My neighbour’s kniphofia

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Kniphofia, otherwise known as Red hot poker, is not a plant that I’m usually drawn to. I’ve often seen it looking rather forlorn, a tatty garden plant that looks out of place and uncomfortable in its surroundings. But one of my nearby neighbours has planted them along her south-facing verge and they’re thriving. I think this is K. rooperi but it might be K. uvaria; I’m not familiar with the varieties.

Hailing from the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Kniphofias are tough, hardy evergreen or herbaceous perennials. They like a sunny site, well-drained, fertile soil, and will cope with dry areas such as the base of a hedge, as here. The RHS website says they prefer acid to neutral soil, but the soil here is alkaline and they don’t seem to mind.

They flower from late summer to winter – I remember these flowering well into deep winter last year; it was extremely mild. I love they way they glow in the autumn sunshine and look, well, rather magnificent. I might have to change my mind about them.

(The photos were taken with my phone and don’t bear close inspection.)

 

In a Vase on Monday and a garden catch-up

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Instead of my usual approach to IaVoM (when I pick a bunch of whatever’s flowering well and a few sprigs of greenery and plonk them in a suitable vase), this week I’d like to show you Ammi visnaga ‘White’ in detail – a study from the flowerhead as it fades and goes to seed. Sorry for the dull lighting in the photos – it’s a grey old day today and the light is low. You can see much brighter pictures of the cut flowerheads used in a vase here.

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You can see all the tiny seeds at the end of the curled stems.

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I grew this hardy annual from seed for the first time this year, sowing in March and planting outside in early July. As you know, we live by the sea and it can get a little breezy; it’s also been an incredibly dry summer. Top marks, then, to this plant which has coped with pretty tough growing conditions and provided loads of lovely, domes and plate-like heads of minute white flowers. I know I’ve extolled the virtues of it before but it really has been wonderful for attracting insects and a magnet for bees and hoverflies. It adds a certain drama to a vase of cut flowers but there’s one thing that slightly lets it down: the smell. It’s meant to be unscented but it does have one – it’s hard to describe but let’s just say it’s bordering on unpleasant. You do have to get close to catch a whiff of it, though, so I do allow it in the house🙂

I’m joining in as usual with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden where you’ll find some gorgeous colourful blooms and links to many other lovely vases.

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I’ve not had much time for gardening lately but I did get outside yesterday to take some photographs, have a proper look at what’s going on and make a mental to-do list.

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This Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ is about three years old and I love the relaxed, airy habit. Not all the flowers are the red-and-white that they should be, quite a few are all-white, which I actually prefer. Salvias seem happy here and I’d like to grow lots more.
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Verbena rigida – another favourite plant. I love this and V. bonariansis.
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A load of Gaura lindheimeri ‘The Bride’ looking rather floppy and wind-blown.
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This unknown penstemon has produced a second flush of flowers after being cut back in mid-August.
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Nasturium ‘Jewel Charry Rose’ has romped away covering a grotty area by the garden tap. There are loads of seed pods, so I’ll collect some for sowing next year. I’m sure it’ll sow itself too.
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I filled several pots with geraniums three summers ago – they’ve survived each winter since and still flower away even though they’re hardly ever watered. I dead-head them occasionally and cut them back each late spring. Brilliant, value-for-money plants.
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Verbena bonariensis close-up – in my opinion, no garden can have too much of this wonderful plant.
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An illustration of why Japanese anemone is a weed in our garden – it’s growing up through the front steps; it’s on the march…
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Cosmos seed – plants for next year for free.
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One of the Anemone coronarias still flowering.
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Cyclamen that we transplanted last year.
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The pink Japanese anemone isn’t as determined to take over the garden as the white one.
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Water lilies now flowering in the pond, thanks to my mother-in-law clearing it out earlier in the summer.

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Have a good week.

Georgia, and a surprise in the laundry

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I whizzed up to London on Tuesday to see the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at Tate Modern (which is on until 30th October). I was familiar with some of her paintings – the big flowers and skulls – but I didn’t know that she also painted cityscapes when she lived in New York and some amazing landscapes when she lived in New Mexico. Anyway, the exhibition was fab, and it was wonderful to have some time in London (taking the bus over Blackfriars Bridge, watching the world go by) but the best thing about the day was that I met up with fellow blogger, Jenny from Duver Diary. It was the first time I’d met a blogging friend in Real Life and I confess to being slightly apprehensive beforehand (I realised on the train that I had no idea what she even looked like!). But I needn’t have worried; she’s lovely and we got on like a house on fire and didn’t run out of things to talk about. Blogging, hey? So many benefits.

Back to domestic life – picture the following scene, if you will – there I was last night, calmly folding laundry that I’d brought in from the washing line in the late afternoon, chatting to my eldest, when he stopped mid-sentence. “Mum, those pants are buzzing…” They were indeed. A soft buzzing. I gave them a slight shake thinking a bee might have settled inside for a nap and been rudely awakened. Nothing came out. The buzzing got louder. I shook them more vigorously. The buzzing sounded distinctly cross. I put the pants (my husband’s underpants, if you’re wondering) on the kitchen table and carefully looked inside. Nope, I couldn’t see the source of the buzzing so I opened them out. A pair of antennae appeared. “Mum, that’s not a bee.” No indeedy, it was most definitely not a bee… It was an enormous hornet – a very cross hornet. “Quick, put something over it NOW!” I grabbed a glass and managed to capture the angry insect, trapping one of its legs in the process. It was REALLY angry now. I manoeuvred the glass and carefully slid a card underneath, carried it outside and laid it gently on the patio table. Then I grabbed the glass, scarpered indoors and shut the door quickly. Needless to say we didn’t stop to take a photograph(!) but this is what a hornet looks like:

hornet-md And it was about this size. Well, that may be a slight exaggeration🙂 (Only ‘slight’, mind you.) So, let that be a cautionary tale. Check your pants for dozing hornets….

 

 

In a Vase on Monday: Fading

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The farmer has been muck-spreading. I can’t describe the smell other than to tell you that it catches in the back of the throat and almost makes your eyes water. On the upside, there are insects galore and swallows and martins swooping about, feasting and twittering, building up their strength for migrating to Africa for the winter. There are also flocks of finches in among the seed heads on the clifftops, rising en masse as I approach with the dog, making their tinkling sound, settling again as I walk past. Witnessing these birds going about their age-old business makes me feel all is right with my little part of the world. It’s cooler now – I needed a jumper this morning – but the air is calm and there’s a softness to the light. I found this conker slap bang in the middle of the lane to the farm, it’s shiny burnished skin caught my eye. Not unusual at this time of year apart from the fact that there are no horse chestnut trees there or anywhere nearby. Curious.

The garden is feeling distinctly past its best. We’ve not got on top of making sure there is year-round interest yet. In our previous garden we were all fresh from studying horticulture and keen to ensure the garden looked good all year round. Still, it’s important to take your time and ponder these matters. I’ve picked a rather random selection of slightly imperfect and fading blooms because I think they’re still beautiful – a couple of sunflowers (the yellow one is ‘Valentine’ and the dark one is ‘Claret’), cosmos, Japanese anemone (white and pink, unknown varieties), Ammi visnaga, Perovskia (Russian Sage), Echinops, Verbena bonariensis, lavender, an aster that’s appeared from nowhere, and some tendrils of jasmine foliage.

I’m joining in with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden where you’ll find her vase of colourful blooms (her garden flowers are still going strong) and links to others from around the world.

Have an excellent week.

Summer’s end

Yesterday
Rain is lashing against the windows as I sit here writing. Proper driving rain. Our little black cat appeared just now and jumped up onto my lap – soggy paws! She’s now settled onto ‘her’ chair in the kitchen. The black-and-white one is fast asleep curled up on the back of the settee in the lounge. For weeks now, they’ve been out all day snoozing in the long grass or gazing hopefully into the pond but today they’re back to their wet-weather habits of mostly snoozing indoors. It’s been so dry and sunny for weeks and weeks that I’d got used to seeing them only at mealtimes and I’d got used to leaving the doors and windows wide open, wandering into the garden in bare feet, perching on the front steps in the sunshine with my morning coffee… Reliable stretches of hot, dry weather are unusual in the UK and it was lovely while it lasted but the season has finally turned in east Kent. Autumn has arrived.

There’s been plenty of ‘family life’ going on here recently: we’ve had a birthday (middle son – 15); a sleepover in a tent outside (daughter and three friends – loud); I’ve had two school information meetings for different year groups on two consecutive evenings (hmm); and I’ve driven to and from the station so often lately for my brood that I’m thinking of getting one of those signs for the top of my car. You know, the one that says ‘taxi’.

Today
I was so wrung-out by parenting this week that I couldn’t wait for David, my comrade-in-arms, to get home. We met in a local school car park where our middle child was to be presented with his Bronze Certificate in a mass presentation of Duke of Edinburgh Awards. A quick hug and a dash through the rain to the hall where we sat for 2 hours watching the presentations, occasionally whispering to each other as we were treated to amazing piano-playing by a talented boy, a confident girl singing while playing her guitar and an Interesting Dance by two girls. I’m not sure any of the parents knew what to make of that. I rushed off afterwards to collect our daughter from her tap class and we rendezvoused back home for a late supper of omelette and chips and beer. What a week.

I’d love to think we had an empty weekend lined up but we have four teenagers arriving this afternoon for a belated birthday sleepover. We had planned kayaking, campfire and camping in the garden but I suspect it’ll be more like film-watching indoors, perhaps a bonfire in the garden if the rain stops, and sleeping indoors. We’ve been invited to a house-warming party up the road so we’ll hopefully put in an appearance for a couple of hours. What could possibly go wrong? Don’t answer that🙂

It’s meant to be dry tomorrow and I’m planning to get out into the garden. A good dose of cutting back, pruning or digging usually restores my inner peace although I am now slightly worried about all the trees I’ve pruned over the years after reading an article in a newspaper cutting from my mum. German forester Peter Wohlleben says trees live in communities, some can warn each other of danger and react when hurt, almost as if they feel pain. If you think about it, this isn’t as bonkers as it may seem and now I’m fretting about the poor cherry tree that we chopped back last year. Will our descendants look back on our barbaric ways with trees? Bonsai-owners may be locked up!

Oh yes, village show news
My tea loaf came first! The lovely judge said it was one of the best she’d tasted. Good old Mary Berry (I used her recipe for Bara Brith). Middle son won the Junior Adult baking class with his cheese scones and David’s cottage loaf (which didn’t look like one) came third. My flowers came second out of two entries (ha) and our raspberries were disqualified – we’d failed to read the show tips which said that the calyx had to be attached. Oh well. The tea loaf triumph more than made up for that.

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Finally
Have you been listening to The Archers? At last – thank goodness!!! I hope we can get back to crop rotations and Bert’s courgettes for a while now; I’m an emotional wreck.

Wishing you a super-duper weekend.

Writer’s block and raspberries

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I was lying on my yoga mat this morning during the lovely, calm relaxation part at the end of the class, my mind wandering all over the place (as it does; I know, it’s not meant to…) and I started composing a blog post. Witty words came to mind, well-crafted sentences and astute observations. Yay! But by the time I’d driven home, clocked that the builders weren’t here again and that I’d missed a parcel delivery, it had all drifted out of my ears and off into the ether. I’ve not posted much lately because, well, I suppose I’ve just not been ‘feeling’ it. I’ve been a bit lost for words. Stuck. Put it down to post-holiday slump, school-holiday collapse, whatever. I’m usually brimming with words and photos to show you but I haven’t taken many recently and it feels a little as though I’ve lost my voice. I’m sure this happens to other bloggers every now and then, and I suppose I could wait until inspiration strikes properly, but it’s a new school year and I’m giving myself a shove – if I stop writing for much longer I suspect it’ll be even harder to get into the swing of it again.

The yoga class was the first one I’ve been to for [whispers] seven weeks. Yikes. I did a little stretching over the summer but most definitely not the every-day practice that I aspire to. Whenever I’m asked at health-checks and the like whether I do regular exercise, I say that I do yoga and walk my dog. And I smile confidently. This usually passes muster and I get a tick in the ‘keeping fit’ box. Gardening helps, as does rushing around looking after the house, etc, but I know that it’s not enough really. David is admirably/annoyingly fit. He’s a keen sculler and is on the water at least twice a week on the Thames at Twickenham, then he goes running most days when he’s at home. He’s trying to encourage me to get back in to running and to do a local 5k Park Run with him on Saturday mornings. I find his encouragement slightly irritating which says more about my attitude than it does about him! I did do some regular running a few years back and took part in the London 10k but instead of it spurring me on to greater distances, I crossed the finish line after 60 minutes, completely done-in, thinking ‘I… am… never… doing… that… again!’ When you’re in swing of running, it is a good feeling and I know I feel great afterwards, but it’s the getting going. Do you see a theme developing here..? Perhaps writing about it might give me that metaphorical boot up the bum. Another one.

As well as my middle-aged body, the garden also needs some serious attention. I’ve been dead-heading and picking flowers and raspberries galore but there are definite signs of disarray. It’s been such lovely weather that in any spare time I’ve enjoyed being in the garden rather than working in it. We’ve had very little rain for a couple of months – only one day when it rained heavily – and some of the plants are suffering. The pond is also lower than I’ve seen it since we’ve been here. We’re on a water meter, so I don’t like to use mains water very often on the garden. We have kept the raspberries and tomatoes alive and I collect any leftover drinking water in a jug to chuck on the flowers outside the door but everything else has had to fend for itself.

If you, too, are experiencing a surfeit of raspberries, Anne has some very fine suggestions. I made a couple of her Raspberry Loaf Cakes on Tuesday (one for a friend and one for us) and, oh my, ours was delicious. Cakes… another reason why I need to do more exercise. I’ve also made lots of raspberry jam – there is nothing quite like the smell of raspberries, sugar and lemon juice bubbling away on the hob. It’s quite the most delicious aroma. Irritatingly, the jam class in the Late Summer Show this Saturday is strawberry, not raspberry, so I bought a couple of punnets of strawbs from the supermarket and set to. I’ve not had great success in the past with strawberry jam and I suspect this might be too runny but it looks good and tastes lovely. After my marmalade disaster at the spring show (the judge most definitely didn’t like my bitter offering), I do not have high hopes. I’m also entering cut flowers from the garden (any variety), 5 stems of an annual, a tea loaf and 7 raspberries. David is also entering 7 raspberries and I think I’ll make another Raspberry Loaf Cake for the refreshments. I wonder if I could hide a few raspberries in the tea loaf…

Hope life is going swimmingly where you are. Have a lovely weekend. x

The Great Gatsby gardener

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While we were in America we went to visit friends (who we hadn’t seen for years) in a beautiful coastal town just north of Boston called Marblehead. It was wonderful to spend time with them and we had a memorable stay. My lovely friend, who knows I am keen on all things horticultural, kindly arranged for a landscape gardener friend of theirs, Larry, to give us a tour of a few of ‘his’ gardens before dinner one evening. Now, these gardens were attached to houses that one dreams of, the types of houses that I imagined when I read The Great Gatsby – beautiful New England mansions with sweeping lawns overlooking the ocean. Larry was absolutely certain that it was fine for us to look around the gardens as the owners were probably out and, anyway, ‘they wouldn’t mind’. My friend reminded him of the time he’d reassured her it would be absolutely fine to come and have a picnic in a garden he was working on only to have a slightly awkward encounter with owners who arrived home unexpectedly!

Anyway, we parked outside one house but the owners were in and having a party, so we swiftly drove on to another. I had my camera with me and was hoping no one in the vicinity would notice me taking photos and think I was casing the joint… At the next residence, all was quiet so we cautiously followed Larry as he told us of his ideas, showed us his latest planting schemes, talked about views and sight-lines and his client’s wishes. He said ‘we’ a lot, so I think he (understandably) has quite an emotional investment in the gardens he works on. It was a real treat to have this private little tour and the opportunity to have a gawp at places where you could imagine Gatsby-like parties taking place. As we were leaving the final garden, the owners’ car swept into the drive. We said our hasty goodbyes, thanked him profusely and left Larry to do the talking.

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In other news… My eldest’s exam results last week were good enough for him to go through to the sixth form – hurrah🙂 – so we went shopping today for cool sixth-form clothes. Five hours of shopping… I’ve told my other two that if they need any new kit, we can order it online. Have a lovely rest of the week. x