Thursday
Aug212014

Bank Holiday Tasks

The allotment has been a mixed bag this season with the dry weather and sometimes strong, drying winds making growing conditions difficult but the courgettes have done very well and we have a bumper crop for courgette and walnut chutney. The first batch is on the stove as I write this and there should be several more to follow!

Runner beans too are looking good and we have just started to eat them. I am always late planting mine out, but don’t mind as they follow the peas and broad beans. They are full of scarlet flowers and seem to be standing up to the windy weather so there should be plenty for eating and for runner bean pickle, is which is delicious with cheese!

One of the jobs that I must do over the Bank Holiday weekend is lift the onions. The tops of most of the plants have bent over naturally and I have ‘eased’ the roots to encourage the bulbs to start drying off. Once I have lifted them, I will bring them back to the house and dry them in the garage if it is wet or outside during the day on metal trays.

The garden has grown a lot this summer and there is plenty of pruning to do! We have completely removed a Cotoneaster tree and a winter flowering Honeysuckle (which had grown far too large) and now have a good sized area to plant up near one of the sun decks. It is a sunny spot and we have decided to put in a couple of raised beds to grow salads and other vegetables that can be cut and used in the kitchen immediately, without the need to go to the allotment! I would also like to grow more Sweet Peas next year and some new varieties of Dahlias for cutting.

This weekend seems like a good time to start this project by building the raised beds out of timber. I will start by staining the wood and chipping out the soil so that the lengths are slightly buried. Wooden pegs will hold the timber in place and the soil level can be raised with bags of stable manure and top soil from Notcutts. Before the soil mixture is added, I will need to dig over the base to ensure good drainage.  Nothing will be planted here until next spring, so I will also add a top layer of rotted garden compost that can be worked on by the worms over the winter. Next spring should just be a case of raking the soil and sowing some seeds once the weather is warm enough. I have some cloches on the allotment which rarely get used, so they can come back to warm the soil for earlier sowings and to protect Dahlia tubers if they are left in the ground over winter.

As well as continuing with harvesting from the allotment and weeding and pruning in the garden, I hope to get a few hours in the sun watching the butterflies on the Buddleja and planning where the first of the spring bulbs will be planted.

Whatever you are up to this weekend, enjoy your garden!

Monday
Aug182014

Late Flowering Clematis

Clematis are such a varied bunch of plants; blowsy large flowered hybrids and old favourites such as stripy pink ‘Nelly Moser’ and velvety blue ‘jackmannii’ on the one hand and on the other, fascinating, smaller flowered ‘specie’ Clematis which, despite their delicate looks, are stone hardy and easy to look after requiring nothing more than deep, well cultivated soil and a few slug pellets around the plants in spring so that the new growth is not eaten away!

Along with the charming ‘viticellas’ which include the tiny, perfect double flowers of dusky purple ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’ that we have growing through a climbing rose, and the deep wine coloured ‘Etoile Violette’ that scrambles through an ornamental vine, I am very fond of the ‘Orange Peel Clematis’ (Clematis tangutica) with thick petalled, nodding blooms of golden yellow. This plant really is no problem to look after and grows through a Pyracantha. The fern like leaves are late to appear in spring and although the plant can be cut to 30cm above the ground then, I tend to leave it alone so that it rambles through the host plant without seeming to get out of hand. The beautiful flowers are remarked on by friends when they visit and love by bees as they forage on sunny autumn days and the fluffy seed heads that follow are valuable additions to Mrs McGregor’s flower arrangements.

I battle with Clematis rhederana – another species that I cut hard heartedly almost to the ground in late spring. As soon as the weather warms, the plant makes great strides to cover what is left of an old pine tree with vigorous shoots and pale green leaves. I can forgive its brutish behaviour as it is almost time for the show of hundreds of cowslip yellow bells in large, hanging clusters. The flowers have a sweet scent and bees love to clamber into them before they turn into fluffy seed heads that compliment the vine leaves as they change to red and orange and also contrasting with the deep red berries of the Cotoneaster.

Clematis texensis is a true perennial that dies back to the ground and requires no pruning save for the removal of last year’s dead stems in spring. ‘Duchess of Albany’ has cherry pink flowers that are like inverted tulips. The texensis types have more delicate growth and need to be grown through other plants near a path to appreciate their beauty – when the flowers are turned up they reveal a deep pink stripe to each petal.

Looking around the garden at the moment, there is plenty of colour but there are also plenty of plants that I can use as climbing frames for late flowering or early spring varieties of Clematis to scramble through! As well as brightening the garden, Clematis flowers are valuable food for bees and other pollinators. I will soon be visiting Notcutts to look at their range of Clematis - they really are some of the most versatile of plants and so easy to grow! 

Friday
Aug082014

Perennials for late colour

Sedum HerbstfreudeAlthough there is plenty of colour in the garden, many of the early perennials have finished flowering and I have cut the stems to the ground so that the crowns will build up for subsequent years. The compost heap is ready to be turned now and I will use what is ready through the autumn to mulch around the crowns of perennials and on the rest of the borders to improve the soil and cut down on weeding!

Verbena bonariensis is a joy in our garden for months through summer and autumn. Not only do the leafless stems hold up to the strongest of breezes, so that the flowers wave around, but there are always plenty of insects and butterflies attracted to them adding more movement and colour. The Day Lilies have done well this year and the big established clumps have flowered for weeks but are ending now. I will cut them to the ground, leaves and all and give them a feed of fertilizer to reward them for their show - new leaves will soon be produced and the crowns will build for future years. Some of the clumps have grown very large and although they are still flowering well, this is a good time to divide them and spread them around the garden!

For late colour in the garden, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ is one of my favourite plants. It is such a good doer in most soils and sun or part shade, where the bright gold daisies shine for weeks above ground covering clumps of deep green leaves. We have it in several spots in the garden as it is not too fussy about the soil as long as it remains moist – hence the productive compost heaps for mulch! It also grows in Mrs McGregor’s cutting garden as it is invaluable material for this time of the year.

 Asters in the garden flower for weeks and attract plenty of butterflies. There is nothing like them for autumn colour and there are many to choose from. From August until October, there is at least one in flower starting with ‘Little Carlow’ which has single, rich blue flowers with a nectar rich purple centre and ending with the dwarf growing ‘Little Pink Beauty’. Again, moisture retentive soil is required so that the plants do not dry out in summer, making many varieties susceptible to mildew. My favourite has to be the old variety ‘Winston S Churchill’ with magenta flowers that glow for weeks in the borders and in a vase.

In the front garden, the Dieramas (Angel’s Fishing Rods) have been a picture wafting in the breeze and loving the hot weather. They have almost finished flowering now and are a mass of papery seed heads holding plenty of potential progeny that will seed around the garden! I have been content to let them do so but we are thinning them out this year as some of the older clumps are beginning to crowd other plants. Luckily there are always plenty of friends who would like corms of these charming plants although Dieramas dislike being moved and will sulk and not flower for a few years until they settle into their new homes!

Tuesday
Jul292014

Beautiful Butterflies

Red Admiral on BuddlejaAs I predicted, the lengthy dry spell has brought butterflies to the garden in greater numbers over the last few days. Airspace around the white Buddleja which has just started to flower is quite crowded at times – as well as butterflies and bees, we have seen Hummingbird Hawk Moths which I find fascinating to watch! The cat, Oscar lies on the patio trying to stay cool in the heat, but manages to stir himself to bat at passing butterflies if he considers them to be flying too close to him and at a tempting height!

Dahlias of course are a favourite with bees who nuzzle into the fluffy, golden centres; the single flowers are much easier for insects to navigate and more nectar rich than double forms. We have various Lenten Roses (Helleborus) in the garden, with open flowers and nectar rich centres, providing valuable pollen in late winter and early spring, but the double forms are never visited – they hold little nectar and are too difficult to clamber into! Pulmonarias are another favourite with early bumble bees and begin to flower in January if it is mild, reminding me that it is important to provide ‘food plants’ for insects throughout the year.

Anything with a Foxglove type flower is always busy with bees. Perhaps this is why the wild Foxgloves do so well – they always seem to be loaded with fertile seed capsules once the flowers drop and bees certainly love them!  Penstemon are in the same ‘Foxglove’ family and have showy flowers often with contrasting ‘bee lines’ to guide the insects in to do the work of fertilization when the pollen carried on their backs rubs off onto a different flower. I keep these deadheaded regularly to ensure a long flowering season but it would be interesting to raise some seedlings and see the results!

Our shrubby Abelia ‘Francis Mason’ is another plant with tubular flowers and a sweet scent that is loved by bees. The plant in our garden is a ball of glossy golden leaves and the tiny red buds are just appearing – ready to smother the plant in flowers from August until well into the autumn.

Later on in autumn and through the winter months, Viburnum tinus with its flat heads of white flowers is a favourite not only of Mrs McGregor for her arrangements, but any bees that may be on the wing. The Christmas Box (Sarcococca) which we have planted in a shady spot is also valuable to insects as well as providing the sweetest of scents on warm, still days.

Plants always jostle for space in our garden but I could plant a few more climbers. The Japanese Honeysuckle has made a tight screen after the drastic pruning that it received in spring and is covering a trellis with scented yellow flowers visited by hoverflies, bees and the Hummingbird Hawk Moth. At night, the scent from this and the Honeysuckles planted on the fence in the front garden, lies heavy in the air and is food for other moths which run the gauntlet of bats!

After some research, I have decided to purchase an evergreen winter flowering Clematis. Once the plant is established, it will flower from October to January, adding interest for us and also food for bees and other insects brave enough to venture out through the darker months!

Friday
Jul252014

Roses

Rosa rugosaAlthough our garden is exposed, there are still some roses that grow well. I find that the old roses do better than some of the modern hybrids and I am very fond of the ‘species’ that may not have the showiest of blooms, but have ornamental ‘heps’ through the autumn as well as good autumn leaf colours. Once the leaves have fallen, many make twiggy mounds that are a feature through winter.   

Rosa glauca (rubrifolia) is one such plant with smoky grey blue leaves held on dark stems. It makes a mound of twiggy growth and the single, bright pink flowers are set off by the blue of the foliage. In late summer and autumn, translucent red hips appear and are loved by birds as they begin their autumn feast! This is a lovely rose to grow in a mixed border with perennials and shrubs where the leaves make a great backdrop for other plants. 

Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’ needs plenty of room, so we grow it in a shady corner, where the bright green, upright stems do not cause damage – they are very well armed with thorns! In time, the plant makes a vigorous, arching mound and is one of the earliest roses to flower. The perfectly formed single flowers of deep red have a central garland of golden yellow stamens. The flowers are beautiful enough but the real feature of this rose comes in the autumn when the orange, bottle shaped heps appear – a real all rounder as even the bare stems are attractive through the winter months.

Neither of the two roses above are particularly scented but the spiny Burnet rose ‘Stanwell Perpetual’ has richly scented, double pink flowers over an impressively long season. The plant grows well in poor sandy soil, which is unusual for Roses as they are usually greedy plants requiring well conditioned soil and fertilizer twice a year. Rugosa roses too, are less fussy about soil and carry a strong scent. I have the pure white double flowered variety ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’ which is a joy through the summer, despite the hedgehog like spines on the stems! The Rugosa roses make excellent, suckering hedges and are very useful in coastal locations where strong salt laden winds are a challenge! The rounded hips, produced in autumn are bright orange at first and mature to deep red – a feast for the eyes as the leaves fall and for wild birds and small mammals through the winter.

Other roses that are useful for exposed sites are the ground cover varieties which form an impenetrable mass of stems and are rarely without flowers from early summer until well into the autumn. As well as the disease resistant ‘County Series’, which includes deep red ‘Suffolk’ I would not be without Rosa ‘Bonica’ another variety that gives and gives until late autumn. The flowers are a beautiful shade of deep pink held above mounds of leathery green leaves that persist on the plants through the winter months before they are ousted by new ones that begin coppery red and age to deep green as they mature.

Many species roses are such useful plants for exposed sites and I love the way they change with the seasons; fresh growth in spring, flowers through the summer and the hips in autumn and winter.