Dreamy bedroom-window clematis

September3

clematis

This is my bedroom window, with a 10-year-old clematis Polish Spirit (which I cut to the ground in early spring), morning glory “Grandpa Otts” and an oregano in the background, which you can’t make out too well but which thrills the bees.

The clematis started out as a 9 cm plant from an offer in the Guardian newspaper; now it reliably grows to 8 foot high and 10 foot wide every year, provided I keep it watered.

You might be able to make out the ladder in the upper corner, which is part of the scaffolding that’s now littered our garden for weeks as we get our old window frames repainted.

Hardware aside, I’m thrilled with this corner of the garden. The clematis lives in a huge stone-built planter which is open at ground level. I like to imagine the clematis digging its roots way, way down.

I have an old gardening book called GARDENING IN A SMALL SPACE, and I remember the author, Lance Hattatt, said the mark of an advanced gardener was someone who could control their use of colour. I swore to myself I’d one day have a corner of the garden with a limited colour palatte, and I see what he means now: there are splashes of yellow and some salmon in with the purple planting during other months of the year, but during late summer, it’s purple only, and this area feels cooler, more restful.

The only problem is getting out of bed in August and September: I can see the clematis when I’m propped up on pillows in bed, and I’d rather gaze at those purple stars than do just about anything else.

My book-writing carries on; it’s garden-y, as I mentioned before. At the moment I’m trying to find out whether delphiniums which are cut to the ground in July will flower again in September –in Scotland–.

If you have a garden in Scotland and have successfully coaxed them into flower again in September, can you let me know? I don’t want to include that as a detail in the story if it’s not accurate. If it turns out to be unlikely in my corner of East Lothian, I’ll swap the flowers out for hollyhocks in that critical chapter.

What’s going on in your garden this month?

PS – if you want to keep in closer touch with what I’m up to, I’m tweeting at @sheilamaverbuch most days, and I’m also on Facebook and Instagram as sheilamaverbuch, where I’m posting pictures of my garden with greater regularity.

Enchanted corner for writing inspiration

June2

enchanted corner trough wall fountainI’m writing not one but two children’s books at the moment, which is why I haven’t been blogging here much, but the good news is one of the books is completely and utterly garden focused: think SECRET GARDEN, but written for kids today. I was lucky enough to get an excellent literary agent last December, and since then I’ve been head-down working on revisions.

The garden is a continuous source of inspiration, especially since it’s 13 years old now and getting quite mature. Of all corners of the garden, this shady area with the maidenhair ferns and the wall fountain is the one that most sparks my imagination. I love the enchanted feeling of the startling green and the steadily-flowing water.

It is taken quite a bit of effort to get steadily flowing water. My husband helped me yank out this trough to find and patch the hole in the fiberglass; turns out this stone- effect trough is by no means as eternal as stone itself, but a stone version is unimaginably expensive. The leaky trough was a blessing for the ferns, though: they’ve doubled in size. (Note to self: water the ferns more.)

The ferns here are Adiantum pedatum (northern maidenhair fern on the left, with startling black stems), which I first saw in the garden in northern New York, and Adiantum venustum, the Himalayan maidenhair fern. I got the former from Burncoose Nurseries in Cornwall and the latter from the super-helpful Binny Plants in Scotland.

What’s the most enchanted corner of your garden?

 

Iris reticulata come fast and disappear even faster

March21

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I almost didn’t bother taking this photograph. The cluster of iris reticulata outside my back door was a miracle the day it first bloomed, but almost immediately I began taking it for granted, rushing past on my way to something more important.

Today I noticed it’s faded utterly, and the chionodoxa are out instead. Spring goes fast — it’s right there in the name, I guess. Take photos while ye may!

This photo shows the iris with the Siberian dogwood Cornus alba ‘Sibirica.’ Not just the colour, but the texture of its stems with those corky spots, is intriguing to me.

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What’s out in your garden this weather?

Every rose in England

June13

scenic english country house

 

It didn’t take much prompting to convince my husband to come with me to England when I said I couldn’t wait any longer to see rose gardens on my must-visit list. The gardens include Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire,  Hidcote Gardens in Gloucestershire (both of which are run by the National Trust) and Abbey House Gardens in Wiltshire. He Google-mapped our route to the nearest centimetre, found us great places to stay, and waited in the parking lots while I visited the properties.

Wait, WHAT? Yep, that’s right. It took me some convincing, but he assured me he’d be far happier with his puzzles in the car, or in a cafe, than gazing at Bourbon roses and marvelling at the pruning and training techniques employed by the genius gardeners.

Mme Isaac Periere rose

And so I’ve enjoyed the first two gardens in rather splendid isolation, getting the chance to glimpse the roses just approaching their peak.

Mottisfont is as miraculous as you may have heard, with Graham Stuart Thomas’s collection of old roses stretching across brick walls, spread over 7-foot arches, or pegged down to create arches of colour close to the ground, as you see with rose Mme Isaac Periere here. I grow this rose, but it doesn’t look as healthy as this. It felt as if every rose in England was growing here, and that might just be the case — every old rose, anyway, which are the kind I love most. The gardens were tended for more than 30 years by David Stone before his retirement last year, and the health and beauty of the gardens are testament of his and his successors’ wonderful hard work.

At Mottisfont I also got the chance to have a sniff of roses I’d only ever read about, including Desprez a Fleur Jaunes (which isn’t fragrant enough for me to bother with) and Rosa Spinossisima, which Gertrude Jekyll reportedly included in most of her garden designs, and which smells wonderful.

Rosa Lamarque from Mottisfont Abbey

I also discovered a white rose called Lamarque at Mottisfont which is meant to be difficult to grow, but it had a rounded, full scent and an overall grace that could make me change my generally low opinion of white roses. Arching over a brick wall that was already studded with pale lichens, Lamarque looked and smelled sensational.

But it was at Hidcote (where my husband said he enjoyed an uninterrupted 2.5 hours of newspaper puzzles) where I fell in love with Blairi No. 2, a very old and overlooked rose that nevertheless has every characteristic I love most about the old roses.

The fragrance is indescribably rich but not heavy; and its flower changes colour dramatically, from palest pink-white buds to light pink heads that develop warm, dark-pink centres. The texture of the petals is like wrinkled tissue paper, and the plant (which I think must be 50 years old at least) that stretched across the warm gable wall of one of the Hidcote outbuildings reached right up to its thatched roof, with canes and canes of healthy growth. Only some canes were filled with flowers, but the overall magnificence of this rose already has me searching my mental inventory of spaces in my garden for any south-facing surface I could grow it on. There’s not a lot I wouldn’t do to get Blairi No. 2 into my life.

Rose Blairi No. 2 All Rights Reserved

Hidcote wasn’t quite what I expected. Yes, there were the endless garden ‘rooms’ I’d heard of, but there were also several empty expanses that I was grateful for: the hide-and-seek layout of the smaller rooms left me a bit disoriented, and the empty spaces were restful to the mind.

The kitchen garden, which the kindly woman at Hidcote reception advised me not to miss, was a delight of pleached apples skirted by merry, purple-headed chives, as well as rows of cutting flowers like cosmos, lupins and cornflowers. I noticed they’d stopped the cosmos after three sets of leaves to promote flowering, which is something I’ve done ever since a flower farmer in Virginia advised it (I did a short YouTube video showing the technique here – how to get more cosmos by making a bold, low cut when dead-heading).

I heard a couple visitors at Hidcote being a bit uncharitable about the relaxed planting style — “I couldn’t live with a garden like this,” one said, pointing at a crowd of plants that jostled each other — but I loved it. Hidcote allows plants a bit of freedom, and it’s a wonderful experience: it looks more like a real garden than a showpiece, with some areas left to self-seeders (like sweet rocket, Welsh poppies, columbines).

But there are also sculpted and formal areas, like the much-photographed white bench framed by white wisteria, which was visited by a hungry red admiral butterfly while I was watching.

espallier apples and chives at Hidcote

At the time of writing, we’ve still to visit Abbey House Gardens in Wiltshire, and it’s currently pelting rain here. But I hear the garden owners provide umbrellas, so even though the puddle outside my window is dancing with raindrops, we’re suiting up and heading out.

A note on garden-touring: it’s not so bad going around the gardens myself, although I felt more than a little guilty that my husband holed up in cafes rather than walk around with me.

But at this stage of the tour, I’m convinced we’re both doing what makes us happiest: having a few days of indulgent me-time, away from work and parenting responsibilities, and enjoying relaxing dinners and chats without thinking about email, deadlines or school lunches.

Being driven from garden to garden while I relax and take in the ludicrously gorgeous English countrywide feels terribly indulgent — I feel like a horse box, being lugged from place to place — but I’ll get over it. When a casual glance out the car window shows castle-like cottages draped with roses and flowers like something from a story book, it’s hard to feel guilty for long.

And we’ll be back at the deadlines and school lunches in no time, so we might as well make the most of it, dancing puddles and all.

white wisteria and red admiral at Hidcote

 

Have you visited any outstanding rose gardens you’d recommend I see? Let me know in the comments.

When two frogs love each other very much

April16

frog in hosta by sheila averbuch stopwatch gardenerPeople tend to think you’re kind of crazy if you count the plants in your garden, which is why I stopped at 157. That’s 157 different kinds of plants, not the number of things out there that have roots, or different varieties of the same kind of plant. From herbs to fruit bushes to bulbs, annuals and evergreens, this tiny patch has stuffed itself with more types of plant than I would ever have thought possible for such a modest space. I was trying to estimate its size today, and I reckon it is 20m x 10m, with two additional strips of 11m x 5m each.

But even now, as osmanthus, daphne and fancy double narcissus push April to its fragrant, flowering peak, there’s not a single plant in the garden that’s making me more excited than the pile of translucent goop I found in our tiniest pond this afternoon. We’ve been in this garden for 12 years and no frog has ever laid spawn in any of our three micro ponds. That’s all changed this spring, when two frogs who loved each other very much found a quiet corner. We’ll watch with interest to see whether gloop turns into tadpoles that turn into frogs. I wonder what baby froglets eat when they get big enough to do so – frog eggs, maybe? We’ll see.

I think the diversity of plants in the garden, and my total moratorium on pesticides (and the mini-ponds, of course), has helped birds, frogs, toads and newts make themselves more at home here. There is the occasional bird casualty from our predator cat, and my children know to warn me if they see anything disgusting I wouldn’t want to come across (“Oh, Mummy! A mouse head!”). But overall, the wildlife and the cat have reached a kind of detente, and things are right with the world in terms of wildlife friendliness here. This year I also loaded up a bird feeder with niger seed, curious to see if its reputed powers of goldfinch-attraction were true. Sure enough, the yellow-winged, red-faced goldfinches showed up in January and haven’t left.

It’s a challenge, in garden design terms, to fit a huge variety of plants into a garden without giving it a piecemeal, chaotic feel. I’ve tried to repeat plants down the longest stretches of the garden, and I’m trying to fit in another osmanthus delvayii in the farther reaches of the garden, although it might mean the ruthless extraction of something else. (As I wrote in an earlier post, I’m a huge fan of purging plants I don’t love, and I gleefully yanked out a perennial pea last autumn that did nothing for the space.)

I’ve also become a big fan of empty containers, and thanks to our local Freecycle I picked up four enormous terra-cotta pots that had been painted white – something I never would’ve done myself, but which has picked out the paler narcissus, the white flowered osmanthus, and earlier in the year, the snowdrops. The stretch of garden outside my office tends to be dark, and the white pots are like beacons, luring me into the garden and away from my desk.

Must. Resist.

What’s going on in your garden this time of year? Has wildlife made its presence felt?

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