Early June

This was the ‘wildflower meadow’ in our front garden just over a week ago. For a long time in the early season it was looking quite sparse, but now it’s burst into growth. The grasses have shot up, with feathery flower spikes, and there’s a diverse range of wild flowers, including campion; both pink and fringed (Silene fimbriata), ox-eye daisies, yarrow, and birds foot trefoil. The alliums add interest, even though they’re not wild flowers (well, not this particular variety, in this country!)

This is one of the same alliums (Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’) in the back garden…

The wallflowers were starting to look good – here against the contrasting foliage of a rose (Rosa ‘Judy Dench’)…

A week later, and most of them are well past their best. Time to rip them out and make space for other plants. I think. Taken from the right angle, the beds are looking quite full. The alliums and wallflowers work well together. The impressive fern behind them precedes our arrival. The yellow evergreen on the left is a euonymus, probably E. fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’…

You can see the structure of the grass path that runs along the left hand side of the garden…

Eventually, the beds will be edged with box hedging (box blight and caterpillars not withstanding) and the shrubs and taller perennials will mean you can’t see the whole thing in one go, encouraging you to want to move on to see what’s around each corner.

This next plant is a beech – Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Purple’. In time it will grow to be a tall, columnar tree. Now, it’s only around four feet high, but the leaves are beautiful…

This tree peony isn’t the one I bought! I think this has grown out of the rootstock (and the grafted plant died). Still, it doesn’t look bad. Peonies don’t last long; only about a week…

The Irises (Iris sibirica) in front of the pond are still looking good…

And these self-sown Californian poppies (Eschscholzia – not an easy one to spell!) are in full flower…

The rhododendrons are coming to a close. They’ve put on a good show, considering they have all been moved in the last year…

And at last, the roses are beginning to flower. A bit late, but it was a cold start to the season, and most of the plants were only planted last autumn. I’ll share them with you next time…

text & images © Graham Wright 2021

Saving Money with Seeds…

The magic of planting a seed, seeing a tiny green shoot pushing out from the soil, and then watching it grow into an amazing plant – beautiful, fragrant, and sometimes edible, never fails to be a source of wonder.

These beauties are ‘Datura metaloides ‘Evening Fragrance’; a form of ‘Angels Trumpets’, grown from a packet of seed from Thompson and Morgan (the seedlings in the other pot are aubergines). I’m not clear whether Datura and Brugmansia are synonyms, or separate species – different sources give different answers. I once heard someone say that Brugmansia flowers hang down, whereas Datura flowers are held upright (as in the photo).

Seeds can also be very frustrating. I was very pleased that these germinated in just a few days (even though the packet said they might take between 21 and 60 days) but with other seeds I’ve sown, it’s been a different story. Most seed sowing involves annuals – both flowers and edibles, but there’s an increasing range of perennial seeds available.

With perennial plants typically retailing at around £6.00 for a very small plant, and more like £10.00 to £15.00 for a plant of a good size that will establish quickly, you can save yourself a lot of money by growing them from seed. And this is exactly what I’ve been doing, on and off, for the last few years, but with mixed success. These are one of the successes – echinacea purpurea

Mind you, even these have been quite slow. Sown in the spring of last year, they barely reached any size, and went into the winter in small pots. I wasn’t confident they would come back this year. But of course, they did. I’ve potted them on this spring, and maybe I’ll get them in the ground later this year (if I can get the bed prepared first!)

I’ve had success in the past with Echinops, a large perennial with spiky-shaped leaves and lovely blue floral globes that are irresistible to bees…

But there have been plenty of failures, both from bought seed, and seed collected from plants in my own garden. I’ve never managed to get aconitum (one of my favourites) to germinate. This year I sowed scabious, oriental poppies, and anchusa. They sat on the greenhouse bench for two months without a peep – why they didn’t germinate, I don’t know. You follow the instructions on the packet, and nothing happens. Frustrated, I’ve resorted to my old heated propagator, even for seeds that are supposed to need a cooler environment. So far it’s worked for the anchusa, and for basil. Maybe it will work for some of the others too…

text & photos © graham wright 2021

Spring moves on…

The weather hasn’t been conducive to growing this spring – a prolonged drought, late frosts, followed by heavy rain, with temperatures continuing to be disappointingly low for the time of year. But in my garden as much as elsewhere, the plants are getting on with it regardless. One of two new apple trees, this blossom is on Worcester Pearmain. Blossom on the other (James Grieve) is all but over…

I planted two purple hazels (Corylus maximus ‘Purpurea’) as focal points in the main bed. The dark leaves make a great contrast with the various shades of green, and particularly with the variegated plants, such as the grass Phalaris arundinacea ‘Feesey’ (known as ‘Gardeners’ garters’).My hazels are still only just over 2 feet tall, but they are going into their second season now, so should hopefully start to put on some growth. Both are fully in leaf now…

I put in lots more bulbs last year. Various tulip varieties have done their thing and are ‘going over’ now, but the alliums (Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’, and Allium christophii) are just coming out…

I put some of these into the miniature wildflower meadow in the front garden too. A bit cheeky, as they aren’t wild flowers (not in the UK at least), but I thought they would add some sparkle. A few have expired – some of the soil there is more builders sand than soil – but most have survived. I’ll post pictures next time (the meadow is beginning to look good).

Another plant used to add early colour is wallflower (Erisymum). They’re biennials,as opposed to annuals, which means they grow foliage one year, sit out the winter, and then flower early the next year…

I think of them as slow annuals – they don’t have time to grow into a mature plant and produce flowers in one year, so they have to struggle across two. And boy do they struggle. The plants come ‘bare-rooted’, and in my experience are never in great shape, which doesn’t help them to establish. You can grow them from seed, and while I’ve never found the time or been sufficiently organised to do this, I suspect it would give a much better result. Pretty and colourful as they undoubtedly are, they create problems. In theory, they do their thing, then you rip them out in time for the perennials (as well as any annuals you want to put in) to take over. In reality, the wallflowers go on for long enough to get in the way. Plus, some of the plants don’t stop at all, and even survive into the following year. Great, but they tend to look a bit scruffy, a bit ‘leggy’. You need to be ruthless, and pull them out as soon as you need the space, even if they’re still looking good. But for a plant lover (and an environmentalist) it can be difficult to do.

What you’re looking at above is a beech tree, even if it is small as yet. It’s Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Purple’. Closer to the house, and in the same bed, is the green version (Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’!) These will eventually make very tall trees, but with a narrow profile. A mature beech would eventually take up most of the garden. With the Dawyck varieties (there’s a ‘gold’ variety too) you can have more than one and yet still have a garden. I do love a beech tree.

This magnolia was here when we arrived. I’m not sure of the variety. I thinned it out last year, because it was very congested. Sadly the flowers get hit by late frosts every year. This is a cold, exposed area, but I’m hoping that in years to come it may be more protected by the plants around it, as they increase in size…

The broom next to it is spectacular, but to me, the colours clash. It’s also in the way of what on my garden design is a grass path, so it will have to go. The roots on broom appear to go straight down, so getting enough out to transplant it isn’t feasible. Fortunately there is another large specimen by the pergola. That one is a lighter, more subtle yellow, and is much more fragrant.

The ‘landscaping’ is continuing slowly due to other commitments (like work!), so you may notice random piles of brick or rubble, or covered heaps of lifted turves. Forget-me-nots have settled in to this little semi-wild area. I’ll let them set seed and then sprinkle them around the garden to add to next year’s supply of plants-for-free

With all the rain we’ve been having, the wildlife pond has finally filled up. I had to make some minor adjustments to the edge levels so that it over-flows into the bog garden at the front. The water is still beautifully clear, and I have to put my hands up and admit to not knowing why. It cleared after I put some bunches of rosemary into the water, but I tried the same trick with the holding pond for the fish, and it didn’t work. I’m not complaining though…

The garden is slowly coming together, and many of the plants that have been languishing in pots for too long are now in the borders. But some are still waiting. The new shady border at the back of the house is yet to be dug. That will have to wait until the builders have finally finished and gone (which is way overdue!) Among the plants that will go in that border are these ferns, Polystichum polyblepharum. I potted them on so they could bulk up prior to planting. They too have suffered with the weather, but they’re coming on now…

The weather shows no sign of warming up just yet. But from the forecast, it looks as though we could just have seen the last of the frosts. The garden is really beginning to grow. I’ve got seedlings of annuals, perennials and veg coming on, including more tomato and chilli plants than you can shake a stick at. And I’ve booked a trip, in mid-June, to visit the new RHS Bridgewater garden in Salford, the prospect of which fills me with excitement. Expect a review on this blog in due course…

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

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

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