Dreamy bedroom-window 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.


SWG004 Early-mid-March in a Scottish cottage garden


Magic portal in the garden - through the fireplace surround

Welcome to another episode of the Stopwatch Gardener podcast, where this week I’m rushing about the garden like a mad thing, getting excited about every early-spring plant and the very first humming bumblebee of the season.

I also take a minute to remember my lovely, much-missed dog Lizzy as I look at the place in the garden where she was buried a few years ago.

I’m delighted that Crug Farm has joined Beth Chatto, Vanessa Mann and Frank Kirwan to donate plants to my Rare Plants for Rare Disease fundraiser for neuroacanthocytosis research on 24 May 2014. If you run a nursery, especially if you trade in rare or unusual plants, I’d love to ask you for a donation to this worthy cause. Contact me here if you can help with a rare plant donation.
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Why pay for garden design?


My New Year’s resolution to sit in the garden more has been on my mind constantly, and I’ve finally resolved to get a garden designer in Click for larger imageto help me make the best of the tiny courtyard space by the backdoor.

I knew it would be difficult to get my husband to go along with this expense. So I made a list: why pay for garden design? After all, it will just be an idea on paper, with much more expense to follow if the builders execute the plan, so I figured I’d better have my rationale clear in my own mind. As it happened, he ended up agreeing even before I’d read him the list, but it was a useful exercise anyway — here are my top reasons:

  1. Inviting spaces will bring us outside: as family we’re so much more likely to use the garden if there’s a welcoming place to eat and rest out there. At the moment the kids run about outside and I work on the garden, but we never just chill. I want that, and the kitchen courtyard is the perfect place.
  2. A tiny space needs big thinking: this is a hard-working area that needs to cater for hanging laundry, feel cozy but not claustrophobic, look good from above and from the kitchen window in all weathers. And that’s not even talking about the planting, which should be peaceful, fragrant, and ideally incorporate a way to drown out road noise. I couldn’t get my head round it myself and finally realized that a professional eye with small-site experience is critical for this space.
  3. Click for larger image

  4. Outside lunches for two: in good weather I try to lure my husband outdoors at lunch, but too much sun, or too little, or the general discomfort of the seating, or bug attacks mean he’ll often give up and duck back inside. A really livable outside dining space can let us enjoy our soup and sandwich and crossword while the kids are at school, and the world is on hold for an hour.
  5. Pave the way for later: Our kids are tiny and mostly play with friends inside now, but they’ll want more privacy as they get older. When I was growing up my friends never hung out at my house, and I want it to be different for our kids. I’d like them to keep bringing their friends over, and an outside kickback space will make that more likely.
  6. Lack of design could cost more: If I didn’t get a designer’s help with this space, chances are I’d push ahead with something of my own devising — a bit of new seating, some slabs, a pergola of some kind. Would it work? If it didn’t, would I keep trying, and keep spending? Probably. If we plan to stay in this house, let’s get it right first time. I can stick to the essential purchases for the next long while (manure, bone meal, potting compost), and swap, divide or grow from seed if I want more plants.

Would you ever get a garden designer to help you with part of your space? If you’ve used a designer, what was the experience like?


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


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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?


Winter clematis comes forth — thanks, nematodes


Click for larger imageBecause I get so little time in the garden, I spend many hours staring out the window at what I’d like to be doing, while I’m deep in the realities of feeding children/washing dishes/writing at the PC. If you’re the same, it’s well worth crafting the tableau you see out the window. It’s a bit of a cheat, since you’re focusing on a single garden snapshot from one perspective, but a really satisfying view is priceless when it’s your only access to the garden for days or weeks at a time.

I’ve been working on my view from the kitchen sink and it’s coming along, but since we reorganised the house, our kitchen table looks right onto the sorry clematis I mentioned in this earlier blog post about my rose hedge. The winter flowering Clematis Cirrhosa “Jingle Bells” has disappointed three years running and I’d given up on it, until I finally acted on what my eyes had been telling me for ages — only slugs could be responsible for its stripped-bare stems. Over summer I opted for the Nemaslug multipack of beneficial nematodes as a biological control for slugs; the nematodes immediately made the slugs lose their appetite before finally finishing them off quietly, without any of the mess or environmental dodginess of slug pellets. Incidentally I’ve been fascinated to see the US gardening media speak mostly of the pernicious nematodes, with very little said about these beneficial nematodes which are so popular in Britain. My UK supplier is Green Gardener, although there are many others.

And wow, do they work. I’ve just received my third of installment of nematodes and will douse the area again now before winter. It’s still clearly showing the effects of slug damage, but the clematis has sprung to life, with dozens of flower heads and regrowing foliage. If I can just get out of the house and release my nematode friends before they pass their expiry date, there’s hope for my dinner table garden view this winter.

If you’re looking for excellent advice about crafting views out the window, the best source I’ve found is the venerable Reader’s Digest Good Ideas for Your Garden — widely available on Amazon.

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