A Little Chaos

I’m reading a lovely book at the moment called ‘A Gentle Plea for Chaos’ (reflections from an English garden) by Mirabel Osler. It’s one of those books you’d have in the bathroom for occasional perusal if you know what I mean. Mirabel tranformed her own garden with the help of  her husband under the guiding principle that neatness is the enemy of creativity.

‘A mania for neatness, a lust for conformity – and away go atmosphere and sensuality’. The book is an appeal for a return to a little ‘amiable disorder’, to the sense of enchantment and  vitality that comes with a more random and intuitive approach to gardening, to an awareness of the dynamics of a garden where plants are allowed to scatter as they please’

I have to say I have been guilty in the past for over zealous weeding, allowing bare patches of earth which look pretty ugly to be honest. As a response to this, this year I have sprinkled various annual seeds around the bare patches, and I’m standing back to let the lot grow, weeds and all. Of course if I see docks or dandelions that’s a different matter!! I’ve also let the edges of the lawn grow long to allow for bulbs to take there time to flower and die down. This add to  that lovely fuzzy May effect, where the hard edges of stems and branches are softened by fresh green leaves.

This week the garden has truly filled out and put on almost visible growth, every day is a feast for the eyes. I think May must be my favourite month.

What to report?

Suddenly everything is bursting forth! The garden is looking glorious and I can’t keep up!

Every day I go into the garden, I am in rapture, and panic as at this time it’s so hard to know what to do next, everything needs doing now… I’m frantically potting up, watering new seedlings, planting out, planning the vegetable plot and so on.

So far I’m really pleased with the gravel garden, no grass is growing through and many of the new plants are putting on growth, and my replanting in the borders has so far worked well in colour and form

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The Ballerina tulips contrast splendidly against the euphorbia, forget me nots and wallflowers.

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Euphorbia polychroma, coming into it’s own

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The blood red leaves of the acer contrast nicely against the forget me not’s vivid blue.

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One of Sarah Raven’s tulips from the Venetian Collection
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I have finally replanted my strawberries from the flood blighted border to a raised bed at the back of the garden.

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The veggie patch at last is catching up with spring, with broad beans, peas, carrots, beetroot, parsnips and marigolds all in and ready to  grow.

So if I’m quiet on here, you know I’m quietly panicking in the garden instead!

 

 

 

A burgeoning rose walk

Behind my new hedge there is a small corridor on the right that will lead to my new garden studio. I thought it would be lovely to have some of my favourite plants here, like roses and peonies, scented clematis. Once the studio is in place I’m thinking of planting annuals around the porch, cosmos, bronze fennel, cornflower, all very blousey and romantic. I also have night scented stock and evening primrose which are both plants I love but haven’t grown for a long time.

I started a bed today as I had some spare plants from reorganising the space which became the gravel garden. As you can see this is a particularly clayey part of the garden (that’s a technical term). I had to incorporate lots of compost, grit and manure to break it up and improve drainage.

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I had picked up a rose ‘cardinal de richelieu’ in a plant sale for a great price, and a pink rose, which name I have forgotten (!) My peony Sarah Bernhardt has gone in here, with some mixed alliums (very late I know, but I thought I would throw them in anyway) and some alchemilla mollis I had to rehouse, which I though would look good around the base of the roses. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this looks in a couple of months.

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A trip to Perch Hill

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Last week I got an email from Sarah Raven informing me of upcoming garden open days, one happened to be today so I decided to go along.

Sarah Raven is well known on the telly for stints on various gardening shows including guest appearances on Gardener’s World and the series that followed her family living in Sissinghurst a few years ago. She is also known for setting up a cutting flower garden at her previous home at Perch Hill, a farm house in Brightling, situated in the High Weald in Sussex. Her husband Adam Nichols is grandson of Vita Sackville west, who’s ancestral home was Knole in Kent, and later Sissinghurst. Adam writes mainly historical books now,  I have read some of his autobiographical titles, Perch Hill and The Sea Room which I both really enjoyed. Sarah also runs various classes, from horticultural to flower arranging to cookery at her Perch Hill home. She champions organic gardening and has highlighted the plight of bees that are in  decline possibly due to the use of agricultural pesticides in farming. Recently she has designed a standard symbol for plants labels that denote nectar rich plants which are suitable for bees to pollinate.

Today Sarah gave a tour of the cutting garden, giving advice on rotating the many different types of flowers she grows, and ideal times and conditions for planting different varieties. I am especially inspired by her unique planting style, the companion planting and juxtaposition of form, texture and colour is superb. Although there weren’t too many examples of this today as everything is so behind because of the cold spring. Sarah herself believes her garden is 5 weeks behind the usual flowering times, she even had to visit Covent Garden Market to buy a load of tulips in this morning as she didn’t have many in the garden!

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I have loosely followed Sarah’s progress at Perch Hill, so I can see she has come a long way since moving there. The cutting garden has been formally boxed in with established hawthorn hedging and little rooms have appeared off this central area, including a cottage kitchen garden and formal wildflower meadow.

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Narcissus in a grid in the cutting garden

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The Kitchen Garden

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The Wildflower Garden

There are also many beautiful areas around the main farmhouse. The garden immediately in front of the house is brick paved on many levels, with tiles edges borders housing species primulas and cloud shaped box balls.

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Sarah has a wonderful eye for form and structure and has created many magical areas to house unique combinations of plants. Every available space has been planted up with tulips, honesty, euphorbia and wallflowers. There are snakehead fritillaries, anemones, hellebores, many variaties of narcissus and tulips.

Just some of the many tulips

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I came away very inspired, and with a treat or two for me…some plug plants (cosmos purity and ammi majus) and a lovely bird feeder for my tree. It was a great morning and I would recommend going to have a look if you aren’t too far away.

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The dividing line

After the last week of warm weather, I can feel the pace of change in the garden. It’s picking up momentum, I feel a bit on edge that I should be doing something garden related at all times.

This past week I have got quite a lot done, hopefully I’ll get to post about it all in due course. First of all I managed to finish off part of the edging of the coastal garden by I planting the yew hedge that arrived last Friday. It had to go in quickly as they were bare root, and it’s right at the end of the bare root season. The preparation took quite a bit of work, first digging a decent trench, and forking the bottom to improve drainage. I added rubble and grit to the soil, then a decent amount of compost to see them growing well. I have read that yew hates having it’s roots sitting in water, and as part of my garden floods, it is a risk. To be honest whatever I plant in that part of the garden will run some risk, but I thought by improving the drainage, it should give the young plants a really good chance. I opted for yew as I wanted a strong structural form that I could possibly clip ornamentally. I was thinking about box, but I’m too nervous about box blight that I thought it would be silly to plant this knowing it existed.

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Yew bushes having a good soak for a couple of hours before planting

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Preparing the trenches

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The root systems on the yew plants was really good, so good I found it hard to fit in as many as I’d planned. So I decided to plant less bushes at the border of the coastal garden and create another hedge at the end of the lawn, before the vegetable patch. This ended up working well, as it formally broke up the garden into three compartments or rooms.

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It looks pretty sparse at the moment, but as it fills out hopefully the yew ‘panels’ will break up the eyeline, drawing you through the garden beyond.

My inspiration

Sometimes I stand in the garden at dusk and think about my dad, what would he make of my creation?

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Four years ago this autumn I lost my dad, very suddenly to an aneurysm. One moment we were having a party for my eldest son’s second birthday, then two days later my dad was gone, with no warning. During the two weeks between his death and his funeral, I obsessed over what he meant to me and I decided I wanted to talk about him at the service.

The thing that stood out foremost in my mind, was all that he had taught me, and all that I had lost in not knowing. Silly things like asking how to grow vegetables his way, which might have been passed down for generations, everyone said he had green fingers.

To many people he was a sociable character, popular in all areas of his life, he was informed, charming and gregarious (more so in earlier years!) To me he meant something quite different though, not only my dad, but he taught me to love and respect nature, both botanical and animal. Walking with him in the woods he would delight in showing you an area of bluebells that you felt only you and him had seen before. Or he would gesture to the sky to point out a kestrel ready for the kill. For a man with a very traditional demeanor, this is how he expressed his romantic side.

From a very early memories, I can recall spending a lot of time in the garden. We lived in a Victorian semi in a village in Sussex, with a typical long strip of garden mainly marked out with an enormous vegetable patch. My dad was one of a generation when you gardened for necessity, providing food for the table after the war was the only way of supplementing meagre rations, this must have been inbuilt in him. I can remember visiting the local hardware store in winter to collect seed potatoes and paper bags of carrot seed, no fancy heritage varieties here, just good old local stock! Every spring I would bother him by asking him questions about what he was doing and could I help, mostly he said no but I still hung around. Despite being a nuisance, I still loved being with him during these seasonal rituals, it was pretty much the only interest we had in common.

Later in life when I hit teenage years, gardening proved the only avenue of communication during difficult times. When I came home from university as a louche art student, he would take me into the  garden and show me a plant or flower he was particularly proud of that year.  Or perhaps the new the fangled decking they’d had installed like a  mediterranean sun deck, a world away from the gardening style of my father in earlier years.

When my husband and I finally left London to settle in the country and buy our first house, my dad brought plants from his garden in tubs to plant in mine with advice on keeping them alive, something I do to others now. We surveyed the area together and he suggested places for vegetables or perhaps I should move that shrub from under that tree. This relationships blossomed quite literally, by exchanging ideas  I grew more knowledgeable I sometimes challenged his ideas and choices!

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About five years ago he retired and decided to take on an allotment with my mum, through a new local scheme. At first he grumbled about the work, but in time, he grew to enjoy the companionship of other there, something he missed from work. Over the first year, he got to know most of the other plot holders, and soon enough people were coming to him for advice, admiring his thriving plot. During this time he would give me bags of vegetables and say ‘they won’t taste like that in the shops’ Now I know this was his way of showing his love.

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After his death I felt bereft. What should I do now? I felt there was such a hole to fill. The only thing I yearned to do was garden, I just wanted to go over those comforting rituals that so reminded me of him. I decided to take on an allotment of my own, and got over the first few difficult months digging and planning a new start. It was hard work, but over time I realised that the knowledge of how to plant various vegetables seemed instinctive to me, so I had absorbed something.

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There is something very cathartic about gardening, about having your hand in the circle of life, each year starts afresh. Every year I learn more and feel so grateful to my dad for  teaching me the  means to truly relax and appreciate how great the world is. I have also learnt that gardeners are pretty great people! usually very ready to share advice and produce.

A few days before my dad passed away, he sprinkled poppy seed all around his plot, the next June it looked like this. What could be a more uplifting memorial?

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So today, and frequently I contemplate what life would be like if he were here, what would he have made of my progress as a gardener? and I hope he would be proud. Gardening is no longer a means for getting over my grief, but a daily joy. I hope to pass on some of this excitement to my children as I feel it’s my duty to pass on the gardening gene.

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This post was written as a competition entry run by Green Lane Allotments and Select Furnishings.

My Garden Studio

Have I not mentioned my garden studio before? No? Seriously?

Well, ever since moving here, I’ve wanted a space of my own to create art, make things, generally potter and be creative in the hope it will mould itself into a multi-million pound business (ok, perhaps in a few years!!)

I’ve been looking at a range of options for a studio in the garden, obviously on a pretty limited budget, taking into account I have to add an electricity supply. I have being trying to establish in my mind what I’m actually going to do in there as this greatly affects the kind of space I need in which to do it, if that makes sense. The list is pretty long; painting, textile dyeing; lino printing, etching, sowing and knitting. The textile dyeing really isn’t going to be p0ssible on a grand scale as you need a ‘wet’ room for this, so I will go and join a studio for this, but I can do prep work at home. So do I have a log cabin or prefab job or a fancy homemade construction?

The budget really has dictated this, so I have opted for a combination of prefab and customised design, I research local companies quite well and in the end I have chosen The Timber Workshop as it’s cabins/studios are more of a unique design and can be built to suit your needs. Their showroom in Northiam was pretty impressive too.

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There is a little part of me that also just wants a lovely garden room with a veranda to sit on during a warm summer night with fragrant flowers all around….

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Here is my design

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I went for this design because it looks a bit more serious than just a summer room, but cabiny enough to fit into the garden style. It’s structure was made more sound by cross beams in the internal roof, and the windows are glazed with glass not plastic and can all be opened (which wasn’t the case with many other cabins I looked at).

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It will be situated just beyond my new coastal garden area, to the right behind some bay trees.  I’m planning on painting it grey with off white trim, to fit with the coastal garden

I’ll be blogging more about the process over the next couple of months as work begins, excting!! …and after that I can blog about all the lovely garden inspired things I make in there :o)