Five flowers for July

Choris at The Blooming Garden is showcasing 10 of her favourite July flowers and encouraging other bloggers to do the same; I’ve chosen 5 because these are the ones that are looking good in my garden right now and are my absolute favourites.

1  I’ve said before that Verbena bonariensis is one of my top-ten favourite plants of all time. It’s the most striking, useful, gorgeous bee-magnet you can plant. It adds height, structure, colour and interest; I love the criss-crossing erect stems holding aloft purple flowerheads. They look airy and delicate but they’re tough as old boots and withstand the winds round these parts.

Verbena bonariensis
V. bonariensis is a great ‘see-through’ plant so you can put it anywhere in the border.
Verbena bonariensis and Crocosmia 'Lucifer'
Here with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.
Verbena bonariensis and bee
The flowerheads are made up of loads of tiny flowers full of nectar for pollinators.
Verbena bonariensis and plum tree
I know it’s fanciful but I think they look like tall, cheerful stick people waving big hands.

Verbena is a group of hugely versatile perennials – we also have Verbena rigida, which is another gorgeous purple and grows to about 50cm, and the semi-trailing, bright pink Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’, which is great in pots.

Verbena rigida
Verbena rigida
Verbena 'Sissinghurst'
Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’ growing in a pot with Nemesia.

 

2 Sweet peas. I can’t think of a better-value plant for cutting flowers – the more you cut them, the more flowers you get. It’s like magic. You can cut flowers every day if you have enough plants. They’re delicate, beautiful, easy to grow (in my experience, but beware slugs and snails early on), come in a wide range of colours and the fragrance is heavenly. Everyone has their own methods of growing and planting sweet peas but I grow mine from seed in tall pots (or even old toilet roll holders) in spring, pinch out the tips when they’re about 30–40cm tall to encourage side shoots (which flower), then plant out in May. Our soil is very free-draining so I shovel in compost and keep them well watered. I feed mine when I feed my tomatoes – once a week with a tomato feed – but everyone has their own methods. We have one plant that self-seeded from last year, grew throughout the winter and has borne loads of flowers since late May! They’re tougher than you think.

Sweet peas need support to climb up – a wigwam of twiggy branches is perfect, or beanpoles with twine tied around, or some people use trellis. Their tendrils will grab hold of anything nearby so it’s good to check where they’re heading occasionally and redirect them. Anyway, once they start flowering, you start cutting and, if you’re lucky, you’ll have so many sweetly-scented flowers you’ll have jugs of them wafting their glorious fragrance in every room with enough left over to give handfuls to friends. Get them going early enough and you could have flowers from as early as May through to October or even the first frosts but peak sweet pea month here is July. If you follow Sultanabun on Instagram, you’ll have seen it’s her peak sweet pea time, too.

Sweetpea tendrils
Sweetpea tendrils will grab hold of anything as they grow.
Sweet pea
If you give sweetpeas a little love (water well and often, feed them occasionally, plant in good soil) they’ll reward you with flowers and flowers and flowers.

3 Ammi visnaga. All the Ammi plants growing in our garden this year have grown themselves. They self-seeded from plants I grew from seed last year and have multiplied tenfold which tells you how easy and undemanding they are. If you want to grow Ammi and don’t want it spreading everywhere, make sure you dead-head rigorously… The best thing about them is that the flower heads are great big landing pads for bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Made up of hundreds of tiny white flowers, the heads are compound flowers providing rich nectar for pollinators. The foliage is a lovely green, delicate and feathery, so stems of Ammi make great cutting material for vases.

4 Another fantastic flower for pollinators (are you sensing a theme here?!) is Scabious atropurpurea. We have two colours here – white and pink. The seed packet I grew them from last year showed rich dark colours, so I was a little disappointed when they turned out to be pale pink, lilac and white. But they’ve come back this year strongly (they’re perennials) and the bees love them, so they can stay. I plan to grow some richer colours at some point.

It’s another plant that pumps out flowers all summer long and into the autumn if you dead-head regularly (or cut the flowers for vases). I sowed a £2-packet of seeds last year and have three large patches of plants for the second year running. Excellent value, I’d say.

White scabious
Here you can see a full flowerhead, one that’s turning into a seedhead (fluffy with a few petals still attached) and a tightly budded head at the bottom.
See – bees LOVE scabious.
White scabious
Grown here with linaria (going to seed) and hardy geranium in the background. This one needs staking (the twigs) as it grows to about 80cm tall.

5 Finally, here’s a flower I’ve grown for the first time this year and I’ll definitely grow it again – Salvia viridis (or clary sage). It’s a hardy annual and the striking blue/purple flowers you can see are actually coloured bracts, not flowers. The real flowers are tiny and grow close to the stem further down.

I planted them out in early June and they’ve been looking fabulous for a few weeks now and have been buzzing with pollinators. The stems are upright and quite striking, with real impact when grown together. We have a patch of about 5 plants, then others dotted between other grasses and perennials. They like free-draining soil and full sun.

Salvia viridis
Look down the stems and you can see the little purple and white flowers.
Salvia viridis
A drift of clary sage makes a big impact in the border. It’s upright and quite tidy so would also work well lining a path (which I might try next year).
Salvia viridis flowers
Close-up of the flowers.

Right, I’m off out into the garden to pick some sweet peas 🙂 Have a lovely weekend.

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In a vase on Monday: A–Z

With so much to choose from in the garden this week, I’ve picked just two different flowers – Ammi and Zinnia – for a Monday vase.

All the ammi (Ammi visnaga) are self-seeded from plants I grew from seed last year; they’re over-crowded and some are growing where I don’t want them. Rather than chuck those I’ve pulled up onto the compost heap, I chopped their roots and lower leaves off and plonked them in water.

This is the first year I’ve grown zinnias and I expected them to be rather prima-donna-ish but they seem pretty tough. According to what I’ve read, they hate root disturbance, don’t like overwatering and can’t be planted out until it’s warm enough to sit outside in the evening without wearing a cashmere wrap (I made that last but up). I was quite careful about potting on the seedlings, but not overly so, and there’s not much danger of them being overwatered around here. I was a bit worried about the temperature but I needn’t have as it’s been almost Mediterranean-like here. The major problem has been our slimy foes, the slugs and snails. A fair few pristine zinnias have been toppled and munched, sadly, – I reckon I’ve lost a third of the plants – but the survivors are hitting their stride now and starting to pump out flowers. They’re great for cutting as they last for ages in a vase, the colours are fantastic and they’re like sweet peas – the more flowers you cut, the more you’ll get, so that’s what I’m doing.

How’s life with you? It’s the last week of school before the summer holidays here and everyone is weary; the children are especially weary this afternoon as it was Sports Day today. Despite emails from the school inviting parents along to watch, my three pleaded with me not to go: ‘It would be social suicide, Mum!’. Mortifying our children seems to be something we’re particularly good at but I graciously stayed at home. It seems only five minutes since they were telling me where to stand so they could see me and to shout loudly. How times change.

‘In a Vase on Monday’ is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden. I recommend visiting her blog to see what she and other bloggers from around the world have found to put in a vase today; it’s always inspiring.

Wishing you a good week.

Checking in

Ha, just spotted my m-in-l top left taking photos!
Dog looking shifty.
Remember that bare bank of soil?
Terracing starting to come together. The grasses – Calamagrostis, Miscanthus and Stipa t. will soften it.
Aha, the pond! We didn’t realise there were paving slabs this end of the pond until we cleared the big pile of rocks, soil and brambles…
This jasmine smells divine.
Climbing rose over the wonky arch. No idea what variety it is.
Lavender and briza.
Pink scabious (bees love it), with ammi, sweetpeas, marigolds, Verbena b. and grasses behind; blue Campanula to the left.
The new veg patch on the other side of the steps.
Colour-pop pots.
The zinnias are coming!
Gaura ‘The Bride’.
Two ‘Turk’s Turban’ squashes growing in the compost heap. They’re now taking over that whole corner…
Front left (looking towards the sea) taken from the balcony.
Front right.
The back garden which has been a bit neglected, tbh, while we’ve been beaming on the front garden. Goodness knows what we were thinking when we took this on…

 

Hello, how are you?! It’s been all work and no play for the past couple of weeks here at acoastalplot, hence the radio silence. It’s good to be busy (freelance work tends to be like buses) but I have missed you 🙂 I’ve also found it slightly excruciating (if it’s possible to be excruciated in degrees) being indoors at my desk during some completely glorious weather; looming deadlines meant that I couldn’t down tools and head to the beach with my family at the weekend. But, hey, there’ll be other days.

The garden has had to pretty much fend for itself, so thank goodness it’s finally raining! Hoo-flipping-rah. The sky has been full of grey clouds all day but it didn’t start properly raining until early evening. It’s now bouncing off the skylights and I’m imagining the plants are cheering, especially the grass which has lost most of its green. The snails are probably cheering, too, so I expect I’ll find more destruction in the morning. I must take a photo of one of the dahlias to show you – it’s a poor dahlia skeleton. Curse those slimy creatures.

These photos were taken in the garden just after the garden safari weekend. We were still planting, moving rocks and laying paths right up to the night before, but it all went well and we had lots of lovely people through the garden, met new neighbours and locals we hadn’t met before, and chatted to fellow keen gardeners. It was lovely to be able to take a breather and to enjoy being in the garden and we even managed to visit a few inspiring gardens recommended to us. A decent amount of money was raised for the hospice and everyone declared it a success. Looking at the photos, it’s amazing how much everything has settled in and grown since they were taken. The little orchard area is now full of wildflowers, the ornamental grasses and perennials are filling out, we’ve courgettes, tomatoes and squashes growing like crazy, and enough flowers to keep me in vase material for a good while yet. I can’t wait to have time to get out there again. When it stops raining.

Have a lovely rest of the week. More anon. x

 

Self-seeders

Forget-me-nots and aquilegia, with nasturtium leaves in the foreground.
Erigeron karvinskianus and campanula on the front steps.
Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ with self-sown sweet peas.
Aquilegias and borage.
Briza
Aquilegia forest
Cerinthe, centranthus and more aquilegia.
Fluffy nigella lining the path.

A sunny May day is when the garden shifts into full-on growing mode, especially after a few damp days. You can feel it, there is exuberance in the air. Plants that were appearing in nooks and crannies now show themselves confidently and everything looks lush.

I can now distinguish the seedlings of self-sown plants that I want to keep – forget-me-nots, aquilegia, cerinthe, nigella, calendula, nasturtiums, ammi, cosmos, erigeron – from weeds that I don’t but it always takes me by surprise just how many pop up. There seem to be more aquilegias this year, most of them a deep purple with a few pink/lilac ones, and the forget-me-nots are spreading beautifully. I don’t mind how many of these little blue beauties grow, they can seed themselves all over the garden if they like. All of the ones that have grown this year are from a few plants my mother-in-law brought with her last year.

The briza is from a few small plants that fellow blogger Cathy kindly sent me last year – they have definitely settled in and made themselves at home (thank you, Cathy!). The borage and cerinthe are from plants I grew from seed last year. I read somewhere that once you have these in the garden you’ll have them for ever but I’m quite happy about that. The great thing about self-seeders is that you can hoik them out if they appear in the wrong place or carefully transplant them to the right place. The abundance of these plants fills me with happiness. Really, there is little more pleasing than finding a whole load of seedlings that will grow to produce some of my favourite flowers with absolutely no effort on my part!

Meanwhile, there are pots and pots, and trays and trays of young plants waiting in the wings for the weather to warm up a bit. Then it’ll be all systems go to get them in the ground, settling in and growing away in time for the great Garden Safari.

 

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.

 

 

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.

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.