Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Back Down To Earth

Slowly emerging from a post holiday blur of unpacking, washing and restocking the kitchen cupboard. Our vintage camper van has done us proud, with some five hundred miles or so of travelling throughout Normandy without as much as a grumble. Not bad for a 26 year old lady. Memorable sights and sounds included :
  • The wettest of imaginable days in the city of Bayeux, where we saw the fabulous Bayeux tapestry and experienced a medieval fair complete with local folk dancing and the most scariest looking of stilt walkers. 
  • Staying the night in the little port of Port-Bail on a campsite where camper vans can park up about hundred feet or so from the sea. Here we witnessed a glorious red sunset slowly seemingly dipping into the sea and we went to sleep to the sound of waves.      
  • Having our faces painted with the colours of the French national flag as we sat and sadly witnessed 'Les Bleus' premature exit from La Coupe du Monde.
  • Gazing down upon the small town of Arromanches, famous for its artificial 'Mulberry' harbour.
  • Flags flying from outside public buildings, shops and houses throughout Normandy to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of France. 
  • Shell strewn beaches and vivid red poppy dotted field edges.
  • The imaginative roundabout plantings which are impossible to photo but live in the memory.
  • Enjoying the odd dish or two of 'crevettes roses' accompanied by a small pot of mayonnaise and bread. Sheer bliss despite the rather messy process of eating them and the aftermath of sticky pink fingers!
  • Experiencing my first and probably last ever pop festival at Beauregard (way,way too crowded for me), where the music of the talented Agnes Obel was the highlight of the proceedings for me. Himself prefered the rather more loud and strident tones of Seasick Smith.
  • Drifts of lathyrus vernus on roadside verges, clumps of brilliant shining blue agapanthus and magnificent hollyhock towers.
  • A cluster of snails out for an evening constitutional and a touch of late sunshine.
We also fitted in one garden visit which I will touch on soon. Quite the best outcome of our holiday was that himself, who has been rather poorly since the beginning of April has returned home much fitter. Partly in response to medication but also partly due to the holiday I think. Now it's back to catching up with what's been going on in the allotment and garden. The weeds have certainly grown whilst I wasn't looking so I think that I will be playing catch up for some time to come.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Musing in June

"How long, thought Eliza, since I have walked in a garden in the evening? She looked through the deeply set iron gate, so narrow and dark in the hollow of the garden wall, and wondered whether or not she would lift the latch and walk in among Olivia's carefully grown flowers...... She opened the gate and walked in.

Down the long paths Eliza walked, where Olivia's delphiniums bore themselves with a pallor and reticence in the night - their blue quenched of its burning. The evening was so still and hot that all colour had soaked into the air except where a point of land, far out to sea, was the daytime blue of a pale delphinium; absurd as a picture of a desert and as silly as it was lovely in the night. Droves of irises were grey-winged, lost in the evening; peonies were white shells round crowns as dark as moss now, only in the daytime golden, and their scent past sweetness. Not a flower scent, but beyond that. A dark scent. A tree of lilac, a broody and exotic white hen, plumed and perfumed, Eliza passed and the nearly sulphurous depths of scent where lupins grew. All colour was lost, soaked into the darkness, breathed out in scent, given to the night, given to Eliza as she walked along, her mind held in an animal delight both sharp and languorous."

- extract from 'Full House' by Molly Keane.

the illustration by Angela Barrett  is from the dust jacket of Susan Hill's book 'Through The Garden Gate' which in turn has a magical chapter entitled 'The Night Garden'.

Monday, 23 June 2014

In A Vase On Monday - Sweet Peas and Roses

I came away from the allotment today with a skip in my step despite another session of horsetail tug of war. The reason was that I was able to pick the very first sweet peas of the year. Not enough for a substantial bunch but a few stems to sit alongside some roses. This year's sweet peas are two I've not grown before namely 'Erewhon' and 'Fire & Ice' as well as the familiar 'Cupani'. I usually grow 'Matucana' but 'Cupani' is very similar. Plants from autumn sown seed ended up being too straggly to plant probably because of the mild winter so I sowed again in spring using root trainers. I now have two wigwams at the allotment, each made up of seven bamboo canes, with two plants planted at the base of each cane. 'Cupani' has still to flower. Of the other two it's still early acquaintance but I think that I prefer 'Erewhon'. I will report back more fully later in the year. I'm castigating myself for not sowing some darker shades too.

There were not enough sweet peas to fill the container so I supplemented them with a few 'Blush Noisette' roses. The flowers are in a little china teacup (probably about 4 inches high), which is one of a pair that I bought from a local charity shop many years ago. Both the cups and saucers have minute chips but with a bit of guile these imperfections can be easily disguised.  I'm looking forward now to picking many bunches of sweet peas during the summer from the allotment. My sweet pea vases usually reside on the kitchen windowsill and make washing the dishes a much more pleasurable pastime. This arrangement was photographed outside this afternoon.

Thanks to the lovely Cathy over at 'Rambling In The Garden' who came up with the excellent idea of sharing our vases of flowers on a Monday. What a great way to start the week!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - June 2014

Today will offer very limited photo opportunities as we are committed to family celebrations, on what we hope will turn out to be a sunny day for a beautiful June bride, so the camera came out yesterday. A whizz round before an allotment session and then another on my return. The day started on the damp side after unexpected rain the evening before but it turned into a sometimes bright and warm day, when there were plenty of bees and butterflies about.

The flowers probably do not need much in the way of a formal introduction but just in case :

Top row from left to right - alchemilla mollis, astrantia 'Gill Richardson' which performs better than any other of my red astrantias and salvia nemerosa 'Caradonna'.
Middle row from left to right - the first darkly delicious flowers of clematis 'Petit Faucon' - the colour fades with age, linaria purpurea and leycesteria formosa.
Bottom row from left to right - astrantia variety unknown, rosa glauca - the foliage of which is probably more attractive than the flower and a geranium pratense graced by a visitor.

There are a myriad of June flowers to linger over at May Dreams Gardens, with thanks to Carol as always for hosting. What a great opportunity to share our June blooms and grow our wish lists!

Monday, 9 June 2014

Tree Following With Lucy ~ June 2014

Sometime between my May tree following post and now my affection for my willow has rapidly diminished. Remember those innocent looking catkins - well every year without fail they turn into a billion of fluffy missiles that float away causing an unsightly mess in their wake. This year's initial snowstorm coincided with the late May bank holiday and is still continuing. The fluffies coat the ground, the washing line, the greenhouse etc., etc. and would no doubt make their way into every room in the house if we were to leave the windows open. Sometimes the fall is so intense that I'm too frightened to open my mouth outside but as I mentioned in a previous post I count myself lucky. I could after all live in Moscow and have to contend with some decidedly anti-social female Balsam poplar trees.

Another happening has been the appearance of orange blisters on the some of the willow leaves. I think that these may be some sort of rust fungus but need to find out more. I'm going to see if I can get hold of a leaf to examine this phenonomen more closely. This will involve an almost impossible aerobic feat so don't hold your breath. I've also only just noticed the dark spots on some of the leaves in the photo. My eyes must have been distracted by the fluffies when I took the photo. I'm not sure what these marks could be.

I'm sure that the willow hosts all sorts of wildlife but rather disappointingly I've only observed the odd squirrel and wood pigeon in its branches. Underneath has more or less morphed into a mass of humungous nettles dotted by the odd fern.

No doubt I will harbour fonder feelings for my willow by next month but in the meantime I hope to discover some better behaved trees over at Loose And Leafy. Thanks to Lucy for giving us the opportunity to share news of our chosen trees each month.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

'Shows Of Hands' - Here's Waving At You!

Mother's father had a touch with horses ; she had the same with flowers. She could grow them anywhere, at any time and they seemed to live longer for her. She grew them with rough, almost slap-dash love, but here hands possessed such an understanding of their needs that they seemed to turn to her like another sun. She could snatch a dry root from a field or hedgerow, dab it into the garden, give it a shake - and almost immediately it flowered. One felt she could grow roses from a stick or chair -leg, so remarkable was this gift' 

- an extract from 'Cider with Rosie' by Laurie Lee.

It sounds as if Laurie's mother had what we call 'green fingers'. Talking of fingers leads to hands which are certainly 'the tool most precious to a gardener', as Michelle at Veg Plotting writes in her invitation to bloggers to hilight hands and join in her Chelsea Fringe project for 2014.

I must admit that I look down at my hands sometimes and think that they do not belong to me. Am I slowly turning into an alien? No but my hands reflect that I'm getting older more than any other part of me. Well the grey hair can be covered with 'Black Cherry' but the hands are harder to disguise. They are becoming increasingly chicken wrinkled and at this time of year seem to be permanently scratched and dirt engrained. I hear my mother's voice in my ear urging me to wear gloves and use hand cream and reflect that they would probably look better if I had heeded her advice. However regardless of appearance they have served me well over some thirty years or so of gardening. I wonder just how many seeds they have sown, how many cuttings they've taken, how many plants they've planted and just how many weeds they have pulled out. When I think of this I'm not surprised that they look past their sell by date. However I'm eternally grateful for their service.

Unfortunately my hands also suffer from various allergic reactions (even more reason to listen to mum) and are not a pretty sight at the moment. So no photo of my paws today but one that some of you maybe familiar with if you are already a regular visitor here. It's perfect for saying hello to you and to say thank you for visiting. The photo is of my blog atavar and was taken at Sudeley Castle, in Gloucestershire in 2008. The gardens were home to an exhibition of sculpture including a gigantic hand. You can see and read about some of the other exhibits here.

The 'Chelsea Fringe' is now entering its last few days. If you are fortunate enough to live in or near London, Bath, Brighton, Bristol or Kent there are some great events going on this week. If you are further afield you can still participate in Michelle's project over at Veg Plotting until the 8th June. What a great idea for bloggers from all corner of the globe to join hands together in celebration of our love of plants and gardens and be part of this special event. You've got to hand it to Michelle for coming up with such a brilliant idea after last year's magnificent 'Blogger's Cut' cake extravaganza. I'm still recovering after eating my way through this work of art. I'm now wondering what's in store for 2015!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

End Of Month View ~ May 2014

We're now definitely on the cusp between spring and summer as my favourite month of the year is fading out on a warm and sunny note. The Solomon's Seal, aquilegias, brunnera, thalictrums, umbifellers and pulmonarias are giving way slowly but surely to astrantias, geraniums, penstemons, elderflowers and roses.

The annual garden club plant sale is done and dusted for another year. The above photo shows some of the plants that I took for sale. There were very few plants in flower on the day, as several of the plants that I had lifted and divided with the plant sale in mind had rather inconsiderately already flowered. I was pleased that foliage plants attracted customers but unfortunately all the tomato plants came back home with me. They walked off the table last year and I could have sold more than I took with me. Sometimes there's no logical rhyme or reason as to what sells and what comes back home.

I'm not convinced that I've achieved much of any substance in the garden having spent most of my time weather permitting either in the greenhouse or at the allotment. The annual greenhouse shuffle is playing out its course and the contents are slowly spilling out into the garden or making their way to the allotment. Today with next spring in mind I've sown some sweet rocket, wallflowers and and lunaria 'Chedglow' which I fell for at the London RHS Show in February 2013. Avon Bulbs are now selling seeds of this stunning purple leaved lunaria.

I took my camera to the allotment this morning but fell at the first hurdle - I left the camera card out so a verbal description instead.The potatoes which were planted on Easter Monday are now reasonably sturdy plants and fingers crossed the danger of frost is behind us. Broad bean 'Witkiem' and pea 'Douce Provenance' are already forming their first pods. I've planted wigwams of 'Cobra' and 'Blauhilde' French climbing beans, whilst a purple podded mange tout peas (from my own saved seed) and 'Lingua de Fuoco 2' borlotti beans, will be making their way to the allotment in the next few days to be planted. Courgettes 'Romanesco' and the yellow fruiting 'Floridor' are already in the ground. My third courgette 'Brice' did not germinate well so I made latter sowings of 'De Nice A Fruit Ronde'. The autumn planted garlic has grown well but has developed rust whilst the shallots and 'Red Baron' onions are plumping up nicely. Beetroot and chard grown in cells at home will also soon be in transit along with a pumpkin.

In the fruit department the strawberry plants have been strawed and hopefully we will be eating them before long. The plants are now in their second year so should produce well. 'Cambridge Favourite' is most floriferous but the newer on the scene plant 'Albion' is definitely not as generous with its fruit so I doubt if it will be a keeper. The gooseberries should also be ready for picking soon and look bar any natural disaster as if they will fruit well. I picked a couple today to sample but they are still too hard. Disaster with the white currants which looked as if they were going to produce in abundance - the fruits have been more or less stripped off the bush overnight! No sign of any creatures so I can only wonder. Although I prefer the red currants and black currants the white currant has been the best performing of the currant bushes so I am rather miffed. The apples are now swelling. Despite 'Katy' being described being smothered in blossom by my plot neighbours she is not fruiting well. 'James Grieve' and 'Sunset' are doing much better.

Flowering at the allotment now are chives, sage, rosa rubignosa (sweet brier), comfrey and some self seeded cerinthe. Hopefully soon the wigwam of sweet peas will be joining in and there will be bunches to pick to bring home with me.

Plant purchases this month have included a nameless sultry bearded iris, a nameless lime green hosta and a couple of nameless hardy geraniums. I have a feeling that one of them is geranium sylvaticum album although the label said it was something else. Finally a plant with a name - alchemilla erythropoda which I believe to be a better behaved relative of alchemilla mollis.
P.S. I forgot to include the three little rhodochiton atrosanguineum plants I bought on Thursday having already sown a packet with the result of not a single seedling. I've sown these several times before so was rather disappointed. All being well I shall be able to save my own seeds this year. Have always been amazed by the price the seed companies charge for this plant.

So that was May in my garden and allotment. I'm looking forward to catching up with what has been happening on your patches of earth over at The Patient Gardener's Weblog. With thanks as always to Helen for hosting this excellent meme.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A Love/Hate Relationship

With almost indecent haste the spring bulb catalogues are coming through the letter box and once more the annual saga of tulip selection will be upon us.  My brow will furrow, I will agonise and waver but no doubt will fall for them again. Tulips - what's not to like? My blogging friends sing their praises, garden writers rave about them and in the past tulip fanciers paid a king's ransom for them. I've never heard or seen anybody say a bad word about tulips. I must be in a minority though when I say that I remain to be convinced. I think that it's the foliage that I find most unattractive followed by other undesirable traits. However my lack of success in growing them consistently well is probably down to my shortcomings as a gardener. Perhaps you can tell me where I am going wrong.

This spring's offerings were all confined to containers on the premise that I can get them out of the way quickly once they've flowered. The first big pot was planted in December 2012 with 'Doll's Minuet', 'Ballerina and 'Black Hero'. I must admit did look reasonably attractive the previous spring although the leaves were an eyesore. The first two varieties of bulb flowered again but this time sadly absolutely no sign of 'Black Hero'. This made the remaining tulips stick out like a sore thumb as the latter toned down the combination. They were grew quite tall and took on a marked contorted lurch as they took the brunt of rain and wind. The ugly monster leaves completely flopped and caught my eye from the kitchen window every time I stood at the kitchen sink. Yuk! A good excuse to leave cooking and dish washing to himself for a couple of weeks.

Pot numbers two were single plantings - no fancy colour combinations here but 'Spring Green' in a couple of pots and 'Mount Tacoma' in another. Needless to say they did not flourish. The foliage was of one pot of 'Spring Green' was ravaged before it even flowered. I'm not sure who the culprit was although my suspect is a squirrel. I have to cover nearly all my pots of bulbs with chicken wire for the tulips to stand any chance of seeing spring but maybe a determined creature managed to have more than a nibble or two. The other pot simply did not flower well or last any length of time although I suppose that the weather was on the warm side. As for 'Mount Tacoma' planted in two tall ceramic pots there was a conspicuous absence of flower - maybe a couple of flowers from each pot. The remainder were blind. Maybe I did not plant them deep enough? I just don't know. Funnily enough the very first time I planted these bulbs they were stars which is why I was attracted to them again.

Finally the last trio, another of Sara Raven's tulip combination suggestions, consisted of 'Havran', 'Prinses Irene' and 'Couleur Cardinal'. They were planted in an old galvanised metal container and were far the best of my tulip plantings this spring but not without fault. Now the leaves had a good habit, the colour combination was absolutely spot on but 'Havran' was much taller than the other two which really irritated me. It was also noticeably first into flower and the last to drop its petals having flowered for a good month.

So that is my tulip summary for the spring 2014. Needless to say no photographs were taken hence the above illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith.

I've not had a good browse through the new catalogues yet but I'm sure I will be tempted by tulips again. Initial thoughts though include planting the metal container solely with 'Havran' and investigating species tulips in depth. In the meantime though the names 'Bruine Wimpel', 'Belle Epoque' and 'Merlot' are whispering in my ear. What about you?  Any foolproof recommendations? Any thoughts on what tulips you will be planting this autumn and does anybody else find them a challenge or is it just me?

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Musing in May

"It would be difficult at this time of year not to see beauty in weeds. The ditches in our lane are milky with the white nettle, that exquisite flower with the form of an unsophisticated orchid. In the orchard the sequence of flowering weeds runs it course. As dandelion fades, it gives place to brown plantain with its lace ruff, speedwell, purple vetch, buttercup and cow parsley. Spikes of the beautiful wild salsify stand among the growing grasses, closing their flowers at midday : goat's beard, as some call it, or John-go-to-bed-at-noon, as it is known to others. Along the hedge-bottoms gleam the cuckoo-pints, challenging the darkness of the hedge shade with pale green staves, flapping their limp petals over themselves as their time of flowering draws to its close. Was any flower the possesor of so many names? Cuckoo-pint, priest's pintle, lords and ladies, wild arum, good King Henry *. There is as much charm in the names of our wildflowers and weeds as there is in the flowers themselves"

-  an extract from 'Four Hedges' by Clare Leighton

*Richard Mabey's book 'Flora Britannica' quotes yet more names for the cuckoo-pint including Jack in the pulpit, Devils and angels and Cows and bulls.