Signs of Hope!

Crocuses are, for me, the first signs that spring is on the way. Hellebores don’t give me the same feeling because they start flowering when it’s still winter. But crocuses, with their fresh and radiant colours, show us that the garden has begun to fill with new life.

Before long, there will be other flowers to continue what the crocuses have started. But for now these are the flowers that bring gardeners (and the first bees) joy.

Flowers of Crocus 'Prins Claus'

When I lived near Edinburgh, I enjoyed the sight of mass plantings of crocuses in some of its parks. These gleaming sparks of colour, sprinkled over lush grass, were a cheerful sight and a reassurance that the cold of winter would end. Seeing the brilliant flowers fully open in the sunshine was a reminder that summer would come and days would be warm and bright.

This year I think we need the promise of better days more than we ever did. I’m looking forward to being able to spend more time outside, especially now I am aware of how much we benefit from being in contact with nature. Soon we will be able to enjoy the natural world again, as spring gives us the chance to get out into our gardens and back to the countryside.

Crocus Prins Claus

Pause for Thought

A very wet weekend means that I am forced to stay indoors – unless I fancy a thorough soaking. But that’s not bad, because it gives me the chance to think about what I’m doing next in the garden.

I’m still working on building a pond and a new border running along that side of the garden. This has been my ‘Covid project’, although it actually started back towards the end of 2018. (Hubby offered to help this year, but I decided to continue on my own because it has given me a sense of purpose during this strange year.)

It has felt as if digging the pond would go on forever, partly because our dry ground is practically impossible to dig in summer. Also, I have found that the site for the pond has much more of a slope than I first realised. (It’s amazing how invisible a slope can be until you start using a spirit-level.)

I thought I’d finished digging the pond back in May. But the smaller sizes of pond liner were sold out when I tried to buy one, so I decided that I might as well make the pond bigger. More digging! (More soil to shift too.)

At last I’ve got to the point where I need to think carefully about the border around the pond. This area was always pretty awful – overshadowed and impoverished by huge conifers in the neighbouring garden and swamped by the few thuggish plants that could grow there. (The worst ones were two types of deadnettle. They’re valuable for bees but in our soil they just keep spreading…and spreading.)

Which brings me to the flower above – a Japanese Anemone. I’ve mentioned how invasive they can be in previous posts, but they are beautiful. This one was growing in a raised bed in the ‘pond border’ which was acting as a temporary nursery area. I’ve just cleared that bed away and potted up all the plants from it. But now I have to think about where to put them in the new border and whether they may cause trouble.

Since I know the anemone is a little trouble-maker, I’ve decided to keep it in a pot. (Probably many pots eventually…) It’s not the only plant that is making me pause for thought. I’ve just read that some ferns are allelopathic, meaning that they emit chemicals that suppress the growth of other competing plants. So does this mean that the particular ferns I want to plant out will damage the plants around them? I haven’t been able to find out so far. Maybe my ferns will also have to stay in pots.

Other plants are making me wonder too. Like the perennial sunflower I photographed back in August (Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’). After struggling to grow for years, this has suddenly grown tall and wide. Will it now try to take over?

As it rains outside, I’m busily Googling all these plants. I need to find out which are safe to grow together without some being bullied out of existence by their bigger and more boisterous neighbours. Sometimes being a gardener feels more like being a referee!

A Memory of Summer: Clematis ‘Samaritan Jo’

Now that we’re so far into autumn, I have already photographed most of the flowers that are left in the garden. So I’m catching up on a bit of photo-processing from earlier in the year.

The clematis here (‘Samaritan Jo’) was planted late last year, and I had been excitedly waiting to see what the flowers would be like. In early summer, a mixture of single flowers and double flowers appeared, and even one (at bottom) that didn’t seem able to decide which it wanted to be.

A single flower of ‘Samaritan Jo’.

The deep magenta/purple edging to the petals was what initially attracted me to this clematis. The faint magenta lines along the midrib of the petals and the slightly greenish tips add to the beauty of the flower, and make it a delight to photograph.

This clematis was named in honour of the volunteers who work for the Samaritans. (Apparently they are all known as ‘Samaritan Jo’.)

It seems to have settled down quite well in the garden. (I have lost a few clematis by planting them in areas where they got really baked by the summer sun and didn’t have enough moisture in the soil around them.) ‘Jo’ is in a position that doesn’t dry out too much and has a bit of shade to the base of the plant.

Hopefully there will be lots more pretty flowers on this lovely clematis next year. (A happy thought right at the moment, with rain falling here and the wind suddenly sending leaves flying everywhere!)

This one doesn’t know if it wants to be single or double!

Longing for a Cool Space.

Last week was a busy one, with the first side of the garden now sporting a smart new fence. The neighbours will be glad that their puppy can no longer escape through the old fence and (possibly) to freedom.

But the increasingly hot weather has made the work harder. For the contractor who is building the new fence, and for me as I clear away the overgrowth of shrubs and ivy.

Temperatures here have been reaching over 30 degrees C. For the UK, that’s very hot. For someone brought up in Scotland, that’s really uncomfortable. And it has made me wish for a bit more shade in the garden.

This place has become more of a suntrap than ever since our neighbours removed a lot of tall trees from their garden. Now the centre of our garden fairly bakes in the sun. So I am wondering what shrubs or small tree(s) I can plant to create a cooler space, but without causing too much shade to other areas.

I find getting a good balance in this kind of planning to be a tricky business. Meanwhile, ‘a green thought in a green shade’ (a phrase from Andrew Marvell’s poem, ‘The Garden’) conjures up enticing images of a soothingly green and leafy space. Though frankly I wouldn’t mind what colour the thought was, so long as it was a cool one!

White echinacea flower - 'Powwow White'.
Fresh whites and greens: Echinacea ‘Powwow White’ stands up well to the summer heat.

Strange Days and Simple Things

While life seems to have been turned upside down and we’re all preoccupied with worries about the coronavirus, nature is quietly getting on with the business of spring. The warmer weather has brought leaves to the trees, opened colourful flowers and encouraged new growth everywhere.

It’s reassuring to get on with the small, familiar garden jobs that this time of year brings. Cutting back the stems of last year’s perennials feels both soothing and satisfying.

I have time to notice how long and curled the stems that carried the swirling butterflies of the gaura’s flowers became. Or that the shrubby sage (which has wonderfully bright magenta flowers in early summer) needs cutting back to prevent it from becoming lanky. As I trim back all these old stems, I find the new seedlings of the Canary Island geranium which have been sheltering under the old growth during the winter. Soon their large, dissected leaves will be impressively handsome.

Meanwhile, the daffodils have gone over and are being dead-headed. Now the tulips are flaunting their glorious colours as the low angle of the late sun glows through their petals.

Not all of the flowers are as bold as the tulips though. There are the smaller, much more modest flowers of viburnum (top photo) and the plum tree that we planted last year (below). I’m particularly pleased to see the flowers on the plum tree – there’s lots – because last year it looked a bit sad and sorry during the drought. (Despite regular watering.) Maybe we’ll eventually get a few plums.

I’ve been entertaining myself by playing with black and white and a bit of digital toning with these photos. There’s plenty of time for a few experiments at the moment. I hope that you’re finding things to keep you happily occupied at this very strange time.

Plum Blossom-5017

Stay Home Spring: Virtual Garden Tours

Normally I try to have something different to photograph every week, so that there’s plenty of variety in the images for this blog. But I think that’s going to be a bit difficult for a while. When there isn’t much to photograph in the garden I may buy a new plant or go on a garden visit – neither of which is possible at the moment.

However, although I cannot leave home to go visiting gardens for now, I can at least enjoy them through videos on the web. It seems a good time for me to share a quick fantasy tour of several gardens. I hope they will provide a little ‘escape’ if you’re stuck indoors.

I’ve enjoyed visiting  Kew Gardens, but a day spent there can be quite tiring it you want to see absolutely everything. Their short video tour lets you see the highlights of the gardens the easy way! It includes my favourites – the Treetop Walkway (an amazing experience) and the gorgeous waterlilies in their own special glasshouse. You can find more videos from Kew at their YouTube page and I’d suggest the ‘Wakehurst in Bloom‘ video as a lovely glimpse of spring in one of their subsidiary gardens.

For many years I visited the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh on a very frequent basis. (I lived a little over 10 miles away.) So I’m pleased to be able to see spring there again and even visit their other regional gardens from the comfort of my own home.

From another botanical garden are the New York Botanical Garden’s videos. It was a treat to be able to see their fabulous orchid exhibition, which is too far away for me to be able to visit in ‘real life’. (Look out for the superbly elegant Darwin Star Orchid and the ‘predicted moth’.)

Most years I visit open garden events in the areas nearby. Sometimes the gardens are unusual or quirky and many surround interesting historic buildings. Of course, these have all been cancelled this year. I’ve been looking for videos instead and was happy to be able to explore gardens a bit further afield than usual when I found this video of gardens on the Isle of Man.  Watching the video felt just like many of the open garden days that I’ve been to.

Gardens that I would normally be planning to visit at this time of year include Beth Chatto’s beautiful garden, which I’ve written about in a past post. This is one of my favourite gardens to visit, so I’ll miss it, but the video does convey what a spring visit there feels like. (I preferred to watch it with the sound music turned off though!)

I hope that you enjoy a little look around these gardens while you’re staying home. Stay safe!

Early Growth

It feels as if we aren’t yet having a proper winter here. The last few winters haven’t been as cold as we’d normally expect, but this may be the mildest since I moved here. We have had some cold weather this week and there’s been a bit of snow much further north, but it hasn’t lasted long.

As a result, plants are further on than they should be for this stage of the winter. At this time last year, the daffodils were just showing the tips of their leaves but this year they are in bud already. The yellow crocuses are open (didn’t expect them for another week or so) and many plants are showing signs of new growth. Leaf buds are beginning to open on some of the shrubs here, especially the roses. And the honeysuckle in the photo (taken a couple of weeks ago) has hardly had time for a rest before its new leaves appeared.

But winter certainly isn’t over and we may still have more frosty mornings to come. And we could even have a snowy ‘beast from the east’, like last year. I hope that the plants don’t get far enough ahead to be likely to be damaged if they freeze – they really need to slow down and take it easy for a while! (And it IS winter, so I’d like to slow down and take it easy too…)

Clematis: Squeezing Extra Colour into a Small Space

Gardeners are always wishing for more room to grow plants. Inevitably there will be another flower, a shrub – even a tree – that we’d like to be able to find space for.

Since we don’t have gardens with elastic sides, we just have to squeeze things in as best we can. Or be extremely disciplined about the plants we buy. Nope, that’s not happening here! But then, I have the ‘excuse’ of needing new plants to photograph…

Clematis Arabella 2302
The mauve flowers of Clematis ‘Arabella’ are carried on short scrambling stems.

A sneaky way of cramming some extra flowers into the garden is to grow climbers. I have several clematis plants growing through shrubs where they take very little extra space. Roses and clematis are a classic combination, but I tend to use any shrub as a potential climbing frame.

I love clematis. I think it’s pretty much my favourite plant, so I face terrible temptation at my local nurseries. (One of them has usually got a good selection at very reasonable prices – very difficult to ignore!) So, as you may guess, I’m now trying to find extra spaces in the garden for more clematis…eventually I may run out of space for them too!

Clematis Mrs N Thompson
‘Mrs N Thompson’ is bright and bold.

It’s a moment of pure delight to see the first flowers on a young clematis. They’re always more beautiful in their richness of colour and the graceful way that they hold their flowers, than any picture on their label. Sometimes I forget where I have planted a clematis, and then have a happy surprise when I spot the colour peeping out here and there on the host shrub.

I must admit, I’ve lost a few clematis plants over the years. Some were planted in areas that were just too dry and others may have been struggling with too much heat at their roots. Now I try to pay a bit more attention to putting them in more suitable places, but it does take them a while to get established here. It’s worth a bit of care and patience though, because the flowers are simply lovely.

Next week’s blog post could be a bit late, or have fewer photos. That’s because my trusty old PC is dying, so I will have to move on from Photoshop CS3 at last. (I’ve been resisting that change for a long time.) We do have a new PC, but there will be a lot for me to learn in the way of photo-processing – argh! (Wish me luck!!)

Clematis Victoria 2398
‘Victoria’ has brought some delicate beauty to the variegated euonymus that it’s weaving through.

Welcome to Spring

Daffodils…right now they are everywhere. This week we had the first ‘official’ day of spring with the arrival of the spring equinox. And right on cue, there are daffodils opening their cheerful flowers in a welcome to the new season.

Out in the country here, there are daffodils growing on the roadside verges outside houses and farms. In town, they’re at the start of garden paths or close to the front door. It feels as if everyone has some daffodils growing in a position where they’ll be both a welcome to anyone coming to their houses and a greeting to passers-by.

Daffodil 'Geranium'
Daffodil ‘Geranium’ has a lovely scent.

Outside my front garden there is a large ‘green’ – a wide area of grass with trees that stretches between the main road and the minor road that serves the houses here. In springtime, swathes of daffodils enliven this green, creating a colourful welcome for drivers coming into the town.

In our own front garden, we have a group of miniature daffodils growing in one of the borders, but most of our daffodils are in the back garden. Seeing so many daffodils by other people’s front doors makes me feel that I should grow some more by the front path next year, as a welcome to visitors and to ourselves when we return home. (Maybe a pot of  scented tazetta daffodils, such as ‘Geranium’ or ‘Paperwhite’ – they both have a delicious scent.)

'Ice Follies' daffodils
‘Ice Follies’ on the green outside my home.

A Change In The Air

There’s been a change in the last week or so. Early mornings have been misty and daytime temperatures have dropped enough to make it feel like time to put the summer clothes away. (Though after the extremely hot days we’ve had this summer, anything ‘normal’ will feel very cool.)

We’re no longer woken by the light in the early hours of the morning and the evenings suddenly feel darker.

I love the beauty of autumn – the changing colours and (especially) the softer light that it brings. It’s a light that has lost the harsh glare of summer, making it much better for photography.

Even so, I always feel a slight melancholy at the ending of summer. It’s something I’ve felt since childhood. I was brought up in Caithness, the ‘far north’ of Scotland, where it seemed to hardly get dark at all on summer nights. That, coupled with the long school holidays created a marvellous feeling of freedom and unlimited time. (And the windy winter days, when darkness would fall by about 4 pm were, by contrast, something to dread.)

Now, as a keen gardener, it’s not just the leisure of summer that I miss, but all of its plants and flowers too. I miss watching new leaves unfurling and buds fattening up and showing that first little sliver of colour before they pop open and reveal their glorious petals…..but this year is different. Because I can see that I need to be more positive and enjoy the moment rather than regretting the fact that summer is ending. Instead, it is time to plan for next year and to do the work that was impossible in summer. (Right now that means digging. A lot of it. The hot weather meant that the ground became rock hard and my plans to dig a pond and new borders have been put off until this last couple of weeks. It’s amazing how much easier a drop of rain makes the work!)

white Hibiscus syriacus
A white hibiscus would look good near the acidanthera.

Of course, new borders means new plants too. The fun part! And time to indulge in a bit of fantasy…. That’s where the photo at the top comes in. I saw the acidanthera in a garden last September and was impressed by how graceful they looked. (Much taller than I expected too.) So now I’m imagining how lovely they would look reflected in the planned pond and thinking what else might look good on that side of the garden – particularly if it’s a plant that looks good now and helps to extend the life of the border later into the year. (My overall plan is to have a garden with plenty to photograph for as much of the year as possible.)

The white hibiscus was in a garden I visited a few weeks ago. It has a simple elegance which I think would look good if I keep the planting around the pond fairly unfussy. (And I already have a couple of other hibiscus bushes in the garden which still have some flowers, so there’s a decent length of flowering period.) The white hibiscus with red markings (below) would echo the colouring of the acidanthera but would be a bit much if planted close to them and could look too fussy in the pond area.

White Hibiscus syriacus with red markings
Showy but very pretty – for further along the border perhaps.

Other flowers that could look good planted in my imaginary (so far!) border would be white gaura, with it’s flowers that look like dancing little moths or tiny butterflies and the dark buttons of the tall red scabious that already seeds itself around my garden.

My mother would never have approved of this white and red border – she always said the two colours should never be used together for cut flowers because it was unlucky. (The colours suggest blood and bandages, apparently.) And this was from someone who denied that she was the slightest bit superstitious…hmm. (Anyway, a real border would have other colours too – not sure what yet.)

It’s quite fun to design a fantasy border, and to finish with, I can’t resist adding a clematis to the mix. (They’re one of my favourites and I find them very hard to walk past in the garden centres. This one is in my garden already and it’s called ‘Ville de Lyon’.)

If you have any suggestions for planting to go around my pond and the border behind it, please do add them in the comments. I’m happy to gather as many ideas as possible because the pond and border will be a reality next year – I’m digging them at the moment!

Clematis 'Ville de Lyon'
I always have clematis in my borders.