Simply the rose

“There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.”

[Ralph Waldo Emerson]

A celebration this week, if you will, of the roses of my garden. I have six, all but one of them bought from David Austin in the days when my tastes were all for flouncy, feminine, pink double or apricot flowers. It’s funny how tastes change, and currently I prefer the single roses, especially even the wild roses like the dog rose, Rosa canina. If I were to plant my garden again, I would include more of the simple roses. But I am content with these that I have, for they are as beautiful as can be in their first flush.

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I moved these roses in November of 2017 from the shaded, parched soil of our front garden where they had been suffering from the peregrinations of the privet hedge’s roots. Their new home is the back garden, where they now receive a good 6 hours of daylight and a much better soil. They have rewarded me with a fine first flush, although it was a bad year to move anything. I wasn’t to know that we were about to enter such a dry summer, and perhaps would have thought twice if I had.

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I managed a rose or two from each of the six of my roses: ‘Tess of the D’Urbevilles’ is the dark ruby red. ‘The Lady Gardener’ is an apricot pink, a slightly more simple flower than the pale pink ‘A Shropshire Lad’. The white rose is ‘Tranquility’, while ‘Boscobel’ is not sure what colour it is, and nor am I. Over-smoked salmon? Old dame’s lipstick? Rio sunset? David Austin’s website describes it as coral-pink, with ‘numerous small petals, of varying shades’ mingling together. Finally, at the very bottom left is a rose from our local garden centre called ‘Many Happy Returns’ (see what they did there?) in palest waxy pink, a simpler rose that more reflects my evolving tastes, and just too pretty for words, but sadly scentless.

This is the prancing petticoats style of arrangement I possibly had in mind when I chose my David Austin roses almost four years ago (I also had in mind ancient houses with fat pink roses over mullioned windows, and other romantic, whimsical scenes that are hard to recreate in a Victorian city tenement). The whole thing was good fun to set up, really it was, and definitely worth the ticking off I got from my husband when the petals collapsed with great drama and tragedy onto the floor below, where they stayed for several days.

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In a vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I recommend following the link to see what she and many other garden bloggers across the world have found to put in a vase today.

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Two Lavenders

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Most of the plants in my grandmother’s Derbyshire garden seemed exhausted and almost visibly panting in the relentless sunshine and heat that has been blazing down these past weeks. But two plants were noticeably enjoying themselves in this most un-English climate: English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), and its unrelated Mediterranean friend, cotton lavender (Santolina chamaecyparissus). Covered in bees, both plants basked happily in the sun, their tiny silvery leaves perfectly designed to reflect the light and resist transpiration.

The flowers of cotton lavender are usually a bright dandelion yellow. This, coupled with its tendency to bulldoze over any nearby plants, makes it somewhat unpopular with many gardeners, myself included. But my grandmother’s cotton lavender flowers are of a more forgiveable lemon hue, an almost restful colour, which stands it in better stead for vases.

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At some point during my stay, I managed to snatch five minutes and a pair of scissors. A tuft of both lavenders and a tug of dried grass from the hedgerow made for one of the quickest vases I have ever created. Then it was straight back to my book on the seat under the shade of the walnut tree. It wasn’t just the plants that were wilting in the sunshine!

In a vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I’m looking forward to seeing the flowers that she and other garden bloggers have managed to salvage from the drought or will it be mainly dried grasses this week?

EDIT: As mention in my comment below, it seems that this lemon yellow Santolina may not be S. chamaecyparissus, but another species in the same genus.

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Blank Page/Empty Garden

Anyone who has ever written anything, from school essay to holiday postcard to first novel to tardy blog post is familiar with the tyranny of the blank page. Enough has been written on that subject, and I am sure that plenty has been written on the subject of starting a garden from scratch on an empty site (not least on these pages). But has any gardener-writer asked us why the white sheet of paper is an object of dread yet the empty garden site gives us thrills of joy?

Or, at least, it gives me thrills of joy. The realisation that the front garden needed redoing from scratch (again) came to me at roughly the same time as the realisation that I hadn’t written about my front garden for many weeks. At first I thought that my not writing about the garden was because I was too busy and tired from my day job. Then the busy period ended, but I still didn’t want to write about the garden. After all, what was there to write about? Once the tulips were over (and my garden does tulips very well), there was little else to revel in. My dear readers’ attention wouldn’t have been held for long by the single heuchara that looked all right, or the lonely Astrantia ‘Buckland’ that had come into bloom beside the Salvia ‘Caradonna’, in the one corner of the garden that looked relatively well. There wasn’t much to look at elsewhere, other than dying Narcissus foliage and a peony that refused to flower for the second year in a row.

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Single good-looking Heuchera
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Salvia ‘Caradonna’ coming in to bloom beside Astrantia ‘Buckland’

I was surprised by how poorly the front garden had looked in 2016, and again in 2017, compared with the floral exuberance I managed to produce in its first year, 2015. For surely the plants — and my expertise — should have been more established twelve and twenty-four months later. Was my successful 2015 just beginner’s luck? The photo below shows the garden in July 2017. Yes, it’s full of green at first glance. But the bare patches and general lack of flowers are noticeable on closer inspection. No amount of moving pots around can make up for the core faults.

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July 2017
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No amount of moving pots around…

In the end, a chance remark by my neighbour solved the mystery of my diminishing garden. Our street is lined with beautiful mature sycamore trees that shade the front garden for a good proportion of the day in summer. My neighbour mentioned that in late 2014 the council had cut the trees significantly back in order to do works on the pavement. Hence, the garden received a great deal more light in 2015. By summer 2016, the trees had regrown to their original sizes. A second factor was that in creating the garden, the earth had been dug over entirely and all the large roots from the sycamores, and also the hedge that surrounds the garden, had been removed. Now these had likely grown back and were taking up all the nutrients and water that I was trying to offer to my own plants.

Clearly the design I had made in 2015 and the plants I had chosen were in need of a rethink. I sat on the (now broken) bench with a notepad and made a list of every single plant in the garden, and whether it was doing well or whether it was failing. And importantly, if a plant was doing well, did I like it? Life is too short, and gardens are too small, to contain plants that you don’t love, however healthy and happy they might seem.

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Broken bench

Some, like the non-flowering peony, the oriental poppy whose flowers lasted about four seconds in the perpetual wind,  and a woeful acanthus that was desperate for sun and nutrition, were clearly in need of a move to the sunnier and more sheltered back garden. Others, like my heucheras, hostas, ferns, meadow rue and alliums were perfect keepers. And what about plants I didn’t own but would do perfectly here? The RHS plant finder helped me seek out drought-tolerant shade lovers such as Liriope and Japanese anemones. And a helpful response to my email to the RHS for advice about topiariable (if that’s a word) evergreens suitable for my conditions gave me many more ideas for structural plants to consider.

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Hosta ‘Halcyon’
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Meadow Rue (Thalictrum)

I am now at the stage of considering the layout of my small 6 x 8-metre rectangle. It needs to be both practical and delightful, making full use of the space while making it seem more spacious. I want to inject a sense of mystery and intrigue, a winding path, an archway to areas that are hidden from immediate view, and of course a small dark pool. What materials I will use, the eventual shape and how it will all come together is yet to be determined.

I am extremely fortunate to have arranged a gap between work contracts this autumn, permitting me a good month or so in which I can undertake my garden planning and redesign. As the plans take shape and progress, there will once more be a great deal to write about.

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Clematis ‘Filigree’ which does well in the front garden and will stay
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Window boxes of Erigeron and applemint being about the only exuberant things in the garden

 

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Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ with camellia and Cotinus ‘Dusky Maiden. Potted plants in the front garden do much better than those in the ground, because the trees and hedge cannot steal the nutrients.

Fruits of Summer

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This has to be the best time of year for filling a vase with bountiful, colourful flowers, then still having enough flowers to fill … let me count … eleven other vases (some are admittedly just bud vases). I ran out of surfaces before I ran out of flowers.

I seem to recall using this black jug for August’s colourful bounty last year. Nothing else seems to do them proper justice, and the bright flame colours of late August suit it down to the ground. It’s also been a while since Mr Pig made a cameo; he usually lives on the hearth but he was in a festival mood so I let him join in and I think he made a very fine turn, don’t you?

In the vase are a multitude of pot mariogolds, Cosmos ‘Sweet Sixteen’, Dahlia ‘Totally Tangerine’, a stem of my miracle pinks, elderberries, a bit of the enormous fuchsia in the far corner of our back green, a stem of Centaura montana and some ripening blackberries. Has anyone else noticed that the blackberries are ripe much earlier this year? I normally bank on a blackberrying trip the second or third weekend in September, but I see I shall need to get my skates on and make haste to my secret blackberrying spot a bit sooner.

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So now the flat is also filled with small vases full of sweetpeas, nasturtiums, borage, cosmos and marigolds on every bookshelf, fireplace and table. How I love this time of year, and will miss it in the dead of winter when all I have are foraged twigs and dried alliums sprayed silver.

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I do recommend visiting her page and seeing what she has found in the garden for a vase today, along with many other garden bloggers across the world.

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Bottled Summer

I’ve recently become fixated on the idea of water; in particular of under-water scenes, of pools and ponds, of drifting with fishes among reeds. I think it started six months ago when I began swimming regularly in the huge Commonwealth pool. There are no reeds or fishes in the swimming pool (although wouldn’t that make it a lot more interesting?) but I like the endless blue, the way noise ceases the moment you put your head under, the silent wafting legs of the other swimmers, the distant corners and the tiles moving slowly past.

In my endless replanning of the garden I have realised there needs to be a pool of some kind. As a child, it was my rule that no valid garden would lack water. It didn’t matter if it was a large formal rectangle with lillies, or a tumbling stream, or the infamous Chatsworth ‘Squirty Tree’, or even a damned bird bath. As soon as we entered a garden I was on the look out for (what my mother shudders to call) the ‘water feature’. All hell to plants; any garden that failed to provide water was not a garden worth visiting.

I’m not sure what form the water will take here in our front garden. Perhaps an old zinc bath filled with judiciously chosen aquatic plants (some submerged for oxygenation, some for floating flowers). It will be kept filled by the generous Scottish sky, and no doubt I shall spend a lot of time fishing leaves out of it.

Meanwhile, I have satisfied my hankering for underwater scenes by bottling summer in a Kilner jar for Cathy’s In a Vase on Monday. No, it’s not strictly a vase, but when has that ever bothered Cathy, who is always of a generous spirit in these matters? I’ve got away with worse than this before…

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Now they only block the sun

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Autumn came to Edinburgh around the middle week of June, and stayed. With daytime temperatures ranging from 13 to 16 degrees, and perhaps an hour or two of sunshine per day, as well as about a litre of rainfall every hour, it’s amazing I have any flowers to show you at all. Taking photographs with this light shortage has also been challenging, as has actually getting outside and doing the jobs that need to be done without drowning. So many things I would have done in the garden … but clouds got in the way.

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But here they are, my old reliables: Dahlia ‘Totally Soaking Wet’, Calendula ‘Wish I Was In India’, Salvias ‘Nae Warm’ and ‘Can I Put The Heating On’, sweetpea ‘We Don’t Care What The Weatherman Says’ and Persicaria ‘Baltic’. Also in the mix, the last of the feverfew, a blade of crocosmia, borage, carnation, echinops (always looks better in a vase than in the garden), fuchsia, and elderberries. All were extremely grateful to be brought indoors.

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In a Vase On Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and I do recommend visiting her page and seeing her vase as well as following links to all the vases put together by garden bloggers across the world today.

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Miracle pinks

A simple jar of pinks for this week’s In a Vase on Monday, hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.

Last year our tiny terrace was lined with these pinks, which I dug up in autumn to make way for tulips. Lack of time and lack of space (two of the world’s most universal, perennial challenges) meant that the clumps of pinks stayed on the bricks, roots and all exposed to frost, rain and wind, the entire winter long. This spring I found a space for them in the tiny bit of garden vacated by my neighbour who moved away. The miraculous pinks are still thriving today.

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In a daze on Monday

Picked hastily on a Monday night are sweetpeas, dahlias, buddleia, verbena, and poppy seed heads.

I was in a race with the dying light at about 7pm. (If you were thinking that this photo looks as though it was taken on a bright afternoon, my thanks go to a tripod and Lightroom.)

I was also preoccupied with

  1. finding I had just watered my Canon 10-22mm lens
  2. my plan to tear up the front garden and start again

Which is why none of the flowers are facing the right way.

In a vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and I do recommend visiting her page to discover many other Monday arrangers of garden flowers in vases.

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All the colours of the sun

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All colours are of the sun, and are good.

— Elizabeth Goudge

With July’s sunshine come the colourful flowers – bright pot marigolds and tangerine Californian poppies, scarlet Achillea, purple salvias, geraniums and catmint, and sweetpeas of every hue. July is the month when I switch from wondering what on earth I can spare for a vase, to wondering what I can leave out. Soon I’ll have dahlias, cosmos, persicaria, Verbena bonariensis and more sweetpeas than I can shake a stick at, many varieties new to me this year. The pinkish sweetpea in the picture is the first of my ‘Spanish Dancer’ to bloom.

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The sun blazed this morning as I sat on the top garden step and surveyed my small, buzzing, colourful kingdom, leaping up for my camera when a flighty red admiral settled first on the hot stone wall, then the railings, then a garden chair.

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In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I recommend visiting her page to see hers and links to all the other vases created by garden bloggers across the world, whether filling them with the abundant delights of high summer, or the precious blooms of midwinter.

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