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Pale and interesting ?! 

20 Sep

I’ve noticed a bit of a floral shift over the last year – the well established trend for bold, dark florals seems to be facing a bit of competition from the pale end of the spectrum. 

For many years, the dahlias that you’d see everywhere were the dark, moody ‘Chat Noir’ and ‘Arabian Night’.

  
But this autumn, you’d have to have been going round with your eyes closed not to have spotted this years ‘must-have’ dahlia – ‘Cafe au Lait’ – a completely different kind of colour – pale, subtle, even maybe a little insipid ? 

Photo below courtesy of Cherfold Cottage Flowers – more beautiful homegrown flowers. 

  
I think some of this love for paler flowers has come from another trend I’ve spotted on Instagram – a very theatrical setting for floral arrangements, reminisant of Dutch Masters paintings. And with a dark background, the paler flowers really pop out ! 

  
   
 
The photos above are from the beautiful The Garden Gate Flower Company who specialise in homegrown British flowers – and who also take beautiful photographs ! 

Obviously these paler flowers also suit the bridal flowers market. 

So it is no surprise to see that this years bulb catalogues are also full of new paler varieties. 

I’ve always grown plenty of bright and bold tulips that look equally fabulous in the garden as they do in the house. 

  
But this autumn I’m keen to try a new palette of softer, subtler colours. 

The ones that have caught my eye include ‘La Belle Epoque‘, ‘Bruine Wimpel‘, and ‘Purple Tower’.

   
   
This last one , above, isn’t really pale and interesting but so unusual ! 

I’ll report back in May to see if pale is really interesting ! 

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The garden in July

20 Jul

July is a tricky time in the garden. The roses are nearly over, especially if it’s been as wet and windy as we’ve had it recently. The peonies are finished , the early hardy geraniums- e g Johnson’s Blue – have done their bit.

Yet the late summer flowers – dahlias, daisies, fuchsias etc – are yet to flower.

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I visited a friend a few months ago to give her some advice on how to get her garden looking perfect for her daughter’s wedding at the end of July. My first suggestion of moving the wedding forward to June was not accepted ! So this is what I suggested instead-

1. Deadhead everything as often as possible – this will keep your repeat flowering roses flowering and many perennials will put up a second flush of flowers – delphiniums, lupins.

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2. Cutting many perennials down to the ground will prompt fresh foliage rather than more flowers but at least they’ll look fresh and healthy rather than dry and spent. This works well for many geraniums, alchemilla mollis, nepeta, hesperis. Remember to water well and feed to get them going again.

3. Plan in advance, to delay the flowering of some of your May/June flowering perennials. This method is sometimes known as the Chelsea chop – not because they do it at Chelsea, but because that’s the best week to do it. It involves chopping off the flower heads on selected perennials so that they effectively have to start again producing flower heads, thus delaying their flowering by several weeks. I know this sounds very radical, but it does work. You may get slightly smaller flowers but your plants will be sturdier for it. You can also just do it to a portion of a clump so that you get a longer flowering period. It works for many plants including geraniums, daisies, echinacea, phlox, sedum, helenium, solidago, nepeta, asters.

4. If you have a greenhouse, pot up lilies which will flower in July, dahlia tubers potted up in large 10l pots in a Greenhouse in March also have good chance of flowering in July. These pots can easily be slotted in amongst existing planting.

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5. Grow some annuals from seed to fill any gaps. By this I don’t mean small bedding plants like petunias as these will just get lost amongst your perennials. I grow a couple of dozen nicotiana langsdorffii every year – they grow to about 2ft high and their lime green bells flower from July through to the first frosts. Similar annuals that would work are nicotiana mutabilis , Malva trifida, snapdragons, cosmos. Find one that grows easily for you and grow lots – that way you get good repetition throughout your beds.

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I know I really should’ve told you all this in May but better late than never ! I’ll try and remember to re-post this in May next year !

Warwickshire Open Studios – a sneak peak into the county’s makers spaces.

13 Jul

A wonderful thing happens in Warwickshire every summer – all over the county painters, sculptors, potters, stitchers and photographers open up their homes and studios to the general public, as part of the Warwickshire Open Studios programme.  We are encouraged to visit, meet the artists and enjoy their spaces. There are over 120 venues exhibiting work by 239 artists and makers. In fact you’d have to visit 4 a day to see them all !

I sadly only had one day to squeeze a few in. Having studied the catalogue, I highlighted 3 or 4 venues that were all quite close together – all a short drive from the centre of Leamington.

One of the added bonuses of visiting Open Studios is that you get to have a sneak peak of other peoples houses and gardens and being of an artistic bent, they are very often quite special !

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This secluded spot is home to Nicky Richards – talented ceramicist. After many years working in the garage,  she has relocated to a beautiful studio in the garden where she has space and light and access to all her tools and inspiration to produce many beautiful ceramic pieces.

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Her studio is located at the end of the garden alongside a sheltered terrace with dining table and chiminea. The ‘off the shelf’ wood cabin has been customised with a coat of dark grey paint and tucked in amongst the planting. It is hardly visible from the house and blends in perfectly.

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Nicky specialises in coiled or slabbed pots ( for those of us who know little about pots – this means she doesn’t throw them on a wheel) and after an initial kiln firing she smoke fires them in a garden incinerator before plunging them into a bucket of sawdust – plenty of heat and flame involved ! This gives her pots their trademark smoke colours. much polishing and buffing follows, resulting in smooth perfect curves.

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This year Nicky has branched out into garden pots and they are fabulous ! They still have her distinctive curves and polish but are stoneware suitable for outdoor use in earthy and verdant tones.

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They are like smooth beach pebbles and with small openings lend them selves to small succulents.

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There are also hanging versions which look fabulous on this piece of driftwood.

Nicky has a real artists eye for detail and her garden and studio are full of amazing little touches

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A shelf of inspirational pieces!

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A thriving sedum.

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A shelf of glazes.

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Its the same in the garden, where Nicky has placed the perfect plant in the perfect pot against the grey of the studio.

Pieces of drift wood and rusted, twisted metal add interest to every corner.

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On a hot afternoon, this little spot is a real haven and has clearly inspired Nicky to branch out into garden friendly pots.

Take time to sit and stare …….

29 Jun

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

By W.H.Davies

One of the most important elements of a good garden, for me , is somewhere to sit and enjoy the garden.

I see too many gardens where there’s almost no provision for sitting outside other than perhaps a dining table by the French windows. But without various destinations throughout the garden, you never really get to appreciate a space.

And I may have taken this mantra to a new level – within my, really quite compact, town centre garden I have five separate sitting areas.

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Above , these chairs are located just outside the kitchen door and serves as fragrant spot to sip a mid morning coffee, or a snack lunch or a well deserved cup of tea.. The pots are planted up with scented geraniums and nicotiana.

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Above, I have to admit nobody has ever sat at this table and chairs. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t earn it’s space in the garden. It is in a very tricky spot, getting very little sun yet being looked out on from the dining room windows and sitting room French window. So really it is a staged tableau that adds interest to a very dead space.

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Above, this is where we all sit together to linger over good food , usually cooked by the chief barbecuer ! The umbrella keeps it cool all day – I’m not one to enjoy sitting in full sun for hours while we eat.

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Above, this is where I wish I could spend longer ! It’s tucked right in amongst the border and is in the shade by mid afternoon – again I’d rather hide from the sun. All I need is a cup of earl grey and a good book and I could happily doze ! The smell from the philadelphus behind is indescribable !

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And finally, above, is the place we watch the sun set with a beer or gin & tonic – room for friends – a fire bowl to stave off the chills – a spot to watch the swans and ducks on the river.

Sat in any of these spots, I see different angles of the garden and the house, I am more aware of which bits get the sun when, and notice where I need to plant more scented flowers.

So if you’re giving some thought to your garden layout, I think you can safely assume you can squeeze one more seating area in somewhere !

Go with the flow – let colour take control !

19 Jun

Don’t be afraid of colour !!

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This bed is a riot of colour and probably breaks all the rules in the book but doesn’t it look fabulous !

It started out, about 7 years ago, much more sedate with a gentle blend of yellow and white lupins and blue delphiniums, but then the pink peonies popped up unexpectedly , and over the years the balance has changed.

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The white lupins and blue delphiniums have diminished whilst the pink peonies have been joined by self seeded geraniums. We’ve planted some new white peonies and a range of foxgloves spring surprises every year.

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The poppies spread themselves around and range in colour from lilac to deep burgundy but somehow it all goes together !

It helps that there’s plenty of structure and harmonious shapes and that some of the more shocking colours – the bright red poppies – are shortlived.

But don’t be afraid to let colour get out of control, don’t be obsessed with monochrome gardens or a very restricted palette – you never know you might like the result !

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My assistant gardener had a particularly hectic day today !

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My Top10 Selection – Plants for shady conditions.

15 Jun

It’s a well worn theory that it’s better to use fewer varieties in larger groups, but it’s a theory that really does work. By choosing the few varieties that will cope with the exact growing conditions, they will thrive and multiply much faster than slightly fussier plants that will always struggle.

So here are my current top 10 plants for shady areas.

1. Helleborus orientalis – an evergreen perennial with large glossy leaves, and long lasting flowers in late winter in shades of lime green through to dark pink.

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2. Polystitchum setiferum – shield fern – an evergreen fern with glossy fronds emerging every spring.

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3. Tellima grandiflora – a semi evergreen small perennial with a mound of bright green leaves and spikes of tiny green bells in early summer

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4. Hellebores argutifolius – large evergreen perennial with large glossy leaves and bright lime large flowers in late winter

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5. Sarcococca confusa – small evergreen shrub with small glossy leaves and tiny but highly scented flowers mid winter

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6. Pulmonaria officinalis – semi evergreen small perennial with spotted leaves and blue AND pink flowers on the same plant !

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7. Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum‘ – herbaceous perennial with marbled foliage, elegant hooded flowers and orange berries.

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8.Geranium phaeum – herbaceous perennial with leaves splashed with purple and dark purple flowers early summer.

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9. Geranium macrorrhizum – semi evergreen herbaceous perennial with delicate pink flowers early summer.

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10. Hydrangea ‘Annabelle‘ – medium deciduous shrub with new lime green leaves followed by huge white flower heads.

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The important thing to remember with shady conditions is to improve the soil as much as you can – add garden compost, well rotted manure or mushroom compost. And then once planted, do remember to water regularly for the first year to get everything established.

Add further colour with spring bulbs and you’ll have colour and soft structure all year round. And you’ll wonder why that shady dry spot was ever a problem !

All photos courtesy of www.crocus.co.uk

Packwood revisited …

10 Jun

Back in February, I visited the kitchen garden at Packwood House. It was a great time of year to appreciate the structure and layout of the area and to spot all the lovely little details.

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Above is a picture taken in February when very little was growing.

Now in June, the garden is starting to fill out.

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Here the strawberries are flowering prolifically. Some plants were being grown in grow bags , on low tables – in order to avoid the slugs maybe ? But they would obviously need more watering. Others were grouped in hanging bags on short posts – easy to pick and decorative.

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The box hedges are growing fast and are a beautiful saturated green. They must be due a trim – box is traditionally trimmed on Derby Day in the uk – this is a prestigious horse race and this year it was 6th June. There’s nothing scientific about this particular day but early June does give the plants plenty of time to recover from the trim and for new growth to harden off before any chance of frost in the autumn.

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Peas are safe from pigeons under runs of chicken wire held above them by beautiful clay pots.

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The herb beds are almost full with parsley, marjoram, thyme, lovage, fennel, dill,sage and many more I couldn’t identify. What I’d give for a herb bed this big !!

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Vegetable planting becomes art here when even the potatoes are sown in neat patchwork patterns.

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And the auricula theatre was still putting on a good performance ! Can’t wait for my auriculas to grow as large of these ones !

And finally I still had time to pop over to the main garden quickly.

The relatively newly planted herbaceous borders were growing apace. The planting was dominated with Allium ‘Purple Sensation‘ .

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Normally I love Allium ‘purple sensation ‘, and I’d normally say you can never have too many ! But here I think they may have over done it ! They really do dominate the bed and as they’re all exactly the same height and same colour they rather smother the rest of the planting. In my view , half as many would have looked better. They will blend in better once they go to seed.
What do you think ??

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