Friday, January 30, 2009

Garden makeover #2: Boxing clever

I've been shopping :D

Never one to sit around for long when there's a garden makeover to be done, I was back at it this week following last week's (if I do say it myself) pretty good start to doing up my front garden.

It's getting towards the end of bare-root season, and since the design relies on about 21m of box hedging I thought I'd better get my skates on if I wanted to pay anything like a reasonable price.

So three big hefty bundles of box saplings arrived on my doorstep during the week, all around 10-15cm high which is a good size for getting a hedge started with. In fact as you can see from the picture, once it's bulked out a bit it won't take much clipping to make that small formal hedge a reality.

I put them in at around 15cm apart (that's 6" in my head - yes I do still have to convert - though handily both measurements come out at about a trowel's length). That was a bit closer than perhaps I should have done - estimates for the best spacing ranged from 7 per metre (that's the 6" spacing) to around 4 per metre (that's more like 10"). I thought 4 per metre sounded very sparse, so went for the tighter spacing - I can always thin them out a bit later if it looks like there are going to be problems.

I had a whole lot of soil improvement to do first - as you might expect, the soil on the ex-gravel drive bit was about as poor as it gets. Not only compacted, but grey with lack of nutrients. So anyway - I dug a good spit's depth of trench and half-filled it with soil improver before the little box plants got anywhere near it. They should be fine in that - and I'll mulch them next month too, just to keep the good work going. Here's what it all looked like once I'd finished:

Now it's just a matter of filling that big gap with lots of lovely plants. Could that mean.... shopping again? Woo hoo, I love the spring!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Identity parade

Each week at college we get a load of twigs, bits of leafy stuff, and occasionally a droopy flower or two, all in varying states of intactness, and we have to identify them. Rather than keeping all the pain to myself, I thought I'd share. So this is the first of a weekly series of guessing games - and just to make it really tricky, you only get a photo to look at, and not a very good one at that :D

There's usually a theme - last week, it was mostly twigs from trees, and this week it was mostly ivies (that's a clue, by the way). I won't inflict the whole 11 idents on you, but here's a choice selection - can you recognise any of these? (I'll give you a clue for the more difficult ones).


(Clue: yes it is meant to be up that way.)

2. (Clue: it's changed its name recently - and you'll have to come up with the new one!)

3. (I'm not going to give you a clue for this one - far too easy!)

4. (Clue: this is a juvenile shoot)

(Clue: it's all in the stem colour)

There aren't any prizes, beyond the right to be smug, though I might keep a running total and come up with a little something for the person who gets the most right between now and when this little series finishes, in about June. But for now, let the guessing begin - first person to guess correctly has the point, and if you haven't got them all by next week, I'll give you the answers in the comments section. Have fun!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Plants in wierd places

Spotted growing out of a crack in an old and rather beautiful wall the other day...

I didn't even know euphorbias could do that. Tough little whatnames, aren't they?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Garden makeover #2: Going round in circles

What with there not really being much going on in the plant department, I thought I'd get on with some of the revamping project. This time it was the turn of my tatty and scruffy little front garden.

This is quite a neat shape, in that it's almost a perfect square, and it has the spectacular advantage of a big mature winter-flowering cherry (Prunus x subhirtella 'Autumnalis') in the middle (one of my most-prized plants). But it's always been a bit of a pain - we have a nominally gravel drive which wasn't very well laid by the previous occupants of the house, and the rather odd layout meant there was a whole awkward wasted corner of it which was getting progressively colonised by weeds.

Anyway, so I've spent much of the weekend digging up the drive and laying out a mildly funky new design I came up with at college the other week.

Trouble is it involves two concentric circles - all very cool and all that, but it suddenly occurred to me I'd never actually tried to lay out a circle on the ground before.

Well, there's a first time for everything - so this is what I did:

First, find your centre point: I drew this all out on graph paper to scale first, which may seem fiddly but it's very worth the extra time as drawing with a ruler on paper is a whole lot easier than drawing on the ground, especially if you have to rub it out a lot. That's a long bit of string looped loosely around the cane, knotted at the outer edge of the circle - a bit Heath Robinson, but it works.

I discovered that they don't sell those nifty but probably highly un-environmentally sound marking-out sprays in garden centres, so I had a go at the old-fashioned sand-and-drinks-bottle method with a bit of sand I found behind the shed. You basically fill a drinks bottle with the stuff (a lot more difficult than it seems), upend it and hold it upside down at the end of the string with sand pouring out in a steady stream while you mark out a circle. Sounds great in theory, doesn't it? Well - I think a) the sand needs to be very dry, unlike this stuff, which was nearly frozen and full of old leaves, and b) you need to have a funnel or something to get the sand in the bottle as otherwise you end up with half of it all over the kitchen floor. Like I did.

Then the sand ran out (I didn't tell you this was going to turn into a bit of a saga) and I discovered a whole new scale of messiness. House ash, from our fire and kicking around waiting to be chucked out, turns out to show up a lot better against gravel, and pours easier, too. But oh my goodness, I was covered with the stuff by the end of it.

Anyway - many hours of happy messing around later and this was the result. You can see what I mean about the weedy patch...

Final stage - a lot more straightforward, just dig a trench along the line of the sand/ash and sink log-roll edging into it so that the circles are permanently marked out. This, I hasten to add, is not the finished result: the eventual idea is that the logrolls will be hidden under some nifty low box hedges and there will be some truly lovely planting (including a few little surprises) filling the gaps between them.

It may not be award-winning garden design, but it's pepped up my front garden no end, and it only took a couple of days. Can't wait to plant it up now!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Unseasonal flowers

Look what I found in a sheltered corner of the garden today!

Yep - that is a wallflower. In full bloom (this was one of several). In January.

That makes it around three months early. There's a brick-red one budding up and about to open in a less protected spot, too. And this after three weeks of sub-zero!

It feels a bit odd, but it hasn't half cheered me up!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Collateral damage

Oh dear.

A quick tour of my so-called jungle garden (i.e. the place I so optimistically planted up with climate change anticipation plants last summer) reveals I didn't exactly get out of the recent cold snap scot free.

This is (or was) a purple cordyline. I was rather fond of it as it made a snazzy contrast with the libertias and hostas, to say nothing of a canna behind it, and gave me the pleasant illusion that I was quite good at putting plants together. I thought they were meant to be bone hardy, too.

The remains of a Melianthus major that was just getting into its stride last autumn...

...and my poor Astelia chathamica 'Silver Spear', lately of Chelsea 2008, which also looks to be less hardy than you would think.
Some of these might - just - come back, though I'm not sure they'll ever be quite the same again. Now, here's a quandary. do I press on and insist on a jungly area at the bottom of my garden anyway? (I'll have my banana-mad eight-year-old daughter to answer to if I don't). Do I resort to drought-tolerant Mediterranean plants only to have them washed away and drowned in a sea of mud every winter? Or do I plant a sea of English flowers and water them every five minutes all summer, also risking the customary deluge turning to a desert-like scorcher and the whole lot frazzling to a crisp as soon as I turn my back?
You know, this gardening lark isn't as straightforward as it looks.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The great thaw begins

Walking down the garden drops of melted hoarfrost are falling from the trees, and for the first time in three weeks, there is water on my pond.

It's still three-quarters frozen, and all pond-life is suspended just beneath the surface like a snapshot of the moment before the cold snap began: this water soldier (Stratiodes aloides) is meant to have sunk to the bottom for its winter sleep but it obviously didn't get away in time.

My pond is a little shallow so I'm hoping all the newts are still OK in there.

I may be getting optimistic here but who knows - I may even get gardening again soon!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Indoor gardening

Frost has stopped play. The pond hasn't defrosted for a week, and part of the lawn is permanently white. As for the allotment... we had to go and buy some parsnips the other day as the ones I've grown so lovingly are now concreted in to a rock-hard veg bed (yeah, I know, should have lifted them and heeled them in somewhere sandier, didn't get around to it).

The BBC's rather awe-inspiring monthly weather forecast says this will carry on for the rest of January, as it's caused by a wodge of high pressure that's apparently "notoriously difficult to budge". Oh help. I'll be reduced to making curtains soon.

Anyway, I'm trying to comfort myself with the thought of millions of tiny slugs freezing solid, and meanwhile doing some indoor gardening. This is long overdue: I'm very late in planning my seed order, which I must send off this week as otherwise the spuds won't be chitting in time. I've also, at last, come up with a coherent design for the front garden, and I'll be measuring up those bits of the back garden I'm not already digging up shortly - all part of the Great Garden Makeover of course. The only trouble with plans is, you then have to put them into some sort of action... which in my case almost always means half-finished projects all over the garden as the summer rush takes over yet again.

I've also been making some New Year's Resolutions to ring in 2009. A bit of a pointless exercise, of course, but I like to see how quickly I jettison them each year. This year, they are more informed at least thanks to all this blogging (mine but more frequently other people's).
  • I'm going to start a diary (I do this every year. Never got past March yet. At least I know what I was doing in early spring back to about 1975).
  • While I'm taking those photos for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day each month, I'm also going to photograph the whole of my garden, warts and all, as a record of all these improvements I'm making (this of course will be strictly not for publication: all photography found on this blog is a triumph of the macro lens over reality).
  • I'm going to start some of those projects I'm planning (see above)
  • I'm going to finish some of those projects I'm planning (see above)
  • I shall try not to get impatient when my eight-year-old wants to plant tulips in my potato beds, but shall let her with a beneficent smile in the interests of keeping her gardening (and will secretly replant the tulips back in the same spot after harvesting the potatoes).
  • My reading of other people's blogs shall not take over my working life
  • ... and nor will surreptitious trips to the allotment when I should be at my desk
  • I shall cram in as much knowledge as I can about gardening, plants and plantspeople, and hopefully end the year a better gardener.

Right, that'll do for now. I wish everyone who drops by this blog from time to time all the very best for 2009. Happy New Year!

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