Bodnant Gardens

Bodnant, for anyone who isn’t familiar with it, is a very large (80 acres) National Trust garden in North Wales, just south of Llandudno. It’s particularly renowned for its large collection of rhododendrons and camelias, which thrive in the acid soil there. The site is on a hillside, with some steep slopes, and picturesque dells. The entrance to the gardens, and the house (which is impressive, but privately owned, and not open to the public) is at the top of the hill. Winding gravel paths lead through dense planting, which at this time of year is very colourful…

I visited on the last day of April, and was surprised at just how many of the rhododendrons were already flowering…

Having always (until recently) gardened on neutral to alkaline soil, I’m still a little unsure of rhododendrons. Their colours are diverse and spectacular, intense, beautiful; but also a bit shocking and outrageous. Verging on the blousy, they can feel like something of a ‘guilty pleasure’.
Another indicator of low ph (as well as damp, humus-rich soil), I spied this Himalayan poppy (Meconopsis x sheldonii) in the understorey…

Still close to the entrance is this beautifully ordered, green and calming parterre with a central fountain…

Still in the Himalayas, this attractive stand of Himalayan birch (Betula utilis, possibly ‘Jacquemontii’) caught my eye. This kind of arrangement has been very popular in garden design for some years…

And I just had to take a photo of this gentian. I had one of these in a pot for many years, though that was a late flowering variety. They have the most intense blue, large flowers – very striking indeed…

Another blue-flowered plant I’ve recently heard a bit about it Omphaloides. I’ve been considering its use as ground cover in moist, shady areas. It was recommended by one of the famous garden designers (I can’t remember which one). I have seen it before, and was unimpressed, but at Bodnant it’s clearly thriving and looks good. As a ‘semi-evergreen’ it should provide some cover over winter, especially in milder winters…

Moving down the hill, the formal gardens give way to a more open, grassy landscape. This avenue appeared even more inviting due to being roped off (presumably because the daffodils have finished)…

Bluebells were just coming out beneath this incredible old, gnarly beech tree. The house, complete with Victorian conservatory, can be seen at the top of the hill…

There must be miles of paths to be walked, and it’s easy to get lost. With all of the bright colours at this time of year its like an enchanted land…

The Pin Mill, with the reflecting pond in front, is perhaps the most famous image from Bodnant gardens. The end of the reflecting pond is one of those magic spots where you just can’t help taking a photograph, even though you know millions got there before you (and many made a much better job of it). This view mirrors the famous view of the Taj Mahal (though on a slightly less grand scale)…

And finally, another choice plant. Another one for the woodland floor, in damp shade, this is a trillium – Trillium erectum…

Some of you may have seen a recent short series documentary about Bodnant, and the on-going efforts to improve the gardens. I found it a bit disappointing. The narrative was a little disjointed, and perhaps somewhat flippant – trying to sensationalise the problems the team encountered. And I don’t think it did the gardens justice. But having seen Bodnant once more for myself, I could see how much work has been put in. There’s more to do, but it’s looking very good indeed.

The documentary highlighted the problems Bodnant has had attracting enough visitors, most likely due to the location, which might be very beautiful, but is also a bit out of the way (which is probably why it’s still beautiful!) The plan was, I believe, to update the gardens to give them the best chance of attracting more visitors. I already knew Bodnant was an amazing place. It’s in an incredible setting, with views towards Snowdonia national park, and the gardens themselves have always been fabulous. From my latest visit, I would say they match any of the larger gardens in the United Kingdom for their beauty, for their plant collections, and for their facilities. For anyone who, like me, loves plants and gardens, Bodnant is unmissable.

text & images © Graham Wright 2021

Plants For Free…

Growing annuals from seed can be a time-consuming process, fraught with worry. Will the seeds germinate? Will the seedlings be eaten by slugs. Will the stems succumb to rot (known as damping-off). Will you forget to water them, so they wilt and die? But then, there are some annuals that take care off all this themselves…

This is borage, flowering in our garden last week; putting on a fantastic show very early on in the season. I grew borage from seed last year. The plants flowered, and distributed their seed, and now, as if by magic, there are new borage plants in various stages of development, from just-hatched, to fully-formed, all through the long border…

Three metres deep in places, and running the length of the garden, this is a big bed to fill, and while the shrubs are still small, and the perennials are yet to clump up, annuals have an important role in filling in the gaps. When they do it themselves, so much the better. Above you can see some of the borage seedlings, in among newly-planted white phlox (‘Peacock White’) and Echinops (E. ritro ‘Veitchs Blue’ – incidentally, also grown from seed). Another plant that I grew from seed last year and which is prolifically self-seeding is Ammi major, a lovely, frothy white umbellifer that adds depth, cohesion and mystery to a planting scheme. This is how it looked in the bed last August, engulfing a young Cornus koussa

The garden has farmland bordering it to three sides; it’s quite exposed to wind, and we get some cold nights, so I wasn’t sure these auto-didactic annuals were going to make it. But they’re coming through nicely. Of course, they don’t necessarily come up exactly where you want them, so they will need to be moved around. Other desirable self-seeders coming up in the garden are foxgloves (Digitalis) and forget-me-nots (Myosotis). This year I’ve sown some sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) and honesty (Lunaria) to add to the mix of regenerating annuals (and biennials, in the case of the foxgloves and honesty).

Elsewhere in the garden, the tulips are in full flow. This is ‘Princes Irene’…

And here’s another of my favourites, ‘Queen of Night’…

Due to on-going, delayed building work (will it ever be finished?) the pots of tulips have had to be located in front of the workshop, by the veg patch, nestled behind last year’s rainbow chard (still cropping well, but about to bolt)…

There’s a varied and interesting collection of daffodils around the garden (from before my time) including some that are absolutely tiny. I’ve added my favourite, which is ‘Thalia’…

Last year’s tulips were planted into the beds, where they should hopefully come up year after year. In addition, there’s a clump of a variety I hadn’t tried before, a red ‘lily’ tulip called ‘Pieter de Leur’, looking good with ‘Spring Green’…

The heavy rain over the bank holiday came just in time to rejuvenate the garden, which was looking parched. You can already see the plants on the starting blocks, ready to grow. With so many new shrubs and trees, it’s an exciting time. There are two established trees; a large birch in the back, and a crab apple in the front, by the side of the drive. The crab apple was very congested, and obviously hadn’t been properly pruned for some time. I cut out quite a lot of wood, and this year it’s rewarded me with an impressive show of blossom. I believe this may be Malus ‘Torino’…

Spring blossom is such a spectacular show. It may not last long, but it ushers in the main growing season and, hopefully, some warmer weather pretty soon…

text & images © Graham Wright 2021

Making a Wildlife Pond

I’ve previously written about the pond we acquired when we moved house. It started life as a very deep, formal pond for Koi carp, but we’ve been transforming it into a home for wildlife. The liner had to be replaced, as I think it was leaking (and I wanted to re-shape the pond and reduce the depth too).

Late January – the liner is in place, with a layer of underlay over the top, and the pond is ready to be filled.

To protect the liner, I put the old underlay into the hole, and then a layer of new underlay over it. Next was the liner itself, followed by another layer of underlay over that. I know this sounds strange – it’s called underlay, not overlay after all; the clue’s in the name – but the idea is to protect the liner from being damaged by anything sharp that might be put on top, such as plant pots, bricks and slabs for raising up water lilies, and any stones or sharp objects that might be in the soil you put in for marginal plants.

I wanted to get it right, so I followed instructions in a book called ‘The Water Gardener’ by Anthony Archer-Wills, apparently a very respected figure in the industry. The book isn’t always entirely clear on the details, and I’m not convinced about some of the construction methods – more on that later. This is the pond the next day, when snow and cold weather stopped play…

You can see I built a shelf for planting all the way around the perimeter, and bricks along the edge of the shelf to stop the earth collapsing. In the deep section there are two slabs, supported on bricks, for a water lily and a water hyacinth.

The start of February – the shelf has soil on it, and has been planted up, and the pond is nearly full

By the middle of March, the frogs had moved back in, and had started laying frog spawn…

I think I got the pond filled just in time. Last year I think most of the tadpoles were eaten by the fish, but they’ve been relocated elsewhere, so the tadpoles should have less predators this year. Panning out, this is what the pond looked like at that time. You can see we’ve planted the far side with some dogwoods: Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire (times 1) and Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ (times 2). It needs more, but I’ll take some cuttings this year, and try to be patient

The water got cloudier and cloudier, and a scum of green algae formed on the surface – it didn’t look very appetising. Something had to be done. Rather than spending a fortune on bags and bags of aquatic compost, I had just used garden soil on the pond shelf – which is, I believe, as the book directed. I wondered though – could all the nutrients in the soil mean that the pond would inevitably remain scummy?

I remembered reading that putting bunches of lavender in a pond will clear the water. Obviously, at that time, there was no lavender to be had. So instead, I tried rosemary. I couldn’t imagine it would work. But, amazingly, it did – after only a week, the water had cleared, and the algae had disappeared. Surprisingly, the water has got clearer and clearer. So much so, you can see right down to the bottom. And the tadpoles have now hatched….

The water may be clear, but there is a bit of a problem with the level – it’s going steadily down. I’ve been emptying a water butt into it now and then, but that’s not enough. I think the problem is that the water is wicking out and over the sides via the layer of underlay over the top. The book did say you might need to have a system to top up the water, but it’s just losing too much. Mains water isn’t great for topping up a wildlife pond (and the supply is too far away anyway). There’s only so much rainwater you can collect. I’ve already got three water butts, but the water in those will be needed for watering plants when the prolonged dry spells arrive. Here is the edge, with the underlay lapping over and tucked into the soil around the pond…

To stop the water loss, I’ve cut away the under (over?) lay so that the liner, which of course isn’t absorbent, is exposed. The next problem is how to hide the liner. I’ll have to top up the soil on the ledges. Hopefully the plants should hide most of it once they’ve grown up. I may just need to put some stones around the edge too…

Don’t let anyone say I don’t fill this blog with pretty pictures! To the left (front) side of the pond the liner dips down and extends under the width of the bed to create a bog garden for plants that like damp soil (Ligularia, Rodgersia, Hostas, Iris sibirica, etc.). I’ve left the under (over!) lay on that side because I want the water to over-flow into that bed when there’s been a lot of rain. I’ve also run a pipe from the down-pipe on the side of the workshop where there isn’t room for a water butt. So the rain that lands on that face of the roof feeds straight into the pond. Hopefully that will fix the problem with the water levels. This is how the pond was looking a few days ago…

The water hyacinth is flowering nicely. You can see the water level still needs to come up somewhat. Hopefully that will happen in time. We’ve planted up the bed on the left of the pond with damp-loving perennials (from Claire Austin, as well as Ligularia seedlings and Iris divisions that we brought with us from our previous garden). They’re not showing much as yet – hopefully they will put on some growth over the summer. We’ve got tadpoles, water beetles and water boatmen. It might take a few years, but I can’t wait until there are dragon flies and damsel flies skimming back and forth over the surface all summer long…

Text & images © Graham Wright 2021

Garden Visit – Wollerton Old Hall Gardens

Wollerton Old Hall Garden, in Shropshire, is referred to in the David Austin rose catalogue as one of the most beautiful private gardens in the country. So beautiful in fact, that they decided to name a rose after it. When I discovered the garden was only seven miles from where I now live, I got very excited, and of course, had to visit at the earliest possible opportunity. That was back in October last year. I kept my review back, so I could bring it out to brighten the dark days of the lockdown. Now seems to be an appropriate time.

We visited on a cool, fairly dull day. It was well into Autumn, and some of the leaves were colouring up well. The late-flowering perennials, such as asters (most of which were probably in the newly created category of symphyotricum – thanks for that, botanists!) had taken over the floral responsibilities. They also have quite a range of salvias, which flower over a long period, and were still going strong…

Most of these are slightly tender, so may need some protection in a cold winter. Having them in well-drained soil, in a sunny, sheltered position, should normally be sufficient. The flower in the next picture is unfamiliar to me, and there wasn’t a label, so if anyone knows what it is, please let me know.

Unidentified, but striking – actually, I’m wondering if this isn’t a form of salvia

Apparently the gardens were created in 1983, but look as if, like the house itself, they’ve been there for centuries. It isn’t clear from the website, but I suspect many of the solid features – walls, pillars and gateways – are original.

Doorway to autumn!

Beyond this doorway, a grass path curves around, adding (cliche alert) a sense of mystery…

There are lots of hydrangeas at Wollerton; particularly the paniculata types, which in my opinion are the best. This magnificent specimen is Hydrangea ‘Unique’ (except it isn’t, because I’ve seen it elsewhere!)…

Wollerton is arranged as a series of themed areas, or ‘garden rooms’. This one is called the hot garden…

There are some decidedly cool colours in there too; particularly the blue aster making its late season entrance among the fiery dahlias and cannas. And there are a few cheeky little blue salvias invading this jungle-like banana and dahlia combination…

This is salvia ‘Amistad’; a large, beautiful deep blue variety with almost black calyces. Salvias are pollinated in a particular way. Called the ‘staminal lever mechanism’, when an insect (say, a bee) enters the flower, they weigh down a trigger that causes the stamen to press down on their back and deposit some pollen, which they then transport on to any other flowers they visit. Except, some bees struggle to get all the way into the flower. So instead, they cheat; biting through the base of the flower to get to the nectar. Here’s one in action…

A peep at the old hall itself, hiding among the salvias…

This is the upper rill garden (not to be confused with the lower rill garden). The design makes full use of different levels, from the height of the standard trees, through the mid-level hydrangeas in large terracotta pots, right down to the rounded shapes of box at ground level. And all of it reflected back up through the surface of the water in the formal pond. The plants are set out like chess pieces facing each other…

Back in October the cafe was still open, albeit with social distancing measures, and masks to be worn when not sitting at your table. It’s an attractive interior space, and I seem to remember the staff were friendly, and the cakes were very good.

The plant sales were limited due to the pandemic (I hadn’t realised it can be transmitted to plants) but I couldn’t stop myself from buying a couple of salvias. Unfortunately they’d had a run on ‘Amistad’, so I picked up a couple of other varieties, including a vibrant red one called ‘Royal Bumble’ – one for my very own hot garden.

To have such a wonderful garden so close to where you live is a great privilege , and not one I intend to waste. I’m going to buy a season ticket, and visit often; I’m looking forward to watching the garden as it changes throughout the year.

Wollerton Old Hall Garden re-opens at the end of this week (Easter Friday).

Text & photos © Graham Wright 2021

Wooden plant label trials

I’m trying to get away from using plastic as much as I can. I have a supply of plastic plant labels that I re-use and re-use, but they’re getting worn and brittle, and so I’ve started to look for more sustainable replacements. Over the winter I did a little trial of wooden labels. I planted up pots of bulbs – tulips, daffodils and alliums – and labelled them using a variety of wooden labels. Some were re-purposed, others were shop bought; specifically intended to be used as labels. I wrote on them in pencil, as I’ve found this to be by far the best implement when it comes to the plastic labels – I haven’t come across any ink that doesn’t get washed off in time. They’ve only been in the pots since November, and so I’d say the results were disappointing.

The first is a wooden toothbrush handle (I cut off the bristles!) The writing is still there, but it’s barely legible…

The emerging leaves tell you more. If I zoom in to the photograph I can just about read ‘ Allium christophii‘. And on closer inspection, I can pick up ‘Queen of Night’. Interesting that the alliums are more advanced than the tulips.

The next pot has two labels…

These haven’t weathered too well either. Curiously, the writing is much clearer in the photo. There’s that old cliche of the camera never lying – well I can barely read these in real life. The one on the right (for Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’) is one of the shop bought labels. They’re laminated, and as you can see, the layers of wood veneer are separating. Unfortunately I’ve thrown away the pack, and I can’t remember the make (or, fortunately, for the manufacturer and the garden centre!) In fairness to them, this hasn’t happened with all of these labels. The one on the left (for Tulipa ‘Princes Irene’) is a very thin, balsa wood type which I believe was handed out free as a drinks stirrer (I don’t usually accept these, but it was during the pandemic, and I think I wasn’t given the option). Despite their flimsy nature, these stirrer have fared the best. As you can see from the next shot…

They’re both the same shape, I just tried them different ways up. The writing is still relatively clear on this one (reminding me that I’m lucky enough to have Tulipa ‘Princes Irene’ in two pots – Hurrah!)

So, not exactly a scientific study, but it has given me an indication of just what a challenge it will be to find plant labels that perform as well as the plastic ones. It isn’t easy being green! I’d be interested to hear any experiences you may have had with plant labels in sustainable materials…

Allium christophii, just before reaching their full, spherical shape. Christophii are one of the most unusual, interesting alliums. They look almost as if they’re made of metal; very striking, and very beautiful.

Text and images © Graham Wright 2021

Lovell Quinta Arboretum

It’s been a difficult year. For too long we’ve all been trapped; unable to visit the places we love, and those we’d love to discover. When Autumn arrived, and having missed out on so many garden visits, I was looking for somewhere to see some autumn colour. A web search suggested the nearest arboretum to where I live (about an hour away) was the Lovell Quinta arboretum in Swettenham, Cheshire. It’s just down the road from Jodrell Bank – the arboretum was created by Sir Bernhard Lovell, who was also responsible for the Lovell telescope at Jodrell bank.

The Lime Avenue

The arboretum entrance is beside the Swettenham Arms pub, in the little village of Swettenham, and after somewhat longer than an hours drive, it would have been rude not to pop in for a socially distanced coffee and desert. Refreshed and ready to go, we (Mrs Pullingweeds and myself) headed for the trees. The entrance fee is £2.50 with an honesty box at the entrance. It’s free to RHS members, but I felt they were underselling themselves, so we put a fiver in.

Our visit was perhaps a little early to catch the very best of the autumn colour, but there was still a lot to see. They had a Taxodium distichum (Swamp Cypress) planted as a focal point behind the lake…

Taxodiums are, as the common name suggests, one of the few trees that will flourish in waterlogged soil. They are deciduous, and produce good autumn tints. The lake looked somewhat scruffy, with a low water level, but that’s because it’s managed for wildlife.

The arboretum has an impressive avenue of Lime trees, from which pale yellow confetti was falling at a slow but steady rate…

This old oak had a hollow trunk, and exposed wood showing intricate patterns…

The arboretum has an astonishing range of trees, with those of different types arranged together. It holds national collections of Fraxinus (Ash) and Pinus (Pine). I was interested to see a little grove of Dawyck beech – Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’, ‘Dawyck Gold’ & ‘Dawyck Purple’. Last winter I planted two of these in our garden; one each of ‘Dawyck’ and ‘Dawyck Purple’. You would need a very large garden to accommodate two standard beech trees, but the Dawyck varieties are tall, columnar trees. They give you the height and grandeur of a large tree, but only spreading to a width of around 2.5m to 5m, depending on who you believe (and perhaps it may depend on the individual specimen – trees of the same variety are not identical; they’re all individuals, with their own character).

I loved this combination of Eucalyptus (I can’t remember the variety) with the finely cut leaves of a rowan (I think this one is Sorbus commixta ‘Embley’). With the blue sky in the background it could almost be Australia…

I said we were there before many of the trees had reached their autumn peak, but our timing couldn’t have been better for this deciduous euonymus (Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’)…

There are longer walks leading out from the arboretum, with some great views out over the Cheshire countryside, and of an impressive brick viaduct. Being limited for time (when are we never not limited for time!) we didn’t head out too far. We spent a couple of hours wandering through the arboretum, admiring the diverse beauty of all those trees, enjoying the peace and quiet. It’s a place that I’m sure we’ll b going back to this year (lockdowns allowing).

I was very restrained when it came to taking photographs – I probably could have taken more, but hopefully the ones here will act as a teasing preview that will encourage you to take a look yourself, should you find yourself anywhere near. It’s a Lovelly day out! Ouch! Bad, I know, but it had to be done ;¬]

text & images ©Graham Wright 2020

Minus Five in the Shade…

A cold start this morning – the thermometer was showing minus five, and there was a hoar frost. The views across the fields were like scenes from Christmas cards. The photographs don’t do it justice. I probably should have gone out for a walk, but I didn’t have the time, so instead I made do with taking shots out of the windows.

The light was changing moment by moment, which is frustrating, because I never know which is the right moment to take a picture!

You can see something of the structure of the garden in this shot. The grass paths are a feature of the left side. In time, I intend to line them with Buxus (box) hedging. The borders to either side will be filled with trees, shrubs (including roses), and perennials, and in summer the grass paths will be a secluded walk, partially hidden from the rest of the garden.

In the bottom left corner you may just be able to make out the new winter-flowering cherry tree (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’) which is providing us with some much appreciated flowers in the dead of winter.

The pergola is bare now, but so far it’s been planted with two roses (one, a cutting of ‘Constance Spry’ that we brought with us from our last garden), a grape vine, and a chocolate vine (Akebia quinata), so it should be covered in foliage and flowers by June.

The mature birch tree at the end of the garden looked particularly spectacular hung with frost. It’s already filled with catkins, which give the otherwise bare branches some presence.

Yesterday I was hard at work shaping the pond, but the ground is too frozen to continue with that today. It’s midday now, but the frost has hardly melted. Hopefully the cold weather will purge some of the more damaging pests and diseases in the garden (without killing any of the plants!)

text & images © Graham Wright 2021

Draining the Swamp…

Well, the pond, actually; but hopefully I got your attention! I’ve turned what was once a koi pond, with clear water (provided by some very elaborate filtering equipment) full of colourful fish, and with a rather twee wooden bridge crossing over it, into something horrible.

But as the saying goes, you can’t make a souffle without breaking wind. No, that’s not it… Omelette! – I meant omelette. The fish were taken away before we moved in last year. I stopped using the pumps because I’d seen newts in the pond, and read they can be drawn into pump impellers and killed. The water turned cloudy, only slightly ameliorated by first, barley straw, and then lavender clippings.

The pond pumping equipment – looks complicated. If anyone wants it, let me know!
This is the end that goes in the water

You might wonder why I’m bothering to empty the pond. Well, firstly, I suspect it’s leaking, because the level never stays up; there’s always a few inches of the liner showing, which isn’t attractive. Secondly, the shape isn’t ideal. It’s 90cm deep, which seems excessive to me, and the figure of eight doesn’t look right for a wildlife pond (which is what I’m aiming for). And I want to put in different levels for different plants, ideally with the ledges filled with soil to plant directly into, rather than resting plant pots on.

The newts are all out of the water for the winter now (I’ve encountered quite a few while working in the garden – a sharp eye and a great deal of care is required to avoid casualties). Which is good, because it meant I was able to use the pump to get the water out. My attempts at syphoning the water had failed miserably. Apparently you need the end of the hose to be lower than where you’re syphoning from, which wasn’t possible in this case. Using a bucket would have been back-breaking work and taken forever.

The pump got most of the water out, but I’m having to scoop out the rest with a bucket, which isn’t easy. I put a garden fork through the bottom, but the water isn’t draining out. There are lots of frogs hiding in the thin layer of silt on the bottom – as I come across them I’m transferring them to the temporary pond I set up…

I made the temporary pond 60cm deep, because it turned out there were fish in the pond after all – some must have escaped the net; presumably they were much smaller then. They’re shy creatures, spending most of their time near the bottom, but I’d counted four of them on the odd occasion when they rose to the surface, and that’s how many there turned out to be. Only one has orange colouring, the rest are plain, and I’m wondering if, rather than Koi, they’re actually just river fish – though I’ve no idea how they came to be in the pond (maybe they’re flying fish!) Perhaps, like many plant varieties, Koi carp don’t breed true from seed.

I won’t be putting them back in the main pond when it’s ready because, as I’ve said already, it’s going to be a wildlife pond, and the fish will eat the wildlife. I’ll either have to make a separate pond for them somewhere, or find another home for them. Fish and chips, anyone? (only joking).

I’ve started taking apart the waterfall behind the pond…

While the fibreglass waterfall sections looked quite realistic – almost like real stone – they’re not really my style. I’m intending to level ‘the hill’ and plant some dogwoods (Cornus) species in it’s place, to make a backdrop to the pond. With their coloured stems they should look very impressive in the winter. So far, I’ve got one Cornus alba ‘sibirica variegata’ which is a cutting from a cutting, from a cutting, which has bright red stems in winter; and one Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, which came as part of an order from the excellent Burncoose nurseries earlier this year. I put it into a larger pot to grow it on ready for planting out (hopefully) this autumn. I’ve not grown Midwinter Fire before, but even in a pot, sat on earth in the middle of a garden construction site, it looks wonderful…

Actually, the photograph doesn’t do it justice. The gradient from orange through to red makes it glow as if it’s on fire. This effect can be achieved with other shrubs… but only by setting them on fire!

I found the remains of the wasp nest under the waterfall; beginning to decay, with just a few, sleepy wasps left alive…

I’ve levelled the area to the right of the pond, between the pond and the wooden workshop building, and begun to plant it up. The main feature is an Acer griseum (Paperbark maple), a seedling from the garden of one of my customers. This is a small tree, often grown multi-stemmed, and renowned for its bronze-coloured peeling bark. In the autumn the leaves turn all sorts of shades of red, orange and yellow – quite spectacular. To the right of it is another shrub from the Burncoose order; Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’; also potted on to build it up ready for planting. It’s filled with beautiful white flower clusters in mid-summer, which fade gracefully to the dried, brown heads that will stay on the plant all winter (they’re great for cut flower displays).

You can see the path that will meander around the back of the pond, made from re-claimed materials – edged with bricks on end, and filled with compacted rubble. A layer of slate chippings will finish it off (if it doesn’t finish me off first!)

So, as you can see, I’ve been busy. But there’s a lot to do yet. I’m continuing to dig out the honey fungus rhizomorphs that have spread throughout the garden. Opportunities to work in the garden are reducing as there are less and less daylight hours, and it gets colder and wetter. A few trees and shrubs are still holding on to their leaves – one of our pear trees, for instance – but most are now bare. I always find this a difficult time, and this year it seems worse than before. But even now there are signs of better times. Spring-flowering bulbs are just beginning to poke their snouts out of the soil, and I’ve noticed that the roses I planted just a few weeks ago are coming into bud. Buds are swelling on many of the trees, too – fat, juicy flower buds in the case of the magnolia, and rhododendrons in particular. It’ll soon be spring. We just need to get through what the poet Ian Mcmillan refers to as ‘the long dark corridor of winter’…

text & images © graham wright 2020

A Delivery of Roses…

It was almost as though Christmas had come early. Last week a parcel was delivered, containing bare root rose plants.

How they were packaged – in a big, friendly, paper bag

Roses are an ideal species to plant bare-rooted in the dormant season (from now until March, but the earlier the better). They’re cheaper to buy, so you get more rose for your money. It allows them to get their roots down into the soil so they’re ready to get going come the spring, and they should need less watering than potted specimens planted in the growing season.

The plants are from David Austin, who are renowned for their ‘English’ roses – a style of rose developed by David Austin in the old rose style, with lots of blooms and good fragrance.

Inside, the roses were in a biodegradable plastic bag

Sadly David Austin senior passed away last year, but the company continues to operate from their home in Albrighton, Shropshire (8 miles NW of Wolverhampton). Under normal conditions (should that be in quotation marks?) you can visit and walk around their rose gardens, but they haven’t been open this year. So instead of going along to see the different varieties growing in a garden, I had to make do with immersing myself in the intoxicating flower porn that is the David Austin catalogue.

My roses don’t look much at the moment – just a bunch of green sticks with a few roots attached – but by mid-summer next year they should hopefully be looking good. There are five plants there:
– Dame Judi Dench – an apricot-orange shrub rose
– Gertrude Jekyll – one of their best known; a strong pink rose, available as either a shrub or a climber (I went for the shrub)
– Tuscany superb – a gallica type shrub rose, deep maroon, with orange stamens. It flowers only once each season
– Munstead Wood – another very deep, rich purple shrub rose
– Claire Austin – a white climber that will grow in shade, named for one of David Austin’s children (who, incidentally, now runs her own mail-order perennial nursery)
All of the varieties have good scent, which was a major consideration, as there are few things more disappointing than a rose that doesn’t smell.

It’s recommended to soak the plants in water for at least two hours before you plant them

The website said delivery would normally be in November, and suggested it might be late this year due to the dreaded you-know-what. In fact they arrived early in the last week of October, which caught me out somewhat, as I hadn’t finished preparing the ground. I managed to get all four of the shrub roses in, but Claire Austin had to be healed in for now, while I get her position ready.

I’ve always thought how lovely it must be to have a rose named after you, but as I planted Judy Dench it occurred to me that having your namesake put in the ground again and again might be seen as unfortunately portentous, particularly as you approach the final years of your life. Sorry Judy!

So with the new roses in the ground, it’s just a case of waiting patiently for next summer. I can’t wait to be walking around the garden stuffing my nose into the silky petals of rose after rose, and creating lots of lovely rose porn to share with you all via the pulling weeds blog…


text & images (except ‘Munstead Wood’) © graham wright 2020
(photo of Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’ ©David Austin Roses)

Autumn Colour & Continuing to Build the Garden…

Canna Wyoming – nice to have a few stunning flowers left at this time of year!

Most of the autumn colour in our garden is coming from plants in pots this year. This collection by the back door includes michaelmas daisies (Symphyotrichum ‘Audrey’, and ‘Climax’), a white hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’) and a paperbark maple (Acer griseum).

The acer is a seedling from a large multi-stemmed specimen in the garden of one of my customers in South Wales. I remember that it produced a fantastic patchwork of reds and oranges in autumn. When they fell, the lawn became a magic carpet, and it looked so beautiful I was always reluctant to clear them (but had to, of course, or the grass would have been smothered). The acer will become the main focal point in the north east corner of the garden, where I’ve been clearing an old patio (this garden had far too much hard landscaping for my liking). I’m re-using materials for paths and patios, and yet I’m still having to go back and forth to the recycling centre with van loads of rubble.

I’m removing the paving slabs around the pond so that I can make a more natural edge. The water level in the pond never stays high for so long. I think it must be leaking, so I’ll need to empty it and fit a new liner. I’ll take the opportunity to make it a more natural shape. I also intend to create a few boggy areas, by putting perforated pond liner under the soil and allowing the pond to over-flow into these areas. I can then plant them up with moisture loving plants such as Rogersia, Ligularia, and Hosta.

The curse of the poisoned compost is still showing. Compare the canna below (which I think must have been potted into the poisoned compost) with the one at the top of this post. It’s half the size it should be, has produced no flowers this year, and the leaves are a sickly green, rather than the normal rich, dark colour.

Conversely, the rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia ‘Eastern Promise’) which was planted in late winter, and which I didn’t think would make it, because it had so little root, did, and is showing superb colour…

Now that the dormant season’s here it can relax, gather its strength, and hopefully put on some growth next year. The beech hedge behind has done reasonably well, and hopefully that too will fill out somewhat next year.

The wildflower meadow in the front garden was sown earlier this year. It was slow to get going, but has established itself now . The Achilleas and the Silenes were particularly pretty. When we cut it back at the weekend there were still quite a few plants in full flower. After cutting it back, we planted some bulbs in the meadow. Species tulips are not tall but should (hopefully) flower before the meadow has taken off. Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ flowers a bit later on, but has tall stems that should rise its purple spheres above the level of the meadow plants. Using cultivated, non-native plants in a wild-flower meadow might be seen as not quite the thing to do, but it’s gaining popularity, and if it looks good, and the non-natives you plant provide food and shelter for wildlife, why not?

The wildflower meadow after cutting – at this stage it looks almost like a ‘normal’ lawn!

Other plants that are still in pots (for now) and which have spectacular autumn leaf colour include Cotinus coggygria (an unknown cultivar)…

In the ground, this will make a very large shrub, with clouds of wispy flowers (hence the common name of smoke bush), but if you cut it back to just above ground level each spring, it will throw up long shoots with very large leaves. You miss out on the flowers, but the foliage is much more impressive than if left to do its own thing, and the plant doesn’t take up half your garden.

This Rhus typhina will probably have to stay in a pot, as sumachs have a tendency to throw out suckers, and can annexe large sections of your garden. This variety has delicate, intricate leaves that turn bright colours in autumn (as you can see). I think the dark-leaved dhalia (Dhalia ‘Bishop of Leicester’) sets it off well. It hasn’t been a good year for dhalias. The flower buds seem to form and then come to nothing. I suspect it’s down to the dreaded earwigs (more on that another time) which eat the flowers. I keep meaning to go out and look after dark to confirm this theory (but keep forgetting!)

In terms of remaining flower colour, the hardy fuchsias are in full swing now. This one is (I think) Fuchsia ‘Mrs Popple’…

The borage is still hanging on…

Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ (a bit of a mouthful!) is still in pots, waiting for me to get the borders fully prepared. This one was hosting a shield bug…

The marigolds were late starting, but are still looking good…

The nasturtiums haven’t thrived (despite the sandy soil) but are making something of a comeback now the cabbage white caterpillars have moved on…

The opium poppies self-seed around freely and have played a huge role in filling the gaps in a garden that would otherwise have been rather empty. Sometimes I wonder why I feel the need to buy plants when you can have flowers like these for free…

Last, but not least, these lilies (‘White Triumphator’) are doing their thing rather late, but are a welcome sight (they smell wonderful too)…

Text & photos © Graham Wright