Monday 31 March 2014

End of month view: March 2014

March has been a month full of quiet growth in the garden. Not much in the way of drama, just a gentle unfolding of new buds, leaves and early Spring flowers.

Overview of the garden, including new mini-greenhouse

Flowering and in leaf now appears to be quite a few blue-purple flowers...

An unnamed variety of Pulmonaria 

 I love the pink-purple tinge in the broad bean flowers (Imperial Green Longpod)

 The 'back' of the Pulsatilla vulgaris is as pretty as the front

The tiny, fragrant Narcissus Minnow

A rather early flowering of Lavandula stoechas 'Fathead' (it's supposed to flower in Summer)

The cornus border

Early March I pruned back the Cornus shrubs to encourage lots of new colourful stems in anticipation of next winter. I've taken cuttings from the pruned stems in the hope that I might generate some new, free plants. I've not done this before and I'm not making a massive effort, I admit. I've just stuck some 'sticks' in the sides of part of the veg borders, am keeping them watered and hoping for the best. I want to focus my limited energy more on the vegetable & fruit growing, so any new Cornus shrubs I get will be a bonus.

I've added some further planting to what I'm now calling the Damson border, including Pulmonaria, Primula vulgaris and Alchemilla mollis. In early to mid Spring this part of the garden is in light shade, so planting 'woodland' plants is relevant. In between May & August it gets several hours of direct sun, so I've also added Helenium 'Sahin's Early Flowerer' for colour during the warmer months.

I've also placed my little Pukeko into this border, that I picked up in New Zealand several years ago. No worries - it isn't pining for home - it's ceramic, not real!

Although the Damson tree looks dead in this picture, it's actually got lots of healthy buds on it and I expect by next month it will look more lively.

The shadier end of the Long Shady Border. Lots of bluebell leaves have come up.

Thanks to my wonderful and ever-helpful partner Kevin, I now have training wire for all plants that need it, including the Morello Cherry above, which is also now budding.

He has also put up my steel artwork of gum leaves and gum nuts that I picked up in Australia during my visit in the (Oz) summer of 2012-13. This is now tied to the pergola, which you might just make out in the top picture of this blogpost. I am growing clematis up each side of the middle and right side of the pergola supports, with the aim that eventually they will reach and intermingle with the artwork. On the right side will be Clematis alpina 'Pamela Jackman', and on the left, when I've purchased it(!) will be a fragrant Clematis armandii.

I've also planted the grape vine that was on my to do list at the end of last month. This will grow up the left side of the pergola. My pergola isn't that big, so it's possible 3 different climbers will be too much for it. But let's see what happens.

Carrot (left) and parsnip (right) seedlings

In the kitchen garden the broad beans are flowering their socks off, and my first carrot and parsnip seedlings have poked their heads up. I'm rather chuffed about the latter as I was told not to sow carrots & parsnips until May in Sheffield. But the person giving the advice did have her allotment on an exposed hill, whereas I'm in a slightly more sheltered space. I also have been protecting mine with horticultural fleece at night and on the colder days. It shows you, once again, how important micro-climates can be in the garden.

Herb border (front) and strawberry border (right, next to house)

My herb border is coming to life and I'm very pleased to see I have new shoots of my French Tarragon coming up. Everything I planted last summer seems to have survived. I need to add some low growing plants to sit under the obelisk. I have some Cyclamen hederifolium and Cyclamen pseudibericum seeds I got from the Hardy Plant Society and I'm going to see if I can get them to take. If so, they will go here.

The strawberry plants are sending up new green leaves, although I sadly don't yet have flowers as Jono tweeted his did, the other day! This border also has Erythronium Pagoda, which I hoped would be flowering now, but it is just holding out on me! What's the bet it's been and gone by the end of April...

I have also tempted fate by starting to put outside my Lemon & Lime trees. During the cooler months they stay in the conservatory, and during the warmer months just outside. So if we get a cooler night (which I count as 5 degrees or less for the purposes of these two trees), I can easily bring them back inside again.

View of the garden from the driveway

View from conservatory

I picked up a new mini-greenhouse at the beginning of the month and it is now starting to fill up with a mix of hardy perennials and vegetables sown in modules/small pots. Some of the veg, at least, I hope shall be planted out during April, unless we suddenly get a cold spell. That's not going to happen, right?!

March hasn't been an explosion of growth and colour in my garden, rather a gentle welcome to Spring. I suspect by the end of April the garden will look dramatically more green and floriferous.

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

Monday 24 March 2014

Budding promise

Spring is full of promises of things to come. In the garden now, lots of plants are budding; here are a few of them.

I love the marbling on the leaves of Erythronium Pagoda, and the flower itself will soon to flower. I wonder if the flower bud will open up in time for End of Month View?

The budding leaves on my two Acers have really taken off in the last few days...

And I am still enjoying the colour of the stems of the coral bark maple, as well as the new buds, which nicely match the stems:

The first flower has come out on my denticulata primula, with the promise of plenty of buds/flowers to come.

The leaves are unfurling on this clematis. I planted it last autumn and so far it hasn't received any direct sunlight (it gets some sun April to September), yet it clearly eager to get growing.

At the front of the house is my Quince, enjoying the west-facing light much of the day. 

And in the kitchen garden, there is also the promise of future food:

Broad Bean 'Imperial Green Longpod'

What are some of the budding promises in your garden?

Saturday 22 March 2014

Attractive and functional plant supports

On my recent visit to RHS Harlow Carr, as well as some beautiful alpines and winter flower plantings, they also had a wonderful selection of plant supports in their kitchen garden. Here is a few that I loved for being both attractive and functional.

The first is a functional and in my view, not unattractive Asparagus plant support. As anyone who grows asparagus knows, once the cropping part of the season has completed, asparagus then grows into massive ferns. Unless you are growing your asparagus in a very sheltered place, the ferns need some form of staking to stop wind rock and support the large fronds.

Usually you don't think about staking your asparagus until after the ferns are large and unwieldy, so I love this practical way of planing for the need for support at the start of the season. The support is tall enough that it is still easy to crop the young asparagus, and strong enough to withstand autumn winds that can knock your asparagus ferns to sometimes horizontal positions.

The next support takes advantage of the bed layout and increases the space upon which climbing beans can spread. It looks attractive at the beginning of the season, giving height and interest to what can otherwise be a flat space. And it also makes picking the beans fairly easy once they are cropping, as you can step in very close to the support to get those beans that are hiding away. I could imagine on a hot summers day they would be a nice canopy for a gardener to rest under in between weeding and other tasks.


I imagine the following plant support could be used for a variety of crops. At it's lower end, it gives a bit of protection from winds and could create a micro-climate on the inside that protects young plants. As the support grows, taller plants, such as tomatoes, could be tied in, allowing air to flow around them and also making it easy to collect crops. It could also be useful for the taller brassicas, which often need support later in the season in order to stop wind rock. And when nothing is growing on it, it looks pretty.

A slight twist on the more traditional way of growing taller peas is next. I could imagine Harlow Carr has to do a lot of pruning of trees and shrubs throughout the year, and it makes sense to take advtantage those off-cuts in the kitchen garden. The 'shrubby' nature of the support gives plenty of space and support for peas as they spread.

Finally, I adore this 'fencing' and arch, that again takes advantage of the branches of prunned trees. It is a work of art in its own right, and as plants grow up it and spread, it will both create a wind break and give support.

I plan to return to Harlow Carr in Summer and look forward to seeing these plant supports covered in leaves, flowers and crops. But in the meantime, I think they are an attractive addition to the kitchen garden, bringing form and function together with verve, and a bit of fun.

Friday 14 March 2014

Garden visit: RHS Harlow Carr (photo essay)

It's probably not the best way to start a blogpost, being negative, but here I go... When I visited RHS Harlow Carr several years ago (possibly more than 10 years ago), I remember coming away disappointed. It was mid-April and apart from some bulbs flowering, nothing much appeared to be going on and I left wondering why it was a RHS flagship garden.

My latest visit evoked a completely different response - I loved it. They have obviously done a lot of work during the intervening years and the garden is now most definitely worth visiting. There are many different areas to explore in the gardens, from the Winter Walk, Gardens Through Time and the Kitchen Garden, to the Alpine Zone, Woodland and Scent Garden. I couldn't visit it all parts of the garden (due to the lack of energy because of ME), so this post focuses mainly on the Alpine Zone, with a short visit to other areas.

Alpine Zone
Alpine plants are proof that wonderful delights come in small packages. Here are just some of the Alpines that gave much pleasure. First up, the Hepaticas, to which I'm beginning to develop an addiction.

Hepatica japonica hatsune - my favourite flower of the day

Hepatica nobilis 'Cobalt'

Hepatica x media ballardii

And the following also caught my eye...

Saxifraga x biasoletloi Geoff Wilson

Pinus sylvestris 'LDS8'

Crocus Kosaninii

Draba 'Buttermilk'

Primula 'Masie Michael' - my other favourite of the day

Olsynium douglasii var grandiflora

A wasp also liked Fritillaria crassifolia ssp kurdica

And an unusual flower, that also proved difficult to photograph:

Gethyum atropurpureum
Some collections of alpines...

Using old roof slates to help make an alpine display

Other areas
In other areas of the garden I enjoyed the Winter Walk:

Wonderful colours, and I love the twists & turns of the tree

The witch hazel was still giving off a lovely perfume

The woodland area near the bath house:

A most amusing leaf mould cage:

The poshest ever water butt?

The heather beds:

And I guess there is still some Australian in me: this is what a gum tree is meant to look like, tall and shimmering against a clear blue sky.

And lastly, the curved Yew mounds surrounding Betula utilis jacquemontii near the entrance, which made me laugh (the Yew mounds are so cute!) and contrast well together.

The garden welcomes people to bring their own picnics, which I think I'll do next time. The food in Betty's Cafe is very good once you do get a table, but the long lines and waiting wasn't! Aside from that quibble, I look forward to returning to the garden to explore it further on another day. From what I did see, RHS Harlow Carr is definitely worth visiting.

As I close this post, do indulge me in my return to my favourite flower of the day, Hepatica japonica hatsune, viewing it in a different light.