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Landscape of Dreams

October 19, 2016


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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



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.


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.


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.


Cosmos ‘Sensation’ is still going strong.imgp1069



October 5, 2016

The dwarf French beans have been phenomenal over the last three weeks with a crop of about a kilo in total. Here they are mixed in a salad with Parma ham and Parmesan shavings in a French dressing.


Last week I mentioned a borlotti bean recipe but then we ate it before I’d remembered to photograph the dish.  It was good so we had it again and this time I added finely chopped mint to the dressing before mixing in the beans with a handful of rocket leaves.


Seeds of perennial Fennel vulgare have germinated in root trainers and they’ll be kept behind the window in the garden shed over the next five months. I sowed dill at the same time hoping to plant these in the bed in the allotment greenhouse to over-Winter.  That maybe ambitious since it’s an annual but I concluded worth a try.


Ammi visnaga has also come through (sown three weeks ago) and these along with the fennel will sit in the garden shed over Winter. It’s easier to look after seedlings at home where the weather can be monitored and if there’s a severe drop in temperature they’ll be brought indoors for a few weeks.


The sweet peas are well and truly over and the results were a bit hit and miss due to a lack of attention on my part. But clearing them last week I managed to save several pods and have sown one to each space in  root trainers to get a strong root system established. Experienced growers advise an Autumn sowing and to keep in a cold frame or greenhouse so it will be the garden shed again for me.  In early April it’s advisable to pinch out the centre tips to make the plants bushy before planting in the ground at the end of the month.  Watch this space.


The spent flower heads of Japanese anemones have an interesting form (like tiny peas on wiry stems)and are mixed here with Verbena bonariensis and three hydrangea flowers found lurking low down hidden by foliage.

Oudolph Field

September 28, 2016

Autumn is a great time to visit Hauser and Wirth in Bruton to see the magic of the landscaping in Oudolf Field a perennial meadow in Somerset. It was my third visit in twelve months and I was so inspired to see it at this time of year.


It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the planting and I had to quickly reign in my longing to recreate it at home. My analysis is that Piet Oudolf’s design perfectly fits the huge open space that it is set in with the gently rolling hills in the distance providing a perfectly scaled backdrop.  Shrubs are limited to the outer edges giving a sense of enclosure to the 26,000 herbaceous perennials that provide the patchwork of colour and form.imgp0986

Oudolf’s phenomenal plant knowledge is key to this design.  He knows the beauty that these plants will offer as each fades into Autumn.


Height is achieved with grasses and herbaceous plants and a visit is an opportunity to identify a huge range of grasses in particular. These are much easier to appreciate in the flesh and you get a very clear sense of their beauty and form. His colour palette is both subtle and dramatic constantly drawing the eye.


The paths are gravel and unobtrusive not to distract from the planting and are edged with simple metal strips.  This neat and elegant solution (albeit an expensive one) surrounds all the massive beds and uses a 10 cm strip of metal with I guess the same depth in the ground. The soil is very neatly held back from the paths and more gravel when needed can be added without spilling onto the beds.


There is much to inspire and so many plant combinations that would work really well on a lesser scale.  In a smaller space you could give it a try with the help and expertise of Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury in their book Planting: A New Perspective Publ: Timber Press.


A completely blank canvas would also be a huge bonus so it’s probably too late to consider it here at home with established trees, hedges and shrubs in a narrow town garden surrounded by walls but if ever we moved…


Borlotti beans are positively glowing in the mellow Autumn light on the allotment. I cropped enough to make a favourite recipe from the River Cafe which is roughly as follows:

For 2 Pod and cover and cook 150 g beans with a crushed clove of garlic and 4 sage leaves. Cook till soft then drain and add S and P. Make a dressing of 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar and 2 tbsp of good olive oil and 1 tsp of Dijon mustard.  Mix the warm beans with the dressing and toss with rocket leaves.


Another favourite River Cafe recipe for Purple French beans is to cook till tender then drain. Make a French dressing and stir in 1 tbsp of grated Parmesan- the beans and cheese work surprisingly well together.

Nasturtiums are still in flower both on the allotment and here in the garden so I picked a few.


Scent in September

September 21, 2016
 Calamintha nepeta has been in flower six weeks or so and should continue until the first frosts. It’s smothered in small, very pale lilac flowers from mid-summer lasting until the temperature drops. It’s useful as an edging plant with a long season of interest. Next Spring I shall lift and divide it to edge the length of the path interspersing it with the neighbouring Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ which finishes flowering before the calamintha.
  Sorry to go on about Cosmos quite as much as I do but in terms of longevity and low maintenance and cheapness and beauty,  as a cut flower it’s difficult to beat. All that’s required to achieve a bunch a week from July till October is good ground preparation and a packet of seeds sown in late-May. And although the flowers droop on the way home from the allotment they revive fast in water and last for five or six days and the more you cut the more you get.  They have a very gentle scent and the colours are stunning and above all the bees love them as witnessed four days ago.
In the garden the tree Clerodendrum trichotomen is in flower with its intense perfume wafting around in the heatwave last week. It’s available as a shrub but I like the strange form that it now has as a tree and it means we can sit under it to get the benefit of the scent.
In the burst of sunshine last week the Cistus ‘Sunset’ produced two flowers a day. The strong resin-scented leaves transport me back to childhood in my aunt’s cottage garden. That and the fact that it keeps its leaves all Winter and is a manageable size shrub for a town garden is why I love it.
It’s easy to miss runner beans and then to discover dozens hiding among the leaves and by now all as long as your arm. They’ll be stringy when this size but leave them growing till the shells are crisp and papery then pod them. Cook in much the same way as borlotti beans which I find take about 25 minutes simmering but best to test after 10 minutes. Both these beans absorb the flavour of other ingredients and drenched in olive oil and garlic when warm they make a great accompaniment to other dishes.
  Some substantial rhubarb stems were discovered hiding under huge leaves on the allotment. Chopped up and sprinkled with dark brown sugar and the grated rind and juice from an orange then roasted gently in the oven it made a lovely pudding with Greek yoghurt.

Early Autumn Sowing

September 14, 2016

Having cropped the last of the tomatoes in the greenhouse I am keen to use the space for growing other things.  The first task is sowing seeds for cutting next year and I want lots of Fennel vulgare for planting at home and on the allotment…

IMGP0672-002And  Ammi visnaga …IMGP0692

Bupleurum rotundifolium a late-flowering plant with lime-green flowers…


Lunaria annua (Honesty)…


And seeds of a lettuce Winter Density described as like a large Little Gem, slow to bolt, flavoursome and tolerant of heat…winter-density

All these seeds were sown in half-size trays of general purpose compost and placed on shelves in the warmth of the green house-with the door left open. However on a trip to the allotment early sunday morning a ground frost was silvering the leaves on the Euphorbia wulfennii and the Phlomis fruticosa so I zipped the door closed.



Then by today temperatures are soaring up to 26*C so I will unzip the greenhouse door. With these crazy fluctuations in temperature the seeds may be traumatized and will need to be re-sown.

Difficult to say why I bought quite so many onion sets but they are now all planted: Red Winter, Senshya and Shakespeare, fifty of each, are in the ground. And I sowed two rows of Wild Rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) seeds next to a row of flat leaf parsley, the latter came through from a sowing three weeks ago.

The Kaffir lily plants are slowly fattening up in a border here and I cut the flowers from one for my desk. They are such an extraordinary orange/red and perfect for this blue glass vase.


Clumps of pot marigold were cleared from a bed in order to tip a full, well-rotted load of compost from one of the three bins on the allotment.  It’s an effort forking it out and transporting it in a wheel barrow and then raking off any resistant roots, but very satisfying.  Two of the three bins are full to the brim but there’s now an empty bin to take the rest of late summer weeds and kitchen waste. Incidentally now is a good time to save seeds of this lovely annual.


Climbers as Ground Cover

September 8, 2016

Image result for akebia quinata

Inspired by James Wong  suggesting climbing plants for ground-cover I’ve lifted and re-planted the climber Akebia quinata. I bought two in my impatience to cover the arbour and one took off in a spectacular fashion whilst the other dawdled.  I can see that one plant will be enough to combine with the golden hop and Solanum crispum ‘Album’- I just need to be patient and wait. So the slower akebia is now planted as ground cover in a part-shady bed and where, with some protection from the wall, it might remain in leaf all year. The flowers are scented and appear in early spring and I’m imagining them mingling around the base of several Helleborus argutifolius all doing well in the same bed.  Watch this space.

We’ve had a great crop of Calabrese Marathon for the last eight weeks…


And Spinach Beet…

imgp0908A large squash (I think it’s Baby Bear) has ripened and will be roasted with onions, peppers and garlic.  Next to it is the first of the Sarah Raven climbing squash ‘Munchkin’. It’s one of seven clambering over supports and these will be left to grow a bit bigger and steaming is suggested.

The first borlottis are ready with a huge row that were sown much later to follow…


Some rather interesting plants appeared in the garden eight weeks ago in a bed planted with Verbena bonariensis.  Several have come up in a neat row so it sort of feels intentional but I can’t claim responsibility. The flowers are insignificant but the wiry form makes a great contribution in a vase…IMG_20160904_142636221

Here it is with Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and Verbena bonariensis…