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.

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SWG004 Early-mid-March in a Scottish cottage garden

March6

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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Empty containers catch sun and moisture in the border

January19

 Empty container catches sun and moisture in the border

This is part of my sporadic series to share one or two tiny things I learn about gardening every year. Can you see the glazed blue container in the background of this photograph? I have two of these and found they served a marvelous dual-purpose this past year:

  • Watering – I could slowly water the plants around them by filling up the empty pot
  • Protected sun – I could pop establishing young plants into this container to give them a good sunny position and protection from slugs while they were getting bigger.

I’ve seen it written many times that sinking a flowerpot next to a plant is a good way to direct the water to its roots, but this glazed, completely above-ground pot was so much more attractive then the plastic pots I’d used to do this previously.

It is a wet and dreary January in Scotland, but I’ve just had three gloriously muddy hours in the garden. It was a three-changes-of-gloves kind of morning, as I was tidying up the vegetable beds where cats do unspeakable things when I’m not looking. Rough sticks thrust into the ground seem to be the only deterrent they respect, and one of my tiny 1m x 1.2m beds is now bristling with old lilac and elder branches.

Did you have any gardening epiphanies last year? What works for you when trying to keep cats away? Let me know.

 

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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?

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Five reasons I’m ok with growing edibles

July5

Click for larger imageAs I’ve mentioned, my fruit and vegetable growing experiment is having some surprising results: not only is this stuff edible, but I’m enjoying it in so many ways. As my own personal Eatin’ Project, this year I have dedicated a 1.2 m raised bed to showing myself and my kids how to turn seeds into food. I’ve been gardening hard for about five years and until now resisted growing crops, mainly because I hate fleece, netting, cages and the other prophylactics that allotmenteers protect plants with. If you’re in the same mindset I was, and you’re considering branching out from flowers only, here’s some food for thought:

  1. Bugs on the lettuce aren’t a dealbreaker: Deborah once commented that she’s always preferred store-bought lettuce to growing her own, worried there might be bugs in it. But the raised bed (and the fact that it’s surrounded by wide gravel paths) has kept most slugs and snails away, and the rich soil along with an open, sunny position means other pests haven’t taken hold. I’ve found only a few bugs on the lettuce — just the odd greenfly or earwig. They haven’t done much damage, they’re easy to clean off and somehow they don’t bother me. The insects are a reminder that these plants, which we’ll eat, are alive. That appeals to me.
  2. Edible plants are pretty: the green swirl of the lettuce, the ferny carrot foliage, and now the purple blossom on the potatoes are all attractive, and the tiny handful of night scented stock and cornflowers I included in the raised bed bring in colour and pollinators. The rest of the garden (especially the romping rose hedge and main border, shown above) gives me plenty of space to be floral. The raised bed doesn’t need to do that job: its plants are more of a happy, leafy jumble — as if the fridge vegetable drawer has relocated outside.
  3. Food shopping sucks: I hate food shopping — my husband usually does it — but until now it’s been the only way to get fruit and vegetables into our diet. Having the good stuff growing outside the kitchen makes it much easier to eat healthily, and by pulling a few leaves from many lettuce heads, we always have salad. And it tastes better than Tesco’s.
  4. The kids are intrigued: my three-year-old girl likes to pull up a stumpy Parmex carrot, hand it over for washing, and crunch it (the carrots we grew in sandy soil taste better than those in the rich bed). Her brother eats raw spinach leaves and holds out his bicep for everyone to feel the difference. They both eat the few strawberries we’ve managed, and scattering apple lumps left over from breakfast keeps the blackbirds away from the berries (the cat also does guard duty). Both kids are so proud that we’re growing food and have shown off the raised bed to visitors. I think their enthusiasm is what I feel best about.
  5. Cloches make protection pretty: I bought three Haxnicks plastic bell shaped cloches for £10 and I’ve used them over and over again. They look pretty — a bit of a Victorian vibe without the weight of glass — and lettuces grow large and perfect under them.

I will grow more fruits and vegetables next year, but I’m a bit relieved that the Eatin’ Project hasn’t replaced my interest in  roses. This June was a rose bonanza in my garden, with the heaviest show I’ve ever seen, and the air has been thick with fragrance: the fruity Rose de Rescht, the Bourbon rose Zephyrine Drouhin and the lemony Etoile de Holland, plus the spicy clove of the old-fashioned pinks, and the outrageously sweet honeysuckle, Lonicera Japonica “Halliana.” I also took in Sissinghurst, Nymans and Hever Castle for the world’s biggest, best rose fix. (Endless pictures of the trip are here. Don’t go to Nymans on Monday-Tuesday like we did on first attempt — it’s shut.) When it comes to roses, the force is still strong with me; but I know now that my garden has room for something more.

Are you trying vegetable growing for the first time this year? Can you suggest any protection for fruit and vegetables that’s also attractive?

I have dedicated a 1.2 m raised bed

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