Crocosmic Blue

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A couple of years ago I dumped a big wodge of Crocosmia corms over the fence behind the old privies. The plants were too big for the garden and I’d lost patience with them leaning over and smothering everything else. But I didn’t quite have the heart to dispose of them altogether. And this year I’m glad I didn’t. The exiled Crocosmia are now as happy as Larry, not leaning over at all, but reaching up and up into the summer sky.

July Squares #17

It’s A Small World ~ Over The Garden Fence

Most of you who come here often will know that over our garden fence beside  the field path we have been encouraging a wilderness garden to flourish. Most of it is not on our land, and so we call it ‘the guerrilla garden’, referencing a movement that began some years back and involved certain UK citizens going around, often under the cover of darkness, establishing gardens in derelict and unsightly corners of public spaces.

Our version was aimed at encouraging bio-diversity, mostly of the insect kind. It is wholly unplanned and includes some cultivated herbaceous species i.e. those that had grown too uncontainable in our small garden and had to be set free, the crab apple that had to be moved when the garden steps were being rebuilt, wild flowers sown and invaded, and quite a few weeds. I don’t do much to it beyond a big tidy up in the autumn, though I do have to tackle the fieldside margins now and then to stop the thistles and brambles from taking over.

Anyway, the ensuing floral jungle is a great source of pleasure for six months of the year, and once you start peering over the fence to study it whole hours can pass. So here’s a glimpse of some of what goes on there . I should perhaps warn you before you set off, the photo of the Mullein Moth caterpillar is very much larger than life. Also, who can spot the crab spider in the close-up of the Giant Mullein flowers? And anyone who has more accurate identifications of the ‘?beetles’ and hoverflies (Pete?) please shout up.

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Lens-Artists: Detail This week Patti sets the challenge.

For more about the Lens-Artists photo challenge go HERE

 

Today In The Garden ~ Blue On Blue

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One of the best things about a garden on several levels is that you get to see plants  from unexpected view points. Here’s Rozanne busy flowering her socks off. She’s on top of the wall that holds up the bank behind the house, well above my head height,  and will be flowering now until the first frosts. The almost black foliage in the corner is Cotinus aka Smoke Bush or Smoke Tree. When it flowers it is a mass of feathery creamy-pink plumes.

July Squares #4

Chatsworth Revisited In Sepia

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When it comes to horticultural bling, the gardens of England’s grand houses take a lot of beating. They were of course designed entirely for the purposes of showing off the fruits of questionable gains, whether acquired through creative accounting practices in the service of the monarch, strategic marriage alliances, political opportunism, slave owning or straight forward pillage.

And so it is that, along with the overbearing edifice large enough to house a small-town population, the surrounding designer parterres, avenues, arbours, grottos, fountains, cascades, Greek temples, and goodly cavalcade of deities and other mythological beings, could be seen to confer legitimacy, privilege and status on arriviste owners  and their subsequent offspring.

Here at Chatsworth, home of successive Dukes of Devonshire, the formal garden alone extended to one hundred acres. The earliest version was created in 1555 by Sir William Cavendish (he of creative accounting fame) and Bess of Hardwick. Over the next three centuries the layout became increasingly extravagant in a bid to complement the palatial makeovers effected on the house. In 1836 the 6th Duke appointed Joseph Paxton to re-design what were then termed the ‘Pleasure Grounds’, and it is Paxton’s influence that is most in evidence today.

In particular, he was charged with re-engineering the Emperor Fountain as seen in the photo above. For 160 years it was the tallest gravity-fed fountain in the world, the jet having reached a record height of 295 feet (90 metres). It replaced the earlier Great Fountain, itself a wonder of hydro-engineering, until the 6th Duke thought Tsar Nicholas 1 of Russia was intending to visit, and so had it mind to outdo the Tsar’s Peterhof Palace fountain. To me this seems incredibly rude, hospitality-wise, and in any case the Tsar never turned up, although the fountain continued to be named for the visit that never was.

…the Emperor Fountain is the spirit of novelty, dashing its endless variety to the skies…

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On the day we were there it was windy, which meant the fountain was turned down. Even so, it was doing much blowing about, and producing some very pleasing rainbow effects in the autumn sunshine, and in fact rather living up to the 6th Duke’s exuberant description of it. On the other hand, if you didn’t keep an eye on its movements as you wandered the lakeside lawns, it could also give you a surprise dousing.

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Lawn Ornaments

And It’s Still Raining…

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Today, an errand that involved ordering shower room parts took us out of Shropshire and into Worcester. We’d been putting off going since Monday, the weather being so dire. But this morning the three-day deluge had reduced itself to heavy drizzle, so after a fortifying coffee, off we went.

I find bathroom showrooms dispiriting places for all sorts of reasons, but it had to be done, and mission completed, and the vile, multi-islanded Kidderminster bypass survived in both directions, we felt that soothing surroundings were needed. And since our route took us past Dudmaston Hall, which being National Trust has a very pleasant cafe, we decided to call in for lunch. And very nice it was too with the big log burning stove blazing away. (Anyone would think it was October.)

Afterwards we had a wander in the gardens. Many of the roses had been crushed and their stems battered down, but I thought they still looked beautiful in their way. So here are some more with their fallen petals, photos taken with Sue Judd at Words Visual in mind. Sue is a wiz in her studies of decay and transience.

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But it wasn’t all mayhem. One walled border that comprised mainly wild flower species – foxgloves and red centranthus in particular – was thriving in the rain.

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And out in the parkland among the buttercups there were some very contented cattle browsing lush meadow grasses.

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June On The Plot ~ Before The Rain

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This year it’s been a case of less blogging and more digging. And yes – to those of you who follow my gardening pursuits – I have not forgotten that for ages I have been trying to follow the tenets of ‘no dig’ gardening. I really do want to, and in spirit at least I hang on to Charles ‘no dig’ Dowding’s every soily crumb of wisdom. But the big thing is he gardens in Somerset in the mild south west; he does not garden on the side of Wenlock Edge where the land comprises 400 million-year-old Silurian clag that sets like cement at the slightest opportunity and does so even when you’ve piled on the compost.

In fact all the usual things that gardeners add to heavy soil to improve drainage – sand, grit, well rotted manure, lime – are grist to its mill. It seems to suck them up and then sets harder still. Clearly those decomposing  residues of fossil tropical sea bed – crinoids, trilobites, giant scorpions, volcanic ash and all – must contain something  very, very sticky – some geologically ancient equivalent of super glue I should think.

In other words, the chances of my making enough compost to apply each autumn across both my half-plots and to the appropriate depth that might make an actual difference to the soil are extremely unlikely.  Instead, and by way of cutting coat to suit cloth, I eke out the compost I do have, putting it only in the spots where I intend to plant, and rarely attempting to cover an entire bed. Also, given the challenging nature of the soil (and its slowness to warm up), I rarely sow directly in the ground, but germinate most things in individual pots or trays.

The first photo shows the result. On the left are climbing peas (currently half grown height-wise). This is a heritage variety called Ne Plus Ultra – sown three or four seeds to a 4” pot in February and planted out around the end of March. I’ve not grown it before (it was recommended, if not rediscovered during the making of the 1980s Victorian  Kitchen Garden TV series), and I’m looking forward to the results given its show-off ‘cannot  be bettered’ claim.

I’m also thinking that my head gardener grandfather, Charles Ashford, who as a boy underwent the full Victorian stately pile/hierarchical gardening apprenticeship, would have been very familiar with this variety and also with Alderman, the other main crop climbing pea I’m growing this year. One of the advantages of these old varieties is that they produce pods gently over the whole summer season, whereas the modern short cultivars crop at one go and need to be sown in succession if you want to extend their season.

Pea growing tip: peas germinate really well in compost filled lengths of plastic guttering (no need to add drainage holes but water in just enough to keep the sowing medium moist). When it’s time to plant out, and the seedlings are a couple of inches tall, slide the lot (wheesh!) into a shallow trench, draw soil round, firm in and water; protect from birds and provide small sticks for them to climb up. This sowing method of course foils seed-plundering mice and pigeons, and gives the plants a head start.  And if you are growing modern pea cultivars, it makes successional planting easier to sort out – e.g. you can sow, say, a metre length or two of guttering at two-weekly intervals. IMG_1999

But back to the top photo. On the right you can just see the runner bean bed. These plants were germinated in small pots and a couple of weeks ago planted into the remains of an overwintered compost heap. (The other half of the heap had been spread along the Ne Plus Ultra bed prior to planting).  Runner bean plants always struggle to begin with, no matter how healthy the seedlings. The allotment harbours some leaf-chewing pest that is not a mollusc. So far, and most annoyingly, the culprit has not been identified by he who is a plant pathologist and lives in my house – but every year it has a good go at everyone’s freshly planted out runners. You just have to hope they’ll grow through the setback. They usually do. Again I’m trying a new-to-me heritage variety. It’s called Liberty and has a reputation for producing large and succulent pods. Its seeds when I came to sow them were surprisingly enormous, and I’m secretly expecting multiple versions of Jack’s beanstalk. So if I suddenly disappear from this blog, you’ll know where I’ve gone. Or at least how I’ve gone.

Elsewhere on the plot the broad beans, strawberries and three different sorts of globe artichoke are beginning to crop and are proving delicious; beetroot seeds of many varieties are sprouting, including an old Gallic sort called Crapaudine which is French for Madame Toad. Parsnips, sugar pod peas, mixed lettuce, young cabbage plants and potatoes are looking sturdy though the cauliflower plantlets are definitely struggling and I have no idea why, nor what is causing some of the onions to start going to seed. Another unidentified pest is nibbling the tough leaves of the celeriac seedlings but not enough (so far) to kill them. Bought-in leek and sweet corn plugs are settling down, as are the ridge cucumbers and squashes. In the polytunnel the tomatoes, aubergines and peppers are growing well – so far.

Meanwhile in our corner of Shropshire we now have a week and more of April-Showers-In-June to look forward to. Gardening is on hold, though in anticipation of resuming same I’m most grateful to the volunteer footpath people. On Thursday evening they brush-cut the field path, thereby providing me with a large quantity of unexpected compost makings – or they will be when I can get out there to rake them up. This kindness also means that when it is fine enough to next visit the allotment, I won’t arrive with rising damp and knees soaked through by overgrown vegetation. So thank you Strimmer Man. You did a good job.

Here’s the freshly cut path before the rains moved in. You can just  see the polytunnel tops over the far hedge:

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And here are more Thursday evening shots of Farrell half-plots one and two which are in separate places due to my wanting one with a polytunnel on it:

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Love-In-A-Mist ~ The Allotment Constellation

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Nigella damascena is a wonderfully self-seeding annual that has been grown in English gardens since Elizabethan times. It is much loved for its sky-blue flowers (sometimes also white or pink) and its delicate ferny leaves. And of course, once the flowering is done, there are the strikingly odd sputnik seed capsules to admire.  Though seen here in monochrome (with a hint blue), the flowers already have a distinctly alien look. I took this photo last night at the allotment. I have several self-seeded clumps around the vegetable plots, and they are just beginning to flower. It’s always good to mix things up like this, the flowers not only attracting the pollinators for the fruit and vegetables, but also, in the case of French marigolds, diverting crop pests. And talking of crops, or ones in the making, here’s a rather fine pea flower:

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge ~ flowers of any kind

Today In The Garden ~ Granny’s Bonnets Galore

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I’ve said before there’s a lot goes on in our garden that has little to do with me. This month’s aquilegia/columbine/granny’s bonnets invasion is just one of them.  Year after year they self-seed and appear in subtly new colour variations. Sometimes the mauve palette predominates, sometimes the pink and claret. This year there are several white ones with mauve hints, and also some new salmon pink ones that have chosen to grow in amongst the Gloire de Dijon climbing rose which is just about to break into blooms of the very same shade. Makes you wonder if the Grannies have more than bees in their bonnets. I mean, did they plan this?

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Out in the guerrilla garden (between our back fence and the field) the Grannies are growing in thickets. They have also crept round to front garden for the first time this year, though last year I did plant a species yellow one out there (a plant rescued from an abandoned allotment plot) in hopes that in time it might mingle with the residents and create some new shades.

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And then besides the Granny’s Bonnets, there are the self-gardening Welsh poppies, forget-me-nots and perennial geraniums (which also mingle and change colour). Soon there will be foxgloves and corn cockles, and if we’re lucky, the opium poppies may visit us again. When friends ask us if we’re going away, we always feel a touch bemused. With so much going coming and going outside the back door, why would we need to?

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Whenever we can, we sit on the bench at the top of the garden, stare at clouds (though there wasn’t a single one this morning when I took these photos), listen to the racketing of rooks, the keening call of buzzards, watch the jackdaws fly over, hear the garden buzz, observe the wood across the wheat field as it changes in shade and texture day by day, exchange greetings with a passing walker on the field path. And we think – this is a good place to be; a very good place.

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Garden Gold ~ Calendula Officinalis

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In medieval times the flowers of the common pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) were included in ‘a cure’ for bubonic plague – added to the finely ground shells of new laid eggs and stirred in with treacle and warm beer; to be drunk night and morning. I’m not sure about the powdered egg shell, but the rest of it sounds quite heart-warming. And that’s the best thing about marigolds: simple to catch sight of them lifts the spirits, and lifted spirits are an essential part of wellness and wellbeing. So here is some Friday morning ‘medicine’ from the allotment, marigolds self-sown and grown without one finger’s worth of help from me – a free and lovely gift from Planet Botanic.

Copyright 2019 Tish Farrell