Monday, 23 April 2012

My first NGS garden of the year: alpines and solitary bees in Humberstone

Last weekend we were up in Lincolnshire visiting the in-laws and it was good to escape the rain of London for....the rain of Grimsby. Besides filling up on the best Fish and Chips around (Steele’s in Cleethorpes) we also went to see a local garden that was open for the NGS.
I must admit that the main draw for the garden was the cake as it was billed as being a garden full of alpines which don’t particularly float my boat, however I was pleasantly surprised!

The garden its self was a flat layer of high density planting of alpines, with Japanese Acers punctuating the low spread of plants and providing some shade. There were also two cold greenhouses (alpines don’t really like the wet)

The plants themselves were quite impressive with lots of things that I hadn’t come across before including an odd Peony, lots of Fritillaries, Sempervirums, Gentians and Pulsatillas. I also really liked the greenhouses to see these full grown plants that are only a few inches across.

This solitary bee house was impressive to see....obviously I’m quite bee obsessed at the mo, but I have seen these bee towers and bug hotels being flogged all over the place but I’ve never seen them busy and thought of them as quite ornamental as opposed to helpful, however these ones were overflowing with bees! They actually looked as busy as my hives and were really interesting to watch.  Each one/pair lives alone and makes its home in the hole which has been drilled in the wood, then just put on a south facing wall and Bobs your Uncle....
The Trilliums were the things that made we drool......they were just so beautiful. Big, lush, unusual and pretty. Clumps were about 5-7 years old and I think as he was growing some in tubs they were at their best. I’m going to try and find lots of Trillium kurabayashi immediately!

The cake was also so so nice....we all had a different one and Steven and I had to swap half way through I as I have food envy for this Bakewell tart, and he was eyeing my chocolate cake. Mmm!
So a great start to the NGS year for me, as this was an impressive garden which has set the bar high. So often with seeing NGS gardens you think differently about your own garden, and this one was probably the polar opposite of my own style (alpines is all about small and micro managing, I’m about big blousy jungle thugs) but it was a pleasure to visit and has given me some nice ideas and a Trillium obsession!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

NGS official London launch, verticlals and plans

Last week saw the official NGS London launch which was a great opportunity to see friends over a glass of wine and together aspire to one day receiving a silver trowel for long service (so far all I'm in line for is a plastic one from the 99p shop). It was a well run event and a nice thing to see other garden openers and celebrate what we are doing. Amazing how another year had gone by, I want to say how I feel calmer than last year but I would be lying! Although we got used to the practicalities of NGS opening such as the which cakes, will people come, will they be very judgemental etc there is still a lot of work to do in the garden
I’m pleased with progress as the structure is almost there and I’m trying to get the clearance finished to prepare for planting in a couple of weeks. This is easier said than done when I spent this weekend on a bee keeping course, and with trips to the in-laws planned however I have some days off planned and ‘garden attacks’ short sharp bursts of getting specific things done such as moving concrete blocks or the fig tree.

However as things take shape I thought I would summarise my main planning and thoughts for the year
Verticals: hiding the neighbours and giving some privacy is key, there is already a structure of tall things including some fruit trees, Clerodendrum trichotomum, bamboos, fig, Cotinus, Tetrapanax etc but they are taking a long time to grow, especially my 8 Albizzia which at one year old are only 10cm high. I am supplementing this with tall wig wams dotted around, and a bit of trellis which will be covered in Eccremocarpus, Ipomoea and nasturtiums. I’m also planting lots of big clumps of Jerusalem artichoke as I have lots of these and they will easily shoot to be 8ft tall. The plan is also to hide all the fences with climbers.

Exotic accents: A lot of exotic gardening is about stage dressing a garden with some strong architectural plants which draw the eye and make you think oooh exotic. I am doing this with a framework of Paulownias with my 2 established ones in the lower garden, 3 that went in last year up the top and 2 new ones, but I want more!....I’m doing the same with Tetrapanax and have about 9 young ones planted up the top along with 5 Chusan palms, and 2 othertypes. I can’t wait until the Paulownias are established as they will look crazy! 
Exotic annuals: As the garden matures there is less and less space for annuals, but loads up the top. I will have the usual raft of Ricinus, and have just planted about 50 seeds of Zanzi Palm (now my fave variety) with lots of Tithonia again and other things for a bit of dramatic colour

Dahlia forest: I’m liking Dahlias more and more as they do well with me, are easy, survive and look pretty....I’ve got about 30 more this year including some for cut flowers which I thought about filling the new bed by the bees with to create a bit of a forest. All the old ones are sprouting including my Dahlia imperialis (see the very small purple shoot below!), and I have also bough Dahlia excels from Crug which I’m excited about as it should be equally imposing.

King of the Cannas: I’ve always dabbled with Canna but am very cautious as the first load I got over the internet 3 yrs ago all had virus. I got carried away on Harts website and bought about 30 which I’m very excited about growing, especially the very tall foliage types. I will watch very carefully for virus, but in the worst case scenario they will look great for the year.

A very full greenhouse and I still have lots of seeds to plant
Windy paths: Last year when clearing the land one of the first things I finished was the central rectangular veg bed, edged in brick paths as I wanted to get growing veg and flowers quickly. As new areas of the garden were slow/impossible to clear these paths were the main access routes of the garden, however I have been working on a new windy path to go all round the edge bypassing the veg plot which is adding a whole new dynamic to the garden as it is breaking areas up, making them harder to get to and adding to the whole garden journey. Paths are windy so you don’t see everything at once, and it slows you down.... I also have a complex series of stepping stones on top of that, but these are my secret paths.....
Better fruit, veg and cut flowers: Last year veg growing took second fiddle to clearance and panic gardening. This year I’m trying to be better and have planted fruit trees, bushes and know more what I want to grow (chicory looks pretty but is very bitter.) I also loved having lots of cut flowers last year although there was a bit of a glut at times, I’m also trying to grow more plants I can cut in this area so I feel happy harvesting them (I always feel guilty cutting perennials in the main garden) I now have things like an Arundodonax there which I’m quite happy to use and abuse.
Summerhouse: this is the last structural thing to go in. I have been waiting until most of the land was cleared before ordering the summerhouse as I’m cunningly using all the rubble for its foundations. I’m already designing the planting from the perspective of the summerhouses views and can’t wait for it to go in as it is the last main piece of the puzzle.

 The new summerhouse will be at the back, with a sun terrace at the front surrounded by exotic style arid planting. We are aiming for a Royal Jubilee opening as we may have a few queens available for an official opening
The sunken corner: This is the area in the corner of the new bit where there is a steep slope to the alleyway. I think it is the only question mark in the garden as it’s a big project and we don’t know exactly what we are doing. Last year we just put a weed membrane down to grow pumpkins through! The current thinking is to use railway sleepers to create a square sunken terrace, and edge it with silver birch trunks which can be used as posts to run wires from to the fence to create a canopy for climbers and squashes. I think this will be fab, but as I already have all the climbers in pots it needs to happen soon....

Giant Plants: In a slight move from the exotic Ive been searching for giant plants that make you feel small as this is the feeling I want to evoke accross the garden. You get this with a lot of jungle and big leafed stuff but also Arundodonax, and Ricinus etc but have also got some giant Inula, Rubbeckia and Helianthus

Experiments: there are always experiments but this year I want to see if giant Jersey Kale can look exotic used in the right places, if I can mulch lots of things, I’m also trying to have a prairie jungle look by the new pond and if the drought ever clears an irrigation system in the lower garden so I can properly water the tree ferns.

I need a home, please plant me.....
Sitting and drinking gin: this is the key, and most important part to any garden and I’m trying to put in more permanent seating areas with solid seats with a new patio by the formal pond, with the new summerhouse going in soon it will also have a sunny terrace...all of this will be perfect for gin drinking. Hurrah!

Some flowering carnivorous plants including a Pinguicula grandiflora and Drosera scorpiodies

Lower garden looking all blue with forget-me-nots

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The bees (gulp)

The bees have arrived!!!!! I have now made the progression from dressing up and pretending to be a bee keeper, to actually being one
Some quick fire bee numbers
0 no stings (yet)
0.5 number of OMG what am I doing moments
2 there are 2 hives, the bees came in 2 mini hives
3 times I have dressed up in the beekeeper outfit to pretend to be a 1980’s Dr Who monster
3-6 the approx number of bees which managed to escape in to the car as Charlie and Hannah drove them down from Lincolnshire
10,000 this is about how many bees there are in each hive (gulp!)

So the progression to becoming beekeepers begins..... at the moment the boxes in the picture are just the nuc temporary hives they came in as we are letting the bees settle in, and on Friday we will start the process of moving them into the proper hives.
See what I mean about looking like a bad Dr Who monster. This is my slight OMG moment (see clenched fists) as we were just releasing them and one flew straight into Hannahs hair resulting in much yelping 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The RHS London Show

Today I kept alive the Easter Bank Holiday magic by having another day off to go the RHS plant Fair show at the Horticultural Halls in Westminster. The show was filled with marvels...

MARVEL: you thought that there were only a few different types of daffodil and narcissus, there were hundreds all neatly laid out in a mega horticultural way

BEHOLD: see how plants can miraculously heal older people with disabilities, see people discard sticks and walking aids in order to carry more plants
AMAZEMENT: amongst photos of wild plants, see the bizarre picture of Meerkats

GASP: at the tiny bonsai tree doing an impression of a pencil

GIGGLE: at the plants with amusing names (this plant is Silybum)

And marvel at lots of lovely plants
Echium fastuosum

Pleiome  with Asarum at the back

Tropaeolum tricolor

another Tropaeolum whose name Ive forgotten

Bromeliads a go go

Thursday, 5 April 2012


You know those things that seem like a good idea at the time?

Well on Monday we finally had tree surgeons in, and I asked to keep the chippings as a) they are free b) I’m fed up of weeding and a fully mulched garden is very appealing.  They were more than happy to, and have even promised more in the future, although they didn’t leave them straight away as said they would come back at the end of the week as there would be a bit more
Hurrah I said! The more the merrier! As the visions of wall to wall mulching, new paths and the most amazing soil materialised.
So all was well, with them suggesting next week for a delivery leaving me ample time to assemble the bee hives (bees coming on Monday) however yesterday I got a quick email saying they would ’drop them off’ that afternoon.
Fine I said calling Mum to open the gate dashing home.mmm. So I came home to threatening skies and seeing Mum looking panicked at the gate ‘the wheelbarrow doesn’t fit through the end gate....where shall we put them....there is, erm, rather a lot’
Walking round I saw tipped on the road the biggest pile of woodchip I have ever seen, it was a bit like the size of a tank, about 5ft tall and literally steaming. Mum and the wheelbarrow were dwarfed in comparison (think lego man next to a tin of beans)
With the sky looking ever darker, and friends coming soon to help finish the bee hives we urgently started shovelling and moving all the chip, which due to a narrow gate had to be carried up the slope in dustbins. Dad emerged home later wandering in the garden with a glass of wine in hand enjoying the garden not expecting the wood chip iceberg that was about to hit him. For 2 hours we shovelled, carried and piled. UG! Never again!

However I now have more woodchip than I know what to do with and all for free! I have been researching if it is ok to use fresh chip as mulch with very polarised views from yes its fine, to no it will kill all your plants and take lots of nitrogen. The advice seems to be that you can use it fresh if you keep it away from stems, don’t put it on too thick and put down nitrogen fertilizer first. Being the king of pelleted chicken manure this is a good option, but I think I will mainly use it for paths, and perhaps try out mulch in a few months when it has ‘cooked’ a bit as it was incredible hot how it got.  I think next year I can then use all the stuff that is on the paths as mulch and get a new load to replace this.

I should have taken a picture of them on the road when it looked immense as these pictures dont do it justice as it goes all the way back!

Anyway, other is so good to get the trees sorted.....being in a conservation area we needed to apply for planning permission to cut anything more than 3 inches, and it took ages, but it is all done. Big things being removing a small Sycamore which was in the wrong place, coppicing 2 other Sycamores so I can manage them, and raising the crown of a big Sycamore and removing the ivy. I was very sceptical about removing the ivy as it’s a great wildlife plant, but apparently it was a big wind break so stressed the tree, and as it was dropping the odd big branch we had to do something.
So it all now actually looks really good, especially the big tree which looks healthy and seeing the ivy less trunks is quite beautiful. It’s also so light, and turns the bit of land by the stump (where the sculpture is) into garden and not just ‘that land by the tree where nothing will grow’
Managed trees....the surgeon shows how me and Dad on top of a rickety step lader isnt the best way of managing trees

This is the biggest change as none of this was visible...its so light and airy!

Spring is now firmly with us and the garden is awash with forget-me-nots, the birds are singing although things are currently very cold (Easter bank holiday special). Where we are the rain hasn’t been significant, and things are still is also the first day of the hosepipe ban which is tricky to fathom when Thames Water loses an obscene 25% of its water to leaks and the road near our house has had an unfixed water leak on it for weeks. Anyway, moan over....lots to do, the bees are coming on Monday which is both fabulous and shit scary, and there is the RHS plant fair on Tuesday to go to! Hurrah!

Happy Bank holiday gardening!
Brunnera, forget-me-nots and Lamium 'White Nancy'

A very floriferous Bishops Hat (Epimedium)

Hacquetia epipactis