Winter Flowers

Walking in the garden today I was overwhelmed by a delicious scent that I couldn’t quite place at first. Looking around I realised it was the beautiful Viburnum Bodantentse, a truly wonderful shrub in my garden.

This shrub has a story, like many of the plants in my garden.  I lost my husband in 2002 and really thought I could never be happy again but when I met Brendan a new chapter began in my life. As we began to plan a life together, I started introducing him to my family and he was universally accepted by all. One memorable visit was to my cousin Áine and her lovely husband Tom. We spent a very pleasant evening, with much of the chat around our plans for our future. We were planning to build a home together that would reflect our shared respect for the environment so we city dwellers were planning a totally new life in the country, building an Eco house on half an acre!

Áine and I shared a love of gardening, so the conversation inevitably turned to what did we plan to do with half an acre of a garden! Brendan was quick to say that he would give me a free hand in the garden – in other words, it was up to me! Already in his seventies it was his stated intention that he would not be starting to mow lawns again! I was already making drawings of possible garden layouts to surround the house we planned to build, and I shared some of these ideas with Áine. She immediately offered me pieces from her beautiful mature garden which I was delighted to accept. I said that when the house was built, I would come back to take her up on her offer! The conversation moved to other topics and eventually we rose to leave.

Áine insisted we should take cuttings there and then, as we didn’t visit them often and I could be getting the cuttings established while the house was under construction! Despite my protests, Tom was despatched in the pitch dark with spade and bucket, with Áine sending him in all directions by torchlight and the limited light from the house!  The bucket was quickly filled with various goodies. Then Áine took her secateurs and snipped off cuttings from the large shrub right outside her door.  “This is a great plant for wintertime” she said as she added half a dozen cuttings into the already overflowing bucket!

We returned to the apartment we were living in while waiting for the house to be constructed and next morning I surveyed the contents of the bucket. There were a number of herbaceous plants, some of which I recognised but some that were new to me. The Viburnum cuttings needed immediate attention. I had never tried to take cuttings before, so I was going on the advice from various TV programmes to learn the technique. Without much hope I potted up the cuttings and no-one was more surprised than me when one of them developed new leaves! I managed to keep the cutting alive while we went through the process of building our house and it was still surviving when we moved in the following Autumn. It had to survive another winter in the pot as work on the garden had not begun.  It finally got planted the following Spring and it was not very promising. With lots of other more pressing work to be done in the garden it was almost forgotten. Each Spring when I would weed the border where it was, I would remind myself about it. First one small branch, then another – and then it finally decided to get going! It is now a generous shrub and gives me so much pleasure when I walk past it – the perfume fills the air, and the pretty flowers are so welcome through the winter. But most of all, when I pass it I think of Tom and Áine who were so kind and encouraging when we were setting out on the adventure of our new home together.

Carpe Diem

With the crazy fluctuations in weather we are having this Winter it is easy to decide it’s just not worth trying to get any garden work done. For me that means spending way too much time sitting looking out at the garden and fretting! The daylight hours are definitely starting to stretch, but sometime it is hard to see the improvement because of the rainclouds overhead.

Yesterday began as such a day, but before I had finished my breakfast the rain and clouds had vanished and the sun had made a welcome appearance. Determined to get out in the fresh air I donned the gardening gear and set out to do some cutting back. My main target was my Tree Peony as Monty Don had said this was the time to prune it. I had also seen an excellent YouTube video demonstrating in detail how to do this job, Unfortunately, when I approached the shrub I couldn’t remember all the excellent tips so I decided to leave that job until I rewatched the video! Such changes of direction are a real feature of my winter gardening! Since I was in the front garden with secateurs and loppers to hand, it seemed the right time to tackle the Buddha Garden border which was looking very tatty !

A big clean-up on the Buddha Garden main border! Still have to trim the Box Hedging!

This border contains one of the pollarded Salix Alba Chermesina (a pretty red-stemmed Willow) which hadn’t got cut back last year and so was disappointing this winter with much fewer new stems to colour up! As usual I forgot to take a “before” picture but I hadn’t really intended to tackle that job. The plan was just to cut back the herbaceous stuff including the Thalictrums which are spreading nicely but do not die back prettily! As I was removing the stray Japanes Anemone seedlings that were threatening to engulf the entire border I moved closer to the Willow, and just trimmed off the lowest branches that were getting in my way. Of course, once I started trimming it I just kept going! The sunshine was so encouraging after a couple of dull days, and I was well wrapped up so the time flew and before I knew it the job was done! When these Salix were first planted I used to coppice them to the ground, but one of the original ones died so I took a different approach with the two survivors, twining several stems together to make a more interesting shape when they are cut back and so far this is working!

Job done!

Just as I was transporting the prunings to the yard for shredding the sky darkened and the rain drove me indoors but not before I captured the work done, and also took a picture of the second Willow yet to be pollarded and of course the lovely blue sky!

Salix Alba Chermesina is pretty in Winter

So with a great deal of satisfaction I scurried indoors before the heavens opened on me. I decided this year not to shred the willow trimmings and have started stacking them behind the leaf-mould in the composting area but I think I might try out my new shredder on these pieces. If they can be shredded properly they make a great mulch! But that is a task for another day!

Willow is a great test for any shredder!

The taks of shredding so much willow is one I dread each year but the new shredder is much eaiser to work having a design that allows both soft material and tought branches to be shredded well! Now today is not sunny, but I wonder will the rain stay off for a while so I can try out my new toy?

Well, the rain stayed off, and the new shredder lived up to my expectations – 40 minutes turned the pile of willow into this useful mulch!

Some things need doing and other things are worth waiting for

The garden has had some major surgery over the past few weeks and I am still getting the place back to rights. The Hawthorn hedge bordering the garden on the west side had gradually got higher and higher so that it was no longer possible to trim it without a stepladder so drastic action was needed. FRom the field side the whole hedge was reduced back to its original height just above the timber fence. It looks awful at the moment but should look really well when Spring comes along. The other surgery was for a different reason. I originally planted Poplar trees along the street boundary in 2008 or 2009 when the garden was first planted. My intention was to remove them after about 7 or 8 years once the other trees had matured so about 4 years ago we removed most of them but the two each side of the gate looked well so I left them be. Bad decision! I was unaware that Poplar roots spread to two and a half times their height and I became aware that the shoots from the roots were approaching with a few feet of my house so there was nothing for it but to remove these very tall trees. This task was also completed in the past month or so! The tidy-up was my main focus since then but sometimes the garden can surprise me with a treasure to lift my spirits! The reliable Mahonia is one such plant.

When I started collecting Clematis I was fascinated to realise that there were some which were evergreen and also winter-flowering so I acquired a few. Clematis Pixie did well for me for a few years but then I lost it to the winter. Cartmanii Joe survived a bit longer. The evergreen Armandii is not fully hardy and I have struggled but have managed to get it to survive long enough to give me one or two flowers, but the most frustrating one which I acquired in 2014 was ‘Wisley Cream’ – much praised on various websites. It is a small-leafed climber, not at all like a Clematis leaf, and it produced a fair bit of growth each year, but never a sign of a flower! I ignored it for most of the year, but each autumn when I was tidying the borders for the winter I would come across it and wonder would it flower that year but it never did. I lost some of my larger clematis last year and so Wisley Cream had a bit more scope to spread itself which it duly did. The other day I was passing the Clematis arch when I noticed that Wisley Cream and Armandii seemed to be twining roudn each other for support. But what was that? Could it be a flower? Yes! At last! After seven years Wisley Cream has decided to flower!

As you can see Armandii is also showing signs of buds too! It is looking good for us so long as we don’t get too much frost! I am particularly pleased that the flowers on Wisley Cream are quite plentiful and look exactly like the pictures that tempted me to acquire it in the first place!

Putting some manners on the Tropical Garden

I love the exotic-looking plants in this area of the garden. It was a real no-mans-land for a long time but as I acquired some plants with exotic leaves the idea of a specific Tropical Garden was born. Of course, as usual I took no account of how large these plants would grow, and on top of that, I didn’t get to it for the past year so it had really got a bit out of hand! It was more jungle than tropical so some changes had to be made!

Here is the list of plants as of this summer but I decided that some remedial action was needed to show off the more unusual plants!

  • Acorus
  • Acanthus Mollis  
  • Cordaline
  • Cortaderia ToeToe
  • Darmera Plelata
  • Eryngium
  • Ficus ‘Ice Crystal’
  • Hedera helix ‘English Ivy’
  • Hedychium gardnerianum(Ginger)
  • Lysimachia nummularia
  • Melianthus Major
  • Phlomis
  • Rodgersia aesculifolia
  • Rodgersia Cally Salmon
  • Rodgersia Podophylla
  • Tetrapanax Rex
  • Trachycarpus Fortuneii
  • Veratrum Nigrum
  • Yucca filamentosa

The stars of the Tropical Garden this summer were the Eryngium. The original seedling has increased and multiplied each year and this year in particular the extraordinary blue flowers and stems were a sight to behold! It can happily self-seed away here, just being removed if it comes up in the middle of other plants!

The Acorus is slowly taking hold round the edges but it has lots of competion from self-seeders. I have high hopes that my current modifications will allow it to thrive. The Cordaline was too close to the path and was a danger to anyone passing by so it had to go. This created a space where I was able to relocate Veratrum Nigrum that I had put too close to the Rodgersias, The Darmera is struggling a bit but it will also benefit from the removal of the Cordaline and some Lysimachia Firecracker that had invaded the space! The Acanthus Mollis also known as Bear’s Breeches managed to flower for the first time this year too.

The Hedera is an unusual one and I manage to keep it under control by ruthless cutting back each year. I can allow it to become good ground cover up to a point! The Gingers are so exotic but Their beautiful flowers were lost among the Tetrapanax leaves this year so they need a better location – and this will be available when the ToeToe is fully removed. The Lysimachia nummularia is another great gound-cover plant and gives colour all year. Every Spring I wait anxiously for the Melianthus to appear and so far I have not been disappointed. The pale green foliage is a real contrast in this garden. I love the strange flowers on the phlomis but it is one that needs to be cut back hard to stop it taking over the universe! The Rodgersias are thriving and the Tetrapanax and Trachycarpus are both now sizeable plants but the Yucca is a big disappointment. I placed it at the centre of this garden to prevent it stabbing passersby but after over ten years it has failed to provide me with a single open flower. They always got hit by frost before they could open but the last couple of years it didn’t produce any flowers. I may have to leave is as the thought of trying to remove such a potentially lethal plant fills me with trepidation!

I realised the other day that the Toe Toe was really swamping everything else in the whole garden so I have started the process of getting rid of it. I am totally amazed at how even cutting it back has opened up the whole garden and allowed better views of the plants. Some plants like the Gingers will need to be moved, but the new aspect will no doubt be a big improvement.

I hope the slideshow below gives an idea of that this area looks like – and maybe next year it will be possible to see the individual plants a bit better!

My determination to reduce the maintenance of the garden is making me take a fresh look at each area as I progress through the tidy-up going into Winter. Each plant, each area is being assessed for the amount of effort involved in its maintenance and the pleasure I get from it. I find myself being more tolerant of large clumps of geraniums that have spread beyond their allotted space, and I am slower to remove the stems of plants that have gone over – bare soil is an invitation to weeds to get established before Spring growth covers the ground! I don’t think it will ever be a ‘Low Maintenance’ garden but it can certainly be a more easily managed space!

Rose Trellis sorted!

The Rose Trellis has been weeded and composted but the pruning of the roses will be done in Spring. Since the bamboo area which was shading the trellis was removed the roses responded with a great second flowering but when I started weeding the border I realised there were a number of plants there that were better moved elsewhere. The biggest one is Jasminum Officinale which has lots of growth every year getting entangled with the roses and also with the bamboos next to them but producing only a handfull of blossoms. It really likes a sunny south-facing aspect so I have moved it to the south face of the Summerhouse. It will get some shade from the Shelter Belt but hopefully will manage to produce more flowers here.

Jasminum Officinale in her new home!

I also removed a Penstemon and a Geranium Magnificum and found a home for them in the area near the new walkway. Some of the border had Ajuga as an edging so I extended that all the way. There were a fine crop of Forget-me-not seedlings which had invaded the path as well so I removed as many as possible but I’m sure there will still be some appearing in the Spring! The trellis follows two sides of the Bamboo area and it doesn’t look much right now, but I am imagining it in the summer with all those roses doing their thing!

Diamond Jubilee is planted beyond Lady Marmalade and that is Compassion in the foreground

While doing the tidy-up I realised that one of the loveliest roses, ‘Diamond Jubilee’ was now doing well. This is one of the roses I moved a couple of years ago and at first I thought it hadn’t survived but it resurected itself last year but is still looking very weak. It was too close to ‘Lady Marmalade’ which is a very vigorous rose so I dug it up and moved it a few feet along the border! When I dug it up I could see that it had made very few new roots so I tried out the mycorrhizal powder sprinkling the entire root with it. I also made sure it was replanted with a good bit of my own compost mixed in to the border. Time will tell if it will recover. In Spring I will prune it very hard to see if it will produce some stronger shoots.

Plenty of space now the Jasmine is removed !

This side of the trellis has two Albertines and Rosa Wenlock in between them so the display here has great promise!

Now I just have to be patient and wait till Spring to prune away to my hearts content!

Can it really be November?

The garden is not ready yet to welcome Winter! I believe it is more evidence of the change in our planet brought about by human activity. Having a garden and providing habitats and food sources for the wildlife is one small way I feel I can reduce my impact on the earth. But my daily walk in the garden where I see plants flowering out of season and leaves hanging on the trees weeks later than normal is a reminder of how the world is changing.

Hamamelis is usually completely bare by mid-November – this year it is still in full leaf

I do believe that each of us has a responsibility to reduce our impact on the planet wherever we can. I find this difficult at times, but even if I don’t meet 100% I remind myself that “doing better” is something I can strive to do. I am also conscious that as I get older I need to find ways to reduce the work in the garden while still maintaining an outdoor space to treasure and enjoy.

Zephrine Drouhin still has lots of buds to come

I know we always have a few roses popping up even up to Christmas, but this year my roses have had a complete late flowering in October that was as good if not better than the main flowering. So now I am in two minds – do I revel in the pleasure of the extended flowering of my garden or do I lament the real evidence of Climate Change I am seeing every day in my garden?

Salvias still going strong

Of course some garden flowers are happy to continue giving us pleasure until the first frost comes – these Salvias are a prime example – but I also have Alstromerias still looking very good, Penstemons and hardy Fuschias are also lovely late treasures in the November garden. But I wonder how these plants with fare if no frost arrives to trigger them to go dormant to build up reserves for the next year?

This year due to health issues I resorted to using weedkiller on my gravel paths. I am blaming this on the sudden proliferation of that really nasty jelly-like Nostoc fungus which is reported to occur where geophosphate is used as a weedkiller. My resolution is to return to raking and hand-weeding in future! One forum suggested using biological washing powder to get rid of it, which I may resort to as a once-off solution but not as an ongoing answer to this problem.

Urban development

As someone who spent most of their life in cities I am acutely aware of how turning a city centre into a building site affects the people who already live there. There is a part of Barcelona, largely residential, at the end of Avenue Diagonal I have observed a major building project here over the past couple of years.

This area had (and still has) a number of derelict factory sites as it was once a thriving industrial area and the multi-national giant Cisco wanted to build a major European centre here. Because the local authorities place value on their area this development has had some features that our local authorities might copy!

Cisco building Poblenou.

This red-brick building was a derelict factory but it has its facade lovingly restored and the modern office is built inside. The entire south-facing roof is covered with solar panels and is providing electricity to run the centre. The fins on the windows reduce the need for air conditioning during the hot Barcelona summer. Even the factory chimney (not in view here) has also been restored.

You can see the entrance to the park area in the foreground. This was built and planted as the building was continuing.

Linear park

The linear park extends the full length of a large area currenly under construction. By putting the park in place early in the project the local people have a pleasant environment to live in while the building progresses.

Secluded areas like this sand-filled arena are dotted along the parkway with little paths to explore and vegetation rapidly growing tall enough for games of Hide-and-Seek.

An adventure climbing frame provides local children with challenging fun while there are lots of seats for onlookers!

The area already had some beautiful mature trees and during construction of the park these mature trees were lifted, had their roots wrapped in sacking and were diligently watered through the long hot summer. As soon as possible they were replanted in their original locations. I only spotted one casualty!

I have been observing the construction phase of this project over the past few years. The project also includes creating flood protection areas bringing flood water away from paths and roadways. These also are full of luxuriant planting helping to clean the air of a very busy city.

This planting along a busy road replaces rainwater gullys and shores and is proving completely effective in dealing with the torrential downpours that are a feature of the weather here.

This is an example of one of the mature trees that is being supported as it sends out new roots to secure it in its home. This is a Plane tree and the foliage above looks very healthy!

Having seen the trees in this area at their most vulnerable, in the midsummer sun with only sacking to protect their roots, and workmen diligently hosing them down at dawn and dusk, it is wonderful to see them reinstated with those amazing Banana plants and Castor Oil plants creating a real jungle area in a previously bare place!

Now would somone please tell our planners to talk to the planners in Barcelona so our city can also come alive like this!

October Chores

This mild weather is really letting me spend lots of time out in the garden and I have been making a start on the cuttimg back and shredding of the herbaceous plants that have gone over but the best part of the day is going round the garden, secateurs in hand. dead-heading! It is a great excuse to get up close and personal with the plants and there is still a lot of colour around!

The cutting back and shredding does not make for pretty pictures, so I thought I would chart my progress in the text but just add photos of my roses in October!

I have made a good start on cutting back the willow fences but this year I am not shredding them. That task involves days at the shredder and the resulting shreddings are too coarse to be of much use as a mulch, and take a really long time to break down into compost. I am experimenting this year with just piling them up in the composting area to see what will happen! There is also a space to the side of the compost bins and that area is being used too. I am hoping that they will rot down sufficiently in a year to allow the process to be repeated!

One of the original fences is coming to the end of its time, I think. It will be removed and replaced I think with a non-growing fence to retain the design but reduce the workload! Usually I tackle one border at a time and do the Autumn clear-up but this year I seem to be hopping from one area to another! I really miss having the HelpX people who were a great help with these tasks in pre-Covid days! The borders still need clearing, and I find it better to try and do as much as possible in Autumn because if left until late Winter or Spring the whole job becomes very messy and muddy!

Yesterday I cleared the debris from a large clump of Crocosmia from under my bird-feeders and to my horror I found that the clump had extended considerably and was actually lifting the paving beside it! The only solution was to try and remove the whole clump! This was a serious task and took most of the day and I am sure I didn’t manage to get ALL the corms! It will be a case of vigilance next year if they are not to take over again!

I made use of one of the raised beds to create a kind of “nursery” for all the “plants in waiting” I usually have to look after on the tables near the patio. I sunk them all in the raised beds in their pots – just down about a quarter of each pot! If we get severe frosts forecast it will be a simple job to cover the whole area with fleece. My objective is to have no pots to mind – well, apart from the two lovely healthy plants of Salvia ‘Heatwave Glimmer’ I got from my friend Joan at the last meet-up of gardening friends! Since my greenhouse is no more (thanks to Hurricane Ophelia) I will have to keep them in my shed and I am hoping they will survive with the limited light they will get through the small window!

Everything else will go in the Nursery bed! I have only four more pots to deal with – and I really want to plant them! I have three new Hemerocallis to add to my collection but their new home is still under construction! They are in good-sized pots so may end up just being placed near their planned spot with a bit of fleece to protect them! There is one more New Arrival waiting to be planted – it is a lovely Penstemon – but its new home is currently occupied by a large Sedum that has outgrown its space and needs to be moved. Of course it is very hard to cut off lovely flowers before they are done but I just might have to bite that particular bullet very shortly!

Changes afoot

I am on a mission to reduce the heavier tasks in the garden as I recover from my recent back problem.

There is a difficult area that definitely needs to be re-thought. There is a septic tank that I want to conceal. It is a lower level than the main garden and I thought I had the perfect solution! I planted bamboos round the tank and we built a boardwalk skirting the area. I let the bamboo grow for a number of years, and about 3 years ago I did a major job on it and thinned it out completely. I was very happy with the waving bamboos that year and it still looked well the following year. However, when I did the thinning it took about three weeks of very hard work to manage the bamboo.

This year I replaced the boardwalk that had become rotten over the years, with a walkway but the bamboo was constantly falling across the new walkway. I was faced with the huge task of thinning out the bamboo again, as well as removing all the new growth that sprang up after the new walkway was installed. It was decision time. I have my son staying with me at the moment and when I went away for a few days he tackled the bamboo! Here is the result!

Note the large chunk of roots leaning against the back wall! The remaining roots will need to be removed too and I am relying on him to continue with the job!

In the meantime there was an awful lot of bamboo to be dealt with! My first instinct was to hire a shredder or mulcher to dispose of it but to shred all those lovely bamboo canes seemed a terrible waste.

Sorting out the bamboos that were of a useful thickness from the rest of the debris was stage one. I then cleaned off the leaves, and tied them in bundles. I reckon I have about 150 sorted so far….

So I have about half of the bamboos done, but I have a bit of RSI in my hand so it will have to wait for another day!

There is still some discussion as to what will replace the bamboo – I’m thinking strong weedblock with bark on top – and a few plants dotted round the offending tank. I’m not convinced that we will succeed in getting all the bamboo roots, so some remedial action may be called for! Whatever goes in there has to be less laborious than bamboo!

Late September Colour

There is definitely a shortening of the daylight hours as we move through September but the warmth of the month has meant that the colour in the garden is still very much summer colour as the autumn changes are only just beginning. I took a stroll round the garden here is what I found!

The temptation when a border is as full as this is to get tidying – but today I resisted that temptation. Instead here are a few details from this picture –

This is Fuchsia ‘Riccartonii’ which had been smothered in that border last year, but given a bit more space it filled it to perfection! It is reaching the top bar of the arch behind it! The lovely arching branches are being held in check by the other plants but it is still very colourful!

There are three different Penstemons here – all from plants gifted to me by fellow gardeners. The deep purple one in the foreground is P. Bodnant, the pink one in the centre is I think P. “Pershore Pink Necklace” and the one on the upper right is P. “Evelyn”. They are all cuttings from other parts of the garden that I assembled here to fill a part of the border that was bare and dreary!

As I progressed round the garden the Hot Border caught my eye.

Penstemon ‘Garnet’ is to the fore, with a tiny dwarf Alstromeria ‘Princess Diana’ at the bottom of the picture. Rudbeckia ‘Goldstrum’ getting better every year! In the background the Japanese Anemones provide contrast which serves to enhance the yellow of the Rudbeckia. Just peeking over the top of the Rudbekia is Persicaria ‘Amplexicaulis’, too far away to show up clearly.

But the most encouraging thing is that the roses are producing lots of late blooms, with R. ‘Just Joey’ having a cluster of 8 or 10 buds still to come! This rose is ‘Zephrine Drouhin’ which is responding well to my removel of damaged leaves rather than spraying.

There are still lots of flowers on this bush and the fragrance wafts across the path every time I pass by. This display will last for several weeks with any luck – and by then the autumn colours should be evident. Adding Alstromerias and Penstemons to my garden has certainly extended the flowering season by weeks, if not months!