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Autumn in Full Swing

November 25, 2016

Fagus sylvatica as beech hedging comes into its own at this time of year offering an appreciation of form and rapid changes to excite the senses.  This was it three weeks ago…

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…and then at the weekend after torrential rain and cold winds it turned a rich, burnt orange.

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The hedge grows either side of the path and offers clean lines to compliment the low-growing form of the evergreen box parterres. The box is Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’ which with regular pruning can be kept to a manageable height of no more than 50 cm.

And even the golden hop, Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’, clambering over the metal arbour is looking richly decorative in its decaying stage. I can’t bring myself to prune it back…1-imgp1291

The spent flower-heads of the deciduous Hydrangea aspera Villosa against a pale sky give a fantastic silhouette…

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Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ has deepened in colour and contrasts well with the grey leaves of Euphorbia characias…

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It’s been too wet to garden so baking filled the time with a couple of Lavender and Lemon cakes which were delicious. You can buy lavender flowers from baking suppliers but I saved and dried 4 tablespoons worth from flowers in the summer.  These were then added to a Kilner jar of 500 g caster sugar to infuse with a lavender flavour.

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There are very few flowers to pick in the garden but these lovely little tins have been knocking about here for a few years and I’m experimenting. Ikea regularly stocks small metal containers (even if you have to punch a hole in the base) and they can be planted with herbs or sweet hellebore (spotted in Lidl) for possible Christmas presents.1-imgp1331

And the spent artichoke heads are now sprayed with Oasis Super Silver spray and have taken on the paint rather well leaving them with a good weighty finish.

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Bulbs Planted

November 18, 2016

I dodged the rain and planted up five large pots with Sarah Raven Brandy Snap tulips. The collection is made up of the exotic T. Bruine Wimpel, T. Cairo, T. Belle Epoque and T. Ronaldo.

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Allium bulbs were also waiting to go in but as often happens at this time of year I got on a roll and started shifting plants and dividing up. Two Cistus ‘Sunset’ shrubs bought in 2 L pots earlier this year needed room to spread so after lifting huge sprawling clumps of Sedum ‘ Autumn Joy’ there was plenty of room to take the cistus.  I put two bags of the sedum out on the pavement with a flower in each to show it’s potential and instructions to plant in part shade or full sun and both were taken.

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Phlomis fruticosa, which is one of the easiest herbaceous perennials to divide up, went from a clump to five new plants simply by lifting and easing apart at the base. These were re-planted around a shrub rose to hide the stem when the phlomis flowers should reach 1 m next year. It’s great as a cut flower seen here in a vase with Nigella damascena.

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I then got the allium bulbs in and planted A. caeruleum dotted to come up through the phlomis. Allium aflatunensis bulbs were planted in the main bed.

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Dividing up and moving plants around is especially satisfying when using existing stock and herbaceous plants are some of the easiest to lift and divide. I will wait until next Spring to split clumps of Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ since the ground is soggy and the paths will be muddy doing it now.

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The vase this week is based around scented leaves: Pineapple sage, Lemon verbena, Geranium macrorrhizum and Cistus with a few flowers of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ which is the only flower available to pick now.

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Something To Look Forward To

November 13, 2016

A metal arch inside the garden gate frames the view of the entire garden and is draped with a Winter-flowering clematis C. cirrhosa balearica. It was planted five years ago and it’s never flowered and is now re-planted on a wall where it will get more sun. It’s replaced with C. montana ‘Elten’ a pure white scented flower that is tolerant of part-shade and should ramp to a manageable 6 m. Montanas are indefatigable and I love the fat buds that emerge in late-Spring before the full-on display that follows.

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After planting I spread a bucket of chipped bark around the soil surface to a depth of 5-7 cm to keep the roots cool in summer and to protect it over Winter.

On the allotment the largest of the three onion beds was awash with weed seedlings. I’d ignored the problem for the last four weeks but this weekend I tackled them.

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Onions hate competition and although the ground was soggy which made hoeing difficult I set to with a hand fork and a small hoe and cleared the patch.

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In the green house the sweet peas have just emerged three weeks after sowing…1-img_20161113_122421121-1

With news from the states dominating we decided we needed friends, family and comfort food all week.  Soda bread is great for a fast loaf since there’s no rising required and it was delicious with allotment spinach soup.1-imgp1233

Spinach Soup

Finely slice a shallot and a medium onion and cook gently in butter for 15 minutes. Wash and then cook 300 g of spinach in a small amount of water for 10 mins and then add to the onions and shallots. Blend with 1 pint of vegetable stock and  test for seasoning. Stir in cream or fromage frais and gently heat.

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Artichoke heads still left on the plants are worth saving and drying and can be sprayed silver to make great alternative Christmas decorations.

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I gathered up any flowers I could find from the garden to fill a vase. Sedum ‘Autumn Glory’ and Verbena bonariensis make up the bulk plus the leaves from Arum italicum.

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Winding Down

November 4, 2016

In blissful weather on the allotment i.e. no wind and not particularly cold, I managed to hoe four beds to leave them looking neat and tidy. Surface weeds came off easily and the deep-rooted dandelions were lifted with a spade  Then somewhat reluctantly I forked a swathe of nasturtiums into the compost bin. Still looking gorgeous and with bees flitting in and out of the flowers, it was tempting to leave them but I wanted to avoid working in the cold over the next few months.

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Nasturtium seeds survive in the compost bin which is why there were quite so many but they look lovely. With a frost they’ll be over fast so I’ve sown seeds in the beds in the greenhouse to over-Winter as an experiment. Seeds of cosmos, Calendula and nasturtiuns are now saved in an envelope to sow next April/May. These are all performance plants as is the perennial Gaura lindheimeri which flowers from May till November and is currently in full bloom in a university border locally.

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That and more Verbena bonariensis which also flowers till November are planned for the garden here next summer…

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The fall seems spectacular this year with this collection spotted on lawn down the road…

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It prompted me to collect a few bags from the paths here and masses more will soon fall from the walnut and mulberry trees hanging over the wall from next door…

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Eight bags pulled out from behind the shed from last year were full of wriggling worms. They had shrunk to a quarter the size of the full bags but the well-rotted leaves smelt healthy and are now spread around the cyclamen looking pretty in the shade…

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The very last of the allotment Calendulas have now been picked…

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Mellow Autumn Planting

October 27, 2016

The drama is far from over especially when planting with grasses. I spotted this on a walk past the Nano science block at the university. A magical blend of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silverfeder’ and Sedum  (possibly ‘Red Cauli’ ) and in the forefront Stipa tenuissima …

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It’s not quite as uplifting in my own garden but there’s a mellowness in the pineapple-yellow leaves of Hydrangea petiolaris as they prepare to drop…

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And although short-lived as a display, the Virginia creeper has looked stunning for the last two weeks…

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It’s easy to forget about ivies and to see their role as simply to cover a surface but they contribute hugely to the garden at this time of year. This one is Hedera colchica ‘Sulphur Heart’ and it lines a wall outside the kitchen window…

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And to celebrate the changing season and to use up a gift of apples a Dorset Apple Cake was called for…

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The last of the hydrangea flowers are coming to an end but they’ve been filling a shady bed for the last three months so I can’t complain…

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Landscape of Dreams

October 19, 2016

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Whilst I was laid up last weekend a very interesting and inspiring book came my way. Landscape of Dreams explores and illustrates the extraordinary gardens created over the last three decades by Isobel and Julian Bannerman. Even though many of these gardens are on a grand scale, with stunning garden architecture contributing to many of their designs, all their gardens will leave you with inspiring planting ideas.

The Ivy in Chippenham was one of their first and I remember being stunned by the scent of beautiful roses rambling over a series of re-claimed metal arches. At ground level  Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ sprawled over gravel and I’ve used the combination of old roses and catnip ever since in my own garden. The Bannermans next moved to Hanham Court in Bristol where they had an opportunity to make an even larger garden with many more plant combinations to inspire.  In the image below the ground was punctuated with clumps of Euphorbia characias subs.wulfennii growing with clipped box balls through gravel. The shrill, lime-green flowers look great in urban or country gardens and have been a favourite of mine ever since.

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And equally wonderful were simple parterres filled with gravel and planted with pots of white tulips.

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The book is charmingly written by Isobel Bannerman and is an unpretentious record of their lives and work. And the back cover reflects their ability to make even the simplest planting scheme look sublime.

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Here at home the Verbena bonariensis is still flowering and is three metres tall and looks rather brilliant mingling with the soft orange leaves of an Amelanchier shrub planted behind it.

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And here it is again weaving its way through a half-standard holly to mingle with the red berries.

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On the allotment a green manure mustard sown 4-6 weeks ago has filled an empty bed and produced these pretty flowers. It’s good for breaking up lumpy ground so will be sown in another area where the soil is strangely heavy and holds together like clay when crushed.

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I picked almost the last of the nasturtiums before emptying the bed ready to sow the mustard seeds.

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Autumn Clear-Up

October 12, 2016

The grass has been strimmed and if the sunny weather holds I plan to line three paths on the allotment with a tough membrane before covering them with wood chippings.  A plot holder has kindly chipped up an enormous Cedrus (cedar) tree for any of us to use.  Recently I laid a path up the middle of the greenhouse and spread it with a heap of these rich cedar chippings. The smell is delicious and especially intense when the sun floods the space. It’s a woody, spicy-resinous scent and there’s no surprise that for centuries cedar has been used as the base note in many perfumes.

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The last runner beans were removed along with the supports and when podded these made a great addition to a chilli con carne. I substituted them for red kidney beans and because they were relatively fresh they needed no soaking.  Simmered for twenty minutes, whilst I followed a recipe for the chilli, they were then added for the last ten minutes.

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I also cropped the remaining borlotti beans and these are drying  before being stored in a screw top container.imgp0905

The onion sets planted three weeks ago are showing through the soil and a quick hoeing session left them looking neat and tidy. The first pointed cabbage was ready as were masses more of Marathon F1 calabrese. I’ve been cropping a handful regularly for months and I’ll sow twice as many rows next year.

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Cosmos ‘Sensation’ is still going strong.imgp1069