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Happy Winter Solstice – A Bouquet of Frosted Roses

Today is the Winter Solstice! A day to celebrate! From tomorrow each day will get a little longer, giving a bonus of extra light. So here is a present of a bouquet of frosted roses.

We delight in every rose bud that appears in the winter months and celebrate each and every one that opens out to present us with a bloom. When iced with a crystal layer of white frost they look even better.






I suppose I shall have to prune them down by half to stop the wind rocking the roots loose before too long, and then it will be a long wait until next May to appreciate these delicious blooms once again.

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A Wander Around our Allotments in November

The penultimate lottie wander post for 2012 and at last the weather is providing a few bright cold days. This is what we look forward to in this autumnal month, rather than the wet dark days we have been presented with in the first few days. The light is warm and gives a crisp edge to any photos taken as the blue haze of summer has disappeared.

We went up the lottie yesterday to deliver some spare seeds for the Seed Swap basket and to collect some greens left by fellow plot holders for our chickens. They are spoilt by our friends from the site! It was mid-afternoon and we had not intended to stop to work, but we changed our minds. We got out the communal mowers and rakes and gave the final two meadows their annual “hair cuts”. Jude, The Undergardener did most of the work as it is a bit difficult with my spine and leg pains, so I wandered off taking advantage of the special quality of the day’s light and shot off a couple of dozen pics with my Galaxy.

As we worked on the meadows the resident Field Voles scuttled off as they felt the mower’s vibrations and disappeared down their holes. We left a few clumps of wildflowers standing for everyone to enjoy before winter cuts them down. Field Scabious, Mallow and Sunflowers.

The meadows that are already trimmed look flat and brown, but the pathways mown through them look crisp and green.

The foliage in our Sensory Garden is given extra vitality in the November sunshine.

The next shot is a view of the site boundary through the seed heads of a white-flowered Actaea across the Spring Garden. In the Spring Garden a tiny Acer shows that you don’t have to be big to impress.

In the meadows the last of the grasses and sunflowers stand tall and proud.

Up in the mature Sycamore and Oak the resident bats will be shuffling around and preening in readiness to leave their roosts in the boxes and go on the feed for moths and night-flying insects. Bats are our night-time pest control patrols. In the daylight hours we are being entertained by birds of prey often being mobbed by our flocks of Jackdaws and Rooks . Peregrines, Buzzard, Red Kite, Kestrel and Sparrow Hawk.

Around the plots the gardeners are preparing their plots for the winter, beds are cleared and manure piled up or spread over the surface.

A few crops remain for winter sustenance.The red stems and purple leaves of Ruby Chard add a burst of colour. Brassicas are covered to give protection from ravenous and greedy Wood Pigeons who love to eat the sweet centres of Brussels Sprouts and the tenderest, newest leaves of cabbages.

A few remaining flowers add extra brightness to the plots.Tthat most popular of companion plants, the Calendula brightens up compost areas and odd roses still perform in the Summer Garden. We can expect these David Austin roses to continue to treat us to flowers until the new year.

The star of the site for the next few months will be the Winter Garden and it is already showing promises and hints of what delights it has in store for us in times ahead. As leaves fall from trees and shrubs the colours and textures of the stems and trunks will come into their own.

We have endured a wet summer and autumn with each month breaking previous rainfall records. Crops have been poor and we have been flooded four times. Dave, the Scarecrow looks a bit worse for wear too!

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July Roses and Clematis

Warm, wet weather delighted our roses and clematis. They are flowering better than ever and their colours sparkle.

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A Wander around the Allotments in June

Here we are at the half way point of the year in the June allotment wanderings. As usual we shall start on our own plot to see what has been going on. Our little wildlife pond is beginning to look more established and the tadpoles are growing well. We hope the frogs stay on our plot and eat up all the slugs. As you can see we provided a little wooden ramp to help them get in and out of the water.

Heartsease self seed around the plot sometimes landing in suitable places arriving in a wide range of colours. This one seeded into the soil behind the green bench.

Our strip of wildflowers, a little piece of meadow, is beginning to flower. This Opium Poppy surprised us with its deep pink coloured petals.

Moon Daisies and Cornflowers.

Just as flowers feature strongly on our own plot so they do on other members’ plots and in the Green Space borders. In the Autumn Garden Achilleas are the stars.

Calendulas feature on many plots as they look so good,  and work hard as part of companion planting helping to attract beneficial insects.

Our first “Buddleja Bed” planted to attract wildlife now looks colourful and full of life. After losing some of our Buddlejas in the dry last year when Shropshire experienced months of drought after two extremely cold winters, the name for these borders currently looks a little inappropriate.

Our wildflower bank sloping up towards one of our orchards is now looking more established as we have added plants that members have donated to add interest.

The Edible Hedge is now fruiting providing sustenance to birds and small mammals. Flowers in the borders at the base bring in bees, butterflies and beneficial insects. Beetles enjoy the long grass and we like them to be there as they feed on slugs.

The most colourful garden on site at the moment is the Spring Garden which still displays much interest as we move into the summer months. This garden is maintained by volunteers, Jill and Geoff who spend many an hour planting, dead heading and weeding.

Geoff and Jill’s plot is renown for its weed free neatness and precision planting.

The Summer Garden  is not to be outdone though as the roses are coming into flower and beautiful scents greet us as we sit on the nearby picnic benches. The lavenders, geraniums and grasses planted between the roses add further interest and textures.

As June moves towards July our meadows really come into their own. Plot holders love to walk through them and a wide variety of birds, bees, butterflies, grass hoppers and every sort of mini-beast visit.

I shall finish with a shot of the plot we have nominated for this year’s Shrewsbury Town Allotment Competition and one of our grass spiral which currently looks most inviting.

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Christmas Rose

No, this is not going to be primarily about hellebore, sometimes known as Christmas Roses. They do not always flower at Christmas time, although in recent years the tendency to flower in December has increased here in our Shropshire garden.

I am talking here about the climbing version of Rosa Graham Thomas, a David Austin rose which we grow clambering over one of our garden sheds. We try to train some branches along the nearby fence but it likes to be on the shed roof best of all. It has been voted “The World’s Favourite Rose”. This seems particularly apt as Graham Thomas himself was one of the world’s favourite garden writers, having written 17 books in all. He was also an excellent artist working in both water colours and pencil, though he was best known perhaps for his role as the National Trust’s “head gardener”.

A second slow cold walk around the garden revealed that this year the hellebore are in fact performing in tune with their nick name, so perhaps I had better feature them too!

Here in winter its deep yellow blooms help to emphasise the depth of clear December skies. This rose manages to flourish all year, flowering almost every month of the year except straight after its annual pruning in spring. In winter it also displays large hips of orange and later red. Sadly it lacks the scent which pervades the garden in the humid warmer months. The David Austin catalogue describes this scent as typical “fresh tea rose fragrance” although “The under gardener”, otherwise known as my wife Jude, thinks it reminiscent of school dinners!

Several other roses have odd flowers on at the moment as a quick wander around with camera in hand illustrated. This sad rose bud didn’t quite make it to full bloom before being cut by the wind. The orange is the flower of a Calendula. They landed side by side on the bark surface of the new “Secret Garden”

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A Garden for all Seasons – Trentham

The phrase, “a garden for all seasons” is over-used and too often banded about in the gardening media. Rarely is a garden good in all seasons but it is something that we aspire to here in our garden in Plealey. We haven’t achieved it yet but feel we get closer in some borders each year. We do a lot of garden visiting and the garden we visit most often is Trentham Gardens in Stoke-on-Trent. This has to be the closest you can get to “a garden for all seasons”. We visited yesterday, 22nd December, to see how good it was at this rather dull austere time of year.

The day dawned bright with blue sky decorated only with vapour trails and a whisp of a moon, which looked like a simple delicate curve drawn with a piece of fine blackboard chalk. Over our garden and the fields beyond buzzards wheeled in this clean, clear morning atmosphere. As I fed the chucks and had my morning chat with them the buzzards were never silent, gently “mewing” in time with their soaring in search of the first thermals of the day. A perfect day to visit one of our favourite gardens but were we asking too much of it? We drive off with high expectations.

Any garden that had involved Tom Stuart-Smith and Piet Oudolf in its re-design had to impress. We had visited in all seasons before but never in the winter. From our first glimpse of the vast expanse of gardens from the bridge over the River Trent, busy with mallards, we knew we were not to be disappointed.

It is truly a mix of the old and the new, as the new plantings are in the context of the original Capability Brown parkland and formal bedding gardens and Italian Garden. The garden signposts invite you to “The Italian Garden” but it is so much more than that.

First up is Piet Oudolf’s River of Grasses which in the low light of this December morning glowed. The gentle breeze imposed gentle swaying and rustlings of the biscuit tinted dried stems and seed heads. These were dotted with ginger and brown seed heads of perennials such as sedum and astilbe. The wide green cut paths we followed through the sea of grasses emphasised the clever design and simple planting.

Just before leaving the River of Grasses an avenue of birches with wonderful orange peeling bark cuts across our path. There is no way to walk through this double row of betulas so technically speaking  it probably shouldn’t be called an avenue. With the light behind the peeling bark it lit up like thin slithers of brittle toffee.

From the River of Grasses we moved into the Floral Labyrinth another Piet Oudolf creation. Here there were swathes and blocks of dried stems and seed heads of tall perennials. Blackbirds and Song Thrushes enjoyed searching for their brunch and regularly scuttled across the path. There were more grasses here and they were rimmed with the bright low sunlight.

Leaving the labyrinth meant leaving Piet Oudolf’s contribution to Trentham behind and experiencing a culture shock was on the cards as we entered features of the older more formal garden. Look out for a blog I have planned for the near future on the work of Piet Oudolf.

After passing through a long archway of trained Hornbeam we found the very formal garden with its tightly clipped swirling patterns of box hedges. In the summer this area is just too gaudy for me, being styled on Victorian bedding. Not my favourite!! I like it in the winter when instead of bright red geraniums etc the gaps between the box are the gentle green of wallflower and primula foliage. The first photo shows an area with gravel infill and tall thin cypresses.

From the raised terrace of box patterns we looked over the old Italian Garden redesigned by Tom Stuart-Smith, where the original framework of paths encloses soft but dramatic plantings of grasses and perennials. Bursts of water from pools surge upwards and are caught by the light and the wind. They look white and frothy with sprays of fine mist blowing from them. The horizontal patches of grass seed heads are rimmed with light and create strong horizontal lines contrasting with the rigid upright cypresses and the dumpy domes of golden yew.

As we appreciated the quiet of this area our attention was drawn by a pair of Grey Wagtails playful and flirting low over the grasses. High overhead loose flocks of gulls wheeled and squealed.

We wandered around the paths stunned by the beauty of T. S-S’s planting ideas, every clump of  seed heads complimented its neighbours, making each bed look good when viewed as a whole but nothing short of brilliant when studied in close-up. Marjoram, sedum, rudbeckia, lillies and phlomis. So many shades of biscuit, browns, russets and reds.

One of the beauties of a visit to Trentham is the coffee drinking opportunities provided, in the garden centre before you enter the actual garden, in the shopping village, at the garden entrance and in the beautiful rounded glass cafe just beyond the Tom S-S borders. We sat and enjoyed a latte and warm minced pie and talked about the garden so far. No we didn’t just talk about it – we raved about it! We just couldn’t believe how good it was on this day in December. Nearby music and squeals of delight emanated from a marquee that housed a skating rink. More joyful noise and children’s cries of sheer enjoyment poured from the play area. We couldn’t believe how warm we got sat in the window with the sun on our backs. We mused over this garden of contrasts, enjoyed from every visitor from 2 to 82 years of age. The Oudolf and Stuart-Smith gardens has a magical calming effect on everyone. Children don’t run in that part of the garden but they do once they move into the park areas and woodland. Calm appreciation!

Behind the cafe is a series of display gardens, the number increasing with every visit we make. There was a potager, a wildlife garden a contempoary garden, a garden of sound and many more.

The wildlife garden feature this huge insect hotel complete with bee hive and wormery built-in.

As we wandered back to the garden’s exit we took a look over the Capability Brown lake, ambled through the rose arch with a David Austin border and couldn’t resist a final gentle stroll through Piet Oudolf’s grasses. The rose garden featured some gently curving metal scrolling.

Another coffee before the return journey home when we decided to return in May when the alliums should be at their best alongside the fresh growth of the grasses and perennials. The “Undergardener ” on the way home pronounced “That must be a near perfect winter’s day!”

Tom Stuart-Smith wrote “Trentham is unique, a garden made on a grand scale which pays respect to the historic context, but is nevertheless of our time.”

For more information about Trentham see their website Look out for my planned blogs on the gardens of Piet Oudolf and Tom Stuart-Smith and I am tempted to look back at my photo library and seek out my summer photos of Trentham to illustrate a “Summer Memories of Trentham” blog.

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A Garden of Roses

The Renaissance Garden

Today we visited the display gardens at David Austin Roses for an assault on our senses. The mixed scent of hundreds of roses hits you as you enter the garden from the nursery and shop. To begin with we lift each bloom to be smelt, each one delicious in its own way – some fruity, citrus in particular, some myrrh, some hinting at vanilla. Before long too much olfactory sensation means numbness of the nose!

But we just carry on letting our eyes take in the hugely varied colours and shapes of the blooms and foliage.
The display gardens feature a Renaissance Garden, a Victorian Garden and the Lion Garden all leading off from the Long Garden.
As we wander we notice most visitors have catalogues and are making lists of their desires, just as we did when we first moved to Avocet. Next step for them will be a tea break when they can get the list to manageable proportions. Today was a perfect day for choosing roses as there was a level of warmth and humidity under overcast skies that enhance the aromas and enrich colours.
When we were rose buying for our newly acquired garden at Plealey we bought mostly climbing versions of the New English Roses such as Falstaff, Shropshire Lad and  Wenlock as we were trying to add the dimension of height to our back garden.
Lady of Shalott

Today we went with a different agenda and a David Austin Voucher to spend. We were seeking a bright zingy rose to plant in the Hot Garden which currently seems too yellow. We decided on the rose, the Lady of Shalott, having been tempted by her orange-red buds which when open reveal a golden orange flower and a scent described as a blend of cloves and spiced apple.

All told a wonderful afternoon out – a good cup of coffee and a good rose to accompany us home.
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Scented Roses

A warm humid day brings out the best scent in the garden and roses are often considered the best blooms for sweet scents. But not all roses perform, with many hybrid teas completely without odour. When we began our garden in Plealey we wanted the best and most varied scented blooms so all our roses are New English varieties bred by David Austin. Luckily his nursery and trial grounds are not far away. The display gardens are amazing and give you the chance to fully experience the sight and scent of each variety. So chosing roses for our garden is so easy. We simply take a half hour drive, wander around the roses sniffing the blooms as we go and then make our final choice over a cup of tea served in cups decorated with paintings of roses of course.

We now enjoy here in our patch at Avocet “A Shropshire Lad”, “Falstaff”, “Teasing Georgia”, “Graham Thomas” and “Wenlock”. We grow them close to paths – close enough to enjoy their scents but not so close that we suffer from their thorns.

A Shropshire Lad