Friday, 26 May 2017

Book review: The Deckchair Gardener

The Deckchair Gardener: an improper gardening manual, Anne Wareham.

As someone who is now trying to garden with a chronic illness (ME), I'm always on the lookout for ideas on how I might reduced what I need to do in the garden, so I can just focus my very limited energy on what I enjoy. So when I heard about Anne Wareham's new book, The Deckchair Gardener, which says that it is for:
gardening avoidance and sensible advice on your realistic chances of getting away with it
I thought it sounded like might have some useful pointers. And it does.

The introduction describes how to become a deckchair gardener, including the difficult but necessary need to unlearn the 'rules' of gardening. The rest of the book is then split up into the four seasons, 'what not to do in Spring', etc, giving examples of so-called gardening advice and truisms and then challenging them.

Anne questions the many 'gardening jobs' we are told to do, whether in garden magazines or on gardening programmes such as Gardeners World. This is a really good point. Do we really need to do all these tasks? Cleaning out pots*, aerating the lawn, deadheading daffodils, hardening plants off, raking dead leaves off the lawn, the list goes on. Oh, a special mention for the 'expert' suggestion that you should dig up your parsnips and leeks in winter, only to just to move them to a trench in another bed by a convenient path. What?! One, no. Two, plan your veg garden so that all the paths are convenient. Three, no.

Anne advocates that lazy is good. And there is a lot of smarts about being 'lazy' and cutting out unnecessary work. For instance, deadheading daffodils. Anne points out that none of the daffodil flowers in the countryside are ever deadheaded, yet they continue to flower profusely year after year. I'd not thought of it that way before, and this is well observed. It was a struggle to not deadhead my daffodils this year, as I'm so used to doing it. So I compromised and only deadheaded those in pots, not those in the ground. I hope to graduate to no deadheading of all daffodils next year.

Hardening plants off is another good example of Anne's challenges. I've never done this because I couldn't be bothered, even in my pre-ME days. But I also felt guilty about not doing it because the experts were always telling us we should. Yes, guilty even though I never had any problems with plants that went straight from the greenhouse to the soil! That's the power of experts. Anne reminds us that the weather isn't predictable, it doesn't just slowly get warm, rather is warm, cool, frosty, warm etc, and that therefore constantly moving plants outside and then back inside is a lot of work. Instead, don't grow tender plants and if you do, just have some fleece on standby for a frosty night. Much less work. No more guilt.

What made me laugh frequently when reading the book, was Anne's ongoing fervour for mulching. Basically, if in doubt, mulch. Generally with woodchip, but gravel also works. Yes, our favourite garden enemy might like to 'hide' woodchips, but I know from experience that slugs will 'hide' anywhere. Including up the walls on onto my trays of young plants, munching them down to a tiny remaining stalk. You won't stop them by not mulching. The benefits of mulching outweigh any concerns though. Because mulching reduces weeds and watering, two time and energy consuming tasks. Anne is right, mulching makes sense and is the deckchair-loving way to go.

As well as challenging conventional 'wisdom', Anne offers a couple of suggestions for specialist gardens that I think could be really useful for those who would like to garden, but are limited by an illness or disability. One was a grasses garden, limiting yourself to one variety of grass, along with adding bulbs for Spring interest, which is when grasses have been cut back and waiting to regrow. But the one I really liked was the gravel garden.

Now, anyone following my blog will know that in my previous garden, for the kitchen garden I had put in raised beds, laid down membrane and added shale to the paths, so I didn't have to do any path weed maintenance (it worked). So why was it a gravel garden that particularly caught my attention, given that's pretty much what I had been doing? Because I only thought of it in relation to paths, not in relation to a garden as a whole.

I seem to always end up with gardens that have heavy clay. The standard view is to dig and add in good compost etc. Do some more digging, add more and more compost. Repeat for 20 years. Anne spoke to Derry Watkins of Special Plants who has a gravel garden. Plants are added straight from their pots, with all the compost attached, into about 20cms deep of gravel. That's it. Now that is low energy practical lazy gardening if you ask me. If someone running a successful nursery can do it, we all can.

Anne advocates 'no dig' gardening, as does Charles Dowding who has been experimenting with dig vs no dig for several years. I've been a fan of no dig for years. Just thinking about digging is exhausting. No dig gravel gardening, it's the way to go.

This is just a few of the many examples of what not to do in the garden so you can instead enjoy your deckchair. Or how to do the least and get away with it. One of the most important points Anne makes is to 'be skeptical', including of what she says. Question everything you read or are told you are supposed to do. Is it just creating more work? From the perspective of someone with a limited energy for her garden, this has been a really useful reminder.

There are some areas where we part company. I would never use glyphosate or any weedkiller in the garden. It poisons the soil, gets into the ecosystem, rivers etc. I'd stick to Anne's mulch idea, only first put down good quality mypex (permeable membrane), mulch with something heavy like shale or gravel, then cut holes to plant through it. This is a case where a bit more work is warranted, and gravel/shale fits into Anne's gravel garden idea, so it's not far off being lazy!

This aside, I loved this book. I started reading this book about six weeks ago. It's an easy read, but because I wanted to write a review, it took me more time and energy (coz ME) to do so. What I have noticed is that since I started reading it, I've found myself questioning many gardening tasks. Quite a number have been removed from my to do list. I gained a lot from this book, but my number one take-away from the book, 'do I have to?' has become my mantra. I'm now much more bolshie about not bothering with all these so-called essential tasks. I think that's a pretty good indication on how useful I found this book.

At the beginning of the book Anne says that it isn't for 'proper gardeners'. I disagree. I think proper gardeners could learn a thing or two from Anne's wisdom. I'd add that this is a really useful book for those who would like to garden, but who have limitations such as a chronic illness. It helps you focus on what is essential, so you use your limited energy wisely.

Anne's book gives you 'permission' to be a lazy gardener. I say huzzah! Bring out the deckchairs.

*I had already been freed from this task after reading Charles Dowding's Gardening Myths and Misconceptions.

Disclaimer: I 'know' Anne via Twitter, but purchased this book myself as it appeared to cover a topic I was interested in.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Ravishing peony

In our current rental garden, one of the few plants that was in it when we arrived, was this.

Huh? Yes, my thoughts exactly. Andrea, my gardener, helped me clear the grass and weeds and we realised it was probably a peony. We hoped by clearing it we were giving it a new lease on life.

The buds were amazing.

Then, voilà!

I've not always been a fan of peonies, as they can get so ruined by frost. But this one, oh yes, I see the attraction now.

What a beauty. If anyone knows the variety, do leave a comment below.

I'm considering digging it up in the autumn to split and take a section for me.


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Dovedale, and 20th revisted

Back in January, Kevin and I tried to celebrate our 20th Anniversary. I say try, because our quiet few days in the Yorkshire Dales was ruined by our car conking out. It died on the day we arrived. We had to be rescued, blah blah blah. The upshot was we didn't really get to celebrate anything as we spent most of our time dealing with car troubles.

We agreed that we would try again once life had quietened down, after we sold our previous house and moved etc. On the weekend, we managed to revisit our 20th, staying at the Izaak Walton Hotel down in Dovedale, on the edge of the Staffordshire and Derbyshire Peak. And it was just wonderful.

We spent a quiet day pottering around nearby Tissington, including Tissington Nursery (separate blogpost), then relaxing in the hotel and enjoying the incredible views.

Tissington Hall

Pygmy goats!

Dovedale and the view from the hotel

By the way, the food at the hotel was superb. We had a three course meal, including Amuse Bouche (tiny horses-d'œuvres), which we'd not had before. It was all very delicious and for the food alone I'd return to the hotel.

Dovedale and the Izaak Walton Hotel are only an hour away from Sheffield, but it felt like another world. Importantly, we felt we had finally celebrated our 20th anniversary in a manner that was both beautiful and peaceful.
20 years

Nursery: Tissington Nursery

On our recent visit to Dovedale, we also had a little look at Tissington Nursery. I mean, it was there, and it would be rude not to go.

The nursery is housed in Tissington estate's walled Old Kitchen Gardens. It is a small family-run nursery, and whilst there I met Mairi, who appeared to be quite knowledgeable about the hardy perennials that she grows.

Ducks feeding. I'm guessing they would be useful for slug patrol too.

I obtained some useful advice on growing Sanguisorba in pots (a large one). I'd been warned off trying them in pots because they do like space, but Mairi said if it's for a year or so it will be ok. I thought I'd risk it, as hopefully by this time next year we will have moved into our own place. I've been wanting to grow Sanguisorba for a while, and Mairi chose a handsome Sanguisorba hakusanensis 'Lilac Squirrel' that has flower heads just developing, for me.

My small collection of plants. The largest plant is the Sanguisorba.

The nursery has an interesting selection of plants, including a number of Sempervivums (I chose Sempervivum Triste) and a delightful Oxalis, Oxalis adenophylla. This has pretty pink flowers, but it was the foliage that won me over.

Oxalis adenophylla

I also picked up Salvia nemorosa 'Ostfriesland', and we chose this lovely alpine planter below as a memory for our 20th Anniversary.

The nursery was selling these planters for a retiree who was trying to make a little extra income to supplement his pension. I won't go into a political rant about how pensioners shouldn't to have to find ways to make ends meet... I will say that he has created some gorgeous alpine planters and I expect he will do well out of selling these via the nursery.

Not sure what type of Ameria this is, but, pretty!

The nursery is currently 50% peat free. Mairi is on the way to converting to 100% peat free, hopefully by next year. She likes Sylva Grow peat free compost, as do I.

They helpfully looked after our plants for us so we didn't have to leave them in the car overnight. Over dinner we found ourselves discussing the Trollius we saw, and decided it also needed to be purchased, so we picked that up the next day, along with the rest of the plants. I was advised that it likes damp soil, so I'll keep an eye on watering when I pot it up.

Trollius × cultorum 'Alabaster', which turns yellow as the flowerheads open.

The nursery/Mairi will be attending RHS Chatsworth Flower Show in June, so do visit her stand in the floral pavilion. Otherwise, the nursery is open daily from March to the end of September, 11am to 5pm.

Tissington Nursery is a delightful small nursery in which a lot of perennial gems can be found. Beautiful plants and helpful advice, what more could you ask for in a plant nursery?! I suspect I'll be dropping in again (and again) when I'm in that part of the Peak.

Friday, 12 May 2017

ME Awareness Day 2017, and my gardening clogs

12th May marks ME Awareness Day. In particularly, the #MillionsMissing movement aims to raise awareness for M.E., an underfunded and ignored disease. Today we ask for increased government funding for research, clinical trials, medical education and public awareness.

It's timely as my ME has been pretty bad recently and I've had little energy to do much at all, hence the lack of blogging. As I am not well enough to attend any actions, I'm taking part in the #MillionsMissing campaign virtually. The idea is to show a photo of some shoes, with a note that expresses a way that you are missing from the world.

If you could learn one thing about ME, I urge you to read Sally Burch's post: Well enough to drink coffee? Because ME is an invisible illness, and whilst I might look normal, I'm actually constantly exhausted to the marrow, and in most days, in lots of pain.

So if I'm not blogging much, this is why. Coz when I do have some energy, well, you'll find me in the garden :)