Friday 10 July 2015

What a summer... Well it was when I started!!

Okay so my promise of more blogging is as reliable as the British weather, but I really have been busy! 

I've had three projects on the go including various consultations (a glorious way to get to walk around other people's  gardens and talk shop).  

The project in North London saw me juggling the logistics of child care and m25 traffic, along with shovelling 3 tonnes of top soil and the same amount of Cotswold gravel. I have always said gardening is better than a gym membership. But in this case I wish I'd had the gym membership for about 6 months to make sure I was strong enough beforehand!  
But it was glorious weather (yes this post began back in July, but let's just skip over that part) and with lovely clients the job was soon finished in time for his fortieth birthday. 

My other two projects a planting plan and  garden design have been phased works.  The designs were  finished and approved  in the summer but the planting plan couldn't start until the autumn (autumn and spring are the best time to plant).   This project will be a work in progress as we plant each border when it becomes ready. I'll post some photos when the borders begin the bloom. 

As I am still quite a newbie to Newbury it's taken a while to find a good landscaper who can do the job and to find a time when he is free to start the work. But eventually in February Pete from all aspect landscape started work on my first Newbury garden build.  

I love the beginning of a garden build, it's like putting the first mark on a canvas or the first chip in the marble. I also love the clients reaction when they see the design they have only seen on paper, marked out on the ground. 

I'll be posting photos as this project develops. 

The beginning of the year has seen, quite frankly abysmal weather, storms, high winds, rain and yet more rain. But to distract me from staring dismally out the window like Sally in The Cat in The Hat, I had the party of a lifetime to get ready for!! 
Venise sous Paris was an 18th century Venetian ball in the heart of Paris. Casanova's Palace!  Dress code was of course strict so I set about making a harlequin costume to match ma soeur Colombine. Pinterest had me obsessed again! And the local fabric shop's profit increased astronomically! 

eBay was attacked with gusto,Two "no sew tutus" and a ruffle later..... All I needed was a mask. So who better to go to than "just posh masks" and one harlequin mask complete with bells arrived to my squeals of delight. 

Ma soeur et moi arrived in Paris, lugged my luggage up six, yes SIX!, flights of stairs (no wonder Parisians are so svelte).  It was worth it for the view, champagne, sausage and cheese. 

The ball was magnificent. On arrival we were taken into a plague doctors room (it was 18th century Venice), a court of law and a prison (Casanova was imprisoned for 2 years for a close "friendship" with the doges wife) Then an audience with Casanova himself! (Of course he was very charming!)

Then we danced, not quite until dawn but at least unt my feet hurt so much I had to take my harlequin boots off. But not before I had done the split at the foot of the doges throne!

Monday 8 June 2015

Loving my work

Spring has sprung, the grass is ris, 
I wonder where the boidies is The boid is on the wing, But that’s absoid From what I hoid  
The wing is on the boid! 
the beautiful blackbird - with an unfortunate latin name!

Okay so I've been doing a lot of phonetics with holly at school and it seems to be creating all sorts of trouble with the old rhyme my dad used to say when the spring arrived.   It's well and truly arrived, well on some days anyway. The rest of the time it seems to be caught between pooh bears blustery day and Pygmalions rain in Spain. 

Nectaroscordum siculum, out and dancing in the
sunshine in one of my gardens in Thatcham

But with everyone itching to get out into their gardens I've been getting calls to design gardens and create planting plans, which is awesome!! While it's been great designing my own garden and working at the allotment. Getting the opportunity to create something special for someone else is always exciting.  I love creating. It's so satisfying to see the look on clients faces when they like what you've come up with. It's always nerve wracking the journey to their house as I take my precious ideas to them. How will they react? Is it going to be a disaster? Will there be tears, and if so, theirs or mine?  
So far I'm my career it's always been positive, and I breath a sign of relieve.  It must be something to do with my need for acceptance! 

one of my garden designs, inspired by peacock feathers
So as I've been juggling surveys, designs and meeting new landscapers, my own garden has been growing, and growing.  It seems to change every day which is very exciting. I still love walking out every morning to see what's flowered, if anything needs attention. But now I have a list as long as my arm (or maybe two arms, they are quite short!)

the bees are so busy it's truly difficult to photograph them! Geranium Roxanne and Alchemilla mollis staying still for the camera.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness

August is a fabulously relaxing month in the garden. The tall grasses glint and shimmer in the languid air the bees buzz lazily from flower to flower catching a nap on the Cirsium when so full of nectar the can go no further.  The sun shone and okay the rain rained too but we so needed it. 

The summer holidays coming to an end and we spend more afternoons at the allotment, harvesting beans of all sorts, lettuce, patti pans, cucumbers, tomatoes.
But along with the harvest came some unwelcome visitors. I donned my marigolds and I squashed a lot and I mean a lot of insects and bugs.  

My favourite to squish was the asparagus beetles and larvae. I squashed so many that I even ended up sqooshing them without my marigolds. Slugs got chopped in half with spades and caterpillars trampled under foot (but not while my girls were about, thanks a lot Eric Carle!)

But it wasn't contained to the little beasties above ground. I had holey potatoes and nibbled carrots. 

I think that the potatoes had eelworm, apparently it is quite common in allotments and especially recently cleared allotments. Having done some research it can last in the ground up to 4 years even if no potatoes are grown!  A little more research and I found this article.
Apparently the larvae see the radish as a host but once feeding on it can only turn into male worms! It can reduce the population by 95% and is a green manure. I shall be trying this next year. And only planting early potatoes (the worms are active after they have been harvested). 

As for my carrots they shall be surrounded by marigolds. (Carrot flies can't fly that high)

Monday 4 August 2014

It's too darn hot

Don't knock the weather. If it didn't change once in a while, nine out of ten people couldn't start a conversation.

Kim Hubbard

Gorgeous sunflowers from the allotment

It's been a very busy and very hot July. The kids social calendar went crazy, the weather went crazy, and the plants went crazy. 

I got my creative hat on and made tea cups for Alice in Wonderland at Peace in the Park at the global retreat in Oxfordshire. The festival was fantastic. Not only did it have the best Wonderland and happy performance of Alice, but we could make our own dream catchers, memory sticks and of course face painting!  Best of all it was all free, we will definitely be making a return visit next year.

a glorious mad hatters teaparty
That's big sisters for you!

I also made some carnival signs for the school fete then spent two hours painting many cat, dog and frozen faces in the amazingly hot and very successful fete. 

While the builders transformed out 1970's bathroom into a 21st century one I got on with painting the fencing and finishing off the obelisks. Some people might find painting fences boring but for a bit of peace and quiet and to stand in the sun catching some rays, for me, its heaven.

My own mix of paint With the help of Miks paints

Then to the final bits of planting, I was definitely squeezing plants in towards the end. (Though the climbers are still staked and not on wire yet, poor things!). All I can say is the garden has bloomed and is bursting with colour, shape and texture.  The Verbena bonariensis is reaching for the sky and the Miscanthus is coming into flower with delicate fronds of red and gold, mixed in with umbles of Sedum matrona and the large soft silver leaves of Stacyhs byzantina Big Ears.

Miscanthus Flamingo flower heads with Verbena bonariensis in the background
Some of the earlier flowering plants are starting to go over and produce sculptural skeletons that will keep their shape well into the winter if the weather does not batter them too much, Alliums, aquilegia, opium poppies, they all have great seed heads and I'll leave some and collect the seeds off others. 

Allium Purple Sensation seed heads

Other plants I can cut back the dead flower heads and they will produce new flowers, the geraniums always benefit from cutting back and they produce new leaves and flowers. 

Hemerocaulis Stafford is producing deep red stars with fabulous yellow throats. And I delight in going out every day to deadhead yesterday's flowers and see the new flowers and buds. (They're not called day lillies for nothing!)

Hemerocaulis Stafford 

The Agastache are going and going and going, the vibrant purple shining against the white of the Hydrangea Annabelle and the red spires of the Persicaria amplexicaulis Rosea. Spires and pom-poms, I love it!

Agastache, Persicaria, hydrangea

(It's always difficult to write this while a 3yr old is crawling over you asking to play ponies !)

July saw the end of the school year and the beginning of the summer holidays. The end of term went with a bang, or rather bangers, as we organised for some of Holly's friends to go for supper in the woods with the woodland imps. A fabulous playgroup in the middle of the woods Explorers Toddler group, with all sorts of woodland play; mudpie kitchen, balancing logs and stare at the canopy hammocks. (I'm sure these were for the parents!). All followed by campfire hotdogs and marshmallow s'mores. I too home two very grubby, tire but contented children asking when the could go back to see the boggles. 

Holly the chrysalis 

This was swiftly followed by our first family camping experiment. I was expecting rain (a cloud will go 100miles out of its way just to rain on a tent I'm told), screaming childern (SPIDERS!FLIES!), and no sleep (late to bed and early to rise). I was so wrong. 

Under the sea! Under the sea!

The weather continued to be amazing, the kids were fascinated by the wildlife and actually asked to go to bed!  The experience was made all the better by delightful company. (2 other families with kids the same age all playing like Swiss family Robinson)

With only one week away the allotment has gone nuts! Not only am I now inundated with purple beans, long beans and runner beans, lettuce, sunflowers, mooli and our first red carrot, the bindweed that I cleared two weeks ago has taken over everything. Another blast with round up is required. I also had a welcome call from newbury tools to say that my strimmer was ready to pick up! This will lead to a much better relationship with my very understanding allotment neighbours as I strim the jungle that is the back and the edges of my plot.

Supposedly helping but actually just eating.

There is too much going on plant wits to fill this page so I will continue another day as the heavens are about to open and I am sat having a quite moment in the garden and I'd rather not get drenched. 

Mooli, red carrot, purple beans, patty pan and much more!

Sunday 29 June 2014


"Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it."

 I think Patrick Suskind writes it perfectly so I'll just add some photos of the beautiful flowers with lungfulls of persuasive fragrance. 
Rosa centrifolia. One of the plants from the fields in Grasse where JOY Parfum is made.  

Phlox blue paradise one of the best fragrant phloxes 

Trachylospermum jasminoides, star jasmine is a great evergreen climber with whorls of cream jasmine scented flowers in the summer.

Lavendula Hidcote. A reliable garden favourite. 

Agastache Blue Boa. The flowers aren't fragrant but the leaves are very aromatic. It's a great free flowering summer perennial

Rosa rugosa. A vigorous free flowering fragrant rose. It's extremely prickly!

Sunday 22 June 2014

Curiouser and curiouser

Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers, but she could not even get her head through the doorway. . . .

This is how I felt in the dark winter.  I could see a beautiful garden in my head but squeezing it through the small passage from my imagination into reality seemed almost impossible. 

Looking back on these posts I realise how far we have come. The last you saw was a photo of Bjorn laying the aluminium edging in the rain. Since that we had a delivery of Buxus ants to create the hedging and some very large Buxus cubes which we fought with to get into place. 
The new box hedging on dove grey limestone 

The lawn went down and the raised beds went up. The play area was barked and a willow tunnel attempted. 
One lawn down one to go!

For quite a while the borders lay empty with just the odd plant that had travelled from London to make it feel like it wasn't just a giant mud pit. Finally a few weeks ago I finalised the plant list and ordered masses of herbaceous and grasses to fill those brown wastelands. 

With the glorious sunshine warming my back I dug and dug. I now have brown shoulders  and a peaceful riot of colour and texture. 
Obelisks painted in my very own mix
There are still places available for  some of the seedlings I have been growing this year, Gaura, Rudbekia maxima, angelica archangelica among others. 
Filling the borders with colour and texture

There are many of my old favourites muscat this Flamingo; a tall beautiful grass with pinky flower heads late in the season, Verbena bonariensis; with its sprays of purple on tall stems.
My Miscanthus hasn't flowered yet so here's a library photo
Verbena bonariensis 

 I've been inspired at Chelsea and by one of my favourite designers Piet Oudolf. Lysimachia atropurpurea Beaujolais was all over Chelsea and I saw some at one of my local nurseries Wolverton Plants, I immediately asked Julian if I could have some to which he replied that he'd got them to propagate next year... but if I wanted one I could have it! So I will have my own attempt at propagating, too! The
My Beaujolais 

Piet Oudolf influence is Sanguisorba Red Thunder, it's small oval flower heads are are a dense deep red  that wave on long stems through its planting companions   

Sanguisorba Red Thunder
There is still much to do, finish painting the fence and raised beds, putting up the wires for the climbers. But even now I can sit in the garden in the evening and feel at peace listening to the birdsong and watching the plants grow. 

Monday 16 June 2014

I have a confession.....

I'm going to ignore the fact I've been very slack over the winter and spring and jump right in with what's going on right now at the allotment. 
Great new way to get to the allotment

As I said previously Winter was a wash out and I was aware that half the allotment was like a scene from Waterworld and was terrified to go and see for myself. So I stayed away, till March!!  That was in hind site a little too long. By the time I got back it was a meadow again. I had a fabulous crop of purple flowered selfheal, unfortunately not what I was hoping to crop. After a couple of days solid weeding I discovered to my joy that 5 out if the 10 asparagus had survived!  That may not seem like a great achievement but seeing how they had been decimated by asparagus beetle last summer I was pretty chuffed. All my fruit shrubs were still intact as were the onions and garlic that I had planted in Winter. 
Selfheal, very pretty on masse but not when I want to plant beans!

I lifted the weed surpressant that I had put down last year after rotarvating the second third of the plot not expecting much bit it had done its job well and with a little light digging it was ready for planting. 
The front of the allotment now looks a little more respectable

All the seeds that I had been nurturing in the greenhouse were bursting out of their seed trays and I was relieved to finally have space to put them. So in went the sweetcorn (I've also got popping corn but you're not supposed to plant them close to each other as they cross pollinate with disastrous affect. Hard sweetcorn and soggy popping kernels); potatoes, broccoli, mooli, french beans, runner beans, carrots and lettuce, so far.......

So here is the confession. The final third of the plot I have reluctantly sprayed. I so wanted to do it all by hand and without chemicals but it was just too much for me to be planting growing and doing heavy duty clearing and digging. I feel bad about it, but it's done now but it does show how strong and destructive herbicide is!! I'm desperate to strim it and rotarvating it but my strimmer is in the shop being mended so I must wait. 
Freshly blonde!

In the mean time I and about to stuff the little space I have left in the other two thirds with yet more. With the success of the squashes last year I have three more varieties to plant. Jack of all trades for Halloween and snake gourds for the kids and Golden Hubbard for me!!  I think I've found out why my sweet dumplings didn't look anything like their pictures last year. There are five species of squash (this includes cucumbers and courgettes)  the most common are cucurbita pepo and maxima. So when planting make sure you don't plant squash from the same species as they will cross pollinate with interesting results. The two I've planted Jack of all trades and Hubbard are different species so I should get the real deal!! 
Golden Hubbard, not mine, but I can dream!

Lottie thinks we are growing real snakes

So finishing my lazy breakfast and with the sun shining I'm off to plant the squashes and some cabbages!!