Mid January 2015

In spite of very variable weather I have managed to get quite a lot done on and off this month. True, I’ve had some time off but with the perceptible lengthening of the daylight it has suddenly hit me that there are plenty of jobs to be getting on with. I’m way behind with the potting, this is partly due to the fact that I’d really rather be working in the garden and also some days have  been too cold to be splitting up plants. But today I got quite a lot of potting done and have mixed up some compost ready to start tomorrow.

I was lucky enough to have a (free) delivery of wood chips on Wednesday. There are plenty of places to put it but for now its going down under the birch trees at the west side of the garden. This area always get smothered with annual rose-bay willow herb and wild grasses and tends to look messy. I’ve managed to get a lot of Alchemilla mollis established under the trees but the weeds keep coming. Its a satisfying job to do and pleasing to think that there will be fewer weeds there this year. Robins were constantly scrutinising my work and finding plenty to eat.

There are many different ornamental grasses in the garden and, although they look wonderful when its frosty this is almost time to cut most of them down to the ground. Its not a job I like doing, the repetitious nature of cutting endless stems with secateurs hurts my wrists. For a change I used the loppers which seemed to make it  easier. Its generally thought to be a good thing to leave the stems over winter to enable wildlife to hide in and amongst the foliage. As far as I can tell the most prolific wildlife to live in clumps of grass are mice. If I found one nest I must have found a dozen. Mice eat my plants. They have chomped their way through several clumps of Carex dipsacea , and almost completely obliterated all the Elymus magellanicus. There are buzzards, kestrels and a barn owl which all hunt mice plus we put traps down in the tunnels, the place must be swarming with the little blighters.

My snowdrops are coming through but none are fully open yet. I guess this will happen over the next couple of weeks or so. Its always something I look forward to.

When it gets too cold to be outside I have spent some time re-organising plants in my tunnel. This involves a certain amount of ruthlessness. I get rid of any poor specimens, pot on others, try to get some general tidiness instead of the muddle that happens during the year. It gets swept up and everything is de-weeded, its a kind of spring cleaning and is very satisfying.

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A New Year (2015)

After having many days od sitting around either at home or visiting relatives it made a wonderful change to get out into the fresh air and spend half a day pottering at the nursery. The weather was suddenly milder, temps up to about 11 degrees which is quite a contrast to the highs of around 3 degrees during the last week or so.

I had a good look in the polytunnels, and found that a few plants needed watering. There doesn’t seem to have been any damage from the frosts. A large rat was in the rat trap, Philip can deal with that.

Next I put boots on and had a wander all round the garden to count the plants which are flowering on New Year’s Day. Only 9 different things outside and a further 17 in the tunnels. No snowdrops or hellebores yet but the buds are showing so it won’t be long. Plenty of evidence of rabbit activity which will only get worse partly because we aren’t there much at the moment and I’ve brought George home after his expensive trip to the vets over Christmas.

I’m so pleased that the hardwood cuttings of Salix exigua look alive ( I’d potted a few up a while ago and they looked very iffy for weeks) so I dug up some more to pot up. One thing generally leads to another………………there were many seedling cowslips where the willow was growing so I decided to dig them up and transplant them to the border which already have quite a lot. Its a semi-woodland area with scruffy grass under the trees which I’m gradually taming by introducing various ground cover plants which one day will beat the grass and look beautiful……………maybe later this year? We shall see.

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Early December

After a couple of weeks of getting something like 50 spam comments each day it suddenly seems to have stopped which means I feel more inclined to write a new post.

The weather has been a mixed bag of grey miserable days plus some beautiful calm sunny days. I know which I prefer. Himself has been reducing the taller, larger stems of coloured willow in the hedge. It gives us a good windbreak but was getting too tall so this drastic measure has to be done. Now we can see Napton hill again. Lots of bonfire material for me to play with although its reluctant to burn because it hasn’t dried out. Meanwhile, I have done a lot of new planting all round the garden. The ground is not too wet so its an ideal time to fill in the gaps. I also transplanted a lot of cowslips from the garden to a woodland area. If they all take them there should be a good display next year.

I ought to be doing lots of potting but I have little incentive for doing it after the bad sales we’ve had this year. Some plants hardly sold at all so I may never bother to grow them again. Sometimes I wish a had a crystal ball so that I knew what people wanted to buy. Wouldn’t that make life easier?

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More gardening (November)

The weekend was perfect for working in the garden, fairly mild, hardly any wind and no rain. I’ve tended to give too many plants the benefit of the doubt when they are not performing well. Giving plants yet another year to ‘see if it does any better’ is really a waste of time. On that principle I decided to remove 2 roses which were looking decidedly  poorly. One was Rosa Jacqueline du Pre which has never done well, there’s always a lot of dead stems, and the flowers are not wonderful. The other one was a pink flowering shrub rose, but I’ve long forgotten the name. They may have been ropey looking roses but the root system was quite considerable and it took me some time to dig them out. Eventually the job was done along with removing all the many self-seeded Verbena bonariensis which were growing in the same area. I now have a large area to replant but haven’t yet decided what to put there. More roses maybe but choosing which ones to order is a daunting project. There is plenty of space so I won’t put new roses in the same places.

I also planted a few hostas on the edge of a border where it often gets water-logged in the winter. It will be interesting to see how well they do, but I will have to be pro-active in the spring to keep slugs and snails from shredding the leaves. We sold very few hostas this year (have they gone out of fashion?) so I could plant some decent sized pots full. I did first have to remove barrows full of yet more verbena before I could get the new plants dug in. The soil is damp and still warm and I haven’t had to worry about watering anything because we had half an inch of rain last night.

Time to have another look at roses online. They must have scent, repeat flowering and preferably be disease resistant, I’m sure I’ll find something…………Then there is the small problem of working out what to use for ground cover under the roses.

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Autumn alterations (part 2)

Some years ago a friend of mine gave me a piece of the giant scabious which I dobbed in the yellow border without much thought. Slowly it has clumped up, so much so that it caught the eye of a couple of customers who requested some for themselves. First I dug some up to divide and pot up for the orders. Then I thought the rest needed to be moved to a more central position but before I could do that I had to remove some other self seeders (phlomis) and dig the compacted ground. Then I got a barrow or two of compost and finally I was able to transplant the remaining clump. A day or two later there was some rain so, hopefully it will get nicely settled in and give a good display next year. The pieces which I potted up are all growing well.

Further along the same border I had to reduce a clump of Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ which was elbowing its way into other plants. Its such a vigorous grower but almost always looks good except in the driest years. I’m amazed it does so well given that its growing very close to the willow hedge.

Yesterday I dug up some of the many self-seeded cowslips and transplanted them to an area under a large birch. The ground here is awful; hard, lumpy and weed infested but bit by bit I’m getting some plants established there. I look forward to seeing a sea of yellow next year. (One can always live in hope).

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Planting

The weather has been ideal for gardening over the last few days and there has been a sense of urgency to get as much done as possible before it turns cold and wet which is what it will do next week according to the weather forecast. Yesterday the temperatures went as high as 20 degrees c which was a record for the last day of October. I was able to work in my t-shirt, it was just like a summers day.

I removed more of the Miscanthus sacchariflorus which is not easy but more space was needed before I could plant the Arbutus unedo. Trying to dig a hole for the plant required a pick-axe to loosen the soil, it was incredibly dry and compacted. Eventually the hole was sufficiently deep enough so, after adding some compost, I planted the strawberry tree. There was quite a lot of space around it so I dug up a lump of Polypodium vulgare which was growing nearby and split in two and planted that for ground cover.

Then I moved to another part of the garden to tackle an area which I wasn’t too happy with. There were 2 clumps of Aster na ‘Helen Picton’ which were enormous. It is a fabulous  plant with deep, rich purple flowers which the bees adore. It is very a very strong grower and in just 3 years has become somewhat too big. My plan was to divide them to make a row at the back of the border. So first I dug them up, used half of one piece to pot up for next year (made 20 plants!). Then I decided the time had come to remove a Hydrangea which sits looking half dead and only ever has a few feeble flowers. Then some Polemonium ‘Hannah Bilcliffe’ got moved because they looked a bit lost so they joined the others in another border. This now gave me plenty of space to replant 4 clumps of aster plus I added Solidago ‘Fireworks’ because I think they will look fantastic in front of the purple flowers. I do hope the style police aren’t watching because they always say one has to plant in groups of 3 or 5 or 7! While I was clearing and digging I noticed some more mouse damage. Further to the front of the border are a few Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ a pretty plant which has flowered continuously since June. These had huge holes in their middles so I filled in with some compost and hope they recover.  Meanwhile George was munching a mouse, hope he got the one that did the damage.

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Busy Saturday

Often, when I get to work, I have no clear plans for the day ahead. It can be difficult to organise jobs when the weather plays such a big part………….if its warm then the place to be is outside (unless its very windy) but if its wet then the tunnels beckon. Most of my tasks get interrupted at some stage making the job fragmented. It could be phone calls, (sometimes someone just wanting a chat) or maybe a friend dropping in (need to put the kettle on) or customers (some do need a lot of assistance).

Usually, when I get to work and go round opening everything up there are various jobs that demand my attention. Yesterday I realised that I hadn’t yet taken any rose cuttings, something I’d been meaning to do for the last few weeks. I only do a few of my favourites and these were the following…………Rosa Sally Holmes, r ‘Hansa’, r ‘Pearl Drift’, r ‘Seagull’, plus another rambler which I don’t know the name of. There are a few raised beds which are supposed to be for cut flowers but they are also useful for hardwood cuttings. I’ve successfully rooted Salix exigua here which is the most difficult willow to get to root. While I was in the mood I also took a few cuttings of Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ .

The next job was to get the garlic planted. I’d previously cleared the veg beds of weeds so it was quite straightforward to get the little bulbs in the ground. They are rather small this year, I do hope they grow well.

Later in the day I dug up some plants from the garden to pot up which had been ordered by people earlier in the year. I couldn’t have done it before because the ground was far too dry. So that’s another job to be crossed of my mental list of things to do.

We even had some customers!

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Autumn alterations (part 1)

Its that time of year for making alterations in the garden. The weather is mild, there has been a bit of rain (although the ground is still very dry) and there are few customers to serve. All through the growing season I have been mentally making notes of plants that aren’t growing well, or those that I’ve got tired of, some need moving, some need adding.  Some perennials have spread too much and need reducing and there is the small matter of digging up the self-sown seedlings which are in the wrong place. I remove barrows full of verbena each year.

The heavy clay soil needs plenty of compost adding to it which has improved it over the years but there are places where its almost impossible to get a spade in.

I made a start two days ago when my plan was simply to dig up any stray pulmonarias and move them to an area which needs more ground cover. I got distracted by the Achillea The Pearl which was steadily creeping into other plants. It took a while to dig out all the roots but now there is a reduced patch of the plant. While I was doing that I was conscious of the Armeria maritima ‘Alba’ nearby which, although is a good ground cover plant, was looking scruffy. Feeling in a ruthless frame of mind I dug the whole lot out, dug the hard clay as best I could and added compost. The next part was to dig up the untidy clumps of Sisyrinchium ‘Quaint and Queer’ split them up and replant them where the thrift had been. Eventually the pulmonarias did get transplanted.

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Mice

There are usually sings of mice in the garden and polytunnels but this year they seem to be everywhere. Each time I go into the garden to cut things down and do some tidying up I find bits of nibbled stems and nests lurking in the middle of a clump of something. They have completely demolished most of the Elymus magellanicus (this has never happened before) and the have munched their way through many other plants such as verbena and other ornamental grasses. There are patches in the lawn where the grass has been nibbled and they have made runs in the cracks in the clay.

Its also a problem in the tunnels. The mice are snacking on various plants and occasionally burrow into a pot of nice soft compost and make a nest there. I have to be particularly careful with bulbs, the really like nothing better than to eat all the fritillaries, tulips and anemones. P has put traps down and some are being caught. George the cat appears to be very lazy but I saw him eating a mouse the other day an eventful moment and much praise was given.

I wonder if the abundant mouse population has anything to do with the fact that there seem to be very few kestrels around. In turn, I wonder if there are few kestrels because there are buzzards? Also I haven’t seen the barn owl for quite a while. Everyone bangs on about how wonderful wildlife is but, believe me, some wildlife is a b…..y menace.

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Looking ahead

It appears that there  is a rumour that we are giving up the nursery. Its true that we are giving a lot of thought to what will happen in the future because we are both pensioners (how wonderful to have a regular income) and we need to be realistic. Anyone who has or has had cancer tends to evaluate what is important and what they want to do with the rest of their lives and now Philip is over the course of treatment ( there will be more at some stage) we need to make some plans.

Creating the garden has been a full-on project for me and I have no intention of walking away from it for quite some time. I want to see it develop and grow, I want to make changes to make it a better space. On the other hand I know its getting harder to do the physical work (and most of it is physical), I’m slower than I was 10 years ago and I have achy bits. We can’t afford to employ anyone. Its a dilemma. I can’t visualise what I would do all day if I gave up work. Some people have many plans of how to fill their days when they retire but I have none. P would be ok because he always has the boat to work on.

It may be that the decision is made for us if this year is anything to go by because our sales have been very poor. If we don’t get more customers there will be little point in carrying on, it is becoming an expensive hobby. I do have one plan up my sleeve which is still in the early stages so watch this space.

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