The Chelsea Flower Show 2018

Yes it’s that time of the year again, The Chelsea Flower Show, and yet again I’m not there. Every year I say I’ll go next year instead of just sitting at home and watching it on TV but this year I’ve been so busy I even missed some of the TV programmes, I hope I can catch up with them.

I didn’t even vote on which garden was my favourite, but only because I just couldn’t make up my mind. I really hated the one called Skin Deep though. Lots of concrete blocks of differing heights don’t make up a garden as far as I’m concerned.

If you want to see the gardens you can look here

One of my favourites is the Welcome to Yorkshire garden. It’s old fashioned, maybe a bit twee but it looks like a great place to relax in.

Gardening as an aid to mental health has been a theme this year. This is something that professionals in mental health seem to have just discovered, but if they had only asked hands-on gardeners we could have told them years ago that even just looking at plants and gardens will make you feel good. Actually getting stuck into the work can be a life-saver for some people though. It’s always a thrill to see a plant growing and thriving, especially if you have planted it or grown it from seed. I’m just going to gloss over the failures though, all gardeners have them, but I was so relieved to hear both Monty Don and Joe Swift admitting that they had struggled to grow Meconopsis – blue poppies. I know I’ve inadvertently killed at least three of them, but I’m still trying!

My garden in Fife, Scotland

After suffering a winter which was about seven months long featuring several large dumps of snow, it seemed like we were never going to get to Spring, but when we got a few good days of weather everything began to come to life again, well almost everything, there were a few fatalities.

The result was that everything seemed to be flowering at once, as soon as the snowdrops stopped flowering the tulips began, and normally there would be about four months in between those varieties being in bloom. So below are a few photos that I took of my garden over the last week or so.

I’ve been amazed that the harsh winter doesn’t seem to have been a problem for the insect life. I think I’ve already seen more butterflies and bees than I saw all of last summer. These red admirals (I think that’s what they are anyway) have been enjoying the heather in my garden.
heather  + Butterflies

The ornamental cherry below is a recent purchase so I can’t claim any of the kudos for its lovely flowers, it’s called Brilliant and is a slow growing one. I’ve put some seeds in the bare ground in the photo, eventually I hope that all of the soil will be covered with plants, apart from anything else that should stop so many weed seeds from germinating!

cherry blossom

The ‘rockery’ area is filling up quite well.
rockery
The primulas below are seeding themselves around the place.
primulas

The area around the bench/pergola is still a work in progress, hopefully this will be the last of the grass that I have to dig up, it’s hard work.
sink and bench

I’ll do another garden post next week – tulips and quince blossom will feature.

My sink garden

I had an old Belfast/butler’s sink in my old garden but I had to leave it behind when we moved so when I saw another old one in a particularly eclectic shop that I enjoy having a rake around in I just had to buy it. It was a bargain too!
Belfast  sink

I sited it close to the bench/pergola so that you can either rest your weary feet on it or rest your cup/glass on the handy soap indentations. The photo above was taken in early April 2017 when I started this project. I’ve filled the sink with some sedums, miniature viola, thrift, a miniature willow is in the top right hand corner and a miniature cotoneaster to the left.

Belfast sink

The photo above was taken a week or so later when I had more or less finished planting it up.

The photo below is how it looked in August 2017 I think.

Belfast sink

This week I’ve been working hard in the garden digging up the grass around the sink, it’s very difficult to mow around it, so I’m busy putting a tile edging around the area and plan to fill it with small hardy plants and slate shards. I’ve actually planted some box plants around the bottom of the sink, eventually it’ll look like a box of box I hope, when I get around to clipping it all.

I plan to get the ground around it sorted out next week – weather permitting.

This and that

Today it was actually quite mild and sunny – at times anyway and I spent most of the day in the garden , still ‘redding up’ (tidying up) weeding and cutting back the dead bits. In fact after the brutal cold weather and snow we had a fortnight ago there are now quite a few fatalities. My rosemary bushes had gone all through the winter fairly happily, but the Easter weather was just too much for them and they’ve had to be chopped right back, I hope they re-grow. It was only today that I realised that my lovely ceanothus (Californian lilac) now has brown leaves instead of the lovely glossy dark green leaves it has had all through the winter. More chopping back required, I find it painful. A few roses have succumbed to the cold weather, but I’m hopeful that they might survive – eventually. Strangely the lavender bushes are all very happy looking, so much for them being tender Mediterranean plants, but my Alpine edelweiss plant looks like it has had it. I’ll leave it in though just in case there’s life in the roots yet.

Over the weekend we were up north in Inverness on a football related jaunt. Friday was freezing and grey, a disappointment as the weather forecast said it would be nice up there. But the sun arrived on Saturday – and there was warmth with it, amazing! When I say warmth it was probably just in double figures celsius, but not long ago it was -5 so I was happy. Can you believe I actually had to put the car window down? Inverness was heaving with people, there were so many tourists, and it being a Friday night we couldn’t get into any of the restaurants that we tried as we hadn’t booked. There was one restaurant that had only four people in it, not a good sign considering how jam packed everywhere else was, but we had no alternative so we gave it a go. It was a Mediterranean eatery (allegedly). It was expensive and it was possibly the worst meal I’ve ever had in a restaurant – AND I came out feeling hungrier than I had been when I went in! Why oh why didn’t I check out the Tripadvisor reviews first?!

The book pile has grown by seven books, I bought some in the Pitlochry bookshops on the way up to Inverness. Then some more in a Dingwall bookshop. Dingwall actually has two secondhand bookshops, amazing. I think maybe the long dark winters in the Scottish Highlands lead to a lot of people picking up books to take themselves to pastures new, for a wee while anyway.

One of the books that I bought was by Rose Tremain. I’ve never read anything by her, but I enjoyed reading this Guardian article last week. Have you read any of her books?

I didn’t take any photos of Inverness itself, but you can see some images here.

Winter garden and trees

Winter garden 2

As you can see the snow is back, luckily it has been coming and going, just hanging around for a couple of days and returning after a few weeks, I can cope with that – and so can the garden.

Winter garden 1

Just a couple of days after this lot melted I was able to get out there and plant some spring bulbs. I’m itching for the spring to come – as usual I have so many garden projects I want to get stuck into, a garden is never finished, and I have to move a tree or two to make way for – more exciting trees. But as I type the snow is back, mustn’t grumble though as it is January after all.

Winter garden 8

The trees in the photo above though – I get for free as they’re the woodland just beyond my back garden. My favourite is the larch which is just left of centre, but I love them all.

Winter garden 9

There are two birds flying in the centre of the photo above, I think they might just be magpies but they may be buzzards, we get a lot of birds of prey around here.

As a bit of a tree-hugger I was interested in watching a recent BBC programme about Judi Dench and her love for trees, she has a six acre garden which is mainly woodland and commemorates deceased family and friends by planting trees in memory of them, such a lovely thing to do. If you get a chance to you should watch Passion for Trees, there’s a wee taster of it below.

Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively

Life in the Garden cover

Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively was just published earlier this year and it has also featured on BBC Radio 4 extra, you might still be able to listen to it here if you’re interested.

I loved this book and this time of the year made it a perfect read for me as it has suddenly got too cold to do anything in my garden, reading this was a good way of dealing with my withdrawal symptoms.

Penelope Lively was born into a family of keen women gardeners and from them she inherited the genetic tendency to plan and plant gardens wherever she could. Her first garden experiences were in Egypt where she grew up but eventually her family moved back to England where her grandmother, a very wealthy woman, gardened on a grand scale. It sounds like it must have been a wonderful place but as is often the way with gardens, it no longer exists, having been built on. I think that this is something that all gardeners realise – no matter how much work you put into them, in the end they’re very ephemeral and all it takes is a few seasons of neglect and that garden begins to disappear back into a wild state.

Penelope Lively talks about the various large gardens she has planned in different parts of England before settling in her vintage years in a small London garden. It’s a bit of a memoir of the gardens she has known and the books she has read. This is one of those dangerous books that mentions lots of other books and I found myself noting titles down for future reading, in fact I’ve already purchased one of them, English Flower Garden by W. Robinson, but a lot of the fiction books she mentions because they feature gardens. They’re mainly classics and most readers have probably read them all – Alice in Wonderland, Tom’s Midnight Garden, The Secret Garden. Authors such as Beatrix Potter, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West and lots more.

She talks about the changing fashions in plants, and roses of course feature quite heavily. She mentions that as she’s now 83 she can’t do everything in her garden herself and sometimes has to rely on getting a man in to do some jobs, with some disasters ensuing. She has admiration for gardeners in other parts of the world who aren’t lucky enough to have a climate such as Britain’s as we don’t have to cope with really awful low temperatures.

I really enjoyed this one, I’ll give it 5 stars on Goodreads I think, the only gripe I have about it is that although it’s a hardback and has an attractive cover, it was published by Penguin and has been bound so tightly I found it quite difficult to hold it for any length of time. I was the first person to borrow this one from the library so probably it will ease up eventually, but the actual paper used isn’t very good, I don’t think it will age well. Having said that I will probably buy Life in the Garden at some point as it’ll be great for dipping into during bad weather.

If you haven’t tried Penelope Lively’s fiction you should give her books a go!

Garden – before and after

A wee while ago someone asked me for some before and after photos of my garden, we moved to our new place in 2014 and the garden was just a sea of very weedy grass. There’s an awful lot less grass now, but what is left is still pretty weedy. I’m still cutting into the turf to gain planting space though, I’m a bit of a plantaholic I suppose. The photos are all of the area where we situated the summerhouse, mainly because the previous owners of the house took their summerhouse with them and we couldn’t shift the concrete blocks that they had used as a base.

Here you go then, that area of the garden from 2014 when we moved in, to 2017.

New Garden

And a few months later

summerhouse (gazebo)

March 2016
my garden

August 2017
garden path

July 2015
garden Summer house

July 2016

garden 3

Sadly although the summerhouse (posh garden shed) looks nice it has turned out not to be fit for purpose. I had intended to keep lots of my books in there and did have three bookcases full of them in it. Then I realised that during the winter the glass was full of condensation – not good for books. I had to run out there and fill my clothes basket with the books – several trips, and find space in the house for them.

It’s particularly annoying because the summerhouse in the old house was just a cheap one from B&Q and I had no trouble at all with it. This new one cost more than double the previous one, so it just shows you that the most expensive is not always the best!

House of Dun, near Montrose

One beautiful day a couple of weeks ago we decided to grab the good weather and drive up to the House of Dun close to Montrose. It’s a Scottish National Trust property that we had never visited before. It’s just over 50 miles away from us. Below are some photographs of the outside from various angles.

House of Dun

The house was originally owned by the Erskine family.

House of Dun, Montrose

House of Dun, Montrose

House of Dun, Montrose

The gardens are meticullously maintained, I hate to think how many hours it all must take.
Garden

Garden , House of Dun, Montrose

As you can see from the plaque below, it was laid by the Queen Mother to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the birth of the house’s architect William Adam. He was the father of three famous architects, the most famous being Robert Adam.

Box hedging dedication

The pergola below looks lovely now but it will look even better when the plants have covered all of the metal support. It is of course in the shape of a crown. The owners of the House of Dun were closet Jacobites and there are various not very well hidden decorations in the house featuring the Scottish crown.
Garden pergola

The photo below of the box hedging was taken from the top of the house steps, the back door really. The setting is fantastic with beautiful views from the house.
box hedging pano

You can actually rent holiday cottages and I think apartments in the actual house. It would be great – if the weather behaved itself. Crucially there is a good tea room!

Hurrah! the National Trust now allow people to take photographs of the inside of their properties, but I’ll keep those ones for the next blogpost.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

The Hidden Life of Trees cover

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben is a fascinating read, an absolute must read for anyone interested in natural history/trees/gardening. The author has worked in Germany as a forester for decades and his observations are supplemented by lots of research from scientists around the world.

I must admit that I’ve always been squeamish when it comes to pruning and cutting back trees and plants as I’ve long thought that it can’t be a nice experience for these living entities, and it turns out that I was correct. But there’s a lot more going on than even I suspected. Apparently trees can communicate with each other via their roots, and they even support each other when any trees in the vicinity are in need of extra care. They can send extra nutrients via their roots to those in need, even to different species, they sound more generous spirited than many humans. It has been discovered that the ends of roots have tiny brain-like nodules, it sounds to me like there’s an awful lot about trees still to be discovered. When they are under attack from pests they can signal a warning to nearby trees and that makes them deploy a chemical that makes their leaves unpalatable to the pests.

He goes on to explain why trees planted by humans often end up struggling to survive, compared with the natural plantations that have developed over hundreds of years. Without the vital nutrients that build up in the soil naturally over the years it’s difficult for the trees to survive and grow as they should. Trees like to be in communities, most of them thrive in family groups and it seems they have personalities of their own just as people do. Some give up the ghost in adversity whilst others are more determined and fight off attacks.

It was a surprise to me that beech trees are thuggish, often planting themselves close to other species and then overtaking them in growth causing their eventual death by shading them out and grabbing most of the water. I think this might happen in Germany where the author is a forester and beech forests seem to be common. In Britain they are more commonly used as specimen trees I think, often not too close to other trees – unless they killed them all a hundred years or so ago!

Inevitably beasties, fungi and viruses are wreaking havoc on trees all over the world, in fact when you realise how many dangers there are for trees it seems quite amazing that any of them survive to a great age at all.

Trees scream apparently, which unnerves me, especially as the local council here seems to be determined to cut down any tree which isn’t in perfect condition, ignoring the fact that they often overcome their problems.

Surprise surprise – it seems that many of the processes carried out by the forestry/logging companies in forests do much more harm than good. But I was absolutely shocked when the author mentioned that even he might be causing harm as he visits multiple forests on a daily basis – without even changing his footwear between visits!!

I know that botanic gardens in the UK have thick disinfectant mats that visitors have to walk through before getting into the gardens, in an effort to keep viruses at bay. It might seem pointless when spores are just as likely to be wind blown or delivered via birds’ feathers, but you have to try to do anything you can to keep them out.

I know I first read about this one in the Guardian Review but I decided I had to read it after Stefanie at So Many Books had so enjoyed reading it, you can read her thoughts here.

I borrowed this book from the library, I’ve had to wait seven months to get it although I was only the third person to borrow it, so someone must have hung on to it for months. But what enraged me was that one of those previous readers had turned down the page corners – often every three pages or so, I reckon that over a third of the pages have been disfigured in this way, and not just a teeny fold, often with the corner being folded right into the inner edge of the book!

Honestly, I don’t believe in capital punishment – but if I ever discover who did that ….. they’re for it!

Garden update – late July

garden path

Not long after I took the above photo of the back garden path I had to give the geraniums a right good chop back as they were in danger of engulfing the path. I do hate cutting back but it means I’ll get another flush of flowers and they’ll still be going strong in October.

You can just see the left hand side of the metal archway and although I’ve planted a supposedly climbing rose there, it remains bare, that rose seems to have no intention of climbing. The other side of the archway has far too many things covering it, including a lathyrus/everlasting sweet pea which is an absolute thug and is climbing everywhere.

Below there is that disappointing (so far) red rose, pieris, foxglove, lychnis, geraniums, physigelia and various others.
back garden flowers

In the photo below you can see my recent garden purchase – a Belfast sink! I had to laugh when I heard someone on a gardening programme saying recently that in his childhood every garden seemed to have a Belfast sink in it! Mine still has and I had a hard time tracking this one down, I had one in the old garden but had to leave it behind as the house purchasers wanted everything in the garden – grr!
back garden flowers

The cherry tree in the photo below is growing like crazy, but I only had a few flowers on it in the spring. It has been in for three years now so I hope it gives a better account of itself next year.
back back garden flowers V garden flowers
Below is a Philadelphus which isn’t giving off as much scent as I had hoped it would. I think a different variety might have been better, it’s my own fault for not waiting and buying one when it was already in flower.
Philadelphus

The Christmas tree in the photo below was one that was left in a pot by the front door when we moved in here, it was looking very sorry for itself, but as you can see, setting him free in the soil has really cheered him up. There is also a cotinus, cotton lavender and astrantia in the photo.
back garden flowers

There’s a dwarf Japanese maple, euphorbia Fireglow, primula Viallii and a lot more in the photo below.
back garden flowers

The so called rockery in the photo below has gone a wee bit crazy this year and most of the rocks in it have been hidden by the plant growth, I blame all the rain we’ve had. I have to do some serious weeding soon, that ajuga I planted there is on a bid to take over the whole area. I don’t think you can actually see it in the photo although it’s hard to avoid as it is taking up half of the rockery I could shoot myself for planting it!
back garden flowers

That was the back garden at the back end of July. I’m quite pleased with it considering this is only its third year and there was only one teeny tree in it and a sea of grass when we moved in.