Apologies to all sun lovers but, after weeks with almost no rain, it’s raining at last! I wonder if my hydrangeas will plump up again? At least I’ll be able to do some weeding and planting and today, no exhausting watering. Hurrah!

Glad to see that LJ is back.

Lord Roworth’s Reward, Carola Dunn
The World of Arthur Ransome , Christina Hardyment
A Room Full of Bones, Elly Griffiths
Dying Fall, Elly Griffiths
The Brother of Daphne, Dornford Yates
The Third Wife , Lisa Jewell
Captain Ingram’s Inheritance, Carola Dunn
Striding Folly, Dorothy L Sayers
The Vet’s Daughter, Barbara Comyns
Blood Count, Robert Goddard
A Place for Us Part 1, Harriet Evans
The Courts of Idleness, Dornford Yates
a few comments )

It’s a well known saying amongst gardeners that after a session of weeding, tidying or planting, it’s nice to ‘see where you’ve been’. Here’s Margery Fish on the subject:
‘One of my sisters providentially came for a holiday and helped me clear the weeds from the bank. We had a magnificent time clearing the ground, because there was a lot of bindweed there, as well as easier weeds. We both agreed that there is no sport in the world that compares with clearing ground of bindweed. … Tracing this tenacious creeping Judas of a weed to its source and getting it out without leaving any small broken pieces behind requires skill and patience, and the reward is a barrowload of the obscene twisting white roots and the joy of burning them.’
From We Made a Garden.

Hmm. I’m having similar sport at the moment with couch grass but I’d describe it as extreme sport. ‘Extreme weeding’ has a ring about it, don’t you think? Couch grass has encroached into a flower bed. Its roots are so tangled up with alchemilla that the alchemilla has to be sacrificed, and it’s that plant which I find so tenacious and such very hard work to get out. I’ve had three sessions at it so far, the last one this morning, trying to be sensible and not do too much at once. I still haven’t finished. I’ve even had to use the spade to chop the matted clumps, then turn them over (oof!) and tease out the grass roots. Once that’s done, I fork the patch over again. And again. And still keep turning up more of those white fleshy roots. My plan is to plant only annuals or bedding in the cleared areas this year, so that any grass which pops up again can be swiftly dealt with. Is it worth all the aches and pains? I hope I’ll think so later.
Margery Fish )
This morning, I have been gardening. Nothing to write home about, you may say, but it’s been raining almost non-stop since before Christmas and today we have sun. As usual, I went out to do one small job and ended up tackling a big one. Without changing into gardening clothes, natch, so getting unnecessarily grubby. My plan was the annual cutting back of the enormous ferns by the hedge. Here’s the report from 11th January 2012. Last year I had to pay the gardener to do it, because of my broken wrist. I confess there were moments this morning when I thought that was the less painful option. It’s not a pleasant job at the best of times and currently everything is slimily wet, so that my leather gardening gloves (Town & Country), were soon soaked through. It wasn’t made any easier by having to remove hazel cuttings, brambles and rose stems which had been left behind after the autumn hedge trim. But it’s done and the snowdrop snouts are up! I was looking at the Spitalfields Life blog this morning and marvelling at how far advanced plants are in London. That famous microclimate.

I wanted to cut some catkins for indoors but these were all I could reach. Spiced up with some more of the little daffs I’m growing on indoors. I’ll never win any prizes for flower arranging, but it’s a cheerful vase for the kitchen.

Dovegreyreader, born again gardener, has had the friendly idea of organising a seed swap through her blog, rather than through one of the impersonal sites available. Since not everyone is used to collecting seeds, I’m offering a few hints here. What follows may seem like the bleedin’ obvious, but nothing is obvious when you’re new to it.

Firstly, only collect seed during a dry spell. The least hint of damp and the seeds become mildewed and won’t remain viable.

You will need
For collecting.
Paper bags (not plastic) like the ones you get from the greengrocer.
For sorting and cleaning seed.
Sheets of white paper or large white envelopes cut open.
A willingness to squash insects with your finger.
For storing seed.
Small glassine envelopes such as those stamp collectors use, or bankers’ envelopes.

How do you know when seed is ripe? The seed heads will be brown, will rattle, and the seed falls willingly out without any encouragement. Plants like foxgloves produce thousands of tiny seeds which will shake easily from the stem. With some other plants you may need to cut off the head and rub it gently between your fingers to tempt the seed out. Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ has big, black seeds which are ripe when they come away easily in your hand. I can never understand why some seed suppliers (Hello, Sarah Raven), charge so much for these seeds, which are abundantly produced and easy to harvest. Lathyrus varieties have pods with quite large, round seeds inside.

Round the garden you go, armed with your trusty Felcos and a paper bag. Cut off the top of the stem containing the seed heads and shake gently into the bag. Bear your spoils off to the potting bench if you have one, an outdoor table (if it’s not windy) or your kitchen if you can stand mess. Fold a sheet of paper in half, with a sharp crease, or open the envelope, which will have a natural crease. Tip out the contents of the bag. You will observe immediately that some of your seed appears to be moving. I have no idea what these minute creatures are, but you almost invariably find them Deal with them (see above).

Now the seed needs to be cleaned of chaff and any other unwanted debris which may cause the seed to rot. Do this by blowing very gently along the crease in the paper. You may think the seeds will disappear but fear not, the seed is heavier than the chaff and will remain on the page. Using the handy groove, tip the seed into the small envelope, label clearly, date it and seal. Store in the proverbial cool, dry place. That’s it.

Late summer and early autumn is a good time to sow the seeds of hardy perennials. Annuals can be saved for next year. Raising plants from your own seed will not suit the impatient gardener, but can be one of the most satisfying aspects of gardening. Who knows what variations you may find when the plants eventually flower?

This part of the garden was looking pretty yesterday morning, so I took a not very good picture of it. I need a wide angle lense. And better picture hosting on LJ.

flower pics )
A very hectic week, due mainly to tedious domestic problems and having MEN around the place and no peace. So I was really glad to have today to myself.

After doing a few jobs I was early at the garden centre. I had a print-off voucher for 10% off if I presented it before ten o'clock, today only. I thought I might get a hanging basket, as I hadn't made up any myself this year: too cold! When I arrived, I found an extra offer: £14.99 baskets on BOGOF. TBH, they weren't worth £14.99, but were a good buy at half price.

I'd already done some potting up and today I decided some of these pots must leave the sheltering greenhouse and take their chances outside. So I had a good sweep up and made a start. Below, red geraniums outside the chalet; there are three pots each side of the door. This was so successful in last year's awful summer that I decided to repeat it.

more pics )

I downloaded a sample of Stephen Anderton’s book Christopher Lloyd His Life at Great Dixter to the Kindle, requested it from the library and once I’d got it, read it within twenty four hours, it was so interesting. I’ve admired Christo’s writing for donkey’s years but I had another, more prurient reason for wanting to read it; I’d been told that Fergus Garrett didn’t like it. Fergus was Christopher Lloyd’s head gardener and best friend, so I was curious to see what he found objectionable, especially as Christo had asked Stephen Anderton to be his biographer. I can see Fergus’s point because by the end of the book I found I liked Christo less than I had before, without admiring his work any less.

This is not just a biography but the story of a family and a house. In 1910 Nathaniel Lloyd, a successful businessman, bought Dixter near Northiam in Sussex with his much younger wife, Daisy. The house was a wreck and Nathaniel had it remodelled by Lutyens, who also laid out the garden plan, little changed today. Daisy then set about creating the perfect life there, with six children to complete the picture. She was an extraordinary woman, ‘dangerous’ according to one of her sons. She dressed always in dirndl skirts or in Puritan dress, to honour her ancestor Oliver Cromwell. The children were brought up to think that Mummy, Daddy and the Dixter, i.e. her way of doing things, were always right. As the youngest child, Christo was the one who failed to escape her smothering possessiveness but it seemed a willing thraldom. They lived together until she died in his arms in 1972. She was ninety two and had still been running Christo’s bath for him until her final illness. Weird? Yes indeed as was much about the family. Death and illness for instance, were ignored as much as possible, however tragic the circumstances. Stephen Anderton sums up the Lloyd attitude: ‘Death. Get over it!’ There was something Enid Blyton-ish about Daisy’s refusal to dwell on unpleasant things and her attempts to make other people conform to her standards. She was a simply terrible mother-in-law. All his life Christo had a horror of nostalgia and sentimentality, inherited from his mother.

Christo was sent to prep school, then Rugby. An unsporty boy, interested only in English, music and wildlife of all kinds, he was not happy at school. He then went up to Cambridge to read modern languages before being called up for undistinguished war service. (His elder brother Patrick was a brilliant career soldier who was killed in the 1950s.) Wherever he went, his mother kept up a furious correspondence (as she did with all her children) and sent him weekly boxes of flowers, describing in detail all the plants and how they were doing at Dixter. After the war he studied horticulture at Wye College and became an assistant lecturer there for a while. He then returned to Dixter and stayed there for the rest of his life. The garden was his life’s project and his laboratory; for over twenty years his mother was his collaborator.

Stephen Anderton divides the book into ‘before and after Daisy’ sections, believing that Christo had two lives. Once on his own, Christo began filling the house with guests, usually younger people with an interest in horticulture. Many people owed their careers to being taken under his wing. His work was gardening, visiting other gardens and writing about gardening; his relaxations music and writing at length to friends. His writings give the impression of someone unconventional and unorthodox but in many ways he was a conservative relic of an earlier age (my opinion) who learnt to cook but never to wash up and kept a distance between himself and ‘staff’. He wore ancient clothes and drove an ancient car in the way that only an upper middle class person can get away with.

For me, his writing is the most important thing. For years he wrote weekly columns for Country Life and The Guardian, always delivering perfect copy on time. The Well-Tempered Garden was published in 1970 and I probably read it about ten years later. It was a huge influence on me. It’s full of sound advice mixed with witty and trenchantly expressed opinions and along with Margery Fish’s books, set me on the road to serious gardening. As you see from the pile above, I have a first edition but can’t give up the tatty old paperback I first read; it’s that much of a favourite book. As Christo got older and more famous (partly through television appearances) the books got bigger, more lavishly produced and with much better photographs. For me though, they never added anything to the basic philosophy which is set out in TWTG. Everything he wrote was based on his own practical experience at Dixter. It’s surprising he became so popular with a wide public because he retained a patrician attitude, always preferring privately owned (large) gardens to those run by institutions.He was very unkind about the National Trust and couldn’t stand Graham Stuart Thomas, who returned the favour.

The biggest stroke of luck in Christo’s life was meeting Fergus Garrett and inviting him to be head gardener at Dixter. ‘I’ve never felt so close to anyone’ he wrote; they thought alike about gardening and as Christo grew frailer, Fergus had the energy to carry out their plans. I suppose Fergus’ objection to this Life is that Christo is shown as generous and good fun but at the same time irascible and sometimes rude. This portrait of a grumpy, rude old man is the one Fergus doesn’t recognise but the biographer also knew Christo well and spoke to many people about him. Whether or not he likes the book, Fergus comes out of it as a hero. The selfless way in which he worked full time in the garden while nurse-maiding Christo through writing commitments and lectures and letting him take the credit for many ideas that were Fergus’s own is remarkable, all the more so because he had family responsibilities of his own. Christo was delighted to become an almost-grandfather. I always find it sad to read about the last days of anyone’s life so will take a tip from the Lloyds and ignore it here. I recommend the book highly, even for people not very interested in gardening.
My visit in 1998 )

In Waiting

May. 14th, 2011 10:27 am
Plants waiting in the greenhouse before going outside. The pictures all look better if you click on them.

I like black flowers )

Not Cheap

May. 11th, 2011 03:53 pm
I just received an email with this header:

The most expensive plant is £8.99. if anyone would like a seedling for nothing, come round to my garden.
After another miserable dark morning yesterday, the afternoon was miraculously sunny and I was able to get outside. Much colder today with a big frost this morning but bright all day. This is wonderful. So over the weekend I’ve cut off all the hellebore leaves and cut down the huge ferns under the hedge. Part of their top growth stays evergreen and upright and part turns into a black, slimy, floppy mess. It’s daunting when you begin snipping but once you can see the crown the work gets easier. Why bother? Well it’s unsightly but, more importantly, smothering. Because underneath are

snowdrop snouts. Even some daffodils are starting to show. No doubt we’re in for a great deal more bad weather but here are the promises of spring, like this primrose.

Chewed up and ragged but determined to flower with hope against the odds. Goodness, I’m turning into Gladys Taber!

Yesterday evening I watched Carol Klein’s Life in a Cottage Garden, the only programme I’ve wanted to watch all week. I had to leave the garden I’d toiled in for nearly thirty years and abandon my lovely plants to the unworthy inheritors, so I felt pretty jealous of Carol, still working at Glebe Cottage after thirty two years. Then, watching her strenuous activities and reminding myself that she's older than I am, I felt ashamed of my current sloth where the garden is concerned. It was weeks since I’d even looked inside the greenhouse, although considering the weather I think that’s forgivable. So this morning I braved it. I was thrilled to find that the cuttings of perennials, taken in late summer and left in an unheated greenhouse, have all survived, in spite of our -12 temperatures! They were tucked up inside a plastic propagator covered with fleece. Today they’re getting a breath of fresh air. There are several jobs I’d like to get done this month but I think it’s coming on to rain again now…

Not news from my garden, where the only flowers are on this tough winter jasmine. There's no excuse for it; there are plenty of winter flowering shrubs. Unfortunately whoever planted this garden hadn't heard of them. No, the news is that Monty Don is returning to Gardeners’ World. I'm not such a fan of Monty as some people I could mention :-), mainly because I dislike being lectured all the time about ecological gardening. But, it's bound to improve the show.

Ratings have tumbled and I'm just one of the people who ceased bothering to watch. Sorry, Toby Buckland is just boring. Then there's Alys Fowler. At first she appeared as a gardening geek. Then they gave her a makeover and her own show, The Edible Garden in an effort to make her appear interesting. Epic fail. To me, she always had what Sue Limb once called a 'stern wholemeal gaze'. It got so that the only interesting part of the programme was poking around in Carol Klein's garden.

Apparently, Monty is to present this new series from his own garden, which many people will already have read about. It has to be an improvement.

I see that skirmishofwit and other people who always know what’s hot are buying brightly coloured Hunter boots. A quick trawl around the blogs (via Google Blog Search) shows that even the writers of dedicated shoe blogs are at it. I was rather taken with fashionistacat! Call me old fashioned (you will) but I don’t think wellies are comfortable walking gear; give me leather every time. For gardening, though, they can’t be beat and here’s a post I wrote on the subject nearly three years ago. The boots were already old then (note authentic mud) and are still going strong. Anyone who feels like posting a photo of their boots may regard this as a meme.

It’s freezing cold and even with the heating on I’m wearing furry boots indoors. In spite of this, I love the winter countryside. This morning I drove to my usual garden centre to check out greenhouses (20% off until the end of January). The bleached look of the fields; the neatly trimmed hedges of a well managed countryside, russet where beech leaves hang on; black tree outlines; subtle greens and browns everywhere. These are the real colours of winter. I’ll have no truck with ‘winter gardens’ full of gaudy dogwood stems and phormiums; nor with claustrophobic conifers and heathers. No need to pretend that winter is actually some other season. I’d rather see the bare bones for a while and surely snowdrops, hellebores and a few select winter-flowering shrubs should be enough for anybody?

While I was at the garden centre I bought some hyacinths (white, of course) in a pot, so that I can enjoy watching them grow and eventually catch that wonderful scent. When I told the man in charge of greenhouses that I’d just moved he said, ‘Where’r yew tew now then?’ I like that. It’s strange that I’ve only moved a mile from my old house yet feel so much more in the country.

It's a well known fact that two bad summers in a row have meant that there are far fewer butterflies about. Today the sun is out at last and so are the butterflies. They are incredibly difficult to photograph, unless they settle on your washing, as sometimes happens. No sooner do you think, 'Ooh, lots of butterflies, get out the camera', than they flutter away. Here's a couple, anyway.

I really dislike Buddlejas (yes, that is the correct spelling) but there's no denying that they are the best butterfly plants going. Phlox are not so well known as nectar sources but today they were the only other plants in the garden to attract the butterflies.

When I was a child, I was given a large plastic model of a Peacock butterfly. It had a suction pad on the back and I stuck it to my book shelf. Can you still get them, I wonder?
The BBC has announced the appointment of a new front man for Gardeners' World, one Toby Buckland. Who? Nobody's ever heard of him. This is a top job and for me, no one could replace Geoff Hamilton. I never liked Monty Don because, like me, he is an amateur gardener and so I objected to his lectures and his didactic preaching of the organic message. All previous presenters had been professionals; if Alan Titchmarsh showed you how to take a cutting or do some grafting, you knew it was the Kew way and the right way.

This is Carol Klein. She has been a horticultural professional for years, running her own nursery and winning six gold medals at Chelsea Flower Show. She's been a regular TV presenter and took over Gardeners' World at short notice when Monty Don became ill. Apparently, viewers have assumed that Carol turned down the job but no, she was never even offered it. Could the fact that she is a woman and aged 63 have anything to do with that decision? TBH she's not my favourite person but this has made me fume.
This morning's post was grumpy and private. Here's something more jolly.

more flowers )

Some people don't like Hebes. Christopher Lloyd thought this was because they associated them with memories of seaside boarding schools, but he was showing his age there. I don't care for what I think of as 'municipal' Hebes; large shrubs with big leathery leaves and rather dull purple flower spikes. There are far more varieties available now, all prettier than those boring ones, and small enough for any garden. The one featured here today makes a neat little bush with wiry stems and fluffy pink flowers which last a long time. I think it's 'Wiri Dawn'. Give it a haircut after flowering; it will stay small and neat and probably flower again, perhaps even in winter.




January 2017



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