Tulips

Like many people, we planted tulips in containers (last November) to make a show in spring. While ours survived the wet winter without any problems, the wind and the storms have been more of a challenge. Our pots have been in and out of the greenhouse to protect them from wind and rain damage (and then in and out of the garage, when we realised the warmth and light of the glasshouse was bringing them on too quickly!)

We limited ourselves to three varieties; fifteen of each – Queen of Night (Purple), Princes Irene (Orange) and Spring Green (cream/green).

There is a problem! As you can see in the next picture, only three of the Spring Green turned out to be Spring Green. The other twelve are a frilly yellow number – not really ‘us’!

We bought them mail order from a certain well known nursery with the initials S.R. (a little clue for you). This is not the first time we’ve bought tulips and been given the wrong cultivar (though that was from a different supplier). And then there were the white aconitums that turned out to be blue (a different supplier again). I think this must be a common problem, as on Gardeners’ World last week Monty Don was showing off a whole bed of vibrant magenta tulips that he had expected to be a much softer tone. So much for planning. To re-work an old joke;

‘How do you make a plant supplier laugh? Give them your garden plan.’

Despite the unexpected colour, the bulbs were good quality, and of a size to give a big flower in their first season. It’s generally recognised they will produce smaller flowers in subsequent years (some people – wasteful souls – throw their bulbs away and start afresh each year). Less extravagant folk (I’ve got that in common with Monty) will plant their tulips in the garden once the show is over, in the hope they may naturalise – the flowers may be smaller, but they still make a good show.

Tulips we put in the garden seem to have declined since last year – probably due to the wet winter. Ballerina seems to have held up well…

Others varieties, such as Prinses Irene, Queen of Night, and Negrita seem to have largely gone, but for a few isolated survivors…

The same is true for the white variety Purity. As for Pieter de Le Leur; last year it was fine, but this year the plants and flowers were so attacked by an unidentified critter, they were unrecognisable.

Daffodils too have suffered. Tete a Tete, and the regular tall, yellow trumpeted varieties were as good as ever. But there aren’t many Narcissus ‘Thalia’ left. These few are in the white (except for the invading myosotis, of course) bed by the house…

Talking of forget-me-nots, the garden is awash with them at the moment. If I’d had the time, I would have edited the self-sown seedlings out a little more. On the other hand, they do look good – very romantic…

Another self-seeder that has really taken off this year – a biennial – is honesty (Lunaria)…

Things in the garden are moving at pace now, with something new to see every day. The Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) is flowering on the pergola. Unfortunately our resident wood pigeons have taken a fancy to the new leaves, shoots and flowers, so the plants hang down well, where they are out of reach, but are looking a bit bald on top (I know how they feel!)

And thanks to the (relatively) mild winter and lack of hard frosts, this year the three Pieris are showing undamaged (so far) bright red/pink new leaves.

It shouldn’t be long now before the first of the roses are flowering (if they survive the current strong winds ravaging the garden as I type). I can’t wait.

text and photos © Graham Wright

Castlefield Viaduct

On a rare trip into Manchester last week – it’s a bit of a trek from North Shropshire, where I’m living now – I took the opportunity to climb the staircase up to the Castlefield viaduct. I’d read about this project to turn a section of the long unused viaduct into a garden, inspired perhaps (and there’s no shame in that) by the now famous New York Highline.

The garden is split into two main areas. The first section is a straight path flanked on both sides with wildflower meadow, planted into what looks like very poor, stony, soil – presumably relatively unimproved from what was there. Unpromising ground into which to grow. But of course there are a profusion of experimental projects showing how – if you choose the right plants – brick dust, rubble, building waste, even concrete and decaying tarmac, are not necessarily an obstacle to creating a garden. The wildflower meadow borders were, as you would expect at this time of year, somewhat low and scrappy – not much to see there, but I’m willing to bet they will put on a show as the weather warms up.

The Second part is more formal, with large, steel planters, with a full range of plants, from ground cover, up to trees. The planting was neat and tidy, with quite a lot of interest now. Young Himalayan birches provide some height (doing their best to compete with the shiny new tower blocks in the background), and their white trunks were looking good. The feature plant on the day of my visit was Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ (or ‘Kojo-no-grow’, as I like to call it – a little unfairly, but it is a very small, slow growing tree) with early, frothy, white blossom.

Grasses are used to good effect, and will look good all year round. These (Calamagrostis x. acutifolia?) are due to have last year’s foliage cut back anytime now – difficult to bring yourself to do it while they still look so impressive, but it will make room for the new leaves and flower stems…

In bays between the planters there is a potting station, with miniature greenhouses…

A text sculpture in rusting steel…

And even a wildlife pond…

Tiered planters at the far end provide displays for smaller plants…

Trams are passing back and forth on the adjoining viaduct the whole time, as you can see in some of the photos.

We were accosted by a couple of geography students from Durham University who wanted us to take part in their survey assessing the value of the space to the community. As you can imagine, our replies were very favourable. And then the sun came out, which made a huge difference…

And it stayed out for the rest of the day as we wandered around the ever-changing city we once knew so well (but that now grows so quickly as to need regular research to keep up with what’s happening).

We passed by the new ‘Factory International’/Aviva venue which, disappointingly, was shut on a Tuesday! I have to say, the side of the building we saw didn’t look much – a drab, concrete cube with some powder-coated steel behind – a nocturne in beige. I believe the front is a bit more interesting, but even that didn’t impress me when I saw it on television. It’s an enormous venue, and I can’t help thinking it’s going to prove to be a white elephant – I wouldn’t be the first person to question where the events are going to come from for yet another large venue. I also understand it went well over budget and cost many billions. But then, as a friend of mine pointed out, that’s very much in the tradition of factory records (and the associated Hacienda nightclub) that inspired it.

The Castlefield viaduct project comes under the auspices of The National Trust, but is, apparently, only a temporary installation, so its future is in question. While the intention is to make it permanent, funding has yet to be secured. On the other hand, if the money can be found, plans are afoot to plant up the other 800m and turn the whole thing into a permanent fixture. I very much hope that happens, as this is a fabulous resource for a city that is relatively poor for greenspace (although at long last, the city is working hard to change that).

text & photos © graham wright 2024

Bodnant Gardens March 2024

The Pin Mill at Bodnant

It’s early to be visiting gardens, but it’s been a long winter, and we were chomping at the bit, so at the weekend Mrs Pullingweeds and I decided to head over to National Trust Bodnant Gardens in North Wales (near Llandudno). It was a cold day; grey and cloudy, and with a biting wind. On arrival we found a bench on which to sit and eat the sandwiches we’d brought. Fortunately the large, flat, grass terrace behind the house was quite sheltered. And as you can see, the magnolias were in full bloom…

This little parterre with a fountain – more or less first thing you see on entering the garden – is one of my favourite areas. It’s understated and calming, being predominantly green, and sets up the view through to the garden beyond. The contrasting textures and shades of green, and the different forms of evergreen – upright, prostrate; clipped, make it visually dynamic. That’s a Sarcococca hedge at the front – in winter, the scent it produced will have been amazing.

Spring bulbs were everywhere, including lots of fragrant hyacinths…

The blooms of a pink Chaenomeles (Japanese Quince) set against a retaining wall looked quintessentially (or is it Quincessentially?) Japanese…

Magnolias are a feature of the gardens, and we were surprised to see how advanced they were. Judging by the range of plants that grow successfully outside, I think Bodnant must have a mild climate. It’s on the edge of Snowdonia (now known as Eryri) but in a valley. There are lots of mature trees which must act as a shelter belt.

On a bank of one of the streams this flower was the first to come out on a Magnolia stellata

Bodnant must have soil with a low pH value, as Rhododendrons flourish there, with a range of unusual varieties…

Another sign of acidic soil, there is an extensive collection of Camellias, many of which are in bloom now…

The cascading white bells of Pieris were at their best when we visited…

Bodnant has a large winter garden, which provides interest through colourful stems, evergreens, and winter-flowering plants..

The house is private, so not open to the public, though it’s very visible at the top end of the garden, and it’s a very attractive stone house that sits well in the landscape. There are a few garden buildings, including the ‘iconic’ Pin Mill (at the top of this post), and this striking mausoleum set into a valley side…

Bodnant is a large site – around 80 acres – so there’s plenty of walking to be had, along streamside paths, through woods, and open areas (as well as the large formal gardens). Some of the fields were planted up with daffodils…

Daffodils feature quite heavily in the gardens at this time of year, with lots of different varieties…

There are plenty of Hellebores too…

And here and there, a few irises…

This Edgworthia chrysantha ‘Red Dragon’ caught my eye. Not a plant I’ve grown, perhaps because it’s quite tender; needing a sheltered position, ideally in a relatively mild climate. This one was tucked away beneath a large rhododendron. The flower clusters stood out well, with an interesting structure. And the scent was very pleasant…

Bodnant is unusual in that, in addition to the standard garden centre shop, it has a very long, narrow stone building that serves as a shop for local craftworkers and artists, so if you visit, it’s worth allowing some extra time for a browse.
The garden centre is privately run. It seemed quite expensive – I think they must have put their prices up. Having said that, they do sell a selection of small pots of both perennials and shrubs at very reasonable prices (e.g. Forsythia in a 9cm pot for £4.99).
There is more than one cafe too. The range of cakes was limited when we went, but apparently they had been unexpectedly busy. The cakes we did have were very good.

Bodnant is a fantastic garden, in a spectacular setting, with mountains in the background to the south, and the estuary to the North West. The gardens are a plant-lover’s dream. If you are anywhere near, I can thoroughly recommend a visit.

text & photos © graham wright 2024

Late Winter Highlights…

The weather hasn’t been conducive to gardening, but there are plenty of signs of life in the garden now. While some narcissi don’t flower until much later, these early ones have been out for more than a week now…

There are crocuses (croci?) coming up all over the garden, including these yellow ones around one of the apples trees…

And these Crocus tommasinianus, which we planted in the lawn. I’m hoping they will eventually form large swathes, but so far, they’ve been sparse, and rather fragile…

There were hellebores in the garden when we arrived. I’ve moved them around as I implemented my design. As yet they aren’t exactly thriving (I need to bulk up the organic material in the thin, sandy soil) but they are providing some flowers…

Cherry Prunus x. subhirtella ‘Autumnalis rosea’ can produce flowers at any time through the autumn and winter, and it’s really full of blossom now. Not the most blousy of cherry’s, but worth it for the out-of-season blossom. The dark cloud behind shows it up well…

I planted a low hedge of the evergreen Sarcoccoca, another winter flowering shrub, close to the house for the rich, sweet fragrance that now greets us every time we venture outside the back door…

And close by a Viburnum x. Burkwoodii, which will in time make a large shrub, is preparing to open clusters of small white flowers. This too has a lovely, strong fragrance. It’s semi-evergreen, meaning it holds on to some of it’s dark green, glossy leaves – how many depends upon how harsh the winter is…

Snowdrops are all over the garden – they do seem to like the soil, and are bulking up well. Here, in a raised bed beneath a mature silver birch tree…

…and in our little ‘woodland garden’ outside the kitchen window, where rhododendron buds are swelling, and delicate Pieris flowers are almost out (the staked tree is a Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender silhouette’ which is now in it’s second year)…

Pundits will tell you snowdrops prefer shade, and soil that doesn’t dry out, but for us they are also flourishing in full sun, at the base of a fence, in a narrow bed of dry sandy soil. Never make assumptions about what will grow where!

Also in the woodland area there is a skimmia which, like the rhododendrons, I moved from elsewhere in the garden. The move doesn’t seem to have done it any harm…

Dried heads of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’, in another shady spot, are persisting well into winter, and looking good in the low light…

And a young Acer griseum (paperbark maple) is already displaying the peeling bark that the plant is known for. As yet, it’s only around a metre high, but it’s been in the ground for around three years, so I’m hopeful it will take off this year. As well as the attractive and unusual bark, Acer griseum is also one of the best trees for autumn colour…

Spring bulbs are pushing through the soil now. For the second year running we’ve bought more allium bulbs for the garden, and followed the advice of Monty Don, of Gardeners’ World fame. He suggested planting them in pots, to be put out in the garden once things have started to grow. The advantage is you avoid the danger (when planting bulbs into the ground during the dormant season) of digging up other bulbs. It’s also easier to ascertain the best positions to fit what’s there already. Here they are, in pots, ready to go into the beds soon (these are Allium Christophii)…

And last year we put new tulip bulbs into decorative pots. For now, they’re still in a sheltered position near the back door, but soon we will move them out into sunny positions on patios…

There was a cold snap towards the end of last year, but overall the winter has (so far) been rather mild; if wet and windy. There may be another burst of icy weather to come yet, but it feels as though the worst of the winter is over, and momentum is gathering for spring. We’ve even been feeding the goldfish!

Text & photos © graham wright 2024

Autumn Garden…

As we go into Autumn, flowers are in short supply, but some of the roses are still producing a few blooms, including this one, which is Rosa ‘Judi Dench’…

At the base of the fruit trees, nasturtiums are still going well, perhaps because they germinated late; the early seedlings having been nibbled off by hungry rabbits

Asters (Symphyotrichum) have seeded themselves all over the garden – I had no idea they would be so prolific! While the main plants have gone over now, some of the seedlings are in full bloom…

The quality of the new plants is variable. Some have flowers that are somewhat small; very similar to a very vigorous aster that was in the garden before we arrived (and which I subsequently split up and re-set). Others are closer to the bigger bloomed varieties we’ve added subsequently. One seedling has white, rather than lavender/blue flowers.

Another enthusiastic self-seeder is the ubiquitous Verbena bonariensis, and there are plenty still in flower…

Marigolds would be everywhere, but were also demolished by the rabbits. Some that made it through in the vegetable plot are still doing well…

In the first year we sowed some Phacelia as a green manure. The flowers were so pretty, and so loved by pollinators, that we decided not to hoe the young plants back into the soil. They too self-seed every year. They flower over a long period…

The flower spikes of Gaura (now Oenothera) lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies’ keep going over a very long season, and float above everything else, creating quite a dreamy effect. It does need to be kept in hand, or else it will take over the garden…

‘Royal Bumble’, a woody salvia, surprisingly came through last year’s cruel winter, and has been amazing again this year, blooming from mid-summer into autumn. And it looks good with a backdrop of Cotinus coggygria (I think this one is ‘Royal Purple’)…

Geranium ‘Eureka’ has a few flowers left, alongside Achillea ptarmica ‘The Bride’, which we grew from seed in spring…

Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ is another late flowerer. It’s just coming to an end now. It looks great in a shaded position, as here…

Colour, of course, doesn’t have to come from flowers. I put in an Artemisia ‘Powys Castle’ earlier this year, and its silvery foliage looks great against the dark leaves of the Cotinus

Fruits typically give us clusters of reds and oranges that intensify the orange glow of any low sunshine we’re lucky to get at this time of year. This summer I realised there was no need to dead-head the roses that flower only once (I can be a bit slow sometimes!) and consequentially, we’ve got rose hips. These are on the climber ‘Constance Spry’ (named for the famous flower arranger)…

And of course there’s the obvious colour from turning leaves; here in Rhus typhinus

This Euonymus alatus ‘Red Cascade’ is in its first year, so still quite small. The leaves turned a deep red, but I wasn’t quick enough with the camera – they’ve almost all fallen already…

The Cornus behind the pond (C. sibirica ‘Alba’ and C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’) are looking good as the leaves begin to change colour…

The falling leaves will reveal brightly coloured stems in red and orange, which will add interest throughout the winter.

Interesting how different trees and shrubs come into leaf, and shed their leaves, at different times. Last autumn I also put in a Liquidambar (L. styracyflua ‘Slender silhouette’), a columnar tree with great autumn colour. I was disappointed that it was one of the last trees to come into leaf in spring, but conversely, it’s leaves are yet to turn.

Elsewhere, the ferns are looking good now. This is Polystichum polyblepharum (Japanese Lace fern)…

Who would have thought it, but we’ve still got courgettes..!

In the greenhouse, the peppers and chillies were something of a disappointment, but there are some peppers still to be harvested…

Streptocarpus (or ‘Streps’ as they’re referred to) are generally used as houseplants, but I know from previous experience they like it outside over summer. This one was on its last legs, until we put it outside. I’ve moved it to the greenhouse now…

Things are changing fast in the garden now, as it turns darker, colder, and wetter, and one by one the deciduous plants start to shed their leaves. But don’t think it’s all over until the spring. Once the leaves are down, the garden will enter another phase; less flamboyant, but still with lots of interesting things happening.

Text & images © Graham Wright 2023

The Garden in September

It’s been another strange year, weather wise, as we begin to feel the effects of anthropomorphic climate change. After a hot and dry June, July and August were cold and damp, and many plants were slow to get going. I lost most of my dahlias in the cold winter (even those stored in the shed). The one survivor is this Dahlia ‘Bishop of Leicester’, which against all odds came through, despite being left to fend for itself in the border, with not so much as a thin mulch to keep it warm. It’s only now beginning to produce a good crop of flowers.

My ever-expanding collection of Cannas was also decimated by the cold winter (probably just as well – they were multiplying faster than the broomstick in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice!) Growth has been so slow in this (mostly) cool, damp summer, that none of the survivors have flowered yet. They’re running out of time.

The roses were late to flower this year too, and have only just started flowering again, after a lengthy break. These two are R. ‘Wollerton Old Hall’, a new addition thriving against a mostly shady garage wall, and R. ‘Munstead Wood’…

R. ‘Dame Judi Dench’ has proved to be the most consistent for flowers…

Looking at the successes, scabious sown from seed last year were slow to establish but are looking good now…

Geraniums are garden stalwarts, able to do well in most soils and conditions. This one is G. ‘Eureka’…

The single flowers are good for the bees too. As are Hylotelephiums (formerly Sedum) which are coming into their own now. This is Xenon…

Other plants that are having their moment in the limelight, at the end of the season, include Anemone (this is A. ‘Honorine Jobert’)…

And asters…

Which were actually renamed as Symphyotrichum (how those botanists love to make the lives of us horticulturalists difficult!) They seem to love our soil. Curiously Aster ‘Monch’ (which wasn’t renamed) has been sulking since I planted it three years ago.

Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ has been good this year…

And the Hesperantha’s (which used to be called Schizostylus – best keep to the common name of Kaffir Lily!) are going from strength to strength around (and even in) the pond…

I know from past experience they can be invasive. The clumps quickly become congested and less floriferous. I’ve found an easy way to keep them under control is to just pull out the flowered stems (before the seed is ripe, else they’ll set seed everywhere). A section of plant will generally come out with the stem, but that leaves the newer offsets, which will provide next year’s blooms, with space around them.

Another plant which thrives in the thin, sandy soil, is Gaura (which, you guessed it, has been renamed -it’s now Oenothera lindheimeri ‘Whirling butterflies’)…

It self-seeds everywhere, and creates clouds of small, white flowers on long stems. Very pretty, although it does tends to sprawl all over its neighbours.

Yarrow (Achillea) is a wildflower (or weed, if you prefer) that we let grow here and there in the garden…

This is the wild form of a widely grown cultivated plant. The flowers are actually almost as good as the cultivated varieties, though without the range of colours, and look good and last well in a vase. The foliage is attractive too.

It’s been a dreadful year for apples, with almost all the fruit affected by moth larvae, and many of the fruits small and not properly formed. Keeping wasps from destroying what harvest there is, has been a challenge. Conversely, the pears are having their best year so far. This variety is ‘Concorde’…

It’s been another challenging year. Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from the variable conditions, and weather extremes, is to observe which plants hold up well in your garden, whatever the weather throws at them, stick with those, and introduce others that are related, or like similar conditions. Having said that, I do like a challenge!

text & photos © graham wright 2023

Wasps – addendum..

It seems that social wasps, vicious and armed-to-the-teeth as they may be, are not entirely without predators. I was driving out of the garage yesterday when something caught my eye. Not as large as even a small bird, but big enough to be seen at a distance of three metres or so, it turned out to be a spider running out from it’s lair in a pile of bricks on the driveway to grab something that had disturbed its web. Something black and yellow. I stopped the car and got out for a closer look. The spider held the wasp while it injected it with venom, and secured it in the web, then retreated to wait for the poison to take effect.

I was suitably impressed. This is what people call a house spider – probably because they like to live in your house. These are the large spiders that will run across your living room floor of an evening while you’re watching TV. The British Arachnological Society say they rarely bite, and when they do, it’s painless. For humans perhaps, but not, I suspect, for this wasp!

Some people are nervous of spiders. I can see why they might be spooked by the appearance of arachnids such as this one. Personally I find them fascinating, and now I’ve got used to the way they look, almost cute. Well, maybe not cute – cool, perhaps. There are many varieties of spiders, all of which are useful garden friends. They predate insects, many of which are garden pests, are food for birds, and do no harm to plants. Add to that their webs, which are fascinating, and can be very beautiful, particularly when covered in droplets of rain, dew, or even frost, and backlit by the low sun, and you can see why I’m so happy to see these lovable little creatures in my garden…

text & photo © graham wright 2023

Why the RHS is wrong about wasps…

The RHS is sticking to it’s story that wasps are beneficial insects…

From my own observations I would say that any positive contribution to the garden (and possibly the wider environment too) is outweighed by the harm they do. Firstly, they eat beneficial animals as well as pests. What’s more, they will kill anything that gets in their way. I’ve witnessed the mass murder of hoverflies and bees, with deaths in the hundreds, apparently because the wasps won’t tolerate competition for nectar from the plants they visit.

My own observation suggests wasps are not significant pollinators – more likely to eat flowers than to pollinate them (particularly roses). They were certainly nowhere to be seen when my fruit trees were in blossom, so did nothing to help generate the copious amounts of apples, pears, plums and damsons that formed. But now, before much of the fruit is even close to ripening, they’re systematically destroying the harvest…

The RHS says ‘damage to plants is limited, and mainly occurs in late summer…’ Limited’? They should see the state of my apples! And it’s not late summer yet. Maybe they’re out earlier because of the warm, dry weather in June (remember that?)

The same happened last year. I’ve taken action, through the organic method of using traps – glass jars with a piece of paper over the top, with a wasp-sized hole in it. The idea is the wasps go into the jar to get to the treat inside, and end up drowning in it…

The RHS suggested using a mixture of jam and water, and I’ve found this works well. The first jar caught perhaps fifty wasps. I tried beer, but while it caught some wasps, it was more attractive to flies and moths. For the latest refill, I’ve used a mixture of beer and jam (the wasp version of alco-pop?) As you can see, I’ve used foil, rather than paper, as it’s waterproof. There’s some question as to whether these traps actually attract more wasps, but I felt I had to try something, or there won’t be any apples left.

It wouldn’t be so bad if they chose one apple at a time, but of course, they wouldn’t dream of being so considerate. Instead, they burrow into numerous apples at a time which, in no time, start to go rotten before the wasps have made more than a small hole. At which point, they move on to fresh apples. So you can see, the entire crop is at risk.

‘Expert’ opinion generally seems to be that wasps will only sting if threatened. The trouble is, they seem to have a very low threat perception threshold. Get too close when they’re in the act of stealing your food (whether from your plate, the kitchen, or the orchard), and you’re seen as a threat.

Wasps are aggressive, irritable creatures, with a vindictive streak. Last year we were inundated with nests. The patio at the end of the garden was a no go area. We took our lives in our hands when we took garden or food waste to the compost. And even if we were lucky enough to get in or out of the front door without being stung, opening the door would let another half-a-dozen or so into the house. Eventually we succumbed, and called in the council pest controller.

I will just say (and I probably should have said it earlier), that not all wasps are the same. It’s the so-called ‘social’ wasps – Vespula species (otherwise known as ‘yellow jackets’) – that are the troublemakers. There are many species of solitary wasps which are not so troublesome. You wouldn’t want to be their prey mind. Many of them inject their eggs into the prey (often a caterpillar). The eggs hatch out, and the wasp larvae slowly eat the host from the inside out. While it’s still alive! That said, they don’t, as far as I’m aware, cause damage to plants, or harass us humans. Their pest control activities make them useful garden predators. Although many will eat spiders, which are very much a gardener’s friend. But then, no-one’s perfect…

text & images © graham wright 2023

Plant Mis-selling

In January, I bought two packs of Aconitum napellus ‘Album’ from a well known on-line plant nursery. There were three bare-rooted plants in each pack. They were for our green and white themed, shady border near to the house (‘Album’ being botanical Latin for white). Aconitum (or, Monkshood) are generally blue, but ‘Album’ is the white form.

As they were small, I potted them up and grew them on (initially in the greenhouse), planting them out once the frosts had stopped. They grew well, and began to form flower spikes. But it became clear fairly on they weren’t going to be white. The flowers are fully out now…

Oh dear! I’ve contacted the supplier, who were very good, and are processing a full refund, as they don’t have any replacements they can give me. And I can use these blue Aconitums elsewhere in the garden. So now I just need to source some white ones from somewhere. That, or find an alternative (white foxgloves could be an option).

Below is the border in early May, with the white ‘Purissima’ tulips and ‘Thalia’ daffodils still in flower. Okay, I know there are some blue flowers, which doesn’t fit the colour scheme, but rules are made to be broken! The flowers are pale blue, but the leaves of the Brunnera at least are white…

The planting is only just establishing. Two Pyracantha’s, a Viburnum x burkwoodii, and a Chimonanthus (yellow flowers, but in winter, when little else is out) will eventually hide the fence. Along the front edge, on the house side of the semi-raised pond, is a low hedge of Sarcococca, grown from cuttings taken from a single plant. The small white flowers are produced in the winter, and are very fragrant (which is why I put them by the house).

As you can see, the paths have been set out, but need to be levelled and paved. To save money, I’m doing the landscaping work myself, little by little when I can find the time which, at the moment, isn’t often. It’s a work in progress.

The perennial planting includes four ferns – Polystichum polyblepharum.

I’ve been disappointed how much they’ve suffered. The new croziers have been wiped out twice so far this year – once by the cold, and once by the hot sunny weather we had early on (the bed is not as shaded as it will be once the wall shrubs have established).

There six Bergenia ‘Bressingham White’, which flowered well (with, as you would expect, white flowers).

There are two Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’. At the moment they’re all foliage – the white flowers will appear later on. This is another plant which didn’t turn out as I expected, thanks to nursery mis-labelling.

Three Actaea (A. simplex ‘Brunette’) have lovely dark foliage that will stand out against the green shades of the other plants, and fragrant white flower spikes (which are quite late to flower).

Brunnera ‘Alchemy Silver’ has large, striking, silvery heart-shaped leaves. The flowers are pale blue, small, and similar to forget-me-nots. The blue doesn’t fit in with the white theme, but they appear in early spring, so I think that can be forgiven.

The planting looks sparse now, but in time it should expand and mesh together. I chose plants that flower at different times so that there will be flowers for most of the year. Contrasting colours, textures and leaf shapes make for a bed full of interest.

text & images © graham wright 2023

Trouble with Rabbits…

The gardening elite are increasingly stressing the importance of making our gardens accessible to, and beneficial for, wildlife. It’s a trend I’m pleased to support, because for too long us humans have been working against nature, and to the detriment of the environment (and ultimately, against our own welfare). With so much of the wider landscape being so inhospitable to indigenous creatures, our domestic gardens can potentially make up a vital network of nature reserves.

We should aim to create a balance in our gardens; a good mix of wildlife so that populations of pests are kept in check – we accept limited damage to our plants, in return for a diverse ecosystem, and a healthier environment.

All well and good, but for some wildlife, it’s not that simple. Some of the larger animals are really not compatible with our ideas of what makes a garden. Badgers can make an awful mess of a lawn. Deer will eat almost anything; including tree bark. And so will rabbits.

This is the first year we’ve had significant problems with rabbits, which is surprising considering we have farmland on three sides. Maybe it’s something to do with the regular sound of gunshots that ring out across the fields. That, or the foxes. Or the buzzards. This year though, I’ve noticed more rabbits down the lane. When I saw an adult rabbit on the lawn, I set about putting up fencing to keep them out. There were already various sizes of wire mesh fence around the boundary, in among the mixed field hedges. I added chicken wire, burying it as deep as I could to stop the bunnies from digging under. This seemed to work. Until one day I looked out and there were two baby rabbits! Here’s a shot from the 14th April, with one of the babies munching its way through self-seeded honesty…

Incredibly cute, but very destructive! I blocked up numerous points where they might be getting in. But nothing worked. And when I went out to chase them away, they would disappear, as if into thin air. And then, one day, I watched as one of them ran through my chicken wire fence as if it wasn’t there. It turns out a 50mm mesh isn’t fine enough!

I’ve been intermittently bolstering our defences, each time hopeful that I’ve finally done enough to keep them out… quickly to discover I’ve been unsuccessful. There’s just one, very persistent rabbit now. How ever much I try chasing him away, he never gets the message. Someone suggested buying an air rifle, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that; just look at him…

And yet, as the damage is mounting (raspberry canes, dogwood, the lower shoots and branches of the akebia (chocolate vine), sweet peas…) my inner Elmer Thud is straining to get out!

The rabbit is in the garden so much of the time (and active during the day – I thought they were largely nocturnal?) I’m wondering if there isn’t any point in sealing the garden – he’d be quite happy to live there permanently. There’s lot’s of cover to protect him from the buzzards, and no danger of been shot by the nasty farmer.

And if I am able to find where he’s getting in, when I seal it, how can I be sure he’s out, rather than in, the garden? I’ve had to put tree guards around the trunks of all of the trees. If the rabbit just ate the grass, he’d be welcome to share the garden.

I’m really not sure what to do next. Do I take away all the fences so that he can at least get out easily? Or will he just invite his friends round to join the party? Should I just accept that I’ll need to move towards plants that are largely rabbit proof?

If anyone has any ideas, I’d be very grateful…

text & images © graham wright 2023