Tuesday 31 January 2012

The things you find (and giant NGS tea pots)

Work continues apace on the new land with discoveries aplenty. Usually the only gift the land gives us is bricks and rubble, but we have found something new...

However, before that check out my new tea cosy in NGS colours that Mum has been knitted! it is actually a giant catering size teapot that is perfect for the open garden. The teapot its self is a bit of a family heirloom from aunt Betty, and now we can add to it. Mum the pom pom is simply inspiring!
white, no sugar please
Anyway...it all began last weekend when I was clearing a bed for some fruit trees I still need to order. I’m finding picking the right tree really difficult as some things you know...like a Greengage and yellow plum, but an apple tree? Who knows which one?!! I want to buy something a bit heritage but there is such a diversity of choices that I know I will buy something that tastes rank and be stuck with for a long time.

Anyway, the bed was all about dug and then just before lunchtime I hit a big bit of concrete about a foot under the surface which I couldn’t budge, so asked Steven to come and help after lunch. An hour later we realised we had found something big as the lump grew and ended up being a solid wall base around 9ft long by 6ft. The sun went down, and over the week it provoked much debate as to whether it was an Anderson shelter (a World War 2 war shelter that was common in the UK), a greenhouse base, pond, grave or Roman plunge pool.

Everyone loves a before and after.....this is the area in summer as a pumpkin patch
Other side the 'wild garden' aka the annoying patch of nettles and brambles we couldnt be arsed to clear
So last weekend we went into the garden and began our Time Team excavation....it was all very exciting to see what was there and slowly but surely a large concrete pond, 3ft deep and complete with pedestals for lilies has emerged.
Also to emerge was a huge amount of crap, including some of the more exciting and random finds which includes:
·         About 20-30 small glass bottles of different size
·         A very rusty push lawnmower
·         A large iron wheel (old fashioned wheelbarrow wheel?)
·         A jar of cloves
·         A budgies food pot
·         3 tea pot lids
·         More broken glass
·         2 old fashioned solid irons of different sizes
·         A Victorian? Marmalade jar
·         A White Horse Peckham beer glass
·         Shoe polish tin
·         A fireplace surround
·         Lots and lots of rubble
Iron and a metal wheel?!#!
Cleared pond..pedestals at side. pallet is a half hearted attempt to help one legged cats and dopey hedgehogs
All very exciting, and something we will keep (all be it with a pond liner). Oddly we were considering a formal rectangular fish pond in that area so we are obviously mystically connected to the land. I also like that we are keeping something of the old garden which adds to the integrity, and all of a sudden the design for the bottom of the garden makes sense, hurrah!
Rubble I have also been ingeniously assembling into a mound which I’m hoping looks something like a Neolithic burial mound. The idea being that it is a bit of a folly that I can stand at the top of and survey the land from and look down on the neighbours. It’s been kind of growing and growing as we find more rubble, and has got to the point where I need a step to climb up it. I don’t think Steven and the family quite know what to make of it as they look at it, pause and then ask what it is for and how I will cover it. However it WILL be fabulous, a triumph of folly design, vertical and arid gardening....that and its saving me £500 from getting more skips.
No its not an ugly pile of rubble, its a sophisticated garden feature! (well it will be when its finished)
So still lots to do, don’t get me started on plant orders or the amount of money I have spent on seeds. There is also a tree surgeon to sort out, a garden day to arrange, a summerhouse to make the base of and order and a corner of the garden I don’t have a clue about!
Bottom of the garden looking wintry.....frosts have finished off the last of the nasturshums and Dahlia imperialis however Nicotiana tabaccum is still flowering away 
Still more digging next weekend and soon it will be over, but what odd/crazy things have you dug up from your garden?

Thursday 19 January 2012

A strange buzz

When we got the new land there was suddenly so much potential, we could do this, we could do that, we could keep chickens (NO says Steven) we could keep micro pigs (REALLY?! says Clive)

But, one idea that did get through was bees. This was always a bit of a random future aspiration, however Charlie, the beau of the beautiful Hannah turns out to be a bee person and was looking for a special friend with a large garden to share hives, as he doesn’t have any outdoor space of his own. So a match was made and it turns out I am his new special bee friend, and since then the bee idea has snowballed especially as Charlie is intent on us getting the hives set up in March/April to make the most of the year.
Next year these Tithonia will be full of my bees!
So the last couple of weeks have been full of bee thoughts and songs: Honey to the bee (much maligned) the bare necessities ‘the bees are buzzing in the trees making some honey just for me’ (on repeat in my head). I knew I was hooked after I had ordered a bee keeping book and a few others from Amazon and realised that I had read half of ‘Bees at the bottom of the garden’ before I had even opened my new oversized Tom of Finland book.

Last night I even went to a bee talk by the local bee keepers association on how bees sense the world. I was a little apprehensive about this and had no idea what to expect, and over dinner beforehand was quizzing Charlie. He looked a little bemused when I asked if it would be all men, thinking I was only getting involved to flirt with beekeepers rather than for the serious business of apiary, however having had an allotment I know how male orientated they are. He did say that there were a lot of men with beards which I had expected, and pleased as I am currently sporting a beard (it’s cold, I’m lazy) so thought at least I could fit in on that front.

So I went along and was impressed at how friendly and mixed they were as the crowd was. There were probably more women than men, and young rather than the old folks home I was expecting. Only 3 other beards (gasp) but they were really open and forthcoming with advice ‘oh you need this hive not X’ and a little bit scary ‘oh you wait till they swarm, and they will, and then you do x and they all fly up in your face...terrifying...terrifying?!?!

The talk was quite hard core and took me back to my botany days (I haven’t seen a cell diagram since my degree) lots of talk of Rhodesian bears and Welsh headmasters, however really interesting, and the choice of biscuits was spot on, so I left happy with the promise of a nuc (nucleus of bees, look at me with my bee lingo already) in Feb/March.

All very exciting but I have to speed up clearing the corner of the garden where they will go and think about location..... location, location, location as Phil and Kirsty would say as I’m sure wherever they go I will want to put X there instead. Amusingly beekeepers hive siting advice seems to be hide them from your neighbours and don’t tell them!

So all very hurrah!, I’m sure I won’t be so excited when I’ve been stung so many times that I’m only able to type on the computer with one immense swollen finger, but I look forward to my first jar of honey and sitting in the garden watching the bees go about their business.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Back to the grind: sheds, neighbours, botrytis and the schleffera question

Well Xmas is over, I’m fatter, less fit and don’t know if I can cope with work, as with going to Thailand and the break I haven’t worked a full week since November. This whole long break stuff can also be very disorientating in terms of what day is what, and I’m always so rubbish at thinking from one year to the next that I only got a diary sorted very late in the day and as such the social diary is a little sparse giving more time for gardening, and web rambling.

So it’s back to the slog, and I think in the last couple of weeks I have been out digging about 4-5 times realising how I’m now quite unfit. It’s good to get back into it and I’m planning on being quite regular, at least until the un-dug bits are done and I can breathe better in my trousers.
New borders and digging, muscels aching and 2 forks bent

Neighbours and the area are my gripe at the moment though as I really want to get some of the trees sorted out, but being in a conservation area I need to apply for planning consent if I reduce any tree more than 10% or cut anything thicker than my arm....very irritating! Especially as we are right on the edge of the area (my neighbour felled a large mature sycamore a few years ago without anyone batting an eyelid) and so many people don’t stick to it.

Things are a little wintry, but the lack of a hard frost means that a lot is still alive
I want to just manage a lot of the trees better, and we have about 3 young sycamores on the site which if we don’t prune will get massive and block the light and take too much water. There is also one in the middle I want to take out completely as it is the wrong place and there are nicer trees to have. My planning permission has gone in and been refused (too little info about the tree to be removed, what would replace it etc) but fingers crossed it can go in and be successful before birds start to nest.

The whole of the new site does suffer from being very overlooked, so I was interested to read a good blog on danger garden on  Landscaping for Privacy, Innovative Ways to Turn Your Outdoor Space into a Peaceful Retreat. There are some good hints on there and the book looks interesting. This is a major issue for me as I really don’t feel I can relax if I have a neighbour looking at me, and at the moment I have 6 peoples balconies, my own building and 2 others to cope with.

The things I have tried to do to solve this is to get all my structural plants such as bamboos and new trees in early to give some height, use big plants to create screens and create wig wams, trellis etc. I’m already planning for next year and trying to hunt for new giant plants such as Rubbeckia   herbestonne and will use lots of Jerusalem artichokes, posts, trellis screens and a new row of fruit frees to try and give a more permanent escape.

A new shed/summerhouse is also part of this and I have been pacing around to find somewhere that isn’t overlooked but is sunny (Steven is asking for decking for sun loungers). This is quite exciting to get going, but will be a project to do...my Dad was today telling me all about how to make a rubble base to then give a concrete surfaces, and also how he concussed himself when assembling the summerhouse at our old house, mmmm. However getting it put in will be great as the rest of the gardens design will fall into place and getting it in soon will enable me to plant and design around it, and have a fabulous place to drink gin.

Another new project: the mound. Im creating a 3-4ft mound that I can climb to the top of and survey the land perhaps with a telescope? a great use of rubble
I’m also beginning to get slightly obsessive about plants again as I work out what I need to buy from the must haves on last years list. Using the RHS plant finder I came across Constantine garden nursery, a new one to me but they seem to have a fab, and huge list of plants..... I’m very fickle with plant nurseries that have bad websites, but this one is easy to get around although they do need to invest time in putting up the pictures. I was also finding the RHS plant finder very unreliable as the listings weren’t current.

I like Constantine as it has a wish list you can save, but I think I’m up to about 23 different types of plant, and with Beth Chattos ‘don’t be a hairpin gardener’ ratting in my head I will try and order a few of each which wont be good for my bank balance.

My Dahlia imperialis has just started to flower!
I have also been very mindful of New Year’s resolutions. Last years was being more new media savvy which is one of the reasons I started this blog (happy 1st birthday to me! I have done it for a year and been focused and regular, hurrah!) However Twitter has still been a mystery so this week I have broken my Twitter virginity. It has all been very exciting and I am seeing how I go, but so far I have been impressed as I found out about a thing at Kew gardens that I didn’t know about, and from Alternativeeden I was reminded at how the RHS London show is soon, and how Crug usually go and that I should think about what I want from them as they can often bring it down with them saving on P&P, which is great as they are fabulous, but aren’t cheap.

Fatsia polycarpa (from Crug) flowering away
I love Crug, but i need to see how much I want to spend, and if I need to put the Schleffera fetish to bed.  I have bought 3 Schlefferas from Cru:  taiwanna died a slow death....it never looked happy, I moved it and think the soil was too clay’y and may have over fertilized. My macrophylla was in too exposed a position so got battered, and last spring after coming back to life suddenly died for no reason. Fair enough, things do die but the taiwanna was £60, and the macrophylla £100. Ouch! Do I want the pain again, should I buy more? Of course! But I think I will start them in pots until they are a good size and grow them in sheltered places. If you don’t know about schlefferas and are an exotic garden person look them up as they are truly amazing plants....beautiful, rare and very special.

Amazingly the Nicotiana tabacum are also looking as good as they have done all year!
Another odd thing was noticing how I had been mentioned on HTUK, a great forum for anyone with an exotic gardening fetish. Good to see how people had liked a picture of a fish pot from Jim Thompsons house, however a discussion on Musa sikkimensis brought up the Gardeners World stuff, and a guy had even posted up stills of me from the program questioning if my wrapping would work as he felt it a recipe for botrytis. Very odd to see this happen and be questioned as it did make me think.

Botrytis is a killer for anyone trying to over winter stuff in a greenhouse, I am uber careful to clean up any dead leaves and keep things dry as it can suddenly set in and I usually watch about 50% of my salvia cutting succumb from Jan to March. The Musa Sikkimensis I have of course started digging up as the very bad winters cut them to the ground, but I wrap them ‘a la Gardeners World’ and store them in a side passage (I will take you up my side passage another time). Although not closed to the elements as it is next to the house it is very sheltered and gets some of its warmth, it also has a great air flow to keep things dry, and worked last year, so fingers crossed it will again.

After HTUK I did get paranoid that I had created a wet botyritic monster so did go and check on them, but they have all already all dried out, including the leaves I tied to the top, so I hope they will be ok! It was actually too dry and an Echium pinnata I had in a pot was almost dead from drought so I had to water it!

Anyway, botrytis is a killer and one of my new year’s resolutions is to increase airflow, the others are all about spending lots of money on new plants, hurrah!

Do feel free to share your own plants new year’s resolutions as I think they everyone does need at least one....

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Thai gardens part 2

When the wind and rain is being scary outside and with all that Christmas nonsense out the way what better thing to do than write more about Thailand!

Sadly the cloud trees at the palace were too big to accidentally slip into my bag. I love these so much and always forget how big they are (these are about 12 ft?) should be easy to replicate

Firstly though I hope Christmas was good for everyone and that Santa has fulfilled your gardening dreams. Here Santa brought back 4 forks that had been bent during digging cunningly put back into shape, 2 bird boxes (I’m all about saving the pandas) and a couple of books. Beth Chattos dry garden I’m enjoying, especially the language but I realise I am guilty of ‘hat pin gardening’. ‘Planting the dry shade garden’ I also like, but the breadth of plants isn’t quite as diverse as I would like with lots of the usual suspects and a few random ones like hostas?!  I hope Santa has been good to you too!
Anyway, Thailand...... I wish I was still there, over New Year we were with our friend Helen who has just got back from -10 in Canada and she sat there saying its very hot, and we were saying its very cold....

Gardening in Thailand is interesting as they aren’t into gardening in the same way as we are in the UK, and as everything grows so rampantly it is more about controlling nature than celebrating it. As a result there is lots of mowed grass, things in pots and topiary. There is also a big nod to imitate some Western style gardens with some classical Greek sculpture and hideous rose gardens that don’t grow well.
The plants can make you feel rather small.....Steven in the Suan Pakard palace gardens

Simple planting with cycads and a giant Chinese warrior at the palace
I’m also surprised at the lack of diversity in the tropical plants they use, as Thailand has a huge flora yet the same plants are used again and again including many species from Africa and South America. The result seems to be that if you are in a hotel in Thailand, Bali or Mexico the planting looks identical. I would imagine that this would change over time, as in the UK people have been obsessing and breeding plants for hundreds of years and in the tropics it’s a bit newer, but it would be great to see more of a celebration of an areas unique flora as Thailand has some amazing native plants.

Public park, much like our own...grass, lake, path but with lots of fab palms. Sad memorial in the middle to a queen and princess who died when the boat they were in on a northern river began to sink, they couldnt swim and couldnt be touched by commoners/servants who watched them drown 

Anyway, saying that there are still some fabulous plants to see and cloud trees to salivate over and also some ideas to take home.
Lotus's in pots also make me cry as they are so beuatiful, so simple

Musa laterita? behind some palms. very easy to do at home with chamerops and a basjoo

Musa Siam Ruby???? in the grounds of the Four Seasons
As part of our break we flew up to Chaing mai, the old northern capital where we stayed at the Four Seasons which Helens book on 1000 places to see before you die infomed us is a must do. I hadnt realised how good the planting was until we left the complex to cycle to a local temple (yes I do sport). At the Four Seasons they acheive a confident and naturalistic style which I had assumed was just cultivated wilderness, but beyond the grounds the natural vegetation is scrubbier, drier and less lush looking. Fabulous as this is exactly what I want to do in my own garden.

Great use of a natural stream, no idea what the big leafed plants are but would guess at some type of musa/canna family

Random flowers

They used groundcover a lot, here a type of lily grass very similar to ones here

Everyone needs a random monster emerging from the vegetation to scare children

From our cycle ride, lots of young teak trees with huge leaves

Local orchid farm where they seem to grow like weeds. They all grow in little cups with no soil, just their long roots hanging down

Hotel shrine, the Ganesh obsession gets worse!

All Thai building have spirit houses outside, this is a typical one for a house near the river

Not everything in Thailand is chic! a random Daffy Duck in the grounds of a temple in Chaing Mai