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A Week in Cornwall – Part 5 – The Japanese Garden

As we left Cornwall after our week’s holiday we spent the morning at The Japanese Garden which was part way back to Devon where we were going to stay for a few days. We had visited this garden years ago but could not remember it at all, so it would all be a surprise.

A Japanese gardens has certain elements that make it a Japanese garden, a feeling of welcome, topiarised trees and shrubs, stone sculptures often in the form of lanterns, beautiful calm vistas, paths to invite calm slow wandering and moss in abundance, plus of course that essential water.

Let us begin at our Cornwall garden to see if it gave us a warm welcome, and see if there were areas that gave us the right feeling of calm and peace. Throughout this look at the Cornwall Japanese Garden you will notice how powerful the sense of light and shade can be in creating an atmospheric garden.

 

Peaceful areas appeared regularly at the end of winding paths or through archways.

   

Moss featured here as groundcover or growing on branches and tree trunks in the damp atmosphere. These patches of moss either on the ground or aerial are great for wildlife especially as they are always moist. Overall wildlife feels happy in Japanese gardens in the UK, and effecively act as predatorial pest controllers.

    

Training trees is an ancient Japanese art practised for centuries by Japanese gardeners following set rules using coniferous ans deciduous trees alike. It is a skill just coming into being in 21st century Britain. I love using it in the garden!

    

Stone sculptures were visible throughout including many forms of lantern. We use a few of these in our interpretation of a Japanese garden her at home in our Plealey patch.

       

Bamboo of course is another essential element of any Japanese garden, either growing in its many forms or used as a fencing or building material. It is beautiful and structural whichever way it is used.

 

I hope you have enjoyed this little tour of the Cornwall Japanese Garden as much as we did. There is so much Western gardeners can learn from Japanese garden design and from the skills of Japanese gardeners. They can teach us a lot about creating peace and harmony in our gardens.

 

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Another NGS Yellow Book Shropshire Garden – Sunningdale

I would like now to look back to the summer gone to share some visits and re-visits to other National Garden Scheme (NGS) gardens from a town garden to a huge old garden in North Wales.

The garden at Sunningdale is a half acre town garden in the north Shropshire market town of Wem. Friends had recommended the garden to us so as the garden opening season is coming to an end we decided to make the half hour journey northward up the A49.

We received a warm and very cheerful welcome as we took a path through an open gateway, which took us around the side of the house to reveal a garden that invites visitors to wander. We discovered some interesting bits and pieces on our way around the side of the villa. Plus of course some exciting colours from flowering plants.

  

This delicate tall elegant yellow flowered plant was unknown to us and luckily labelled, Dendromecon rigida, the Poppy Tree. What a treat it always is to discover new plants.

 

Interesting pruning techniques and styles by the owners had breathed new life into otherwise rather dull conifers. Conifers are carved into recesses for seats or entranceways to another part of the garden, or simply to frame a piece of sculpture.

These solid conifers have been carefully trimmed in a way that implies almost drawing with shears.  Beautiful!

To share the rest of this lovely garden I shall finish of with a gallery which follows our wanderings discovering so many different aspects of the garden. Enjoy by simply clicking on the first photo then navigating using the arrows.

 

 

 

 

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My Garden Journal 2018 – March

Into the third month of the year and we should now be seeing the cheerful signs of early spring. Spring should start the birds singing afresh. We should expect to see green returning to the garden as freshly-burst buds bring life to our patch. Let us see what my Garden Journal for March actually shows.

I began by recording, “March begins as February leaves off, freezing temperatures day and night often dipping into minus figures. The soil is solid, frozen and unworkable. Snow, sleet and frozen rain showers are frequent visitors. The Met Office count March as the first month of Spring but us gardeners know that it is the last of Winter. Dan Pearson in “Natural Selection” writes, “A cold start t the month always feels more appropriate to me, because it is better to go slow when there is so much to do and so much to take in. I prefer the feeling of caution that is generated when there is a beast waiting in the wings – it takes away the assumption that this might be the start of Spring.”

Nevertheless we carry on doing garden wildlife jobs, repairing and repainting nest boxes.”

 

Opposite I looked at one of my favourite spring bulbs, Iris reticulata and shared my Japanese brush paintings I enjoyed doing so much. I noted, “Iris reticulata bulbs are one of our first to come into flower following on from Snowdrops and Winter Aconites. Their rich blues and purples look good with Carex.

These Irises are native to Russia, the Caucasus and Northern Iran, but we grow them in our temperate gardens where they thrive if planted deeply. Our favourites are Iris r. George and “Harmony” but neither of us are keen on the “washed out” look of “Katherine Hodgkin”.

 

After looking at my Iris paintings we can turn over to a double page spread concerning firstly snow and then the wildlife in our Avocet garden.

“As we pass the mid-point of March we awake to the third appreciable snow fall of the winter. Luckily this fall has not been sculpted into drifts so we hope that when it melts we are left unscathed. It will however prevent us from getting out there and enjoying our early year jobs.”

  

“Wildlife is busy in March with frogs cavorting in our wildlife pond and leaving large clumps of spawn among the plants that sit in the water close to the edge. Birds are pairing up, displaying, singing and carrying nesting materials to their nests under construction. We have a pair of  Robins nesting in our woodstore and House Sparrows have taken up residence in the nest boxes we recently re-furbished for them. We watched them pulling grass stems out of the snow and taking them into the boxes. We have created lots more bee homes and repaired any damaged older ones.”

We discovered our brightest coloured frog we have ever seen – a lime green bellied frog.”

Over the next page we look at some of the important jobs we have been busy carrying out during the month of March.

 

“March is a busy month for us gardeners and because of this it is a month we really look forward to. Each week we create a “to do” job list and get busy preparing for the year to come and of course ensuring our patch is up to scratch for our visitors this year.”

“We cut comfrey leaves for liquid feed, pruned leaves off the Epimedium to help us see their fresh flowers and topped up the log edging around our wildlife pond.”

  

“We fed our trees with wood ash from our woodburner and checked tree stakes and tree ties.”

  

“A big project is developing our new fern garden, a raised bed to fill the gap left by the removal of our oil tank. We came up with this crazy idea and hope it works! Planks of wood became a raised fern garden.”

     

Turning over to the next double page spread I wrote about buying new plants and I shared my paintings of a surprise find below the snow. I wrote, “We have been in plant buying mode often this March, some Hebes to replace some that have gone too woody and untidy, Ferns to add to our collection and stock our new “raised fernery” and more Ivies to cover concrete fence posts.”

“Hebes “Purple Shamrock”, Bronze Glow” and “Mrs Winder” and Ferns, “Polystichum setiferum “Plumosum Densum”, Dryopteris affinis “Polydactyla Dadds”, “Dryopteris austriaca “Crispa Whiteside” and Cyrtomium falcatum.”

“We have also been busy dividing perennials such as Sedums.”

“Secret beneath the snow! When the snow drifts melted and once again our golden flint gravel could shine in our Beth Chatto Garden, we found a sad looking perennial stem and its seedheads. It usually stands firmly upright as a statuesque reminder of its summer and autumn beauty. Eryngium pandanifolium can grow to 7ft tall, its spiny flower stem rising from a grass-like batch of equally spiky foliage. The flowers are coloured a strange dusky maroon colour.”

I painted this secret with water-colour pencils and artist pens in greys and blacks.

My final page in my entries for March features a quotation from a nature writer, John Lewis-Stempel and considered how it relates to our own patch.

“The nature writer, John Lewis-Sempel, in his new book titled “The Wood” wrote of March, “Robin sings with gusto, trying different refrains, experimenting. He is the philosophical songbird. 

Hedgehogs now out of hibernation from their watertight nests of grass and moss. As I’m sitting in my chair one shuffles absentmindedly over my wellingtoned feet.

The wood is “filling out”. There are no longer clear views through the trees. Gone is the sense of space, and light. The trees are crowding in.

The blackbird has finished her nest in the Elm. The nest is a perfect bowl, of grass, straw and twigs and plastered inside with mud. Years will pass, but the mud cup will last.”

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Here at our Avocet garden we have virtually no fresh leaves open yet just bursting buds on just a few shrubs and trees. House Sparrows are nesting vigorously now collecting nest materials and at the end of the month we observed a Robin busy building a nest in a Robin nesting box we had made and put up in the Shade Garden.

In every other way Spring is slow to show any enthusiasm.

Our next visit to my garden journal will be in April when we hope Spring may have made some effort to get underway.

 

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My Garden Journal 2017 – November

The penultimate visit to my garden journal for 2017 is here – hope you enjoy it. I began by referring back to a development we started in the garden back in September which we finished off in November. We are very pleased with how it has turned out and look forward to seeing the new plants flourish.

“October continued with damaging winds and days with brown skies and orange sun as we received the effects f Hurricane Ophelia, downgraded to Storm Ophelia as it hit our shores. The last few weeks of October and the early days of November, saw us busy continuing develop our “Oil Tank Garden”.

 

“We screened the ugly tank with panels of beautiful diamond latticed panels and soon got on with the planting. Always the exciting bit!”

Over the page I continue to describe our development of this border and wrote “Behind the tank we have planted two trees, the Heptacodium mentioned in September and a stunning Sorbus called Joseph Rock with yellow berries in stark contrast to its deepest red autumn foliage.

 

“Hundreds of miniature daffodils were planted with crocus, Anemone blanda and other small bulbs.”

“A new solitary bee home was sited in the new garden. We gave it a miniature green roof!”

“We soon had a selection of climbers planted to clothe the trellis panels, Roses, Clematis, Honeysuckle and a Coronilla”.

   

“Behind the tank we planted for wildlife and hedgehogs in particular. We placed a nestbox for hedgehogs among dense planting of ferns and Euphorbias. We added stone piles, leaf piles and log piles.”

Turning over another page I featured some words by Dan Pearson and looked at some autumn flowering plants.

“Taking a look at Dan Pearson’s writings about Autumn in his “Natural Selections” book he wrote,

I want to invite the seasons into the garden, vividly and in layers. I use asters, autumn crocus and gentians at ground level, and shrubs that perform for this season to take the eye up and away, to straighten the back. I weave berrying trees and shrubs into the garden as much for their jewel-like fruit as for the birds which flock down to gorge when the fruit is ready for feasting upon.”

We aim to do exactly the same in our Avocet patch. Below are a few of our Asters which feature in our “Shrub Border”,  a border that brings Autumn in.”

  

“Another herbaceous perennial that features strongly in our November garden are the Salvias. We leave a few to over-winter in the garden but most will be brought into the cool greenhouse.”

       

Turning over again I take a look at succulents, plants rarely mentioned in the context of the autumn garden.

“When considering Autumn colour, succulents are rarely mentioned, but just check out the photos below of some of our succulents taken in November

   

Below are my paintings/drawings of two multi-coloured succulent stems which I created with water soluble pencil crayons.

“Taking succulent cuttings.”

 

“Final pots of succulents waiting to go into their winter home.”

 

The final page of my November entries in the Garden Journal celebrates my “Plant of the Month”, which is one of only two Irises native to the UK, Iris foetidissima.

  

The next visit to look at my Garden Journal in 2017 will be the last one for the year, December.

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Simply Beautiful – 13

Her we are back with another short post in my very occasional “Simply Beautiful” series where I share a few photos of something that catches my eye, something simply beautiful! For number 13 I want to show you pics of some beautiful early morning spiders’webs, covered in dew, which I found on a cotoneaster shrub.

The webs hung like hammocks with the weight of the drops of dew pulling the structure downwards.

The web below was constructed differently and spun by a different sort of spider, being slumped almost like a open weave fan.

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Celebrating the Glory of Spring – the garden at a cottage called Cartref

I thought I would look back at a visit we made with friends, Pete and Sherlie in the spring to a garden called Cartref. It was a “pop up” NGS garden which is a garden that opens unplanned but that looks good so the owner wants to share it with other NGS, National Garden Scheme, visitors. It is a way of seeing gardens at their best. It is a new idea so we look forward to seeing if it continues to happen. We certainly hope so as we visited two this spring and loved them both.

We decided to celebrate the glory of spring by visiting this NGS garden, a one acre modern cottage garden with borders, woodland and ponds. The main features of the garden were the lovely colourful collection of tulips which were at their best when we visited.

Throughout the rest of the garden we found relaxed styles of gardening and in places emphasis on enhancing habitats for wildlife and attracting wildlife into the garden. The wildlife pond had an island reached by a narrow wooden bridge.

                 

After this visit to the cottage garden at Cartref we decided that “pop up” open gardens were definitely a good idea because we felt we had seen Cartref at its best.

 

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Young naturalists visit Avocet

We recently hosted a visit to our garden by students from our local school, who came to look at how we garden with wildlife in mind, how we attract wildlife of all sorts and create a balanced ecosystem. We all had a great time!

We began by looking at our live moth trap that had been in operation overnight. We studied the wide variety of moths that inhabit our garden overnight and slowly released them after encouraging each student to let a moth or two sit on their hands. Our overnight trapping was most successful with hundreds caught, with dozens of different species from the smallest micro moth up to our largest hawk moth. All were successfully released unharmed.

     

This Poplar Hawk Moth took a real liking to this young lady and stayed on her face for the whole visit. She even named him Steve!

 

We then enjoyed giving a guided tour of our patch, starting in the front garden and slowly moving through the whole patch, looking for plants that attract wild and identifying why and seeking out wildlife habitats and home made features.

 

A quick pond dip and the students were delighted to meet one of our frogs, a really impressive large one.

We then moved into the front garden and began a tour of our plot when we pointed out how we attract wildlife to our garden, highlighting plants that attract pollinators and all our home-made features, such as insect hotels and bird boxes. There was then time for a break when we all enjoyed tea, coffee and some of Jude’s home-made cakes. This was followed by a quiet time when the students explored the garden on their own and recorded what they had experienced in words and drawings.

       

The group had target pollinator species to find and several were found and identified during the morning including this Marmalade Hoverfly, in its orange and black striped pyjamas.

All too soon it was time for the group to leave us and wander down the road to board their coach, with a request to come again. We enjoyed the big waves we received as the bus drove off.

  

 

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A New Summerhouse for Avocet

There comes a time when every wooden garden building reaches the point when it can no longer be repaired – beyond the point of no return! This recently happened to our summerhouse which looked out over our wildlife pond. It had been up for 12 years or so and I have lost track of the times I had to repair weather damage from sun, wind and rain. So the time arrived when we had to bite the bullet and order a new one.

We ordered a replacement which would sit on the footprint of the original, not an easy task as it is an unusual shape.Normally we would have erected and painted it ourselves, but with serious hand surgery in the offing we had our new summerhouse delivered, painted and erected as part of the deal. But we did demolish the old one – we were not going to miss out on the fun!

We wandered down to the bottom of the garden and set about the destruction heartily, with lump and sledge hammers and monkey and gorilla wrenches to hand. We had week of bashing fun!

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We made some new spidery friends who were hibernating behind panels so we had to re-house them. They are an essential part of our wildlife pest control unit so we had to look after them.

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And so with our spider friends rehoused we raised the old summerhouse to the ground. For a while we had a see-through summerhouse and then none at all!

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We then had to break up the old wood to use as firewood for the woodburner.

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Before the new summerhouse arrived we had to prepare a level solid base for it.

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We were delighted  with the new summerhouse and were soon looking forward to painting the inside and putting the furniture and artifacts back.

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First though we had to paint the interior as we want it to be as light as possible. Once the paint dried some of our artefacts soon decorated the walls.

 

We can’t wait to take advantage of our new summer house and sit inside admiring our garden while we drink coffee and enjoy some of Jude’s delicious home-made cake!

A few weeks after completing our summer house build we added a deck which would sit in front of it and go out over the end of the pond. Our son and son-in-law, Jamie and Rob came with their families to build the deck for us as following surgery on my thumb I can only use one hand. We sent for the cavalry! While the boys constructed the deck daughter Jo worked away in the new Arabella Garden adding edging to the borders  and stopped frequently to give advice.

The final jobs were to put down carpet, varnish the deck and get the furniture and pictures back in.

     

We are so pleased with our new summerhouse now it is finished and are regularly enjoying spending time relaxing in it.

 

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Nest Box Cam

During the early Winter I made a special nest box for Blue Tits, one designed to house a wireless camera. To finish the project son-in-law Rob fixed  the tiny “spy” camera inside and linked it up to our television. So now that it is fixed up, partly hidden in our grape vine, we patiently wait to see if a pair take up residence to raise a brood. Exciting!

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You can see the second hole on the side, covered in a sheet of scratched perspex placed to let some light in.

It felt so good to see our first images of the empty box appear on our TV screen. Just how excited will we become if we spot a Blue Tit entering! Watch this space! It will be so good if they do nest because not only will we love watching them but we will know that they will be acting as great natural pest controllers, devouring thousands of insects especially aphids and thousands of caterpillars as they raise their young. Now that is real natural gardening!

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Developing 3 spaces in our garden – part 3

The second new area we were able to develop this winter was a very small border created when we rationalised our sheds. The bed was originally used for a selection of mints which we used for cooking so the soil had to be removed and very bit of mint root removed. Some is bound to come back though as it seems impossible to rid yourself of mint in one go. We will have to keep our eyes peeled. As yet we have not named this little patch but I guess it may end up being something akin to “The Old Mint Patch”.

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We began by erecting a screen wrapping around behind the bed and one end and we chose willow hurdle panels for this as it lets some wind through but gives some protection. We also love the natural rural look of it, and have used it effectively elsewhere in our garden. To match the natural look of the fencing we added a border edge of log-roll.

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We planned our planting in three layers. First plantings were climbers, followed by shrubs and finally herbaceous perennials including grasses. The first climber we planted was Trachelospermum asiaticum, chosen for its flowers which are creamy coloured and scented in strong contrast to its dark green glossy foliage. We partnered this climber with a Honeysuckle and a Clematis. Clematis Fragrant Auberon has creamy-white, heavily scented flowers in spring contrasting strongly with its evergreen foliage. The Honeysuckle was Lonicera Spring Purple, where the purple refers to its foliage.

The shrubs we selected were favourites of ours which had graced our wishlist for a few years now so this new, unexpected planting opportunity meant they could now leave their place in the wish list and grace the new border instead. Firstly we planted a Hydrangea aspera, a summer flowering shrub called H. a. “Hot Chocolate”, so we look forward to its lacecap flowers consisting of pink florets surrounding violet florets in the summer, and of course its foliage which is a chocolate colour above and wine-red velvety textured below.

We are always pleased to find space for another deciduous, so we planted a specimen of Euonymus planipes in this new border. We put it in when it was leafless and we spotted its beautiful mahogany long thin leaf buds. Later it will boast bright pink fruits with vivid orange seeds hanging from within, an incredible colour combination.

Our third shrub was an Abeliophyllum distichum, which was showing its gently scented pale pink almost white flowers. We look forward to its foliage turning rich purple in autumn.

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The final planting later to put in place was the herbaceous layer where we selected plants mostly for their unusual foliage but a few will flower. Thus we planted three Saxifrages – S. stolonifera called “Hime”, S. fortunei “Blackberry and Apple Pie” and S. stolonifera “Maroon Beauty”, strongly textured, coloured foliage and unusual shaped flowers. We planted a fern too to link across to the one in the container which I write about later. We chose Dryopteris erythrosora “Prolifica” which features copper foliage each spring. Three Libertias join in to give spikes of foliage some with coloured stripes and white flowers in the summer and autumn. These Libertia are L. ixioides “Taupo Sunset”, L. peregrinans “Gold Leaf” and a third is an unknown species we grew from seed. We finished with our usual grasses, essential in every border, so we placed between the other perennials three Uncinia rubra,

We also had space adjacent to the new bed for a large stoneware pot which matched the  one at the far end of the path close by. We planted this up with a Gaultheria mucronata “Sneeuwwiyje” which I think translates as “Snowdrop”. It sports red stems and shiny dark green foliage and in summer white flowers with hints of soft pink followed by white berries later. Beneath this shrub we planted a fern and a couple of trailing ivies for year long foliage colour and texture. The ivies Hedera “Golden Kolibri” and Hedera “White Wonder”, the names reflecting the colour of the leaf variegation. The fern was Polystichum setiferum “Plumosum”, with soft textured foliage.

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The final flourish was installing a wildlife “village” of varied insect homes, some coming from the old garden shed others newly made.

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A few weeks later we added spring flowering bulbs from pots, a few more grasses and a third Saxafraga, S. Blackberry and Apple Pie.

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We then had to sit back, let Mother Nature and all her soil workers and the weather do their best and watch the new patch develop. Maybe it will develop well enough to appear in my garden journal later in the year.