The last of the summer flowers

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I’ve been intending to share these flowers with you for several weeks, and here they finally are, not least because having a photograph with a picture of ‘October’ in it is a great motivation to get it published before November.

Life has been busy (isn’t it always) since my garden design course started in September. A raft of assignments ranging from plant recognition tests to essays about pest control, from sketchbooks of ideas for a shady garden to a package of graphics drawn in precariously smudge-able Rotring ink has kept me away from this blog, though not from the garden, I am pleased to report.

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Bright October sunshine, that special, slanting light of long shadows and glistening cobwebs, has invited me on an almost daily inspection of the back garden, where Aster ‘Little Carlow’ has collapsed among the last of the calendulas, while the cosmos and roses seem to flower interminably onwards, and every low-growing plant is losing a daily battle against the inevitable smothering of fallen leaves.

My dahlias, unfortunately, have been a disappointment this year. Flowers were few, and those that came were on short, reluctant stems. What’s more, I have been sent at least one (if not two) incorrect tubers by She Who Charges A Lot And Shall Remain Nameless. The large coral ‘Watermelon’ I had been looking forward to put forth some very pretty but unasked-for pink and yellow flowers, while ‘Linda’s Baby’ was decidedly peachy yellow rather than baby pink. And it’s not just me affected in this way. I’ve noticed others on Instagram complaining of incorrect orders, while one gardener stated that her very best dahlias this summer had come from ‘a cheap bumper pack from Lidl’ and had been far superior to any special cultivars that she had paid a lot more for. Food for thought.

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Meanwhile, the brickwork in the front garden is finally finished! This means that after about a couple of hours’ tidying-up I should be able to take some proper photographs and write a blog post about the maze that has taken me almost a year to complete. Just those pesky assignments to finish first …

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Here in these vases we have what may or may not be Dahlia ‘Linda’s Baby’, some of what is most definitely not D. ‘Watermelon’, and some of what are undoubtedly Cosmos ‘Purity’, Aster ‘Little Carlow’, indomitable caledulas, elderberries, and various salvia sprigs. With these tiny vases, flowers can be swapped in and out as they bloom and fade for an ever-changing mantelpiece scene. In the bedroom, meanwhile, a single Rosa ‘Tranquility’ graces the chest-of-drawers, reminding me to take a deep, luxurious sniff of its lovely scent every time I go to choose a pair of socks.

‘In a vase on Halloween’ is not hosted by Cathy at Rambling In The Garden (sorry I’m late, Cathy!) but if you follow this link you will see her weekly Monday vase as well as those of several more punctual garden bloggers around the world, and it will be no surprise (boo!) to find that more than one of them has gone for a spooky theme.

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Here comes the sun (and I say, it’s all right)

What is it that is so inherently cheerful about a sunflower? This one bears no resemblance to either of the varieties I ordered from Sarah Raven last spring. It should be killing me with its sinister ring of dark bronze juxtaposed with bright yellow. It has an uncanny likeness to Sauron’s glaring eye. And yet I smile whenever I see it.

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Checking back in my records, the variety was supposed to be either the deep red ‘Claret’ or the soft brown and crimson ‘Double Dandy’. I planted a row of each; the slugs ate the back row but somehow spared the front row, which grew into these. Grumble grumble: at Sarah Raven’s prices, one expects the correct wares. But I say, it’s all right. Any flower this sunny can’t put me out of sorts for too long.

I’m thinking of writing a review of all the annuals I’ve grown over the past two or three years: which are reliably successful, which are less so, and which I can’t live without. I think sunflowers may just turn out to be something I grow every year. Borage is an annual that I never need to sow afresh these days: it simply pops up everywhere and anywhere. It’s a wonderful thing to find an annual you like that likes you back with equal enthusiasm. I’d love to know what annuals you sow faithfully each year, which are more miss than hit, which you’ve given up on, and which are reliable self-seeders.

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I recommend visiting her page to see what she and other garden bloggers around the globe have found in the garden to put in a vase today.

 

 

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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A Jam Jar of Spring

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Isn’t May a glorious month? Suddenly so much to choose from! So when picking a quick hand-tied posy for a gardening friend this afternoon, I had no trouble in finding a good handful of airy, laid-back stems. Here we have an allium from my cutting bed, the last of the Narcissus ‘Cheerfulness’, Geum ‘Leonard’s Variety’, bleeding hearts, chive flowers, foraged cow parsley, an elegant buttercup that sprung up among my delphiniums, a final grape hyacinth, Geranium phaeum, forget-me-nots, and a stem of ornamental thistle.

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I also took my friend a courgette plant and a tray of other small seedlings and bits and bobs, and in return received one of her courgettes (a different variety), a geum ‘Totally Tangerine’, and some tiny aquilegias.

We while away a happy afternoon in her garden, admiring her plants, drinking tea, exchanging ideas, and steadfastly not revising for our forthcoming RHS exams.

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In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and I always enjoy visiting her page and following links to all the other vases created by garden bloggers around the world.

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Calm, collected rationality

When I’m faced with the tulip catalogues in August with their cornucopia of offerings in bright jewel colours and curving shapes, just two outcomes prevail: either I go bananas and order almost everything in sight (2016) or I dither until it is too late and there’s nothing left (2017). I blame Sarah Raven entirely for this. No one else comes close to the seductive mix of colour combinations, cunning ‘collections’, and hot summer photography contained within that thick paper catalogue of hers.

Therefore it’s a useful weapon to be able to narrow down one’s choice tulips so that when confronted by Ms Raven’s devilish catalogues you can keep your cool and calmly wield the strength to order only your very best and most favourite ones in good time.

One tulip that will certainly fall into this category henceforth is apricoty-brown ‘Bruine Wimpel’. I admired it longingly in the catalogue in August 2016, adored it unreservedly when it bloomed in spring 2017, and did a dance of joy when it reappeared in my cutting bed in spring 2018. In a jug with ‘Purissima’ (another firm favourite), forget-me-nots, Narcissus ‘Cheerfulness’ and a stem of lovage, it is a pleasure to behold. Purer and simpler than the double ‘Belle Epoch’, it is the very embodiment of calm, collected rationality. If ‘Bruine Wimpel’ were ordering tulips from a Sarah Raven catalogue, there’d be no splurging or panic-buying. Bruine Wimpel knows exactly what it wants, and what it wants is a quiet place at the back of the vase and to let the other flowers do the chattering.

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In a vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who has also found tulips for us this week. I do recommend visiting her page and seeing what she and many other garden bloggers across the world have found in their gardens for a vase today.

Quince Charming: a fairy tale

It seems that some malevolent witch or wizard has decreed that it shall be winter forever. We have not had a frost-free week since November (I’m keeping count: it’s how long I’ve been waiting to finish cementing my maze), and this weekend saw the garden buried by blizzards once again. It was as though the wicked Beast from the East had given one last flick of his spiny tail as he departed for mythical lands. I stubbornly tried not to let the weather stop me from gardening. I put on all my clothes, all of them, went outside, watered a few pots, and gave up, my fingers frozen beneath two pairs of gloves after just ten minutes. This weekend was made for reading gardening books (or indeed fairy tales, whatever took the fancy).

Several loose branches of the Chaenomeles (Japanese quince) had been burnt to cinders by the previous freeze, its leaves shrivelled and brown on the blackened stems. However, a few charming (and some might say optimistic) little pink buds could be seen dotted here and there on some of the lower, more sheltered stems, and I decided to rescue them from the approaching storm by bringing them inside. Since spring is so late this year and I have been desperately short of anything decent to put in a vase for Cathy’s In a Vase on Monday for several weeks now, you could just as easily say that it was the quince that rescued me.

The bottle once contained some noxious Chinese alcoholic spirit, which I shared with new friends on a night train to Xian many moons ago. The topiary is a fairy tale about my future garden that I tell myself at night when falling asleep.

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Simply snowdrops

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February has few attributes to recommend it, save its shortness and the occasional warm day towards the end of the month when spring really does feel as though it is coming upon us at last. Some of us might feel, come February, that winter has outstayed its welcome; but others, myself included, reckon that the years go by too quickly for us not to savour every moment, even the soggy, slushy, bitingly cold moments that February has to offer.

February has charms too, if you’re willing to look for them. They’re not hard to spot in the garden: the smart blades of daffodils, or the tiny pink buds of Chaenomeles trained against an old stone wall that shines wanly in the winter sunshine. Then of course are the snowdrops, just coming in to their own at this time of year. Cheap, easy to grow, willing to spread, simple, adorable snowdrops, clustering together sociably and unfolding their tepals in the warmth of that slanting February sun. For the snowdrops alone, I would not wish the short month of February to rush past any faster than it already does.

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

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The forgiveness of a garden

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I have been revising solidly for weeks. The weather has been most kind: too rainy to go for walks, too frozen to plant my new Sorbus cashmiriana, which has been waiting patiently in its pot, propped back against the wall with a sack of potting compost (or ‘growing media’, if the RHS insists.) Thanks to the weather, there has been almost no temptation to leave my desk for the entirety of January. I have been surrounded by piles of notes and endless labelled diagrams of plant cells and transverse sections of root, stem and dicotyledonous flowers for months, with the rain and snow lashing down and the garden ignored below a blanket of mud and leaves.

I am studying for the RHS Level 2 exams, and the first four exams are today. This semester’s topics have been Botany, Soil, Pests and Diseases, and Propagation, and I have wholeheartedly enjoyed each one, spellbound by the enthusiasm of our tutors, the arresting facts, and the ‘Oh, that’s why…’ revelations.

Yesterday I finally reached that blissful stage of revision I like to call the ‘Whatever will be will be’ stage, where you are reluctantly hopeful you can pass and you are ready to stop revising and just get it over. I looked up from the past-paper I had just completed, and saw through the window a fat ray of sunlight hitting our front garden, beckoning me to come and inspect the emerging shoots and buds of early spring. Having vowed to revise all day, guiltily I put down my pen, donned a coat and bobble hat, and wandered outside.

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The front garden was, at first glance, sparse of life. This was unsurprising, since during the autumn every single plant from the front garden was dug up, heeled in and replanted for the Great Maze Reshuffle (I promise to update you on the maze in due course). Similarly in the back garden, most of the refugees that no longer had a home in the front garden are still finding their (frozen) feet. It’s been a cold winter, colder than any I’ve yet experienced here in Edinburgh. Nonetheless, on closer inspection there were signs of spring everywhere. Green tips abounded: the beginnings of tulips, snowdrops, muscari, iris, alliums, crocosmia (rather too many of those) and some brave gladioli. Primroses and snowdrops were out in the window boxes, and tiny new shoots were appearing on the roses. In the front garden maze, my Iris ‘George’, which I divided and replanted beneath the cherry tree (also replanted) were up and almost out. In fact, two blooms had already made their showy attempts, only to be knocked down by rain, cat or other tragedy. I fetched scissors and rescued them, along with a snowdrop, a fading Helleborus niger flower, some variegated ivy and a sprig of wonderful smelling Sarcococca confusa that is flowering beautifully despite being heeled up in a temporary sack of earth.

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I was humbled by the forgiveness of a garden that, though bare earth six weeks ago, already offering up flowers for the house. Everywhere were signs of neglect, but I knew that the garden would keep on keeping on until I had time to pay it the attention it needed. A potted Skimmia japonica with raging chlorosis blooms relentlessly away in a corner. Seeds are as yet unplanted but they’ll catch up. That Sorbus will be just fine in its pot for one more week. And with any luck the weather will continue its kindness until next weekend so that I can enjoy my first gardening session of 2018 in fat rays of sunshine rather than snow and rain.

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In a vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and if you follow this link you can visit her page to see what this weekly challenge is all about, as well as find links to vases of flowers and foliage grown in the gardens of many other garden bloggers across the world.

Many of the photos on this blog post also appear on my Instagram page, where you will find a great deal more of my garden photography and regular tiny snippets of gardening life.

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The Living And The Dead

November is a funny time of year. Certain plants remain in flower across the garden mainly salvias and roses but also Acanthus mollis, pelargoniums and Cerinthe major and their bright blooms look quite out of place beside those that are dying back.

In July I harvested all the spent allium seedheads, and plonked them in a hurry into a vase on our bedroom chest of drawers, where they have been annoying both of us ever since. The arrival of a new jug prompted me to do something about them, and so I cut their long stems back to size and rearranged them. In a month’s time I will probably spray them with a dusting of silver and use them as Christmas decorations.

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The drawing is called ‘January Beeches’ and is by an artist called Pamela Grace, who is exhibiting at the Dancing Light Gallery at Whitmuir Organic Farm, just a few miles south of Edinburgh. Winter trees are an appropriate subject for today’s post, because one might say that, like Schrödinger’s Cat, they are both dead and alive at the same time.

And just to prove that we still have plenty of plants still alive and kicking, I made a second vase in this little pewter cup Cerinthe, Salvia ‘Amistad’, the David Austin rose ‘Tess Of The D’Urbevilles’ and a stem of snapdragon in the identical shade of velvet red. If anyone is looking for a deep red rose, I couldn’t recommend Tess enough.

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In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy of Rambling in the Garden, and I do recommend visiting her page and taking a look at all the blooms, both dead and alive, that she and gardeners across the world are cutting from their gardens today.

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