December 14, 2018

Caroline’s Garden Diaries 31.12.2013: Coming Full Circle

New Year’s Eve, and here I am again with a bud of Iris unguicularis opening in a vase, and admiring pots of Primula malacoides, plants that began this diary at the start of the year. Garden’s come full circle. Not surprising on a planet that has goes a full circle round the sun, that’s what a year is.

But it’s not exactly the same as last year, earth and moon wobble around on cycles of their own, sun spots change the weather, time passes, things happen. On a miniscule human scale of one person growing some seed, the Fairy Primroses are different this year – tried different seed company, American, to see if colour range is better; no, it’s not and unusually for American things, plants are smaller, while those from Chiltern Seeds are very healthy plants, many of them a lovely lavender colour.

Would be normal to sum up the year at this point, part of clearing out the old, but don’t really feel like it; summings up are often “highlights” and “10 top things” and those doesn’t capture my sense of what gardening is about. Could follow Helen Yemm’s garden piece in the newspaper that talks of things to do next year; had a couple of thoughts like that, especially as the Chiltern Seed catalogue has just arrived with message to “grow something new from seed” – maybe a Ginkgo? Now that’s an idea for 2014, I’d love to see baby leaves of oldest known flowering plant.

No, my bigger picture for the year is the wonder and glory of the changing seasons, through cold dry spring, cold early summer, to warm long days of later summer, beautiful mild autumn, and now windy wet winter. Shoots have pushed up, leaves unfurled, buds have opened, flowers delighted, leaves went fiery colours and fell, now there’s seed-heads and bare twigs against the sky. We’ve been round the sun – what a journey we had.

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Caroline’s Garden Diaries 15.12.13: The Dead of Winter

Have always loved the phrase “the very dead of winter”, I think my mum used it, she was always quoting poems; it is from T. S. Eliot’s The Journey of the Magi, a favourite of ours. To me, it doesn’t feel like “the worst time of the year” as in the poem – perhaps because I’m not a King on a refractory sore-footed camel – but rather gives me a feeling of everything stilled, asleep, waiting; it’s cold, yes, but there’s warmth in the peace.

And actually in the garden, although we’re nearly at the solstice, the very dead of day, there’s still a lot of life; still nerines in flower, if fading fast; still apples everywhere; still odd flowers showing unexpected flickers of colour. Even better than life hanging on, there’s also new life out there. This week, scraping leaves off the lawn where the first snowdrops always come up, can’t believe it, the first grey points are appearing!
And then I noticed a flower on the winter iris, I. unguicularis. Not only one but at least another eight nearly out! Eliot’s poem again, a Birth in the very dead of winter.


One of the Chinese witch hazels is also covered in buds though they won’t open yet, Hamamelis being one of those plants that give you a lot of warning about what you’re going to get when their time comes. Magnolias the best example; even now, months before they flower, they have thrillingly fat buds. Look forward to seeing them, and some beautiful scented flowers on the witch hazel, but other side of the coin, I know that the other witch hazel is going to disappoint – no buds so no flowers. At least there’s lots of little fat pink catkins on new purple hazel.

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Caroline’s Garden Diaries 15.10.2013: I’m back

I’m back from sunny Granada and it’s a bit of a shock, after a month of doing very little, certainly nothing with plants (unless you count picking a leaf off bay tree growing conveniently near market – and come to that, cutting up large mangoes for breakfast….) Back here, in sunny but colder Yorkshire, there’s a lot to do with plants, mostly picking up their leaves and fruit. Was surprised how little change there’d been in 4 weeks; the main one is the fall of leaves and empty chestnut nutcases, also Michaelmas daisies in full flower, mostly self-seeded but I wish they’d stand up a bit straighter. And there are wonderful crops of apples and quinces, colourful and beautiful, with added promise of apple pies, crumble, chutney, quince jam.

Later: did I say “sunny” Yorkshire? Two weeks on, it’s wet. Apples and quinces still on their trees, and now there’s sweet chestnuts to pick up as well; all of which implies a lot of tedious work, peeling and chopping, but I hate waste so have to use them. Anyone out there want some quinces?


Yesterday was an amazing day of hot sun and blue sky, a gift that did feel like a perfect jewel set off by the dark wet days. And what luck to have arranged to visit Harlow Carr! It was wonderful; trees and shrubs turning gorgeous colours – orangey-red of dawn redwood and swamp cypresses; purple and silver of dogwoods; shocking pink of spindles; crimson of Japanese maples; and then all the flames made by different grasses lit by the sun. And in the middle, a Katsura tree with its buttery-yellow leaves giving off tantalizing toffee-apple smell – if you don’t know it, go now to Ray Wood at Castle Howard, and follow your nose!

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Caroline’s Garden Diaries 29.9.13 – Hot Stuff

I’m in Granada, wondering about gardening in Spain; one clue is Saturday newspaper that has everything you could possibly want to know about handbags but has nothing on gardening whereas Saturday paper at home has entire gardening supplement. And haven’t found any magazines on gardening, only Casa y Campo and Casa en Campo (our House and Garden and Country Living?). Granada University has a Botanic Garden that doesn’t deserve the name – reminds me of a Botanic Garden I found in middle of desert near Almeria that had a genuine rock garden, i.e. full of labeled rocks.

There are gardens and parks, of course, including beautiful gardens of Generalife in the Alhambra. And the old Moorish houses, called Carmens, have lovely gardens but you can’t often see them because they’re in enclosed, courtyards, just get tantalizing shoots of jasmine, white solanum, or plumbago hanging over the walls. Have stayed in one Carmen that had a huge wonderful wisteria, very old, and a tall tree I learned was loquat (grew one of its seeds at home but it gave up the ghost at first frost).

The streets are full of trees for shade – most common are Gingko and London planes. Seems wrong that the gingko, the oldest tree on earth, has survived for 270 million years to end up planted in small holes in a pavement – but then, it is a survivor, and the planting like this does respect its great beauty.

Must of course mention the granada, Spanish for pomegranate, whose shape is on everything to do with Granada. Word also translates as “grenade”, but in its fruit version, means “seeded”, so pomegranate is“seeded apple”; too many seeds for my taste. It makes a lovely tree that in dwarf form is also at home on sunny balconies here.

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Caroline’s Garden Diaries 3.9.13: A month has passed

…. And I’ve not felt inspired to write about the garden. Theories: (a) it’s boring (both garden and me); (b), related to (a), Spring flowers much more exciting – looking back at previous flower photos (to choose for Village Show, hint, hint), the flowers of April, May and June seem much fresher – maybe because of their novelty after cold winter; (c) I’ve been walking and cycling rather than gardening – I’ve had such a lovely time biking everywhere that I suspect that my main reason for gardening is to be outside; (d) similarly, have felt a strong need to harvest something and be out in the fields in August (must be the farming genes) and so have been picking-my-own at the farm shop. At least there I’m outdoors with my fingers on the fruit, and now blackberrying just begun which is even better because free.

Nevertheless, I still walk round garden many times a day and there’s been some nice things to look at, especially the new bed that is full of random things flowering very healthily. It had imported topsoil and like so many garden imports, brought some unwelcome stowaways – Mare’s tail! Horrifying! Dug up immediately and put in dustbin. But there are nasturtiums, Cosmos, some of which mysteriously turned into marigolds (poor labeling, Chiltern Seeds!), opium poppies, and a lovely collection of different Nigella (you’re forgiven, Chiltern Seeds) – light blue, dark blue, rose pink, and the amazing “African Bride”.

Then this morning, realize Harvest is here in the garden; wonderful crop of ripe plums were hiding at the top of the tree waiting for me to look up. Epicure, our delicious early eating apple is ready and so are the pears. But it’s not just the gathering, the fruit are beautiful on the trees in the September sun and I’m inspired again.

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Caroline’s Garden Diaries 8.08.13: Days Out

Back from day out with a bagful of appropriately-named Day Lily. Day Lilies are out in the garden too, a lovely new one called Gentle Shepherd with large creamy-white flowers, bought last year, two more added this year to make instant clump. Another, called Winsome Lady, is also in full flower. I’ve had it since 2000 so it’s now grown itself into a satisfying clump but I’m always slightly disappointed by its colour, having been sold by description in catalogue as “plum” which I expected to be dark purple – no, they’re talking about Victoria plums; actually, looking back at the catalogue now, I see it says “pale plum-washed creamy flowers”, hmm, maybe.

Although not what I’d hoped for, it has nevertheless thoroughly convinced me of desirability of Day Lilies; botanic name Hemerocallis says it, hemeros, day, and kalos, beautiful, and that’s what they do, have one beautiful flower a day – fortunately, each stem has several flowers opening one after another and stems take turns too, so a large clump goes on for weeks. And Winsome Lady is not only “cheerful, pleasant and attractive”, as dictionary defines winsome, but also she flowers in August, and since to look at things in bloom, August is the cruellest month (after roses, before Michaelmas daisies) – this makes her a star and all is forgiven about lack of plumness.
And what is more, the day-out lilies from friend’s garden are really plum, i.e. dark purple, AND flowering now.

But last night, after day out, went to see look at the garden, and what a shock – two or three autumn-flowering Cyclamen are up! Days are running out.

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Caroline’s Garden Diaries 20.7.2013: “The Glory of the Garden”

“……such gardens are not made
By singing: – “Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade.” (Kipling)
No, indeed, but isn’t it wonderful to be forced to do it at the moment, weather being too hot to do anything else (one reason for going to hot countries – can only sit and read by the pool).
Makes me remember that many people’s reason for having a garden is to sit in it or in my case, lie in recliner, looking up at blue sky, listening to bees busy in the sweet chestnut. Bliss.
Have been musing recently on why we garden, and why we have gardens, ever since visiting a most beautiful garden; it’s one that depends on employing a full-time gardener, so owner comes back from work and has a lovely place to walk around in but it seemed to me that the gardener was the one having all the fun. Not that he’s “grubbing weeds from gravel paths with broken dinner-knives” but as Kipling is saying, the work is what’s important – what goes on behind the stately views, “The Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.” Have come to earth-shattering conclusion that the main reason I have a garden is so I can garden.

Also realized that musing on this after the visit is partly motivated by feelings of inadequacy as a gardener. They had a gorgeous romantic area full of blue campanulas and white foxgloves, exactly the colour scheme I’d originally intended for my main flower-bed, but you’d never guess – there are some blue and white things but somehow, also a magenta geranium, yellow phlomis, and lurid-red oriental poppy. Major replanting needed in the autumn, but meanwhile, I’ll sit in the shade and plan it.

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Caroline’s Garden Diaries 4.06.13: Weeding the seedings

All very well leaving plants to sow themselves, but you need to know what their babies look like when you’re weeding; I’ve just realized I’ve been pulling up some seedlings of a very nice annual flax I grew last year and on which I’d left the seedpods to ripen, hoping I might get a crop this year. Only when about to take out a good-looking young plant did I remember this idea; also not sure what the flax looked like as a young thing – you need memory for this seeding game, not much hope for me then. Waiting to see if this nice plant turns into nice blue-flowered flax.

I do remember what Astrantia ‘Shaggy’ seedlings look like, currently growing them carefully in greenhouse; Shaggy’s a super plant, if with horrid name; has intricate flowers, longer petals in outer collar and lots of quivery long stamens in the middle, a great cut flower. Then yesterday, about to weed out yet more for-get-me-nots, two little seedlings looked different – ah! like those in greenhouse – and they’re near a grown-up Shaggy.

Of course, you also need to recognize the babies of plants you don’t want (weeds); last year, I carefully preserved an interesting-looking seedling, watched out for it and waited with great expectations for the flower, only to realize I had grown a monster – it was ragwort, which you’re not supposed to grow. Actually, I still think it’s a handsome plant. Just been reading the fascinating story of its evolution as an new species in this country; already knew about it spreading from Oxford Botanic Garden (where its parents had met) by getting to the railway station and being blown along railway lines, but didn’t know that it had a brief encounter with a groundsel near York railway station, and produced York groundsel.

Meanwhile, it’s time to sow Primula malacoides again, hope to have them flowering by the Saturday Social in December. I’ve been told of several from last year’s that are still flowering – another super plant.

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Caroline’s Garden Diaries 25.05.13: Bits and pieces

Oh, it’s good to be retired. Can spend a happy half-hour after breakfast going round garden with scissors looking for a few bits and pieces to cut for vase to sit on kitchen window-sill so I can look at them while washing-up; such a small and trivial activity but such pleasure – first, tour of garden, admiring gorgeous creamy Madame Alfred Carriere, one of my favourite roses; watching bees bumbling in another favourite, Rosa moyesii; examining newly planted seedlings of pretty annuals, looking promising after all that rain. Then, picking a little bunch of things from all over the garden, finding new combinations – last week, for instance, my bunch included very pretty species Penstemon, each flower slightly different wash of shades of purple, some with blue lips, together with some stems of Firecracker, loosestrife with dark browny-bluey-purply leaves, and grey ferny leaves of Artemisia (invaluable plant in garden and for cutting) – they looked so good together, must try to replicate in planting. Today’s has dark-red Astrantia with Alchemilla mollis (another I’d never be without) and one little sprig of deep-rosy Heuchera, plus a couple of different greeny Astrantias and some pale rocket. Very pleasing.

Meanwhile, gardening supplement of Saturday Telegraph had article by Sarah Raven on virtues of self-sowers, including Aquilegia, and also one about ‘new naturalism’ at Great Dixter, Christopher Lloyd’s garden. One aspect of naturalism is self-seeding, another is using wild flowers like cow parsley and ox-eye daisies in a managed way – selecting best forms and cutting back others before they seed. I also loved the description by Fergus Garrett, the current Head Gardener, of problems of introducing later seedlings into an already full bed, “nowhere to put your feet and no question of turning around….……. have to snake out of the bed without snapping a stem”. Sounds familiar.

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Caroline’s Garden Diaries 9.6.13: Hawks or Doves?

Years ago, I read that another name for Columbines was “Doves in a Basket” because the flower looks like a group of doves – penny-dropping moment, realizing that Columbine came from Latin for dove, columba; that its botanical name, Aquilegia, comes from Latin for eagle, aquila, and that all these names were saying the same thing, these flowers look remarkably like birds. They really do! Can never see them now without seeing fluttering wings, and gentle necks; some people see more eagle than dove (all right, not hawks), and one I know sees vultures. This revelation also taught me that flower names often tell you something.

Another name for Aquilegias is Granny’s Bonnet, which I think refers to a form in which, so to speak, the birds’ heads are tucked under their wings, unless Granny has a bunch of vultures on her head. I’ve also got a delightful form, looking like a little girl’s ballet dress, pale pink frills under purple skirt.

All these have come over several years letting only the best-looking columbines seed themselves (and chopping off heads of those I don’t like…). When we first came here, there were only rather washed-out pink ones in the garden and I missed all the whites, blues, purples, deep-pinks doves and bonnets that I’d had in our old garden. Luckily, I brought about ten seedlings with me that must have brought their blue genes with them; they’ve intermingled and produced some real beauties.

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