Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Hello, Just a quick post to wave to everyone. I've not gone away, I've just rather run out of oomph in terms of this blog. I could blame the weather or whatever but it wouldn't convince me, I don't know about you! I will be back more frequently soon.

I had wanted to enter the garden for a competition, just a local thing, but it wasn't anywhere near ready. I mean long-term ready. So I think I did the right thing in not, but I feel a little deflated.

Even so I'm aiming to bring things to a reasonably tidy state in about a week or so and take some pictures. We shal see...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


My screen is fairly dark so I find it hard to get colours right. This rose is so, so beautiful - as dark as I've ever seen and velvety, with classic rose scent.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


A tiring day. The main job was dealing with the pond. B helped me to lift the pond plants out. They were all fused together, very heavy and overgrown. The electricity cable to the pump was right through the middle of them. I turned it off and then set about freeing it. It took what seemed like ages, bent over on the side of the pond which felt precarious. Unlike most garden jobs which can't go horribly wrong, I was anxious the whole time not to pierce the cable with my secateurs; even with it turned off, so it wouldn't be dangerous, it would have been very expensive and a right hassle to damage it. Got it done in the end. I stood holding the loose cable, and feeling as though there ought to be some more dramatic result - but what was I expecting, a 24 gun salute?

I picked up the little apples that had fallen, as the trees prepare to concentrate on the main crop. This is the first year I've got round to doing this, before I've just gone over them with teh mower or trampled them in over the next few weeks.

Friday, June 19, 2009


On Wednesday we went to visit some friends. They are over from Canada and staying with his parents in Colwall, on the Herefordshire side of the Malvern Hills. It was great to see old friends again, to meet their children, and to hear Marcus and Ben playing music together again - after only half an hour's jam in 4 years, they did a slot at a blues club, and went down very well. But as well as all this, Marcus's parents have an amazing garden. These pictures were very quick snaps and they only show some parts of it - only after I'd left did I realise I'd missed out some of the main areas, but they give a vague idea.

I tried to summarise for myself what the main appeal of the garden was, as an exercise because otherwise I tend to feel so overwhelmed that I can't relate it to our own space and find any way to learn from it. I like the fact that from the main vantage point (which to me was the conservatory) there was a clear focus: the central bed.

This had strong but simple colour, coming at the moment from a natural version of gladioli, and also sustained interest from several well-used bird feeders. Around this point a large area of lawn gave a feeling of space, with the edges of it curving in different directions out of sight which made you want to explore. When you stepped out into the garden the paving was both securely flat and smooth and also pleasing to look at, so that it brought the interest of the garden right to your feet.

A path curved along the house around tall plants that lapped up against the walls, with climbers ascending to a balcony above.

The boundary consisted of a rich variety of established shrubs, with just enough variegated, silver and russet colours to add richness but not over-complicate, and a glorious cedar tree was a great bonus in a distant garden. And to cap it all, the village cricket ground lies beyond the far hedge.

The conservatory contained many cacti and succulents and this made me realise that plants like that would be a good choice for ours too. In the immaculate vegetable area, edged in box, I saw scorzonera growing, which I'd never seen before, and in the greenhouse, aubergines. Blime!

So it was all a great spur to make our own garden feel more unified by the sense of care and sustained attention. Maybe I'm not explaining this very well. The grotty bits in ours look like dropped stitches, detracting from the whole. But maybe this is something that is much more noticable in one's own garden.

And I was given a souvenir: a nice little chunk of a very pretty blue-flowered plant, which looks like a larger garden variety of one of my favourite weeds. I will show you this when I have it settled into its new home.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gardens of dreams

What garden do you see when you close your eyes?

I think of a garden in winter, with heavy frost and low light. My feet crunch down a gravel path between solid dark evergreen walls of hedges. At intervals a gap in the hedge opens to show a perfect flat lawn and beyond it clipped box pyramids; maybe some variegated holly to lift things just a little. At the end of the gravel path, a beautiful elaborate wrought iron gate with dew-covered spiders' webs spangled through it.

Or a hammock strung between trees, and all around it a sea of tall swaying grasses, seedheads intermingled with the tops of poppies, cornflowers, and the big daisies. Butterflies shimy through it all and bees hum - everywhere but in your glass of homemade lemonade as you doze in the hammock.

Or a grotto with a waterfall and ferns. Shiny slippery rocks, a carefully placed mirror, it's edges hidden by creepers, and deep-pile moss making hillocks where you can reach to bounce your palm on it gently.

One of those trendy modern seating areas - a firepit in the middle, chaiselongues around it, little hanging lanterns, a tiled floor, and lots of night-scented plants - evening primrose, nicotiana, and a canopy of honeysuckle.

Or a lovely big hen-run!

(PS In reality what I mainly see when I close my eyes is large clumps of whatever weed I've spent most time pulling up that day)

Getting there...

Here are some pictures.

This is a "tell it like it is" shot of the pond. The main plants have either toppled in or have rooted out into the pond. I tried to hoik them out today but the electric cable is growing through them, and since I am the most accident prone person you've ever not met, it was clear I should wait until my husband is around to help.

The pink rose around the filter chamber is still fairly new - I think this is her 2nd year. She will look stunning maybe next year or the one after, you'll see - if you're still reading this! She is Raubritter (Kordes of Germany, 1936). She can be a climber but she also scrambles about happily, as here. Again, she's very healthy which I appreciate, and totally hassle-free. No scent but that's not essential to me in every rose. She'd look nice with something growing with her - I think one of the white shade-loving cranesbills maybe, on the left. There won't be space for anything to scramble with her by next year.

This is a tiny bunch of the echium I mentioned growing from seed a few months ago. It has come on really well.

This is the far end of the patio just at the moment. Needs weeding and tidying, but I'm pleased with how the containers are coming on. I've just moved some so that they get more sun. (Pippa looks a bit odd here because of how she was rolling - she loves lying and rolling on the lawn.) - I should also explain about the pots. Only a few are going to stay there, most are being used to raise plants in that I will then put in the borders. That's why they look rather a jumble.

I love the anticipation:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A better day

This rose is Phyllis Bide, introduced by a firm called Bide in 1923. The flowers do get a bit tatty when they've been open for a while, but in the sunlight they look a wonderful luminous golden pink, and the foliage is glossy and healthy even for people like me who never spray.

And I was very pleased with these too!

Today I watered all the containers and the greenhouse; took lots of cuttings from a tradescantia houseplant; turned the main compost heap; tied up a big plant; and mowed all the various bits of lawn.

I thought you might like to see how our novelty chard is doing (my husband, seen here kindly doing duty as a yardstick, is 5ft11 tall):

I'm also over the moon with this plant. It's crambe cordifolia, which I have been trying to grow for 5 years. Three times it was killed by slugs; last year it managed to survive, just; this year the more mature plant put up the top growth you can see here. The picture doesn't do it justice - it's a huge airy cloud of tiny flowers. The surrounding planting is too low because I didn't realise how big it would get (and weeding will be done here soon!) but even so I'm very chuffed with it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Getting back to gardening

Today I did a brief stint of real work in the garden for the first time in ages. I began by deadheading a climbing rose I have trained along a fence. It became clear there was a lot of dead wood in it which wasn't so obvious when I pruned it a few months ago, so I cleared most of that out. Doing it carefully took ages: I had to keep going to the back of the little fence to get at bits from the other side. But I always allow gardening to take ages, that's how I like to do things, I am very spendthrift with time.

Then I picked sweet peas, contemplated one of the compost heaps for a while (which needs turning), and then picked all the white currants. I made juice of them and froze it in ice-cubes, as being the form of them most useful to us. Can't remember what I did with them last year. It was 120g. We always get far more of red ones, and blackcurrants. We also had a few blissfully woodlouse-free strawberries, and some mini-cucumbers.

The garden has got to a rather scary stage. I look around at it, and it feels like a child of mine that has gone from childhood to a rather wild adolescence when I wasn't looking. I'm proud of it, but I feel much less in charge than before!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


One of my favourite gardeny things to do is putting flowers in vases. I can't really call it arranging! I particularly like this with flowers that I'm about to have to cut down for some reason, because it feels neat and frugal, and also with odd things - like the fatsia leaves here.

This is today's other attempt:

Unfortunately the peonies had short stems so I couldn't use a vase as tall as I would have liked and it all looks very clumpy. Never mind, it was great fun!

I would appreciate any tips on getting better at arranging. A lot of the books I see seem to show results I don't really want to aim for - I like things to look informal, but frankly these two are far better than I normally manage, they're flukes, and often it's very frustrating to have lovely flowers and know that I could have done much better with them if I had a clue what I was up to...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


The year after my parents moved to France there was a heatwave. It was so unbearably hot that my parents found it hard to take. They decided to buy another property higher up, to have somewhere to go to escape the heat.

Coudons is a hill village, 10km away from Quillan. It's at 870 meters, which may not sound high compared to ski resorts but it makes a big difference to the climate. Here you can see the last of the snow on Madres, the nearest mountain. There are a few bears and many wild boar in the forest that begins here and stretches for thousands of acres, where some in the French Resistance hid.

In this part of France it is very common for people to live in either flats or small terraced houses, with little garden space. In the hill villages there are barns amongst the houses, on the same streets, with the same thick walls and shuttered windows. Families sometimes have an area maybe twice the size of an allotment on the edge of the settlement, or further out, which also belongs to them. They usually grow vegetables on it. In my experience such plots are immaculate, but you never see raised beds, it's always traditional rows. Tradition rules here: they usually plant by the calendar of saints' days, but also taking into account the moon phase. If this sounds odd to you, you should see the quality of the veg it produces! Our house in Coudons is on the edge of the village and we own a small patch of field just next to it. Here is my father strimming it: he did the first circuit and I finished the rest. (Honest!)

Then Ben put up the hammock, and tested it:

The nights are quiet there, except for the sound of tree frogs. We had hoped to get a good view of the stars but the daylight was so long that we were asleep before the stars were fully out.

The next day we went for a walk, up past our neighbour Julien's potatoes. If you compare these with my father's Quillan potatoes, you can see about 3 weeks difference made by the change in altitude. It may sound idyllic here, but it's harsh in the winter.

We passed fields of sheep and cows, and this big hawthorn just finishing flowering. The track is very white, and the ground has a lot of quartz in it.

Then back down to the village:


My parents live mainly in Quillan. This is in the far south-west of France, south of Toulouse and Carcasonne, at the foot of the Pyrenees. They have a very large house with a busy road at the front, a big garden and a railway line behind it. (2 trains a day - we wave at them, and the dogs bark until they go away - it always works!)

This is the part with the flowers, and some peach trees, with a fountain built by my father:

This is part of the vegetable area, and the hen house. They have only 1 hen left now: she is 6 years old and still lays every 2nd day. The henhouse is so big in order to be able to stand up inside when you're cleaning it out. It's in the middle of the garden so you can let the occupant(s) out to each area in rotation.

And these are the geranium cuttings. They are the first cutting my father ever took. I read Bob's instructions out over the phone to him! They haven't done much though, since they were taken in mid April. Half have already died and been thrown out. I wonder what's going wrong?

This is the outdoor oven my father built. He said he was going to make a barbecue but he thought all the ones he could find plans for were pathetic little things, and designed this himself. He tends not to do things by halves.

This is what it looks like inside. A wood fire is lit to the left, then the food cooks on the right, either as the fire burns, as an oven, or as it smoulders with the door open, as a barbecue. These are red peppers being grilled:

Pictures from setting off

We drove down to Portsmouth to get the night ferry over to St Malo. This was a treat: it's a French boat with good food, and I love going to sleep on a boat.

The pictures are just snaps, taken from the car or in a hurry, but anyway: these are the garden-related ones:

Some unusual seaside ground-cover spotted on a Portsmouth roundabout:

B and Pippa looking at an urban waterfall in the redeveloped dock area:

Some planting I loved:

And finally, spotted in the crew's quarters on the boat, a very well-traveled little plant:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I'm back!

Hello, I'm back. We've been on holiday in France fro two weeks, visiting my parents. Did you miss me? Dirt Princess gets the prize for noticing!

Lots of pictures to follow, although not many are of gardens so they mostly won't go on this blog.

The garden here was watered by someone for us and has grown amazingly! Loads of things are in bloom and to my great pleasure I'm not too late to see the peonies and the pinks.

This evening we are looking forward very much to a curry and then going to sleep in our own bed.