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.

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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New Year’s gardening resolutions I can live with

January1

I’ve decided it’s sensible to keep my gardening New Year’s resolutions short and realistic, but still of a certain scope, so there’s some sense that I’m aiming high and not just planning more of the same in the garden this year. Click for larger image

Last year one of my key gardening New Year’s resolutions was to stop and sit in the garden more (done) and the previous year it was my own personal Eatin’ Project I was planning, trying vegetable growing for the first time (done).

Gardening resolution one – water those vegetables

Speaking of vegetables, this year I will do the edibles better, because I’m resolving to plan my watering properly. The beans and other edibles never had the best chance because my watering was so erratic, but 2012 is the year I will irrigate. Must find a good leaky hose supplier. Suggestions?

Gardening resolution two – force bulbs properly

I will not mess up my hyacinths next winter. This year I could have (just barely) have had them flowering for Christmas but I never brought them in from the cold conservatory to the warm sitting room – I never realized I had to until @imogenbertin set me right. Here in Scotland I have to plant the prepared bulbs in August, as soon as they are on sale, so I can get them into the light by October, and into the conservatory by November. Until now I’ve never known I needed to do a final step of bringing them into the warmth in December, but I will get it right in 2012.

Gardening resolution three – love my window boxes

I’ve never done window boxes well, but this year my mother-in-law gave me books on the subject, the bare windowsills of our roadside cottage here at the market cross are desperate for plant life, and I love the idea of challenging my worst gardening vice – I willfully, spitefully neglect container plants. So, window boxes it is. Secret weapon in the war against my neglectful side: when I prepared the new window boxes last week, I mostly used plants I’ve grown myself, so their said, thirsty faces should (I hope) move me more than the nameless, shop-bought trays of pansies I’ve watched die in my window boxes in the past. I’ve chosen vinca, fern, schizostylis, hosta, hebe, lamium and ivy, along with a rash of bulbs and tubers including cyclamen coum, muscari armeniacum fantasy creation, Kaufmanniana tulips Heart’s Delight, triteleia (formerly brodiaea) and autumn crocus to plug gaps between the plants.

Gardening resolution four – train a stepover apple

It won’t really be a stepover apple, because the single tier I’m planning will be about 90 cm off the ground, so I guess we can call it a leap over. I’ve Click for larger imagechosen the Apple Greensleeves on an M106 rootstock, and since it’s on the north side of the short fence, the horizontal cordon will only see the sun if it starts at 90 cm high. I’ll let you know how that one goes. I credit this resolution to Helen, who was tweeting about the stepover apples she was planning; it’s something I’d always wanted to do, and who was I to resist a three-year-old tree on sale for just 9 pounds sterling?

Gardening resolution five – easy cutting garden

Earlier on Stopwatch Gardener I video blogged about how to nip out cosmos to encourage more side shoots and robust flowering, and the US flower farmer Lisa Ziegler who taught me that technique has now inspired me to try her scheme for a 3′ x 10′ cutting garden. It’s meant to be a low-maintenance plot of zinnia, celosia, choice sunflowers and lemon basil. Any advice on telling my husband I plan to remove 30 square feet of lawn?


I really want to know what you all are planning for the new year — please drop me a comment below before you go!

Spring planting combinations that beat the patchy look (and don’t smell like toilet duck)

April12

The resurgence of growth in the April garden is magnificent. But as welcome as spring bulbs are, they can make for a patchy looking landscape.

Gardening experts talk a lot about planting combinations, and I have come to appreciate the importance of using plants together, especially spring bulbs with something more weighty like perennials and shrubs. If you’re an old pro, none of these combinations will be new to you, but for newer gardeners, here are a few spring planting combinations worth trying:

  • Pulsatilla vulgaris and vinca minor: Click for larger imageThe fantastically fuzzy buds of pulsatilla are marvelous in late March and early April. The out-of-focus blue in the background is the ground-hugging vinca minor: this periwinkle is much easier to manage in a garden than its big brother, the greater periwinkle vinca major. Some gardeners will warn you away from any periwinkle as too invasive, but this is quite manageable in my garden and flowers profusely in April if I cut it back hard in autumn.
  • Osmanthus delvayii above plain and parrot tulips:Click for larger imageThis very slow growing shrub is a froth of white for a few weeks in April, and the way it spreads its arms over the tulips reminds me of a tiny flowering cherry tree. Its heavenly, lily of the valley-like scent is fresh and clean, never overpowering. Not to be confused with Osmanthus burkwoodii, which has bigger leaves and smells like toilet duck. The tulips shown here are purple Passionale and the orange parrot, Professor Rontgen, but any pair of contrasting colours would look good.
  • Emerging roses above fritillaria meleagris:Click for larger image The snakes head fritillary picks up the red tones in the emerging foliage of many roses: here it’s the Portland rose, Rose de Rescht. So many emerging perennials offer wonderful foliage which looks great
    next to bulbs and can help disguise their dying leaves. Try to plant the snakeshead where you will see the sun coming through it, so it lights up like an elaborate checked lampshade: otherwise it can look like a dirty purple. I like the white version of the snakeshead even better, and it’s fairly easy to grow from seed; if you can wait a few years they’ll reach flowering size and you can fill a corner of your garden with these elegant little bulbs.
  • Grape hyacinths with aubretia: Click for larger imageSomeone else mentioned this combination and I’m so glad I tried it. The muscari hold their heads above the aubretia, which is that fabulous rockery plant that spills its purpleish flowers over stone walls. “We should get more of that,” was my husband’s one and only comment about the aubretia last year. He doesn’t usually say much, so that means something. If you don’t want to find the grape hyacinth appearing all over your garden, snip off the flower heads before they go to seed.
  • Hyacinth with wild violet, aubretia and vinca minor: Click for larger imageI’m not a great fan of monochrome schemes, but this one sowed itself and was winking at me from the border as I was thinking about this blog post, so I had to mention it. I recall wanting an all-blue border at a certain stage in my gardening life, but I got over it.
  • What I won’t show you today is a picture of my raised bed, which has eight lovely broad bean plants and eight plastic milk bottles (these bottles are God’s gift to the vegetable gardener who needs a cloche or drip tray. I also plant a punctured or bottomless milk bottle next to new shrubs, to give them a good 2-litre drink when I water.) This time, the bottles are covering baby beets and lettuce.

    This is why I was saying last year that I wanted to keep my new vegetable patch in a bit of the garden I don’t see from the window: I hate the plastic, fleece, netting and so forth that vegetable growing so often demands. But I’d like my seedlings to survive, so I’ve rolled out the plastic.

    Like the hosta halos and wire plant supports that have now disappeared beneath the delphinium foliage, the cloches won’t be eyesores for long; they should be unnecessary in a few weeks, when the frost danger has passed.

    What are your favourite planting combinations in your garden? I’d love some more ideas.

    http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5064/5614072445_d9f7bebfd1_z.jpg

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    A good gardening podcast is hard to find

    February28

    Click for larger imageIf you hunger for good gardening podcasts as much as I do, you know they’re hard to find. Here’s my list of favourites, from the unmissable at number one to the merely OK at number eight. I’ve given the web address of the feed; I hope this will let you track down the show and subscribe to it with whatever podcast tool you use. I use Google Listen on an Android phone, and I’ve created a folder in Google Reader called “Listen Subscriptions” that lets me add any new podcast if I know its Web address.

    I know that all sounds a bit technical. If you have any questions, let me know, and I’ll try to help you. (By the way, I’m now doing my own rather stumbly Stopwatch Gardener podcast, which you can subscribe to here for iTunes or another podcast player.

    1. Gardeners’ Corner with Cherrie McIlwaine
      Feed URL: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/northernireland/garden/rss.xml
      My all-time favourite. Host Cherrie is a true radio talent, painting evocative pictures of the gardens she visits, making everything sound magical and intriguing. It’s the one podcast I really miss if it’s not available immediately after its usual Saturday recording date. The show, broadcast by BBC Radio Ulster in Northern Ireland, has also hit on the perfect mix of phone-ins, visits to stunning gardens, chats with experts, road shows, and on-site help with listeners’ gardens. About 22 minutes per episode.
    2. The Greendays Gardening Panel with Steve Scher
      Feed url: http://www.kuow.org/rss.php?program=garden
      KUOW radio in Seattle has put together an excellent Tuesday gardening panel which takes questions by telephone and from its Facebook page, hosted by Steve Scher with advice from Willie Galloway (perky veg expert), Greg Rabourn (conservationist and tree guy) and Marty Wingate (the one who uses Latin plant names). I love their no-nonsense approach and the satisfying 50-minute format, and their knowledge about what works in the Pacific Northwest and their willingness to share it is evident. I wish they’d use more Latin names; I once spent a half an hour googling for the ground cover plant “kinnickkinnick” (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi).
    3. Gardening with Tim and Joe – Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden
      Feed URL: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/leeds/gwtj/rss.xml
      This folksy advice show from BBC Radio Leeds is notable for its insights on growing fruit and vegetables, as well as routine care of garden plants like roses, chrysanthemums and more. I like the “back to basics” feature, and gardener Joe Maiden’s decades of experience shine through, although I wish he wouldn’t call every plant of the week “absolutely fantastic”. Short and sweet, just 12 minutes per episode.
    4. A Way To Garden with Margaret Roach
      Feed URL: http://am1020whdd.com/rss/individual.php?id=119&title=A%20WAY%20TO%20GARDEN%20WITH%20MARGARET%20ROACH
      This US gardening luminary writes the “A Way to Garden” blog and has just published a new book, “And I shall have some peace there,” about the New York garden she commuted to for two decades and now lives in permanently. Host Jill could do with sounding more in charge, but I like Margaret’s insights on seed sowing, managing a mature garden, and why going organic is worth it. About 20 minutes per episode.
    5. Gardeners’ Question Time with Eric Robson or Peter Gibbs
      Feed URL: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/gqt/rss.xml
      This weekly BBC radio broadcast is a must-listen for the range of unrehearsed questions the experts can answer, and although I like Peter Gibbs, I wince at episodes hosted by Eric Robson, who manages to be jolly and disdainful in the same breath. The conflicting and/or bad advice given by the expert panel can become wearing (why did they just advise listeners not to bother doing a big tidy up of last season’s fallen rose leaves? David Austin experts told me the February clean-up is a golden rule for preventing ills like blackspot, and I believe them.) I do appreciate many of the insights from panellists like Bob Flowerdew and pest expert Pippa Greenwood, despite her recent broad slur against gardening blogs. About 50 minutes per episode.
    6. HearSay with Cathy Lewis and Jim Orband
      Feed URL: http://www.whro.org/home/html/podcasts/hearsay/podcast.xml
      This podcast from Virginia would be much higher up the list if it were more frequent, but Jim Orband only joins Cathy once a month, and their chat doesn’t have its own feed, so you need to keep an eye on the episodes and download the ones with Jim. He takes phone-in questions from listeners, and his willingness to share knowledge (and gardeners’ hunger to learn) is wonderful to behold — listen and marvel as he gives out his e-mail address for people to send in extra questions. I do like the banter between Cathy and Jim; she’s a truly likable host.
    7. North Country Public Radio – Cooperative Extension horticulturist Amy Ivy talks to Todd Moe
      Feed URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/TopStoriesFromNCPR
      Amy’s interviews with Todd are too new to me to rank higher on the list, and like the Cathy Lewis podcast, this is another one that doesn’t break out its gardening into a separate feed. But I’m now watching out every Monday for Amy’s segment, which gives practical, seasonal advice I appreciate. About 10 minutes per show.
    8. Dean of Green
      Feed URL: http://www.wglt.org/podcasts/Dean_of_Green.xml
      Sultry-voiced Laura Kennedy speaks to Don Schmidt of the Illinois State University School of Biological Sciences. Laura’s incessant station identification (WGLT) is irritating, but Don Schmidt is incredibly knowledgeable and his enthusiasm is infectious. I’ve picked up a few useful tips on everything from moving peonies to the biological inner workings of plants. Super short, only about seven minutes per episode. Don takes questions from anyone, anywhere, just submit yours online at — yes, you guessed it — WGLT.org.

    Attention broadcasters and bloggers – we want more, quality gardening podcasts. Why has the Scotland’s Gardens podcast has gone off air? And someone tell me why the otherwise useful and veg-centric UK online gardening community GardenersClick.com has made its GC podcast unsubscribable-to. (You can only listen to it within the walled garden of GardenersClick. Must do better, GardenersClick.) There must be hundreds of thousands of gardeners out there who, like me, would love to listen more and learn more, and would certainly be disposed to remember the names of sponsors who back such podcasts.

    Do you know any other good gardening podcasts I could listen to? Do tell.

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