Monday, 20 October 2014

Musing ~ October 2014

"One says October, one says Nature lies down to sleep ; the gardener knows better, and will tell you that October is as good as month as April. You ought to know that October is the first spring month, the month of underground germination and sprouting, of hidden growth , of swelling buds ; scratch a little into the ground and you will find buds ready made, thick as your thumb, fragile shoots and straggling roots - I can't help you, Spring is here ; go out, gardener, and plant (but be careful that you don't cut with the spade a sprouting narcissus bulb)"

~ an extract from 'The Gardener's Year' - by Karel Čapek, 1890 - 1938.

I'm not sure whether October is really the new April but oh what a positive attitude towards the first month of autumn. Now working to get myself into that mindset.

Monday, 13 October 2014

'The Plant Lover's Guide To Snowdrops' ~ A Review

Well rules are made for breaking aren't they? So with the publication of a new book on snowdrops my self imposed embargo on book buying just had to go by the wayside. 'The Plant Lover's Guide To Snowdrops' by Naomi Slade has recently taken up residence amidst the groaning bookshelves. Long term readers of this blog will know of my addiction to these early flowering beauties. My initial impressions of the book are favourable although I still have to do it full justice i.e. read it from cover to cover. I'm sure I will do this whilst waiting for my 'drops to appear.

The book starts off with an explanation from the author, who describes herself as not a 'fully fledged galanthophile', as to why she loves snowdrops. Her love affair began as a child when she picked Valentine posies of snowdrops to give to her mother. As she says "snowdrops have no competition for the enjoyment of their charms. They may be small, but they arrive on to an empty dark stage, lighting it up in the very depths of winter. And the hungry audience applauds". Naomi points out that they are a plant that can be enjoyed and grown by anyone no matter the size of your garden. As well as being bewitched by the plants the author explains that she was also fascinated by the people she encountered growing snowdrops and by the stories behind many of these bulbs.

The next chapter of the book looks at designing with snowdrops. Advice is given on finding the the optimum growing conditions for your snowdrops. There are suggestions of good planting companions as well as a useful list of bad companions. The author covers growing snowdrops in containers with other flowers and shrubs of late winter/early spring interest as well as discussing the merits of snowdrops as a cut flower.

This is followed by a section entitled 'Understanding Snowdrops' takes "a brief tour around their history, morphology, tradition, medicine, convention and metaphor - among other things". I appreciated the fact that the make up of the bulb was explained in terms that I understood. I have no knowledge of botany and struggle with dry technical explanations.

A 'Spotter's Guide' offers a 'taster selection of snowdrops' - the choice being based on "availability, charm, interest" as well as the author's personal taste. All the snowdrops included are available in the United Kingdom and most can be tracked down in the USA too. There is sound advice for anybody who has been bitten by the snowdrop bug to walk before you can run by starting with a "few solid bulbs that are distinctive, reasonably priced, and not too fussy". Earlier in the book there are some suggestions of "easy -care" snowdrops which are suitable for the beginner. As the author points out you can always "slake your thirst for fancy-pants flowers with outings to shows and gardens" until you have enough experience and successes behind you so that can then develop your collection. Some 60 odd snowdrops are illustrated and featured here albeit some in more detail than others. Not all of my favourites were included but I was pleased to come across mention of some of them elsewhere in the book.

I giggled at some of Naomi's descriptions of the snowdrops on her list. 'Lady Elphinstone' is described as a "frothy creamy creature, reminiscent of of a good dollop of lemon-meringue pie", 'Blewberry Tart' as "cheeky, charming and decidedly immodest" whilst 'Ketton' is likened to the classic little black dress which can be be dressed up or down to suit the occasion.

This guide is followed by a comprehensive section on growing and propagating. The reader finds how to choose and prepare a site for planting. Planting in the green and as dormant bulbs are both covered along with the pros and cons of both methods. Propagation and pests are also included in this section.

'Where to See Snowdrops : Out And About' suggests gardens and snowdrops events to visit not only in the UK, but also in the USA, in Southern Ireland and the Netherlands. A list of where to buy provides contact details of specialist nurseries selling these little white gems. At the back the 'For More Information' section lists various sources which I'm sure I will delve into over the next few months. A minor nitpick here - many of the sources listed under the heading of books are in fact references to newspaper articles or magazines horticultural and otherwise, some to articles in specialist journals and some refer to online articles. The 'book list' is followed by details of relevant organisations and websites.

Throughout the book are mini - interviews with snowdrop experts who were asked a standard set of questions namely:
How did you fall in love with snowdrops?
What do you particularly like about them?
What is your favourite snowdrop?
If you could go back to any point in snowdrop history, where would it be?
Who is your galanthus idol?
Planting in the green or as dormant bulbs?
What is your expert tip?

I found these interviews fascinating although I would have preferred that they had been grouped together for the sake of easier comparison of replies.

In conclusion from what I've read/seen of the book I wish that it had been available when my fascination for snowdrops started. It is well written, the author has great enthusiasm for her subject and the book has a wealth of clear and good quality illustrations. I'm sure that some of my blogging friends who share my enthusiasm for snowdrops would enjoy this book as well as any other plant lovers.

'The Plant Lover's Guide To Snowdrops' by Naomi Slade is published by Timber Press. It's available from good bookshops, from the usual online sources or you may be able to obtain it from your local library.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Tree Following With Lucy ~ October 2014

Some real wildlife action this month - if you look very closely you might be able to spot the pigeon lurking in the branches. It was conveniently waiting for me when I ventured out to take a photo between yesterday's dramatic cloudbursts. I only wish that it could have been less camera shy as it had its back turned to the camera.

There's really not much in the way discernible difference in my willow's appearance from September's post. The weather has been so kind so I think that it has just been basking in the sunshine and stretching out its branches in content. Something has changed though and for a few minutes I was hard pressed to pinpoint what it is. The penny eventually dropped as I decided that the foliage is gently fading as well as thinning out. Nothing dramatic but a slow slip-sliding into its quieter time of the year. I'm wondering what changes the next month will bring.

For more monthly tree updates do have a peek at Loose and Leafy. With special thanks as always to Lucy for hosting this excellent opportunity to share both information and some fabulous photos on the subjects of trees.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

End Of Month View ~ September 2014

The illustration is 'The Vine Diptych' by the Swedish painter Carl Larsson.

Sometime in early September I realised I had not put together an End Of Month View for August but could not work up any enthusiasm to write about the month.  I think that it was because this August was best not mulled over too long - here it was cool, often wet and windy too. All in all a huge disappointment. On the hand September has been amazing. The days have been positively singing with many hours of soft sunshine. It has been hard to resist the call of the garden and the allotment during the noticeably shortening daylight hours.

Before I continue I should mention that this post will be photo free as I've had a camera crisis. The camera I usually use no longer directly downloads photos on to my computer. I had been relying on taking the camera card out and sticking into a USB multi -card reader as an alternative for some time but this method has suddenly refused to work. I think that the photos are hopefully trapped somewhere on my camera. In the meantime I'm still getting to grips with my new camera which was a present from himself when I celebrated a significant birthday earlier this year. I've been practising with it but do not feel confident yet. Hence a month with only a handful of photos which readers may well have already seen. So a quick summary of September ~

Allotment - clearing up has started but still much more work to do to prepare for winter. We've been enjoying the odd strawberries and endless bowlfuls of autumn fruiting raspberries. The apples except for some 'Sunset' have been picked. 'James Grieve' and 'Katy' have not done particularly well this year but 'Sunset' has a good crop although the fruits are on the small side. I'm hoping that the fruits that I had left on have stood up to last night's rain and wind.

In the greenhouse the vine has produced a bumper crop of grapes probably more than ever since I've been tending the vine. I inherited the vine so do not know what the variety is. It is purple fruited, tasty but annoyingly pippy. I'm happy to eat a few but there's no way we could keep on top of this year's supply. With a damp week ahead predicted I'm hoping to pick the remainder tomorrow. Then it's either wine or grape jelly on the cards.

The French beans petered out as September went on but 'Cobra' has started to re-flower. I doubt if there will be enough time for more beans to mature but you never know. I am still picking courgettes. We ate the first at the end of June and have been eating them since. I have to confess that I've not fed them since planting and am wondering what would happen if I had done so.  Next year I will repeat what I did when I initially planted them which was to add some worm compost and some shredded comfrey leaves in each planting hole. It seems to have done the trick together with the weather.

A 'Black Futsu' pumpkin is in evidence and its extensive foliage may be hiding others. I also planted some small pumpkins this year. 'Wee Be Little'  produces small bright orange globes and is still in production. Will definitely sow them again next year or something similar.

All has nor been rosy though. My later crop of dwarf French beans were all munched by the molluscs which was rather a blow. The big disappointment though has been tomatoes which should have been plentiful in September. The failing lies completely with me. I need to give some serious thought as to where I situate the plants - greenhouse, garden or allotment. Food for thought over the winter.

Garden - not so much to say about the garden which still needs an injection of late summer colour. I'm working on it though and will report back in due course. I'm also finding it harder and harder to work out a satisfactory balancing act between allotment and garden and do both justice. At the moment the garden is suffering. This is something that has been concerning me for some time and an issue that I need to consider carefully. The time may come in the future to say goodbye to the allotment although I don't feel ready to do that just yet.

Plant purchases - over the last couple of months these have included : kalimeris 'Charlotte', hosta 'Blue Mouse Ears' (unfortunately my slugs have not read the blurb which says slug resistant), heuchera 'Georgia Plum' and agapanthus 'Midnight Dream' wended their way home with me from the Southport Flower Show'. Hemerocallis 'Light The Way' which I fell in love with in France this summer was duly tracked down to the Beth Chatto Gardens and a couple of plants were ordered. In September a trip to Abi and Tom's Garden Plants at Halecat in Cumbria resulted in the purchase of pulmonaria 'Blake's Silver', crocosmia 'Honeybells', aster 'King George' and clematis 'Heather Herschell'. Then there was the fabulous salvia 'Amistad' from the nearest garden section of our local improvement store.

With thanks as always to the lovely Helen over at 'The Patient Gardener's Weblog' for so kindly hosting this monthly meme.

Monday, 29 September 2014

In A Vase On Monday ~ Allotment Meets Garden

Allotment and garden came together to create this week's little vase. From the allotment the violet blue daisy flowers of aster 'Little Carlow'. I know that asters have had a recent name change but I haven't got a hang of it yet and it will probably take me some to do so. 'Little Carlow' produces clouds of tiny flowers which are a bee and butterfly magnet. It's quite a tall plant reaching about three feet. I have some divisions from this waiting to work their magic in the garden.

From the garden the bright yellow daisies of 'The Yellow Peril' which I've posted about before. It has defied my attempts to kill it off. There's an uneasy truce between us but for now it sits in a corner where it's thuggish habits are carefully monitored. Any spreading growth is yanked out as soon as I see it. I must admit that I've become fonder of it over the years and now welcome the late colour it provides. It came as a nameless division from a gardening club friend. I think that it's a helianthus but I'm clueless as to which one.

Finally tucked in to the vase a couple of sprigs from my new salvia 'Amistad'. Pottering in the greenhouse yesterday I gently tugged at the cuttings that I took earlier this month. I was so excited by being met with resistance.

The vase is the reverse side of my stoneware cider jug.

You can enjoy a host of other vases over at 'Rambling In The Garden' - thanks as always to Cathy for providing a virtual mantlepiece each week for us to showcase our vases.

Friday, 26 September 2014

A Mere Snip

A quick post to alert any fellow Kindle owners of a bargain buy. 'The Well Tended Perennial Garden - Planting and Pruning Techniques' by Tracy DiSabato-Aust is currently available for a mere snip at £2.32 in the U.K and at $3.78 on the other side of the pond. I would have downloaded it but already have a hardback copy of the first edition which is a most practical and hands on how to tome. Described by the publishers Timber Press as "the first, and still the most thorough, book to detail the essential practises of perennial care such as deadheading, pinching, cutting back, thinning, disbudding and deadleafing, all of which are thoroughly explained and illustrated. More than 200 new color photos have been added to this revised edition, showing perennials in various border situations and providing images for each of the entries in the A- Z encyclopedia of important perennial species."

Useful appendixes include a yearly planting and maintenance schedule which although a guide for U.S. Mid-west gardens can be adapted to British gardens. There are also some fascinating lists of the specific pruning and maintenance requirements of perennials. These include a list of perennials which reseed which could either save you much weeding or produce more pass on plants depending which way you look at it. Other lists give guidelines as to the intervals at which perennials are likely to need dividing. I'm reassured to read that my aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) only requires division every ten years or more - the last time nearly polished himself off. The author warns that the plant has tough roots and resents disturbance and that's an understatement!

Although this could be a very dry book the author's detailed observations and her gentle sense of humour make sure that it's not. It's certainly worth adding to your Kindle's virtual bookshelves at that price.

Monday, 22 September 2014

In A Vase On Monday ~ Showtime

I'm cheating this week as the vase of late summer/early autumn colour is definitely not of my own making. I came across it about a month ago at the Southport Flower Show and thought it much too attractive not to share. As you can see it won first prize in its class deservedly so my friend and I thought.

The entrant had thoughtfully written the names of all the plant material that was included and most of them are still available for picking now. The vase is the standard green vase that entries in flower arrangements at horticultural shows are always displayed in as determined by The Royal Horticultural Society. Using identical vases ensures that all contestants start at the same point and I imagine makes the judge's job much easier.

Thanks to Cathy from 'Rambling In The Garden' who came up with the excellent idea of kicking off the week with a vase of flowers. Please forgive me for bending the rules Cathy.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day ~ September 2014

A new arrival here is salvia 'Amistad' (which is the Spanish word for friendship), part of my plans to introduce more late summer/ early autumn colour in to the garden. More on the very same subject soon. This plant went straight to the top of my wish list after I saw photos of it in gardening magazines and on a few blogs last year. I'm sure that a few other bloggers will have fallen for its charms too. I bought a small plant earlier in the year which has not flourished so when I saw a much larger specimen I could not resist. 'Amistad' is a relatively new introduction which apparently flowers from May - October and is attractive to bees. It is a tender perennial which may need protection in a cold winter. I've taken a few cuttings as an insurance policy.  Previous experience with salvias tells me to err on the side of caution. Will be keeping my fingers crossed and will report back next year.

With thanks as always to Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for kindly hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. As soon as I've ticked off one plant off the wish list I'm sure that I will be adding more when I see what is blooming in other gardens this month. What have you added to your wish list recently?

Friday, 12 September 2014

Tree Following With Lucy ~ September 2014.

 Subtle changes are afoot on the willow front. Gazing up at my tree in the glorious sunshine yesterday I noticed that there are hints of yellow creeping into the leaves. As I watched there were soft rustling sounds as leaves slowly drifted down to the ground. Not enough to merit the word "flurry" but a definite coming adrift for some of the leaves that have clothed the tree since April. I wondered if the first leaves to appear are the first to fall but I suppose there's no way of establishing that theory.
I also noticed how smooth the surface of the branches are especially compared to the bark which graces the trunk. Lucy bought the smoothness to my attention when she commented on my tree following post last month.

A blue tit was sitting in the tree but flew off on hearing my approaching footsteps. Other than that no sign of wildlife although I'm sure it receives numerous visitors. Unfortunately I can't get close enough to the tree to look for smaller creatures. I had not considered this factor when I made my decision about which tree to follow!

In other willow news I've broken my self imposed embargo of trying not to buy any news books this year. After all this purchase has been made in the interest of serious scientific research. The book concerned is Willow by Alison Syme. It looks a most fascinating book. I have only dipped into it so far, but am looking forward to reading it thoroughly and to sharing some willow snippets with other tree followers over the next few months. The book is one of Reaktion's Botanical series. The publisher describes the series as the "first of its kind, integrating horticultural and botanical writing with a broader account of the cultural and social impact of trees, plants and flowers". Other tree titles include yew, oak, pine with a new book on the subject of the apple tree coming out next month.

Thanks as always to Lucy over at 'Loose And Leafy', who came up with the excellent idea of a monthly post in which bloggers follow the progress of a specific tree over a year. I must check whether there are any other willow watchers out there.