Six on Saturday: Chelsea snowdrops

This week I was lucky enough to find myself in the Chelsea Physic Garden right in the middle of its Heralding Spring snowdrop festival on a rare sunny day.

There was such a wealth of wonderful Galanthus and other early spring bulbs that I could not resist bringing this week’s six from this green oasis in the heart of the city.

I am joining in with The Propagator who invites us to show six things from our garden each weekend. Until the end of March I am studying garden design at the Chelsea Physic Garden so it is a teeny bit mine.

1. Galanthus plicatus ‘Diggory’

I just love the delicate ruching on this snowdrop as if an insect sized tailor has made tiny stitches in it. It would make the perfect puffball skirt for a butterfly ball.

2. Galanthus ‘Hippolyta’

Wonderful name, wonderful snowdrop, with strong green markings on a propeller of pure white petals.

3. Galanthus plicatus ‘Wendy’s Gold’

Some snowdrops like this ‘Wendy’s Gold’ have these distinctive yellow receptacles, making for an unusual contrast.

4. Narcissus ‘Mary Poppins’

There was also a selection of potted early spring bulbs on show and this dainty and unusual Narcissus definitely had me humming ‘A spoonful of sugar’.

5. Snowdrop kokedama

This is such a clever way of displaying snowdrops using the Japanese art of flower arranging with moss balls then hanging them from a tree.

6. Galanthus plicatus ‘Golden Fleece’

As the name suggests this snowdrop, which was kept in a glass cabinet, was one of the most expensive for sale with a price tag of £200!

Here are a few more pics from Heralding Spring. It’s on until tomorrow so if you are near London there’s still time to visit.

Six on Saturday: Hellebores and more

I have to confess it’s not the most inspiring time of year in the garden. Outside it’s cold and grey and the plants are looking well, sorry for themselves.

But my mum and I had a little moment of joy this afternoon popping into the Snowdrop Day at Marchants Hardy Plants in Laughton, East Sussex. I think our visit was worthy of a whole other blog post but until I get round to it suffice to say that among this week’s six is a box of five new Galanthus and a rather special hellebore (let’s not mention the price).

I am joining in with The Propagator, host of the evergreen SOS meme who invites us to feature six things from our gardens each week. It’s lovely to be reminded by some of his other followers that there are blue summer skies somewhere else in the world.

1. Hellebore unknown

This purplish hellebore was here when we moved in. I think it’s quite a common garden variety but an ident would be welcome.

2. Helleborus argutifolius

I have Instagram to thank for helping me to identify this self-sown hellebore as the Corsican variety. I think the seeds must have blown in from nextdoor.

3. Helleborus orientalis

This pink hellebore and the white one beside it are part of my little winter garden nestled underneath the bare roses and between a Spirea and a Phlomis, together with some cheery cyclamen and my new Pulmonaria rubra.

4. Hellebore and snowdrops

At the centre of today’s purchases is a rather special hellebore from Graham Gough of Marchants Hardy Plants who had it in turn from Elizabeth Strangman who he worked under at the renowned Washfield nursery in Kent. It doesn’t propagate well by seed but he brought a clump with him to Sussex and this year lifted and divided it to sell – hence the high price tag. It is called Palmina after the heroine of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte – Gough was an opera singer before becoming a plantsman.

5. Daphne

Each year this Daphne near our front gate brightens up January and February with her intoxicating lemony scent so I am so excited to see her coming into bloom.

6. Clematis armandii

It’s been on my to do list for months to cut back our Clematis armandii but I guess it’s too late now as the new buds have already formed for an early spring flowering.

Six on Saturday: Garden survey

This week I started a three month Garden Design Diploma at the English Gardening School based at the Chelsea Physic Garden, an oasis of calm in the city. The course involves surveying and designing for a project garden and one of the first things we have to do is take plenty of pictures as a visual aid. So I thought I would practice today by photographing my own garden. Usual apologies apply, garden is a mess, I have been busy etc etc

I am delighted as ever to be joining in with The Propagator who encourages us to feature six things from our garden each week – a very useful tool for documenting its progress over the year.

  1. View from the house

The advice in our course textbook (The Essential Garden Design Handbook by Rosemary Alexander and Rachel Myers) is to start by standing looking out from the house and then take photos from 180 degrees before doing the same looking back at the house. From our French windows we can see the curved herbaceous border which is need of a good tidy as well as our curved steps. I would like one day to replace this whole terrace with limestone paving and get rid of the curve, but apparently they are very expensive to put in, so I am in two minds.

2. View from the steps

As our garden is on at least three different levels I have paused half way up at the top of the first set of steps and the bottom of the stepped terrace to look around. As you can see our lawn is in dire straits, not helped by the massive trampoline and I am thinking of getting the experts in to help sort it out in Spring. Our terraces are, er, interesting, but there is rather too much of them and hopefully once I have completed my course I will have some ideas for revamping this area.

3. Play area

In Spring I plan to give this area a good trim and make it a more attractive place for the kids to play with bunting and outdoor cushions.

4. Top terrace

Lots of work to be done here to turn this into a dreamy Mediterranean terrace and herb garden. Maybe one day we will turn the shed into a studio… one can dream!

5. Looking back to the house

This is a view I don’t often think about, so it is interesting to look from this perspective. The terrace gets rather dank being at the bottom of a north-facing garden, so I hope that one day we can extend the back of the house like our neighbours have done and replace it with something that is more of an outside room.

6. Front garden

Again, lots of work to be done here. I did a bit of trimming back in the sunshine today, can you tell? I am looking forward to next-door’s building work coming to a close sometime in 2020 (they have spent 12 months building a path!) Am wondering whether to replace the bark chips or go for something a bit more permanent like gravel or slate chips between the raised beds.

Sorry, total cheat, that was more like 29 on Saturday. Will revisit in June to see what progress has been made. If I include a picture of the first snowdrops coming into flower as my cover, that makes it 30 on Saturday. Back to six next time, I promise.

Land art and the gardener

200 Seasons: David Nash, Towner, 2020

When does gardening become art and when does art become gardening? This was the question that fleeted through my mind as I stood watching a video of one of the great land artists of our time at work in the brilliant David Nash: 200 Seasons exhibition at the Towner art gallery in Eastbourne.

200 Seasons: David Nash, Towner, 2020

The exhibition reflects Nash’s work since the late 1960s at his home and studio at Capel Rhiw in Blaenau Ffestiniog in Wales. This includes giant sculptures made from wood and carbonised wood, as well footage following the journey of a wooden boulder created by Nash as it travels downstream from a river in Wales out to sea over many years. Nash also lives for part of the year in Sussex, where much of the wood for his sculptures is sourced.

200 Seasons: David Nash, Towner, 2020

But the part of the exhibition that really seized my imagination as a gardener is the material relating to Cae’n-y-Coed (Field in the Trees), a 4.5 acre plot of hillside land in the Ffestiniog valley which Nash has managed since the 1970s. Here he has gently and thoughtfully created living sculptures which have become part of the landscape.

Ash Dome

The most famous of these is a dome created by 22 ash trees, which he planted in a circle in 1977, the same year that his youngest son was born. In 1983, he began fletching the trunks, by cutting a wedge out of each trunk, bending it clockwise, bandaging the wound to allow it to heal and then staking the trees, so that they would bend and lean in, almost like dancing maidens in a stone circle. What interests me about this is how the skill of a gardener is used to make art. The ash trees have now become infected by the fungal disease Ash Dieback and are slowly dying, so Nash, together with friends and family, recently planted an outer ring of slower growing oak saplings, which over several generation will form a new dome. What words could speak louder about the future of our planet?

Blue Ring, David Nash, Towner, 2020

Also at Cae’n-y-Coed, Nash planted a seven by seven square of Himalayan birch. A video showed him pruning the birch trees to keep them growing vertically upwards, framing the view of a nearby snow-topped mountain peak, and following them in all seasons, from Spring when the bluebells grow underneath to winter when the white trunks spring up from snow-covered earth. One year, Nash sowed a ring of bluebells on a bank, which lasted for four growing seasons, before dispersing into the environment. He then took the seeds from these bluebells and used them to make a blue ring which is in the exhibition.

200 Seasons: David Nash, Towner, 2020

Here is the art of the gardener, pruning, collecting and sowing seeds, fletching and binding tree wounds, used by Nash to show man and nature working together in harmony to create something that is neither entirely natural, or entirely manmade.

Ancient Table by David Nash, oak, 1983

I will take the thoughts and impressions from this exhibition back into my own gardening practice. After all, that is the art of the gardener, to gently mould and shape nature to create space for enjoyment and contemplation.

200 Seasons: David Nash, Towner, 2020

Sowing seeds

There is a lot of talk of change in January and even more so this year as we enter a new decade. I am trying to kickstart a new way of eating by trying out Veganuary and intermittent fasting. Six days in, I already feel as though I am giving my body and my gut a break.

When it comes to the garden, January is a great month to have good intentions. My big plan for this year is to garden more sustainably and to work out what that means as I go along. But change seldom comes overnight, it is incremental, often starting off with deep stirrings that are not yet visible to the eye, a little like seeds.

One of my aims this year is to use up all of the old seed packets I have accumulated over the last few years. With this in mind, today I leafed through my shoebox of seeds and organised them into vague piles of January, February and March sowings. There are very few seeds that fall into the January category, as the last frost is still a tiny pinprick on the horizon, more that can be sown in February and in March there will be almost too many to manage.

Here is my tiny selection of seeds to be sown in January, from the traditional garden centre Mr Fothergills Summer Purple Broccoli, to sweet peas that came free with a magazine, and from Angelica archangelica which was a gift from my mum to the passionflower, which I have wanted to try for a while as it grows well on neighbouring houses.

Yesterday, the Christmas cards and decorations came down, so I will have room on the windowsills for some trays of seedlings. What better way to start the new year?

Time to trim your hellebores

The time to trim your hellebores is as soon as the new growth starts to appear in winter.

We have three Helleborus orientalis in our front garden. They are in rather a shady spot and they seem to flower depending on which get the most sunlight. This pink one does best followed by a couple of creamier ones.

The reason for trimming the old growth back down to a clean cut at ground level is to give the new growth room. If you leave it too long, the old growth may become entangled with the new and harder to remove.

This job took me two minutes with the secateurs, and the result looks much better.

Hellebores are a beautiful flower, but it is a deadly beauty. Their name literally means ‘to harm food’ as they are poisonous. I touched on this here.

For more about the history of hellebores check out this informative post from Gardening Know How.

Perhaps I will think twice before displaying them in bowls this year with my five year old son around. I will content myself instead with admiring how these beauties grow in our front garden.

Six on Saturday: 2020: A year of gardening sustainably

What is sustainable gardening? Is it choosing locally or ethically sourced materials? Is it avoiding buying any more plastic pots and reusing those you already have? Is it propagating your own plants from seed and choosing diverse varieties, then at the end of the growing season saving seed for the following year? All of these things and much more.

That’s why my New Year’s resolution for 2020 is to spend 12 months working out what sustainable gardening means for me and then hopefully sharing some of those ideas with others and learning from fellow gardeners along the way.

This Saturday our garden, like the year, is at a low point, but it’s all up from here. That’s why this week’s Six on Saturday shows my neglected winter garden in the hope that come summer I will have turned it around.

As ever, I am joining in with The Propagator, whose plant rearing skills and generous social media sharing are an inspiration to all of his followers. Thanks for hosting this meme in 2019 and look forward to joining you in 2020!

1. Compost chaos

My composting area is looking rather sorry for itself. One of the first jobs of the new year will be to tidy this area up and construct a new bin using recycled materials.

2. Untidy corner

I am really at a loss about what to do with this bit of the garden where ivy, cranesbill and Crocosmia have run rampant in the cracks between paving stones.

3. Hellebore

There is always hope in a garden as this hellebore flower about to unfurl reminds me.

4. Buddleia

With its blackened flower heads this Buddleia dominates this part of the garden from summer onwards. But the butterflies love it. Not sure whether to get rid of it this year or not.

5. Hairy shed

This old tool shed is a bit of an eyesore. It lets in water and needs a good clear out, but we can’t afford to replace it just yet.

6. Viburnum bodnantense

My favourite shrub in the garden right now is this Viburnum with its pretty pink flowers on bare branches. A reminder of all the loveliness to come.

Our garden doesn’t look much right now, but over the next few months I hope to bring it gently back to life without spending a fortune and to go on a journey to find out what sustainable gardening really means. I hope you will join me.

Six on Saturday: The Tulip

I have been eyeing up Anna Pavord’s book The Tulip in our local library for some time now. Only the sheer size of the thing prevented me borrowing it. But I found I couldn’t stop thinking about it so this week I brought it home. It is so dense I will probably have to renew it the maximum number of times to get to the end.

So my first Six, joining in with The Propmeister and his merry crew is…

1. The Tulip by Anna Pavord

I am still only on the introduction but Pavord writes beautifully. I have already been transported to a mountainside in Crete where she is searching for Tulipa bakeri.

When it comes to planting tulips I am always on the late side but I aim to get it done by the end of November which gives me another week.

I have got round to opening the box though, so this week for your delectation I have some extremely dull pictures of bulbs in bags. Nice compostable bags from Peter Nyssen.

2. Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’

I decided that what I was missing in the garden was the smaller, more naturalistic tulips. I don’t know whether they have a collective name (I will once I’ve read the book).

3. Tulipa sylvestris

Another more naturalistic tulip that I liked the look of. Described as ‘yellow, back of tepals greenish’.

4. Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’

I am rather excited about this tulip described as ‘Magenta rose, ivory white edge’. And I love the name.

5. Red tulips

Just in case you thought I was getting too tasteful here are some bright red tulips I also bought. They are short and tall – Scarlet Baby and Appeldorn – so I’m hoping they’ll go nicely together.

6. Lovely Lingerie Blend

I couldn’t resist this saucy selection from Aldi which includes Jimmy tulips and Yazz narcissi.

Now I just need to get planting and I have a dilemma. I left last year’s tulips in their pots (not at all what Monty ordered). They are now poking up green shoots. Do I heartlessly depot them to make way for the new or leave them where they are and find new pots?

Six on Saturday: Truly Autumnal

The garden, like the weather, is looking wild at the moment. Leaves strewn everywhere, perennials dying back to make interesting shapes and textures, but still the roses go on blooming.

Each week The Propagator invites us to share six things from our garden and it is a delight to see what he and his followers come up with. Here is my rather bedraggled offering.

  1. Fatsia flowers

Each year around this time our Fatsia japonica produces these space age flowers. It looks a bit like a Christmas tree designed by Barbarella. The Lady of Shallot roses are still strutting their stuff beside it.

2. Fig leaves

Our fig tree has been shedding its leaves, blanketing the lawn. I am waiting for the drier, milder weather forecast for the start of next week to go out and clear this lot.

3. Fig tree

The Little Weeds always like it when the leaves fall off the fig tree because it makes it easier to climb. Fig trees are not that strong, however, and the Weeds aren’t so little any more, so not sure how much longer it will bear their weight. It’s a pretty amazing specimen though (and one for which I can’t take any credit.)

4. Treescape

It is time to book in the tree surgeons. They will shape the bay to the left of this picture and cut back the vine. I will have to tackle the clematis which has been particularly rampant this year and does not add much to the garden with the most insignificant white flowers. The holly belongs to the house behind, so that will be left untouched.

5. Sedum

This red sedum, picked up from a neighbour’s plant sale for 30p earlier in the year, is now coming into its own.

6. Echeveria ‘Duchess of Nuremburg’

This sturdy little Echeveria, bought from the gardens at St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, has been inside and out, but she has never been happier than this summer spent in a butler’s sink with some bargain basement alpines. She has even doubled in size. Do I leave her here over winter in a sheltered spot, or bring her in? I can already see some signs of fungal disease in the white on her leaves. All advice welcome.

Six on Saturday: Overwhelmed in October

As the title of this blog suggests, I am feeling rather overwhelmed by our garden at the moment. We have been here for three and a half years now, and I have done some things that I am pleased with, but the fact of the matter is we inherited an urban garden that was quite heavily landscaped about thirty years ago and has become very overgrown with shrubs and trees. Add to this an enormous trampoline which the kids love, but which has left a large brown patch in the middle of what little lawn we have, and I am starting to feel as though all my efforts are in vain. That in turn becomes a vicious cycle, as I am not gardening as much as I used to.

But hopefully there is a bright light on the horizon. In January, I have signed up for a three month garden design course. I hope that this will give me affordable ideas for redesigning our own garden, as well as potentially becoming the basis for a new career helping other people with their gardens.

And of course, I draw weekly inspiration from the wonderful followers of The Propagator’s Six on Saturday meme who are always up to something new and intriguing in their gardens. So come join me for a rather bedraggled six…

  1. Pink Salvia

I have had this pink salvia in a pot now for about five years. Sometimes it looks as though it has died – as it did in the dry patch this summer (I am terrible at remembering to water pots). But copious amounts of rain seem to have revived it for a last hurrah of the year.

2. Nasturtium

A couple of years ago, my eldest daughter planted a nasturtium seed in a pot at Brownies then promptly left it on its side in the bottom of the car for a couple of weeks. I found it as a tiny seedling and planted in our garden. It flourished and has since self seeded twice, spreading itself rapidly across the front of a bed. I think the flowers look pretty splendid, particularly with raindrops on.

3. Last apples

I finally picked the last of the apples yesterday. We had a bumper crop this year – the conditions were perfect for the blossom in the spring. I now have two large trays of apples in our kitchen and am looking for inspiration. Am thinking a cinnamon and cardamom apple crumble and maybe some Dutch apple cake to freeze.

4. New prairie bed

I have decided to do something a bit different with one of the four raised beds in the front garden. I bought a small selection of perennials and grasses on our recent visit to the Sussex Prairie Garden including a Molinia caerulea ‘Windspiel’, a pinky stemmed Miscanthus ‘Flamingo’ , Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, Aster ‘Violetta’ and an Echinacea ‘Sussex Prairie Seedling’. I have planted these up and hope for a wonderful display next autumn. In the meantime, I am planning to interplant with bulbs for a spring display.

5. Rainbow chard

These were grown from seed which I picked up at our local Seedy Saturday seed swap and came from a local allotment. They will make a nice addition to a stew.

6. Cosmos and Kale

It could be the name of a new blog, Cosmos and Kale. The kale came from the garden at Charleston and I grew the Cosmos from some seeds that came free with a magazine. They have been going like the clappers for months now, remaining undeterred even when their stems were bent over in high winds, reminding me why this is such a great annual.

There, I feel better already, although perhaps that is just the effect of selecting small snapshots that don’t show the unwieldiness of the garden as a whole. I feel a winter of poring over gardening books is in order to glean inspiration, after all there’s always another year in the garden.