Well we have all been waiting for the spring to arrive and FINALLY after weeks of freezing cold, miserable and not so miserable days it finally arrive with a whoosh this week. To be frank I was beginning to despair, clucking over recalcitrant seeds lurking under their blanket of compost refusing to poke out in what was effectively still mid winter. And really who could blame them. Then last weekend out came the sun, up shot the temperature and low and behold it was spring.
I live next to a tree filled park, an enormous beech towers over both house and garden, heralding the change of season with remarkable clarity. Light flood through in winter when the branches are bare, a green dappled light in spring as the steadily rising sun filters through the newly forming, slowly unfurling lime coloured leaves, then summers haze of shady hours and autumns mounds of crisp brown leaf matter, cluttering borders, corners, path and gutters. It’s no surprise then that its rush to burst out with green frothy leaf age is noticeable.
Alongside this green flutters delicate pink and white as the fruit trees blossom, magnolia show off chunky blooms and Amelanchier pushes pink leaves up behind pale white blossom.
Not bad for one week!
This gallery contains 12 photos.
The sudden gloom this week and hazy mists and mizzle have highlighted, all the more, the superb colour we’ve had this autumn. There’s a small park next door which has coloured up in spectacular fashion making me sit up and take note of it’s beauty. So this post is all about the photos.
Olympic-Scapes? well the Olympic Landscapes of course!
The Games were not the only draw for this summers BIG event in the East of the city of London. I suspect Mr Coe et al have a set of 3 landscape and planting genius to thank for the sell out sales to the Olympic Park this summer.
Not only were the flocks of folk thronging to see the Olympians and Para-Olympians strut their stuff and give their all but many, many, MANY of us went to see the planting, just that nothing else! Me included.
This week the Garden Museum offered a lecture by the Horticultural and Planting Geniuses responsible discussing, in depth, the ins and outs of actually designing and delivering such a project.
Nigel Dunnett, James Hitchmough, renown professors from Sheffield University’s Department of Landscape and Sarah Price, youthful fine artist and planting designer, spoke about their own involvement and experiences of the project from inspirations through designs and of course negotiating not only Olympian form filling and professional hurdle jumping but the reality of being onsite with the contractors building, planting and actually seeding the gardens.
I’ve never heard any of them speak in person before but was unsurprised at the effective and fascinating delivery from both professors, after all they do this to earn a crust! Both 10 minute slots ran over but were filled with so much information that the urge to shoot up a hand and ask for clarity and more information was strong. (That is not the GM way though, questions at the end ONLY!) . Who struck me most pleasingly was Sarah Price. I thoroughly expected not to like her having had a mixed, personal, responses to her recent swathe of publicity, interviews and articles but it just shows me how wrong one can be about someone you see only in a one dimensional media.
Her delivery was engaging and delightfully unguarded as she wove the story of her initial involvement and went on to give glimpses of how she is inspired and some of her methods to create on demand. I came away thinking how lucky the team was to have her, her superb visual skills and her ability to translate others (Mr Hargreaves!) wantings into stunning plant-scapes. I’m sure she learned a massive amount from the process, the contractors and the professors but it seems unquestionable that she more than pulled her weight in the team.
I visited the park during the Para-Olympics. It was stunning, even though some said it had ‘gone over’ slightly it was still glorious and still golden. I talked to so many other visitors just admiring the plantings and the park itself, non-planty types who were quite awestruck with the simple beauty of it all and rightly so. Now the biggest new park in Europe for 150 years not to mention the UK. The soil had to be completely ‘cleaned’ of industrial contaminants before use, the plants ‘forced’ to flower about a month late (July instead of June), over a 45 hectares planting site if you please, not to mention having approximately 1 flowering season to try it all out and then it has to be RIGHT the next time it flowers, you’ll have to work on a building site, buildings and border will be delivered late so you won’t be able to plant on time and on and on and on. Now as a designer I know that these things happen, it’s part of the job, but on this scale? with the global eyes watching? no wonder Prof. Dunnett said he’d had sleepless nights!
The next phase of transition will see the remaining trees and plantings installed before the legacy phase which will no doubt see the Queen Elizabeth Oplympic Park emerge as one of the great public planting sites in the world.
It’s hard not to come away feeling a little overwhelmed by this sort of success and a project of this dimension. Asking oneself if one will ever attain such giddy heights and if indeed one wants to? I was left in no doubt that I want to work on projects that stretch my skills and fill me with such AN ENTHUSIASM, even if the learning curves are of quite a steep magnitude.
Now to the question of how….
I participated in an online planting course for My-Garden-School several weeks ago, excited but somewhat sceptical I embarked on the 4 week Planting with Grasses course under the guidance of Michael King, Grass and Perennials guru.
Not having much idea what to expect I am surprised how much I did learn and in fact how much more I could have learned had I had the time to invest in the homework and extra study time that always makes courses like this so valuable. They are like a full stop in life where you can (should) put all your efforts into one subject. Stop multitasking and just focus for a period on one thing. To become absorbed in your subject and really bury yourself in it.
OK so some of that is about me trying to do too much at once.
I will admit I didn’t know who Michael King was when I said yes to the course. It was all a bit last minute and I felt as if I was skidding into class totally unprepared. And, I was. I was unprepared for the depth of knowledge shared, the expectation of time commitment for completing homework and the sheer volume of back reading I would want/need to do.
Now not everyone wants to study the way I do and some people are faster and less easily distracted than I am but I found Michael’s enthusiasm and level of knowledge challenging and it made me want to do my own research and get up to speed so I could try to engage more with the teaching. I already had 2 of the recommended texts (Rick Darke and Neil Lucas) , barely opened let alone read or studied and bought a 3rd half way through the course because I was inspired to know more about grasses.
For me the downside was that it was too much in too short a space of time and I simply could not shoe-horn it into the 4 week window allotted. Once teaching stopped, although learning material remains available for a period, it loses something of it’s import when no one else is in the (virtual) classroom so to speak. I’ve studied virtually before and this is a common theme. There is a sense of someone is ‘watching’ and so we do our homework and follow our classes and we are ‘seen’. When no one watches? well the pressure is less.
OK more or my own learning predilections I suspect not everyone needs to be a crowd pleaser when they are learning!
Joyfully the learning materials could be downloaded and printed, to be scribbled on during the half hour video lecture. Annoyingly the 30+ pages per week guzzled printer ink like it was vintage Dom P (a bottle of which is about what it cost to top up ink cartridges!). That said I would mentally factor this into the course costs in future because they were so worth printing and have since been extremely useful as a resource for my own planting designs since. Lots of great pictures IS a bonus as is being able to read the plant names and not try to scribble down close approximations to what you think you’ve heard being said in planterly Latin!
Getting direct feedback from an expert was daunting on occasion and being asked to work in a completely manual way (sketching, hand drawing and so on) was also a challenge, though one which has opened my eyes to my own talent for sketching. I realise that this, long ago ignored, skill is in fact a very useful tool for visualising schemes and luckily for me doesn’t take me too long to do. PLUS it makes my note book look arty and creative. One day it may even get into the Moleskine Blog!
OK maybe not!
Is it worth the money?. Well Yes, I think it is. Next time, and I fully expect there will be a next time, I would make certain I had emptied my diary accordingly and done some reading around my topic beforehand to make sure I made the most of the course. The quality of content and amount that is packed in to these short courses along with WHO is teaching you, makes them very interesting courses for Pro and amateur a like and in some cases unmissable.
It’s that time of year when plant catalogue have begun dropping through the letter box, well they’ve been dropping through for a good few weeks now but I find time is now pressing to start ordering and getting things underway for autumn planting and planning some spring colour.
I was waylaid by an offer at Wilkinson’s on bulbs and splurged a whole £10 on packets and packets of them. I would suggest they are indeed exactly the same bulbs that you can find at Homebase but about £1.5 per packet less, I could be wrong but they’re a good price and some lovely exotic looking jewels for spring. Of course having done this I now only have the excuse of bulb hunting for clients and cannot justify more splurging on my already over planted plot.
There are the usual suspects starting with Eranthus, Galanthus and Crocus followed in close succession by Chinodoxa, Narcissus (Daffs!), Allium, Tulip and Scilla (bluebells) taking us from Jan through to May and then the Ornithogalum, Lillies, oriental and Martagon being favourites, Ranunculus and Agapanthus (not strictly a bulb) take over to be followed in late summer by the glorious Galdiolus (corms), Acidanthera, Cyclamen hederifolium and Dhalia (I know a tuber, not a bulb) oh and then there are the pink and white Nerine bowdenii from Oct to Nov and we’re almost back to Eranthus and Galanthus again….. As you see a year of just bulbs flowerings worth taking some time to plan for!
Though Wilco’s is tempting other favourite places to search are:-
Having planted up my pots for spring I have succumbed to the pull of Sweet Pea mania and ordered a few packets from Sarah Raven’s great collection with root trainers! This year was a disaster for my Sweet Peas being ignored by the grower as much s the poor weather but next year will be a sweet pea year I think. I shall be following received wisdom from Monty Don’s recent trials for Gardener’s World which is plant NOW and AGAIN in spring.
Well it said light showers and it was wrong, it fair tipped it down over Great Dixter from noon to 2pm today. A short spell of sunshine between two large rain clouds allowed for some hurried shooting and ooohing and ahhing at the glorious Tulips displays and burgeoning herbaceous display but in truth being hampered by a brolly and dampish squib waterproof and hoodie didn’t help.
Everyone seemed a bit mis too, not many smiles from the few who did venture out not even the ‘wet weather geared up’ staff, though the lady in the tea shop/shop was a complete gem and lent us two bin liners so we could perch on a soggy bench in the little garden when the sun burst through.
I have been to Dixteronce before in high summer and it was breathtaking then, this time it was the Springy ‘bedding’ and pots that blew me away. It is an excellent reminder, if one needs it, that Tulips can in fact make a spring border just as vibrant and full of colour explosions as the big blousey summer borders.
The combinations of bulbs and spring flowering shrubs and perennials leads the eye and links seemingly effortlessly, though I suspect a great deal of effort goes in in reality, through the spaces.
Big blocks of bold colours blend, in a shouty kind of way, with the beautifully with the super-verdant rain drenched greens of the up-coming herbaceous plantings. Sumptuous.
MORE PICS HERE
If you haven’t been to Dixter in Spring, GO, GO, GO!! Put it on your list of things to do, places to go, this year in the next week or so before the tulips go over or for next year.
OK so it maybe a tad early in mid-spring to be dividing grasses but as we are now in drought, officially (since 5th April) I thought I’d risk it.
I manage a large grassy border which has some congested clumps and some baldy bare patches and there needs to be some balancing out I think.
I started with Stipa tenuissima, digging it out, pulling out all the dead debris and then taking my Swiss Army pruning knife to it, hacking it neatly into 4 chunks of root and stalk. then replanting immediately and watering in. Instant fix of one bald patch, enormously satisfying.
At the end of 2010 a huge Anamanthele lessoniana (Stipa Arundinaecea as was!) popped it’s cloggs and in doing so spreading a mass of, and I do mean a thousand of so, seeds which have sprouted happily into a 1m2 ‘Stipa Lawn’. Easing a clump or two out, gently separating into smaller clumps I managed to fill another bare strip with plants and give the clumpy lawn specimens some space to expand.
The grass border looks better already. The Crocosmia (12 or 15 varieties) mixed in with the grasses are coming along nicely too and bulking up incredibly well.
Next year the monster variegated Miscanthus will have it’s turn to be chopped about!
I am certain many gardeners are staring with trepidation at the weather forecast every evening as the Spring reverts to ‘normal’. WHY? well snow, snow, snow and the dread frost.
In 2010 I planted a Reine Claude Green Gage which is a green plum variety, one of the most common and delicious when ripe. Slightly smaller and rounder than the usual purple plum more like a green Mirabelle and just as sweet. Anyway in the warm days of the last two weeks it has burst into flower all 5 stems COVERED in translucent white blossom.
YUM I thought lots of fruit this year – last year, it’s first year, I assiduously stripped it of flowers to stop it fruiting and put all energies into rooting and establishing.
So if it snows or we have a heavy frost and the fruit has not set…well no fruit, or not much will come later. Very disappointing.
I have a box of old net curtains and some tatty horticultural fleece at the ready and if snow moves this far south, well I have access to a chunk or two of straw!
Next doors apple has sensibly NOT flowered yet.
Totally thrilled to be in the Guardian this weekend. Yes that’s right THE Guardian newspaper! A big Thank You to Jane Perrone for the opportunity.
Putting together a planting plan from the Van Meuwen/Thompson & Morgan plant catalogue (and begging list), which had a number of iterations and the final plan is very pleasing. Most definitely do-able in lots of gardens, with gloriously lush green texture and flounces of periodic whiteness …oh and then there was the pale pink thyme – that several people have mentioned as their first comment! – I know it’s a White garden but honestly 95% or the year it will be pale green and cream, for a fleeting week or so it might flower palest pink but if you’re hedging it, which after all is it’s purpose, well no flowers, Zero, Zilch, NADA…. There are limitation to what one can ‘demand’ T&M stock, white Thymus was not on the list!
I’m sure VSW would have understood after all her Leucanthemums have yellow middles!
Order the plants from:
So there it is from April 5th we, in the South that is, will be in an official hosepipe ban. Drought has officially hit (21st Feb 2012) due in the main to the drier winters and increasingly warm summers.
DEFRA is asking all of us to help by taking shorter showers, 4 mins which to me sounds like a ship shower (dowse, lather, dowse!) and not running the tap whilst cleaning your teeth – who does that, didn’t your Mother ever tell you about wasting the worlds resources? and pushing up the family water bill!
I have mixed feelings about a hosepipe ban as unlike many gardeners I abhor sprinklers and the mostly inefficient auto-watering systems one sees about the place. Of course I speak as someone with a small enough patch to not worry about watering by hand but then I don’t water anything unless it’s in a pot, in it’s first season of growth or a crop of some sort. Plants shouldn’t need it and doing it just creates bad habits in the plant/tree!
So how can we help ourselves with this imminent water shortage?
Yes that’s right improving your soil can help with water retention. The more organic matter it contains the better it stores moisture. Organic matter can be added as compost, well rotted farm yard manure or green waste from your council. Typically this is done in late Autumn (November) or Early Spring (Feb/March) when the ground is moist. Spread a thick layer (50-75mm) on top of your soil leaving a 7-10cm gap around the stem/trunk of plants and then let the garden worms do the rest.
Right Plant Right Place
I know I know broken record stuff but it holds true for a reason. Planting moisture loving plants on dry slopes of sandy soil is going to cause a headache even if we didn’t have a drought. Beth Chatto‘s wonderful Dry Garden has shown that even in areas with low rainfall, and they have one of the lowest in the country, it is possible to plant a fabulous garden that won’t guzzle water but will still make a breathtaking display right through from Spring to Autumn.
Good plants to aim for are those you might find in mediterranean countries, silver leaved Lavenders, Salvia’s all sorts of furry and silver leaved plants and of course succulent Sedum, Euphorbia and Sempervivums. The hairy leaves capture any moisture that falls and traps it for the plant, small leaves transpire less, grey reflects more light, fleshy leaves hold water well and so on. These plants have adapted well to their native environment and we can make use of them in our bid for low water, drier gardening. The RHS do a good drought tolerant plant list but then also investigating your own local varieties is half the fun.
My favorite topic and a favorite pass time - I definitely need to get out more – A bit like improving your spoil mulch helps in the retention of water, stopping it evaporating as quickly so the plant has more chance to sup it up. There are lots of types of mulch from black plastic and bark chips to aggregates including gravels.
I get my bark chip from a local Arboriculturalist for paths but for anything going on the border it has to be well seasoned or there is a risk of nitrogen leaching from the bark and causing imbalance in your soil, most shop bought bark chip will be well seasoned.
As with soil improvers make sure this is laid between AUtumn and SPring so that the soil is good and moist before the mulch goes down. Mulch acts as a barrier both ways, so if your soil is dry it will take much longer to get wet.
More solid barriers, like Terram (a permeable black membrane), can be very useful in weed suppression and water retention but I find them a bit annoying if I want to have a fluid planting style – i.e. planting all those things that have tempted me in the local nursery! – it can get tatty if cut too many times and basically should be reserved for industrial style mulching and weed suppression
So we’re back to those sprinklers! Water garden plants in the evening, after the heat has gone out of the day. Water at the base of the plant don’t waste if on the leaves, really dowse each plant, soaking it once a week rather than watering every day. The soaking of the soil makes the plant send roots down in search of water rather than noodling about in the top 10cm, which is more prone to drying out and consequently not a great place for a plant to have all its roots!
For pot watering I challenge you to a test, take a couple of pots and water them as normal, after 15 mins take the plant out of the pot, soil and all, and see how far down you watering has gone. I suspect, unless you already know this one, that you water will have gone down a mere cm or two and nothing like the depth of the pot. A good rule of thumb is to soak your pot from below for half an hour, so a deep drip tray or bucket is good. This encourages the plant to send it’s roots down and also it takes up the water it needs.
One more thing on pots, large pots do better as the fluctuations in temperature and water are reduced, aim for 60cm or bigger. Terracotta are the best for root protection and limiting temperature fluctuations but plastic pots will obviously retain water better. Clustering pots together creates a cooler micro climate. Metal pots are the devils work and basically fry the roots!
Water retaining gels
When making pots or hanging baskets for the summer, mix in water retaining gel to your compost. The crystals soak up water and create tiny reservoirs of wetness to be released later. Do not use them in winter pots or baskets as the same dampness is likely to cause root damage and possibly freeze.
It has to be said they are not the most elegant of things but they are fabulously useful in drought a couple of well placed containers connected to drainpipes will really boost your plants. Rainwater is also far better for plants than chemically treated tap water not to mention keeping the water bills down. Some funky new designs are on the market. You might consider grey water recycling as well but this is a slightly more complex occupation, you can find more information about the how’s here.
One final note to all you lawn lovers, a brown summer lawn is the new green, it will re-grow once it rains, don’t waste your water on the sward!
A bit more info about this drought:
and something to annoy the English