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Growing a special bean in time for Christmas

harlow-carr-christmas-greenhouseA greenhouse at RHS Harlow Carr last December

After keeping this on the down low for months I’m very excited to reveal that Adam and I have our very own little bean growing, due in December!

It’s one of the reasons I’ve been blogging less over the last few months, I was literally too tired to read blogs and even muster up a blog post to begin with. Then, like the garden, I started ‘blooming’ but now I’m just exhausted all over again!

I’ve encountered another slight problem too – gardening when pregnant…

broad bean

Before I knew I was pregnant I was in amongst the weeds, digging and planting and not thinking anything of it. When I found out, someone told me about Toxoplasmosis and suggested that my gardening days were over until next year. No chance!!

We do see a lot of cats at the allotment so I’ve been very careful. I make sure I always wear gloves and wash my hands thoroughly afterwards. I’ve also avoided picking and eating fruit whilst pottering. Now I take it home for a wash first.

I’ve been spending time in the greenhouse on seed sowing and potting on duties, container gardening, some light weeding and cutting flowers. This is a big change for us as I normally do my fair share of that plus the digging and veg planting while Adam builds things. This year he’s had to do pretty much everything apart from pick flowers and light weeding! No wonder he’s still not finished the shed!

gardening pregnantHere I am late spring/early summer, trying to look energetic. My bump has grown considerably since then!

Gardening is something I couldn’t give up easily and has really kept me going through the nausea and tiredness. The garden has been a wonderful place to relax and switch off but it’s also allowed me to stretch my legs and get some all important fresh air.

I’m having to be far more organised this year because of the little bean. There can be no last minute bulb planting or late night gardening in November! I’ve chosen my winter garden plants already and I do hope that we have some nice Autumn weather so I can still spend time out there pottering – keeping active is very good for pregnancy.

harlow-carr-christmas-1Natural Christmas decoration ideas from Harlow Carr last year

Since our baby is due in December, hopefully in time for Christmas (if he or she is late the birth could be on Christmas Day), I’ve entered this blog post into a competition on Dotcomgiftshop to help everyone get into the Christmas mood. I have to admit that I don’t usually think about Christmas this early but this year I really have to. It just won’t be possible for me to do my usual last minute stint round the shops on Christmas Eve!

I’ve been eyeing up a few presents for people on the internet and I’ve also gone ‘nesting’ crazy and can’t wait to decorate my house to make it all homely and cosy while I’m waiting for the bean to arrive. I also fancy decorating my garden too, just like they do at Harlow Carr! Cute twinkling lights and lanterns have never been more appealing. These are some of my favourite Christmas ideas for gifts and decorations on the Dotcomgiftshop website.

dotcomgiftshop-christmas-gifts-decorations

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

The competition prize is an iPad Mini and I do hope I get everyone in the mood for Christmas because I’d simply LOVE one of those! I have a laptop and iPad from work that I use now but in a few weeks time when I start maternity leave I have to hand it all back – how will I cope! So an iPad Mini is No 1 on my Christmas list because it will be the perfect size and so handy for me to keep in touch with my favourite blogs, order my baby supplies and google like crazy when I have no idea what I’m meant to be doing with the new bean! I suspect I’ll also be reading a lot more blogs about gardening with kids too.

harlow-carr-christmas-2

I can’t wait to have a little one to share the garden with :)

harlow-carr-christmas-3

Have you organised your winter planting schemes already? Do you prepare early or are you a last minute gardener and shopper?! Are you in the mood for Christmas?

 

Setting the scene for the autumn garden

 pumpkin-patch

This weekend felt like summer again, it was sunny and warm and as well as starting my big autumn garden clean up I also enjoyed spending time outside relaxing, tending to the last of the harvest and noticing the changing shapes and shades of autumn.

At this time of year some plants really come into their own and some just seem to battle on regardless. The sky is grey today so it’s these stars of autumn that provide the warmth and colour and help me to remember the good weekend I’ve had rather than focusing on any impeding gloom of winter.

I’m hoping for a sunny October, the reality might not be so good but I still enjoy the plants that continue to thrive despite the changes in the weather.

echinops

The echinops are going to seed now and I’ve stopped dead heading them but the ones still battling on attract the bees and it’s lovely to see them buzzing around and even sleeping on the flowers.

echinop-bee

sweet-peas

Also battling on are my absolute summer favourites – the sweet peas. I’m still cutting them and they continue to come back. Their stems are a little unruly but I love that!

persicaria-in-border

The persicaria provides great ground cover and colour from spring. It looks as good now as the day it came into bloom. The only problem I have are the weeds that grow amongst it, but hey, there’s always going to be weeds and it’s quite therapeutic getting down to ground level and weeding them out. Although, I did save that for another day ;)

rudbeckia

This rudbeckia is a real suprise. We salvaged some last year that were meant to be the annual rudbeckia cappuccino, so when this started to grow in the summer we were a little confused! It’s either a different variety, a perennial that snuck in somehow or it’s very confused too! Either way I love it and despite all my struggles with rudbeckias in the past, this one (although looking somewhat tatty now) is still a real star.

semperivivum

I just love houseleeks and a simple pot provides a lot of interest and a fresh green colour to the garden.

crocosmia

Crocosmia is often regarded as ‘common’ but I love the vibrant colour and the way that the flowers really stand out against the foliage at this time of year.

succulents

What fantastic plants sedums are, they attract wildlife and definitely come into their own in autumn. The plant above is providing good cover and colour in my long border.

The pot below was started as a small cutting just two months ago and its growth rate has been amazing.

succulent-pot

hosta-damage

Hostas provide amazing foliage but as you can see, it’s a shame when they get eaten. They will die down completely over winter but for now, despite being chomped on, they’re battling on!

I’ve got 4 hostas and I confess I’ve neglected all of them. I need to consider this for next year. I think they look great in huge pots and I might relocate them to help protect them from damage next year. I could also divide some of the hostas now, maybe leaving a bit in the borders and moving some on into pots. I’m still pondering!

cuphea-cyanea

A few posts back I mentioned my little evergreen cuphea, above is cuphea cyanea a totally different looking plant altogether. My cousin bought me this when we visited Sissinghurst in June and it’s been amazing, growing and growing and still flowering. Apparently it’s only half hardy though so you can be sure I’ll be looking after it in the greenhouse over winter. Its acidic summer colours brighten any grey day and on sunny days it really shines.

sissinghurst-climber

Another plant my cousin bought me from Sissinghurst is this rhodochiton or purple bell vine. Another half hardy perennial that I’ll be taking great caution with over winter. It’s still flowering intensely now and along with the cuphea cyanea it’s definitely a special kind of plant.

lavender

lavender-october

One of my lavender varieties is still flowering, you can see it’s coming near to the end but this one lasts so much longer than the others. It still gets covered in bees and has the most beautiful colour and fragrance. I just wish I knew which variety it was.

ivy-pelargonium

At the front of my house, the rose and the window boxes of pelargoniums are still flowering profusely and looking very healthy. So I have time to plan my container garden collection for the winter.

heather-heuchera

In preparation for winter I’ve stuck with the pink and purple themes that I picked up in Provence and I’m thinking about lots of heucheras and heathers. I’m going to go for foliage this winter as I think there’s a lot to be said for interesting leaf shapes, shades and textures. Lots more shopping to be done!

teasle

How’s your garden looking and are you enjoying the changing shapes and shades of the autumn plants? Will you be making any changes in your garden for the rest of autumn and winter?

 

Summer favourites – sweet peas

sweet-pea-garden

I have to admit that I’ve never picked sweet peas for the house before and I’ve only been growing them for a couple of years. I used to think the sweet candy coloured varieties that were popular years ago were sickly and a little kitsch but after buying a willow planter full of them two years back, I’ve changed my mind! So much so, I even started sowing the seeds for this summer back in November.

sweet-pea-close-up

My experiments with sweet peas:

A) November: Sowed a batch indoors, they germinated quickly and survived the whole winter on a windowsill. In the new year they went soft and leggy. Potted them on in February and moved them to the cold greenhouse, heating it at night. Mixed them into the willow planter with my next batch (experiment ‘B’ below) and I’m not entirely sure what happened to them?!

B) November: Sowed a batch straight into my willow planter inside the (very) cold greenhouse. Waited… At the end of January they started to come through, it took until March for them to look established but they were far tougher than the floppy things that had been inside the house. They flourished and flowered in May and they continued to flower until July when we went on holiday and they didn’t get watered. Being in a planter, with room for only shallow roots, the basket quickly dried out in the heatwave and expired.

C) April: Sowed tons of sweet peas in pots in the greenhouse. A very slow start and I vowed never to sow them again as they also grew leggy and soft. Planted them out not expecting too much….. boom! They grew and grew and are still growing. They’re very healthy plants and gorgeous colours.

Conclusion: I’ll sow again in November but I wont bother bringing them on early in the house. I’ll just leave them to their own devices in the cold greenhouse (B) because that did produce a very healthy crop in spring. I’ll also sow again in April (C),  the more the merrier in my opinion and I’ll get them outside a lot quicker to avoid them going soft and leggy, even though they recovered well once I’d planted them out. I’ll avoid the planter next year too because sweet peas do put down long roots if allowed and will spread and grow a lot bigger if they are planted into the ground.

collecting-sweet-peas

I do believe the continued success of the sweet peas has been my cutting. I’ve been cutting all the flowers off and by about 4 days later they are back and ready to cut again.

cut-sweet-peas

They attract a lot of greenflies, so I give my picked bunches a good shake. This seems to knock most of them off quite easily.

growing-sweet-peas

cutting-sweet-peas

I just love having freshly cut sweet peas in the house and I also just love cutting bunches. It’s such a nice, quiet and relaxing job to do in the garden and walking home with my bag full of flowers or a bunch in my hand feels wonderful!

sweet-pea-vase

sweet-peas

Do you grow sweet peas? Do you enjoy the ‘cut and comeback’ flowers they produce? When do you sow or plant yours out?

My Mediterranean inspired container garden

container-gardening-small-garden

I love container gardening because I can create gardens in the smallest of spaces and I can easily change my displays as often as I want. I first posted about my little container garden at the front of my house in May, when I had a really colourful display of spring bulbs in containers around my front door.

Inspired by the planting schemes and container gardens I saw during my holiday in Provence, I decided to try and recreate some of this at home. So, I had a change around and purchased some new plants.

The most prominent plants I saw in Provence were agapanthus, lavender, oleander, pelargonium, cactus, cypress trees, roses and bougainvillea. I’ve used these as inspiration and picked a selection of plants that would remind me of my holiday and also work in my sunny front garden.

red-pelargoniums

Inspired by the simple planter I saw in Mouans-Sartoux these classic red pelargoniums are perfect for my window boxes as they prefer full sun and don’t need a lot of water, making them very easy to maintain. The contrast of the bright red colour lifts the pastels of the plants on the ground below and they will flower into the autumn when I’ll overwinter them. To do this I prune back the flower heads, bring them into my house and leave them on a windowsill. I find this works a lot better than covering them with fleece in my greenhouse, which is what I do with some of my other plants over the winter.

garden-containers

Next to my front door (left to right above) I have agapanthus, echinacea, coreopsis, verbena, phlox and my existing pot of succulents. I also chose a little box tree and clipped it into a tall skinny shape to remind me of the striking tall cypress trees that defined the Provençal landscape.

Agapanthus were everywhere in Provence, in containers, in borders and even in central reservations along the roads. Roger Brook from the no dig gardener blog posted this brilliant guide for growing and propagating agapanthus. Since my pot is small and young I’ll be wrapping it in fleece over winter and storing it in my greenhouse.

I’ve never had any success with echinacea purpurea before but I’m determined to have another go because I love how they look. This is another perennial that likes a lot of sunshine so it’s perfect for my sunny location. The snails seem to enjoy a nibble so I’m having to use organic slug killer to protect them.

flowers-front-garden

Coreopsis rosea – American Dream: this hardy perennial is like a dense matt of tiny little pink daisies with wispy green leaves that the bees and hoverflies love.

wildlife-planting

Alongside the coreopsis this verbena rigida forms a drift of colour and really reminds me of Provence. It too loves full sun and is a half hardy perennial, so it will live wrapped up in my greenhouse over winter too.

There’s tons of phlox varieties out there and I think they’re really underrated. Perhaps more cottage garden than Provence but it still works well with the pinks & purples that remind me so much of my holiday.

plant-pots-on-steps

On the other side of the doorway I chose a simple pot of parsley to have handy for cooking. A pelargonium that I overwintered last year, a cuphea, my existing sempervivum (houseleek), lavender and I already had the pyracantha and the rose.

cuphea-and-pelargonium

pelargoniums  rose

The little evergreen cuphea (below) is outstanding and will continue to flower into the autumn along with the lavender and rose, which provide lovely scent. All these plants are great for wildlife and it’s been wonderful having bees and butterflies right outside my home.

cuphea

I loved mixing my new purchases in with some of my existing container plants and although I really don’t feel I recreated the stunningly chic displays I saw in Provence, my summer display has brought me a lot of pleasure and has reminded me of my holiday. Next year I want to continue the theme but I really want to add an oleander and an olive tree!

As we move further into September the lavender will remain flowering for a few more weeks, as will the pelargoniums and the cuphea but the others will fade. So I’m already starting to think about my autumn/winter planting schemes and which bulbs I’ll choose for my spring display.

Do you enjoy container gardening and have you started thinking about which plants you’ll chose for autumn and winter?

 

A week in Provence – the ‘no gardens’

provence

I’ve just returned from a much needed holiday with Adam in the beautiful Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in France. As well as enjoying typical Provencal 3 hour lunches I’ve also been admiring a multitude of gardens.

When garden writer Louisa Jones first moved to Provence she was told there were ‘no gardens’ apart from certain famous historic properties but for her first book she visited around 300 gardens and has since written many more books about the beauty of Mediterranean gardening.

french-garden

A while back I wrote about my container garden at the front of my house. I felt that some people in my neighbourhood must think they have ‘no garden’ as they choose to do nothing with their space, whereas some people plant theirs up with lovely displays.

I spotted the same thing in France and I found the most inspiring gardens in the most unassuming places. My favourite being the pavement gardens – or the ‘no gardens’, as I now like to call them.

mouans-sartoux-street

mouans-sartoux-garden-3

mouans-sartoux-village

oleander

mouans-sartoux-front-garden

mouans-sartoux-container-gardening

cat-deterrant

I think the water bottles are used to deter cats. Also handy to give the plants a quick watering.

container-garden

All the photos in this post are taken in the little village of Mouans-Sartoux. From the main road you would not know that in the heart of the village lies these colourful narrow pedestrian streets where the doorsteps, windowsills, walls and pavements are planted with stunning visual effect.

I loved walking through the streets getting ideas for my own garden.

mouans-sartoux-gardening

mouans-sartoux-garden-2

mouans-sartoux-for-sale

table-garden

Arranging pots on a table provides height and shade.

simple-front-door-garden

The wonderfully trained foliage above provides the perfect place for a sit down in the shade.

purple-house

For the colour co-ordinated gardeners out there the purple theme above was less than twee.

provencal-garden

pretty-garden

mouans-sartoux-window

front-door-garden

Even a green foliage garden has huge ‘no-garden’ appeal.

provence-village

street-gardening

I never imagined that plants I perceived to be large garden plants would work so well on the kerbside. Large pots of oleander provide a stunningly colourful display.

oleander-france

mouans-sartoux-palm

Even the simpler options had an appeal that I found most chic.

minimal-garden

mouans-sartoux-pelargonium

mouans-sartoux-container-garden-plants

I love the little bamboo trellis in the pot below.

provence-contaner-garden

All the no-gardens I saw, from the crammed full to the elegantly simple had a style and beauty that I just want to recreate back home.

Have you been to Provence? What do you think of these ‘no-gardens’?

 

Welcome to the jungle – the garden has taken off!

allotment-courgettes-july

Since my last post from the garden in late June/early July things have developed drastically! While I’ve been away on holiday the plants have grown, or should I say over-grown in the remarkable British weather!

allotment-july

Adam was a little worried that the sprinkler system he set up would not work…but it did.

We returned to an abundance of foliage, crops and what I can only describe as a jungle in the pumpkin patch!

tomatoes-growing-in-greenhouse

greenhouse-july

We have lots of crops to harvest and a great big yellow courgette! The first of many.

allotment-harvest

apples-and-pears

broad-bean-harvest
brocolli-july
desert-gooseberries
grapes
green-tomato
peas-and-gooseberries-harvest
redcurrants

The higgledy-piggledy wildlife border is a bit of a mess now the foxgloves have died off. Looking forward to the teasel and echinops coming out though and the persicaria is still looking good.

I’ve got some late summer planting ideas for this border and can’t wait to get started.

persecaria

pink-dahlia

Unfortunately we didn’t have a sprinkler system for the front garden but we took all the containers, including window boxes up the road to the allotment so they would be watered. My pots of dahlias have come out while we were away and look great.

Out front the clematis has suffered, so has the rose and the rosemary plant actually died. Wow it must have been hot!

The day lilies are amazing though and have really spread since last year so they’re providing some lovely colour.

Day-lilies

I’m full of inspiration from our holiday in Provence and decided to take the opportunity to have a bit of an overhaul at the front anyway for my late summer display, by moving some containers around and buying some new plants – there’s nothing like a bit of retail therapy!

flowers-front-garden

How are your gardens doing? Do you have a good harvest this year? Do you have any tips for keeping your gardens in shape while you’re away on holiday?

 

Down at the allotments – what’s growing on!

allotmentA few weeks back the pumpkins and courgettes were still tiny..

I’m really enjoying myself at the allotment lately. I’m finding it a wonderful place to put my feet up and relax and I also love potting on in the greenhouse and watching the crops grow.

courgetteThe pumpkin patch growing a little more

Last year was also very enjoyable but because we had so much wet weather followed by lots of dry weather the harvest was quite mixed. I had amazing tomatoes, chilies and peppers but a severe lack of pumpkin, squash, courgette, beetroot, peas and potatoes. I suspect those crops didn’t enjoy the grey sky and rain.

allotment-courgettesNow the pumpkin patch is taking over!

This year I’m hoping for an all-round better performance from my edible plants and so far things are looking good (apart from the mess caused by ‘shed’ making!)

We are currently on holiday in Provence and I hear that there is a heatwave at home. Adam set up an ingenious timer controlled watering system and ‘allotment Bill’ has offered to help out too, but if this is what my crops were like before we left then I imagine (and hope) we will go back to a full-on harvest festival!

Here’s what was happening before we left…

tomatoes-growing

pears-growing

gooseberries

curly-kale

broad-beans-and-strawberries

lettuce

peas

The pea plants are so short and sparse this year but they cropped a long time before anyone elses at the allotments. I think this is because I sowed them earlier in guttering in the greenhouse.

broad beans

My broad beans have been cropping for many weeks now too, maybe because I sowed them back in November. The ones I sowed direct in March had caught up in size before we left but not with the beans.

peppers-growing

potatoes

redcurrant

I’m looking forward to these little cucumbers growing a bit more!

cucumber

I can’t say that I’m 100% looking forward to going home because our holiday in Provence is wonderful but I am looking forward to doing some gardening and seeing how much our plants have grown.

How are your crops getting on? Are you finding them better this year compared to last?

 

The allotment in June – what’s growing on?!

allotment_may

The weather has been amazing! I hope it’s been good with you too. As a result of this I’ve been busy in my greenhouse, garden and veggie patches and I’ve neglected blogging for some time. I’ve literally been getting home from work, gardening and sleeping for weeks now. Great work life balance, but not so great for the work blog life balance!

However, I’ve been given a bit of a kick start back into things via Michelle at Veg Plotting who’s inspired a load of bloggers to get involved in the The Bloggers’ Cut for the Chelsea Fringe 2013.

I’d never heard of the Chelsea Fringe before but it sounds cool! Definitely a people’s event with a focus on the environment, community and art and more importantly participation. So over on Veg Plotting you can see a number of bloggers’ links sharing their recent exploits in their gardens.

I actually started this post last week, so this is what my garden and allotment looked like back then. The only difference over the week is that my alliums are in full flower, the clematis and the aquilegias are out and everything is really coming on. The warm weather combined with a good dose of rain last week provided the perfect growing conditions.

tulips_at_allotment

The tulips are still flowering at home and at the allotment and they’ve been outstanding this year. As well as some new bulbs we planted last Autumn the tulips I planted under my trees at least 5 years ago are still going strong and just get bigger and better with age.

tulips_under_elder

I planted them under my trees after a visit to Levens Hall in Cumbria where they had planted perfectly spaced big red tulips under the topiary. It reminded me of something out of Alice in Wonderland and I just loved the red/green combination. Mine aren’t perfectly spaced but then neither is anything in my garden, I just took the inspiration and made it my own.

tulips_under_fruit_trees

The bulbs have multiplied over the years and the tulip heads are literally huge! Many people replace tulips each year because they just don’t last but some are perennial and will actually naturalise, how long for I do not know. On my recent trip to Great Dixter, head gardener Fergus Garret was talking about some research they’re doing on tulips and trying to work out how to tell if they’re perennial or not. He suggested that the larger the bulb the more likely they are to keep coming back. Sounds about right since these were huge bulbs to begin with.

tulips_under_fruit_trees_2

Veggie wise I still have a lot of seedlings in the greenhouse but outside things are coming along nicely too. My potatoes are all through, onions are growing, broad beans have been flowering for a while but still seem shorter than usual and my peas are growing nicely, but not as good as Bill’s (my allotment neightbour)! The fruits are doing very well and I also have tons of broccoli, kale, squash, courgettes, pumpkins and beetroot.

In the greenhouse I have chillies, sweet peppers, cucumbers, spring onions, my pink onions are still in there, half my giant leeks (the other half are outside), tomatoes, celery and probably some other stuff that I’ve forgotten about! No crops as yet apart from some small broad beans, lettuce and spring onions.

greenshouse_view_maybroadbeansinside_the_greenhouse_maypotatoes

I also have tons of sweet peas and begonias ready for planting out. I’ve kept the sweet peas outside for a while now so they don’t go soft. I did a few sweet pea experiments this year and found that the seeds sown before winter that came up in the cold greenhouse around February are the strongest, biggest and best looking! I think they like a bit of a cold start perhaps?

greenhouse_and_shed

Back to the other theme of The Bloggers’ Cut, Michelle wants to know what our favourite kind of cake for gardening is. This weekend I enjoyed eating some jam and cream doughnuts but I’m very easy going when it comes to cake and will eat pretty much anything.

Something that sprung to mind, however, was a very special cake I made last year during the Queen’s Jubilee bank holiday – ‘Herman the German Friendship Cake‘. I was reminded of this because Adam started a bank holiday project last week but was still finishing up this weekend – our new shed! I’m so excited! Anyway, last year we had some of our dearest friends staying, the weather was gorgeous and Adam started his first bank holiday project, the appropriately named ‘Jubilee Bench’.

He finished the bench in time for us to share a lovely BBQ and to finish off Herman. Have you ever heard of this cake? I was given a yeasty cake mix and told to ‘feed it’ regularly then bake it. I have to say it was one of thee most amazing cakes I’ve ever had!!!! We all loved it. Here’s a photo from that awesome day (Adam on the left) where we celebrated the arrival of the Jubilee Bench. Sorry no photos of the cake, it all went down just far too quick.

jubilee_bench

How are things getting on in your garden? Have you been enjoying some good weather? Have you started any new projects or perhaps you’ve baked a cake?

Container gardening in my small front garden

pots-colour

I think some people on my street think that they don’t have a front garden. The council must think this too as they don’t supply us with bins for garden waste, yet they supply the houses just around the corner. When I moved here the neighbours across the street had an amazing container garden and I was keen to have a go too. The first thing I did was rip out the elephants ears to the left of my door, pebble it and add a bench. I left the honeysuckle, clematis, climbing rose and skimmia. Then I added the pots. I grew my first ever tomatoes right there too while I was waiting for my allotment.

front_of_house_plant_pots

I moved in during the Autumn and I planted a load of bulbs. I was so happy when they emerged the following spring and my little garden was full of colour. Spring is extra special to me now because it reminds me of that first year. I do something a bit different at the front every year now and I still look forward to seeing what will emerge each spring. Adam also enjoys planting up the pots and we planted most of these while night gardening last year because we had so little time at the weekends.

containers

To the right of my door we plant into the ground and have a mixture of spring and summer bulbs plus perennials and grasses.

front_garden

hyacinths-and-tulips  panzies

Look at how this little pot has come on in the last few weeks.

pansies_2

pots_2

pots_3

pots_colour2  pots_steps2  rose

I love my Skimmia Japonica (below), it was tiny when I moved in and has really flourished.

skimmia_japonica

tulips

Even a house with no garden can have a window box – providing there’s a window ledge! We really enjoy planting up matching boxes for the front windows and changing them throughout the seasons. I’m really happy with the trailing pansies this year.

window_box_phase2

My friend recently said that she couldn’t grow anything on her shady patio, but I look at her patio and think that I could do so much! I’ve bought her a book about plants for shady areas for her birthday so she will either love me for that or it will live on her bookshelf forever! My front garden is south facing so I have the opposite problem and there are some plants that just dry out and bake but trial and error over the years has told me what works and what doesn’t and I just relocate plants from the front if I feel they’re struggling.

pots_tulips_mini_daffs

So for anyone who says their garden is too small, too shady, too sunny, needs too much watering I think perhaps they’re not so interested in gardening because where there’s a will, there’s a way. After all, nature has a plant for all these ‘problem’ areas. Even in the height of summer the plants in my sunny front garden thrive in the pots with just a quick watering in the morning and evening.

Have you got a too shady or too sunny area in your garden and how have you got around it? Do you enjoy container gardening?

A great day at Great Dixter house and gardens

Great_dixter_16It’s not every day you have an experience that has an amazingly profound effect but our little pre-Easter visit to Great Dixter has done just that. We haven’t stopped talking and thinking about it ever since.

We felt so privileged to be invited by Naomi from out of my shed to a bloggers meet at Great Dixter, one of her favourite places – and I can see why it’s a favourite. Luckily Adam could come with me, it’s such a long journey so we made a little holiday out of it. Staying in Rye for a couple of nights and stopping in Warwick on the way down and Oxford on the way back.

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Great Dixter is the former home of gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd and since his death the garden has been managed by Christopher’s friend and head gardener Fergus Garrett.

As part of our meet up Fergus gave us a brilliant talk about Great Dixter and everything they’re doing there. We also had a house tour, nursery tour, met the woodsman and deputy head gardener Siew Lee showed us round the garden. Everyone we met had a genuine passion for Great Dixter, it felt very much like their home and their garden that they share with visitors.

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To me it felt like a living breathing garden where no corner is left unloved. Heritage, preservation and innovation all coming into play.

With the house and the bones of the garden being preserved and loved in the memory of Christopher Lloyd the planting is carried out in a spontaneous and experimental way that ‘Christo’ himself would have done and would be proud of.

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I love the way you can get up close and personal with the plants.

Great_dixter_9 Great_dixter_3 Great_dixter_10 Textures and unusual planting schemes really grabbed my attention. It’s one of the most visually interesting and tactile gardens I’ve visited. Soft evergreens contrast with the spikey exotic or the barky. This is really a garden where there is interest throughout the seasons.

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Great Dixter are experimenting with planting schemes that aren’t just for the hell of it but for the wildlife and for the future of gardening itself.

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Something both Adam and I found totally inspiring was their meadow planting and they’re encouraging local land owners to join with them in this to really make a difference to our British countryside. Fergus mentioned that the reduction in flowers at nearby Romney Marsh has lead to a decline in the number of bees, so if Great Dixter can encourage the local land owners to also do their bit with meadow planting then this should help restore the bee balance.

The knowledge they have on how to manage a meadow, leaving it till the last seed head has dropped at the end of the summer before chopping, is superb. Their experiments really are carried out so they can get the best out of what they’re doing and then they pass it on. If you visit in summer you will see the meadows under the topiary, a very unique planting combination and mixing the two styles has roused some controversy but in my opinion is pure genius.

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Fergus on the right, busy at work in the long border. Just look at all the textures in this photo. 

A few weeks back I reviewed a book by a fellow blogger and mentioned that I feel gardeners are people who ‘share’ and this was very evident here. Fergus shared his passion and experience with real honest enthusiasm as did everyone else that we met.

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Great Dixter really feels like it’s all about gardening rather than a show, even though this place was an absolute show of colour, skill and uniqueness. No bed was left bare and this was something that Christopher Lloyd started and is being carried on. The stunning views, the oast house, the colours of the wood. Fergus said they could turn the medieval barn into a café to make more money but they don’t want to because they “prefer having a man with a beard in there making things out of wood.” I prefer the man with the beard (Simon) too, he was an absolute crack up and his traditional craft work with green wood and traditional tools was fantastic.

Great_dixter_19 Great_dixter_29Great_dixter_20Above is the exotic garden with its bananas wrapped for the winter. This used to be a rose garden but could easily be a conifer garden depending on what Fergus and his team decide to do.

This is an evolving garden that can change, allowing the learning process of gardening to be at the forefront of what the Great Dixter experience is.

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Great Dixter is like a little haven of unspoilt paradise. You feel like you’re a million miles away from everything here, there’s a magical feeling of being in the presence of a house and a garden that was and still is, so well loved.

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Even the house appears textured…

The day we returned home we had guests coming to stay. I popped down after only 5 minutes of them arriving and greeted them, the first thing Amy said was “Adam’s just been telling us all about your brilliant day out at Great Dixter!” Wow! They must have had a Great Dixter onslaught as soon as they walked through the door!

I’m not surprised though because I just don’t think Adam or I have been quite so inspired by a place as this one. I don’t think this will be the last time I blog about it either as it really will influence my gardening from now on.

 Great_dixter_13Naturalistic by nature.

I love the fact they leave their perennials throughout winter for all the same reasons that I do, they look interesting, add odd textures and are great for wildlife. The architectural forms of the teasel (above) left standing were like beautiful memories of the summer and winter just passed. 

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The planting was just stunning, where most gardens this time of year are looking rather bare and bleak the succession planting at Great Dixter meant that everywhere you looked something was growing, even in the most random of places. This is something I’ve wanted to achieve for ages, whenever I see a garden that is awash with colour and interest it’s a step closer to me being able to do that myself and I certainly got some ideas here.

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Just look at what they create here with clever under-planting techniques and planting schemes for all seasons. If the colours and textures are like this at the start of spring this place must be bursting out of its seams with colour in the height of summer.

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I also bought a couple of plants from the amazing nursery. I chose an arum italicum, (apparently slug resistant) perennial that looks a bit like a hosta, which Siew Lee pointed out to us. It sounds great for shady areas providing glossy green colour in winter and berries in the summer. Adam chose a helianthemum also known as a rock rose because it flowers for such a long time, sustaining colour in the way Fergus talked about.

I brought so much more back with me in terms of ideas though and a good feeling that what I’m doing with my garden is right. Not just what I’m doing though, what anyone is doing. The act of gardening no matter what your style, is right. Fergus’ talk instilled within us that you should follow your heart with gardening and work with nature. In the nicest possible way I couldn’t wait to leave and get back into my own garden and get planting.

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Talking of good gardeners who share it was a pleasure to meet all the bloggers and thanks to Naomi for sharing one of her favourite places.

Blogger list:

 Great_dixter_65Great_dixter_64 Great_dixter_66Thanks for a great day Great Dixter!

I can completely relate to the gardening at Great Dixter. My own garden isn’t based on design or trying to be something in particular. I simply love it being crammed full of anything I like and anything I can get hold of basically. I’ve even been known to salvage ‘past their best’ plants because I couldn’t bear to see them being discarded and they added colour and interest to a bed that I’d just ripped a load of marigolds out of. I love the fact Siew Lee embraced the ‘common plant’ too. All plants are natural and equally beautiful in my book, there’s no place for ‘snobbism’ in my garden or at Great Dixter.

When Fergus ended his talk he simply said, “we love gardening…we just absolutely live and breathe it here” and you can’t half tell.

Have you ever fallen in love with a garden that isn’t your own? Have you ever been inspired to try new things after visiting a garden? Have you ever been to Great Dixter?

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