Gardens are more than plants

Highly fragrant double white peony

Auntie Iris’ peony

There are certain plants in our garden which evoke memories of people of places and of points in life. What prompted this thought was the sight of ‘Auntie Iris’ peony’ which is laden with highly scented white blossoms at the minute. I have never been able to accurately name the plant but I have childhood memories of the peony in the wonderful formal garden Auntie Iris had on the shores of Strangford Lough near Killyleagh. When she moved from the garden she lifted the peony and I think it is at that point that my Dad had a cutting and  I took a cutting from his plant for our first little garden in Nottingham.

Since then whenever I move I  take part of my original peony and  have grown Auntie Iris’ peony at over 600ft in Lancashire and now it is happily established in Shropshire. I like to think that people who now live in our previous houses are enjoying the fragrance and beauty of the flowers and perhaps wonder about the origins of the plant,

Having come over to County Down for a holiday with my family it is good to know that the flowers that we picked from Mum and Dad’s garden and are scenting our holiday house in Strangford are only about 8 miles ‘as the crow flies’ from their original home in Auntie Iris’ garden.

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Strawberries at last!

How many gardeners spend their time waging war on ‘pests’ ?- slugs, snails, birds, mice, squirrels, grazing children…

We have tried growing strawberries with little success for a number of years no matter what we do someone gets to the strawberries just as they ripen, We’ve tried nets  to protect the fruit from birds and squirrels only to feed our numerous shrew and mouse population.  We’ve tied them up to make it harder for the mice to climb up for a feast. Last year I tried hanging strawberry bags and got the watering wrong – failure.

This spring all the strawberry plants which had overwintered in a corner of the vegetable garden were dug up.  about half were put in large black plastic pots in a lovely rich leaf mould compost.  The other half were planted in the a new bed in the ‘big polytunnel’. Needless to say there is a bit of a his and hers competition in the strawberry department.  His were looking very healthy in the polytunnel obviously growing in a large bed.  but I persevered watering, feeding and generally loving ‘my’ strawberries in the glorious greenhouse.

Almost too good to eat!

Almost too good to eat!

 

So imagine my delight to be able to serve up ‘my’ mouse free ripe strawberries as part of his special birthday pudding this week.  His strawberries are ripening and feeding the lovely little shrew that seems to have set up residence in the tunnel!

And the verdict  – sweet, juicy and just delicious!

Bean and Peas

Mice and voles are cute furry little creatures until they find a vegetable grower and then there is a conflict of interest!  What havoc they can create – in the seed trays and in the vegetable garden.  How many times over the years have we watched for the first sign of the broad beans and peas only to find that they have been munched by our friendly mice and voles and not a single one is left to grow.

This year I decided to get one step ahead of my furry friends.  Beans and peas really don’t like having their roots disturbed so planting in a seed tray and then pricking out is not an option. So I have planted broad beans and french beans in little newspaper pots.  A good use fo the excess newspaper and a biodegradable pot that can be popped straight into the row in the vegetable plot.  I find that if you put tow or three little newspaper pots in a 9cm pot then fill with compost and plant the beans they are easy to move around and the plastic pot reduces the amount of water that is lost through evaporation.

So here is lovely little broad bean plant ready to go into the ground with a healthy root system and a few minutes later happily planted!

broad bean ready for planting

Broad bean in paper pot

Planted!

Planted!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not that there is any competition in the household but I am hoping that ‘my broad beans’ starting life in their newspaper pot will crop far earlier than those planted by the man of the house directly into the ground – we’ll have to wait and see!

 

Thoughts of Gertrude Jekyll

As I pottered in the garden this evening checking on the progress of flowers, fruit and vegetables I stopped to watch a bumble bee explore the delicate flowers of one of my favourite plants – Solomon’s seal. Watching the bee seek its supper I looked up and realised that the garden and surrounding fields are clothed in fresh green and creamy white – May is really here.

I had often read about Gertrude Jekyll and the famous white garden at Sissinghurst but it wasn’t until I moved to Shropshire and watched spring arrive with snowdrops then the blackthorn, fruit tree blossom followed by swathes of dandelion clocks and ox-eye daisies which are iridescent in the early evening light that I understood the full beauty of the white garden.

So I took a few minutes to enjoy the dappled evening sunshine and  all the wonderful green and white around me – the Hawthorn in full bloom; the delicate lacy flowers of Guelder rose, Rowan, Sweet Cicely and Queen Anne’s lace; the pink tinged apple blossom of the late flowering King Edward and in the borders the Astrantia is just starting to open while the chrysanthemum hosmariense or Moroccan Daisy is in full bloom.

So here’s to Gertrude Jekyll and her wonderful sense of colour and design but more importantly here’s to spring with its hope, vigour and promise of new life.

Glorious greenhouse!

After years of yearning, thumbing through brochures, gazing at adverts in magazines and gazing with green eyes at other people’s and after spending several excruciating days trying to understand impossible instructions, experiencing fear of dropping large sheets of glass  and doing some amazing yoga type poses holding said sheets of glass in place as my wonderful helper attached the glazing bars I am delighted to say I am the proud owner of a greenhouse!!!

Filling the greenhouse

Filling the greenhouse

All the little trays of seeds that have been lurking on windows sills, in propagators and under bubble wrap in the polytunnel have been proudly carried into the new shiny space.

but even more importantly there is room for a few chairs so that when the cool winds blow you can sit with a coffee enjoying the spring sunshine and watching the plants grow inside and out!

Inspiration in Cardiff

A trip to a garden or a flower show is always a risky thing  – it can generate a feeling of enthusiasm  or a feeling of complete hopelessness when the realisation dawns that the  perfection observed will never be achieved.  So last Friday I set off to spend the day at the RHS Flower Show Cardiff with mixed feelings.  It had been a long week and I was a bit tired so wasn’t sure if I could face seeing perfection knowing that I had left a lot of imperfection at home!

I needn’t have worried it was a perfect day.  The Show was held in Bute Park, about 10 minutes walk from the station.  It was just the right size to wander round for a day taking in the gardens, displays and the stalls.  Being early in the year I was full of admiration for the exhibitors who had coaxed plants into flower or leaf but yet had not gone over the top to create false shows.

My favourites – well I do love auriculas and so loved seeing them in displays, gardens  and also the stunning theatre on the Hill View Hardy Plants .(Sorry not the best photo but the display was lovely)

auricula theatreI bought my first auriculas about four years ago and now have quite a collection and this is exactly the time of year that they come into their own. Today I popped my parent plants of Brenda’s Choice, Piers Telford and Beatrice on the doorstep so that we can enjoy their flowers.  My normal spot for building my auricula theatre has been taken up with a temporary log pile!

Back  to the Flower Show favourites and another great one was the  beautiful Hooksgreen Herb exhibit .  Encouraging everyone to get involved in growing edible plants was the focus of The Pennard Plants and Growing for the Future at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales garden. The fantastic design made you want to rush home, create raised beds and get planting. But how practical is the perfectly designed raised bed?  What happens when you eat one of the four leeks and leave a bald patch? So somewhere there needs to be a compromise between aesthetics and functionality.  I think that the exhibits at the Show helped inspire and encourage all visitors to get gardening in a practical and manageable way.

So what’s happened in my garden since Friday – well more vegetable and herb seeds planted ( including some fenugreek, chervil, minette basil, red giant mustard  – all bought at the show) . I also have planed some cute little boxes ( bought at the show) with lettuce, corriander and peas which will be cropped when they are young and tender for salads. ( I’ll let you know how the get on in future blogs)

In a bid to thwart the mice I have lifted the strawberry plants from open ground and replanted them in big pots and moved them under cover – maybe this year we will get a crop or maybe we won’t. And most importantly I have been extracting the tangled webs of ground elder from the  main beds – oh why was this invasive ‘herb’ brought to Britain by the Romans. I know its edible- the young leaves can be used in salad, it can be cooked like spinach, used in quiches and many other dishes. But if like me you wage war on it in your garden I can only think that is would choke me if I tried to eat it!