Slash and burn

Gardening this weekend has largely focused around pruning, a task I find surprisingly easy to combine with childcare. Somehow it is easier to put down my secateurs to answer the inevitable call of, ‘Dad!’ than to set aside a fork or trowel. That said, Lily and Rose were keen to help out so there was a fair bit of weeding too.

Like me the girls were drawn into the garden by the weather. Following them into the back garden I was confronted by a scene of neglect. The back garden, being north-facing and half a story below the house gets no sun in the winter  and little attention from me. However it bursts into life the second the sun climbs high enough to penetrate into the dank, dark depths.

As I surveyed this forgotten part of my domain, the blossom on the damson only served to highlight how tatty the remaining foliage on the Buddleja is. The emerging foliage on the currants drew my eye to the older raspberry canes. The Wisteria buds showcased the long dry whips of last summer’s growth.

All had to go, and with them shrubs that had long outgrown their allotted space. I will not grieve for the two Spiraea × pseudosalicifolia, planted in a hurry using stock brought from Copse Hill, but the Choisya is a different matter.

I love the basil-like scent of the Choisya’s foliage as much as the orange perfume of the flowers. I have taken cuttings but, while they haven’t died, they stubbornly refuse to root. My hopes rest with the two small suckers I plan to separate from the remains of the parent plant. That will be a job for another weekend though.


March winds

March at AV Acres has been all about the wind. After a relatively quiet winter it feels like it has been blowing a gale for three weeks. There must have been lulls but three successive storms have conspired to keep me out of the garden.

Our corner of Kent has not seen the heavy rainfall that has caused so many problems elsewhere. We are sheltered too from the worst of the winds. Damage so far has been limited to  our (already sagging) back fence, a cold frame and the wires supporting a Clematis armandii ‘Appleblossom’ and a ‘Veilchenblau’ rose.

While the garden survives the weather’s  impact on my mental health has been greater than I would have imagined. Having teased me with a glorious few days in February (which allowed me to start tackling the north-west bed) it now has me trapped in the house.

I have given up righting the small pots on the terrace that I had planted up with Lent lilies and Muscari as a visual treat to be glimpsed from the kitchen window. This morning I realised that it is now too late to prune the (rather overgrown) trees that screen us from the road. Lavenders and rock roses waiting to be planted out are bowling up and down the passage at the side of the house.

I am growing more frustrated by the day as opportunities to embark on my latest grand plan pass with each gusty day. And yet, the garden is perhaps more beautiful than any March to date.

In the front garden the year started with the Lenten roses that are still flowering. The cream and white ones in the south-east bed have now been joined by the lent lilies, which nod to one another in the breeze as if in conversation. The darker Lenten roses in the north-west bed are set off by the black lily grass and the vivid green of the rosemary.

In the wilder borders facing the road the snowdrops finally showed long after our neighbours’. Their first hint of spring’s dawn  has been replaced by the sunshine yellow of the jonquils I rescued from Easter gift displays over the last few years. Similarly salvaged Muscari and Hyacinths peek out from clouds of untamed rosemary. Primroses are emerging here too,  mirroring the nearby verges.

Clematis armandii tumbles down the west wall of the house like a bridal bouquet. Rarely seen by us, I hope it lifts our neighbours’ hearts as the Muscari and Hyacinths on the terrace lift mine each morning.

With each day the sun climbs higher, breathing life into the damp darkness of the back garden. Here too are rehomed Hyacinths and the promise of damson and plum blossom. And so, while there is frustration, there is also hope and excitement


November Lights

We’ve seen a significant change in the weather in our small corner of Kent in the last two weeks. November has been characterised by heavy rain and strong winds. The trees are clinging to their autumn colour for the moment but the piles of leaves beneath them grow bigger every day.

There is a strong contrast in seasonal tone between the front and back gardens at AV Acres. Gold dominates in the front garden where our own trees, the self-sown sycamores beyond provide the backdrop for the buttery yellows of the beach rose hedge (itself more prominent since I removed two overgrown rock roses in October). The back garden has a red-pink hue. Dogwoods and ivies on the terrace link to the scarlet berries of the shrubs towering over the neighbour’s fence.

The rain means I have little time to admire the last blooms of the rose Wollerton Old Hall as I scurry to and from the garage with loads of tumble drying or in search of extra baking ingredients. My enjoyment of the terrace and back garden is confined to the view from the kitchen window. This morning a flash of yellow caught my eye, the first blooms on the Jasminum nudiflorum.

Tucked against the north facing wall, it’s piercing yellow flowers break the gloom of the red bricks and grey paving. Dancing on the breeze they remind me of the lanterns we hang nearby on summer evenings.

The shape of the petals mirrors the last of the Nicotiana sylvestris. The mild weather has allowed this to continue flowering brightening this dark spot. Its height means it lifts its head above the table unlike  many of the plants surrounding it. They struggle through these dark months in the lee of the house and garden walls.

Together the Nicotiana and Jasminum mark the transition of the seasons. Both will fade but (if I have planned it right) others will follow. Meanwhile their lights shine out, beacons of hope promising renewal.

Plants in the driving seat

Actually they are in the passenger seat, but that doesn’t make such a good title for a blog post.

The picture shows a dozen berberis I got free of charge as a result of over-ordering for landscaping around a new building. I’ll use them to form a low hedge which I hope will discourage drivers from backing over parts of the front garden at AV Acres. I don’t want the hedge to be too dense but may need to source some more or interplant them with other shrubs to create the effect I’m looking for.

It’s always lovely to get free plants but this experience has been a eye-opener. The sheer scale of the over-ordering scares me. I don’t really want to think about the resources that will have gone into raising these plants, at least some of which will end up being shredded for compost.

Then there is the way that these plants had been handled. Most if not all had been placed on their sides and layered on top of each other in crates over a metre deep. Needless to say I will be blaming this if my hedge fails to take.

It’s wonderful that I (and many others) will be able to make something good come out of what I assume was an honest mistake. It still leaves some uncomfortable questions about the impact I have as gardener on the wider environment.

Thriving on Neglect

My neglect of this blog is symptomatic of my neglect of the garden as a whole. Somehow I lost control just as the garden peaked in midsummer and since then the borders have greeted me mournfully on my return from work each day.

I have always struggled with late summer colour in the garden. The torch lilies I have planted seem to be varieties that flower earlier in the spring, while the calla lilies and canna lilies that promise colour until the first frosts stubbornly refuse to flower for more than a few short weeks. I have only found one dahlia (‘Rose Quartz’) to fulfil my theme and, if I’m able to nurse them through our cold springs, it is a martyr to slugs.

And so I find myself reliant on the final flush from the roses to lift my spirits as I realise another gardening year has passed without achieving a fraction of what I had hoped. Here ‘Super Trouper’ shines out from the corner of the north east bed.

Next to it, the survivor rose rescued from Copse Hill is in bud. The unnamed red rose next to the front door continues to bloom despite several pruning accidents. It seems to have flowering continuously since May.

Etoile d’Hollande is also resurgent on the other side of the front door, this bud emerging from new growth put on since summer pruning. The pink roses we inherited on moving in however speak of my neglect. Those close to the house are enjoying a late flush of flowers which contrast with the hips on those I failed to prune further round the crescent.

Finding Solace in the Garden

Last weekend my garden felt like a refuge from the horrible events of the previous week. Although we live high on the Kent Downs our house is one of few on the estate without a view to the surrounding countryside. I’ve sought to build on this sense of enclosure by planting informal hedges and climbers to screen us from our (lovely) neighbours.

Cocooned in this little piece of paradise (OK I am probably exaggerating here but that’s the dream) at the bottom of a quiet cul-de-sac it is easy to hide from the horrors of the wider world. As a Fathers’ Day treat I was allowed an undisturbed day’s gardening and couldn’t help contrasting my own happiness with the grief and pain of so many.

My own experience reminded me of the scene in Gorillas in the Mist where Dian Fossey, fleeing conflict in the Congo, finds refuge in Rosamond Carr’s flower garden. The film portrays the garden as a place where Fossey is able to find the mental and physical and strength required to continue her work. I don’t claim to be a Fossey but the weekend confirms that my own garden provides a similar space for me.

Wedding Flowers

This time last week we were at the wedding of HAV’s niece. Wild and garden flowers played a big role in the bouquets, posies and decorations alongside the more traditional wedding blooms. Vases of Canterbury bells, cornflowers, cow parsley, love-in-the-mist and lavender lined pathways and graced the tables. Sadly the cold spring meant that my own garden’s contribution was limited to a few rose petals to be used as confetti but I have plans….

The Canterbury bells and lavender currently lining the front path of AV Acres are souvenirs of a wonderful wedding weekend. These will find a more permanent home in the sunny border facing the road in the front garden, alongside century flowers and rosemary. Meanwhile I have sown the cornflowers and love-in-the-mist seeds given to me by HAV’s brother and sister-in-law for my birthday in the wildflower border. A beautiful reminder of a beautiful couple’s beautiful day.

A New Love – The Holm Oak

We’re just back from a week’s holiday in the Ardeche where I discovered a new love, the holm oak.

I’ve encountered the holm oak before, I drive past a magnificent specimen each week on the way to my daughters’ ballet class. A solitary tree it stands sentinel over a fork in the road.

Nearer to home there is a very different example. This shrubby version forms a dense part of a natural screen separating a green from the road.

I’m also aware of Lawrence Johnstone’s use of the holm oak at Hidcote. Johnstone’s substituted holm oaks for the olives that would never have survived the cold at Hidcote. I’ve only visited Hidcote once and wasn’t convinced by the holm oaks but a week in the Ardeche may have changed my mind.

A previous holiday on the Cote D’Azur inspired me to create a Mediterranean scented garden on the patio at AV Acres. Like Johnstone the local climate limits my planting choices. The patio is north facing so many sun lovers would not survive. I’m wondering if the holm oak is the answer.

Tea and Inspiration 

On Sunday I had the opportunity to visit a nearby garden open as part of the National Gardens Scheme. On a completely different scale to my own the garden was planted with a stunning selection of azaleas and rhododendrons, many of them scented.

It’s unlikely that I will ever plant an azalea dell or a rhododendron walk but I still found inspiration, like these naturalised camassias (one I bought three years ago still lurks in its original pot).

Wild garlic lined a shaded path while an informal avenue reminded me to value the calm green of our trees which I often bemoan for a lack of blossom.

Lilacs were another feature of the garden. This lilac walk reminded me of my own solitary lilac and the need to buy more. Elsewhere they formed the centerpiece of more formal planting.

This more formal section of the garden featured some lovely planting combinations including this golden rose peeking out from behind a white clematis. And then there were the peonies…

Fresh greens

Last weekend the garden at AV Acres seemed to be all about the emerging foliage. There were few new flowers but suddenly all the herbaceous perennials emerged from their winter sleep while the shrubs and trees slipped on their summer coats as if for a wedding. The congregation are just waiting for the bridal party to enter the church.

Plantain lilies emerging from the north east and north west beds despite the slugs’ best efforts.

Hardy calla lilies fighting back after being nipped by the late frosts.

The contrasting foliage of rosa rugosa in the north east bed and Etoile d’Hollande by the front door.