Friday 31 January 2014

End of month view: January 2014

Now that the landscaping of my back garden is complete and a new year has dawned, I have decided to join Helen, @patientgardener in writing a End of Month View (EMOV) post each month. The aim is to see how this newly designed space develops over the year, and to use these posts to help me reflect on what is working and what needs improving.

Beginning of January

The most obvious change is that the long raised vegetable beds now have soil in them!

End January - long veg beds now ready for spring sowings

Sheffield hasn't had quite as much rain as other parts of the country, so earlier in the month I was able to get a few more plants into the ground, including some snowdrops I picked up at Anglesey Abbey, and a couple of single spotted hellebores I picked up at a garden centre. I planted the snowdrops, Galanthus Nivalis, on each side of the Cornus alba 'Kesselringii', as I thought the contrast of dark red stems against the green and white of the snowdrops would enhance each other.

Galanthus Nivalis and stems of Cornus alba 'Kesselringii', in the Cornus border

I like the contrast and hope over time, as the snowdrops spread and the Cornus gains more stems from late winter pruning, this will add some mid-winter colour and interest to the garden.

The hellebores were a spur of the moment purchase - I was desperate to get some more colour and foliage into the Cornus border. They are quite young, maybe I should have brought bigger ones! After reading Vergette Gardens post on hellebores and salivating over her pictures of the Ashwood Nursery's hellebores, I've been thinking that some further purchases need to be made...

Young hellebore - with buds!

I've also been reflecting on the need for more foliage, having been inspired by Helen's 'foliage update' posts. This is the border I see directly from the kitchen window, and to the kitchen garden behind it, which won't be as interesting in winter. In spring, summer and autumn months the kitchen garden and the much of the rest of the garden will have plenty to give interest. So maybe I could make the Cornus border a bit more of a 'winter border' with stems, foliage and small bulbs and corms, then with added with and summer bulbs and annuals for interest for other parts of the year? Mmmm, that's an idea.

The north-facing Long Shady Border (left) got extended during the landscaping work, which means I have more space to plant into! This mainly has perennials planted in it at the moment, with the Morello Cherry, the Sarcococca confusa - now flowering, and a mix of bulbs and corms suited for a woodland. It needs more structural plants to help give it some definition all year around, so I'm thinking about adding more evergreen foliage shrubs and climbers.

The Strawberry Border (right), also got extended slightly with the landscaping work. I've added more bulbs, including Saffron Crocus, Crocus Sativus. Once this years strawberry plants have fruited and started sending out runners, I'll add more strawberries here. The empty pot is where the lemon tree goes in warmer months; it's currently in the conservatory.

The Herb border, again extended during the landscaping work, this time intentionally! This side of the garden is south-facing so I wanted to make the most of it so extended the border so I can grow more hardy perennials and vegetables here. This year I plan on growing my favourite eating pea, Lativan, up the obelisk. It's one I got from the Heritage Seed Library years ago and I have continued to save seed. This will be the first time growing it in Sheffield, so I await to see how it grows compared to my Oxford garden and allotment.

Herb Border

The main part of the Herb border needs a bit of a tidy, so I'll aim to do that in February, if it stops raining... Herbs I am growing include: rosemary, sage, lavender, oregano and thyme. I've also planted bulbs including Allium cernuum and Allium atropurpureum for their flowers.

I noticed that my French Tarragon has died. This has rather surprised me as temperature wise it's been so mild, and it survived the last two winters in Oxford, when we had freezing temperatures and lots of snow. It's one of my favourite herbs so I'll need to replace this in Spring. Some plants aren't herbs, such as Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'Festuca amethystina, Dianthus cruentus and Anchusa leptophylla. I added these to extend the period of interest.

Broad beans and garlic

In the vegetable borders next to the garage wall, the broad beans are doing very well and some of the garlic has start to poke its stems through. Usually at this height, I would have cut off the tops of the broad beans to encourage more stems and thereby lots more beans. However, that's usually done in Spring, not winter, and if we get are freezing spell now I'm not sure how it will effect them. I think I might cut tops off some of the plants and see what happens. I can always sow more if we do get a big freeze and that kills them.

I awoke on 12th January to find we finally had our first frost of the winter. Although winter 2013/4 has not been mild from the weather point of view, with the high winds, heavy rains and flooding causing devastation over much of the country, it has been from a temperature point of view. Nearly mid-January is pretty late for a first frost of the winter! Since then though, it has been pretty wet here too. So between the rain and the fact that I've had some commitments in London, I've not been able to do any more work in the garden.

Water-logged in the Shady Border

The rain has shown up one problem. One area of the Shady border has become quite water-logged. Interestingly this is one of the few areas not rotovated during the landscaping work as the bed was already there, and it clearly shows! The garden does slope down towards the house, which is maybe how the rain ended up pooling in this section of the garden. Kevin suggested we put in a channel further back, under the shale in the kitchen garden, to try and soak up excess water. So another job for February. I'm just hoping the bulbs and corms I planted there survive the soaking. Sadly, I suspect not.

So that's the back garden at the end of January 2014. Even though it's a small garden, only 12.84m long to c. 5-6m wide, there seems to be a lot going on it in. I'm excited to see how it will continue to grow over the coming year.

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End of month view is hosted by Helen Johnstone, aka @patientgardener. Visit Helen's blog for her January 2014 EMOV and links to other bloggers EMOV posts.

Thursday 16 January 2014

Plant memories

Plants can contain memories. That is, beyond the memories within their genetic make up, they have memories tied up within them that can be deeply personal to the grower planting them.

Some plants contain the memory of place from where they came. Galanthus Bagpuize Virginia, of which I recently planted bulbs in my new Sheffield garden, is a reminder of visits to Kingston Bagpuize Garden in West Oxfordshire. At one point I lived in Witney, which was only a few miles away from the garden, and even when we moved back to Oxford, it was close enough that it became an almost semi-annual pilgrimage at the end of each winter. The garden at Kingston Bagpuize contains carpets of snowdrops, aconites and crocuses and are a welcome delight as winter and the long dark days are coming to an end, and our hopes for Spring and a new growing season are ignited. As snowdrops like to hybridise, Kingston Bagpuize ended up with it's own variety of Galanthus.

Galanthus Bagpuize Virginia

On one visit a few years ago I wished to purchase some for my own garden (back when we lived in Oxford); sadly none were available on the plant stall. But joy! The owner was happy to dig some up for me and I was able to take some home. They did well in the area of my Oxford garden in which they had been planted, and fortunately they came up before we moved to Sheffield last March, even through the heavy snow, so I dug up a batch to move with me. I now am awaiting with bated breath to see if I will at least get the leaves of Galanthus Bagpuize Virginia come up this year. Snowdrops can take a couple of years to settle in, so I'm not expecting flowers this year, but based on previous experience if I get the leaves this year, then all should bode well for a new flowering of this lovely reminder of a plant and place from where it comes.

This plant contains memories not just of the regular and highly enjoyable garden visits, but also of the generous gardener who happily shared her snowdrops with me (gardeners are the most generous people!), as well as of some lovely Oxon friends such as Kate Griffin and J-P, who joined me in visiting the garden.

Plants can, of course, remind us of people. I'm rather fond of receiving garden gift vouchers as they allow me the opportunity to purchase some much sought-after plants. My friend Kate Kilpatrick gave me some vouchers as a 40th birthday gift (2007). I had also been given a much-coveted arch (see left, picture from my Oxford garden) by my partner Kevin and his mother Audrey, also for my 40th birthday, and it was wanting a climber to to take advantage of it's height. When Kate gave me the vouchers, I knew exactly what I wanted.

Back in 2006, at a visit to Chelsea Flower Show (the NZ garden), I came across climber/rambler Rosa Seagull. It was beautifully fragrant and stopped me in my tracks. After a chat to the designer of the garden who relayed that it was trouble free and didn't have much problem with black spot, I decided I had finally found a rose for me.

Thanks to Kate's gift I was able to purchase the rose climber I wanted to go up the arch that I loved. Serendipity. Rosa Seagull flowers quite profusely and usually flowers early summer and then a second time late summer/early autumn. I realise I don't have a photograph of it in flower up my arch, I think because the fragrance so takes me away I forget to get out the camera! Each time it flowers, I am reminded of my friend Kate, whose gift made it possible, and it makes me smile and drink it in.

Rosa Seagull at Chelsea Flower Show, May 2006

The arch and Rosa Seagull has moved with me, first from Witney to Oxford and then last year to our current home in Sheffield. The arch and the rose is looking good. I'll be remembering Kate again this summer.

I have many other plants in my garden that contain memories. Like a cutting of a cutting of the first plant I brought when I moved to the UK, a St John's Wort. I see it's yellow flowers and am immediately reminded of chasing bumblebees around the gardens at Lanhydrock in Cornwall. It was mid-Spring, and Kevin and I were over-excited to see so many bumblebees; we don't have them (or at least didn't when we were growing up) in Australia, and had only ever seen cartoon pictures of them, and here they were in real life! Many of them were on the bright yellow St John's Wort flowers and it prompted me to purchase my first plant. It was just the beginning my my plant and gardening addiction.

Fritillaria Meleagris, Iffley Meadows, Oxford

And there are other memories, such as Pulmonaria Blue Ensign that I first saw at Beth Chatto's garden one Spring, visiting with Audrey. The deep blue flowers shone surprisingly brightly in the woodland garden. Here I learnt the delights that a shady garden can give you, that 'full-sun' wasn't the be-all and end-all of plant growing. And I've recent planted many bulbs of Fritillaria Meleagris, Oxfordshire's county flower, delicate and refined, and reminding me of many a visit to Iffley Meadows to enjoy the sea of snakes heads as far as the eye could see.

With our move from Oxford to Sheffield, plants, people, places and gift vouchers came together in what I hope will be, a most fruitful way.

Upon leaving both jobs and Oxford, I was given quite a few garden gift vouchers. Lucky me! My new garden was smaller and almost a blank canvas and I decided that if I was going to have trees it in, I wanted them to have a food producing yield, alongside their environmental and ascetic qualities. I knew exactly which fruit trees I wanted. Below is a photograph of my newly planted beauties and a description of the people and places contained within the memory of each one.

Prunus domestica 'Denniston's Superb' Greengage
A memory of my colleagues at Low Carbon Hub and the Dower House Garden

I first came across Greengage jam when visiting the Dower House Garden in August 2010. Taking a tea break we were offered scones by the garden maker and author of The Morville Hours, Katharine Swift. On offer to accompany the scones was a variety of homemade jams, including greengage jam. I had only recently discovered and was in love with damson jam, so I thought it would be fun to try another new jam. Woah! It was incredible and I was utterly hooked. I knew immediately I wanted to be able to grow a greengage and make my own jam one day. I finally planted that dream thanks to vouchers from my colleagues at Low Carbon Hub, where I finished as book-keeper not long before leaving Oxford. I loved working at the Hub and my new tree will be a memory of them and the inspiring work they do working towards a low carbon future across Oxfordshire.

Prunus insititia 'Shropshire Damson' (Shropshire prune)
A memory of  Dr Audrey Meaney

As mentioned above, I discovered damson jam not long before discovering greengage jam. Oddly, I cannot recall where I first tasted damson jam, but I did plant a tree, the same variety, Shropshire Prune, in my Oxford garden. And when I got my first crop, well.... I didn't make jam. Turns out the damsons didn't get more than foot from the tree before they were in my mouth. I recall squealing in delight at the flavour and yelling out to Kevin to come and try some before I ate them all. He did get a couple... The tree was nicely established by the time we were leaving Oxford so I decided, sadly, that I shouldn't dig it up and move it. Thankfully, Audrey came to the rescue and gave me vouchers for my 2012 birthday, and voila, they turned into a new damson tree in my Sheffield garden. Magic.

Prunus cerasus 'Crown Morello'
A memory of Margaret Walker and Witney Fair trade campaigners

Morello Cherry makes me think of blackbirds. Naughty naughty blackbirds that stole my crop last year. The little buggers would pick the cherries from the tree then sit on the paved brick area in front of my kitchen window and poke their beaks at me before downing my cherries. I'd run out to chase them off but they had stripped the tree in no time. Netting. Netting is very important - I know that now.

I'm not particularly interested in normal cherries (sweet ones) so when I inherited the tree in my Oxford garden from the previous owners, I hadn't thought about collecting the fruit. My friend Jackie did (this was the year before the blackbirds discovered the tree), and took away the whole crop, returning a couple of weeks later with a jar of sour cherry jam for me to try. Bloody hell - I gave away all those cherries - what an idiot! Because of course, Morello cherry jam is divine. Another fruit tree I decided was a must have in my new garden.

And you guessed it, more garden vouchers. I campaigned with Margaret Walker and many others for several years in order to make Witney a Fair Trade town. After several hard years of campaigning, running an annual fair trade market etc, we finally succeeded a couple of years after I left Witney, in 2011. Margaret and I also campaign together with Oxford WDM. Some how the deep red cherries of the Morello tree suit a memory of someone involve in social and economic justice campaigns, being, you know, red!

Cydonia oblonga 'Serbian', Quince
A memory of my colleagues & the community at Barracks Lane Community Garden

My final set of vouchers gave me the gift of a Quince tree. I was the Garden Coordinator at Barracks Lane Community Garden in Oxford from March 2010 to July 2012. It was a busy and varied role, doing everything from organising 'local food' events and running gardening workshops, to taking bookings and answering questions about the history of the garden. The space the garden now inhabits was transformed by the efforts of many local people, from a dangerous toxic waste-filled old garage site into a beautiful garden space that is used by the whole community. Amongst many of the plants flowering where there was once dirty car oil and used syringes, was a quince tree.

I don't think I'd even seen a quince tree before I became involved with the garden. The flowers have a lovely fragrance and the fruit produced are golden balls of sunshine. One of the Trustees, Annie Davy, decided one harvest festival that the fruit was ripe and made quince jelly from the fruit. And yes, I hadn't had quince jelly before. There is a theme here isn't there?! One mouthful of Annie's quince jelly and you guessed it, I had to have my own quince tree!

I had intended on obtaining a quince tree that autumn, but life changed and we decided to move to Sheffield, so I held off using the vouchers until recently. Now I have my young quince tree. As you can see from above, it's already catching the afternoon light of the winter sun. This is fitting as when I think of Barracks Lane Garden, I think of light, as well as laughter, and a community of wonderful kind people whose efforts have made an amazing difference.

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For me, plants can contain memories of people and places, of my history and where it touches with theirs. Their fragrance, their flowers, their leaves, their fruit, evoke memories of many kind, interesting and caring people, as well as of places that have delighted and given inspiration. The memories of all will continue to grow in the plants of my small Sheffield garden. Thank you all, for your gifts.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Garden visit: Anglesey Abbey (photo essay, 3rd visit)

I have previously written about the winter garden at Anglesey Abbey, in February 2012 and March 2011. Kevin's mum lives in Cambridge so yearly visits can usually be made. We only missed 2013 as we were busy preparing to move to Sheffield. 

This is the earliest in the year (1st day of the year!) we have ever visited the garden so we weren't expecting masses of snowdrops and other spring flowering plants. The wonderful thing about Anglesey Abbey's winter garden is that it has plenty of shrubs and trees to also delight. Here is what we found on the first day of 2014.

Carex testacea with Bergenia. I'm not sure my photo does it justice,
but planted together these looked much better than you might imagine. 

 Callicarpa bondineri vargiraldii 'Profusion'

 Acer Palmatum 'Sango-Kaku': nice to see the size the one I just planted will get to!

 Helleborus Orientalis: the first flowers just out.

I rather took to this dwarf cornus: Cornus stolonifera 'Kelseyi'. And what a splendid gate.

Just starting to bloom: Viburnum farreri 'Candissimum', and a hint of it's fragrance,

Greens and golds

The Hamamelis just coming into bloom.

One of my favourite trees, Acer Griseum.

Birch grove of Betula utilis var. jacquemontii

Yes! First snowdrops. The best time to see the snowdrops will be throughout February.

Beautifully pruned and aged
Pyrus communis Pitmaston Duchess

For fun - this funky chair in the cafe with dried Statice (Limonium)