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

Another Spring Drought…

For the past few years I’ve written about a prolonged drought at spring – a time when you wouldn’t necessarily expect it. I wondered whether it was just in the Vale of Glamorgan, where I was living until last December. But now I’m in Shropshire, and this year’s drought is like nothing I can remember. Grass is going brown. The 250 litre water butt we installed a few months ago has long since been emptied. And the pond is becoming little more than a muddy puddle…

The alpine flowers look pretty reflected in the water, even if the surface is a bit messy. We inherited the pond, the bridge and an artificial hill with an imitation mountain stream waterfall. Not really our style, but I have to admit that at this time of year the alpine flowers look wonderful…

The darker blue flowers are Lithodora ‘Heavenly Blue’, but beyond that, and the heathers, I’m not sure – alpines are not plants I’ve ever taken much interest in. I suspect there are some alpine phlox in there. They don’t seem to mind the dry weather.

We haven’t had any significant rain for many weeks. Added to that, it’s been mostly sunny, and there’s been a strong, desiccating wind (my OED says ‘desiccative’, but WordPress isn’t so fussy). Not the greatest conditions in which to be creating a new garden. I’ve been moving turf around to set out the beds and the grassy areas, but struggling to stop them drying up altogether. Watering has been a major job, particularly as most of the plants we brought with us are still in pots.

I’m ashamed to say I’ve lost a few, including a small cutting of a fig, some phlox (the border type, rather than alpine varieties), and a yellow bottlebrush/wattle called Melaleuca squarrosa, which was one of a few grown from seed brought back from Australia). The one we planted in our last garden was around seven feet tall by the time we left, but we don’t have any left now. Maybe that’s an excuse to go and buy some more seeds, if ever we’re allowed to travel again.

The plants we bought from Burncoose nursery are all in now, and seem to be hanging on, with regular watering. The buds of the two upright beech trees are swelling and elongating, and I’m looking forward to them opening. The six fruit trees in our mini orchard have been in for longer and are also doing okay. This is Malus (apple!) ‘James Grieve’…

In the raised bed at the end (which will eventually be moved later on in the implementation of my garden plan) we’ve already harvested some of the rhubarb, and the reset strawberry plants are beginning to flower among the rubble…

I’ve been cavalier in moving rhododendrons that were in the way, but they’re coming out now, and I have to admit they are impressive. I may try harder to accommodate them under, and among the structural trees and shrubs in the design. The rich red will really shine out from the understorey. I’m almost excited to see what colours some of the others will be. I hope they survive, though some will need to be moved again, once they’ve finished flowering, and our thin soil is going to need some significant bulking up with organic material if they are to really thrive.

I was initially delighted to discover we had soil that is so easy to work. But in the last few weeks, with the continuing dry, sunny, windy conditions, I’ve seen just how thin it is. The tractors working in the field have raised dust storms, and as I clear more areas of grass and weeds I’ve taken to covering the exposed soil, for fear it will all blow away. It really is a bit like the mid-west here. All we need is some tumble weed. On the plus side, I am looking forward to growing a range of different plants from those I’ve been used to. Echinacea, for instance, and heleniums, which typically didn’t last the winter in the heavy clay of our last garden. Broom seems to do very well here – we have three large plants in the garden, and they are all full of flower, giving off a distinctive, heady aroma. Who needs Chanel?

And the magnolia is finally in full flower. I’m not sure of the variety. Despite having plenty of flowers, it’s something of a disappointment. Magnolia flowers can be damaged by frost; normally it’s the ones that flower early that suffer most. Despite flowering late, many of the flowers on our magnolia are frost damaged, with brown, rotten patches. Those flowers that aren’t affected look good though.

Here’s the full picture…

Actually, it doesn’t look to bad from a distance. It needs some structural pruning to improve the shape. The stems are crossing and congested. There’s another job waiting to be done. I’ll let it finish flowering first.

text & images © graham wright

A New Challenge…

I started this blog to share some of the ideas, experiences and knowledge I’ve gained as a professional gardener. But having given up professional gardening, for the time being at least, does that mean the Pulling Weeds blog is at an end? Not necessarily. Having just moved house, I’ve taken on a new, larger garden. It’s got a lot of gravel and lawned areas, and not nearly enough planting. My plan is to redesign it; to create something special. And I intend to share the process through this blog.

I say ‘I’ – it will actually be a project shared between myself and my wife, Julie (it’s her garden as much as mine). This time I won’t be the only one pulling weeds!

This is what the garden looks like now, on a cold winter’s day. The planting is limited, with big expanses of grass.

The garden is dominated by a large, mature birch tree at the end. There are dead trunks of two others, one right in the centre and one to the side of the house.

There are some plants worth keeping; quite a few rhododendrons, and this magnolia. It looks mature, despite it’s diminutive stature, so probably a stellata. The buds are already swollen, ready to burst into flower in the spring.

The Rhodies all seem to have lots of buds – I’m looking forward to a colourful show in May.

As you can see from the above, a lot of the beds have been mulched with slate chippings, leaving the plants as isolated individuals in a slatey beach. There are a lot of clumps of ox-eye daisies, which need either splitting or, more likely, removing (the flowers are pretty, but the plants don’t really earn their keep). The weeding clearly hasn’t been kept up with, and some of the shrubs and perennials have been overcome by couch grass. Fortunately the soil is quite sandy, so the digging is easy.

There’s a fair sized pond – deep, too – which was used for keeping expensive fish (all of which left with the previous owners). The rockery and waterfall at the back will have to go, along with the extensive paraphernalia (2 barrel sized filters hidden behind the rockery, a powerful water-blower-cum-filter thing hanging from the bridge, and a large pump on the bottom). The levels need sorting out. There’s an overflow pipe which is keeping the water level well below the rim. Hopefully we can keep the pond, but make it look more natural – turn it into a wildlife pond. The rather twee bridge will probably have to go.

There’s an awful lot of gravel and paving in the garden, and to my mind, it’s taking up valuable planting space – most of it will have to go.

Talking of gravel…

This is the front garden (if you can call it a garden). It’s our first challenge, and as you can see, we’ve already made a start (does anyone want a lorry load of gravel?) The last residents used it as a parking lot, but google images shows me there was once a garden where the gravel is now. The vehicles have left the soil badly compacted, so it will need a good digging over. I’ll let you know how we get on (does anyone know a good chiropractor?)…

Text & images © Graham Wright 2020