Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happy autumn!

It's official: the autumn equinox falls at 21:18 this evening, so we've only got a few hours left of the summer before it is, undeniably, autumn.

In the garden the first signs are already here: slowly, surely, everything is turning red, orange and yellow on their way to brown.

Ribes sanguineum 'White Icicle'

Hydrangea quercifolia...

...and inexplicably the (previously white) flowers on this have turned a purplish red too

Blueberry 'Bluecrop'

Amelanchier canadensis (couldn't help noticing the birds have already snaffled all the berries though: harrumph)

Crocosmia 'Lucifer': the green pearls which follow the flowers are now peppercorn seedheads

More seedheads taking over the baton from the flowers: here Rudbeckia 'Herbstsonne'

Ah, but it's not all crispy browns and yellows. Autumn is berry season: and how much more colourful can you get than this: Viburnum opulus 'Compactum' (a bit of a cheat this one as the berries have been there since July)

Rosa pimpinellifolia
(another cheat: the hips have been here since summer too but will last long into the winter)

Pyracantha 'Saphyr Orange'

...and there are pheasant berries on my pheasant berry (Leycesteria formosa): these are the ones high up on the plant, as the chicken has already nicked the ones at the bottom.

I have more to come: two other pyracantha, 'Saphyr Jaune' and 'Saphyr Rouge' are only just berrying up and haven't coloured yet, and I have an Increasingly Large Pumpkin which promises to turn a satisfyingly autumnal shade of orange any minute.

So this is autumn? Bring it on!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Plant of the month: September

Amaranthus paniculatus 'Marvel Bronze'

This was a bit of a discovery this year: I've grown the droopy Amaranthus caudatus many times, both the species and 'Viridis' which is an elegant shade of green, but they tend to be quite difficult to shoehorn into a mixed border, being one of those shapes that demands a space all its own. So then I was given a packet of seed for this variety last spring, and since I hadn't got round to buying my usual Amaranthus, I bunged these in instead.

The species is the key: they're a paniculatus, not caudatus, and this means they're upright. And I do mean very upright: they're currently marching through my borders like so many purple soldiers, waving those plum-coloured pipecleaners aloft: sometimes straight upwards in tufts like eccentric feather dusters, and at other times sending up individual spires which twist bewitchingly in all directions.

The extraordinary thing for something with such chutzpah of its own is that it goes with absolutely everything. I've got one patch next to some dahlias - that purple foliage is almost indistinguishable from that of a purple-leaved dahlia from a short distance, so they blend in perfectly and make excellent partners. Sadly the dahlias are having a little break from flowering at the moment - pesky earwigs - but I have one which is a pale pink-tinged white above purple leaves which looks fabulous with the amaranthus, like white dinnerplates among volcanic plumes of purple smoke.

In the same border are pink cosmos, made all the more frilly and feminine by all that brooding purple, and vivid orange Californian poppies which scramble around under their purple skirts with true pizazz. Actually I haven't found a single thing they clash with so far. I'm a total convert: must sow more next year...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Recycled lavatories revisited

We've had to pause in our pond-making activities (oh dear... another half-finished project...) since nine tons of aggregate turned up, was dumped on our verge and needed moving. Fast.

Unusually, considering the prospect of long hours behind a laden wheelbarrow is generally about as welcome as double-digging in January, I have been enjoying this immensely - largely because most of the nine tons is recycled lavatories.

I went on about this at some length a little while ago, as my conscience was savaged by the revelation that the ubiquitous, common-or-garden gravel we all splash about on our paths and drives is about as environmentally unfriendly as it gets. Always a woman of my word - when it (at last) came to the crunch and we'd got all the various bits of digging-out and wooden edging sorted out enough to actually order the stuff, I went for the recycled option.

There were many dire warnings from assorted relatives about how horrible it would look (I bought it, more than a little apprehensively, sight unseen) - but do you know what, it's really rather nice.

This is the first patch we did, by the greenhouse, which if you ask me looks just like 10mm pea shingle. But look a little closer...

The stuff is full of little bits of coloured china. The kids are in heaven - they spent most of yesterday pulling out chips and washing them to make mosaics. And there's more, though sadly, my powers of photography are not up to showing you. The best thing about our new gravel is that those glazed bits catch the sunlight (and car headlights at night) and glint like little stars on the path.

This is lovely stuff, and I shall never use anything else now. It goes by the rather prosaic name of Traxmax (the manufacturers are obviously not as taken with its prettier qualities as we are) and all our neighbours are fascinated - I suspect it will be all over this corner of Surrey before long. It's even reasonably priced - no more expensive than ordinary gravel. Order it here - and spread the word. Your local landfill will thank you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

September flowers

Now how's this for dedication? I've just been scuttling around my garden in the pouring rain to take these pictures since it's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and though the garden is very weedy at the moment it is full of flowers, so I didn't want to miss it.

As so often happens when you do things differently, it was a revelation. I've realised I never go out in the garden in the rain: just look what I've been missing.

Did everyone else know this already and wasn't telling me? From now on I hope I shall always pop out with an umbrella to enjoy my garden with dewdrops of rain on every petal.

Thank you to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Further to the previous...

Woooot! Well done Pattie!

Incidentally she also did another miniature in the show - actually I think technically it's a 'petite' as it's marginally bigger at about 25cm x 25cm (ish - not sure of the exact details). The theme was 'Berried Treasure'.

This lot was a pile of peppercorns last time I saw it on Pattie's mum's living room table.

And guess what - she won first prize for this too!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The smallest garden in the world

It's a rock garden, an overhanging cliff crusted with lichen shading a little pool with a yellow waterlily. It measures 10cm x 10cm (and no more than 10cm high).

Viewed from the other side, and you can see a few flowers cling on in the cracks, while elegant ferns waft in the breeze (that may be white paper underneath... or a particularly pale beach?)

Oh, all right then, you've probably guessed already. This is miniature flower arranging, done on an infinitesimally tiny scale: every piece is dried and preserved in silica before being stuck, one at a time, on the sculpture. Not one is more than a few millimetres long. Everything you see is of plant origin: those 'bulrushes' are individual stamens, while the yellow flowers are made from the tiny central blossoms picked out of euphorbia bracts. The 'rock' is a piece of bark, and there are more tiny specks from Bupleurum and other things I couldn't even recognise.

Actually I've been sitting on these pictures for a few weeks, as this miniature is a work in progress due to go on display tomorrow at the Wisley Flower Show as part of the new NAFAS flower-arranging exhibit. Since staging has now started, there's no risk of any dastardly stealing of ideas - apparently flower arranging is a cut-throat sport and much skulduggery goes on behind the scenes. So I can now publish, and to hell with the consequences.

Don't worry, I was no more than a very admiring bystander: the artist is Pattie Hendrie, the very talented daughter of Mrs M, whose garden I look after and which I have raved about occasionally here before.

Good luck Pattie - I'll be there and rooting for you!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

There's an elephant in my garden

Look what we found crawling across our lawn today.

Isn't he extraordinary? He stayed just like this, reared up like some prehistoric mini-dinosaur, no doubt in an attempt to make us fear for our lives. He needn't have worried - we certainly weren't about to eat him.

Fortunately, given his size (about the thickness of my ring finger and almost as long) he's not a garden pest. I discovered from the outstandingly good identification site UK Moths that he's an Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar, and eats rosebay willowherb - which, owing to the fact that I'm seriously behind on the weeding at the moment, I happen to have a patch of at the end of one of my borders. So off he went to feast on my weeds till he turns into a lovely big moth with pink-striped wings. Who knows - if he finds another big pink-winged moth I might I no longer have a willowherb problem. Now that would be a result.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Baby ferns

There's one garden I look after which I am very, very nearly as much in love with as my own little patch. You'll probably understand why when I tell you it's a 17th-century courtyard garden which has been tended by the same lady for, I think, over half a century. I've been helping her look after it for a mere four years of that, give or take a month, but its magic has seeped under my skin: it's not a place you ever want to leave.

The owner - now 90 - is a very instinctive gardener, tucking in a little poppy here or an astrantia there so the effect is entirely artless. What's more, she knows when to leave well alone: it's full of self-sown Erigeron karvinskianus tumbling over walls and (she calls it 'Bouncing Bet') and fumitory (Corydalis lutea) peeping its butter-yellow flowers out from cracks in the masonry.

This week when I went over there I hunted out my favourites of all her little babies, to be found in the very shadiest and dampest nooks and crannies and tucked into crumbling walls or lichen-covered stones throughout the garden.

A little maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) I think - my idents on ferns are more than a bit shaky at the best of times but when they're this tiny (about 8cm across in this case) it's even more iffy. But those wiry little black stems are like little necklaces hung with green jewels.

I'm entirely stumped by this one. I did think it was a lady fern (Athyrium felix-femina) but it's a bit too feathery and not quite right somehow. But maybe that's just how they are when they're young. Anyone out there know for sure?

Not much doubt about what this is - it's an Asplenium scolopendrium, the harts-tongue fern, an evergreen much beloved of plant designers as it obligingly stays (mostly) green all winter and puts up with dry conditions. I'd never seen it as a baby before - those little fat leaves are just too cute.
If I take nothing else from this garden, it's this: the simple lesson to quit meddling. When nature throws up these little gems, who needs a gardener?
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