Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Inspiration from Antibes, South of France

I have just managed to escape for a few days to Antibes, which is in the South of France, between Nice and Cannes... I love France and currently my body is still about 75% French food and rose wine..

It was unusual to be there in April so the native flora was all rather nice (rather than fried in the summer sun), this was from a walk around the coast...

There were of course lots of typical big Agave's

 This was in the old town, where we had a house with a perfect roof terrace, plants had a way of colonizing all the banks...wall was especially overrun with white perennial wallflowers and there was a lot of this Aloe everywhere which  they also used as hedging making mine at home look rather drab

I was rather taken by this grass tree (Nolinia??) near the fort

I was more excited seeing this Aristolochia growing wild and rampant....

Then the Antibes folk were so good at greening up their city....balconies were stuffed full of plants which were tied and balanced precariously on ledges

Even in narrow streets they could get in a lot of plants just using pots

We also managed a trip to the Jardin Thuret.....in essence a botanic garden created in 1857 by Gustave Thuret to conduct plant acclimatization trials. It was an interesting place with some great old palms, however not quite a Kew gardens. Oddly it also had no benches, something a bit lacking across the whole of Antibes...I feel there is a good business opportunity for a bench maker to start targeting oldies with legacy desires... 

I have no idea what these are, but they were rather bold...

This was the most exciting thing I saw....a large bamboo forest of Phyllostachys edulis underplanted with Chasmanthe aethiopica...very striking! I don't know anything about Chasmanthe but it was grown in a few huge naturalistic sweeps, it looked a bit like a Crocosmia

A rather startling native? arum

and a rather ancient clump of European Fan palm...

Columnar cacti on the wall of the Picasso museum

Due to a 2 hour delay at Nice airport we also managed a quick trip to the Jardin Exotique which is only 10 mins walk away....do go if you are delayed! At its heart was a huge pyramidal greenhouse which had Caymans and lots of owls. You can also see how far ahead they are season wise as it had a real early summer vibe...there were even mature nasturshums

Everyone loves s a huge pseudo Aztec wall

There was also a Paulownia in flower looking stunning....the whole family asked me to immediately stop stooling mine to let them grow as it was amazing

This Echium was so electric blue and had a queue of people wanting to photograph it

I also spied a Tetrapanax looking rather aloof and a bit spindly. There is/was also one at Kew in the Temperate House and it looked similar...outside seems to be better! 

I like France! take me back there immediately!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Unwrapping bananas, Dr Who aliens and optimism

Well I am braced for the tropical temperatures that we are forecast for tomorrow....double digits! 16 degrees? 21 degrees? gosh....shorts and vests are at the ready and this time tomorrow I could be asleep in my hammock.

I have continued my optimism by unwrapping all the banana trees, and setting out some of the plants that have been hiding in my sideway such as a large pot of Canna musifolia and Musa sikkimensis....I figured its probably a few weeks early but an experiment as I hope the sun and water will help them erupt. I also have a very short memory...what snow? what hail storms, what ice?

Lots of things to do, so a bit of a pictorial tour

Firstly I am loving this grape Hyacinth, put in last year, pushing up like some type of cloaked 80's Dr Who baddie, I think it is Muscari latifolium.

The big banana unwrap was particularly exciting to see what was still there...also unwrapped was this Echium...I figure that I have 4? that are properly ok to flower, and have given them a good dose of fertiliser to help them on their way. Here you can see the banana before.... the plastic on the top was to try and keep it a little dry.....

Half unwrapped you can see how I started by making a bit of a wig wham of sticks and general dry garden debris, this was to protect the stem and keep moisture away from it. I then put bags of autumn leaves around the edge to try and keep the cold away. All was then wrapped in fleece

Well it worked! and all look alive, even the small ones. hurrah!

Ok it looks like a tall dead stick, but the stem is firm and the top shoot greenish

There was lots of fleece to dry off
Next up were the Ensetes which have been drying out in my metre cupboard since November? I was a little apprehensive as a lot were small (Late summer sales get me every time, I think I got 6?!) however all apart from 1 small one appear to have survived as the stems were still firm (the dead one was squishy and the leaves fell away)

There are the small ones before I cleaned them up, they are about 40cm?

all done! following on line advice I put them into the smallest pots they would fit into, only just pushed into to the soil (rather than buried) so fingers crossed this warmth brings them out. Please note my semi tidy greenhouse!

My first seedlings have also emerged, a few Tithonia are just coming through
So other things.....this year is the first I am letting Celandine grow. I usually think of this as completely evil as it takes over and is very invasive, however I read that the bees can like it as a an early flower, so this year it stays and those bees better be happy!
I think the paeony wins the prize for best spring emergent growth

I also have a surprise colony of violets which have just appeared under the Tetrapanax, nature is fabulous!

These are still evil, nature is not all fabulousness!....Sycamore seedlings. The curse of the garden, I had thought we got them all but some escaped!

The bees are also really active, although terribly camera shy as when I am coming to take their picture they don't stay still and there is also only a fraction of those that were previously there! It is great to see some with pollen on them (bright yellow blobs on their legs on the bottom). This is a good sign as it shows that there are young bees, and the queen is alive and laying. phew.

Finally the current challenge....the big problem with the garden is how overlooked it is, and how on display you are to the other flats.... it is difficult as there are limited secret corners, however we will try and make it more appealing to other residents. I feel a trip to Columbia Road for some more bamboos coming up.


Sunday, 7 April 2013

Planning and jigging

I first drafted this post on Friday when it was cold, very cold! all week I have been wearing my woolly hat and gloves to work! however we have just had a weekend of sun! I gardened in my t-shirt, we ate lunch outside, I set out benches on the freshly mown lawn, I saw a butterfly, bumblebee and my bees were having a field day!
So all this when it was a snowy week, and so far we have had the coldest April in 50 years! All a bit bonkers and I have to watch out for frost. My seed sowing is on hold and I’m hoping those sown so far are ok. Things seem to be moving towards spring, and I have taken all my Cannas out of the metre cupboard where the warmth has brought them into a rather etiolated and aphid covered early growth. Sunny days look fabulous and inviting, it’s just when you step outside that you regret not wearing a balaclava and hard core Russian fur hat.

However not is all bad, and secretly I’m a bit relieved by the cold as it will push back spring so that on the crucial May 19th garden safari opening day is more colourful than I had hoped as I'm thinking those forget me nots will still be flowering away
Despite the weather the gardening bug is well and truly there and my mind is awash with plants I want to move, planting combinations and envisaging the future. I think this is the fabulously exciting part of gardening although the fact that we only really have a window of a few months to do this is a little daunting.  I am also trying to brave and moving things that aren't working and trying for new things. There is also something very liberating about actually digging up all the plants in an area and rejigging them. Its also fabulous being able to divide plants as I hope to be a more generous garden....
Anyway as a lot of my gardening at the moment seems to be sitting in the summerhouse under several blankets with hot cups of tea planning I thought I would share some of my ‘rules’ for the year
Closeness without being bitch slapped: I love close planting where plants brush up against you as this feels like the plants are in control and emphasises the lush exuberance of things. However sometimes I go a bit too close to paths and the frequency of being slapped in the face by a Chusan palm or tripped up by straggly Cordyline or Phormium leaf is increasing and I think I need to be a bit more restrained
The palm is a little close to the path (well I don't think so but everyone else in the house complains) Iris confusa also looking fabulous here, and Ive just taken my Cyathea medularis out the greenhouse as I am being very brave/stupid.
Bald and empty edges: I found that in a few places, particularly where the Dahlias were, that their legs were a bit naked, and bare earth was exposed (oh a terrible sin!). I’m planning an invasion of Lilly grass, Polypody and Cuphea and other invited special guests
Thinking more about succession: I’m reading a lot of the Great Dixter blogs at the moment which are all about succession which is something to think about especially as my framework of perennials and shrubs and big bad ‘boos is settling in. Ive been trying to plant more bulbs and letting things seed (I should have an invasion of Nigella and Foxgloves)
Having space for annuals: My plant buying compulsion is not quite as bad as it has been, however I still haven’t sought medical attention and feel it may be untreatable. This all means I have loads of plants, especially as I move things making more refugees than need housing. So slowly the space is getting filled and there is less room for the annuals and showstoppers....I think I have planted about 30 Ricinus seeds and have about 8? Abysinnian bananas which I’m not quite sure where they will be going! So a big thing is trying to think where will there be/how I can create space for annuals
Fertilizing properly: Last year I wasn’t as liberal as the year before but this year I think I need to airdrop several tons of blood, fish and bone onto the land to help it grow
Less is more/avoiding hatpin gardening: Beth Chattos words about avoiding hatpin gardening still ring in my ears. I am trying to group things more and divide clumps to make broader spreads.
Being tough: I think I need to start ditching things that I don’t like or aren’t right....when I had loads of space my attitude was hurrah! something to fill the vast gaps, however now space it a lot more precious. I particularly need to ditch some dahlias as I don’t think a bright yellow cactus dahlia is right for me....
So still lots of planning, and some pictures of other things I have been doing below. Good luck with your own moving and jigging...

This weekend I moved my 6 yr old Blechnum chilense...this should make a corner under the tree fern with an aspidestra to the left, Tetrapanax at the back and ground cover of polypody.

Ive dug a lot of this bed out as it hasn't worked massively well yet....I think it is just too dry. I also moved the Waggy palm to the left as I looked around and all the palms were planted a bit too uniformly near the boundaries, I hope this will stagger things a bit

This was the biggest project so far assembling the arch, making a bigger secret/private seating area behind it and making the bed more flowing....Ive also moved most of the plants around to make a deeper bed so I can get more height. I'm also trying giant Rudbeckia here

Benches are out, although the day the hammock is up I will know it is summer!

The greenhouse is getting a bit bandito as the empty pots pile up and the hardier side of the sheltering plants are made refugees
 Inside the greenhouse space is a little tight, and I have been planting more seeds and potting up salvia cuttings. I have also made the age old mistake of not labelling pots so what was an obvious tender thing (which has now died) is just a pot of earth. some have a hedychium/musa???? label but who knows what else is there...
 I have also rejigged my terrace finally potting up my Jelly palm....I tied to rescue its small side shoot (well rescuing involved jabbing with a spade, me hurting my foot, Dad getting bashed with the sharp foliage and me heading to the shed to get a saw) however it came away with no roots...however it had to go as it spoiled the elegant shape of the palm. The schefera also has a new pot as I find the Crug soil dries out far quicker than I can water it, so I hope it is safer now...
 This is the bit of garden I try and keep clear for annuals however the soil sucks (its very heavy clay) I'm trying to dig it over every year and the spent compost from big pots ends up here along with some old bark chippings
This is my sideway, blocked one end by the door, open at the other, covered with plastic sheeting. The bananas have been here, unwrapped all winter and are still in leaf as well as a Canna musifolia. The yellow cannas at the front are the etiolated ones which came up from the metre cupboard last week

I have even sown veg seeds and the allotment bit looks vaguely presentable. Behind is a bit of the main bed which I have completely rejigged as I'm going for a wall of big plants rather than a graded approach. I have also just put in a  Romneya (giant white poppy) which I am excited about as this was a mini obsession that was sated at the RHS show. So hopefully it will form a large clump at the front

 Another area which is having big changes as the sea of geraniums becomes something more substantial. I have planted 5 giant grasses here (Miscanthus x giganteus) which should get to 6+ft. The path also has a new archway and the allotment area is more screened by giant fence posts....
The bees are getting very active with lots of new bees emerging from the hive for the first flights investigating the area. Oddly they always seem to come down to the terrace to drink from this pot of Thalia

Finally I couldn't not put more pictures of daffodils up, apparently it is Spring!