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The Glorious 20th

Yes, the Spring equinox ix on its way, unless you are reading this after the 20th March 2014. It’s been a lovely build up to Spring this year, albeit wet. The warm temperatures have encouraged early growth and with a little luck there’ll be no heavy frosts to damage young shoots – but let’s not be too complacent. This week has been especially warm and sunny and of course that creates a spotlight for all those gorgeous vibrant spring flowers that have already popped up: the Galanthus, Crocus and early Daffodils.

Fragrant Narcissi 'Paperwhites'

Fragrant Narcissi ‘Paperwhites’

These Narcissi ‘Paperwhites’ have been in constant bloom in my garden since January and are utterly gorgeous. They are quite delicate but surprisingly robust at the same time.In the Crescent Garden the Narcissi Tête-à-Têtes are vibrant against the purple Crocuses. Just beautiful. I am waiting with baited breath for my favourite spring flowers – Fritillaries. With their chequered heads they look like tiny jockeys bobbing around in the grass. That sounds a bit ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – sorry. In a client’s garden, we are watching for her Erythronium californicum ‘Harvington Snowgoose’ with its subtly mottled leaves which are just appearing before the large, pergoda-shaped flowers.

Something else that is special about this time of year is watching out for the little red shoots of perennials such as Paeonies and Astrantia. They are tiny buds of intense colour in the winter soil. Also coming up are those elegant leaves of the Tulips – they remind me of  a sophisticated evening wrap Grace Kelly would have worn. They serve to break up the bare ground and create colour and coverage at this time before bursting into bloom as my daffodils fade. But even more alluring is the realisation that beyond all this Spring glamour there are still plants that have not shown themselves yet and there is the thrill of more to come. If you are like me, despite my endless lists and plans, I still forget some of the plants that are there and am delighted to see them suddenly appear like long-lost friends.

We have made a significant addition to the Crescent Garden by planting six ornamental Cherries – two each of Royal Burgundy, Fragrant Cloud and Pendula Rubra. These should give us a fabulous burst of colour in the spring, red, pink and white, clearly visibly from the houses and road. Planting trees carries some weight. It’s a strange feeling to think (hope) that these trees will be there in years to come for other people to appreciate looking out of their windows. They may never give a second thought to who planted them or why, but that in itself is rather liberating and special.

Oh well – it must be time to wrap up as I have gone into philosophical mode. Come on everyone – Mother Nature is giving us a nudge, so let’s shake ourselves down, spruce ourselves up, take a walk in the park and stop to smell the flowers! Somebody stop me…

Tete a Tetes and Crocus

Tete a Tetes and Crocuses

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Shiver Me Timbers!

Last year was quite extraordinary in so many ways. The winter that dragged on so long we gardeners never thought we would see a green shoot; the spring that was so short and dramatic that everything blossomed and bloomed at once, bleeding into and mixing with the early summer show and then that long sunny summer which was such a sultry treat.

It’s January now, and it hardly feels like we are even starting to embrace the winter – even though we are seeing such extreme wet weather conditions here in the UK and of course the arctic blast across the USA. There’s been a few hard frosts and lots of inclement weather but I still have a couple of roses blooming, the Rudbekias have only recently finished, their chocolate buttons still standing proud, and the tough old evergreens are looking as perky and shiny as they do in summer.

I am amazed as I walk around the garden at the amount of plants which are sitting happily in the winter gloom. The less resilient plants are gracefully disappearing leaving the garden looking surprisingly tidy. I’m putting it down to the slightly higher temperatures we have experienced here in Glasgow this year (so far). The dry summer has given my garden a chance at fending off the worst of the wet weather and has not yet become waterlogged as it usually is.

Looking good are my Cistus x obtusifolius ‘Thrive’ and Cistus pulverentus ‘Sunset’. Not only do they provide lovely repeat flowering during the summer, their attractive soft evergreen foliage is great during the winter. Sitting beside theses are my lovely Melissa officinalis and Penstemmon whose foliage is still looking so fresh you could be forgiven for forgetting it is January. The spikes of Libertia grandiflora are standing smartly in their space and even the faded-to-buff blades of my Hakonechloa macra grasses are providing some really good winter interest. Strangely, my Shizostylis coccinea has desperately tried to flower for the last month – but I just don’t think it will come to anything sadly.

The warmer, wet weather has had some benefits although I find myself missing a good old freeze! A cold spell can be beneficial. Many plants, bulbs and seeds require it to trigger growth and indeed a cold snap has a cleansing action in the garden. A good frost will also help break up compacted topsoil when water freezes and expands within the soil, causing it to move and crack. This is one of the reasons you can put a layer of compost and manure onto your planting beds during the winter without necessarily digging it in until you plant up in spring. Mother Nature will help do the work for you!

Frosted Bull-rushes

Frosted Bulrushes

A good layer of snow will keep the spring bulbs warm and protected although it’s tough on our feathered friends. This is the time when we need to make sure we keep the bird feeders full and leave protected areas for over-wintering wildlife. It’s also wise to shake snow off any branches that are bending under its weight to stop them breaking.

Lastly – another great benefit of a shivery freeze is the wonderful frosting that attaches itself to any structural planting still lasting in the garden. I think this is one of the most beautiful sights of winter when it happens. I say let’s embrace the cold when it comes but be aware of the challenges it presents to us gardeners and to the wildlife that is so important to the garden’s ecosystem.

Climbing Ambitions

Clothing bare walls and structures brings height and structure to a garden but can be a challenge. Choosing the right plant can save you seasons of frustration and disappointment if the plant’s behaviour falls short of your expectations.

You tend to grow fewer climbers and they are more prominent in the garden so you do not have the same opportunities for experimentation that you would with herbaceous plants and shrubs. Plus if you are growing them for privacy or as a screen for something ugly, you really want to try and get it right first time.

At a recent meeting of industry colleagues, we swapped our experiences and knowledge of climbing plants and I thought I would share that information here for anyone who is looking for some ideas.

Let’s dive in with the big favourites. Roses and Clematis. Not only are these popular individually, but also grown together they can provide very lovely coverage for arches and pergolas.

In terms of Roses, our favourites include Rosa ‘Zephirine Drouhin’, a dusky pink thornless variety with double pink flowers in the summer and autumn. ‘Etoile de Holland’ is the classic red climbing rose, although not terribly vigorous. On the other end of this spectrum is Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’, which can take off and be a lot to handle, but the fragrance and  quantity of blooms make up for that in the right place. If you have a large wall or gateway to cover – this is the ideal solution!

Two points of advice: Red roses look perferct on a west facing wall where they can catch the evening sun (a tip from Christopher Lloyd) and choosing roses with simple flowers can give you a longer blooming season as they collect less rain water, and hence do not rot as quickly.

If you are looking for something with long lasting blooms, Clematis Wisley may be the one for you. A group 3 clematis, this is a vigorous climber with gorgeous indigo flowers which bloom from early summer to autumn providing late colour in the garden. It tolerates partial shade and is lovely mixed with roses.

A more disappointing Clematis it was agreed, is Avalanche, a glossy evergreen with lovely crinkly, divided leaves and smothered in pretty white flowers in May. Unfortunately, despite it being described as hardy and tolerant of exposed positions, none of us had any success with it except when protected by a warm wall in a south or south-west-facing position. Then it is lovely! The foliage does suffer quite badly in the cold wet winters we have here in the west of  Scotland.

Clematis 'Avalanche'

Clematis ‘Avalanche’

An alternative to an evergreen clematis is the evergreen honeysuckle,  Lonicera alseuosmoides which is very hardy. This is a good alternative to the tricksy Clematis armandii which is hard to grow in Scotland, except in a sheltered, sunny position.Lonicera henryi is another evergreen that looks similar to a Kiwi, with slender dark green leaves but is more hardy ( although requires a sheltered spot).Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’ is another favourite. Deciduous, it has a long flowering period over the summer with white fragrant flowers which eventually turn yellow.

Parthenocissus tricuspidata or Boston Ivy deserves a mention. This ivy has a large coverage, will grow in almost any aspect and turns a brilliant crimson in autumn, so it’s great for clothing walls. A common mistake is to plant the qincquefolia variety as a climber, where the tricuspidata is a much better choice.

Ivies, of course, are the classic climbers but elicit much suspicion from wary gardeners. I think this is a shame as they are such a valuable addition to a garden when used correctly. Ivies also provide a fantastic environment for wildlife in the garden, and contrary to common belief will not kill trees unless they are allowed to completely smother the canopy. On a sound wall or structure they will not cause damage. This only occurs if their woody tendrils are able to breech rotten timber or get into crumbling mortar. End of lecture. Our favourite ivies include Hedera helix ‘Goldheart’ and Hedera colchica ‘Sulphur Heart’. Both are large -leaved ivies with beautiful colourings. They can be slow to start – but ultimately very structural and handsome. Euonymus can be used as a wall shrub alongside ivies for interest at ground level.

Hedera colchica 'Sulphur Heart'

Hedera colchica ‘Sulphur Heart’

And here’s a list of other noteworthy climbers:

Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris is always a popular choice for clothing large expanses of wall, and will grow happily in shade and dry conditions. It requires initial support, but clings onto walls with aerial roots.

Pileostagea viburnoides, another climbing Hydrangea often called the evergreen hydrangea, looks more like a viburnum and likes shade.It has long leathery leaves and creamy flowers with a great fragrance. A slow-grower!

Celastrus orbiculatus is a hardy woody vine native to East Asia and of the Celastraceae family. It is commonly called Oriental bittersweet. It has rounded green leaves and produces yellow berries which split open to reveal pretty red seeds. In some sites it can become invasive, so plant with care.

Codonopsis clematidea is a genus of flowering plant within the family Campanulaceae. It is a small climber which produces pale-blue bell flowers with dark purple markings inside and very pretty.

Wisteria is a popular garden addition, but you can be waiting for many years for it to bloom. I bought a small specimen which I planted into my garden when I moved here. It took eight years to produce flowers, although it is now a lovely and reliable treat to look forward to in early summer. Our tip is to buy plants in bloom so you can be sure that your plant is mature enough to flower.

Berberidopsis coralina is another evergreen climber which grows in shade, but dislikes wind. It grows to around 5m and has pendulous pink flowers. This is good in an acid soil.

Lapageria rosea – the Chilean bellflower  – is also a plant for an acid to neutral soil in partial shade. It is half-hardy, and requires a sheltered  spot and some winter protection. However, it is unusual and gorgeous with long waxy pink bell-shaped flowers and leathery evergreen foliage which grows to a maximum of 4m.

Tropolaeum speciosum – the Flame Creeper  is one of those wild and defiant plants which add a touch of spice to a garden. It will scramble up an ivy, or over small trees and produces small bright scarlet nasturtium-type flowers. Also suitable for  acid to neutral soils in partial shade, I think this is a brilliant addition for a splash of colour.

Jasminum officinale is the ever-popular, evergreen climber with small fragrant white flowers. It is fast-growing and will cope with shade, but requires a sheltered spot and will be most fragrant if placed in a sunny spot.

And finally  Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ or Hops! These are often grown over structures in the sunshine and are vigorous climbers with fragrant flowers. An attractive deeply-lobed golden leaf, this climber will grow to 8m and is grown mainly for it’s foliage, although the hops are commonly used decoratively. It is a hardy plant requiring a moist soil.

So – that’s it! Quite a list and lots of ideas. If you have any other tips or good combinations, please comment, especially with anything which will suit our Scottish climate!

Light Bulb Moment

CherubThe Blog Garden is back and I am here to talk about bulbs.

I cannot believe how many I have planted for this season –  the palms of my hands are testimony to the bulb planter v. clay soil scenario. I finally got some long-handled bulb planters – and people, it is the way to go! No sore hands, no sore backs and the ground yields to the pressure of my quite significant body weight! Hurrah!

It is an art, of course, knowing how to plant and what to expect from your bulbs. And I have been learning that from my plantings both indoors and out.

The crescent garden is full of mixed narcissi, winter aconites, fritillaria, crocus, ornithogalum and of course the lovely galanthus. The thing about snowdrops however, is that the bulbs are a little unreliable and usually quite expensive. I am pleased to see that quite a few of our have come up – but I shall be out there in the coming weeks supplementing them with galanthus ‘in the green’ which have a much better guarantee of success. The aconites have popped up beautifully and are flowering away very happily. They are  little golden dots of colour in the depths of a woody area. Everywhere else, strong green shoots are appearing promising a wonderful spring show of colour.

Pre-Christmas I planted a series of quirky pots of bulbs for a pop-up gallery in Glasgow. These proved to be very successful. As it was last minute, I went for hyacinth and narcissi paperwhites. How well- behaved those hyacinth are! And how beautiful and extrovert the paperwhites are! Once in their planter and taken indoors they romped up to impressive heights and then burst into fragrant blooms which lasted at least a couple of weeks. The hyacinth are more conservative.  After consigning them to the dark cold depths of the shed for as long as I could,  I lined the bottom of all the pots with grit and added a little to the bulb compost too. The bulbs went in once their green shoots were 3-6cm above the soil and with just a bit of watering ( not a lot) and some warmth and light, they happily started to take off.

Fruit Bowl

So there is much more to planting bulbs than you might think, of course. There’s the bulbs themselves – are they healthy?  Have you bought them at the right time and are you storing them well, in a cool dark, dry place? Then there is the planting medium. Bulbs generally don’t need lots of nutrients in the soil, in fact, you may have seen hyacinth growing in jars with their roots in the water – they are more than happy. And what roots! Bulb compost therefore tends to have high peat or coir content and has interesting things like charcoal to keep it fresh, plus ground shell for calcium and lots of grit for drainage. You can make it yourself – but hey, you can also buy it!

I have learned a lot this year: plant your galanthus in the green; plant your tulips deep if you want them to naturalise; also plant them deep to keep them safe from squirrels and foxes; get lots of people to help you when you have sackfuls to plant; remember when planting containers to check the ultimate height of your flowers against the size of the pot and plan your bulb-planting regime well in advance. Yes – get them in August!

But the best thing I have learned is that it is really rewarding and spring bulbs, in all their forms, are loved by everyone.

Wet Wet Wet

Blame it on the Jet Stream. Blame it on the Sun Spots. Blame it on the Industrial Revolution. I say blame it on the Boogie, then we can move on. Ha ha.

Cosmos

Whatever, this summer has been a mudbath and I have not even been to a festival yet! I have resorted to planting-up in the rain ( the lighter rain) and putting up with the mud. I am not averse to being outside in inclement weather, but I do get fed up of the regular muddy clothes wash, floor mop and scrubbing down of the tools.

Miraculously, the gardens are all still looking magnificent. Maybe not quite as colourful or fragrant as you would wish, but it is hard to repress the true nature of summer.

We may have masses of foliage this year but that on its own holds a fascinating beauty. We forget about the colour variations, the texture and the different forms that foliage presents. I’m thinking of Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’, with it’s fern-like, dark purple-almost black leaves, Brunnera with its sprinklings of silver and even the beautiful annual Cosmos, which has that ethereal Fennel-like foliage creating a green haze in the border.

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ and the beautiful Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’

Ferns themselves are always interesting and varied and are often under-appreciated for their role in the garden. Shrubs whose flowering season is over can also play a part in the garden long into the season. Tree peonies, for instance, with their deeply divided blue-green leaves, and Weigela florida ‘Variegata’, also with blue-green leaves and a creamy border.

And of course, there is the magnificent Hosta. What would a garden be without it? I have been gifted an encyclopedia of Hostas, and I love it. My current favourites are ‘Wide Brim’ and ‘Patriot’.  I would fill my garden with them, if it were not for the armies of slugs that inhabit the area.

My Hostas are all in pots, and I’ve said this before, it’s a good place for them. It sets off the shape of the plant, you can put them wherever you want, and the slugs have to try really hard to get at them. Let’s here it for the Hosta!

Hostas and Fern in Pots

This year I had high hopes for grasses that I had planted in the garden. Briza ( maxima and media), which have done fairly well; Stipa gigantea and Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ have struggled against the elements. The Stipa has thrown out only one lonely, but lovely stem, whilst the poor KF has been decimated by wind, even in it’s sheltered spot. Normally these would add to the rich tapestry created by foliage, creating shimmering screens so hopefully next year they will be able to fulfill their purpose.

My new favorite plant for damp shady corners is Darmera peltata. It has huge, flattish, bowl-like leaves that are really eye-catching and pink flower spikes earlier in the year.  You need a big space for it!

The large plate-like, flat cups of Darmera peltata

I’ve only touched on a handful of plants with lovely foliage and I will lie in bed tonight thinking of probably even better ones. Do let me know your favourites!

In the meatime, we’ll hope for drier, warmer weather and not get too ‘bogged down’ ( geddit?) in the mud…
‘Bye people.

Alchemilla conjuncta with its beautiful silver edges

Containing my Enthusiasm

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I have a confession. I was never a great lover of container planting. I have always short-changed my pots and window boxes, by shoving left-over plants or a few scraggly pansies into them hoping that by some miracle they would suddenly burst into masses of gorgeous flowers.

Not any more, however! I have been doing quite a lot of container planting for clients and finding many unexpected pleasures from it. Like designing a border, it takes some planning. You have to consider where the container will be placed, what its function is, and what plants will work together. It is also important to consider whether you need instant effect, or whether it will be a container which will come into its own later in the season.

I also used to fill my pots with only summer annuals and herbs, overlooking the fact that there are many other plants that can be used to extend the range of possibilities – and the season too!  For early spring planting, when bedding is too tender to plant out, small herbaceous plants and shrubs can do the job with interesting results. Recently I have used Heucheras and Euphorbias to give  baskets structure. Hebe White Gem looks lovely in a bowl with bedding plants encircling it.

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Herbs of course are lovely in containers, and you can position them according to their needs. I am always searching around for herbs that will tolerate shady conditions as well, and currently my favorite combination is curly parsley, pineapple mint and lemon balm. The scent is caught on the breeze and it is charming and refreshing.

I have always thought that you had to cram as many plants as possible into containers – in the style of the hanging baskets which seem to contain a whole garden! They are lovely but smack a little of civic planting. I have learned not to be afraid of keeping it simple. That can be very effective too, especially when containers are grouped together. Hostas and ferns are great examples of what works on their own, and they look spectacular!

I could go on, but I shall stop here and let you go and plant your own pots up ( unless you want me to do it!).

Space – the final frontier

Ah dear, I have arrived at that sticky moment in the greenhouse when it’s not quite safe enough to move anything outdoors but I’m still wanting to sow yet more seeds. And there’s no space left.

I shall have to make some decisions. I am still deeply distrustful of this warm weather. However  the broadbeans are in excellent nick, so maybe they can get tucked away in a sheltered place for a couple of weeks before moving them to their ‘spot’.  That should free up a little space. To be honest, I would normally be sowing these outside under fleece by now but it’s been such fun having the greenhouse I want to do everything in there….

Also I could decamp my sowing activities to the garage, thereby freeing up a whole bench top. It’s just not so much fun in the garage though. Presumably this obsession with the greenhouse is a result of not having had a Wendy House as a child! I am living out my childhood fantasy in my little plastic hide-away. All I need is a kettle and a chair and I’ll be very happy. It is, after all, the size of a Wendy-House more or less. To a grown-up anyway. 6 x 4. Bijou. No room for friends – I’ll just have to have an imaginary one – and no room to swing the cats when they come sneaking in for a quick peek. They usually leave pretty fast, disgusted by the lack of anything interesting for them.

However it is still a power-house of growing activity and really my concerns should now be directed to the other space issue. Where on earth am I going to put all these lovely seedlings when the time comes to pot them on or plant them out? It should be noted, to avoid disappointment, that many a gift this year will be of the green variety.

It is a lovely thing though, and I am looking forward to the range of plants that I can call upon for my garden, in whatever quantity I choose. Plus there is the excitement from germinating plants from seeds given as presents, the lovely Allium cernuum and seeds from Lola’s London and La Bessiere gardens. Hope I have some success there!

The crescent garden, which I help to manage, may well be a happy recipient of some of these lovely gems, which is an exciting thought. It has a lovely sunny outlook and being on a slope, passers-by get a great view of anything in bloom. Raising funds for planting is tricky but there is much potential here and, indeed,  lots of empty space!