End of month view: May 2015

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May 31st 2015
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May 31st 2015

If anyone in Edinburgh didn’t complain about the cold, wet weather of May, it was the owner of a new garden of entirely new plants, whose undeveloped root systems were happy not to cope with warmth and dryness quite yet. What the plants didn’t appreciate this month, however, was the wind. It’s a breezy little manor, this front garden, situated as it is on a North-to-South street, and the gales whip up against the tall buildings and beat back down upon the front gardens like nobody’s business. I can look out at the back green behind the tenement, calm as a monastery, then cross over and look out to the front and see my tulips and daisies practically flattened by insane, punishing winds.

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May 3st 2015
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Same view: April 2015

This month brought big changes, from a newly painted shed and bench, new plants, and welcome (if late) blooms. Here are the same views from April. You’ll see that the very attractive rusting incinerator is still in pride of place. Perhaps it will have found a new home by June’s end of month view; we’ll see.

You’ll see from my pictures that the garden is a hotch-potch of experiments. I have been buying whichever plants I like the look of, either that I have admired on other people’s blogs, or have read about in my collection of gardening books, or seen blooming nicely in my neighbours’ front gardens or in the garden centre. Still not quite au fait with the garden itself, its habits of sun and shade, of soil type and drainage, wind direction and so forth, I am working under the expensive but interesting principle of throwing plants in and seeing what sticks. Later this month I’ll write a post specifically on the successes and failures to date. Once it becomes apparent which plants are doing happily, I’ll divide and spread those so that the garden is full of a narrower selection of lush, healthy plants. At the same time I’ll dig out and remove the ones that haven’t done well, whether because of the wind or the shade, or because (like the rather leggy, ragworty daisies just visible in the pictures) I simply haven’t taken a shine to them.

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Late Tulipa ‘Menton’, with newly painted bench behind.

The most dramatic blooms came from my long-awaited, enormous, apricot pink late ‘Menton’ tulips. They exceeded my very high expectations and I cannot recommend these beauties enough, especially if you want to extend your tulip season to May — or even, if you live in the North, into June. If you’re interested in why this tulip is named Menton, just Google for images of the beautiful apricot pink town of Menton, France, and you’ll see.

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Late Tulipa ‘Menton’

The three alliums that I bought at Bodnant in March have done well, and I hope they will self-seed and spread a bit. Now that I know they do all right here, I will certainly increase these next year as they provide important height before the foxgloves kick in.

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Allium

And can anyone else claim to have alliums blooming alongside narcissi? These narcissi I rescued from a tub I had created last year and replanted in January along with the tulips.

IMG_0069The hostas have been attacked by that aforementioned vicious predator, the wind, so while they remain virgin of slug nibbles, I am sorry to see that the beautiful leaves have been ripped mercilessly in several places.

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Hosta ‘Devon Green’
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Hosta ‘Patriot’
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Surprise hosta

This green and yellow hosta was a lovely surprise. The only reason I hadn’t turned out and reused this clay pot of unpromising bare soil, which had been left in the garden by the previous occupier, was that it was acting as a weight on the bottom shelf of the cold frame. Then I noticed unexpected shoots poking through, hastily bought it out and watered it, and shortly appeared the gift of this little hosta. I shall try to divide and repot it at some point.

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Ajuga reptans
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Heuchera
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Heuchera
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Fern

Elsewhere, we have Ajuga reptans, two lovely new heucheras (I couldn’t decide on the colour so bought both), and this gorgeous new fern, which I thought contrasted beautifully with the faun-brown of the shed. I’ve gone through my bag of labels but I fear the labels for these latter three are in a pot in the cold frame so I’ll fill their names in when I’ve retrieved them.

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Regrowing privet hedge

The hedge is growing back, thankfully, vindicating its heavy pruning; the Brazilian had been saying ‘You’ve gone and killed it’ for weeks, till now.

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Potatoes in collapsible growers. The wind has split and torn their leaves.

The potatoes are doing fine in their collapsible potato growers. I’ve had mixed feelings about these growers, finding that non-rigid sides are possibly detrimental to watering and plant stability, although doubtless I’ll appreciate them more when it’s time to fold them up and stow them for the winter. Also, I’ve diverted the large rigid planters I used last year to different purposes, namely to repot the pear tree I haven’t had time to plant out, and the rose (David Austin’s climbing Tess of the D’Urbevilles) which the builders promised most fervently to kill should they find it still in place when they come to put in our French door.

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Seedlings, out of the coldframe at last

Finally, here are the seedlings I sowed this winter/spring, enjoying their first few days out of the cold frame. (They had to go hastily back inside this week, as early June night temperatures dipped back down to four or five degrees). We have delphiniums, penstemon, aubretia, white cosmos, and a clematis cutting that I did not expect to survive the winter, or the snail attacks, in our rented back garden. Not in the picture is my single experimental dahlia, ‘Cafe au lait’, and two honeysuckles, Serotina and Tellmann’s, rescued from a Morrison’s sale shelf, 99p each and in utter, hopeless despair after a long, sunless in-store sojourn. In fact, they looked about as happy as I do after time spent in a supermarket. Needless to say they’ve bounced back after a week or two outside in the garden.

June will bring a few challenges. The Brazilian took me to the flat last night and proudly displayed the bathroom, which now has not only no basin, lavatory or bath, but no flippin’ floor, before taking me into the kitchen, whose sink has gone the same way. ‘How am I going to water the plants?’ I wailed. I must be the only person scanning the weather forecast in hopes of rain rather than sun. I foresee trips to the flat in the car with buckets, jugs, cans and tubs of water.

End of month view is hosted by Helen at the Patient Gardener.

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End of Month View: April 2015

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IMG_0048I am posting this EOMV a few days late as I was in Cumbria until Friday, and it was too gloomy and/or chucking it down for taking photographs all day Saturday and Sunday, while the forecast for the Bank Holiday Monday was excellent, a light breeze and sun with temperatures reaching a tropical 13 degrees, so I decided to wait. And now I am back in Cumbria and finally have a moment to upload and edit the photographs. I am sure Helen of The Patient Gardener, who hosts End of Month View, will be forgiving of my tardiness.

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March 2015
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March 2015

These past two weeks have been extremely cold and damp in Scotland, with several frosts and even snow, so although I rushed back to Edinburgh in the hope of being met with a garden full of glorious blooms and luxuriant foliage, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that things looked much as they did (perhaps five percent larger) when I left them in mid-April. Even my narcissi are not out yet.

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Narcissi not out

A few happy developments have occurred, though. Firstly, my cherry tree has blossomed. Not an abundance of blossom, just a dotting of tiny white flowers, a mere handful, but blossom all the same. Secondly, some of my tulips, T. greigii ‘Toronto’ have bloomed. An internet search suggests I might expect more than one flower from each bulb, and that unlike many tulips they naturalise easily. Perhaps we will find out, but not next year as the whole tulip bed here at the front nearest the flat will be dug over for proper planting after this lot of bulbs are over. I should mention that the tulip bed exists only because I had to get my bulbs in somewhere, anywhere, while the garden was still a building site, and so I created this small rectangle thinking at least it would result in something nice to look at among all the mess, little knowing that several other plants would be planted and blooming long before any of the tulips showed their faces.

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Other tulips still not out

Among other developments, the hostas and alliums are doing well, and I have planted out my sweetpeas. There are 64 plants in total: madness for such a small garden. Luckily I was able to find space for them all; next year I won’t be able to go quite so crackers. Anyway, with the sweetpeas out of the coldframe I had space to stow my germinated seedstrays of aubrieta and cosmos. The delphiniums are growing nicely, too nicely in fact as some are even a little pot-bound. I have far too many for my own garden and so have promised a few to the very kind people I have been staying with in Cumbria.

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Hosta Devon Green
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Hosta Devon Green
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Sweetpeas
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Allium

A root that I planted in early March, and wrung my hands over for a long time for not appearing, has finally shown a shoot. I was so anxious about the non-appearance of this plant, a great favourite of mine, that The Brazilian picked up on its name and went through a phase of pointing at any random plant and asking if it was a ‘pianese’. At length it turned out he meant ‘peonies’. This weekend mine, a ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ has finally shown a tiny shoot. I would have taken a photo but it needed a macro lens.

I have a couple of new plants: a Tiarella and a Lithodora ‘Heavenly Blue’, both of which sound like names a reality TV celeb would give to a child. I also received a sweet little aquilegia from my sister who bought it on a stall. The tag simply said ‘aquilegia’ so it will be fun to see what colour it turns out to be. Place your bets below.

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Lithodora ‘Heavenly Blue’
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Tiarella

 

Absence makes the plants grow faster

Next to sunshine and warmth, the best thing to help a growing garden along its way is not to constantly watch it, or so I’ve found in the past few weeks as I’ve dashed straight from Derbyshire to Portugal to Cumbria with barely a second to draw breath or do any laundry. In those frantic few hours between destinations I just about managed to water my seedlings, but apart from that, almost three weeks had passed before I was able to spend last weekend in the garden and take a proper look at progress.

And quel progress. The sunshine had been working hard during my absence, and the plants, far from dying pathetically without my unremitting attention, had instead shot up, bloomed, spread, and be-decked themselves with leaves, without any supervision from me at all.

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Crocosmia sprouting

The crocosmia, which I divided up from the large potted specimen in our rented back garden, after a hesitant start, is sprouting healthy green blades from its new position by the hedge and the gate. I am intending it to grow up and over to flop slightly across the edge of the path. Indeed I am hoping for a lot of general plant-flopping over the edge of the path in order to soften the edge somewhat and create a less formal, more casual, romantic look.

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Hosta Devon Green
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Hosta Patriot

The hostas, Devon Green and Patriot, which I despaired of ever seeing, are at last visible. I adore shining, healthy hostas and am so thrilled that mine are both arriving. I can’t wait to see what they will eventually look like. These are both on the shady side of the path where again I hope they will soften the hard line of the edging.

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Hurrah for my Primula denticulata, the drumstick primulas! They are the most cheerful thing in the garden, these uplifting, gravity-defying lollipops, and I just adore them for all the healthy, vibrant colour they have supplied throughout this recent time of sparsity when I had little else going on bloom-wise. Imagine: this lot were originally a single plant, which I divided last autumn, and this year I should get another two or three plants from further divisions. Wonderful things.

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Hydrangea macrophylla

This hydrangea is weeks behind everyone else’s (I do a great deal of glancing over other people’s front garden fences as I walk along; don’t you?) as it was a rather sickly thing when I bought it on the sale shelf of the garden centre. But it has been persuaded out in to leaf by the recent warm weather and I hope that a year of love and attention will stand it in good stead for lots of future blooms, which I believe will turn out to be bluey-white.

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Muscari

I am very pleased with these fat, healthy muscari, which fade from Delft blue to palest sky at the tips. Not bad for a Homebase impulse buy. You may have noticed from this and all my pictures that each plant is rather lonesome in its area of bare soil. I have plans for the bare patches, in short my white cosmos, delphinium Pacific hybrid, and aubrieta seedlings, and some dark ‘Black Paeony’ poppies which I will sow directly into the soil next weekend.

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‘Denim’ primula

This odd little ‘Denim’ primula was a novelty Easter gift from my mother last year. It stayed outside all winter, alternately drowning and parching, and I am quite amazed that it has forgiven this treatment so generously by coming back into bloom here at the edge of the path. It is a funny-looking plant, but I am quite fond of it.

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Morello cherry, with developing blossom buds just visible.

Now here is one of my most exciting horticultural treats: a morello cherry tree. One of the things I most wanted was to look out of the front window and see blossom in the spring. This tree, presently about 4′ tall, is planted in the furthest corner of the garden in a position calculated to overcast as little of the precious bed space as possible, the garden being shaded enough by buildings and large trees as it is. The morello cherry is one of the few fruit trees that will tolerate shade, and since the front garden receives only about 4 hours of sunlight in the summer (almost none in the winter), this was an easy choice. I am delighted that blossom is developing on the spindly branches; you can just about see the buds in the lower of the two photographs.

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Bearded Irises: ‘Dusky Challenger’ and ‘Frost and Flame’

These bearded irises ‘Dusky Challenger’ and ‘Frost and Flame’ were chosen to contrast against one another. They are planted in the sunniest patch just behind the edge of the path.

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Helleborus x sahiini ‘Winter Bells’

Hellebore season is somewhat over now that so many other plants have advanced onto the stage, but I should mention this ‘Winter Bells’ of miniature blush-and-coffee flowers that I bought on sale from Crocus and planted near to the cherry tree, where it has settled in very well. It is so cheerful and I am looking forward to seeing its charming blooms next winter when little else is on show in the garden.

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Bergenia Eroica

Another triumphant, cheerful display here from my Bergenia Eroica, bought at the garden centre at Bodnant Garden in Wales. I have just flicked back through my blog to remind myself of its name, and in doing so saw from the photos I posted in March’s End of Month View how much everything, including this, has grown and spread in just this short space of time. The ability to photographically track these week-to-week developments is one of the many advantages of garden blogging.

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Acanthus hungaricus

And here comes my Acanthus hungaricus, which I bought to compensate for the death of the self-seeded acanthus that was growing out of my mother’s compost heap and which she gave me last summer. I was so taken with her acanthus, with its striking, tall flower heads, that I knew I had to have one of my own. The hungaricus is slightly more delicate in colour and habit than the more usual mollis, I am led to believe.

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Tulipa

And is that a tulip ‘Menton’ flower bud just coming through? I am looking forward to seeing these in bloom very much, having planted them in a panic very late in January. Tulips are probably my favourite spring bulb, and the ‘Menton’ should turn out to be the most elegant, pretty apricot pink colour.

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Potato bags

Finally my potato bags. I’m afraid I cannot tell you the name of the potatoes I am growing inside these bags because I am typing this 130 miles away in Cumbria instead of in my office at home in Edinburgh where I keep the tags from all the plants I buy, ready to be organised into a file. But they are sprouting well and being earthed up, and watered too (hopefully) by The Brazilian, who is being a good egg at keeping the garden extremely well hydrated in my absence. I have been in Cumbria all this week and weekend, and won’t be home till next weekend, so The B has promised to send photos of the tulips and cherry blossom should they come out while I am away. And I of course will post photos of the garden next weekend for my End of Month View.

End of month view: March 2015

When a project becomes an obsession, it consumes your time, your money, your thoughts, your very soul. The front garden of our new flat has been my obsession for the past three months. During this time I have thought of little else, spent money on little else, used my free time for little else than digging, planting, heaving unwieldy loads of concrete, earth, gravel, and armfuls of hedge, from here, to there, to back here again, to the car, to the tip, to hell and back, it sometimes seemed. And it was all in pursuit of an aesthetic vision that was sometimes hazy, sometimes felt unachievable, but drove me on through sleet, rain, sub-zero temperatures and aching muscles…

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November 2014

Do you remember this? This was the garden that we bought in November 2014, with its concrete paving and overgrown shrubs.

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January 2015

And this was the view at the end of January 2015, shrubs gone but privet hedge still very much the boss.

I played around with different garden layouts on quadrant paper. The shed would go in the darkest corner, along with a small compost heap. I wanted a curving path leading from this to the gate, and an area to sit and admire the view, with space for potted plants and a climbing rose. There would be a sunny bed, a shady bed, and a blossom tree in the North West corner where it would not overshadow the beds too much.

What to edge the borders with, and what to tread underfoot? My first edging choice was wood, but I could not find a source of what I considered to be inoffensive wooden edging. Plastic? Eugh! Bricks? Pretty, but my Aunt Kate warned me that they harbour slugs. Everedge? Have you seen the price of that stuff? I am not Rockefeller. On with the search. But search as I might, the only viable option seemed to be Everedge. Bendable, long-lasting, attractive and a piece of cake to install, it was screaming ‘Perfect’ to me. But the price… ouchio.

Fine. Maybe I could find the funds for Everedge. I would turn off the heating and rifle through bins for my lunch. Before long, I convinced myself that three figures for garden edging that would eventually be hidden under clouds of lavender and catmint was entirely reasonable, and soon enough five heavy slabs of dark brown Everedge arrived on my doorstep.

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Here is the shady bed outlined in Everedge. Finally, a garden is emerging, a garden no longer dominated by a very bossy hedge.

Now for the paths. Having admired the reclaimed brick paths of more than one garden blogger, I think this would have been the option had I had more time, energy and money at this stage. Grass was a no-no (too much upkeep, not enough sun). Flagstones? Ah, sigh. Probably six times the cost of the Everedge. What about gravel? It is inexpensive, quick to lay, free-draining and not wholly unattractive. What’s more, it gives a pleasing crunch underfoot.

20150330_130249-2On Monday, we took delivery of a package that was too big for the letterbox.

Spreading the gravel was surprisingly fun. Perhaps not the back-breaking part where we shovelled it out of the bag into the wheelbarrow, but definitely the pouring out and combing it smooth with a rake. Ah, that lovely crunch; the satisfying way it smoothed over the sins of the bumpy, muddy, rocky ground below; the contrast of the dark soil, black Everedge outline, pinky-grey paths…

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IMG_0043And so here, at last, is my End of Month View: March 2015. Ta-da!

It will look even better once the plants are more than an inch high. So, exactly what plants do we have?

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Well, this is Scotland, after all. A wee winter heather…

IMG_0032Leaf buds reluctantly emerging on a hydrangea aspera ‘Macrophylla, which I bought for a song from the garden centre sale shelf.

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A yellow honeysuckle for the railings. The honeysuckle is in a race with the weather… I need to paint the railings, but cannot until the temperature reaches 10 degrees on a dry day, by which time the honeysuckle may have begun winding around the railings. Come on, sunshine!

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Cyclamen, from Bodnant, to naturalise under the morello cherry tree…

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… and a Bergenia Eroica, also from Bodnant, just coming into bloom. The foliage will turn to ruby red in winter.

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And my beloved drum primulas, divided from the vigorous specimen I planted in our rented flat’s front garden last spring. This one will be divisible again before long, and is working hard to give my mostly bare garden some delightful spring colour.

IMG_0008And another vigorous primula, again divided from clumps in our rented garden.

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The white tulips, Menton tulips and white narcissi that I planted very late in January are bursting through the soil in a most gratifying manner.

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Alliums are a garden must, in my opinion. This is one of several that I bought from Bodnant’s inspirational garden centre. It does not appreciate the wind that has been howling through the depleted privet and damaging its long, floppy leaves.

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A camellia japonica ‘Mathotiana Rosea’, also from Bodnant. The Brazillian had been sitting an exam in North Wales while I borrowed his car for a blissful morning at Bodnant, and he did raise an eyebrow when I brought his car back to him filled with a jungle of new plants. The camellia is in a pot of ericaceous compost. The soil in Scotland tends to be acidic, but I have not tested ours, so the pot is to be on the safe side.

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A garden is not a garden without roses. My darling Granny gave me a generous birthday cheque, and with it I raided David Austin’s virtual shelves for five roses; here are two: a climbing Shropshire Lad for around the sitting room window (joined by a clump of ‘borrowed’ snowdrops from our rented garden), and a yellow Lady Gardener, the latter sprouting famously already…

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..while my poor hellebore ‘Double Ellen Red’ is doing rather less famously. It caught a fungus while wrapped in winter fleece, and I am not convinced it will make it back to the land of the living. One lives in hope…

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And where is my hosta Devon Green? No where to be seen… yet.

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A geranium pokes a cautious head forth through the stony soil. I can’t recall its name.

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Two pots… the first contains a lily, whose shoot excitingly appeared yesterday. I transplanted these inherited muscari into the pot to make it look less empty. The second contains dianthus, bugle and stonecrop, all going cheap at Homebase.

And I’ve been busy sowing seeds…

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… sweetpeas…

and

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delphiniums…

Still to sow: black poppies, white cosmos, apricot foxgloves…

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Here is my new compost heap, currently containing privet hedge and leaves, shredded down. Our soil is desperate for some organic matter, though this won’t be ready for a year or two.

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And the privet is already growing back! Privets use a lot of nutrition, and if you don’t directly feed them they sap the nutrients from the soil, leaving other plants gasping. I have poured what seems like gallons of liquid feed onto the roots (which are fully cleared of the half-foot of dead leaves), plus generous handfuls of chicken manure pellets and wood ash. All this will help it grow back healthily without depleting the soil.

So, there we have it. Plenty of sweat and toil, and plenty more to do. And I couldn’t have done it without my friends… The Cousin, who uprooted the cotoneaster, then dug over the entire garden without even being asked to, before single-handedly pushing the damaged wall back into place. My friend Fiona, who donated a sunny afternoon to helping me hack back the hedge. And The Brazillian, who kept me company on tip-trips, helped me heave the concrete, spread the gravel and burn the shrubbery as well as supplying constant cheering-on, encouragement, and not a little patience.

End of Month View is hosted by Helen at The Patient Gardener. Do visit her blog and find out what she and other garden bloggers have been up to this month.

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A Privet Education

Today we are going to learn all about Privet Hedges.

But Miiss,  privet hedges are so booooring.

That is correct. They are the most boring type of hedge on the planet.

Can’t we learn about something cool, Miss, like frog-spawn or venus fly traps?

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Why are those leaves that funny colour?

Not today. Now, here we have a very big privet hedge that has expansionist ambitions, and we know what that means. Treaties will be no good. This hedge will not negotiate. It will be bought into line only with some sort of Blitzkrieg.

Miss, why are those leaves that funny colour?

An excellent question. Although this hedge is acting too big for its boots, inside it is feeling tired and old. Look at all the litter and dead leaves that have piled up behind the netting over the years, stifling air flow and fermenting disease. The hedge cannot breathe. And what else have we learned about discoloured foliage?

Discoloured foliage means that the plant is hungry.

Exactly. And do privet hedges get hungry?

Yes Miss, very hungry. Starving, Miss.

Quite. Not only are privet hedges boring and bullying, they are also greedy. They extract nutrients out of the soil like there’s no tomorrow.

So are we going to kill it Miss! Bish bash bosh! Whack bam! The hedge is dead!

Settle down! My word. We are not in Lord of the Flies. No, we are not going to kill the privet hedge. Besides, you cannot kill a privet hedge. It is impossible. They are invincible. Furthermore, we do not have the time or inclination to go to the trouble of digging it up and replacing it with something more attractive, such as a copper beech, hawthorn or holly, nice though that would be. [Sighs, and looks into the distance.] Now, here are our tools. We have a pruning saw, wire cutter, secateurs, loppers, hedge trimmer (which I alone will handle) and gloves. Let’s get cracking.

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Growing through the netting in a horrible way.
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… pulling the whole wall towards it.

Miss, the branches have grown through this wire netting in a horrible way. Look Miss, it’s like the hedge has been grabbing the netting and pulling the whole wall towards it.

Good grief. So it has. We must act fast before the wall falls down. Now, we’ll clip out these branches from the netting and cut the netting out, rolling it up as we go along.

 

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Rolling it up as we go along.

Miss, this is knackering.

No grumbling please. We’ve barely started. Tidy up as you go please.

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Living history

Wow, look at all this trapped litter. Miss, look what I’ve found.

What is it?

Old crisp packets Miss, that were stuck down between the netting and the hedge.

Well, you’d better throw them away then.

But Miss, they’re really old. Look, this one says best before October ’91.

Good heavens! That is very old indeed. In fact, I myself was still at primary school when that blew into the hedge.

Wow Miss, you are like living history.

Enough of that. Now stand back, boys and girls. I am going to level the top with this hedge trimmer.

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There, that is done. The hedge is looking much better now. Light can get into the garden more easily, and the hedge will grow back into a nice, neat shape if we clip it regularly, just like the beautiful Morningside hedges one passes on the way to school. [Sighs again, dreaming of tightly clipped Morningside hedges.]

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…tightly clipped Morningside hedges
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Dreaming of…

We will need to pay attention to feeding it every year so that it grows back healthily. Are you paying attention? What are you doing? What is that sinister-looking dense white thing you are pulling out of that inner corner of the wall and hedge, made of what appears to be an old shredded carrier bag and some strange fibrous substance…

I think it’s a large spider’s nest, Miss. More of a citadel in fact.

Aaaaarrrrrghhhh….

 

 

End of Month View: January 2015

Have you ever had one of those frightful dreams in which you are running very fast and yet cannot seem to move at all? That is how my garden (sorry The Brazilian –  our garden) is making me feel. I have spent every weekend of the month at hard labour, and look what there is to show for it: nada (as The B might say). No plants, no shrubs, no flars. Just earth, roots and rubble.

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Just earth, roots and rubble

 

 

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Nothing much going on from this direction either

And then I look back at this photo from December and realise that I have done something (mostly shifted concrete):

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And even more since November, when it all began:

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So when I’m exhausted after a whole day spent digging up enormous roots and feel as though I’ve got nowhere at all…

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Spot the birdie!

… I can stop worrying and know that things are progressing, however slowly.

‘End of month view’ is hosted by Helen at The Patient Gardener.

Edging, Rubble and Hedging Trouble: Resolve and Realise February 2015

cropped-img_0145.jpgThank you to Jen at Duver Diary for starting ‘Resolve and Realise‘, in which we share our gardening to-do lists for the month ahead. I do hope you’ll take part too. I have to admit that while I enjoy reading gardening memes on other people’s blogs, so far I’ve had to be realistic about joining in with them. Given the current state of my garden, there won’t be anything ‘In a Vase on Monday’ for a while to come, and the dark evenings seriously impede on my ability to produce photographic blooms for ‘Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day’. But lists are something I can join in with and even excel at, no matter how dark and miserable it is outside. Our new garden consists of piles of dirty gravel and rubble so there is no shortage of jobs to be done. I’m desperate to get it into decent form in time for summer, and these lists will be perfect for focusing the mind to the task ahead. Furthermore, being relatively new to gardening, I’m not confident about when certain gardening tasks should be done, so following the Resolve and Realise lists of more experienced gardeners will undoubtedly give me some much needed guidance. My list for February: Paint coldframe a lovely shade of white. Start compost heap, mainly for burial of privet remains (see below). Tame horrible privet hedge and rescue the wall it is attacking. Sand and paint garden bench so I have somewhere to sit and admire the bare soil. Mark out and prepare beds for planting so that eventually I have something other than bare soil to admire. Plant honeysuckle, hydrangea, hellebore, sarcococca, hosta. Sow sweetpeas in new root trainers. Buy pear tree for far corner. Lift, divide and replant crocosmia corms. IMG_0220Half the fun of lists is ticking items off. Although I did not make a Resolve and Realise post for January, I made a mental to-do list and this is what I achieved. As you’ll see, I have mainly been shopping: Buy coldframe too late for plants that the frost has already killed. Order garden edging and keep quiet about how much it cost. Paint garden shed in duplicitous shade called ‘Concord Grape’ (AKA white. Was supposed to be stone grey). Order sweetpeas and root trainers which will be the first inhabitants of the coldframe. Buy hedge trimmer. Mend the terrifying bit of wire the seller cut through and ‘soldered’ together. Remove concrete rubble (one final car load for the tip tomorrow morning). Dig out root stumps (four down, three to go).IMG_0300

Bulbs in!

If ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing,’ this was the weekend to test it. The Gods of Weather put all their talents to display, often simultaneously, and gave us blue skies, blizzards, sunshine, 80mph gusts, demented yellow clouds, steady rainfall, the lot. I was outside for around 4 hours each day, but did I get I cold or wet? Heck no. I wore thick boots, jeans, waterproof trousers, two t-shirts, a jumper, a quilted jacket, a sailing jacket, a scarf, a lined woolly hat, and on my hands gardening gloves over marigolds over woollen gloves, and I was as toasty and dry as could be.

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So… did I get those bulbs planted? Hang on a sec, here we’ve got the architect, inside the flat taking measurements for our renovations, now requesting to take photos of the rear elevation of the flat. That means rapid deforestation of the jungle of shrubs and saplings on the back green that have grown so close up to our bedroom window that it seems they are trying, like underdressed teenagers outside a nightclub, to actually get inside the building. So I went outside with the loppers and cleared a three-foot gap, then picked up the rubbish that had accumulated on the ground during the time the flat was lived in by students. The things I found! The usual plant pots, crockery, barbecues, planks of wood and plastic bags, but also a decent tarpaulin, a mouldy folding seat, an unopened bag of grass seed, and a spade in near-perfect condition. I think I also found every snail in the universe.

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Finally, back to the front garden. So, did I get the bulbs in? Hang on a sec, first we have a rhodadendron root bole right where I want to plant the bulbs. So with trowel, crowbar, fork and sheer bloody-mindedness I got that root bole out of the ground. Then the blizzards came…

So, did I get the bulbs in? Hang on a sec, it’s now 5pm, it’s snowing, and I’ve had nothing to eat since breakfast. I hot-footed it to Victor Hugo, and ordered a late lunch.

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Sunday, and it’s raining. No matter, I’ve got my quadruple layers on, and I’m back in the garden. Now, you’ll recall that much of the soil in this garden has been under concrete paving slabs for the past twenty years, and elsewhere it is under gravel, and as a result it is sticky, compressed, full of little pebbles, and devoid of organic matter. There is quite a lot of sand covering the soil too, which they’d used as a base for the paving slabs. I’d previously thought I’d have a job getting rid of all the sand, but now saw that it was a blessing and could be mixed into the sticky soil to improve it. I also had five bags of excellent well rotted horse manure courtesy of the obliging Emily.

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The obliging Emily

Having turned the manure over the soil, I now had a small bed ready for the bulbs. I also prepared a large terracotta pot using compost from a bag I found under the hedge.

So, did I get the bulbs in? YES!

Using the handheld bulb planter that Earth Mother urged me to buy (she was right, everyone should have one), and liberally dousing the planting holes with bone meal and slow release plant food, I planted my lifted white tulips and white narcissi from last year, plus some dwarf tulips T. greigii ‘Toronto’ and some Late Single ‘Menton’ that I had spotted going begging on the shelves of Homebase when I nipped in to buy the bulb planter. I also planted a small pot of Galanthus nivalis because I saw them going begging too; a happy garden has to have snowdrops. The bed is only about the size of a kitchen table, but it’s enough for now. Doesn’t matter that the rest of the garden looks like a building site; this tiny rectangle is going to dazzle with bulbs.

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A blank slate for the New Year

A blank slate of a garden, a bare patch of earth, is a complicated dream. On the one hand it provides a rare and satisfying opportunity for planning, pure creativity, experimentation, and the pleasure of transforming an unattractive area of land into your own personal Eden. On the other hand, transforming said land is time consuming, costly and hard, physical labour.

Last month the Brazilian and I took possession of a small front garden of eight by five metres. It is attached to a small flat on the Southside of Edinburgh, which, through a similar transformative process, is to become our home, once the right walls are knocked through, the dust has settled and we’ve worked out why the north west corner is so damp.

I’ve long had daydreams about what I’m going to do in this garden, but in my daydreams the soil was already lightly tilthed, the earth root- and rock-free, the paths laid out without breaking sweat. Needless to say, it hasn’t been like that in real life. Firstly I should explain that the blank slate wasn’t blank in the beginning. It was edged with a path of concrete slabs and had two dwarf rhodadendrons, an ancient rosemary, two cotoneasters, and various sad looking plastic pots of dead things. More concrete slabs had been laid to create a diamond shape in the centre, and the in-between bits had been filled with gravel. The whole thing was surrounded on three sides by a huge privet hedge that was far too large but at least gave a rare feeling of privacy and quietude for a street-facing garden in the city centre.

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The garden as was. The hedge is overgrown, the concrete ugly, and the rhodadendrons unwanted. A huge cotoneaster near the gate has ideas above its station…
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Sad looking pots of empty soil, self-seeded grass and a single lackadaisical rose stood about.
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The enormous rosemary sadly also had to go: a path is destined to run right over its spot.

It all had to go. First out were the rhodadendrons. Forgive me if you like rhodadendrons. There’s nothing wrong about them, except for being invasive, but I just can’t bear them. There are so many more interesting things to plant in a garden, especially in Edinburgh where just about every other garden for miles has these grinning, shining things bursting across their iron railings. Next were the cotoneasters, a pity because I loved their red berries, as did the practically tame robin that tweeted volubly at me as I decapitated its prickly hideouts. Finally the rosemary, which though venerable was right in the path of my scheme. All this took a lot of lopping, sawing and an iron will pitted against tangled branches and steadfast roots. Then it all had to be dragged through the passage to the backgreen and incinerated on a rainy December Saturday, five hours of chucking branch after branch into the reluctant flames.(Lord, did the burning rosemary smell gorgeous.)

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Stage 1: The slabs have gone, and a pile of cement rubble remains. The plants have also gone and the hedge has been trimmed. The pots are waiting in a corner to be put on Freecycle, save one or two useful ceramic pots which I’ll keep. The sacks contain horse manure courtesy of Emily the Haflinger.

 

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The bench came from eBay and cost £16. It will go under the window where once the enormous cotoneaster flourished.

As for ridding the garden of the concrete slabs, I had a brainwave. ‘Concrete Slabs: free to anyone who can uplift and remove them,’ was the advert I put on Gumtree. The response was quite amazing; I didn’t have to lift a finger. Several different parties came and took what they wanted, and soon every slab had gone. Finally to go was the cement that had fixed the slabs. This was easier for me to crowbar up. A few trips to the tip and it’ll be gone (it’s half done already).

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These cement pieces are heavy but manageable. There are about 4 carloads left to take to the tip.

 

Next task: to lay out the plan!