Sunday, 22 August 2010

Front garden - brief update

Since completing the redesign of the front garden back in April, it's been coming along slowly but nicely. I've already had in the raised beds broad beans and lettuce growing, eaten and removed and since sowed more vegetables, such as kale, spinach and chard. My pear trees are growing well, but being only 1 year maidens, they don't really show up much in photos yet! However, you can see the lovely Merlyn, having a snooze by the rosemary.

I'm pretty pleased with how it's going, and have been most gratified by people passing by stopping to say how much they like what I've done. I just hope it inspires them to grow veg!

One of my favourite flowers, for it's beauty and long season, Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty', has been flowering non-stop since June. I've dead-headed it occasionally and it just keeps sending up more and more shoots and new flowers. Here it is. What a beauty!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Garlic harvest

Dug up all my garlic on the weekend and its now drying in the Lemony. As you can see, I've carefully separated out each variety so I can continue to collate information about each. I plan on saving the ones with the best qualities to plant next year. That will be this year as all these are autumn planting varieties. Or if they aren't, I've made them so!

However, before I save them, I have to taste each one. So the next stage will be trying each one out with a couple of my basic recipes, such as a simple pasta sauce, to see how they taste and compare. So only the varieties I really like, and which have show good characteristics will actually be planted next year.

The other qualification will be storage ability. As I am allergic to and intensely dislike onion (I guess 'cause it makes me ill...), garlic is my substitute and my aim is to grow enough to keep me in garlic throughout the year, so I don't have to buy the bland shop-brought varieties. It's hard to believe that you could buy garlic with so little taste, but multinationals have achieved this with gusto.

Will update you on the taste testing in due course!

Friday, 13 August 2010

The Potato and Tomato must have - Blightwatch!

Thanks to VP for alerting us gardeners to Blightwatch. If you grow potatoes  (me, 17 varieties this year!) or tomatoes and worry about blight, then this is the service for you. Read all about it on VP's blog and then sign up.

Ok, maybe not much use to my Aussie and Kiwi pals, who probably dream of having such exotic problems like blight whilst they battle drought after drought. But for those of us in the UK and Northern Europe, just the info we need!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Garden visit: Wollarton Old Hall Garden

The second garden visit of our Shropshire holiday was to Wollerton Old Hall Garden in North Shropshire. Unlike the Dower House Garden, Wollerton is more like a pleasure garden. For me, the difference is that Dower House Garden includes food production, where Wollerton does not. However, as much as I prefer gardens that include fruit and vegetables, it does not follow that I do not enjoy pleasure gardens; I do! And Wollerton gave plenty of pleasure.

 Vista from the Lanhydrock Garden back through the Sundial Garden, towards the house.

There has probably been a garden at Wollerton for 500 years, but the current design began in the 1980's. This is a garden of vistas and garden rooms. Vistas such as the one above, which dissolve into rooms as you move forward into, as depicted in the photograph of the Lanhydrock Garden and Rill Garden's below.

 Lanhydrock garden, detail

 Rill Garden

Although I do not have the inclination, time, or money for designing and maintaining large borders myself, I do admire those who do. Wollerton's main perennial border was lovely.

Wollerton is also a plant persons garden, and for me, it's collection of Salvia's gave great delight. Blue and blue-purple Salvia's are figure amongst my favourite flowers.
 Salvia patens (Cambridge Blue?)

 Salvia nemorosa variety

mauve Salvia patens variety

Other plants I also feel I must obtain for my garden include:
Dahlia 'Bishop of Auckland', enjoyed by hover flies too

Dahlia 'Ragged Robin'

Clematis 'Black Prince'

Echinacea 'White Swan'
Kevin and I found ourselves wandering around, stopping for a cup of tea and scones, then wandering around again only to discover something we missed the first time around. I suspect if I went back the next day, there would have been further plants and glimpses to discover.

I do feel Wollerton could have done with a lovely vegetable garden, I'm sure they would do it quite beautifully! But that's just my personal preference for gardens to also be productive. Wollerton is definitely a pleasurable garden to visit and I would return again.

Garden visit: Dower House Garden

Dower House, Morville

One of the reasons for choosing Shropshire for our holiday this year was in part inspired by the book: The Morville Hours, which I first read a year ago. The book, which is about the creation of the Dower House Garden at Morville, managed to encompass so much of what I love about England and my life here. The history, the landscape, our gardens and seasons, and how these things interconnect. The author, Katharine Swift, beautifully encapsulates all this within a journey of self-exploration about her own past.

The garden was created with different areas reflecting the people who lived at Morville over the centuries. So there is a Cloister Garden beautifully created in Yew to represent the old priory that was sold off in 1540 at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

I loved the Elizabethan Knot Garden, created with herbs such as germander, sage, wild strawberries and lavender, rather than box. It's cleverly placed near the house so the fragrances can be taken best advantage of during the summer when the windows and doors are open. I've been wondering how I might create something like this at home, or some elements of it, since I simply don't have the room for a knot garden. I'm thinking perhaps more herbs near the front door, that guests can brush against when they visit. Mmmm.

One surprise for me was the Canal Garden, representing the more formal tastes of the 18th century. To say I'm unenthusiastic about the 18th century landscape movement style of gardening would be an understatement. Frankly, I cannot stand it, it's attempts to control nature and the willful destruction of villages and people's lives, as happened nearby to me in Oxford, at Nuneham Courtenay. So I wasn't really expecting to think much of this part of the Dower House Garden.
However, I was mistaken, it's quite lovely. This is perhaps because it's on a small scale, so not really landscape gardening. But also because Katharine has allowed nature to rebel, allowing plants such as one of my favourites, Verbena Bonariensis to self-seed itself where it wished, giving nature a say in the garden.

I've increasingly come to the realisation that when it comes to gardens, I tend to love the ones that incorporate food into the design. I guess I like bringing together both beauty and practicality (food!) in a garden. The Dower House Garden does this specifically with fruit, such as in the Vegetable Garden with it's criss-crossed tunnels of pear and apple trees, though there are vegetables in the Vegetable Garden too!
The pear tunnel, needing to be held up by stakes as it's overloaded with fruit

There are a large number of varieties of English apples and French pears. I was delighted to see the apple Catshead. This was recommended to me a while ago by George, a friend of my friend Jackie, with whom I got into a long discussion about apple varieties and other vegetables at her last birthday dinner. Notable because I don't often find someone I can talk to in such depth and at length, almost to the exclusion of all others, about such things!
After George's recommendation, which included that it has a very long storage life, up to March the following year and being good for eating and desserts (apple crumble!), and having finally seen the apple for myself, I'm now resolved to obtain a tree for myself, if I can find a place to put it. Although maybe I should try and find one to taste first, just to make sure?! It does look yummy...

I picked up an interesting trick on growing pear trees at the garden. I have planned on growing my pear trees in an espalier fashion. Katharine has done this, but with a slight twist.
I don't know if you can tell (I can, but I took the photo so know what I'm looking at!), but rather than a series of rows off from a central upright branch, these have been trained to curve around. This creates the appearance of several branches coming out from the centre, when in fact they are two long branches that have been trained to curve across, up and around repeatedly. It's quite elegant I thought, and I like the style of the weaved branches.

A fun element in the garden was the Turf Maze. I learnt from the book that this is a unicursal maze, or labyrinth. This has just one path with winds around to the centre, unlike puzzle mazes where you can take various paths.
The nature of the turf maze leads you to follow the path around and I found once I got to the middle, rather than walk straight over the maze to my wait out, I felt compelled to walk back through the maze to the exit/entrance. I don't know why, just felt like the thing to do.

Kevin didn't feel such a compulsion and once he got to the middle (you can see him above carefully following the maze through), he strode out across the maze to another part of the garden. I cannot decide if this is a gender thing, or laziness on his part...?!?!

I enjoyed visiting the Dower House Garden. Even though we were visiting at a time that Katharine described to me in an email enquiry as 'not at its best', I still found lots of discover and much beauty. I would like to return again in Spring. The descriptions of the garden in Spring in the book, along with my own observations, suggests this is a garden to visit all year around.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Shropshire holiday

Kevin and I got back from a week in Shropshire yesterday. Perhaps not an exotic holiday, but a lovely and relaxing one which was just what we needed. We did some walks nearby (see below), and hired a car for a couple of days so we could visit a couple of gardens that were hard to get to by public transport. These were the Dower House Garden of The Morville Hours fame (and a very strong reason for choosing Shropshire for our holiday this year), and Wollerton Old Hall Garden, both of which I'll blog about separately.

We stayed in Ludlow, a pretty town with lots of historic buildings, some dating back to the 15th century, and the castle which dates to the Norman Conquest. A hilly town, because you build your castles on a hill, don't you know, but well worth it. The photo below is of the market square.  

We took the opportunity of a guided walking tour so we could learn more about the history of Ludlow. The guide was clearly keen on architecture and buildings, and that was the main focus, rather than social history, which we prefer. However, it was engaging and one particularly interesting fact is that some of the 'Georgian' buildings you can see on the square, actually date to the medieval period. The owners, in an 18th century version of 'keeping up with the Jones's', couldn't afford to pull down their house and rebuild completely in the Georgian style as was the fashion of the time, so they just had the front refurbished to look Georgian, whilst inside the rest of the house remained medieval!

And of course, it has a castle which dates back to the Norman conquest. The 'of course' is you can trust a Gwenhwyfar to find a castle to play in on holidays if she can!

The first picture is a view of the castle from the river side, and the second below, from inside the castle. Unfortunately the castle isn't being looked after by English Heritage who are pretty good at keeping castles and ruins in good repair, but is privately owned by some Duke or Earl dude with an eye on profit. It shows. Part of the castle has been closed off to the public and 21st century private accommodation added at a nice exclusive price, the cheapest being £480 for 3 nights. And what you can visit, isn't very well looked after. There were trees, one at least over 5 ft, (sycamore I think) growing out of the top of some walls, the roots of which will destabilise the mortar and could lead to walls falling down. The remaining old iron-wood doors, must be about 15th century, are almost coming off their hinges, and pigeons are nesting and shitting all over the place. You have to be careful where you step.

I think my pictures might make the castle look in better repair than it is!

One of the particular reasons for choosing Shropshire was to do some walking in the hills of South Shropshire. We walked from Church Stretton up to Caer Caradoc. This picture of Caer Caradoc (the hill to the right of the picture) was taken from the Long Mynd the following evening.

Not a long walk, about 6 miles for the round trip, but very, very, steep. Well worth the effort though. The views from Caer Caradoc were breathtaking. We could actually see as far away as Hay Bluff in the Black Mountains. It was a good place to view the Long Mynd (below, with Church Stretton in the valley) to the west, the Wrekin to the north, and Clee Hills to the south-east.

Here are some sheep pretending to be goats up on top of Caer Caradoc.

My photographs in no way do the view any justice. It was a hazy day, and frankly, I don't think it is easy to capture the breadth of the views on camera. Or maybe I'm just not a good enough photographer?! I did manage to capture this Kestrel hovering, which I'm pleased with.

And here I am having a rest in the heather, just before we began the steep walk down.

We slacked off a bit the next day, and took advantage of the hire car and drove rather than walked up Long Mynd. Again, more beautiful views of the Shropshire hills. I think my picture of the wild ponies on Long Mynd captures the sparse beauty of the hills, reminiscent of Dartmoor. And isn't the foal cute!

Other wildlife we saw on the holiday was a hare, too quick for me to photograph, and Red Kites. Yes, we have Red Kites flying over Oxford these days, but they are still amazing birds to see.

In Much Wenlock, I snapped this sign that we found amusing on the wall of the old telegraph office, reminding us that every age has its 'hoodies'.

And for funniest village name of the trip, in the manner of Douglas Adam's Meaning of Liff, Diddlebury. Kevin and I thought this sounded like the kind of word you might use to describe someone who is a bit absent minded and does silly things getting themselves further into a muddle. "What a diddlebury, I've just put the cat in the fridge and the milk outside the back door... Argh!!!"

The holiday hasn't ended, we now have another week off at home, pottering about and maybe going for cycle rides. And blogging about our garden visits in Shropshire.