Thursday, 23 April 2015

Gardening with ME: the importance of the right chair

New outdoor chair

Last October, as I was contemplating the impact weather has on my energy levels, blogger VP, over at Veg Plotting, suggested having somewhere close to the house to sit where I could look at the garden even when I couldn't work in it. That got Kevin and I thinking. The one we had in the conservatory I didn't find comfortable and as a consequence didn't use it. So we moved our comfy Poang chair out of the lounge and into the conservatory. It worked (thanks VP). I do use the chair frequently and I do enjoy the garden and the visiting birds and insect wildlife even when I don't have energy to put trowel to soil.

It then occurred to me that I need a really comfortable and weather proof chair to sit outside in the warmer weather as well. Something that I could rest in when the weather was good but my ME too bad for me to do any gardening. Also a chair for me to rest in when I was gardening and taking the frequent micro-breaks I needed in order to pace myself.

Taking a break during the potato planting task

Whilst we had a couple of chairs for sitting on when eating outside, they weren't that comfortable for a proper relax and I found I wasn't using them. Having learnt the importance of having the right chair in the conservatory, I decided it was worth investing in a good chair for outside too. Off to Ikea we went (I know, Ikea, but it's what we can afford) to peruse their many gardening chairs. I was all ready to choose a nice wooden chair, when I saw the one in the photo at the top of this post.

I actually tried it out of curiosity, as I didn't think it was that attractive nor did I think it would be that comfortable. Thank goodness for curiosity! It might not look it, but it's incredibly comfortable. And it has about 5 different settings which are easy to adjust whilst you are sitting, or, as you can see in the potato break photo above, lying in it.

And because it's so comfortable, I've found it encourages me to take the breaks I need to whilst gardening. I mean, who can resist a lie down in a comfy chair in the sun?! And in a very practical sense, the comfy chair means I am gardening in a more ME-friendly manner, pacing my gardening tasks and rest.

It cannot be underestimated, the importance of having the right chair. Now, I suppose I better finish planting those potatoes.

I'll finish planting the potatoes, soon...

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I welcome your thoughts and suggestions. And if you blog about gardening with ME/a chronic illness, do link to this post in your blog and leave a comment below with a link to your post, so we can all find each other.

About Gardening with ME

Twitter hashtag: #GardeningWithME

Recent Gardening with ME posts...
  Gardening with ME: lists
  Gardening with ME: gardening in your head

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Photo essay: alpine delights at the AGS Chesterfield show

Alpines are fast becoming a bit of a passion for me and I was finally able to attend my first AGS (Alpine Garden Society) show last weekend, this one the North Midland Show in Chesterfield. Although I have nothing to compare it to, I thought it was a great show, a large variety of alpines on display and it was easy to spend nearly 4 hours there. Luckily there was a cafe and plenty of seating, so it was easy to take some ME rests in between viewing the alpine delights.

What follows is a photo essay of some of the plants I particularly loved. There are quite a few Fritillaries. I think I'm in love with Fritillaries...

Narcissus ornatus

Fritillaria elwesii

Fritillaria hermonis Anti Lebanon Form
(I would love to know why it's called Anti Lebanon... Anyone know?)
Update 19Apr: Thanks to @StripeyCaptain I learned that the name comes from the 
Seed probably collected from there.

Erythronium sp.

Fritillaria bucharica

Leptinella squalida 'platt's black'

Sempervivum calcareum

Anemonella thalictroides rosea

Fritillaria tuntasia

Fritillaria crassifolia x

Fritillaria crassifolia kurdica

Fritillaria alfredae glaucovirdis

Fritillaria davisii

Lewisia tweedyi

Anemonella thalictroides

Erythronium hendersoni

Anemone nemerosa alleni

Sedum capa blanca

Fritallaria affinis var tristulis

Fritallaria affinis var tristulis

Fritillaria acmopetala wendelboi

Pulsatilla patena v. nuttalliana

I, of course, came away with a few plants...

These include Bellevalia paradoxa, which looks like a muscari and apparently used to be part of that genus, but is now part of the Asparagaceae family.

Bellevalia paradoxa

I also picked up Anemonella thalictroides 'Amelia', Androsace carnea rosea and Erythronium californicum 'White Beauty'.

Anemonella thalictroides 'Amelia'

Androsace carnea rosea

Erythronium californicum 'White Beauty'

Would I go again? You bet! And I hope to visit other AGS shows in the future. And if you haven't yet discovered the delights of alpines, I hope this makes you want to explore them further.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Why I'm not renewing my membership to the RHS

I'm not renewing my membership to the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society). Here's my top five reasons why.

1. Cost
A yearly subscription for one person is now £55 or £41.25 if you sign up as direct debit. As a renewing member though, it would be £47. This is expensive even if you have a job (well above minimum wage that is). I called to find out if they offered reduced rates for the unemployed or low waged. No, they don't. So I cannot afford to renew my subscription now I'm not working. I guess they don't want poor people visiting or making the most of their 'benefits'.

2. The Garden magazine
It's alright, has some interesting articles occasionally. But the focus is on big gardens, people with money. I'm finding myself increasingly alienated by what I read in the magazine. Even when they do focus on small gardens, I a) question their definition of a small garden (1 acre isn't small, 7m x 5m is small, a balcony is small); and b) find when they do include a small garden, say courtyard size, it's almost always of someone who has lots of money to spend on design, materials and plants.

3. Peat
The RHS still refuse to go peat free. Just before writing this post I did a search on the RHS website for 'policy on peat'. Nothing came up. I did a Google search, same criteria. I found something. No, I didn't, as when I clicked on it I got a 'sorry, we couldn't find that page'. Going from the Google search I can see they used to have a policy on peat, but don't any more. Hummmm

4. Benefits
As alluded to in point 1, I question the 'benefits' of being a member.
*So you get the magazine, which is interesting enough, but as I said, focuses on big gardens etc.

*You get to visit their gardens for free as many times as you like during the year. Great if you live close to one, which I don't. Or you can access one via good regular public transport, which is unlikely (see 5 below).

*You can visit partner gardens. Great. Oh, wait. I discovered (personal conversations) that some partner gardeners run at a loss on they days they take part in the RHS partner scheme. They can get lots of visitors on that day, demanding visitors that though they got in for free, are horrified to find they have to pay for a cup of tea, and and complain about the cost of plants, as apparently £4.50 for a good quality plant is expensive (it's not). I don't feel comfortable knowing that my visit might negatively impact on the garden I'm visiting. So finding it hard to see this as the benefit I once thought it was.

5. Their new garden and public transport access
The RHS is is planning a new garden, somewhere between Birmingham and Manchester. Great. Oh, but a key criteria is 'easy access to the UK road network' (The Garden, April 2015, p. 67). Yes, that's 'road network' not 'public transport network'. I questioned this on Twitter today and was told they need access to roads for large deliveries including building materials. Because apparently organisations and venues in cities can never get large deliveries including building materials. Oh wait...

Instead of seizing the opportunity to include public transport access as a key part of their planning criteria, they will 'encourage' individuals to visit by public transport. If you aren't putting public transport access at the top of any criteria, you aren't encouraging people, you are passing the buck. And no, an hourly bus service is NOT good access to public transport. Anyone who has ever waited for an 'once an hour' bus will know that they are not reliable and you can end up waiting for another hour. As a current example, you can visit RHS Harlow Carr and get a bus from Harrogate Bus Station. Yay. Oh, wait, it only runs once an hour. And not on Sundays or public holidays. Hummmm.

I was advised on Twitter that they would look into what part public transport plays in their key criteria and get back to me. So will state up front, that if public transport is part of the key criteria, AND once open clearly has good public transport access, I will publicly apologise (on this Blog and on Twitter). I say once open as stating that it's a key criteria and seeing it publicly realised are two very different things.

Update on point 5:
Amazingly, the RHS Twitter person did get back to me quickly with a response on the public transport issue. I'm so used to organisations on Twitter saying they will get back to me but never doing so (usually not even several weeks later), that I just assumed they wouldn't. So my apologies to the RHS on this. To the right is their response, which is (to paraphrase):

"...identified the need for good public transport links with, in addition, opportunities to work with other local attractions to see if we can run joint transport 'ventures' sustainably to all locations. This is a key part of the criteria when choosing our 5th garden."

It's a pity this wasn't mentioned in the article in The Garden. To me, the fact that it wasn't, and that I had to go searching for it (no link in the article to say 'read full criteria here', for example) still suggests that public transport isn't as a key criteria as other key criteria. As I said, stating that it's a key criteria and seeing it publicly realised are two very different things. I really hoped to be proved wrong and be forced to issue an apology.

I think this is enough reasons to be going on with.

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Do you have anything to add? Please leave a comment below.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

South Pennie HPS talk: a Spring plant demonstration by Rosy Hardy

Rosy Hardy from Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants gave a practical demonstration and talk on Spring plants for the garden at the South Pennine Hardy Plant Society last week. Rosy brought along a selection of Spring flowering plants and gave a great talk, filled with useful detail and hints for growing. What follows are my notes (any mistakes are mine) on many plants for growing in a mix of shade and sunny positions.

Dry shade
Scopolia carniolica is related to the potato and has purple bell-shaped flowers. It likes dry shade. It is happy in poor dry soils, including dry shade which is often hard to source plants for. The foliage dies back in summer.

Moist and/or humus rich shade/part shade
White Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Alba' lasts c. 6-7 yrs, longer than the pink and red varieties. It likes part-shade moist soil, but not too damp, and doesn't do that well clay. For dividing plants it is better to split in Spring when they are just coming through as there is a risk of rot if you do so in Autumn.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' (below photo of Rosy's plant) is deciduous Epimedium with pretty purple flowers that is tolerant of clay as well as other soils. Once the plant has settled in you can divide it in autumn. Rosy warned the audience that we should be aware that a lot of new Epimediums are deciduous acid soil lovers so not suitable for alkaline soil.

Anemone flaccida, also called the twin flower, is a single white flower that closes at night as wants to be pollinated during day. The flowers are held above the foliage and it enjoys a moist woodland environment. It is easy to divide but is summer deciduous so it is best to divide it just as it finishes flowering.

Anemone x lipsiensis (right) has pale yellow flowers which bloom for quite a long time. They can take some time to establish. This is another summer deciduous plant and Rosy recommended that you put the plant label at bottom of the hole so that if you accidentally dig it up you can identify it and replant! It sends out stolen roots c. 2-3 inch down in soil.

Primula Guinevere. It was interesting to learn that for this variety the first 1st lot of flowers are single stemmed and those that follow are multi-headed. I must remember to take more notice of what mine are doing... They grow this way as the leaf grows over the first flowers and it is the multiheaded flowers can tend to get pollinated. Divide when they finish flowering. They like sun or part-shade in humus rich soil. I can also add that mine seems to survive, a somewhat bedraggled, in what is now my Bog Garden, so it can survive being wet. Suffice to say I'm going to move mine down the border a bit to give it more of a chance!

Omphalodes cappadocica 'Cherry Ingram' (first below right, from my garden) is low growing with small sky to dark blue flowers and the plants form rosettes that can be split off in autumn and planted up. Give haircut (trim, that is) at the end of February to get rid of old foliage as this is difficult to get rid of later. Rosy said it prefers dryer soils, but just to be contrary I can report that mine has been doing well in damper soil!

Pulmonaria 'Blue Ensign' (second below right, also from my garden) is the bluest of the blue Pulmonarias, and is a woodland plant that likes moist soil (though not boggy). It doesn't like sun as this will give it mildew. The foliage dies back around August and August -September is the best time to to divide it, around every 3-4 years. Rosy commented that the newer name varieties don't tend to produce much seed.

Sun loving plants
Lathryus vernus has purple, nearly blue flowers and looks like small shrub. It is very difficult to split as the density of the roots is same as the density of growth. It will set seed but this is unlikely to be true. The plant is quite tough and grows even in Arctic circle. In the South it needs to be grown in semi-shade. It is sadly not fragrant, but is good for early bees, flowering mid April in the North. To propagate, take cuttings of young spring growth and put in propagator; don't leave these in the cold.

Pulsatilla vulgaris 'Blaue Glocke'. In general Pulsatilla can grow in even crappy builders soil (quote!). The plant can be lifted and moved but don't divide it as you will kill the plant. Once planted, the crowns will lift themselves up. This is an F1 variety so whilst the seeds from the 1st year might come true they will not do so in following years. Put grit on seed to stop it from flying away. Seed won't germinate straight away, it will probably germinate the following Spring.

Geum 'Bell Bank' has pink nodding heads and like other Rivale species like being wet in full sun.
They are easy to lift and divide.

Geum Totally Tangerine (a photo of Rosy's plant below) is a very reliable form that doesn't stop flowering if you dead head correctly. It is usual with deadheading to just remove the flower, but with Geum you remove the whole stem from the bottom; more will grow. This one gets taller stems as it continues to flower and can reach 4-5 ft by the end of October. The flowers are sterile which is why it continues to bloom. To divide you can split off a rosette; do this in Spring.  It can be grown in a container (my question answered) in moderate soil. Just make sure it is a decent sized container and the plant can get to a good size over the year.

Iphieon are bulbous plants, though not bulbs per se. They are highly scented and like dry soil. Iphieon don't mind the cold but do not like it wet. They can be grown in containers but it must be in gritty soil. Like bulbs the foliage dies off in summer and comes back late Winter/early Spring.

Doronicum x excelsum 'Harpur Crewe'. The excelsum varieties are the hardiest. They can grow to 2.5 ft making them one of the few taller plants for this time of year. Harpur Crewe is yellow and flowers in May and is happy in both sun and part-shade. The can form big clumps, from 18 inches to 2ft within in a couple of years.

I had already ordered several plants I wanted in advance of Rosy's visit, which she brought along. (Tip: Hardy's appear to be happy to do this if they are coming to a talk, so do ask.) The talk however got me excited about more plants, and I admit to picking up a couple more including Geum Totally Tangerine which I'll pot up for a long flowering display for the front garden, and Pulsatilla vulgaris Blaue Glocke which I'll be potting on and putting on my new display area, of which I'll blog about some other time.

Rosy is a font of knowledge on hardy perennials and an engaging speaker, and it goes without saying that I learnt a considerable amount in the, only(!), one hour that she talked. If you are looking for plant advice or a speaker for your garden group, I highly recommend Rosy and Hardy's Cottage Plants to you.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

End of Month View: March 2015


Welcome to the March End of Month View. The view above is from the shadier end of the Long Shady Border. There are a few gaps, such as where I'm waiting for the perennial Epimediums to come up and the evergreen ones to fill out more and flower, but on the whole it's looking quite lush.

In the pot in the bottom right is Hepatica transsilvanica 'Blue Eyes', only just sending up shoots, and Cyclamen pseudibericum which I proudly grew from seed! I'm not sure if I'll get flowers from the Cyclamen this year but the Hepatica should be flowering by the end of April, but possibly early May as the potting up may have delayed it.

One of the evergreen Epimediums (above), I think Epimedium x youngianum 'Roseum'. I'll be able to confirm its identity once it flowers.

As you move down the border to the Bog Garden, where the square pot is, the growth thins out a bit as there isn't much in the way of evergreens.

Starting now from the conservatory end of the Shady Border (below), life is really getting growing now, with the Astrantias sending up shoots and Digitalis purpurea 'Pam's Choice' filling out. It's still a bit bare at this stage, but there are some plants of interest.

This following plant is meant to be Bergenia 'Wintermarchen' though it seems to stay red all year around, so I'm not sure if I've somehow mislabelled it. It's the only Bergenia I have though. Whatever it is, after taking some time to settle in after planting it in summer 2013, it's finally looking healthy and I'm hoping for flowers from it this year.

I do rather love Spring blues and here are three that have started flowering.

The ever-delightful cowslip is shining its socks off:
In the Bog Garden, after starting to dry out a little with the ongoing March winds, this reversed with the heavy rain at the end of the month and I think you can see that it really is quite boggy, with some water sitting on the top of the soil.

After potting it up in February, I'm pleased to see that Osmunda regalis 'Purpurascens' is starting to send up shoots.

My order from Fibrex Nurseries arrived and I've added the following to this area:

For climbing up the fence and adding colour all year around to the Bog Garden and conservatory end of the Shady Border, Hedera helix 'Buttercup':

And one that is supposed to really be happy being damp, so I've planted it in the boggiest part of the Bog Garden, Dryopteris erythrosora.

These three evergreens should help add year round interest to the border and hopefully make it look a bit more lush, similar to the shadier end. Also from Fibrex Nurseries are perennial ferns Dryopteris wallichiana and Athyrium otophorum, which only have tiny shoots at the moment so not much to see just now, but I'm sure we will see more of them in April.

The lone flower in the Bog Garden is one of my favourite primulas, Primula 'Guinevere'.

I have almost completed planting up the Bog Garden, and just need to add in April, Primula beesiana and Primula florindae, which I've chosen thanks to suggestions from readers of this blog.

Further along the Shady Border lots of bluebells have emerged and the evergreen woodrush Luzula sylvatica 'Marginata' has started it's attempt to expand further. I think I may need to dig some of this out soon.

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' is also ready to leaf, I'm sure we will see it fully open by the end of April. I love the way the it catches the sun giving it a glowy pinky-red.

Slowly the Morello Cherry awakes from it's slumber. Will I get any fruit this year?

The first shoots of Lamium orvala have appeared.

I'm really pleased to see that Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' has survived the flooding and subsequent replanting from last year and is now looking quite healthy.

At the very back in the Damson Border there are lots of buds on the Damson. I did get a couple of fruit from it last year, although they fell off before they were ready. So have hopes that this year I might have more, enough to get to eat them. I don't expect there to be enough for making jam just yet, maybe next year.

Underneath the Damson the comfrey patch is coming to life, as is this unknown variety of Pulmonaria that I got from my mother-out-law Audrey.

Plus this Hacquetia epipactis which is forming a nice mound of yellow-green flowers.

Apart from the couple of additions I mentioned for April, I think I need to stop for a while, let the Long Shady Border fill out and see how it's growing before I make any further additions or changes. Of course, this is easier said than done, particularly as I'm planning on going to the Harrogate Spring Flower Show and there may be plants there to tempt me...

Narcissus 'Jetfire', which does surprisingly ok in the shadiest end of the Long Shady Border

End of month view is hosted by Helen Johnstone, aka @patientgardener. Visit Helen's blog for her March 2015 EOMV and links to other bloggers EOMV posts.