Friday 27 November 2020

End of the year, and preparing for winter

I haven’t been looking forward to winter….with Coivd it was always inevitable that things would be grim and this is my least favourite season.

 For the whole year the garden has been a lifesaver. I currently work from home 3-4 days per week, and having ants in my pants I am frequently up having a break walking around the garden. Being here so much I have taken a lot of pleasure from noticing all the small changes as things grow and start flowering.

Having an exotic garden, and opening for the NGS puts all the focus on having things look amazing at the height of summer. It is very easy to just stop after the garden opening and put your feet up. In some year’s I have been so lazy that arrows and odd bits of signage from the opening have remained…slowly decomposing, Miss Havisham style.

I have been trying to shift the focus away from just being about summer so that the winter and spring isn’t just a raft of empty space and dying plants. Part of this has been taking more care of and propagating hardy evergreens to keep the terrace looking good. To do this I have been dividing up a great Aspidistra that came from Crug and has elegant leaves speckled with white specs, this is a elegant filler. 

This year I also bought 900 bulbs, way more than usual, but I figure I will be home more and need a spring lift! Most have gone into pots in the hope that the squirrels don’t eat them all! I also got an additional 250 Tete a tete daffodils which we have planted out around the tree bases on my road which I am excited to see come up and turn the road yellow!

Other stars on the terrace include the ‘Hercules’ arum that is stunningly big and exotic. The big Musa sikkimensis and Helens Hybrids are still looking their banana tree thing, and I am giving it a go leaving a Strelitzia out.

Inside I have had a slight terrarium obsession, which has opened up a whole new world of plants! The love of flag Iris’s also continues and I have enjoyed a brief, all encompassing, and expensive affair with Cedric Morris iris’.

In terms of the winter prep the big thing that I do is dig up the red bananas. These have their leaves removed and roots cut back to the basal plate. They are then left to drain upside down for a week or so before being stored in a frost-free outside cupboard. They are now all up to 8?yrs old and getting heavy! I used to be a lot more prissy about cutting off/tidying up most off a lot of the outside leaves, but I now leave as many as a can as I think this helps prevent them becoming too dehydrated when they come out of storage in spring.

We also put up a temporary plastic greenhouse on our sunken terrace, with an extra layer of bubble wrap. This is all super sheltered and sits against a retaining wall. In it go all the Cyathea tree ferns, although the C. medularis is now almost too big to fit in! I will need to be brave next year leaving it out. Also in go the fuchsias, brugmansias, and Begonia luxurians.  Wet is the killer, so most things now sit on bricks. Ironically you also need to watch the dry as the tree ferns dry out really quickly…I have lost more to drought that the cold.

This weekend beings the winter prep to an end, and leaves the garden looking satisfyingly good and attractive. As of 23rd November we still haven’t had any frosts at all in our bit of South London, although I am sure that they are just around the corner.

The terrace has still been looking amazingly jungly as the banannas just get better and better!

Arum 'Hercules' from above...super amazing!

Red banannas freshly dug up and draining off in our side way

Desperate attempts to keep the squirrels away

Terrace post winter sort out...less lux but still exotic. The fuchsias and salvias will stay out until it is frosty so we can enjoy the last bits of colour. Aspidistras fill out the space

Clearer terrace with the pop up greenhouse at the back, view inside below, the key residents being the Cyatheas

Keeping the Aspidistra flying!

Friday 30 October 2020

Our NGS garden opening during Covid

This was always going to be a strange year for the garden opening as it was our 10th year, and I wanted to do something memorable. I got what I asked for…

Opening 10 times is a big thing in the NGS world as you get the fabled ‘golden’ engraved trowel! Whoop whoop! You then have to open for another 10 years to get the matching fork, and 25 for a sundial. Interestingly it is the garden that gets the award and not us, so if we opened for 19 year and then moved, with someone new moving in and opening the garden then they would get the fork!

Despite Covid, we always hoped we would be able to open. The garden is big, I work in a hospital and we are both practical people and could easily see how we could reduce the risks and keep people safe. There were long chats about one-way systems, and if we should use disposable cups or send people out the back gate (to get lost on the other side of the railway tracks!)

The biggest thing for us was reducing the number of people who come to help. This is a big part of why we enjoy our opening, and why it goes so smoothly! Last year 15 people came, everyone comes early and Mum does a great lunch which we always eat on a huge table on the lawn. We then share a bottle of wine and make bets as to how many people will come that year. It is an easy way to bring people together, and the one time of the year I see many people including my Uncle. During Covid 15 people was way too many to have help and we reduced it to 8….

NGS made the opening very easy by having pre-bought tickets, and much time was spent trying to work out safe numbers of people and what the max time in the garden could be. We were also able to be completely contactless for our payments, which worked well.

As the opening drew nearer, I obsessively checked how the sales were going, with all the early ones going first and the 4-5pm ones going last. 4 days before we had sold out!

We managed to have a great trial run when a couple of people turned up 2 weeks early for the opening, having mis-read the date!  

Stevens parents still came down to help which was great, and in preparation Steven bought lots of face shields and tons of handwash. Phil and William also helped along with my parents.

To increase numbers, we opened earlier…11am, which was a bit different as we usually have the morning to get ready and prep the last cakes! We were super prepared as I had been off on Friday, but it still felt a dash as I desperately tried to arrange the plant sale and do the labelling and pricing.  

As time got closer to 11 I realised why all the early slots had gone first as everyone was there for the plant sale. Lifting the bunting to officially signify we were open was like starting a race with a crowd descending on the plants. The vulture fest continued for the first hour and a half and by mid afternoon nearly all the plants had gone! I regretted not having full PPE including a cattle prod!

The day then went super well…limiting numbers meant that there were no more than 24 people in the garden at any one time which made it lovely and relaxed….there were always lots of chairs for people to sit and have cake and none of the usual crowds. Stevens clever one-way system to buy cake meant people could see the terrace more, and the reduced numbers meant a very calm kitchen…I even managed to sit in the kitchen and had some cake without being shouted at, which is very abnormal!

I mainly looked after the plant sale for the first few hours (rather than my usual flouncing around) which I enjoyed. During the day there was loads of time to chat to people, and it was very heart-warming how many people thanked me for opening, and how great it was to have a garden to visit and to do something ‘normal’.

Opening from 11-6 did make it a long day, and I was very ready for wine at the end of the day…..

The super exciting bit was how much money we had made. Whilst I always hoped we would open, I fully expected us to make a fraction of what we usually made.

In total we had 206 visitors and made £2628 for charity! The most money ever! And a great, and very memorable, achievement for our 10th opening during the Covid pandemic.

A new photo montage to celebrate the 10th year

THANK YOU to everyone that came!

Thursday 20 August 2020

The garden is opening for the NGS! Sunday 6th September 2020 11-5:30 pm

After a lot of thought and planning we are opening again for the NGS on Sunday 6th September. To make things Covid safe, to come you need to pre-book a time-slot online, and we are keeping everyone's visits to 1hr. This will help keep the max number of people in the garden at any one time low and ultimately make for a really nice garden experience!

There will of course be lots of cake and a plant sale.

The garden is looking super amazing at the a result of working from home 3-4dpw a lot of the time I would have spent on commuting is now spent on gardening!   This is also a special opening for us as it is out 10th opening! We are now due our engraved 'golden' trowel from NGS HQ! 

Come and visit! You can book tickets here Our friends in Lyndhurst Square, 10 mins down the road are also opening for NGS so why not check them out too?

Thursday 14 May 2020

Gardening in lockdown

Hello from lockdown!

We have all been plunged into a somewhat crazy world. I work in a hospital and so things are now busier than they have ever been and I am super grateful for having the garden to keep me sane!
It is good to look for the positives and the lockdown has proven a great way to slow things down and appreciate all the tiny changes the garden goes through each day. I have also been on a role with my own painting which is great. More on this later….

I was lucky in that I had put in my big order for compost before lockdown and so the 50 or so bags I got came in mid-March at just the right time. Seeds went in a bit later as most seed companies seem to have been swamped. I had to keep logging into Chiltern seeds at odd times to try and catch when their website was actually open.  I was too late in the game to try and get some bedding plant plugs, queuing to go on websites ?!?! to see lists of everything that was sold out.

Another positive has been the restoration of my garden slaves. Unable to do any babysitting the upstairs neighbours have been able to do a lot of projects which has been super helpful. Their gentle pointing out of long-standing unfinished jobs or problem areas has been great to get things done. This has included finally edging some of the veg plots with Victorian rope tiles that have sat around for a couple of years. 

For the first time ever I think I am also on top of where I should be in the garden. Compost heaps have been emptied, seeds sown and pricked out, a new nursery bed has been created and I have even tackled the long-neglected bank in the front garden. After living here for 13? Years and looking at things I planted 12 years ago and thinking how they don’t work for most of those 12 years I have realised it is best to just bin/move them and start again.

The most major change to the garden has been the re-building of one of the major retaining walls between the two gardens. This long neglected Victorian wall collapsed during our really wet spring. We have been lucky to have a few builders in to re-build the mega expensive wall, but this has necessitated the destruction of one of the main flower beds in the garden.  

However, all is not lost! I have loads of Tithonia seedlings ready and waiting and plans to create an arid bed. This will include being brave and planting our my Puyas and agaves. Watch this space…

The wall when it had collapsed (above) and mid re-building showing the destruction 

The giant Echiums are amazing this year

The love affair with flag iris's continues, this one flowering for the first time was so much better than the common blue one that everyone seems to have 

Fatsia polycarpa throwing up new leaves...They seem to have being moved and this one is only just recovering after 3+ years of sulking and near death experiences

Yes the iris's were so good they have 2 pictures...

A surprise for the garden was coming across these amazing Rose Chafer beetles. About 2cm long and bright iridescent green 

Our sunken terrace has always been a haven for newts! this tiny one was under a pot

My beautiful growing area with edgings put in by upstairs. Big up to Steven who is becoming a vegetable growing expert and is watering daily. 

The greenhouse makes me feel like a proper gardener! trays of pricked out seedlings, lettuces in plugs and the last of the red bananas waiting to be planted out