Orchard dreaming

The orchard and meadow at Great Dixter in late March last year.
The work in progress of clearing.
Part way through clearing (from above). You can see the old stump we uncovered and dug out, mid-left of the picture to the right of our neighbour’s garage.
Bare root trees waiting in trugs of compost.
Marking out, digging holes and positioning stakes.
Planting
After (from above) with super-gran
Stepping-stone path laid around the trees and a lavender border planted along the path.

What do you imagine when you think of an orchard? The word has such idyllic connotations for me. It conjures up a particular image in my mind’s eye: dappled sunlight from a late-afternoon sun filtering through rows of gnarly old fruit trees, a blackbird singing its heart out, a gentle breeze moving the long grass which is dotted with wildflowers, the scent of ripening fruit in the air. It’s a serene scene and just the thought of it cheers me. There is an actual, real-life place that almost lives up to this – the orchard and meadow at Great Dixter. My heart skipped a beat the first time I clapped eyes on it but it’s too far away to visit often and I don’t think the gardeners would take kindly to me lying about under their trees on sunny afternoons.

My dream would be to have a little house in the middle of an orchard, but in the meantime (and this is very thrilling) we’re creating a mini-orchard of our very own. When we moved here, there were already a few low-growing apple trees, a plum (since gone), a greengage and a pear tree in the back garden but we always had the idea at the back of our minds to plant more at the front.

Our designs for planting the different levels in the front garden (the area that faces the sea) have evolved, as they do, and a few weeks ago we finally reached the decision to clear an area and plant some fruit trees. The end of the season for planting bare root trees (which are cheaper to buy and more likely to establish well than container-grown stock) was fast approaching but we managed to find most of the trees we wanted as 2-year-old bush, bare root stock from Blackmoor Nurseries in Hampshire. We ordered online and they arrived a couple of days later in a big cardboard box.

We ordered three apples, ‘Discovery’, ‘Red Windsor’ and a cooker, ‘Howgate Wonder’, two pears, ‘Beurre Hardy’ and ‘Doyenne du Comice’, and a ‘Victoria’ plum. We couldn’t track down a bare rootstock ‘Catillac’ pear (which I wrote about last autumn here) but I hope we can order one to plant next year in early spring.

We tucked our new trees into trugs of compost while we worked our socks off digging up overgrown geraniums and other plants to relocate, clearing brambles and weeds, moving rocks and levelling the ground. The space was carefully marked out, holes were dug, posts bashed into position, compost wheelbarrowed from the heap, and, finally, we were ready to plant our new trees. My mother-in-law was here at the time and it’s largely thanks to her that we achieved all this in such a short space of time. We truly have no idea where she gets her energy and drive but she galvanised us to get it done. (Our 17-year-old was even enlisted to help dig out an old tree stump!)

The trees are grafted onto dwarf root stock – M26 for the apples and Quince C for the pears – and will need to be permanently staked and they are planted a little closer together than recommended but we’ll keep them pruned so that enough air can circulate between them. They have 2-ft skirts of weed-suppressant fabric around their bases, covered with a thick layer of bark to keep moisture in and weeds down. David has laid a recycled stone path and we’ve sprinkled wildflower seeds on the soil in between. Newly planted trees do take longer to come out of their dormancy after planting, which can delay new growth, but there are already leaves and blossom on the apples and leaves are appearing on the pears. I’ve moved a seat down to the path so anyone going down the steps to see what’s what can sit a while and imagine how it will look in a few years.

Happily, we have had some rain since Monday and more is forecast for tonight, so I hope we won’t be using the hosepipe too much over the coming months. The nursery’s instructions were to remove any blossom and not allow the trees to set fruit in their first year – all their energies should go into establishing strong roots. I’m going to have to steel myself to prune off that blossom this weekend but I’ll admire it a little while longer…

Can you believe it’s  May 1st on Monday?! It’ll soon be time to plant out all the tender stuff. I hope you have a lovely May Day weekend, whatever you have planned.

 

 

In a Vase on Monday: Hopeful

It’s lovely to be joining in again with Cathy’s gathering of Monday vases after missing a few. I do so love a good faff with flowers. This week, I’ve picked and plonked three ‘Queen of Night’ tulips, some bluebells (from my garden, not the woods!), forget-me-nots, Cerinthe major, aquilegia and a few tendrils of honeysuckle foliage.

The garden is as dry as a bone, the soil dusty. We haven’t had any rain to speak of for weeks now. We’ve had to use the hosepipe to water all the newly planted trees, something we try to avoid doing as our water bills are extortionate; I’ve even been saving any leftover drinking water to pour on those plants lucky to be near the back door. There were promising-looking dark grey clouds (that’s not a phrase you hear very often!) earlier but they passed by without shedding a drop. There are showers forecast for this evening so I have my fingers crossed.

Happily, many of our plants are toughing it out and we’ve not been short of April flowers. The daffodils are almost over with just a few multi-headed white ones still looking good (although their top-heavy stems are lolling about, through lack of moisture I reckon). The tulips planted in pots are almost over, while those planted in beds are hanging in there. There are plenty of self-seeded Cerinthe, marigolds and forget-me-nots, and the aquilegias are starting to bloom. The bottom of the garden is covered in bluebells which is amazing considering we were stomping all over it a month ago, clearing pernicious weeds and planting pencil-thin Himalayan birch whips. One day, several years from now, there will be a sinuous river of graceful white birches down there in a carpet of bluebells and other delights.

I’ve mentioned my love of tulips many times and how I’d love to have so many in the garden that I can pick armfuls to bring indoors. Well, I’m a little way off that but I have been picking handfuls for the past few weeks – here’s one I picked last week, still looking good in the lounge. It is immensely satisfying to grow your own flowers to pick and bring inside – a fairly simple task with a massively pleasing reward.

Cathy is also showcasing tulips this week. Do go and see, and have a look at some of the many other wonderful vases of flowers from around the world.

Thank you for visiting and commenting. It’s been a bit full-on round here recently and I’m behind with responding to comments and blog-reading (sorry), plus the ironing and much more! I hope you have a good week.

The leaning tower of ironing…

Operation bee rescue

I was rummaging around in the greenhouse yesterday when I spotted an enormous bumble bee on the floor. She (I’ve no idea whether it was female but I’ve decided it was for narrative purposes) looked a bit done-in, still alive but definitely on her last legs. I lifted her carefully onto a plant tray and carried her outside, then rushed indoors to make some sugar water –  I remembered this is The Thing To Do for exhausted bees from CT’s excellent blog (she is my go-to person for wildlife info). I squirted a pea-size of honey onto a spoon, added a little water and mixed it together, then I carefully put the spoon under the bee’s head. Amazingly, she stuck out her proboscis and started drinking with great big thirsty gulps! I actually spilt the liquid off the spoon in my excitement and called my daughter to bring her phone to video this Wonder of Nature. We both knelt down and watched the bee drink her fill, both awe-struck and full of delight that we were helping her. She took a while, then had a little wander around on the tray, cleaning the dust off her back, head and antennae with her legs, drank a little more then buzzed her wings a little. She took a couple of practise flights, lifting hesitantly off the tray and landing again. And then – hoorah – she flew off. Oh yeah!

I like to think that our bee is will survive for as long as possible, visit all our bee-friendly flowers, drink the nectar and pollinate as she goes. I was going to show you a little video of our bee drinking the spilt sugar-water but WordPress won’t let me upload it. I’d have to set it up on YouTube and link to it and, frankly, I can’t be bothered at this time on a Saturday evening after a day spent gardening and a couple of glasses of wine! I’ll just have to show you this rather rubbish photo instead but at least you can see her proboscis. It was amazing. Bees are amazing.

In other news, the village spring show last weekend was a rip-roaring success for David – his hot cross buns won an actual cup! Well, it looks more like a peculiar silver gravy boat, but it’s The Cup for best home produce. He was pretty chuffed. My two children made fabulous decorated Easter cakes (see below) but were beaten to the cash prize by a lovely, chocolate mini-egg confection. It’s good to learn how to lose gracefully… I was busy helping with the show so I only entered two daffodil categories (coming third in one) and the single tulip category (again coming third).

It’s all go in the garden this Easter weekend. We’ve been clearing brambles and other weeds, preparing ground, planting trees and fruit bushes (photos coming soon), weeding and weeding. Did I say weeding? It’s been glorious out there but the earth is so dry. We badly need rain – some is forecast for tomorrow, so I hope it appears. Everything in the garden needs a good drink and our aching bodies need a rest.

Whatever you’re doing, I hope you’re having a lovely long weekend and I wish you a very happy Easter.

Down with the daffs

Is there anything lovelier than these beauties? They’re Narcissus ‘Actaea’ and their appearance each spring in the sloping border by our path cheers me up no end. The buds are a pale, buttery yellow but the flowers mature to a bright white which sets off the gorgeous orange centres beautifully. The scent is also delicious. It’s my number one, absolute favourite daffodil.

The village spring show is next Saturday and I’m hoping there will be enough still looking pristine so I can enter 3 stems (it has to be 3 stems, not 4 or 2!). There should also be plenty of tulips to enter (3 or 5, depending on the class). My younger son and daughter are both planning to enter a ‘Decorated cake for Easter’ in the hope of winning the coveted junior adult prize of £20. The eldest son is too old to enter and is enjoying this sibling rivalry. There’s been talk of complicated edible nest constructions with mini-eggs. It could get very messy. I’ll be busy helping to set up for the show, so they will have to negotiate an agreement over ingredients, equipment and oven use without me. I’m glad I’ll be out of the way.

I’ve been very slack recently, unable to muster enthusiasm for much which is not like me. I’m distracted, fidgety and irritable. I can’t blame it on the weather – it’s been a glorious week with properly warm, spring sunshine today – so I’ll blame it on Brexit (the whole thing frankly makes me very cross) and my hormones instead! David being away four days a week doesn’t help and I’ve not been doing enough fun stuff lately. More fun – that’s what we all need probably.

Enough with the moping, here are some more beautiful signs of spring in the garden.

Pear blossom on the verge of appearing with unfurling leaves.
Greengage blossom looking oh so beautiful.
Anemone coronaria ‘The Bride’. I absolutely love them.
Tulip ‘Sarah Raven’ with a geum and muscari in the background.
Tulip ‘can’t remember the variety but it’s lovely’.

It’s the last day of the school term tomorrow and the children will be on their Easter holidays. I’ve some paid and some voluntary work to do but otherwise I’m looking forward to a few more relaxed days. We don’t have any major plans – my brother and his family are visiting for a couple of days, David has the week before Easter off work and his mum is visiting us then. She has helped us so much in the garden over the years and we’re looking forward to showing her the progress we’ve made. Her drive and energy are quite astounding and I’m hoping some will rub off on me.

Have a lovely weekend x

In a Vase on Monday: spring forward

British Summer Time is here – lighter evenings – yay! It was also warm enough to wander around outside without a coat this morning. Big happy sigh. And all of a sudden there seems to be much more material in the garden to pick for vases.

The first of the tulips are flowering – these are ‘Pink Impression’. They are a more lipstick-pink than I was expecting, but the colour is softened by mixing it with others that are less showy. There’s my favourite purple/blue–orange colour combination here – Anemone coronaria ‘Mr Fokker’, Muscari and Cerinthe major (which has self-seeded from last year and started flowering) for the purple/blue and a little Geum of unknown variety (which is just coming into bloom) for the orange. I’ve also included a few dusky pink primroses. Greenery comes from a few sprigs of Lonicera nitida, a couple of tendrils of Vinca major ‘Variegata’ and the Cerinthe and tulips leaves.

The final photograph shows the vase sitting on a little coffee table I bought for £15 on Saturday (with its ‘Sold’ sticker in the corner). It was sitting on the pavement outside a second-hand shop that I often pop into just for a look, you know how it is, and I couldn’t resist it. My first thought was that I’d sand and paint it but my family rolled their eyes and laughed like drains when I told them. I have form here… There’s an old kitchen cupboard and another small table that were sanded and undercoated, erm, probably two years ago now(?!) but have yet to be painted. Perhaps the spring sunshine and longer daylight hours will spur me into getting a move on with them all.

I’m joining in as usual with Cathy and the other bloggers who take part in IaVoM. Do pop over to her place and have a look.

Wishing you a good week.

 

 

Plant therapy

When awful, random things happen to innocent people going about their daily business, it’s hard not to feel helpless and fearful for the future. The usual feelings of horror and shock are followed by a deep sadness for all those affected. That there are people who have so much hatred in their hearts, leading them to carry out such dreadful acts, beggars belief. Far more erudite people than me will have much to say about what happened in our capital city on Wednesday but it would have felt all wrong to not mention it here. London is a magnificent city full of wonderful people from all over the world who will not be cowed by terrorism.

I hope you won’t think me flippant and indulgent to now write about plants but whether I’m aghast at the world or just plain fed-up, spending time with nature always soothes me. Whether it’s in my garden or someone else’s, in a park or walking along the lanes and through the fields, being near plants calms my thoughts.

The straightforward rhythm of the seasons marks the months passing and spring is particularly uplifting. Sunlight shining through a patch of daffodils, the first hints of colour appearing on tulip buds, fresh spring foliage and bursts of vibrant colour popping up here and there – these tiny-seed-to-full-on-flowering-plant, blossom-bud-to-delicious-fruit miracles all work their magic. Not everyone thinks about plants in the same way, I realise that, but even the most urban, indoors type of person would surely appreciate the pleasure of spotting the first primroses of spring in the hedgerows and walking barefoot on freshly mown grass in the summer sunshine. Then there’s the joy of crunching through autumn leaves on a woodland floor and the surprise scent of a winter-flowering shrub. Nature carries on and plants do their thing year after year, reassuring and steadfast.

The mental and physical benefits of gardening are well-documented; it is used as a therapeutic mental health tool and in schools to help teach responsibility and how to nurture. Gardeners can vouch for the positive effects and we tend to be an optimistic and patient bunch. We have to be. Planting and tending a garden is always for the future – bulbs planted in autumn flower in spring, slender tree whips will take years to grow and create the desired effect, seeds sown in early spring bloom months later. And there are always a few casualties along the way. Slugs and snails munching our delicate seedlings, badgers eating our fruit, blight on our tomatoes, fungus on our roses – all these test our perseverance. But we continue to look forward, we see the beauty and we are full of hope.

In times like this, it’s even more important to appreciate the people we love, show kindness whenever we can, find the things that make us happy and hang on to that hope. Wishing you a safe and happy weekend. I’ll be spending as much of it as possible in the garden.