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My Garden Journal 2020 – February

Okay, it’s February in this leap year so we will gain a day, and it is time for another visit to my garden journal. Weather has been interesting this month just because it has been so extreme and variable, wild and wet, with gales, hail, snow, sleet and rain!

On the first page I wrote,“February’s flowering plant of the month, Iris reticulata.” at the page top above a photograph of Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’ and two of my watercolour sketches of the same iris plus one called ‘George. I used Japanese brush pens.

Over the page I painted two Cyclamen growing in our Arabella Garden, which were planted as a clump of five small plants and have now become a lovely ground-hugging patch in shades of pink with a few whites. The foliage is as interesting as the flowers.

On the page opposite I feature a beautiful brown-bronze foliage evergreen shrub, my “Foliage plant of the month. Coprosma ‘Pacific Night!”

More sketches created using Japanese brush pens appear on the next page where I selected a few branches of some of my favourite Salix shrubs, willows, Salix daphnoides, Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’ and Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’. We love these for their unusually coloured catkins.

On the opposite page is my “Stem and bark plant of the month, Euonymus alata ‘Blade Runner’, so called because it sports long thin wings alongside each stem and these become a real feature in the winter months.

 

I finished off my February journal entries with a double page spread of photogrsaphs illustrating our “Gardening tasks for February”.

These tasks included pruning hydrangeas, pollarding our contorted willow, attempting to repair a leak that has appeared in our wildlife pond and beginning the time-consuming task of adding a 2 inch layer of organic compost as a mulch over every border. The most fiddly job was trying to repair our woven willow fence panel that the wild dog from next door decided to break through and create a hole right through.

We also began to create a new water feature for our front garden, a large fibreglass bowl finished in a granite effect ready to become a miniature water feature. We took up a square of turf up and filled the area with a few inches of gravel to sit the bowl in. We now wait until the right time to plant suitable plants.

So that is my February entries for my 2020 Garden Journal. In next month we might be able to report a few early signs of spring.

 

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My Garden Journal 2019 – May

It is the last month of spring and the garden is alive, everything is thriving and growing apace. But the weather is still confusing our plants. Towards  the end of the month we had a few daffodils still in flower alongside normal May flowering plants. Here is my journal entries for the month.

I started by referring back to the weather in April, “April disappeared without giving us a day of ‘April showers’, the garden is still confused by the weather but we carry on enjoying being outside whatever the weather. The garden seems weeks ahead of where it should be, with trees and shrubs flowering and leafing out of season. May is a great month for flowering shrubs, using their fresh foliage as a foil.” I followed with photographs of just a few of our flowering shrubs.

Cercis siliquastrum                                             Loropetalum chinensis “Fire Dance”

Azalea luteum                                                               Pittosporum tennuifolium ‘Gold Star’

Pittosporum tennuifolium ‘Silver Queen’                   Buddleja salviflora

Blueberry

Over the page I continued by writing, “In May many of our flowering shrubs have white or off-white coloured flowers such as Viburnums in variety, Aronia and deciduous Euonymus.”

On the opposite page Euphorbias take over, a plant that fills our garden with its bright chartreuse, yellow and green. It is a very exciting plant family.

“Euphorbias -one of our favourite plant families. We grow so many! Brilliant form, texture and architectural beauty comes from foliage, bracts, stems and the tiniest of flowers. Euphorbias deserve looking at closely. Get down and enjoy the details.”

    

Turning over to the next double page we move from Euphorbias to garden jobs and the far more delicate perennial Violas.

“May is a busy month in our Avocet patch, a month when we are still deadheading spring-flowering bulbs and beginning regular mowing and edging of our grass paths and lawns.”

“Ian our garden helper, mows and trims edges while I reorganise my loppers.”

“Jude hangs out the hanging baskets and puts succulent pots outside.”

“We have planted strawberries in the strawberry pot.”

“Our tomatoes and courgette are now snug in their growbags.”

Violas feature on the opposite page where I wrote, “Recently we bought some old varieties of hardy perennial Violas, including V. Elaine Quin, V. Columbine, V. Etaine Cream and V. Belmont Blue.”

   

“We grow dozens of different ferns in the shadier parts of the garden. The star fern for May has to be ‘Matteuccia struthiopteris’ the Ostrich Fern.”

As we move on to the next double page we discover my Acer pruning  and lots of Alliums.

“I enjoy pruning many of our shrubs in a Japanese style called Niwaki, which finds the beauty in each shrub, exposes their lower limbs and lets light in. Our Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ hasn’t been prunes in this way for a couple of years so May was the time I tackled it. The photos show before and after forms. I removed about 50% of the growth.”

  

“May is the month when our first variety of Alliums are at their best. Hundreds sweep through our borders with their beautiful, bee-attracting purple spherical flower heads.”

 

And so the final page for my garden journal in May, where we look at probably our favourite tree and the one asked about and admired most by visitors to our garden, Cercis siliquastrum.

I wrote, Cercis siliquastrum, probably our favourite tree in the garden was in full flower in April and still looks magnificent at the end of May. I treat this to a Niwaki prune too as the first photo shows. As it begins to slowly drop its pink petals it leaves pools of bright pink on the lawn and on the seat beneath it.”

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My Garden Journal 2019 – March

It is already time for sharing my third month’s entries in my garden journal. So here are the March pages for you to enjoy and for you to see what the garden has been up to and what we have been up to in the garden.

I began by writing, “March came on the scene dull, grey and lifeless looking. After the mild temperatures of the last few weeks with virtually no rain, the last day of February was very wet. Thank goodness for Daffodils, the spring bulbs that can cheer up the dullest of days.”

I then showed 9 photos of our wonderful early daffodils, mostly miniature narcissi.

 

On the next page I looked at our selection of Carex.

“We grow dozens of grasses and sedges in our garden with some in virtually every border and container. In the winter the evergreens dominate and their deciduous cousins add gentle colours – ginger, biscuit, coffee, clotted cream, latte, cappuccino and many more subtle shades. The largest family of evergreens are the Carex family. Here are just a few that we grow!”

Here is a selection of the many Carex we grow.

On the opposite page I consider how well the Carex family of grasses fit in with other plants and plant combinations. I wrote, “They fit in almost anywhere, sun or shade!”

 

“Meanwhile we have cut down deciduous grasses to stimulate new growth.”

Turning over to the next double page spread I have a look at a couple of under-appreciated plants.

I wrote, “An unknown plant and an under appreciated plant, both stalwarts of the March garden, Bergenias and Drimys. I love them both!”

“Drimys lanceolata ‘Winter Spice’.

On the opposite page I looked at two places of warmth, a warm welcome and the warm greenhouse. Firstly I wrote, “A warm welcome to your garden is essential throughout the year. We welcome visitors to our Avocet patch using three fruit boxes planted up with interesting seasonal plants. Here they are in March.”

“When winter weather gets too much we retreat to the greenhouse where Jude has been pricking out seedlings and I have been nurturing my delicate succulents and Fuschia thalia which is in flower in the first week of March.”

  

On the next couple of pages I consider March pruning and some flowers we enjoyed in our March garden.

Of pruning I wrote, “March is a busy month in our garden. As well as cutting deciduous grasses rather drastically almost down to the ground we have to coppice or pollard Salix and Cornus to ensure we will enjoy their coloured stems next winter.”

“Flowers are appearing, some expected but others well out of their season.”

 

Over the page I moved on to consider the fresh growth appearing throughout the garden during March.

I wrote, “Fresh growth in March always seems urgent and gives us confidence for the seasons to come. The excitement and vibrancy of new growth on Clematis, perennials and our cloud-pruned box edging.”

On the opposite page I considered a favourite shrub growing in our “Shrub Border”, Rhamnus aureomarginatus, and looked at the importance of all the greens in our March garden. About Rhamnus I wrote, A true all year round shrub which graces our shrub border, lighting up the dullest winter days with its silver margined variegation. Early in the year the golden-orange flower buds light up the plant and these will open in summer to give yellow flowers followed later in the year by tiny black shining berries.”

 

Opposite I wrote, “Green is the colour. Lots of shades of green.”

 

So that is it for my March gardening report so in a few days it will be time to start on April’s entries.

 

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A Walk in the Park – February at Attingham Park – Part 1

It is mid-February and time for our second visit to Attingham Park, our nearest National Trust property. We awoke on the day of our planned visit to a dark overcast sky and light rain hanging in the air, but we set off nonetheless, determined that the weather would not spoil our plans. We started with a quick coffee break but the rain had not improved when we set off on the actual walk to the walled garden and onwards along “The Mile Walk”.

We were on the look out for signs of fresh growth and early signs of wildlife activity. We were not expecting to find much change in the walled garden. Leaf buds were opening on several trees and shrubs, the first signs of fresh growth, as well as a few very early flowers on shrubs.

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As we left the coffee shop in the courtyard we made our way towards the walled garden following the soft bark path beneath extremely tall trees, where odd leaves brown from autumn were still caught in their lower branches. Up above in the uppermost branches Jackdaws were busy tidying up their nests from last year and noisily chattering away as they did so.

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Snowdrops carpeted the floor beneath tall trees looking at their brightest in the shade of hollies which are a feature of the woodland garden here. After enjoying the snowdrops and the variety of hollies we soon found ourselves in the protection of the Walled Garden.

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The volunteer gardeners had been working hard skillfully pruning the fruit and we really enjoyed appreciating their skills. A neat layer of compost provided a warm protective mulch and gave an extra level of neatness.

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In the very centre of the four segments of the walled garden a dipping well is conveniently placed. Alongside waits an old wheeled water bucket cart beautifully crafted in iron and galvanised metal. Today it is more decorative then functional.

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New life was showing in the herbaceous borders running along both sides of the main centre path.

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As we moved into the glasshouse yard bright blue splashes of colour showed strongly in the borders and in pots, diminutive Iris reticulata.

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We never fail to be impressed by the workmanship evident wherever old glasshouses have been restored to their former glory.

 

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We exited the walled garden via the doorway leading to the orchard, which also gave us access to the lean-to buildings outside the walls themselves. We explored each building and recess to discover old clay pots, the old boiler and an apple store.

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So leaving the warmer atmosphere found within the walled garden, we returned to the path that would take us to The Mile Walk. That will be the subject of my Attingham Park February walk part two.

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The Wonder of Willows – part three

So for the third in my posts about the wonder of willows we move to our allotment community garden site, Bowbrook Allotment Community (www.bowbrookallotments.co.uk)

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Here we grow many different varieties of Salix, willows with different habits, leaf shapes and in particular coloured bark. but before I move on to look at these I thought I would reminisce a little and cast my mind back to my childhood where willows played an important role. I lived in the vale of the River Severn in Gloucestershire and here, the lowland nature of the farmland meant that ditches had been dug for centuries around field boundaries to help with drainage.These ditches, and indeed every stream and brook was flanked with willows. These were pollarded and regularly harvested to be used by local craftsmen and women, the basket makers, trug makers and hurdle makers amongst them. But to me as a country lad they meant places to search for wildlife, to hide from the fishes I was angling for and in the case of the old giant hollow trunked willows they were dens to hide in. Below is a picture of a little clump of such pollarded willows in Herefordshire we spoted on our journey back from Croft Castle.

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Most of our allotment willows  grow in our Withy Bed designed to help drain a particularly wet patch of land but mostly to provide vivid colours when they are stripped of their leaves in the autumn and winter months. We also grow them to help drain a wet part of our Winter Garden. The photo below was taken looking through the willows towards the white barked Betulas and the coloured stems of the Cornus (Dogwoods). As well as draining this area so effectively they add so much winter structure and colour of their own to the picture. In the second picture of these same willows you can see they have just been subject to their annual haircut.

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The contorted willow below is one of two being trained up tall to weep over the top of the path behind the Winter Bed to form an archway.

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Each spring as the weather gets a little more conducive to outside work a group of us have our work cut out pruning so many willows, some we coppice and others we pollard at different heights. We have about twenty different cultivars here to enable us to achieve the effects that we are after. It takes a small team of volunteers a day’s work to get the task completed, resulting in some aching backs the following day. The first pair of photos shows a pair of before and after shots of one of our yellow stemmed coppiced willows.

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We set off with a wide range of pruners from small secateurs up to hefty loppers and slowly move from one end of the Withy Bed to the other with a good few tea breaks. We find it helpful to be bendy and wriggly to get in among the willows, bending low to the coppiced stools and reaching high to the tallest pollards and every combination in between.

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The prunings created when we cut them are used around the site to make structures and to create plant supports. But for this year many have been used while developing our new wildlife pond. The photos below show the prunings being kept fresh by being lain into the pond and illustrate the range of colours available to us.

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We have Violet Willow growing in the allotment’s Spring Garden which was a cutting off our tree at home and after four years it is a beautiful specimen which has sparkling silver catkins in Spring.

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Last year we created a Fedge with the prunings to give us a brightly coloured living willow fence. This acts as a useful windbreak and also hides part of the site’s manure/compost compound. In the winter when I took these pics it doesn’t hide much but the diamond shaped trellice effect shows up.

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The final post in this series about willows will show how we have used some prunings from home and from the allotments to create a children’s play feature.

 

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My Garden Journal – February

Here we are with part two of my post featuring my garden journal, where we can look at what was going on in our garden in February.

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The first entry in my Garden Journal for February shares another quote from Jenny Joseph, “The next day, after a morning as closed in as ever, something must have shifted in the upper air, for suddenly there were distances and some weight was lifted from my head.” The first photos in this month’s journal were of startlingly white Snowdrops. “Bulbs send their tiny bright flowers out to greet us. Tiny but precious gems.” was my accompanying note.

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I also featured Primulas this month, “2015 is going to be a good year for Primulas. These two were flowering in the first days of Feb. Our plants of the native Primrose have been busy spreading their prodigy. We have seedlings in the gravel, in borders and in cracks in paving. Many are producing tiny flowers.”

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The first day of the new month was spent in the garden and what a wonderful day we had. A bonus day outside in mid-winter is so welcome. We pruned the climbing roses, trimmed down the old growth of perennials to reveal the fresh green shoots eagerly waiting to burst into growth with the onset of Spring. The plant that never fails to impress is the Sedum with its virulent fresh growth waiting thickly at the base of last year’s cut down stumps.

The tall elegant stems of grasses are now cut close to the ground after their winter display. Even the gentlest of breezes has encouraged them to dance, their stems swaying stiffly but gracefully and their seed heads far more fluent in their dances. They will soon be back. In my journal I noted “Cutting down the grasses is a task I do with mixed emotions. They become old friends in the garden and provide homes for over-wintering wildlife. Ladybirds especially love the shelter of their stems.”

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We like the month of February, as both Jude the Undergardener and I suffer from S.A.D.(seasonally adjusted disorder)  and mid way through February we can spot a change in the light and literally feel an improvement in light quality and with it an improvement in our mood. I am sure the garden feels the same as all that future growth waits underground to burst forth and all those buds lie waiting on the resting bare branches of the deciduous trees and shrubs.

Birds are showing signs of getting themselves prepared for the rituals of spring that awaits them. Blue Tits are exploring nest boxes already with two boxes already held by two pairs. Collared Doves, those invaders to our shores, entertain us by filling the sky with their acrobatics designed to impress their mates. They fly diagonally backwards into the air!

In my journal I wrote “It is always heartening to hear the first signs of the “Dawn Chorus”. Top billing goes to the Song Thrush. This early in the year it has already started to stake his claim through song. By the end of the month he is joined by Blackbirds singing from high points on trees or buildings. Wrens are also now singing to mark their territories but their songs emanate from deep inside shrubs.”

Our attention is drawn to the wildlife pond from mid-February onwards as it is around this time that we start to hear the deep croaks of the male frogs calling the females in to join them in the water. One evening coming in from the garden we made a plan to clear the leaves and any winter debris from the pond the next day before the first frogs arrived. But  they beat us to it for as we went into the garden to do just that a pair of mating frogs was in residence and close by lay a large glob of spawn. Our job became more difficult as we tried not to disturb their nuptials. My journal notes “February is also the month for mating frogs with their deep croaks heard from everywhere in the garden, “The Frogs’ Chorus!” We love frogs in the garden where they act as great pest controllers. Some move into the greenhouse once they leave the pond and work in there for us too. Free labour!

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We can still enjoy the coloured stems of Cornus and Salix and the coloured textured trunks of the trees. The Betulas glow white with hints of silver, cream or salmon, while the Prunus serrula shines gold and brown. The brightest of all though must be Cornus “Midwinter Fire”. Late in this month however we begin the task of coppicing and pollarding, hard pruning to give us bright new stems with brighter colours in the year to come. My journal says, “It is also the time of year when we begin to coppice all our Dogwoods and willows. This is the last we shall see of their brightly coloured stems for a few months.” I move on to make special mention of the Violet Willow of which we have a trained multi-stemmed pollarded specimen which holds a great presence in the garden at every time of the year.

The photos below illustrate how its many colours vary with the changing light.

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These shots show the before pruning and after pruning images, so you can see how hard we prune them down. We certainly need our strong, sharp loppers for this job.

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The final pictures illustrate just how much wood is removed and shows the colours of the branches. All this material will be used for making plant supports and will be useful when we make a willow dome for some friends’ garden in a week or so (look out for a post about this). This is a fine example of recycling in action in the garden.

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We shall make the next visit to my garden journal in the month of March which we hope is full of the promise of spring.