A Walk on the Wild(ish) Side: Gooderstone Water Gardens

In most of the gardens I have recently visited, my attention has been on the planting combinations and flower and leaf colour and form. Usually I’m looking for plants I’d love to try in my own garden, or else I’m simply lost in admiration for flowers and plants I haven’t a hope of being able to grow.

My visit to Gooderstone Water Gardens was different, in that it was the landscape of the garden that impressed me most. Here you can almost lose yourself in a lush green world of man-made watercourses and large ponds, surrounded by trees and naturalistic planting.

Gooderstone Water Gardens
The planting is so full and lush here that you can’t see the waterway.

The gardens are in what was once a very wet meadow beside a river. They were created by a retired farmer, Billy Knights, whose son made the joking suggestion that, since the meadow was too wet for grazing, it should be made into a water garden. That suggestion appealed to Mr. Knights and it wasn’t long before he’d had the waterways and ponds dug out.

Years later his daughter has restored the gardens and opened them to the public. They appear to be very popular with those looking for somewhere that allows them to spend some quiet time in a place that feels very close to nature.

Flowers at Gooderstone Water Gardens
Heleniums, Achillea and Verbena bonariensis brighten this part of the garden.

The planting in the gardens has a relaxed and somewhat wild feel. In fact, there are many native trees and shrubs. There is also a wildlife trail and a bird hide where you can hope to spot a kingfisher. (We didn’t – but we did see a family of swans enjoying the peaceful waterways.)

Despite the natural look to the planting, there are areas where familiar garden plants add colour and texture. On our visit, we noticed vibrant heleniums, daylilies and purple loosestrife in the planting along the waterways. Elsewhere, the dramatic yellow spires of Verbascum olympicum towered over a mix of tall white daisies and the pinkish-purple spikes of Acanthus.

Flowers at Gooderstone Water Gardens
Left: Heleniums with Lysimachia punctata Right: Verbascum olympicum

This was a thoroughly enjoyable garden visit. I know we’ll be back, because it’s one of my husband’s favourite gardens too. We’ve been here a few times and it always makes us feel good. It is a perfect place to just relax and wander, and to allow yourself to be immersed in a world of nature and peace.

Gooderstone Water Gardens

For the Bees

Helping bees is the annual focus of ‘Bees’ Needs Week’ again, starting tomorrow. By helping bees to survive and thrive, we’re really helping ourselves. A large part of agriculture relies on bees (and other pollinators) to pollinate the crops that provide our own food.

It seems deeply ironic to me that while agriculture relies on wild pollinators to pollinate an estimated 85-95% of the UK crops that require it, that agriculture is also a main reason for their decline. The destruction of wild habitats by intensive farming and the use of pesticides and weedkillers is making the survival of insects more difficult. But we can all help to fight the decline in wild bees and other insects in our own gardens, on balconies, allotments, and on any patch of spare ground.

Bumblebee on Eryngium
Bumblebee on Eryngium

Plants with plenty of pollen and nectar are the most obvious thing we can provide. A wide variety of garden plants are attractive to bees, so there’s lots to choose from for the gardener. There is a list of some of the best plants for bumblebees here. And here is an excellent (and longer) list of good pollinator plants from bee expert Dave Goulson. (Scroll down his page for it.)

If you garden, you’ll soon notice which of your plants the bees prefer. I try to be aware of the most popular flowers in my own garden and grow a few more of them if I can squeeze them in. I keep an eye open for the plants that are being visited by bees in other people’s gardens too.

I was very pleased to see the bees on the alstroemeria in the photograph below because it’s one that I’d like to plant here. It looks to me as if the honeybee is impatiently waiting for the bumblebee to get out of that flower! (I wonder why that one – there were plenty of others to choose from.)

Bees on Alstroemeria
Honeybee and Bumblebee on Alstroemeria: ‘Hey wake up in there, it’s my turn!’

Water, obviously, is another essential to life for the bees and you can make their search for it easier and safer by providing some. (It’s easy for bees to drown in deep water.) The recommended method is simply to fill a shallow bowl with pebbles and top it up with water. Then the bees can land on a pebble and stand there safely while drinking. But do remember to change the water occasionally so that you don’t get any mosquitos breeding in there!

Planting for bees brings a lot of satisfaction to my own garden. In late spring the distinct buzzing of bees from our ceanothus bush makes me grin…they sound so busy there! And the catmint attracts not only our cats but lots of bees too. They also love our apple trees, the lavender, thyme, alliums, hardy geraniums, and daisies of all kinds. Best of all here are the different varieties of scabious (top photo), which flower for a long time and always seem to have a bee or other pollinator somewhere. (OK, that is an exaggeration, but they are very popular.)

I hope that this will give you some ideas about a plant or two to add to your own space for the bees. Happy (buzzing) Bees Needs Week!

Honeybee on Astrantia
Honeybee on Astrantia

Fullers Mill Garden Revisited

This week I was lucky enough to be able to visit one of my favourite places – Fullers Mill Garden near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Because of the pandemic, it’s been a long time since we visited any gardens.

This year we’ve enjoyed wandering around the open gardens in some neighbouring villages. Great for getting new ideas for our own garden, but I don’t bring my camera to those because it feels like an invasion of the owner’s privacy. It’s a different thing with the big gardens that are open to the public. These provide lots to keep me and my camera busy!

Fullers Mill Garden
A small part of the upper area of the garden – there’s lots more.

My previous visits to Fullers Mill were both in September, so by then a lot of the most interesting flowers had gone over. This time I saw many of the large collection of lilies in flower. (These will be shown in a later post.)

It was a huge pleasure to be in the gardens when so many of the plants looked their best. There has been some rain recently, which has helped them stay fresh and vibrant. Suffolk can be dry and drought-ridden, so garden-visiting is best done before the summer gets too hot.

Fullers Mill Garden
Bright yellow livens up the borders.

The planting combinations appealed to me and made me think more carefully about those in my own garden. I particularly liked the yellow and blue mix above. The yellow of the ‘red hot pokers’ with that of the broom, but having totally different flower shapes, was something I’d love to plant in my own garden.

Fullers Mill Garden
The clematis with the allium seed heads delighted me.

The combination of herbaceous clematis with the seed heads of the Allium christophii was another combination I’d love to try. It’s the way that the soft purple remaining in the allium flower stems echoes the brownish-purple of the young leaves and the buds of the clematis that pleases me.

Fullers Mill Garden
Gunnera and bamboo on one of the river banks gave a softer, more natural feel.

The garden is beautifully maintained by Perennial (The Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Society). It was gifted to them by Bernard Tickner, the owner and creator of Fullers Mill Garden. They keep the garden well stocked with plants but allow some areas to feel more relaxed and natural (around the rivers that run through it, for instance). I think this makes it more relaxing for the visitor too.

I plan to visit Fullers Mill again during the summer. I’m sure there will be plenty to see and to photograph too. (There isn’t much that you haven’t already seen in my own small garden, so I’m glad to find something new to share here.) It’s a visit I’m certainly looking forward to. You can read my earlier post about Fullers Mill here.

Fullers Mill Garden

In the Pink

A couple of weeks ago, the garden seemed to be full of blue and purple-blue flowers. Now it’s the turn of pink to come to the fore. The pink flowers growing here range from the softest and palest of shades (like last week’s water lily) to the most vivid of fuchsia-pinks. The shades here are somewhere in the middle.

Clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’ (above) is one of the softer pinks, especially on a day when the sunlight is not very strong. (I’ve seen it look much brighter than this on a day with very bright sunlight. The age of the flower will make a difference too. The newly-opened flowers are a little brighter.)

Sidalcea 'Party Girl' (prairie mallow)
Sidalcea ‘Party Girl’ (prairie mallow)

Another soft pink is the little prairie mallow above. It is Sidalcea ‘Party Girl’. The flowers are small and delicate – each one measures just 5cm across. They’re like miniature hollyhocks, which makes me wonder what it would be like to have normal large hollyhocks nearby. The difference in scale could be a bit mind-boggling!

The pink of the deutzia below is a deeper and brighter shade than the others. I haven’t yet planted this shrub out, but had been wandering around the garden with it, looking to find it a home. (Like many gardeners, I too often buy a plant and then have to work out where I have room for it!)

Deutzia x hybrida Strawberry Fields
Deutzia x hybrida Strawberry Fields

Wherever I eventually manage to plant the deutzia, I think it would look good with this pink salvia. (It’s ‘Rose Queen’.) The low evening sunlight shining through the pink flowers makes them glow with a rich pink which is very similar to the deutzia.

This low slanting light, whether it’s evening or early morning has a wonderful effect on the colours of plants. I’d love to be able to plant a border just so that it would catch the light at both the start and the end of the day. That’s giving me ideas about where I might plant the deutzia…

Salvia 'Rose Queen'
Salvia ‘Rose Queen’

Pond Progress

If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you may have noticed the occasional mention of a pond that I’ve been building in the garden. It has taken me a very long time to get it built – chipping away at rock-hard soil in summer and digging a bit faster in the wetter end of the year.

Now though, the pond is full of water and the edging is mostly built. I’m in the process of building a sloping ‘beach’ of pebbles to allow any visiting wildlife to get in and out safely. This beach area runs along one of the long sides of the pond and was dug in a very gradual slope. (Most of the pond is fairly shallow.)

There are a few plants already in the pond. The waterlily above was a piece given to me from a friend’s pond. I think it must be Nymphaea marliacea ‘Carnea’, which has flowers that become closer to white as they age. (It also can flower white in the first year, as this piece did last year. Somehow it survived being in a big box of water for a long time.) Spot the damselfly!

Veronica beccabunga
Veronica beccabunga

The other plants are much less spectacular but will help to oxygenate the pond and give somewhere for wildlife to live. The Veronica beccabunga is starting to spread and looks like it will provide some good lurking-places for small wildlife.

Wild visitors have already started moving in and making themselves comfortable in the pond. Amongst the first visitors were a pair of mallards who briefly considered setting up home here until I made sure they saw one of my cats watching them.

Next a newt (or possibly two) arrived and apparently ate all the mosquito wrigglers – luckily! There’s a trio of frogs now, and sometimes I’ll find one watching me as I work on finishing the edging. Then there are the birds who enjoy a bath. That’s usually robins and blackbirds, but sometimes a woodpigeon. (A woodpigeon having a bath is an awkward and ungainly sight!) And there are all the tiny creatures in the water too. It’s getting quite busy in there. 🙂

Mallards check out the pond while I’m building it.

A Velvet Touch

Some flowers have a very velvety look to their petals. The two plants in this post (rose ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and clematis ‘Dark Eyes’) have especially dark and velvety flowers. But, having investigated, I can tell you that the flowers look a lot more like velvet than they actually feel. (They are, though, very soft to the touch.)

There was actually a study into the reasons for the velvety appearance of some petals. As I understand it, it’s all down to the dark colour of the flower, the shape of the cells within the petal and a low angle of light. (If you want to read all about it, you can find the report here.)

The feel of a petal or leaf is something that I tend not to think about very much when I’m planning what to plant. But there’s no doubt that textures add a stimulating element to a garden. The soft hairs on the flowers and leaves of pulsatilla (which you can see in an earlier blog post) are a great example of texture adding interest. While some plants are hairy, other plants are smooth – like the star-shaped flowers of Allium christophii, which have an almost metallic-looking sheen.

There’s lots of choice amongst the flowers that have a velvety lustre to their petals. The most obvious may be the classic red rose. Then, for instance, there are deep blue delphiniums, dark-flowered pelargoniums and purple, crimson or almost black petunias. Or, in mid and late summer, there are the rich, dark purples and reds of dahlias and the bright orange of tithonia (Mexican sunflower), which you can see here. All of them contribute something extra to the garden. They give that feeling of luxury, a suggestion of the opulence of rich fabrics, and the engagement of the sometimes-neglected sense of touch.

Dark red clematis
Clematis ‘Dark Eyes’

Beautiful Blues

As summer begins, there are a number of blue flowers appearing in the garden. My favourite colours are blues and purples, so it feels like a bit of a treat for me. The flowers I like best are those where the blue shades into a different blue or into a purple. There’s something about a colour being slightly mixed, rather than a solid shade, that makes it more interesting to see.

The plant above is Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’, aka Honeywort (or the ‘Blue Shrimp Plant’ in the USA). It’s normally an annual, but if the winter is mild enough it can survive into the next year. That’s what has happened here, so this year we have a much larger plant than we usually would.

This plant is one I particularly like for the deep blue bracts that surround the small purple flowers. The blue bracts are made more attractive by the way they are tinted with purple or green – here even the stem has a blush of purple. The colouring is more intense when it’s cold, so this has been at its best over the cool spring months. I’ll be interested to see if the colours become paler as the summer weather heats up.

Baptisia australis

A simpler colouring is that of the Baptisia australis or ‘False Indigo’ (above). Less complex than the Cerinthe maybe, but it is a lovely shade of deep violet-purple that I find quite irresistible. It’s an easy plant to grow here because it copes well with drought and it is often suggested as an alternative to lupins. For me, the Baptisia is certainly the easier choice, as lupins struggle very unhappily here and I’ve managed to lose a few.

Clematis ‘Arabella’ (below) has flowers that are a mauve shade when they first open, gradually becoming more blue as they age. So the one plant can have a wide variety of flowers at the same time. (In fact, when I looked at it today, for a moment I thought there was a purple clematis growing beside it, so dark were the newest flowers.) The soft blending of mauve and blue shades in Arabella’s petals delights me. That means there’s good chance that I’ll be trying to grow this small clematis elsewhere in the garden too.

Soon, these beauties will be joined by different shades of blue, as the flowers of campanulas, scabious, geraniums and catanache start to open. I’m looking forward to some summer blues!

Clematis Arabella

It’s time for Irises!

I enjoy this time of year because there are so many lovely flowers around. Some in my own garden, others in the gardens of friends and neighbours. And of course, there are the temptations of nurseries and garden centres.

One of the flowers that has attracted me most over the years is the iris. There’s a wonderful array of flowers of all sorts of colours, markings and sizes and I’d love to grow lots of them. But where would I put them? For now, I’ll just have to settle for having a few that I especially like, and that are easy to grow.

Siberian irises are amongst my favourites. The flower in the top photograph was simply labelled ‘Iris sibirica’, so I have no idea of the cultivar. I do know that the iris in the bottom photo is ‘Currier’ and I also have ‘Silver Edge’. (I photographed ‘Silver Edge’ for this post last spring.)

With all of these Siberian irises, a large part of the appeal for me is the intricate veining on the lower petals (actually sepals, known as ‘falls’). The combination of lines and spots is irresistible as a subject to photograph. Of course they are there to serve a more important purpose – that of creating a well-signposted route for bees to the flower’s pollen. Lucky for us that practicality in nature can be so beautiful!

Iris sibirica 'Currier'
Iris sibirica ‘Currier’

Days of Celebration

There have been two special days this week, both celebrating something dear to my heart. The first was the sixth international ‘Fascination of Plants Day’, coordinated by the European Plant Science Organisation on Wednesday (May 18th). The second was ‘World Bee Day’ on Friday (May 20th).

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will know how crazy I am about plants. Flowers and plants have been a special love for me for many years now. That has gradually led me into a love of bees and other pollinators too. (As far as I’m concerned, you really can’t have one without the other.) It’s appropriate that both days fall within the same week.

The Fascination of Plants Day was organised to get as many people as possible interested in plants, and in plant science and conservation. It aimed to increase the appreciation of the role they play in providing us with food and products such as pharmaceuticals. Considering that we would not be able to survive without plants (for even the air we breathe), their study has to be one of the most important areas of research.

Many plants wouldn’t be able to survive without bees and other insects to pollinate them. In the UK, a project to create ‘Bee Lines’ to connect areas of habitat throughout the country has been set up by the conservation group ‘Buglife’. You can see the details of how this will make it easier for bees and others to find the food and breeding areas they need here.

Anyone with a garden, or even just a balcony with pots or some window boxes, can grow plants which will help to keep bees alive. You can read advice on how you can help bumblebees in your garden on this page by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. There is also a very informative plant list for bees written by Dave Goulson here.

This year I’ll be trying to add to the bee-friendly plants in the garden. I may even see a few species of bees that I hadn’t noticed before. (But I probably won’t be able to say what they are – I find bee identification very difficult!) It’s a joy to hear the garden buzzing with bees and to see them busy in the flowers.

Thank you to blogger Steven Schwartzman for kindly letting me know about Fascination for Plants Day.

Common Carder bee on Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
Common Carder bee on Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’, syn. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (stonecrop)

Transitory Glories: Tulips (2)

As is usual here in spring, a lot of the flowers pass me by all too quickly. Sometimes I feel that I barely have time to notice one or two of them before they are already going over. (This year it was the camassias that have disappeared too soon for me. If I had been paying more attention I would have taken some photographs of them.)

Luckily, that hasn’t applied to the tulips because they’re near where I’ve been working in the garden for the last few weeks. Even then, their departure feels sudden and many have already been deadheaded. For a little while the flowers are eye-catching in their glorious colours, flaunting their bright petals and demanding to be noticed. They are already mostly gone and I’m left wondering how the time has managed to pass so quickly!

Tulip ‘Angelique’

I guess if there’s a moral to that, it’s to make sure you stop and enjoy your garden at every stage through the year…something I’m still learning to do. The good thing is that these tulips have come back again for several years. (The ‘Angelique’ and ‘Shirley’ tulips have only been in the garden for three years, so I shall have to wait and see how long-lived they are. The yellow tulip has been in the garden for a very long time – they seem to last forever!)

I’ve been discouraged by tulips fizzling out quite quickly in the past, not realising that there are some that are just short-lived. Now I’m more likely to experiment so that I will have something new to photograph. And if they don’t last for many years, that just gives room for a new variety. Meanwhile, I’ll try to make sure I take the time to enjoy the flowers in the garden before they fade…and for those I do miss, there’s always next year!

Triumph tulip ‘Shirley’