut flowers from the Ranunculus ‘Aviv Red’ and they last for days in water. The corms were planted in October and they started flowering mid-april and I’ll plant lots more in the autumn. I shall stagger the planting to prolong the season. They are combined here with Phacelia tanacetifolia a green manure which survived the winter.


Allium ‘Ivory Cream’ is in the shady parterre and followed on very successfully from the white ‘Triumphator’ tulips. These three got broken from the base when I was weeding so I popped them in glass containers.


Low-Maintenance Perennial Planting

May 17, 2015



In the garden here clumps of Tellima grandiflora are looking gorgeous mingling with Spanish bluebells in a 3 metre long bed.  For the last ten years or so I’ve managed to remind myself, and to stick to, the advice to always plant at least five of the same herbaceous plants in any one border. This avoids the stamp album effect i.e. masses of different plants performing singly and at different times. And this particular plant combination is very low maintenance. With little attention from me the bluebell flowers and their strappy green leaves fill the bed every spring combining with clumps of tellima at the beginning of April. Then in May the soft- yellow flowers emerge on 30cm stems and bloom for several weeks.

On the allotment  a severe frost overnight three weeks ago left the fresh green leaves of the potatoes dramatically blackened and soggy. So I forked together on a tarpaulin a few of bags of well-rotted horse manure with the 6 month old contents of a compost bin and smothered the lot over the rows of damaged leaves.  They valiantly pushed through the mulch and here they are looking very healthy again.


The strawberry plants are smothered in flowers so they’ve been given a good feed and bedding straw spread under the flowering stems to protect the fruit from the muddy soil.



Jiffy plugs have worked well with sturdy Cosmos ‘Sensation’ seedlings coming through ready to be planted in the cutting garden in a week or two.



The buds on the shrub roses are fattening up and about to open. In the meantime and in contrast I’ve picked a few sprays of the delicate Saxifraga ‘London Pride’…



..and the Welsh poppy Meconopsis cambrica…


…and Viburnum macrocephalum Chinese Snowball …



Time to Trim the Box

May 10, 2015


After a few days away I’ve returned to find the parterres (Buxus suffruticosa) growing a pace with the fresh lime-green leaves shriller than ever. All the box plants need a trim but at least they seem to be in good health after the box blight scare.

Below is a jug of scented lilac Syringa vulgaris var. Alba  plus the pale yellow flowers of Tellima grandiflora, white Vinca minor ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and Tulip ‘White Triumphator’ .


My lilac shrub planted six years ago and growing well has rarely flowered -a few blooms on three occasions. I guess it’s because I’ve paid too little attention to the maintenance rules but now that it’s about 8 ft tall this is what needs to happen:

As soon  as the flowers fade is the time to prune because this is just before the lilac sets new flower buds. Start by taking out any dead or diseased stems and aim  for a lilac that has 8-12 stems of varying ages. You are aiming to have lots of branches some of which will flower next year some year two and others year three.  Incidentally if you give an old bush a really radical prune all over then you will wait for three years before you see any flowers.  Each stem should be only  1-2″ in diameter-anything fatter needs to be cut out.

The branches on my lilac are still  less than 2″ diameter and it’s a pretty shape so nothing too radical is needed.  So today I picked all the flowering stems (there were only five) cutting them back to a main branch. Then I’ve thinned other branches that were crossing over each other. This is the method I’ll stick to from now on because picking the flowers will ensure the appropriate pruning routine and should guarantee flowers emerging every year on different branches.

And below are some faded hellebore flowers with Tulip ‘Queen of the Night’ rescued from heavy rain and gale-force winds at the beginning of last week.


Both the runner beans and the climbing Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco  sown three weeks ago have failed to germinate. These were both three year old stock as it were (found in my seed storage box) so probably not worth having another go. I’ll buy a fresh supply of borlotto beans because I like that you can leave the papery pods to dry out until late summer with little or no attention.  And I’ll sow more of the purple climbing French beans that germinated fast and are now planted in the ground on the allotment.


Scent in the Garden for May

May 4, 2015


This month Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ has started to flower. It was planted 15 years ago and covers a huge metal arbour outside the kitchen door. It’s difficult to prune but we were determined to give it a good cut-back last autumn because it looks best when the foliage is tight to the frame. The result has been spectacular there are thousands of soft yellow roses opening daily and smelling of- well- roses.

And below is a reminder of my scented flowers for April: Clematis armandii, Euphorbia mellifera, Daffodil ‘Thalia’ and Skimmia fragrans.






Skimmia fragrans planted a few weeks ago had such an exquisite scent I’ve taken cuttings to increase it. I cut off eight stems of the new growth, dipped these in hormone rooting powder and planted them in a pot of fresh potting compost. They’ll be in the cold frame for the next few months and potted on as soon as they have formed a root system.


The cut flowers are a glass of Geranium macrorhizum (the leaf of which smells of pineapples when you rub it between your fingers) with Spanish bluebells…DSCN4406

Chloris at thebloominggarden has summarised her scented plants for April and left me wanting many of them for my garden here. As has Louise at wellywoman and I particularly love the sound and look of the scented narcissus ‘Geranium’.

Plants for Walls

April 25, 2015

Chaenomeles x superba ‘Crimson and Gold’ makes a fabulous wall shrub, has a phenomenally long flowering period and is beloved by bees. Here it is in full flower in April  in a country garden where it’s been flowering for twelve weeks…


And a pair of espalier pears make a gorgeous back-drop to this town garden and provide really good pears in autumn…



The wall shrub Hydrangea petiolaris will clamber over walls and fences attaching itself with small suckers before bursting into flower in May/June. But even at the bud stage it looks good with its fresh green leaves and bunches of green flower-heads. These will turn a frothy white in a few weeks time.


Three of the dahlias are through the compost and I had to force myself to pinch out the central growing tip as advised by Sarah Raven in Step-by-Step: How to plant dahlia tubers but as you can see I did it


I sowed these crimson flowered broad beans about four weeks ago directly in a pot by the kitchen door and they came though just a fortnight later and are growing fast…


On the allotment I picked the gorgeous tulip ‘Fringed Elegance’ for a glass jar in the kitchen…



And for the hall table a pot of tulips (sorry have lost the name) which are now at the swan’s neck stage which I love…



Two rows of Cavola Nero seedlings and two rows of Spinach beet seedlings are now planted on the allotment in anticipation of some rain. Both the water butts are nearly empty and the forecast for the next ten days is showery which isn’t likely to fill them. I am putting up more guttering for a third water container which probably guarantees we’ll have a very dry summer.

And I’ve made a lot of space for cut flowers by attacking some long grass round the shed-a tiresome job but it’s been warm and sunny to work in. Cut flower seeds will be sown direct as soon as I’ve raked it over.


April 19, 2015

The fringed tulips ‘Exotic Sun’ opened to the most glorious flowers…


And I,m enjoying the odd rogue tulip that gets in with the main bunch like this one T ‘Curly Sue’…


And here’s another rogue,  soft orange with shades of yellow, and contrasting prettily with its grey-green leaves…


In a country garden this pointed orange tulip looked splendid in front of a Clematis alpina ‘Helsingborg’ the combination enhanced by the grey of the ancient stone wall…


In the garden here, the lovely Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ are flowering.  It’s such a beauty with its star-shaped flowers and recurved petals and it can be divided after flowering to increase the display…


Meanwhile the red lily beetles on the fritillarias have been doing a lot of damage this week. Two or three have been squished daily but it would seem they are now procreating…


On the allotment I weeded the summer raspberries and it was great to see lots of fruit buds emerging. And the trenches have been dug ready for the climbing beans which were sown in pots here this weekend. I am reluctant to sow seeds direct in the ground since the soil is very dry and we are trying to conserve water to reduce the costs on site. In the meantime the soil has been forked and raked ready till rain is forecast then cut flowers, beetroot, spinach and salad leaves will be sown in rows in these prepared beds.



Spring is in the Air

April 13, 2015

There was hardly a sign of a flower on the tulips seven days ago and then suddenly they began to appear…


Similarly last time I looked the Euphorbia mellifera was all leaf but has now put forth flowers ready to flood the air with the scent of honey next month…


But plant of the month for me is the Triandrus daffodil ‘Thalia’ with its snow-white flowers and gorgeous perfume.  I planted the bulbs on the allotment at the base of the Autumn Bliss raspberries so they take up very little room and can be left to die down. The scent from this vase in the sitting room is noticeable when descending the stairs and this is day 5 since picking.


A pot of Marsh Marigolds- Caltha pulustris- was gathered from the edge of a stream at Easter and is still looking good several days after picking…


And the  multi-stemmed Amelanchier canadensis shrubs in the garden here are in almost full bloom.  The bronze-pink leaves un-furl at the same time as the star-shaped white flowers open and both offer fabulous, early spring interest.


On the allotment the peas are planted and the supports and netting is in place. I am trying once again with peas ever hopeful that I get a crop worthy of blogging. I am not bothering with dwarf French beans since a handful every few weeks isn’t particularly rewarding. Instead I’ll be sowing climbers: the purple ‘Blauhilde’ and the runner bean ‘Lady Di’ and I’ll stagger the sowing and planting to get a good, long cropping period.


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