Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Friday, 31 July 2015

Summer Gardening... Keeping it Going in Harder Times

Summer gardening: Gatekeeper butterfly on Fuchsia magellanica
I've learned a pause to enjoy the garden is even more important in harder times,
with this month's Big Butterfly Count forming the perfect excuse to do so.
Gatekeepers (pictured) and Commas are doing well at VP Gardens this year.

It feels like I'm keeping a load of plates spinning in the air owing to lots of family woes (boo hoo) and a longer-than-usual holiday (hurrah) occupying most of my time. My garden and allotment are in danger of suffering badly; thank goodness I've found the following help to keep things going...

In the garden


We've been away a lot and there's not always a friendly neighbour around for watering duties. After all, it's holiday time for them too, so instead I've...

  • Concentrated on bigger pots - a few years ago I counted the pots in my garden and was shocked to find I had 130. Most of them were teeny tiny ones filled with annuals, which I'm gradually replacing with much bigger pots filled with mainly perennials. I'm enjoying the reduced workload (all that repotting!), plus I've found bigger pots usually need less watering.
  • Grouped my pots together - they create their own little microclimate, which in turn cuts down the need for watering.
  • Moved my pots into the shade when I go away, so they dry out less quickly. I've also put my remaining smaller pots into large trays filled with water. This helps to keep them going for longer.
  • Used self-watering pots for my tomatoes as uneven watering tends to lead to problems like blossom end rot. These keep the soil nicely moist and don't need topping up for around 10 days. 
  • Chosen composts carefully - some of my trials with a selection of new peat-free composts on the market show they don't need watering so often. I've found I only need to water every other day with Melcourt's Sylvagrow or Dalefoot compost.
  • Never watered the non-potted parts of the garden, unless plants are suffering badly or I've just planted them. This encourages plants to put down deeper roots which in turn helps them resist drier periods in the garden. It helps I have a moisture retentive clay soil too. 

On the allotment


I've managed to mulch about a third of my allotment this year and I've been amazed at how much this cuts down the need for weeding. It's also much easier to get them out, compared to the clay soil elsewhere on the plot.

Mulch also locks in moisture, but I've found the moisture needs to be in the soil in the first place before I apply the mulch, otherwise plants may get stressed if a dry spell ensues. That's why I stopped my mulching duties in April because there wasn't enough ground penetrating rain falling. I need to review the situation after last weekend's deluge though!

You may also like:


  • Cally wrote a guest post for me couple of years ago, packed with holiday watering tips
  • My review of my self-watering pots. Don't have any? Here's a handy guide to making your own (or you can Google DIY self watering pots for lots more ideas)
  • My review of Sylvagrow (plus an insight into Melcourt's facility near Tetbury) - my full review of Dalefoot is still to come
  • A number of my blogging pals recently contributed to a summer gardening guide, packed with fab tips and lots of new blogs to discover
  • Veg Plotting is July's Blog of the Month over at the Turtle Mat blog, with a few more tips (not just for summer!) alongside my blogging story. Welcome to those who've wandered over from there :)

What summer gardening tips do you have? Or perhaps you're taking part in the Big Butterfly Count as well? Tell all in the Comments below...

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: A Bit of a Mouthful

Close-up of Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Atropurpureum' leaves in the rain

Acer palmatum var. dissectum Dissectum Atropurpureum Group is a bit of a mouthful, so it's good to see it's a synonym now for the slightly snappier Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Atropurpureum'.

Whatever its name, it's still one of my favourite plants.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Singing in the Rain... Again

Singing in the rain... again - a collage of rainy photos from the garden

The garden's enjoyed the rain we've had over the past few days and I took advantage of a brief lull over lunchtime yesterday to grab a few photos. Raindrops have a great way of accentuating the form of flowers and vegetation, and some plants like Alchemilla mollis and lupins are positively made for the vagaries of our English weather.

An overcast day means there's even lighting to play with and no need to get up so early as there's a good light to be found in the middle of the day. This kind of weather is great for blooms with richer colours, or for yellows and whites to add highlights to the gloom. However, early morning or evening may be still be preferable on breezier days as the wind usually calms down at those times.

I used to moan about garden visits in the rain, but a trip to the Bloedel Reserve a few years ago opened my eyes to the possibilities of wet days. I've found they help me home in on tiny details which I might otherwise have missed. The same happened at Chelsea Flower Show earlier this year, where that wet day helped me focus on some key elements of good design.

Singing in the rain... again - a lake view at West Green House Gardens
Cornus controversa 'Variegata' with raindrops at West Green House Gardens

It happened again on Friday when it was time for my monthly visit to West Green House Gardens to take the photos I need to operate their online accounts. It was a miserable drive to Hampshire and I fretted the whole way about not finding enough shots. I needn't have worried, there's plenty to be cracking on with. Thank goodness, as what I needed to do couldn't be postponed to another time.

It turned out to be an an amazing day, accompanied by the sounds of opera singers warming up, a tinkling orchestra, and a reflecting grand piano providing a different view of the garden. This week sees a season of opera and musical events in the gardens, and Friday was the dress rehearsal day for The Marriage of Figaro.

Singing in the rain... again - a different view of West Green House Gardens as reflected in a grand piano

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Friday, 17 July 2015

Another Visitor to the Plot

A harlequin ladybird form conspicua on Knautia 'Red Ensign'

As well as the welcome garden visitors I blogged about on Monday, I also spotted this unusual looking ladybird on my Knautia 'Red Ensign'. I thought it might be the dreaded harlequin ladybird, but was reassured to find a similar looking one in a downloadable ID guide; our native 2 spot ladybird also has a reversed red on black form.

However, Dave Kilbey on Twitter told me:

He went on to say:
The App is available for both android and iPhone versions and there's also an online form available for your observations if you don't have a smartphone. The Harlequin Ladybird Survey website is also a mine of useful information, as is its sister, the UK Ladybird Survey website.

I've submitted my sighting and I'm comforting myself that the harlequin was snacking on its preferred food source, the abundant aphids on my Knautia. Now those aphids are gone, I'll keep a watchful eye out and hope it doesn't go after the native ladybirds in VP Gardens.

Dave is a useful person to know as he's involved in developing the Apps available from naturelocator. If - like me - you're interested in citizen science or the natural world, there's bound to be an App or two you'd like on their website.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

GBBD: Sultry

Monarda 'Gardenview Scarlet'

Victoria once remarked my garden is very purple. Today's view is quite different. This is Monarda 'Fireball', which is a more mildew resistant form of  bergamot from what I've seen so far. I particularly like how its blooms add a fiery air to the garden, especially at dusk. I planted 3 9cm pots last year which have grown to form a satisfyingly large clump this summer. Bees love it and a brush past the foliage releases a wonderful scent. It's definitely one of my summer favourites.

However, if you stay on the spot, then look in the opposite direction and take another photograph...

Clematis obelisks and Elsa Spath taking a wander around the garden

... you'll see Victoria was right. My garden's going through its switch from its spring purple garments to a sultry summer clothing of reds shot through with some yellow. I gave my clematis obelisks a severe haircut in February and they've rewarded me with oodles of blooms. I must have missed some of the shoots though, as C 'Elsa Spath' has decided to have a wander around the terrace beds.


Then a couple of days ago I found another wanderer. The Knautia 'Red Ensign'* which waved so prettily at the base of last year's planting has now decided to grow tall and poke its blooms out amongst the bergamot.

I love these kinds of gardening accident, don't you?

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

* = the popular purchase at the at West Kington Nurseries' plant sale in early July, judging by its presence on nearly every wheelbarrow trundling past me. I went for some sultry dark-leaved dahlias instead. More on them another time.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Of Garden Visitors and Butterfly Counts

Scarlet tiger moth on a lupin plant

The hot weather's bought all kinds of new visitors to the garden lately. The most notable I've managed to photograph is this Scarlet Tiger moth. It looks a little the worse for wear which leads me to wonder whether it's an over wintered specimen. A wonderful Hummingbird Hawk moth did zoom by just moments after I'd taken the above photo. It was far too quick for me though!

Getting an ID for my new friend allowed me to spend some delightful time on Butterfly Conservation's website, where they have lots of information to help visitors identify common day flying moths seen in the garden.

As a thank you for the information, I'll be taking part in their annual Great Butterfly Count which starts on Friday (17th July to 9th August 2015). It just takes 15 minutes of sitting in the garden, and noting which species visit during that time. It's the perfect excuse to kick back and relax for a while, and there's a handy ID chart or phone App if you need some help to identify what's what.

A comma butterfly on our recycling bag in our kitchen


I hope my count includes the pair of commas which have been regular visitors over the past few days. As you can see one of them was a little bold for a while and took a shine to a recycling bag we have in the kitchen.

Have you had any unusual garden visitors lately?

Friday, 10 July 2015

Floral Friday

A tuk tuk at RHS Hampton Court flower show advertises World Vision's Floral Friday
A surprise find at RHS Hampton Court recently 

It's Floral Friday today, designated by World Vision to raise awareness and funding for their work in Cambodia to help keep families together.



If the embedded video doesn't work, try this link instead.

What are you wearing today? I'm wearing my sunflower shorts - they don't come out very often!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Plant Profiles: Roses

A photo showing a small selection of the profusion of blooms from my Rosa 'Kew Gardens'

My Kew Gardens rose has really taken off since I introduced you to her in 2012. I first met her at Easton Walled Gardens, where Michael Marriott* from David Austin Roses gave a fascinating talk and I was lucky enough to bring her home as a gift.

This is my perfect rose. It's thornless, so I can look after her without gloves; it has a simpler flower, which reflects the forms of the white rugosa roses planted around our estate; it's relatively tall at around 5 feet; it's disease free (so far); it repeat flowers in profusion, and with a delicious scent. What's not to like?

The one drawback I've found so far, is its tendency to act as a magnet for aphids, as do all roses. Happily, I've noticed the ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies soon move in to hoover them up - I can go from absolutely encrusted stems to the all clear in the space of a few days.

A general view of the garden at 10pm in early July shows how a white rose lights up the gloom
Hand held and taken at 10pm a couple of days ago - it seemed much darker to me at the time

As you can see a white rose really helps to brighten the gloom at dusk. It looks like it's waving to my Philadelphus 'The Bride' on the right in the shadiest part of the garden - a happy coincidence. Skimble seems oblivious to it all, even though there was lots of scent from these two around at the time.

Many of the polls which ask us to name our favourite flower, usually feature roses at or near the top. I must admit they're fairly low down the list of mine, but having said that the few I have are making for magical evenings in the garden just now.

As well as 'Kew Gardens', the other roses I have are:

  • 'Silver Anniversary' - a hybrid tea rose in a patio pot which I've earmarked for replacement as it suffers badly from black spot
  • Mislabelled 'New Dawn' - a climber I obtained from a magazine special offer and is far too pink to be as described, but does well in the shady spot I've given it
  • 'Rambling Rector' - a rambler which I planted to deter anyone from climbing over our boundary fence, but it's far too rampant for our garden. I'm looking for a replacement - I'm still considering the Pyracantha I talked about last year, but I'm open to other suggestions for a well shaded 40-50 foot long fence
  • The Fairy (red form) - my container grown plant obviously hasn't read the guidance as it's currently more than double the height of the suggested 1 metre it's supposed to grow to

It would be nice to have a companion for 'Kew Gardens' in the terrace beds area, so I'm currently looking at the other thornless roses available. Sadly it won't be the deliciously scented 'Zephirine Drouhin', as it's been shy to flower for me and was a black spot magnet.

Are roses one of your favourites? Which one wouldn't you be without?

* = if you get the chance to hear him speak, go. He's a walking encyclopedia on all things rose.

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A collage of David Austin roses looking good in early July
A gallery of David Austin roses, which are looking good in early July

Main Picture: 'Ballerina' (shrub rose);
Smaller pictures - top to bottom right: 'Winchester Cathedral' (medium shrub), 'Charles Darwin' (English rose), 'Teasing Georgia' (medium shrub or short climber), 'Golden Celebration' (medium shrub or short climber), 'Lady Emma Hamilton' (English rose), and 'Rambling Rosie' (climbing and rambler roses);
Smaller pictures - bottom left to right: 'Tess of the d'Urbevilles' (climbing and rambler roses), 'The Lady of the Lake' (English rose),  'Falstaff' (English rose), 'Boscobel' (shrub), 'Darcy Bussell' (English rose), and 'Rambling Rosie' (again)

Cultivation and Other Notes:


 Rosa 'Abraham Darby'
'Abraham Darby'  (English rose)
This is a huge subject to cover and too much for this post. Have a look at the RHS's guidance on the growing and propagation of roses as your starting point. There's lots of informative links from there, especially to the common pests and diseases found on roses.

The RHS also has a short guide to choosing a suitable rose for your garden.

There are currently 11 different National Collections of roses (as at July 2015), covering those specifically bred by Peter Beales and David Austin, plus various groups of roses and their cultivars. Their locations range from Essex to Scotland.

'Grace'  (English rose)
You may also like:

On Veg Plotting:


Elsewhere on the web:

  • Wikipedia's guidance on the classification of roses. There are too many to describe here and Wikipedia's list is the most comprehensive I've found online so far. 
  • Roses are noted for their perfume and there are up to 400 different components in that rich fragrance. Here's a guide to the 5 main types.
  • This general Wikipedia article on roses has a brief introduction to their culinary, medicinal and perfumery uses. Note the rich source of vitamin C found in rosehips, plus the making of  rosehip syrup and rose water.
  • Val Bourne's article on the difference between climbing and rambling roses. I'd only add that ramblers tend to be cut back after flowering rather than towards the end of winter
  • The RHS experimented with using hedge trimmers to prune roses and reported they found no difference between that and conventional pruning. I've found no reference online (it was reported in The Garden), apart from this oblique one via The Telegraph
  • Victoria and I wrote an article on the 50 best gardens to visit for the Independent - our rose garden selection is the first part of this online gallery. Do you have a favourite to add in the comments?

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Plant Profiles is sponsored by Whitehall Garden Centre.

Note to readers: Sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs; the words are my own. There are no cookies or affiliate links associated with this post.

Monday, 6 July 2015

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #34

An amusing juxtaposition of an advert and digger in Chippenham

  1. Design your latest range of seasonal clothing
  2. Make sure you have all the advertising material you need
  3. Let customers know what's in store before they've even got there
  4. Wait for a blogger with a camera to notice you've forgotten there are workmen around
  5. Et voila!
I giggled when I saw this Saturday. I'm not sure how many customers will take advantage of the new 'service' available.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Canoodling with the Calendula

The display of Calendula the the Plant Heritage tent at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show


The Plant Heritage tent at RHS Hampton Court is always one of my favourites as it's a fascinating place which offers the chance to learn from the experts.

It was a delight to talk to the Bristol Zoo representatives about the first Dispersed National Plant Collection aka The Bristol Community Plant Collection. According to the exhibit's useful fact sheet, Calendula encompasses 12 species with around 24 accepted botanical taxa. As you can see, they can be quite different looking plants; I've grown too used to seeing the cultivated form to appreciate the diversity on offer.

Most National Plant Collections are usually seen in one location, but instead this one is found all over the city of Bristol. Each flower on the map in the photo shows the different locations involved in the project. They include schools, community groups, gardening clubs, allotment sites, a day care centre and some over 50s residential accommodation. The ages involved range from 2 to 99.

When the zoo's Emma Moore explained the project, it made sense as the different species can be grown on sites most suited to their needs, plus it reduces the risk of cross breeding. Each group involved is trained to grow, maintain and harvest the seed from their allocated species.

I also spoke to Barbara Franco from Shirehampton Community Action Forum, and it was evident she's extremely proud of her involvement in the project. She told me some of the species in the collection are threatened with extinction in their natural habitat due to changes in land use.

Here in the UK we grow our Calendula as annuals, though I've often wondered if they truly are as I've seen so many overwinter in milder years. I found my answer in the Plant Heritage tent - in warmer climates they're short-lived perennials, but the plants tend to become more woody and less attractive with age. It seems we get the best of them in our cooler climate.

Latin Without Tears


According to the Plant Heritage fact sheet, Calendula is from the Latin for the first day of the month kalendae, and refers to the plant's long flowering period. The plants are native to the Mediterranean, North Africa and Macaronesia (which is the group name for the islands forming the Azores, Canaries, Cape Verde, and Madeira off the north-west coast of Africa).

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

GBMD: There is a Garden

Stonework and tile details from the Turkish Paradise Garden at RHS Hampton Court 2015

Stonework, tile and planting detail from the Turkish Paradise Garden I also featured yesterday. I was trying to recall Thomas Campion's poem when I saw the garden. Thank goodness for the power of Google when I got home, so I could feature it on this month's Muse Day :)


Planting detail from the Turkish Paradise Garden at RHS Hampton Court 2015

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