In a Vase on Monday: Wild

The footpaths, verges and hedgerows are erupting in a mass of frothy cow parsley, or Queen Anne’s lace, which billows and dances in the wind. It’s up at shoulder height in places and I couldn’t resist snapping off a few stems while out walking the dog this morning. Picking flowers from the wild is something I usually avoid – there are many species (such as broomrapes, orchids and saxifrages) that are protected by law in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and you’re not allowed to pick, uproot or destroy these. It is also illegal to uproot or destroy all wildflowers but not to pick a few pieces from unprotected species as long as you’re on public land (or you have the landowner’s permission). I think a bit of cow parsley is ok as there is plenty left for the bees and hoverflies.

Joining my foraged cow parsley in the jug are a couple of roses (inherited, unknown variety with a beautiful scent) and a pale, dusky aquilegia that was growing in the middle of the raspberries. I love the contrast between the dark stems and the pale, hooked petals with their lilac/pink blush. Almost all the other aquilegias that have popped up in the garden are dark purple; pale ones are unusual here. I’ve also added some Cerinthe major, which is looking almost metallic en-masse in the back border, the last of the dark ‘Queen of Night’ tulips and a stem of Centranthus ruber (red valerian). I read on Caro’s blog, An Urban Veg Patch, that red valerian leaves are edible. I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to eating ‘wild’ food so I haven’t tried them – have you?

It’s lovely to be joining other bloggers for Cathy’s gathering of Monday vases; she also has a soft-coloured aquilegia in her vase today.

Have a good week.

 

 

Into the blue

Ladybird on bluebell photo courtesy of my daughter 🙂

No, this is not a comment on the local election results. This blog will be a politics-free zone for the next five weeks (and possibly longer). It’s just Too Much (if I hear ‘strong and stable’ again I might have to throw the radio into the sea)…

Hey, how about some lovely bluebells instead?! These photographs are from last Saturday and a walk in a nearby ancient wood. It is full of bluebells at this time of year (and people doing the obligatory ‘in among the bluebells’ photoshoots). We were lucky with the weather and we almost had the woods to ourselves to soak up the atmosphere. There is nothing quite like it – dappled sunlight through the trees onto a sea of blue (purple) flowers, rich birdsong, woodpeckers drumming, bees buzzing, the sweet scent of the flowers… We took deep breaths and heaved deep, happy sighs – it was wonderful.

I drove over to East Grinstead yesterday evening to hear Steve Biddulph (of the books ‘Raising Boys’, ‘Raising Girls’, and ‘The Complete Secrets of Happy Children’ fame) give a talk about girls’ mental health and raising daughters well. It was pretty powerful stuff. It seems that since companies started marketing to girls as young as 8 years old, there has been an increase in girls suffering from anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm and so on. Of course, there are many other factors and it’s not nearly so simple but his assertion is that ‘the media’ (advertising, music videos, tv shows, films) teaches girls that looks are their most important aspect, that their body will never be good enough, that sex is something to be traded for belonging and/or power and other depressing stuff.

He wanted us to leave the theatre angry (in a good way), to be fired up, a vanguard for the third wave of feminism and he did a pretty good job! He’s written a book (of course) called ’10 Things Girls Need Most’ to help parents help their daughters and it has some hugely sound suggestions. I’m not going to give you a full review as I haven’t finished reading it but if you have a daughter, it’s definitely worth a look.

Do you have exciting weekend plans? I hope it’s going to be fairly quiet here as I’ve got a load of seedlings to pot on and some more seeds to sow, and more digging to prepare another area for planting. It’s seven weeks (seven weeks!) until the village Garden Safari. Yikes.

Have a good one.

 

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