June view 2009

June view 2009
View of rose and herb garden, June 2009

Small Garden Story

Over some 15 + years, I have been photographing the evolution of my small (85 x 15 foot) garden and it seems a waste not to put these records into some sort of context. Beginning here in April 2010 this Blog is intended to both act as a diary and to share past and present successes (and some failures), pleasures and disappointments with fellow garden-lovers. In due course, I intend to fill in some of the background and early days but that will have to wait until the winter months!

Monday, 25 July 2016

Suddenly summer and thoughts on ants

Having spent much of my free time picking a bumper crop of fruit this year (as evidenced on my Instagram page - sueatkinsonphoto) has left me little time to post! The hot dry spell has also meant enough watering - especially the French beans in the greenhouse. It seems 6 plants in a gro-bag are a bit too many and those in pots are doing better. But then I was expecting them to be a dwarf variety which didn't need staking and hence wouldn't be so overcrowded. The climbing variety are doing better - lovely purple beans. Neither have done well in the garden - I'm blaming slugs and snails.
The garden has flourished this year and without too much attention. There have been plenty of birds - particularly great tits, blue tits, dunnocks, robins, blackbirds and I'm delighted by the number of sparrows. The swifts are still here in good numbers, I have managed to count about 14 at once but it's quite a challenge as they move so fast. There are also rooks, rather more red kites than I would really like to see and I spotted a flock of starlings along the street the other day but I've not seen them in the garden.
My Sarah Raven Lilium regale were spectacular but are now over as are the bulk of roses, geraniums and clematis although my very late spring cutting back of one of them was definitely a good move as it is still flowering, much later than usual. Two well-established phlox are doing really well. I am now eagerly awaiting the dahlias starting to bloom although they seem to be very slow so far....
On the radio they have talking about ants, claiming they do no damage. Hm. I'm not so sure. They have definitely been responsible for killing off several things here by excavating around plant roots. A splendid self-set white lychnis (left of top picture) upped and died suddenly last week and when I removed it there was virtually no root. Maybe or maybe not ants.... They are certainly farming black fly on the dahlias and that is not welcome.
One surprise observation I must note. The white perennial sweet pea (below) has been turning increasingly pink over the years and I assumed it was reverting. This year it is perfectly white again. Delight!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Russian ballet colours

Irrespective of the last two posts, I have to share this rose and clematis combination with you. What my late Aunties would have called Russian ballet colours....

Trying to grow Ipomoea lobata

I am always tempted by climbers. They are great for filling odd spaces and experimenting with the annual varieties is great fun! Seduced by the beautiful display of Ipomoea (Mina) lobata I saw last year in St James's park, London, I ordered some seedlings from Sarah Raven and 8 lovely little plants arrived this spring - April I think!.
After a week or so I decided it should be safe to plant them out. Cautious, I only planted out 3, gave one to a friend and kept 4 inside in pots. Alas, the ones I planted out very soon succumbed to the unexpected late frosts. Looking a little sad and straggly I put my remaining 4 outside to harden off in early May. One was attacked by snails and proved insufficiently strong to recover so I brought the other 3 back indoors. They did not flourish - the leaves became distorted and pale and the plants grew straggly. Reading about them it seems they do not like rich living so I transplanted into rather poorer garden soil than the compost I initially used. I popped 2 in the greenhouse and they began to flower almost immediately with hardly any leaf/stem growth. Another I put in a window box with some petunias.
I am watching and waiting eagerly. Here is a picture of the healthiest when first transplanted. I will report progress - hoping for the best. Any advice very welcome!

A most unattractive water-inhabiting visitor - rat-tailed maggots!

We have had so much rain recently that water accumulated in places it never had before. In a ceramic pot base, which is sealed at the bottom, some dead leaves had fallen and begun to decay. Among them I noticed a collection of mosquito larva but also some much larger really rather disgusting-looking white/transparent maggot-like creatures with long rat-like tails - commonly known as rat-tailed maggots!. It seems they are either Syrphid or Hover fly or Drone fly larvae. Either way, I'll be glad when they hatch out and fly off! Fascinating none-the-less....

Saturday, 11 June 2016

June rain

We seem to be quite lucky not to have major floods so I'm not complaining about the gentle rain that's interrupted my planned dahlia-planting. In fact it's perfect growing weather and the roses are loving it.

For the first time I can recall, roses that usually hang their heads down and standing upright. Is this due to all the rain? Whatever, R Prince Charles and R Pat Austen are covered in blooms and the delicate old fashioned white rose (whose name I've forgotten) is flourishing too following total neglect from me last year (another object-lesson?). Dispatched 5 lily beetles this morning and chucked out a good deal of large slugs and snails with the tulips. I'm sure the lily beetles were making a squeaking noise - not sure if this is possible.... They have not yet discovered two pots of very healthy-looking l.Formosanum and l.Regale near the kitchen. The latter, bulbs from Sarah Raven, are stunning plants a good five feet in height and growing strong and straight.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Madame Isaac Pereire and Madame Alfred Carriere and co.

A remarkably warm, dry bank holiday weekend has been followed by torrential rain today which makes me delighted I picked a bunch of full-blown roses for the table! This year there are more blooms than ever before - maybe due to all the rain and a late cold snap... easy to speculate. The bad new is that R. Kiftsgate is covered with mildew that I can't begin to think about tackling. I am seriously considering cutting it right back after flowering this year to see if I can keep it a little more under control/healthy.... The grass would be happy!
I am intrigued by the habits of roses and my various experiments with pruning. Most remarkable to me is how forgiving they can be, especially as regards transplanting. I am happy to report that the good half day I spent digging out R Canary Bird to give to a friend has been rewarded by it taking - in spite of my having to cut back to only about 1/4 of the root.
My creamy-white Mme. Alfred Carriere rose was also a major task to transplant but since I've realised I should tie down all the stems to allow the flowering spurs to grow upwards it has been flourishing and is relatively free of any pests or diseases. Unlike the supposedly well-behaved pretty pink Mme. Isaac Pereire. This was my first rose purchase and is in its third location - ever-looking for a place it is happy. It is blighted by black spot and seems to attract aphids, although it does seem quite mildew-resistant. This year I have decided to ignore it and let it ramble and that seems to be suiting it. Amongst the wisteria and a tangle of greenery the black-spotty leaves will just have to do their own thing, while I collect as many as I can.
After the slow spring there are some wonderful surprises this year - plenty of self-set alliums (in fact they need dividing!), a fabulous crop of white irises, unexpected foxgloves and some surprising combinations of foliage plants. The clematis all seem to be very slow but hopefully they will come late and give me more to look forward to!
My orange-purple tulip contrasts were a success overall although some of the colour shifts were a bit too subtle from a distance. I picked a couple of bunches to shoot in the studio this year - both fresh and as they die gracefully. A few may even reach the web site. Nice to give things more permanent significance. Next weekend I shall be digging them up to make space for dahlias.
Here are a couple of snaps of the garden this weekend. I am so chuffed my hosta Francis Williams has so far avoided any slug/snail damage!.

Monday, 2 May 2016

A spring contrast of the self-set and highly cultivated

It has been SO cold lately that I have been a real wimp about getting out and busy! Even on Saturday morning there was ice on the birdbaths. Happily the self-seeders seem to thrive on neglect in any weather. This year there is a profusion of bluebells, primroses and forget-me-nots.
But an unusually warm bank holiday (it only rained this afternoon!) has nudged me into action. There is much to do. The area behind the greenhouse and the greenhouse itself are in need of much attention and I've decided on a radical change-around. I shall do away with the white-currant that produces hardly any, tiny fruits, the overgrown strawberries I can't eat, plant some new raspberry canes (I mistakenly pruned out the wrong ones in my haste to get in from the cold a month or so back) and make some space for a few veg. It means moving a few gems like this clump of self-set English bluebells but they do seem to be thriving everywhere this year and transplant remarkably well. In the greenhouse the dahlias are coming up nicely in their pots. A greenhouse is useful but really warrants an every-day gardener. I am looking forward to some help in sorting out the leaking roof and broken pane and then will revise it's more practical use rather than a hot general storage/junk hole!
The grass is still suffering the plant-form of alopecia, nearly 2 boxes on although at last there are signs of life. I'm sure its' germination is being inhibited by the cold. But I have not given in yet. Other things are definitely being affected by the cold. Some of my Sarah Raven Ipomoea lanata seedlings caught the frost. Luckily I kept some in a sheltered spot and am now bringing them on in the kitchen. There are far fewer aquilegias this year and some are looking yellowy and weak. A few geraniums also seem very reticent in putting on growth as do several clematis. Good jobs tulips never disappoint.
Against a background of self-set forget-me-nots an assortment of Ballerina, Coleur Cardinal, Ronaldo (or Havran?) and Curly Sue with Prinses Irene emerging. Close-up are Ballerina and Coleur Cardinal in the rain!
NB. I had forgotten what I'd ordered and some seem to be very similar so the names might be a bit dodgy!!
Lastly, here is a rather pot-bound Hosta Francis Williams. Such energy in its emerging spikes, so far snail-free!

Monday, 28 March 2016

A robin at Easter

Not many things worth photographing just now but I am enjoying a little pot of primroses and polyanthus and some of their self-set hybrids!
Since the weather has chosen to throw us a mix of March and April excesses this weekend it's been a matter of making the most of the quiet patches. Friday's objective was successfully achieved with the joint-exercise of severe pruning my neighbours' huge shrub(?), although not without incident as one of them managed to fall, dramatically, off a step ladder - it going one way and him the other. Fortunately no harm was done! I now have much more light on my virtually "bald" grass patch (no, no photos!) and having sewn a third batch of expensive shade-tolerant grass seed I am really hoping for some more promising results (although I am beginning to suspect the whole process is more of a very expensive bird-feeding exercise!).
Before the rain began on Saturday I re-established two of my Diana Roles bird baths which were almost immediately put to good use and are now virtually filled with rainwater. There has been plenty of bird activity including the blackbirds which may or may not be planning on using a nest they've built near the house, a pair of goldfinches, plenty of blue tits and great tits and there have been regular visits from a coal tit, for the first time in ages. Most intriguingly a robin has been hovering and going in and out of the (unpopular!) ivy covering the boundary fence. At first he/she/they seemed to be visiting many different spots and I thought they might be after insects but today's activity has included transporting nesting material, including a large laurel leaf almost the size of the little bird which actually proved a bit too unmanageable! I hope they succeed with their attempts as it would be great to watch them so near my kitchen window.
Saturday's lull also enabled me to do a fair bit of tidying up dead plant-matter and pot up some lilies and dahlia tubers. Running short of other hole-blocking materials I made use of some large ivy leaves.

I am also experimenting with a new means of ID. It seems the pots will just fit inside the named bags the dahlias arrive in. With a bit of luck I might get my colour-balances right this year although with a unidentified few tubers which seem to have survived in the shed from last season it won't be all that predictable.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Dahlia tubers

I've just received a (birthday) box of J Parker's dahlia tubers - Wittemans Best, Apache and Dark Spirit. A great incentive to clear the greenhouse out and start potting up! I find it's definitely worth starting dahlias in pots - they come into flower much earlier and it's far easier to protect them from hungry (or just greedy) slugs.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Spring cleaning

I had my first serious gardening session of the year yesterday, making the most of the fine weather. The main objectives were to tidy the bay hedge and everything that's now growing through and over it (ideas which seem great but actually need a lot of control!), tidy the path and terrace and have a review of the overall situation. I'm trying to keep the hedge at a manageable height which will mean more trimmings but should involve less teetering at the top of the step ladder. So far so good. There is still some moss to clear from the terrace but it looks much better, especially removing unwanted seedlings from between the bricks.
I was accompanied in my scraping and sweeping by a robin - or robins, a pair were darting about the garden later. I also discovered a new blackbird nest in the bay nearest the house and they are busy back and forth as I write. I am always wary of clearing too much so early in the season as I like to leave nest-building materials so although I cut back quite a few dead stems of perennials I also left plenty and made a pile of mixed "materials" in a discreet spot behind the greenhouse. Dead hosta leaves seem popular and I would imagine lily of the valley too since they seem to decay back to soft wispy fibres.
My second sewing of grass has not taken. But I have arranged to cut back my neighbour's large overshadowing shrub at Easter! I also need to find someone to repair the greenhouse, fix a wobbly fence-post and need to treat the shed with wood-preserver. The list of (plant) gardening tasks is far too long to list here. Plenty to keep me busy!
Spring has definitely sprung with tulips breaking the ground, clematis and roses all shooting and a few bees buzzing around.... I'm looking forward to the early Easter.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Very late tulip planting

A shameful gap in my posting! In part I'm using the seemingly-endless wet weekends as an excuse. It is brilliant to have a sunny frosty Saturday morning at last, especially as it was only last weekend that I dodged the showers to plant the last of the tulips bulbs.
This year I've gone for Curly Sue, Coleur Cardinal, Havran, Grand Perfection, Ronaldo, Jimmy, Irene Parrot, Burgundy and Ballerina - all purchased from J Parker's along with Sarah Raven's Venetian Tulip collection of National Velvet, Havran and Prinses Irene. I have to say the Sarah Raven bulbs were substantially bigger and healthier-looking than Parker's.
Some of the Parker's bulbs were affected by mould which was a concern as I knew I wouldn't be able to plant them immediately so I took advice from the web. I washed affected bulbs in a very mild bleach solution, cutting off mouldy and rotted sections with sharp knife, then dried them all very carefully. Apparently a small amount of this mould is dispersed and neutralised once bulbs are planted by the natural bacterial actions in the soil (not a reliably technical explanation!).
With regard to planting, having managed to muddle up the parrot tulips with another pack I decided to put the whole lot in a box together and plant at random. It will be exciting to see what happens!
The latest on the grass front is a sad tale. In spite of Greensleeves' tender care, I now have weed and moss-free area which is quite bald in patches. Having researched grass alternatives I am going to have one last attempt at re-seeding with tough shade-tolerant grass seed throughout 2016 and see what else I can cut back to reduce shade. If that fails I think it will be a major re-design. We will see what 2016 brings!
Happy gardening to those of you who've been kind enough to keep reading - I will do my best to post some nice pictures this year!