Tag Archive | garden

Snow in March

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For the second time this year, we have laying snow here in North Devon, and very pretty it is too. Thick enough to completely cover the grass on the unmown, shaggy lawns, it has turned the garden into a winter wonderland.

 

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Icicles drip from every overhang, and the sheltered side of every tree trunk is plastered with layer of snow.

 

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The poor spring bulbs have had a bit of a shock…

 

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The larger daffodil varieties are looking particularly sad, but the small ones such as Tete a Tete are coping better, poking bravely through the snow.

 

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My big drift of snake’s head fritillaries was about to burst into flower, and it will be interesting to see how they respond to being snow-covered.

 

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The camellia is still flowering profusely, but the current crop of flowers may well go soft and mushy when they defrost. They do best when sheltered from the morning sun from the east…if the flowers defrost slowly, they are less likely to suffer.

 

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This Corylopsis is looking particularly fine, with the snow as a backdrop.

 

 

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Many shrubs have started to produce their spring leaves, such as this red-leaved Spirea. I hope they don’t get too cold!

 

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Some native flowers will cope fine, such as this little primrose, tucked on the sheltered side of the garden wall.

 

 

 

 

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And the gorse on the hill is flowering well, as it does all year round.

 

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The spring catkins will also be unconcerned by a bit of snow.

 

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Last summer’s seedheads look particularly fine against a white carpet.

 

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So it may be cold, and difficult to drive around, but there is no better time to go explore the garden!

 

 

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July is Hydrangea Month

Our first spring here, I pruned some of the hydrangeas a bit too hard, and therefore they failed to flower last summer. I have had to wait another year to find out what colour they are.

 

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So the line of four huge bushes are all the same blue – nice enough, but I have the same variety elsewhere as well. I may take one or two out and replace with something different. There is a white-flowered one tucked behind them, which at least makes a change.

 

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In the Pond Bed, however, several have turned out to be much more interesting – they open white, then intensify to a lilac/pink, and continue to darken to a rich purply pink. Very nice both on the bush and in a vase.

The blue shrub in between is a deep blue lace-cap, which is unique within the garden. It is also huge, though – not a delicate plant at all.

 

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I also have Hemerocallis flowering for the first time. The above is ‘Christmas Island’, a big, bold red. Below is ‘Frosted Pink ice’, which is delightful.

 

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The rest of the garden is looking fairly nice, if you don’t look too closely at the weeds!

 

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June in the Garden

June flew by, with a real mixture of weather, and not as much gardening as should have been done. We have a new gate now at the end of the garden to prevent stray cows wandering in and destroying the lawn with their deep footprints.

 

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The new path that we strimmed through the meadow over the winter is looking established now, and gives a lovely view from the near garden. Now to put a bench at the end to give a reason to walk along it!

 

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We have also had our first crops for the potager – a decent couple of handfuls of tasty radishes before the slugs worked out where they were. Later sowings have unfortunately been completely eaten. We will be employing some anti-slug measures!

 

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Our mange-touts have been a great success, however, untouched by pests they have cropped heavily, and the pods are so crisp and tasty, and last for weeks in the fridge. We have also enjoyed a few baby new potatoes which managed to develop before the slugs ate all the top growth.

 

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I uncovered a small dwarf rhododendron on the overgrown bank by the house last year, which hadn’t flowered. With a bit of space around it for a year, it has thrived, and treated me to a few flowers this year.

 

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I am collecting varieties of Cistus, rock rose, as they seem to do well on my stony bank. This one, C. purpureus, was the first I planted, and has been smothered for weeks this year.

 

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My bearded irises got completely eaten by slugs, but I have had more success with sibirica irises, and this lovely Iris ‘Silver Edge’ flowered well.

 

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We also had the usual huge flowers of the oriental poppy. They are so spectacular, but the colour is a bit strident. Maybe I should move them to somewhere where the colour clashes less, and replace them with something softer…

 

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July is proving to be just as variable weather-wise as June, so I am waiting for a dry day to get out and take some July photos. Fingers crossed!

 

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What’s new in the garden?

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Yesterday I decided to finally remove the rotten logs that once formed an edging between the woodland path and the woodland lawn (Every part of the garden is having to acquire a name, or else you spend a lot of time saying ‘that bit down the bottom on the left near the rhodies…). They meant I couldn’t mow to the edge of the lawn, and were a right state. But once I had taken them away, the edge was a mess of troughs and long grass. So I thought I would just trim the edge of the lawn to tidy it up. Then I thought I had better lay the hosepipe along the edge to make sure I got it smooth. Once the hose was laid out, it made it clear that the path wasn’t really in the right place, so before I knew it I had committed to shifting one end over about 18” to line up with the potager, and realigning the rest to give a nice curve. It was a lot of turf to strip, with plenty of stones as well. But I am very happy with the result, and now need to tackle the other half of the path.

 

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My main focus in the garden this spring has been clearing some parts of the main flowerbed and actually planting some new plants. Unfortunately nothing looks worse in a photo than an expanse of stony soil dotted with a few tiny plants, so you will have to take my word for it until they have grown a bit. But I can show you some of the treasures that I have planted, such as the lovely Heuchera above, and the Tiarella below.

 

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The acers that I planted last year are looking good down in the acer glade, and we have had a lovely display of bluebells around them this year.

 

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There is also a red acer in the main border, which looked particularly fine this year next to a gold leaved Euonymus and three clumps of blue Camassia.

 

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One of my big rhododendrons didn’t flower last year, but this year has been smothered with huge fragrant hand-sized blooms, with pink buds opening white. They are a delight, and I must try and find out the name.

 

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I went plant-shopping on Saturday and bought a few more things to plant, which is very exciting.

Himalayan poppies

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A red broom

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and Halimiocistus wintonensis. More digging!!

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Plants in cages

The problem with sharing your garden with a host of wildlife is that quite a lot of it is intent on eating all my plants!

 

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Rabbits seem to like to have a nibble at anything new, and if they like it, they will eat the lot. But plants that have been sampled one year (and survived) seem to be less likely to be nibbled the next. Maybe it is the rich lush tasty foliage that the plants grow while in the nursery greenhouses that they like, and the tougher, garden-grown leaves are less appealing.

The solution therefore seem to be to protect anything remotely juicy for at least its first season. I have a couple of old hanging baskets that are ideal for this.

 

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These Tanacetum ‘Robinson’s Red’ should give a display of big daisies in the summer, but only if the rabbits leave them alone. If they get nibbled more, then I will upgrade the protection to the next stage…

 

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This Rhododendron ‘Blue Tit’ is not supposed to be attractive to rabbits or deer, but the last little rhododendron that I planted in this spot was eaten to the ground! So I am taking no chances with this one, and it has a cage of chicken wire, with a few wires criss-crossing the top to deter deer. It shouldn’t outgrow this cage for a couple of years, by which time it should be less tasty.

For bigger shrubs, I am having to build bigger cages.

 

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I treated myself to a lovely Magnolia ‘Susan’, and do not want it eaten, as it wasn’t cheap. So it has a 5 ft cage of deer netting to protect it for a few years. The netting needs to be at least 5 foot, and preferably 6ft, as the deer we have are not just little muntjac, or medium sized roe deer. No, we get the big ones, the red deer.

 

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They have not been seen in the garden quite as often this year as last year, and I think our increasing activity levels in the garden puts them off. But after 4 days away last week, we returned to find three sitting in the middle of the lawn.

The ultimate solution, which we are using to keep them off the veggies and fruit, is a Big Fence…

 

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They aren’t going to get into there! We haven’t managed to get all of the potager dug yet this year, but as we get a section cleared of the grass and roots and stones, we sow seeds. And we now have radishes, beets, mangetout, spinach and leeks all sprouting. It is very exciting!

 

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Trees are yet another problem. We have standard tree guards around some small native trees and shrubs, but as soon as they poke their heads above the guards, then they run the risk of being eaten.

 

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This little rowan had nice tall shoots before the deers’ visit last week, and now it has been eaten down to the guard. So we need a better solution, which might be to make cages like the shrub cages. It does make planting trees very costly.

My next challenge is to find a solution to slugs. We don’t use pellets, and hand-picking takes too long. I have tried some barrier methods with varying success, but currently I am just avoiding buying certain plants, such as hostas (obviously), delphiniums, lupins, and aubrieta.

Gardening here is a bit of a battle!

 

Super Spring Sunshine

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What a stunningly beautiful weekend it has been, with blue skies all day long, and some real warmth in the sun. The fritillaries have really started to open this week, and there are plenty more buds to come.

The early daffodils, mainly large yellow or white and yellow trumpets, plus the tiny Tete a Tete, are now over, and we have a much wider mix of varieties, including a lovely pink trumpeted one.

 

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I mowed for the first time this year, so the lawns are looking lovely and neat after the shagginess of early spring.

 

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Most of the Spring pruning is now done, and I am able to start going over some of the flower beds and renovating the planting. I do love this time of year…

 

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Hellebores and other Spring beauties

The last month has been less than perfect, as I have had a nasty bout of ‘flu, and haven’t been well enough to get out in the garden much. Once the worst was over, I went visiting friends and family around the country for a week, while I got my strength back. I managed to visit a fair few garden centres and nurseries while away, so returned with a boot full of delicious plants. This unusual striped hellebore was one of my finds – it is bred by Hilliers as part of their Spring Promise range, and is called ‘Lily’.

 

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I had a quick look at the other hellebores they were selling, not expecting to find anything else, but then I found yet another stunner – this time a double purple so dark it looks black, but with a softer purple showing around the edges.

 

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This is ‘Double Ellen Purple’, a superb addition to my little hellebore grove along the woodland path.

The garden is awash with Spring bulbs, all doing their best to stand up against the Spring storms. The crocuses struggle, but some have survived.

 

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My current favourite among the daffodils is this mid-sized one with swept back petals, and a rich orange trumpet. it really stands out amongst all the yellow and white varieties.

 

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This little corner bed at the end of our drive was just full of weeds, so in the winter I planted a little conifer which was swathed with fairy lights for Christmas, and added a few clumps of mini daffs that needed moving from elsewhere. Now I just need to add a little something else in front of the conifer for summer colour.

 

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We have had to add an extra layer of wire mesh around the base of our potager, as we found that the rabbits were chewing holes in our plastic deer fencing, even there is nothing inside yet for them to eat!

 

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That should stop them. The first plants have now gone in – summer and autumn-fruiting raspberries. They don’t look much at the moment, but should grow away well, helped by lots of homemade compost. I am really looking forward the the first crop.

 

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Now I need some mild, dry weather so that I can get out there and get gardening, but as it is currently raining I shall have to make do with admiring my bowl of hellebores.

 

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The daffs are late…or were they early last year?

This is our second winter in this garden, and they couldn’t be more different. Last winter was mild and wet, with few frosts and rain most days. This winter has been drier, but with many heavy frosts, some lasting all day. The differences really show in the garden.

Firstly, many perennials such as Alchemilla and Crocosmia remained green last winter, whereas this year the leaves went brown and mushy in December.

 

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This photo was taken today of my earliest clump of daffodils, and I have an almost identical picture take last year, but a whole month earlier, in early January.

 

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The difference in timing is not so great with the snowdrops – they may have been only a week or two earlier last winter. But they do seem to be in greater numbers this year.

My camellia is in full bloom, and also seems more floriferous, but it seems to have grown significantly over the year, which would account for that.

 

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So I think that this is a more normal spring, and that the mild weather last year accelerated the growth of many bulbs, but particularly the daffodils.

I find the early spring such an exciting time of year, with new flowers peeking out every time I go in the garden, and fat buds appearing on the shrubs. The witch hazel and the shrubby honeysuckle have fragrant flowers to search out and sniff, and the hellebores are unfurling their dangling blooms. I must cut some and float them in a bowl of water so that I can admire them.

 

 

 

Winter Gardening

As the last of the leaves flutter to the ground, the gardening year comes to an end. Very little will still flower after the first hard frost, and in my garden I just have a few solitary Schizostylis still going strong. It won’t be long before the camellias start opening their fat buds, and the witch hazels also, but there is a definite gap around the shortest day.

This is the start of the Big Winter Clear-up. Firstly the fallen leaves, which find their way into every nook and cranny. Then the Crocosmia foliage is to be pulled off before it gets too brown and mushy. Many of the perennials can still add structure and seed heads to the winter garden, so I always prioritise those that look at their worst, and leave the prettier ones ’til the spring.

Once the autumn vegetation is cleared, I can then see the structure of the garden more clearly, and it will give me a chance to check all the edges of the paths and borders. Many are edged with logs which have rotted, so will need renewing.

I am creating some new paths as well, along desire lines, which are the routes that one wants to take around a garden. They should be the basis of any good garden design, as there is little point in placing paths where no-one wants to walk.

 

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There was a definite need for a path across this flower bed, and we were taking short-cuts last winter without a path. I have finally completed a new, levelled path, connecting an existing path with the large lawn, and a route which heads down the garden.

The whole thing is made with an assortment of stones that I have found while digging the garden. There were a lot of flattish oval shaped stones, and they have been half-buried on end along the front to create an edge. Then the body of the path was laid in a crazy-paving style using all sorts of shapes of thin, flat stones. To finish off, it is topped with a dressing of gravel which will work its way into the cracks and help to prevent the stones shifting.

When I have tackled the border beyond the path, it might be nice to build a little retaining wall for that border, but I have had quite enough of working with stones for the time being!

Our first year in Devon

A year ago today we started our new life here in our converted stone barn near the North Devon Coast. It has been a huge change from living on a modern housing estate in Hertfordshire, with a small square garden, and I want to take a moment to reflect on how we have got on, and share with you some of my favourite photos.

 

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We looked at houses over quite a wide area, but were aware that the location was hugely important. We turned down some nice houses that were just too far from the coast, and that was definitely the right decision. We are perfectly situated here, with a ten minute drive to not only this stunning beach, but also the headlands and coastal paths, and we are loving being able to pop down for an evening stroll on the beach, or a late afternoon swim in the heat of the summer. Our village is really friendly, and has a shop, a village hall, and a pub, so what more can one want?

 

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We did have concerns that it might get very busy here in the holiday season, and it certainly does. But we have learned which roads to avoid, and have found back routes to the town and the beach, and spent the busiest few weeks quietly at home. For most of the year, the roads around us are nice and quiet, although Barnstaple, out nearest main town, has plenty of rush hour traffic and queues, as does every town. We just avoid them as much as possible.

 

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The house itself is mostly as it was when we arrived, with a few repairs, a new garage door, a new shower, and some new lights. Next year we replace the heating system, and start decorating through, now we have a feel for what we want. We love being ‘upside down’, with cooler bedrooms downstairs and living areas with views of the garden upstairs. The log burner in the lounge is great for these chilly evenings, and laying the fire is now my first task every morning.

 

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The garden has given us both massive challenges and massive amounts of pleasure. Ideally it would have been about half the size, and flat, but 1.3 acres and sloping is what we have, so we are making the best of it.

 

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We have acquired an arsenal of tools to help us, all bigger and more powerful than those we owned before, and two new sheds in which to store them. There are some lovely plants in the garden, but also some invasive thugs, and this has been our greatest challenge to date. One thug has finally been defeated, and I am now tackling the second. Once this is done then I can start to be creative.

 

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One of the most enjoyable aspects of the garden has been the wildlife. We have seen so many different birds, moths amphibians, and mammals, and every new species causes great excitement.

 

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The sheep invasion was not quite as welcome, but all part of living in the country.

 

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We intend to do a little write-up at the end of the calendar year about all the birds and moths we have caught.

So is my life here as I imagined it? Yes, in some ways. I knew that I would be spending most of my time gardening, but somehow I imagined myself swanning around in a long skirt and floppy hat, gently snipping flowers to place in my trug… a Lady Gardener. Not so – most of my gardening clothes are worn to holes, and I am usually smeared with mud and sweat, having spent the day wielding a mattock or lugging vast quantities of unwanted plant material down the garden. I do enjoy it, although I didn’t expect that I would always be exhausted by the end of the day.

 

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The other difference is that we have been out and about far less that we though we would. There are so many wonderful walks that we want to do, so many days out, and we have done very few. We have simply been far too busy, and I am hopeful that we will have a little more time next year…(or maybe the year after???)

 

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We do feel that we fit in here, and we have certainly been made to feel welcome. We are already well known in the village, and take part in local activities, and are starting to make new friends.

The one thing I do miss is shops, especially clothes shops. The nearest decent shopping centre is Exeter, and that is a 90 minute drive! Not that I need clothes, as a clean pair of jeans counts as being dressed up round here, but a girl likes to look…

 

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So has it been a good year? Yes, most emphatically yes. We are less stressed, fitter, more relaxed, and generally happier. We can walk out into the garden and hear nothing but birdsong, and see nothing but greenery. I have space to create a beautiful new garden. The nature that we both love to study is all around us rather than being a car ride away. And the sound of the sea is nearby for us to listen to whenever we want.

 

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