Saturday, 25 August 2012

Some New Additions for my Garden

As a thank you for looking after her garden whilst she was on holiday, my lovely friend Fiona took me on a little trip to visit a place called the Garden Barn in Cotesbach, near Lutterworth.  In my mind I was thinking it would be just another run of the mill garden centre.  Was I mistaken!  From the outside it was small, nothing special - but inside was another matter.    It was just a wonderful cornucopia of delights.    As usual with photographs they don't do it justice.

Before you even get inside there is all this wonderful vintage stuff - old tin baths, buckets and watering cans.  Old terracotta pots and sculptures made from bits of farm machinery - inventive ways of using stuff that you would find in a reclamation yard.  But inside - well, it was enough to make your mouth water. 

The words 'shabby chic' were invented especially for this place - I could have spent a fortune - I was in paradise.  A lot of things weren't for sale - kiddi-cars from the 50's, old tricycles and scooters - someone in the buying department had obviously had a whale of a time finding all these lost treasures.

Well, after a lovely mooch round  oohing and aahing at all the lovely things, we went into the courtyard for a cup of coffee and cake.  It was a  sheltered spot where we were surrounded by vintage metal garden furniture and enamel babybaths on legs (which would make ideal container gardens) - and after soaking up a few rays and a bit of a chat we wandered round the garden bit where there was a small but perfectly formed selection of plants and a veggie growing area composed of several raised beds.  Right up my street.

As part of my treat Fiona bought me a plant that caught my eye - this lovely butter-coloured Crocosmia

Just right for my 'hot' front garden flower bed.  But one or two others caught my eye as well and I just had to buy them.

This gorgeous bright pink Echinacea, to replace those of mine that never re-appeared this year, and

a plant that was smothered in bees whilst we were there - a Stokesia, which I have never heard of before.  It looks as though it is part of the Cornflower family to me - simply lovely.  So thank you Fiona for a grea morning out, full of surprises and plenty of goodies to bring home.

While I am talking about buying plants - I had to visit our local garden centre - Wistow Farm Park -
 to buy some fish food, and whilst I was there I had a wander round the plants (as you do) and saw that the plant that was attracting the most bees was this lovely Sedum

A bit of a brighter pink than your normal one, and with fluffy heads on it - I had to have it - no question.  This has definitely been a plant-buying week, as I went into our local Homebase on Thursday to see if there was anything decent on the sale racks - and there, much to my amazement, were lots of trays of plants at only £1.00 each.

 Chrysanthemums, six plants for a £1

Gorgeous Dianthus the same, and

some mixed Geraniums, which will give me loads of cuttings for next year.  So all in all I think I have done pretty well this week.  Don't you just love it when everything falls into place.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

My Annual Flower Show

"The quintessence of the cottage garden is an abundance of colour and a jumble of scents.  The cottage flower garden is crowded with flowering plants, jostling one on top of another.  There are practical reasons for such dense planting,  Firstly, the leaves form a protective screen so that weeds have little chance of germinating and, if weeds do emerge, the dense canopy cuts out the light they need to survive.  In other words, the plants act as a ground cover." (Christopher Lloyd - The Cottage Garden)
Every year I sow lots of different annuals for the front garden - some self-seeders pop up too and dominate the beds for a while, aquilegia and sweet rocket in the spring, nasturtiums in late summer, but on the whole I dictate what goes in the borders.  Some years my plans work out better than others, but I do get a colourful display no matter what. 

"Cottage gardens are rarely filled with just one type of plant - they usually contain a wide mixture, begged or borrowed from other gardens and gardeners.  A variety of plants help to keep the beds free from diseases and pests as they have little chance of finding a sufficient number of hosts to become established."

I don't have a specific colour scheme necessarily but generally the border by the front fence tends to be mainly different shades of pink and the border that curves in front of the bay window, hotter colours.  I have a few permanent plants, like a hardy fuschia

and perennial sweet peas

but the gaps are filled with whatever plants have been successful from my spring sowings.  Cosmos and Lavatera are a couple of favourites

and Rudbeckias

I also have a permanent edging of lavender and rosemary in front of the curved bed which acts as a grey-green foil for all the bright colours.

"Perhaps the most important aspect of this jumble of plants that we call a cottage flower garden is that it is incredibly attractive.  In conventional flower borders, the plants are arranged in drifts for a calming effect.  The opposite is true of the cottage flower garden.  Random plants occur because as a gap appears either the gardener fills it with a favourite plant or nature takes a hand and self-sows a plant.  In either case, a cottage garden looks all the better for it.  Mother Nature has an uncanny way of self-sowing two colours together that no gardener would attempt, which results in stunning combinations."

I have a secret that I will share with you regarding gaps in the borders.  To give an appearance of an abundant border I sometimes cheat!  Shock horror!   Invariably there isn't enough room to dig a decent sized hole when a gap is evident - so I use perennial plants in black pots and place them in the gaps instead of trying to plant in the soil.  The black pots become invisible amongst all the foliage of the other plants surrounding it - and bingo - a full border.  Then when the annuals have all succumbed to the first frosts I can plant them out  in their permanent positions.

This Leucanthemum (or Marguerite as we used to call them) is still in its pot as is one of the Rudbeckias - I find it a perfect solution for a gappy border.

"One final point to remember when planning your perfect cottage flower garden is to avoid a rigid plan.  It is much better to allow a degree of flexibility that permits the exuberance of such a garden to flow and allows Mother Nature to give a helping hand.  Push plants in wherever there is a gap and if it looks right, do not worry to much about the 'rules'."

Friday, 10 August 2012

The Butterfly-Friendly Garden - Buddleia

The Buddleia commonly known as The Butterfly Bush was named posthumously after the Rev. Adam Buddle (1662-1715), a botanist and rector in Essex, at the suggestion of Dr. Wm Houstoun.  Houstoun sent the first plants to become known as Buddleja to England from the Caribbean about 15 years after Buddles death. (this info is from Wikipedia but other articles say it is from China - take your pick).

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 Some species commonly escape from the garden. B. davidii in particular is a great coloniser of dry open ground; in towns in the United Kingdom, it often self-sows on waste ground or old masonry, where it grows into a dense thicket, and it is listed as an invasive species in many areas. It is frequently seen beside railway lines, on derelict factory sites and, in the aftermath of the Second World War, on urban bomb sites. This earned it the popular nickname of 'the bombsite plant' among people of the war-time generation.
Butterflies are interested solely in nectar, to maintain their strength, so they will only visit the same flowers as bees when their interests coincide.  An obvious instance of converging interest is on this bush.
They come in a variety of colours from white through to deep purple - I myself have pink, lilac and purple.
Butterflies love Buddleia because it produces nectar that has a higher content of sucrose, glucose, and fructose than many other garden flowers, in particular Buddleia generally has a higher sucrose level (two or three times higher than fructose or glucose) and that is what attracts butterflies, however Buddleia do not produce much nectar, which is why we see butterflies spending so much time on a particular plant. It is also worth mentioning that usually only the larger butterflies visit Buddleia, this is because the tiny individual flowers of Buddleia are relatively long and the smaller butterflies simply can't reach their proboscis far enough into the flower to extract the sucrose laden nectar.
Buddleia - Black Knight
In the UK Half of the butterflies are under threat of extinction, and more than 70% are in decline, we can help turn this process around by planting more Buddleia and more importantly different varieties of Buddleia.  Buddleia is called the "Butterfly Bush" for a very good reason, it acts like a magnet to butterflies, they just love Buddleia nectar.see here for more info

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The only problem I find with them is that they look awful once they have finished flowering, the flowerheads turn brown and if you don't remove them fairly promptly they seed all over the place.  Which is why they have a bad reputation for being invasive.  If you do want to increase your stock they root very easily from cuttings by just sticking a piece of stem into the ground.
This is what Elspeth Thompson has to say:-
"What struck me the other day, though, as the train slid in from Bristol, was how well the place suited its mad urban fringe of purple flowers.  Buddleia is renowned for its capacity to take root wherever it can find a crevice and a little water.  At Royal Oak, it has managed to find footholds in cracks in the paving, along the tops of walls, in angles of the openwork metal bridges that span the different platforms, and even down among the tracks."
Closeup view of Comma Butterfly with long proboscis - tongue - entering the individual trumpet-like flowers of the Buddleia davidii shrub in search of life giving necta.

The sun over the last couple of days has brought more butterflies out - but my bushes aren't smothered with them as they usually are - a sign of the times maybe.

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Bee-Friendly Garden - Nasturtiums

 Nasturtiums have to be one of the cheeriest flowers in the garden.  They tangle and twine and climb and add hot spots of colour wherever you plant them.  They self-seed easily, and hopefully, come back year after year. 
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And the best thing about them, is that they are edible.  They give a nice peppery twist to salads and the flowers add a lovely hit of colour.  The name comes from the Latin 'Nasus Tortus'  meaning twisted nose which refers to the reaction of peoples faces when eating the spicy plant.

They look pretty when brought indoors for decoration too.

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Nasturtium buds can also be pickled in place of capers, and as the summer gets hotter so does the pepper in the plants - more heat, more sun - more spice.

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Originally they are from South America - the Conquistadors brought them back to Spain in the 1500's.  If you use them as a companion plant they should hopefully draw the pests away from your precious brassicas.  The large, soft, umbrella-like leaves attract Cabbage White Butterflies to lay their eggs - not good for the Nasturtiums but good for your cabbages.

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They come in beautiful jewel colours from pale lemon to the darkest red and when the flowers die back they leave behind a seed cluster that dry on the plant and fall off.  If you check the ground around the plants you will find some of this dried seed -  save it in paperbags in a cool place -  then sow them from March to July when they will bloom until the first frosts.

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Monet was rather fond of them and planted them in the border of the pathway that led to the front door at Giverny.
Monets painting of A Girl in the Garden
They put on a better show of flowers in poor soil - last year I planted some in between the rows of potatoes but  the soil was too rich and all I got was a load of leaves.  Whereas in my front garden where the soil is thin and stoney they bloom beautifully.  They carry on flowering right through to the first frosts - but when the frosts hit them they become a slimey mess and should be removed tout suite.
 So, for the price of a cheap packet of seeds and  a cheerful way to get bees into the garden - plant a few Nasturtiums - I don't think you will be sorry (unless you hate orange flowers, that is).

This is what Christopher Lloyd has to say about them
"Natsurtium could be described as a hardy annual, for even though it succumbs to the first frosts of autumn you can push its seeds into the ground where you wish them to develop and they will germinate at quite low temperatures.  Self-sown Nasturtiums will often appear in mid-winter if it is mild.  Their hot colours show up in shade and they grow excellently against a shady fence or hedge, preferably in moist conditions.  They are no less satisfying when garlanding a garden rubbish heap.  Valuable plants, they provide a splash of colour towards the end of the year when the garden can look a bit tired."
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