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An oasis in a city – the Emma Bridgwater Courtyard Garden

On a sunny day in late June we set off to the city, Stoke-on-Trent, to visit two gardens. Emma Bridgwater Pottery shop has its own courtyard garden with its own gardener caring for it and nurturing every plant. I had read the book he had recently written and emjoyed his words and the accompanying photos so wished to see it in real life. The second garden was Trentham, one of our favourite gardens and one we visit often. This visit was to see for the first time the new meadow plantings by Nigel Dunnett. These will be the subject of a following post. First we visit the courtyard garden.

The raised beds in the entrance courtyard are an antedote to the city, to the factory behind.

We arrived in temperatures nearing 30C and started off with drinks in the cafe there before wandering through the pottery shop exiting a doorway at its far end that was the entrance to this secret garden. It felt a special place, an atmosphere of colour, calmness and peace in a city. the blue of the window frames, the step banisters and various railings are enhanced by the greens and other colours of the flowers in the beds. The entrance is softened and made more welcoming.


We wonder if this is going to be the garden in its entirity but are heartened when Jude spots a sign to the “Courtyard Garden”. Peering through the door as we step over is threshhold we are amazed by what is before us inviting us to explore. The garden is no bigger than a back yard of a terraced house, but it packed a punch in the gentlest way possible.


The brightest colour came from sweet peas, dahlias, lilies and other more subtle colour was provided by hardy herbaceous plants. The sun brought out their colours and the accompanying shadows emphasised their textures. Annuals were dotted through the borders, poppies and phacelia.



The gentle clucking and chatter of Pekin hens and the chirp of their chicks provided a calming backdrop and cut out the traffic sounds from nearby roads.


As we left the courtyard we noticed a display of succulent Echeverias in terracotta pots alongside the door close to a beautiful self-seeded native Euphorbia. This little patch of garden inside the city was so gentle and succeeded in hiding the sights and sounds of the busyness outside its walls.

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My Garden Journal 2017 – June

We have reached the half way point through the year and I am beginning a second book in my Garden Journal 2017. A book of blank pages waiting to be filled with words, paintings and photographs.

On the first page of my new book I started my June reports by writing, “June is the month when our wildlife friends become very obvious, pollinators and predators work away helping us out, and all our wild friends entertain us, stimulating our senses. We had a dip in the wildlife pond with a net and found a healthy population of newts and dragonfly larvae. Whenever we sit in the summerhouse for a tea break we are entertained by birds coming for a drink or bathe in the pebbled shallow end, especially bright are the Goldfinches with their splashes of red and yellow. Next to the summerhouse door a pair of Blue Tits is nesting in one of our boxes. Both parents are making frequent visits into the garden to collect caterpillars to feed to their young. Each day these caterpillars get larger as the youngsters  grow and their appetites grow even more quickly.

Wildlife in the garden is so entertaining!”

Over the page brightly coloured photographs glow from the pages, photographs of Geum cultivars.

“Plant of the month for June is the Geum, the cultivars with hot colours – yellows, oranges and reds, – Totally Tangerine, Koi, Mrs Bradshaw, Lady Stratheden ………………..”


Leaving the brightly coloured Geums behind I next looked at a few representatives of our garden’s wildlife friends.

“Double Brimstones, butterfly and moth, the Brimstone Moth and the Brimstone Butterfly. 

The Brimstone Butterflies are one of the earliest arrivals in our garden but a few continue to fly in May and June. The Brimstone Moth flies in both daytime and night time.”

On the page opposite I talk about and paint the Little Owl, a regular visitor to our patch.

“We host three owls in our garden, the Tawny, the Barn and the Little. When we first moved to Plealey our Little Owl migrated in search of warmer places every Autumn to return in Spring.Today they stay with us year round. We love this change!”


Over the page I share with you some of our Foxgloves, the Digitalis family.

“Foxgloves, spires of colour buzzing with bees,  flower every day this month. Bumble Bees and our neighbour’s  Honey Bees disappear right inside the larger flower gloves. Bees explore each flower on each spike starting at the lowest bloom and moving upwards methodically.”


Next I looked at one of our poppies, Papaver somniferum the Opium Poppy.

“Papaver somniferum comes in a variety of  pinks and lilacs”. 


“The small orange double poppy is Papaver rupifragum “Orange Feathers”.

From an orange poppy to an orange rose I moved on to look at a small flowered orange patio climber.

“Rosa “Warm Welcome” is a small climber and a cheerful charmer. Roses continue to flower profusely throughout the June garden.”


June turned out to be a difficult month for the garden with extremes of heat accompanied by a long dry spell causing plants to suffer especially relatively recently planted trees and shrubs. We water trees every week for a year after planting but a week’s holiday prevented us from doing this. We returned to find trees and shrubs with brown shrivelled leaves. A sad sight. I wrote, “June ended up being a dry month with many plants showing signs of stress, especially trees planted this year and lawn areas. We need rain urgently!” I included photos of some of the plants looking worse for wear.


On the opposite page, which is the final page for June I mentioned the return of the rain, refreshing us and the garden. “In the last few days of the month, steady rain helped put life and vitality back into our garden putting extra sparkle in flowers and gloss on foliage. We can only hope that trees planted earlier this year survive. They look troubled! Lilies however quickly burst back into life.”











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Aiming for a year round garden – late spring.

It is only a few weeks since I published my post looking at our garden in early spring, but it is time for another look to see how we are doing where our aim of trying to establish a year round garden is concerned. It is amazing how much has changed in that time.

Come for awalk with me and my camera!

Let us start in the front garden with a look at our gravel garden, The Beth Chatto Border, where we find the brightest of colours radiating from various Euphorbias. In sharp contrast a near black Iris crysophagres has flowers of the darkest indigo.

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In the other borders in the front garden the last of the spring bulbs mingle with the earliest of the herbaceous perennials.

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The Shed Bed also rings with the colour of Euphorbia and the newly revamped water feature gives a gentle bubbling sound for us to enjoy. This water feature is created from metal objects we dug up when we first made the garden and we have now planted miniature Hostas and different varieties of Tricyrtis around it. The view down the path to the chickens is framed by the richest of blues of the Ceanothus. The little slate border by the shed is displaying the first flower on our Tulbaghias along with the tiny pink blooms of the Erodium. In the insect hotel a pair of Dunnock have built their nest just a few inches above the ground and about 6 inches from the path.

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The Freda Border is full of every shade of green punctuated by the pale blue of the Camassias. Nearby in the alpine troughs and crates the Saxifragas flower like myriads of tiny red gems.

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On the opposite side of the house the Shade Garden, the only part of the garden which is shaded, looks lush and lively.

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Moving along from the Shade Garden towards the back garden we wander through the Seaside Garden and into the Rill Garden.

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From the Rill Garden we can take the central path past the greenhouse, where Jude aka Mrs Greenbench or The Undergardener, is busy tending her hundreds of seedling veggies, annuals and perennials. It is a very productive place!

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Turning left just past the greenhouse the borders surrounding our small lawned area are bursting with late spring colour and fresh growth.

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Just off this lawned area we enter the Japanese Garden with its pool which is an essential element of any oriental garden but here it doubles up as a wildlife pool.

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We can wander along a gravel path back towards the central pathway and along the way we can look at the Prairie Garden on our right and the Bog Garden on our left.

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In the Bog Garden foliage predominates with Hostas, Ligularias and Rheum purpureum. One flower worth a close up look is this stunning Primula which sadly we don’t know the name of.

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A glance over our shoulder gives us the chance to look back over the pool towards the Summerhouse.

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On the opposite side of the central pathway we find the Chicken Garden and the Secret Garden both now still full of colour from spring bulbs but bursting with the burgeoning growth of the herbaceous perennials.

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Wandering back along the path towards the shed we can appreciate close up the beauty and complexity of the Camassia flowers.

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Our little Slate Garden is colourful now with Auriculas and Primulas in full bloom.

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So there we have it –  a gentle wander around our garden in early May. It all looks very different now just a few weeks after my early Spring post. The next post in this series will be in early Summer when I guess we can look forward to even bigger changes. I shall finish this post with a photo of the Ceanothus that kept getting blown out of the ground root and all during the gales of Winter. But just look at it now! It illustrates just how resilient plants are. It has a sweet scent that welcomes us whenever we go to the shed to pick up the tools we need in the garden each day. Sadly I am not sure I like it when it flowers so heavily.

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A min-group day out – part two.

So we are still in the little Shropshire village of Ruyton-XI-Towns and we are moving on from Jill’s lovely garden to a neighbour’s garden. We are told this garden has to be seen to be believed as a brilliant example of how to squeeze in lots of top quality plants into a long, twisting space sometimes narrowing to just a path width.

The narrow borders are full to the brim with interesting plants and any vertical surface covered in climbers especially clematis and roses, many of which are richly scented.

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We were impressed with the colour of this  little selection of poppies and their tissue paper petals that unfurled from loose buds.

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Our third garden delight of the day was a different kettle of fish all together. It belonged to Chris, another “Hardy Planter” and was out of the village along a narrow country lane with verges rich with native flowers. As we neared our destination cultivated self seeded plants added an extra depth to the colours within the grasses of the verge beneath the hedge.

This garden had a delightful little nursery in the shade of mature trees close to the lawn where we sat to enjoy our tea and cakes. We could see what was awaiting us in the nursery and we were tempted by an unusual pink flowered Geranium phaeum and a Lysimachia “Firecracker”.

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What struck us about the garden was the way shrubs and trees had been used to create frames, gateways and doorways to tempt your footsteps. The low afternoon sun created deep shadows and brightness that invited you onwards.

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Closer to little interesting features and details caught our eye.

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We wandered back down the lane after a good wander around, an enjoyable break for tea and cake and after making a few purchases in the little nursery and we were delighted to see that self-seeders from the garden were making their way down the hedgerow and verges.

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A Wander Around our Garden in November

This is the penultimate garden wander for the year and what a colourful one it is. The weather has turned cold with daytime temperatures failing to reach double figures and night time temperatures only just above freezing. Some days though do please the camera, with deep blue skies in between storms.

This rich red oriental poppy never fails to impress even this late in the year.

Several of the plants that feature in the November garden seem to sport odd shaped flowers. The Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo has flowers that hang like pearly cream bells. Cyclamen hederifolium have curious fly away petals while Shystostylus flowers hang on gently curving stems.

Roses seem to be blooming away giving us brightness for most of the year. Many that started blooming in late May are still flowering now and they are producing buds in readiness to flower right through to the end of the year.

At the moment I pass the wonderfully colourful corner of the Shed Bed, where grasses have coloured up intermingled with the dries flower heads of Eryngium and Agastache. It has to be my favourite November patch in the garden.

Having passed my favourite corner I pass our trees as I go down to to the bottom of the garden to feed the chicks. Their bark textures and colours change every day. This birch’s chocolate coloured bark is peeling back to reveal snow white smooth bark below, like a white shirt beneath jacket collars.

It seems to be a special year for cotoneaster berries, with every variety covered thickly in readiness for arrival of the winter migrant thrushes.

There is something very special about the freshness of the flowers of the Fatsia, with their creamy, greeny whitish colours. They always look to me as if they should smell of vanilla and be edible!

There are difficult decisions to be made in the November garden. Which seed heads to cut down and which to leave for their looks and wildlife value is perhaps the most difficult. How could you possible cut this clematis down when it looks this good? We tend now to leave perennials standing unless or until they fall and become soggy. Once they do this they endanger the lives of the plants they may be smothering. To me the idea of “putting the garden to bed for winter” just doesn’t add up. A garden is for 12 months, all of them

Wrapping the greenhouse in its winter jacket of bubble-wrap is the least favourite of all of our gardening tasks. This Novenber we started on a cold day knowing that as we added the thermal layer to the greenhouse we would heat up as well. But the sun came out and we got too hot. We started off wearing fleece jackets over jumpers but by the time we had finished we had shed both these layers and were down to tee-shirts.

First we collected the rolls of wrap from their summer quarters – the woodshed, and piled them up outside

Next we attempted to begin hanging it inside the greenhouse over specially positioned strings and wires. The bubblewrap then attacked Jude, the Undergardener.

Eventually Jude managed to overcome the wrap and get on with the job in hand, lining the sides and then hanging it over strings tied across the roof. Soon the temperature increased.

I hope these plants appreciate it!

Let’s us finish our November wander with a couple of richly coloured beautifully lit views across borders, and a quick look across our borrowed landscape.

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Plant Portraits – August

This post is dedicated to portraits of the blooms that are starring in our garden in August. The individual stars which shine out of the borders.

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A Wander around our Garden in July

July in the garden so far has carried on where June left off – rain! The grass paths squelch as you wander, trees drip on you and herbaceous plants soak your legs. The plants have loved it relishing in the warmth and dampness. They grow tall and lush too quickly and do so without gaining strength. As a result they get knocked over in windy spells and any heavy showers.

As rain persists each day from dawn till dusk a moment of light and dry gave me an opportunity to take photos for my July wander. After waiting all day I finally took the following pics just before 9:00 in the evening.

One plant that never fails is this wonderful tall grass with striped leaves. It is a good four foot tall and the long leaves are popular with the “Undergardener” to cut for flower arranging.

Our gravel garden, The Chatto Bed, is now full of colour, gentle yellows, pinks and purples. When the sun does come out for its short sessions the gravel bed is buzzing with bees. They are having a hard time this year with all this rain and wind.

The Huskers Red Pentstemon is now at its best – what a beautiful plant it is – coloured foliage, dark stems and delicate contrasting pale flowers. Having grown this from seed sown a few years ago it feels good to see it looking so good.

The Quaking Grass, Briza maxima is also known as Nodding Grass and Sparrow Grass, presumably because it simply can’t stay still in the slightest breeze.

Jude’s Border is a rich combination of purple-leaved shrubs and contrasting perennials.

Our mini-meadows  sown in terra-cotta pots have been very successful. Different flowers appear each day. The pink poppy glows in the dullest of weather – a “dayglo” poppy.

By our front door the “Freda Border” continues to provide colour in the perennials and gentle variegated foliage in the shrubs.


Let us now wander into the back garden and see what’s going on. Our apples are filling in nicely now and even getting a little rosiness as they start to ripen, while the Blueberries change from green to blue.

The secret garden is probably the most colourful patch at the moment.

The “Chicken Garden” although less colourful at the moment as the alliums are losing their colour, has an impressive show of perennial foxgloves, favourites of the bees.

Grasses are flowering delicately in all the borders and often after a storm hold onto rain drops. The droplets of moisture act as prisms as light finds them.

In the greenhouse tomatoes are forming on their trusses and further flowers open from their buds. Peppers like glossy green boxes promise sweetness to come.

As we approach the middle of July we can but wonder what the rest of the summer can have in store for us. So far we have had the wettest summer months on record – it is hard to imagine that summer will truly arrive. It has been hard to keep up with maintenance in the garden this summer. There is so much growth that herbaceous plants need frequent deadheading and thinning and shrubs pruned to stop them overpowering the plants beneath. Jude, “The Undergardener” is pruning back the lower branches of the variegated dogwood to let light into the smaller plants below.

As the light began to fade I took a few photos to show it glowing through foxgloves.

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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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Happy Birthday to My Blog

Greenbenchramblings is one year old today! Yes, I have been rambling away from my old green bench on my allotment for a year to the day. Each time I celebrate a birthday with a nought in it I give myself a challenge. When I was 30 I decided to get up before first light, taking a not so willing family with me, travel to a nearby area of deciduous woodland and await the dawn chorus. It was pure magic! The song of each bird as it awoke joined in the chorus until the wood reverberated with song celebrating the new day. The atmosphere was electric – an unforgettable experience.

When I reached 40 I decided to buy some new walking boots as a stimulus to get out into the beautiful Shropshire countryside more.

At 50 I began studying a garden design course.

A year ago I reached 60 and decided to start my Greenbenchramblings blog, to record my musings and photos related to our garden, our allotment, gardening and wildlife. So Happy Birthday Blog! I have been delighted with the response to it, enjoyed the comments and feel I have met new friends from almost every continent. I share all my gardening visiting, my lottie gardening, the development and maintenance of the garden at home and the walks in the countryside with Jude, also known as The Undergardener or Mrs Greenbenchrambler.

The surprise of the blogging year was when Willow Cottage Gardeners nominated my blog for a Versatile Blogger Award, hence the rather handsome green logo on the top right of my blogs. As a part of this award I have to write a list of 7 things about myself that readers of my blog might not know and suggest 15 blogs for nomination for the award.

So here goes with the 7 things you might not know about me;

1.Forty years ago I had an altercation with a lorry and the lorry came out best. I was put back together and I am now registered “Bionic”.

2,My favourite gardeners are Beth Chatto, Dan Hinckley, Carol Klein and Monty Don.

3.I have had allotments for over 20 years.

4.I have been a fisherman since I was 4 years old. When I retired my ambition was to catch a 30 pound carp. The biggest so far is 29 pound 15 ounces.

5.I talk to my chickens and they talk back.

6.My favourite garden designers are Dan Pearson, Piet Oudolf, Tom Stuart-Smith and Cleve West.

7.If I could choose anywhere in the world to live it would be in the South Shropshire Hills. I live in the South Shropshire Hills!

My 15 nominated blogs;
















As followers of greenbenchramblings know I carry a camera around with me wherever we go and my favourite subjects are plants, especially plant portraits, allotment gardening, and the creatures who live in our gardens, on our allotment and on the plants. It seems apt to finish this One Year On posting with a few pics of these favourite subjects.

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A Wander around our Garden in June

Half way through the year already where these monthly garden wanders are concerned. It should be warm and sunny as befits the Summer season but it has mostly been raining. We get occasional dry, pleasant days but they have been few and far between. Just look at this interesting early evening light colouring the landscape beyond our garden gate. One field is in the spotlight, I wonder why it was chosen?

In the garden I shot this photo looking up at the sky above our big, white-flowered rambling rose.

But, one afternoon as the rain went quiet for a while out I went camera in hand to follow my garden wander. The borders are burgeoning, blooms are getting bigger and brighter by the day and we enjoy every moment in our June garden.

Spires reach for the sky in every border, Foxgloves, Antirhinums and Lupins.

Let us visit the front garden and see how the borders have developed since our May post. There is far less gravel visible now as foliage increases sideways and upwards.

The ferns in the Stump Circle have grown considerably and the grasses in our other circle are now a good 4 feet tall.

The Hot Border is full to the brim with colour, rich colours against vibrant greens.

Jude’s Border is also full of colour from the blooms of shrubs such as this Weigela and Syringa.

The Shade Garden continues to glow with colours against vibrant greens.


Anstrantias love it here in the shade but we do grow them throughout the garden. They flower best in the shade and grow  taller. There are so many to choose from starting with whites through all different shades of pink to the deepest reds.

The Freda Garden is at its peak in June, when our orange-flowered Honeysuckle creeps along the fence top, the Pyracantha and Weigela flower together, and the border is full of Oriental Poppies, Foxgloves, Aquilegias and Euphorbias all doing their own thing.

Throughout the garden the promiscuous Aquilegias self seed and create new plants in various colours, shapes and sizes. Now this little white one was a surprise! At just 1 cm across it is the tiniest I have ever seen – a true gem! And to top it all it grew alongside this Euphorbia.

When I had finished my garden wander and taken all the photos to select from, the weather deteriorated, heavy rain and strong wind lashed our garden. The Fennel in the picture below was tall and healthy around 5 feet tall but the weather bent all the stems down. The fresh stems of our rambling and climbing roses which would carry blooms next year were snapped off at the base. I only hope they have time and energy to make up some new growth.

All the borders in the back garden are full of interesting foliage with varied texture and colour as a foil for the plethora of flowering perennials.

The most beautiful plant must be our miniature chestnut (Aesculus) which is now 3 feet tall, a third of its final height, covered in blooms, spires of salmon.

Alliums are stars throughout the back garden. They have only been in a few years and are so happy they are spreading like wildfire. They really need thinning out!

I shall finish this garden wander with a few shots of some of the borders, as a taster for my next blog, “Another Wander Around our Garden in June”. There is simply too much to show, too much I want to share.