Saturday, November 15, 2008

November flowers

This month's Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (hosted as ever by May Dreams - thank you!) served as a wake-up call for me. All my flowers were hanger-ons from summer... and nearly the only proper winter colour I have is from berries, which are lovely so I've cheated a little, but I really must improve things next year. I feel some Christmas box, or maybe a Daphne or two, coming on...

Friday, November 14, 2008

The start of the new year

So many people just abandon their allotments at this time of year and just turn up again in the spring (most likely to a patch of rampant weeds which it'll then take them another couple of months to get going again).

Surprise, surprise, I'm not one of them. I'll confess to missing the odd day when it's really tipping down with rain, though even then I sometimes have a mung around in the greenhouse. And there are some weeks around January time when I'm reduced to sitting at home grinding my teeth because the ground is just too soggy and horrible to do anything with, so I have to give up and stay off it.

This week I've been starting off my new season - my fifth year on the allotment, and it's just getting better and better. You learn a new thing with each year that passes, and just fine-tune what you do until you get it right. This year my big learning curve has been the broad beans, which almost totally failed in spring because I sowed them indoors in November and then planted them out in January as strong, but overly tall-stemmed specimens without protection. Result - the whole lot were wiped out by a combination of wickedly bad weather and stem rots. Actually, I say the whole lot, but several re-sprouted once the weather improved, giving me a fairly measly crop but a crop nonetheless. These really are tough plants.

Anyway: this year I'm experimenting with sowing in the ground, but under cover of polythene cloches. I used to avoid sowing direct, as everything just got eaten straight away, but since the mice are having a hard time even getting out of bed thanks to my ever-vigilant pussycats, I've felt able to risk it this time. The result ought to be sturdier plants, more able to cope with being outside all winter, and a thumping great glut of broad beans (which thankfully freeze beautifully) come May. Can't wait.

PS: that's my trusty allotment dog appearing in the background, mooching around looking for smelly things to eat. Am considering setting up a rebel Gardening Dog movement to counter the army of rabid cat-lovers around here. Or perhaps a Gardening Chickens movement, for which I am similarly well-armed with pictures with which to bore you rigid.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And so to bed

After all that snow last month, with accompanying panic involving yards of horticultural fleece and bubble-wrap, I finally got round to doing the job properly.

My poor banana plant...

I hope to goodness I'm doing this right. This year was the first time I've ever grown bananas, and I've become completely hooked - something about watching them grow by about a foot a day - but this is a bit nerve-wracking. I looked it all up, and they say you have to chop off all the leaves and put it somewhere frost-free. I've potted it up in a 50:50 mix of compost and sand, which should take care of the drainage, but oh it looks so miserable. To say nothing of that worrying list to the top spike. I think I may have removed one too many leaves. Well - it'll live or it'll die, I suppose.

More straightforward was the Musa basjoo by the pond. When you chop the leaves off this one, you don't have to look at it as you immediately cover it in lots of straw, so you can kid yourself it's all cosy and warm in there. I've used an old bit of green plastic fencing to hold it all in place, and that plastic on the top is a bit of bubble wrap just to keep the worst of the rain off and stop it all rotting. I'll also be wrapping a couple of layers of fleece round the whole thing, partly as insurance, partly because it'll look marginally better if I do.

I hear of lots of tales of Musa being left outside all winter long these days with never a setback, but since we're not really within the London microclimate here and this is only a one-year-old plant, I thought I'd best not risk it. One day I'll have a 20-ft monster which I'll be only too pleased to have cut down by the frost - but not just yet.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Last chance to see...

I was wandering through the woods walking the dog, grinning foolishly to myself while kicking the mounting piles of autumn leaves with every step (do you ever grow out of that, I wonder?). Then I happened to look up at the sky and saw that though it's not even mid-November yet, the branches are already bare against the blue.

It's been a fabulous autumn - something to do with the early frost and wet weather I believe - but all too short-lived. So I ran out with my camera as soon as I got back to take a few pics before it all disappears.

The view up through the mixed native trees that line the border of my garden: all that greenery just becomes goldery at this time of year.

The Prunus x subhirtella 'Autumnalis' outside my bedroom window is one I've raved about before - it's been spectacular this year, real fireworks every morning when I draw the curtains.

I planted this Hydrangea quercifolia a couple of years ago and it's becoming well-established now. I bought it for the shape of its leaves, but look at that brooding purple colour, too.

The beech hedge is joining in with waves of deep purple spreading through the green.

A couple of years ago an enterprising neighbour harangued the local council, who had just killed all the trees on our green by strimming them too enthusiastically, for some replacements. Being a professional tree man, the replacements he requested resembled a wish-list for an arboretum. We now have the best selection of trees for miles. This one is a fabulously vivid maple, one of several now giving us a fantastic display outside our front doors.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Avant gardening

I've been a bit preoccupied with Very Modern Gardens lately (just for something I'm writing).

By this I mean what's rather meaninglessly called Conceptual Gardens by the RHS. What exactly does "conceptual" mean anyway? Aren't all gardens conceptual - it's just that sometimes the concept is more usually Gertrude Jekyll than Mondrian...?

Anyway - I've always really enjoyed the Conceptual Gardens section at Hampton Court. They're not only fabulous works of art: they also really challenge what you think you're seeing and how you think you see it. Did anyone see Forest2 by Ivan Tucker? All those silver birch trees surrounded by mirrors. And the wonderful experience of looking through the holes in the sides only to see your own disembodied face staring back at you, floating somewhere in the air among the trees. And as for Ecstasy in a Very Black Box... This really challenged, with no plants but a load of baby lettuce but probably the best evocation of what it must feel like to be a manic depressive that I've ever seen.

So - I'm thinking about all these gardens which are thoughtful and thought-provoking, based on skeletons or what it's like to be a parent or autumn or, in one case, the Electric Sheep screensaver, and I'm wondering what exactly it's all meant to be about. I love it as art: much as I love going to Tate Modern and having all my ideas about the way things are turned upside down.

But the middle-aged lady in me says, would you have it in your back garden? I think it's rather revealing that the champion of avant-gardening, Tim Richardson, recently confessed to Gardens Illustrated magazine that his own garden was full of hardy geraniums. Constance Spry roses and kids' bikes. I wonder, if Tony Smith offered to come along and paint the whole thing black and put multi-coloured shards of glass in it, whether he'd take him up on it?

I suspect I'm just missing the point here. But I kind of wonder, sometimes, whether there is a point. It may be art - but is it gardening?
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