Garden resolutions 2011: hug a tree, sit for a bit

December31

Click for larger image
Before I blogged, I never made New Year’s resolutions, much less wrote them down. It’s funny to look over what I resolved a year ago. Happily, I managed two of the four resolutions I made: I don’t scream at toads anymore, and I even knocked apologetically on a few tiles I had to shift earlier today, hoping nothing was asleep beneath it. I also managed to grow food pretty successfully for the first time in 2010: just lettuces, spring onions, a few tomatoes and herbs, but it was exciting, and the children seemed genuinely interested and dragged visitors over to examine the raised bed at every opportunity.

So briefly, for 2011:

Don’t look back: never mind about the two resolutions I didn’t manage last year. I’m giving up on trying to make the November border fabulous for the moment, and I didn’t quite manage to bring everything into the cold conservatory that should’ve come in, but, onward!

Sit down more:
if you’re like me, every seat in the garden is a hotseat. Jobs call to me wherever my eyes land, and I’m up again in a few seconds. I’m going to strive to make an area of the garden very sit-friendly: it’s right outside our kitchen and conservatory, and it’s almost completely enclosed by the house walls and boundary fence. I’m thinking serene green, hostas, and a rambling, thornless pale rose (“Lykkefund”, already ordered from Peter Beales) that I’ll train sideways instead of up to cover the cottage walls. There’s a vigorous deep purple clematis, “Polish Spirit”, already in this area and I need to tone it down. I’m unsure whether to put up a pergola or awning or anything at all: the space is narrow, so maybe I should keep the sky above open. If the whole area is simply planted and unfussy, surely it will be easier to sit for more than 60 seconds in the garden?

Give the children what they want:
I told my daughter and son (4 and 5) they could have their own raised bed in a good, sunny spot to do whatever they want with. He’s not so keen, but she is. She said she wants to grow “cucumbers and pink poppies”. We may have to work on that plant selection but I really do want it to be hers. And I’m not going to give up on trying to interest him, either.

Hug the trees: I planted two pears from Ken Muir this year, and I resolve to mind them and the two cobnuts I’m planning to get from Ken this year and plant in half whiskey barrels by the garden gate. @MarkDoc says it’s iffy, but it may work if I keep them pruned and well watered. I can feel an automatic drip irrigation system in my future. I am a neglector of containers, but a lover of nuts. I want these wee trees to live.

What are you resolving to do in your garden this year? Do you think it’s achievable, or are you going more aspirational with your resolutions?

Share:

In bulbs we trust

September6

Click for larger image

It’s not happened yet, but I can feel that the bulb lust will soon be upon me. I work my tiny garden intensively and only manage to get four season colour into the border by packing in bulbs among herbaceous perennials. It’s probably inconceivable for me to stuff any more tulips into the hall border near my office window, but for May through August interest, I’m planning for more alliums, more lilies and possibly my first camassias next year. I saw @lialeendertz ‘s piece in the Guardian about alliums and it underscores the most useful thing you’ll ever want to know about ornamental onions: if you don’t hide their tattered leaves with something, you’ll be sorry. I’ve just tucked mine in among astrantia, nepeta and delphiniums and I’m hoping for the best.

So yes, I’m renewing my commitment to summer flowering bulbs to squeeze maximum colour from my small space, but it’s the late winter and early spring flowering snowdrops, crocus, chionodoxa, narcissus and most of all tulips that cast the real spell over me — and my budget — every autumn.

Do you remember how the Catholic church got into a good bit of trouble some centuries ago for selling indulgences, advance absolution for future sins? Hell was big back then, and folks terrified of dying with unconfessed sins on their conscience paid big sums for indulgences, hoping to guarantee life after death by ensuring they’d die “clean”…or so the reasoning went. Spring flowering bulbs are a bit like indulgences: against reason, gardeners faced with the dying of the light invest too much every autumn, trying to guarantee life for their borders on the far side of winter’s chasm. For me, planting spring bulbs — especially those chestnut brown tulips, fat and perfect — is like casting a rope to the other side of January, where my friendly bulb vendor secures it and talks me across with comforting words about “brave crocus” and tulips “like a Dutch still life”. I can resist the crocus (they may be brave, but they get battered by day two), but the tulips will always have a hold on me.

Actually, my bulb vendor is very friendly; Anne and Jack Barnard at Rose Cottage Plants have never sent me tulips that failed to dazzle or, God forbid, were wrongly labeled, an experience I’ve had many times with other mail-order companies. The blackcurrant tinted late purple parrot “Muriel” they recommended last year was indeed stunning, and this year they’ve sourced “Happy Generation” for me, one of the many I saw in my Keukenhof tour this past April, but not usually available from Rose Cottage Plants, as Anne says her customers often avoid bi-coloured tulips. I’ve ordered 30; who knows where I’ll put them, but maybe in pots at the gate.

Click for larger image

If you’re trying to decide what tulips are worth buying, definitely ask your vendor, or see these two video tours of the Keukenhof tulip tents I made earlier this year. My voiceover rambles a bit, but you will get a sense of how many beautiful tulip varieties look, rather than relying on the hyperbolic catalog descriptions. You can also see still shots of the tulips and other parts of Keukenhof in my Flickr set.

I have scattered galanthus nivalis, a February flowering double snowdrop, among my hall border and would love to plant a short, black centred perennial like Rudbeckia, whose black eyes might hold on through the snowy months to give me a black-and-white effect in late winter. Any ideas? Rudbeckia “Goldsturm” looks good but seems a bit too tall.

Do you have a bulb addiction? Which tulips mean the most to you, and can you get away without lifting them annually?

Share:

Sandy tulips are happy tulips

May13

Click for larger imageAs you may or may not know, I went to Amsterdam recently for the tulips, and stayed for the volcano. Stupid geothermal activity. The delay has thrown my work schedule completely, keeping me away from the blog for some time. But I had to post something this evening because, looking over my pictures from the trip and especially the visit to Keukenhof (a huge spring garden in Lisse, in the midst of the bulb fields south of Amsterdam, open until this Sunday), I’m stunned again at the growing conditions of tulips in Holland.

As the proud Dutch will tell you, God made the world but the Dutch made Holland, systematically draining tracts of land (which they call polders) for agriculture, and keeping the land drained with their network of dikes. This is reclaimed, thoroughly sandy soil: passing some builders digging up a sidewalk, I marveled at the spoil they’d dug out, exactly like children’s play sand. I’d always heard that tulips should sit on a little nest of sand at the bottom of the planting hole, but truthfully they’re happy in a very sandy environment, a realisation which will definitely inform where and how I plant this autumn.

It was a cold spring in Holland, just as in Scotland, and only some of the large single early tulips were out, along with miles of hyacinths. Keukenhof isn’t to be missed if you get over to the Netherlands in spring; growers each take a section of land around the lightly wooded lawns of the garden, planting their own displays with thousands of bulbs each autumn. The mature trees are just coming into leaf as the flowers emerge below, creating that dappled sunlight effect that, along with the occasional babbling stream and the dreamy scent of narcissisus and hyacinth, deliver a pretty good approximation of my mother’s idea of heaven.

I don’t know about you, but every October I develop such a strong bulb lust that all memory of the sad, fading foliage of tulips in June disappears, and I can think only of those goblets of colour lit up like Tiffany lamps. This year, I’m thoroughly smug at how well a new combination has turned out: I’ve added the single purple “Passionale” tulip alongisde the wavy orange wonderfulness of the parrot tulip, Prof. Rontgen. Those reliable folk at Rose Cottage Plants recommended (and who was I to resist, browsing their offers during the depth of That Winter) a parrot called Muriel, a sumptuous purple thing which is supposed to marry my Passionale with the Professor. Muriel is just about to make her appearance — I’ll let you know how she fares.

Oh, and those tulips I planted in a row beneath my window? Fabulous. They give exactly the 17th century colours I was looking for, although after seeing at Hortus Bulborum (a bulb “zoo” outside Amsterdam which keeps the greats alive) the wee Duc van Tol tulips that fueled tulipmania way back when, I think my soaring, 24 inch high Mickey Mouse single early tulips have much more majesty.

Click for larger imageAt Keukenhof, planted in the ground under cover were a selection of tulips from each grower, and many of these were almost over when we saw them, but enough were in good shape to give me that October feeling. The perfection of “Happy Generation”, a red-on-white striped Triumph tulip, far outdoes the fluffy “Carnival de Nice” which I’d had my eye on. Red and white will fit fine into some parts of my spring colour scheme…just. But really I need a bigger garden.

Would you like to see the videos I took inside the Keukenhof tulip tents? I’m in the process of publishing them here on the Stopwatch Gardener channel on YouTube.

Do you get bulb lust? How have yours performed this strange spring?

Share:

Pause for the cos

March1

Click for larger image
Two weeks is much more of a gap than I’d ever expected to leave between posts — sorry. January-February were a bit alarming in work terms, and I now know what the clock on my desk looks like when it strikes 11 PM and beyond. My gardening has been confined to stolen moments of web research, so it was a thrill last week to pause my work schedule to visit a garden centre for the Eatin’ Project. My mission: find liquid seaweed to fortify my thin-necked cos lettuce seedlings and another tier to raise my raised bed.

Am I the only one who struggles with garden maths? Turns out my Haxnicks foot-deep raised bed isn’t. It’s six inches deep. My topsoil calculations were hilariously wrong. No one is impressed with the gigantic sack of topsoil I’ve left idling in the neighbour’s driveway, but finally I have another raised bed tier. Gordon the gardener will now help me distribute topsoil mountain all about, and if the weather plays ball I may get a few of those cos in, probably under cloche, probably after warming the bed a bit. (Note, I never saw a reply from Haxnicks following my query to their website about tiering, despite the jolly auto reply that promised immediate gratification. @haxnicks, for shame!) My Parmex carrot seeds have also germinated; next stop, spring onion junction.Click for larger image

Have I talked enough about vegetables? Can I move on to something more beautiful? See the greenhouse to the left of the picture window? It’s going to be shifted to liberate its wonderfully sunny wall for trained fruit. After much soul and web searching, it won’t be a cordon, espalier or fan, but a duo of so-called minarette pears from Ken Muir: the varieties are the agreeable Concorde and the king of juicy, Williams’ bon Chretien. (Concorde is partially self fertile but don’t expect great things without a pollination partner.)
The minarettes can be planted as close together as two or three feet, trained straight up or (as I’m planning) on an angle. I came so-o-o-o close to quince “Vranja”, with its intoxicating tropical scent, but finding a dwarfing rootstock proved extremely difficult, and I didn’t fancy years of hard pruning to keep a more vigorous “A” rootstock specimen in this tiny space.

Wait, can you hear it? The grindstone is calling me back, and I need to put in a few more hours’ writing before I sleep.

But please, please do tell if you have experience with “Concorde”, “Williams’ bon Chretien” or any minarette fruit. Did it perform for you? And is the taste of Williams’, in particular, going to be worth my three years’ wait?

Share:

A good death for roses

November13

Click for larger imageOne consolation of November is the opportunity to look at the bare root roses which become available now. Our garden already hosts an embarrassingly large number of roses wherever there’s reliable sun, and many are true survivors, offering perfect flowers through November. As I mentioned previously, these sumptuous blooms look a bit wrong in the declining autumn garden, but I’ve solved the problem by using them as a cutting patch from October onwards. These last weeks Rosa Tess of the d’Urbervilles and R. James Galway have sat merrily on my desk and in the kitchen, alongside the last of the dahlias and spice-scented pinks.

If you are planning next year’s roses, one aspect worth considering — but which marketing materials rarely describe — is how the flowers fade and die. If you want to cut roses for the house, they will start fading the moment secateurs meet stem, so it’s worth knowing which roses age gracefully and ultimately enjoy a good death. All these have earned their place in my garden but vary in their end-of-life beauty:

  • Rosa James Galway: a nearly thornless climber from David Austin which for me has only the slightest scent in the garden. But in the vase, James Galway absolutely shines. It begins to give off a pleasant, old-Rose-meets-talcum-powder scent. Its baby-girl pink tones also fade to lavender, reminiscent of antique wallpaper. Best of all, even the smallest buds open, extending the vase life.
  • Jude the Obscure: also from David Austin, JtO has full, heavy heads of pale yellow-pink petals with an exquisitely fruity scent. They look a bit ponderous in the vase, but a single flower perfumed my office for days. The final petals actually gave off a final, perfect spritz of scent as they fell to the desk — amazing.
  • William Shakespeare 2000: I contacted David Austin to see if my experience of this rose was typical, and it seems it is. What a beauty this rose is in the garden — strongly fragrant, packed with red petals. But look away when it starts to fade. The petals tend to turn brown and cling on instead of falling peacefully one by one, so entire heads can rot on the stem. The vase life in my experience is not good.
  • Tess of the d’Urbervilles: a strong climbing red also from David Austin, with such lust for life that it happily endured six months shaded by scaffolding here. The flowers are perfection in the early stages and the vase life is excellent. But to me the scent is not very pleasant, and the petals eventually reflex back to an almost-puffball shape. But great for a mixed vase where other roses provide the scent.
  • Etoile de Holland: bred more than 70 years ago, EdH is famed as one of the best climbing reds. To me its scent is outrageously wonderful — a powerful, almost lemony aroma that, like Jude the Obscure, makes you want to eat the rose. The stems are short and the heads large, so arrangements need support. I put a dozen into a short, square vase topped with a plastic grid, and that worked. The flower form quickly declines from the stereotypical florist’s rosebud shape to a blown-open saucer, but together in a vase the scent of these roses is unbeatable.

Intensity and attractiveness of scent are subjective — one person’s wonderful is another person’s mediocre – but it’s easier to agree whether a fading rose is objectively beautiful or better off dead. Ask the growers you’re buying from this year what becomes of the flowers in the later stages, and inquire whether they have pictures to share. You’ll spend the next half-year looking forward to them, so it’s good to know what’s in store.

Share:
« Older EntriesNewer Entries »