Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Garden Visiting

Because my garden flowers are practically over, I decided to visit my friend Janets garden to see how hers was faring.  Janet is a very keen gardener who specialises in unusual plants and every available space is crammed with colour.  What she can't get in the ground she puts in pots, she has dozens of them, plus hanging baskets and troughs.  When I have volunteered to water her garden whilst she is on holiday, I can vouch for the fact that it is a mammoth task to keep them all well-watered, but it is worth it because they put on an amazing display. 
Her garden, unlike mine, is beautifully kept; she works very hard at it, and any time you pop round unexpectedly, there she is on her knees, weeding.

These are some of the Sunflower plants that I gave her, which under her care have done far better than my own.

Every border is a delight of mixed planting
and as you can see for yourself there is still plenty of colour to be had at this time of year
as long as you choose the right plants.

I should like to thank Janet for giving me permission to photograph her garden to show to you, unfortunately, Janet herself, is camera-shy.  I must say though that it is always a pleasure to take a wander around a garden which puts mine to shame.  But on the other hand, it gives me something to aspire to.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Willy Nilly Growing Dill

Anthemum graveolens
 This morning I found this self-seeded Dill plant amongst the Zinnias at my allotment garden. 

During the Middle Ages Dill was prescribed as a protection against witchcraft and as an aid to digestion.  It is still used for the latter purpose for young children, in gripe water.

It is an aromatic annual that has blue-green thread-like foliage and umbels of summer flowers.  It is uniquely flavoured with an aniseed taste and is used  to flavour savoury and sweet dishes, particularly in Scandinavia and Europe.  It gives character to dill pickles, vinegar and potato salad.

If the seeds are infused it reduces flatulence, hiccups, stomach ache and insomnia.
Grow in a sunny spot in rich, well-drained soil, but keep it away from Fennel or it will cross-pollinate.

On a walk by the reservoir yesterday morning I noticed that the boats all had their covers on as protection overwinter, the clinking sound of the sailwires against the mast reminded me of the harbour at Blakeney where we visit during our Norfolk holidays.

Boats moored up at the sailing club by the reservoir

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Reluctant Gardener

Late summer garden

Late summer in the garden is a difficult time, most plants are going to seed, the annuals have given up the ghost and everything in general is in a state of transition.  In the picture above you can see the odd last ditch attempt at flowering, but mostly it is a sprawly, mixed up mess, that desperately needs attention.  But I am in a state of indecision.  Is now the right time to pull plants up, trim them back or just leave them till the last minute, before I need the space to plant my spring bulbs.

Bare earth, at this time of year, just invites weeds to take up residence.  I know what will happen; it will get to the stage where I can't stand it any longer, and I will be brutal - chop everything back to within an inch of it's life - and then wonder what I am going to do to fill all the space.

I have already begun the autumn clear-up - the cornflowers and nicotiana have been thrown on the compost heap, the tomato plants have been unstaked and felled, and my overlarge Kolwitzia shrub, that badly needed pruning, has been despatched, waiting to go to the tip. 

In a few weeks the garden will be unrecognisable, only the bare bones left, ready to start anew in the spring.

Just thought I would share this picture with you of last evenings' sunset.  Amazing or what!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Gardening on a Shoestring

Erysium cutting
 It is a matter of pride and principal that I spend as little money as possible on my garden.  Growing most of my plants from seed, taking cuttings, and splitting plants to increase my stock.

The Erysium (Perennial Wallflower) pictured above is a cutting, one of three, that I took from the parent plant as soon as I bought it. Already I have increased my plants, fourfold, from just one.  There is no magic formula for taking cuttings, just snip off a healthy shoot and pop it into potting compost, put a pop bottle (cut in two) over the top, until it makes root, and bingo a plant for free.

So far I have taken Lavender, Argyranthemum. Pelargonium and Dianthus cuttings, as a safeguard, just in case they don't make it through the winter.

This is a good time of year to start increasing your plant stocks and also for a little forward planning; sowing hardy annuals and saving seed from this years plants.  I am sure that you, like me, spend far more money than we intend to keep our gardens beautiful, but with a little work, you can keep the costs right down.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Top 5 Favourite Summer Flowers

As it is the end of the month, I thought, instead of doing an August review, I would pick what my best performing plants have been throughout the summer.
The Clematis Victoria which adorns the fence of my patio garden has been a really good 'doer' this year.  Some years the slugs strip the soft covering off the stems and it dies back.  Because of the dry weather this year the slugs didn't manage to do any damage and the plant has blossomed it's little socks off.

The Rudbeckia 'Rustic Dwarfs' in my allotment cutting garden reappeared magically after the hard winter and set about growing themselves, even though they were supposed to be annuals.  I have been cutting them all summer long, and there are still plenty of flowers on the plant.

             After a very slow start the Sweetpeas eventually came good.  I planted three stands of them in different parts of the garden  and a long row in the cutting garden, using up all the old seeds I had accumulated, even those past their 'sow before' date.  As a result I have had a bounteous harvest every day.  The ones in the cutting garden are finished now, but those in pots are still growing strong, but the stems are very short now and can't really be cut.  But, they have definitely been value for money.

This is the only Hollyhock that I have in the garden, it still has flowers at the very top of the stem.  I have been so impressed with it that I have made a decision to grow a lot more of them next year.

And finally, Zinnias.  This is the first year that I have been really successful with them.  I love their range of dusky colours, and they have truly been an asset in the cutting garden.  I have kept cutting the central flower stalk and they keep sending out new flowers. They are still going strong, and will hopefully carry on right through to the first frosts.  Definitely on my 'must have' list for next year.

It would be interesting to know what other people's Top Five would include.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Our Summer Visitors

Birds on the wire - Swallows and Martins this morning

Birds on the wire yesterday morning
 You can see the difference in the number of birds between yesterday and today; as the summer draws on more and more Swallows and House Martins gather on the telephone wires.  This morning the sky is full of them twittering and gathering into large flocks.

When I looked out of the window at 6.30 a.m. there wasn't a single one to be seen - then I heard them heading in from the east, they have possibly been roosting down at the reservoir - they came in one big mass, you could hear them before you saw them.  They sit on the wires preening, vying for position and having a good natter to their neighbours.

They have been my constant companions in the garden all summer, performing their aerial feats above my head, chattering all the while.  The martins build their nests in the eaves of the houses down the street, and come back every year to the same nests, making repairs with mud collected from the puddles.  They dip and swoop across each others path without missing a wing-beat.

They appear magically in spring after their hazardous journey across continents and oceans and raise their young, who, in a very short time, are able to dash through the air with the swiftness of a meteor, catching insects and generally enjoying themselves showing off with their aerial acrobatics.

Soon they will gather on the wires for the last time, before making their epic journey back to Africa for the winter.  I will miss my little flighty friends, the countryside will be quieter without them, but hopefully, we will see them once again next year.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

From Mighty Oaks

The fruit of the Oak - Acorns
This noble, deciduous tree, once a powerful pagan symbol, has large, spreading branches, lobed leaves, and male catkins.  Oak bark provides a leather tan, and as tanners seemed immune to tuberculosis, the bark was used for treatment of the disease.  Acorns have been used as human food in times of famine, though they were mainly used as animal fodder.  The raw kernels are bitter, but chopped and roasted that can be used as a substitute for almonds.  The Californian Indians used acorns as one of the basic items in their domestic economy and were used in the form of a coarse-ground meal.  The bitterness had to be removed this was done by pulverising the nuts then leaching them in repeated doses of water.  The result was a mush having a consistency of peanut butter and having a flavour of sour cream and grapenuts.  It was regarded as an extremely substantial food.  In Europe the most common recent use of acorns has been in the roast form, as a substitute for coffee during the war.  The kernels were chopped, roasted to a light brown colour, ground up, and then roasted again.  The oak apple and leaves were once worn as a symbol of loyalty to the Crown and the US  military awards the bronze or silver oak leaf cluster for heroism.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A Walk on the Wild Side

Our garden backs on to open fields where cows graze and field mushrooms flourish in autumn.
In medieval times this was where the old Brabazon family built their manor house.
The land dips down steeply and this was where the old water mill was and the fishponds,
which until a few years ago was still filled with water.
The farmer who owned the land dug out a trench to let the water escape as it was a hazard
for the grazing animals.
The area is now covered in Horsetails
which is an ancient, primitive, non-flowering herb, the young heads of which
can be eaten boiled.  It's minerals and salts enrich the blood and strengthen hair and nails.

The land was shaped by glaciers rolling through the valleys, and all along the bottom
are streams and ponds which reflect the sky and trees.
At this time of years almost all of the wild flowers have gone to seed.
I found a few whilst walking
(Achillea millefolium)
In folklore, Chiron the centaur, is supposed to have taught Achilles about the
healing virtues of yarrow, and he used it extensively
to keep his armies healthy, so much so, that the plant took on his name.
It has many healing properties, but the peppery leaves can also be finely chopped
into salads and the flowers used to flavour liqueurs.
Autumn Hawkbit
Meadowsweet (also called Queen of the Meadow)
The almond-scented cream flowers add flavour to herb wines, jam and stewed fruit.
Herbalists use flower tea for stomach ulcers and headaches.
Meadowsweet was sacred to the Druids and the favoured strewing herb
of Elizabeth I.
Oxford Ragwort
Supposedly brought over by the Romans, for what reason, I don't know.
This plant is fatal for grazing animals and the whole plant should be pulled out.
Dead ivy vines lay at the foot of a tree.
In the Domesday Book this area where I live now only had eight families living here, no more than 30 inhabitants working the land.  The purpose of the village was simple.
To keep the peasants alive so that they could keep the land in good heart
and pay dues to the manorial lords and thus to the Crown.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Beguiling Begonias

There are many different types of Begonia, they can be evergreen or deciduous shrubs, and small tree-like plants, or perennials and annuals, grown for their colourful flowers and/or ornamental leaves.  The one shown in the picture is in the tuberous group, grown for their flowers, produced in summer.  Large-flowered double types are known as Begonia x tuberhybrida which form bushy plants suitable for containers and hanging baskets.  They like to grow in dappled shade in moist conditions and are frost-tender.  The tubers are dormant in winter and should be brought inside in much the same way as dahlias.  They can be propagated by seed in spring, or by stem or basal cuttings or division of tubers.  They bring colour to dark corners and are fairly easy, but can be subject to mildew.  I have not always successfully saved the tubers overwinter, it is a bit hit and miss, but for long-lasting colour in the garden, they can't be beaten.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Fabulous Fuschias

Fuschia 'Nellie Nuttall'
 To my mind these are the most feminine of flowers with their elegantly recurved sepals like ballerinas on tiptoe with tutus and arms outstretched.  Yet no one seems to mention them, I must read through hundreds of blog posts in a week, and don't recall one post about them.  Is this because they are 'out of fashion', too common or gaudy - I don't know why, but surely they are good value for money in containers flowering all summer long, with so many varieties to choose from.  They are raised easily from cuttings and can be trained as standards.

Sunday, 21 August 2011


Purple Petunia
Yesterday we were invited to a special celebration.  One of the oldest houses in the village had a birthday, it was 250 years old, built in 1761.  The occupants of the house held a party in its honour and a birthday cake had been made which exactly resembled it, even down to the red telephone box outside.  All the villagers got together for the celebration and it was a good opportunity for everyone to catch up on the gossip, eat lovely food and raise a glass.

Just to put 1761 into a historical context (thank you Wikipedia) I will just list a few events that took place in that year:-

George III married Charlotte of Mecklenburg and they were crowned King and Queen the same year.
Earthquakes occured in London.
The tune Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star was published in France.
The Faber-Castell company was founded in Nuremberg.
The slave trade to and within Portugal is forbidden.
The British capture Pondicherry, India, from the French.
Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder fails to garner support to declare war on Spain.

All in all, it was a good excuse for a get-together, and everyone enjoyed it - and if the house could speak, I am sure it enjoyed it too.  Here's to the next 250.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

A Bicycle Ride in the August Sunshine

It was one of those 'glad to be alive days'
The sun was shining the sky was blue so I decided to get on my trusty steed
and head off into the sunshine
turning left at the wonky post box
past a poor squirrel at the side of the road
under the shade of beech trees, their empty nut cases crackling under my wheels
past inquisitive cows
and into the woods, and the vine covered trees
with the snaking roots
back through a village with a Victorian post box
and the pink house with an elder bush growing out of its chimney pot
and the horses in the field, their  tails swishing in the wind
nearing home now past a nosy ewe checking out a feed bucket
back home now, up the garden path, the nasturtiums singing out in the sun
time for a rest, with a good book and a nice cup of tea.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Friday Flowers

 This will probably be one of the last Friday Flower collections of the year, as there is not much left in flower in the garden.  Shame on me.  The autumn is a bit of a blackspot for me, I really must try and rectify it for next year.  Because of the mixed weather, plants haven't flowered for as long as they normally would have.  The garden has suffered because of it and is looking pretty sad right now.  But it does mean that I can get on with the autumn clear-up.  Cutting straggly plants back, adding mulches, weeding, pruning and planting bulbs.  There is still plenty going on in the garden, it just isn't as colourful.  But, I suppose, colour isn't everything.  Different shaped leaves and the contours of the shrubs, the trees colourful with fruit waiting to be harvested.  Perhaps it's not too bad after all.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Cut and Slash

 The time has come in the gardening year to get brutal.  To start cutting back, chopping out and raising to the ground.  Pruning, one of my favourite gardening rituals, is upon us.  Shrubs that have outgrown their space, got leggy or died back, all get the treatment.  The Kolwitzia pictured above is a prime example.  All the flowers were at the top of the plant, it stands about 10 feet tall and creates a lot of shade beneath.  So yesterday evening I began the mammoth task of getting it under control.  Unfortunately, it means that it won't flower next year but something has to be sacrificed  in the name of a bit of order.  I am half way through the job but will continue bit by bit until all the woody stems have been removed - it could take some time!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A Bit of a Ramble

Wistow Church
 Yesterday therewere strong winds all day, making it almost impossible to be out in the garden, so I decided to take a canal walk.  Where I live we are surrounded  by the Grand Union Canal , five minutes drive in any direction and there is somewhere to walk by the water.

Cattle Bridges built in 1939
 There are lots of lovely old bridges that were, and possibley still are, for getting cattle across to the fields on the other side.

Fallen branches hang across the water

Flag Iris seedpods waiting to dry and scatter their seeds

Willow Herb seedpods that have sprung open revealing cobwebby seedcases

Because the canals are enclosed the wind wasn't so strong down there and I enjoyed my peaceful walk, without seeing another human being. just a few Mallard and Coot to keep me company.