Front Garden update 3

Having returned from holiday I have got back out to continue with my front garden revamp. While we have been away the front path has been taken up. The crumbling concrete path has been replaced with smart pavers. Last time I wrote about the front garden I was leaving off planting part of the garden as there was still the path to complete. Now I’ve been able to get out and planted up a bit more of the space.

The view from above

The views from above shows the right side where I started planting has started to fill out well. The plants closest the path went in yesterday. I’ve given them a good soak in to help establish them. I’ve been sticking to ferns, hostas and heuchera so far. I’m aiming for a mixture of foliage with different shapes and colours. The garden is North facing thus all the shade lovers but luckily I like foliage plants. I’m keeping the flowers minimal and getting the colour through the leaves.

The view from above shows there are still some gaps to fill. I’ve used some coleus and alchemilla to fill gaps while the other plants fill out. I’ve bought stepping stones for half the circuit. They lead to the water butt, then back round to the path. The idea being I can water all the areas from the stone to limit how much I step on the ground. Alice does a circuit round each time she comes out the door which is quite useful for stopping her running out onto the road. The stepping stones in the bottom part of the photo are just temporary until next month when I’ll buy stepping stones to complete the circuit. These were log cookies we had spare from the wedding.

The wall where the bins are was on the point of collapsing so we’ve had it replaced with a fence similar to the other side. It’s odd but the bins feel tidying for having a fence taller than them. We are planning long term to build a bin tidy out from the fence to hide them. Next door has started tidying their garden. They said I’d shamed them into tidying, though they did say it jokingly rather than edged with venom. They are looking to plant something in the middle of their circle, then put fresh weed matting and gravel down. I’m trying to encourage them to continue the hydrangea love. But I think that would suit the spot: shaded, minimal effort, long period of interest.

Front door

The supports over the front door had partially rotted and we were considering removing. The gaps were filled with expanding foam, then the edge with wood filler. It’s had the first layer of primer. We are deciding whether to paint white or to go dark grey to contrast with grey of the bricks. The path looks much improved for the new pavers.

On either side of the door, I have placed these planters. They were intended to be used as window boxes but I can’t support them well under the window and they aren’t really big enough. I think they are looking smart here though. The coleus in front of the planter was grown from seed and is adding some temporary interest. I’m planning to add some snowdrops or crocus to the planter for some Spring interest. The hostas will die down for winter. The ferns are evergreen but will brown off to be replaced by fresh fronds in Spring.

The hanging basket was looking a bit dry from us being away so I’ve cut back some of the trailing plants. I think it’ll grow back with a bit of care.

Stepping stones

I have selected concrete steppings stones in the shape of log cuts. They aren’t the fanciest but they will gradually be surrounded by the plants. Each is slightly different so it doesn’t look too uniform.

Now I have an idea of where the stones are going and the path is done I’ve added some more plants. The hostas are mostly hosta fortuneii. These were bought for £1 or £2 in Winter on sale when they look like a pot of dead growth. I’m also taking a chance on placing the aspidistra outside. This has come from my classroom but I don’t have space for it in my next year’s classroom. I’m hoping close to the house it will have enough warmth to survive. My China Moon aspidistra in the back garden survived last winter so hopefully, this will too.

Ferns

A few more ferns have been added. These are mainly wispier varieties like Dryopteris and Polystichum. I’m not sure how these will cope with the sea winds so I’m going to need to keep them well watered initially and we’ll see how they go. So far I’ve mainly planted varieties like Asplenium with wider fronds that can cope with the winds.

Waterbutt

The water butt has proved invaluable since installing it. I have been able to manage the majority of the watering over the Summer from just this saving me carrying water through the house. We have had quite a wet Summer, but still very helpful while I’m getting plants established. Even small downpours have helped fill it back up. It has been a bit smelly a few times so I’ve added an antimicrobial disc to see if that helps.

The frogs have been sheltering under the bricks and tile the butt is resting on. A well-shaded spot for them. They’ll hopefully return the favour by eating the slugs to protect my hostas.

Hydrangea

The limelight has filled out nicely over its first Summer. It is a bit floppy but it will start to thicken out over the next few years. The flowers have been great and far more than I expected in this first year. Not as spectacular as the paniculata hydrangeas we saw at Exbury but a good start.

It is starting to gain the pink tinge before it browns off.

The help

Alice helped briefly before she lost interest. She enjoyed herself until she got her dress wet then she wanted to go in. Amy and Alice returned to supervise later and check I wasn’t doing anything stupid.

There is still more work to go and it will be a few years to fill out but I’m happy with the progress so far. The next big job will be edging the path to stop soil going onto the path. Then I have some ophiopogon to plant along the edge to keep it smart. Then I’m probably going to put bark down to improve the soil conditions, suppress weeds and help moisture retention. For months I’ve had plants sat on the patio at the back but now they’ve largely been planted I can set my mind to arranging the remaining pots.

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Six on Saturday: 17.8.19 Exbury Gardens Hydrangeas galore

We have returned from our holiday down in Dorset having seen some lovely gardens. It’s interesting travelling down South. The difference in climate makes a massive difference to what is grown. Cordylines tower over roundabouts. Camellias look healthy rather than windswept and it feels like everything grows that little neighbourhood taller with pines common across the county. Visiting gardens gives me a chance to see specimens I wouldn’t necessarily see locally.

This weeks six comes from Exbury Gardens which we visited earlier in the week. Exbury is located on the edges of the New Forest. It is owned by the Rothschild family famous for mass wealth made through banking. It is known for its rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias which I imagine were spectacular earlier in the year when the majority will be in flower. It holds two national collections: Tupelo and Oxydendrum. With a small steam railway and 200 acres, it has a lot to offer visitors. I may have gone overboard on the photos but believe me I could post a lot more.

1. Hydrangea paniculata

We enjoyed this spectacular walk, which I think was from the Jubilee Pond. My love of hydrangeas has been discussed a lot recently. This stretch was largely made up of hydrangea paniculatas of different varieties. They were clearly well positioned and well established as they were thriving. One of the great advantages of hydrangeas is the long season of interest and these I’m sure will be looking great for a good while to come.

I spotted this variety great star that was a bit different from any I’ve seen before. I was quite taken with it, but then I was quite taken by the whole row. Earlier today I saw a quote from Vita Sackville-West that seems relevant here.

“In some gardens the hydrangeas were making a great display, but they look their best in large clumps, I think, not as a single specimen for which a small garden has only room; and in any case they always remind me of coloured wigs” Vita Sackville-West

The hydrangea were massive. Here are photos with family for scale.

2. Hydrangea walk

Further round there was a dedicated hydrangea walk made up of lots of varieties but mainly the dome mopheads of macrophylla. In my neighborhood, the soil largely creates pink hydrangeas. It was interesting to see a mix of colours along one walk.

Alice wasn’t so taken with the Hydrangeas. She only allowed us to continue as we’d told her it was the route to ice cream. Though she did enjoy playing hide and seek.

3 Steam train

The little railway gave us a tour of the gardens Alice couldn’t manage on foot so we got glimpses of the rock garden and the dragonfly pond. At Halloween, it transforms into a ghost train and at Christmas offers Santa Steam Specials which sounds great fun. Alice enjoyed the train ride even though it wasn’t her favourite colour red.

4. Ferns

The sheltered conditions of the dense woodland and sheltered slopes combined with the milder Southern climate gives ideal tree fern conditions. I have given up on my tiny little specimen. It’s either been too cold or too dry and it’s going to be years to form a trunk.

5. Rhododendron

While the majority of the rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, the gardens are famous for, are past their best there were odd flashes of colour. Alice liked this vibrant red.

6. Ice cream

Alice eventually got her promised reward. She enjoyed it lots. She did well walking good distances. She almost got ice cream for dogs before I realised what I’d got. There were a lot of options for dogs around the area with many of the pubs and restaurants we visited offering snacks and drinks for dogs. Quite a dog-friendly part of the world. Unusually Alice went for strawberry ice cream rather than her usual chocolate but she enjoyed it lots.

We barely covered a fraction of what Exbury has to offer but was more than satisfied with our day out. I could happily visit again at a different time of year or even the same season as there was so much ground we didn’t cover. If I lived close I’d be buying a pass.
We’ve had a great time away and I’ll be posting more about our trips out over the next few days. Check out other sixes through the propagator’s blog.

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Six on Saturday: 10.8.19-Summer colour

We have gone off for a breakaway this week, so this weeks six has been pre-written. The garden is reaching a zenith of full flowers with many of the finest flowers reaching their peaks. It’s a nice point of the year where I have to choose six rather than struggling to locate six things of any interest. Much of the time I choose plants for long-lasting foliage more than flowers but this week we have six bright choices.

1. Cosmos-double click cranberries

These were grown from seed purchased from Sarah Raven. I grew several varieties moving them inside and outside when it was still chilly. But unfortunately several of the seed trays were flooded by rain and many of the cosmos seedlings died off. These, however, have flourished into a wonderful thick patch.

2. Fuschia-Alice Hoffman

I’m not a big fan of fuschias but this one has proved hardy enough and I like the contrast in the flowers and the dark leaves. I’ve kept it confined to a pot and cut it back each year and it seems happy with this arrangement. It is flowering well.

3. Hydrangea paniculata-Limelight

I’ve featured lots of other peoples hydrangeas but haven’t shown my own off. I planted two of these in the back garden and one in the front garden. These came from Thompson & Morgan. I didn’t expect much from them in their first year but they are looking fabulous. They should only get better as they grow taller. I was worried about how the one in the front garden would do with the sea winds but so long as I keep it watered it should be fine. The combination of a shaded North facing garden and lots of heavy rain this SUmmer has helped it settle in well.

4. Solenostemon/coleus

Coleus changed name this year to Solenostemon but I’m sure it will still be known as coleus for many years to come. I grew a few varieties from seed. These have been used in the ground as filler in the front garden, as house plants, and a few in pots on the patio which had bulbs in before. The foliage comes in a wide variety of bright colours adding to the mix between the hostas and ferns.

5. Peacock butterflies

After the excitement of the influx of painted ladies, the garden has seen lots of peacock butterflies. Just as colourful as this week’s flowers.

6. Dahlia’s Bishops Children

These dahlia flowers have been the results of months of work and I am very happy with them. For people who have followed their progress through this blog and Twitter, you will have seen them grow through lots of stages. It is my first year growing dahlias and I am enjoying the bright bursts of flamboyant colour they offer. These were bought from Sarah Raven as seeds. Almost every seed germinated and I’ve kept most going to end up with just shy of 30 plants. I didn’t expect as high germination rate or to keep them all alive. I’ve passed lots on to friends and family with plenty to go in my own garden. Amy even passed one onto the window cleaner to clear the patio. Some have gone in the border, some in pots.

They flower in a range of colours. So far I’ve had deep pink, red, yellow and orange flowers. The foliage is lovely in itself. Dark, crimson foliage with pointed leaves contrasting well with the hosta fortuneii on the patio. I was concerned about these growing quickly enough up North to flower well. With colder temperatures, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get them outside with time for these to grow enough to flower from seed. But I didn’t need to worry. These have grown spectacularly. I will probably try saving some seed for next year.

The forecast for our week away is lots of light rain so while we might be having a wet time away at least the garden will be looked after. Hopefully, I will return from my break having visited one or two gardens to report on. We are potentially going to Peppa Pig World. Not somewhere you’d think I’d voluntarily go but Paulton’s park also has gardens including Japanese gardens so I might manage ten minutes seeing those. Enjoy your Sundays!

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Six on Saturday: 3.8.19 from the in-laws in Summer

I wrote earlier in the week about our trip to the in-laws at Robin-Hood’s Bay but I left out how their garden was looking. So here it is six things from their wonderful garden. It featured earlier in the year in Spring. They’ve got the scaffolding up around the house and garden but still plenty on offer. Not least the entertainment of following the cat.

1. Roses

There is a smorgasbord of roses on offer in the garden currently with many hitting their peak. I am classing this mass of roses as one choice on my six, though if I knew more about them I could have written this six purely on the roses.

2. Sea holly

There are a few patches of sea holly around. I’m trying to grow my own as this featured as part of my wedding flowers. Mine are in their first year and not showing any signs of flowers this year but plenty of foliage.  I did start them quite late on so I may not get anywhere with them this year.

3. Japanese anemone

These again are a lot further on than in my own garden with plenty of flowers on many.

4. Pond

The pond was revamped last year and is now surrounded by many wildflowers. There were tons of butterflies and bees enjoying the flowers. The pond is attracting plenty of life with tadpoles and newts in resident.

5. Painted ladies

This year has seen a higher number of painted ladies. Every ten years or so we get a record year. These wonderful butterflies undergo the longest butterfly migration on Earth. There is a great documentary on the BBC but only for a limited time.

6. Hydrangeas

I’ve written about hydrangeas a lot recently and there are lots to view at the in-laws.

The limelight is fabulous. It was seeing the ones in the in-laws garden that led me to buy mine. You can see the flowers at various stages from the lime green to white.

If you fancy taking part in Six on Saturday read the guide. There are lots of wonderful plants and gardens to view. I have my own garden to tend today. I want to have a good weed over the next few days before we go away. I’ve still got a few more Bishop’s Children dahlia’s to find spaces for as well. They are flowering away well now and looking stunning. Now I’m starting the regular feed of tomato feed.

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Six on Saturday: Dahlia love arrives

Alright technically I’ve already got one dahlia blooming but that was only a little dahlietta. This week has marked the start of the full-size dahlias blooming. This is my first year trying dahlias and they’ve been a pleasure to grow. One bag of Bishop’s Children has given me a mass number of plants for myself and plenty I’ve passed on to visitors. The week has seen boiling sun and heavy rain downpours. This has led to lots of plants shooting up and lots of flowers to choose from this week.

1. Lythrum-robin

The Lythrum was bought for me by my mum a few years back. It grows about half a metre has spires of small purple flowers and keeps going for a good period. The hoverflies have been swarming all over it the last week. It would benefit from another couple around it. It doesn’t seem to self-seed or grow to a point of division so I may have to try cuttings if I want some more. I have seen it for sale but I don’t think it’s worth a tenner.

2. Hollyhocks

This was one of the first plants I grew from seed in the garden hoping to attract bees. The current ones are children of the original that have self-seeded. They suffer from rust but they are still flowering well so can stay for now as they are still drawing in lots of bees. I’ve currently got the standard pink in flower and a darker rich red. They grew to massive heights last year with the extreme heat and look set to repeat that performance this year.

3. Pink rose

This came with the garden. It needed a hard prune the first year I move in as was sprawling badly. It’s now crowded in by lychnis which has meant it has grown lots of straight stalks up to the light with tons of flowers in. It has reliably repeat flowered. Some years it has managed up to four bursts of flowers. Not as showy as some of the other roses but the repeat flowering has meant it’s been allowed to stay. It suffered from the heat this week and has needed lots of water to stop it looking shrivelled.

4. Pot display

This combination of plants has filled out its pot nicely. The hosta lakeside is doing alright, though I may cut its flowers now. The fern is Athyrium nipoonicum var. pictum metallic. It is small in comparison to my other fern choices and has a bright red stem.

5. Pop-up tent

Alice has a new pop-up tent filling the lawn. Pops up easily. Doesn’t pop down and go back in the bag so quickly. But nevermind, she’s enjoying going back and forth through the tunnel and getting her outside in a bit of shade.

6. Dahlia-Table dancer

And now the week’s main event. It has a floozy of a name and it is as showy as the name suggests. It’s a cactus variety spreading out to about 15cm flowers. It should continue to flower for a good few months. I’ve started on a weekly feed of tomato feed to encourage flowering.

A good start to my dahlia venture. It has survived the attention of the slugs and snails to flower. Hopefully have lots more to follow. We’re set to visit the in-laws so will be enjoying their lovely garden. We haven’t been in a while so be nice to see them and see the garden in Summer. Enjoy your weekends.

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In defence of hydrangeas

Recently I’ve seen a slew of comments dismissing hydrangeas. They are often seen as the reserve of old fashioned shrubberies, seen as old fashioned, blousy and a bit tasteless.  Madonna famously showed her dislike for them when a fan presented her with a bouquet. My current garden came with three mopheads (hydrangea macrophylla) and a climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris). Initially, I disliked the vibrant neon pink of the mopheads and barely noticed the climber buried at the back of the border. However, I’ve come to appreciate them for many reasons over the last few years and carried on adding more.

Vibrancy

These mopheads frame the path. They open up as green bracts and develop into a bright pink before fading and drying as brown flower heads. They frame the steps down to the garden perfectly. Hydrangeas require a lot of water and these are situated perfectly. The run off from the patio ensures they get plenty of water. I feed them with banana peels and veg peelings. This gives them both a mulch to keep water in and gives them nutrition.

Alice framed on the lawn by the hydrangeas 2018

The bright colour shows well from above and fills a large space for minimal effort.

The view from above 5.18

Low maintenance

Apart from the already mentioned watering requirements, I don’t have to do very much to my hydrangeas and I get rewarded with a reliable burst of colour each year. I leave the flower heads on over winter, then prune back just behind the flower heads in Spring. Then I thin out a few of the older stems. This seems to work well for me as I’ve had great displays several years running. If you want to change the hydrangea colour you can mess with the pH of the soil to change them from pink to blue or blue to pink, but this seems a futile venture as they will gradually revert. But otherwise, these are a minimal effort plant. They grow well in shade or in sun so long as they are well watered.

Seasonal interest

The various hydrangeas in my garden almost all have long flowering periods. I keep many shrubs in the garden for maybe a week or two return in terms of flowers. The hydrangeas give months of pleasure.

In the initial stage of most the bracts open giving a pleasant green before shifting to the flowers colour.

In Autumn the flower heads brown off and if left remains a solid structural element in the garden.

They then look gorgeous in winter with the frost on.

Wildlife benefit

Hydrangeas are continually rated as low benefit for wildlife. I’ve always found this strange as the mopheads are always covered in different insects. Last year they were covered in the influx of silver Y moths.

Peacock butterfly
Dragonfly
I’ve found ladybird larvae regularly on hydrangeas, although I’m unsure why as aphids don’t generally bother with hydrangeas.

But according to the literature, the mopheads are largely infertile so the flowers aren’t offering many benefits to the pollinators. The fertility of the flowers varies with each type. Maybe mine as higher value as it certainly has a lot of life on it. But my suspicion is that I should probably be feeling a little guilty that insects are wasting journey to these for little or no return.

This has been at odds with my desire to encourage wildlife into my garden. I love the hydrangeas but they aren’t adding much benefit to the wildlife while taking up quite a bit of space. However, a bit of research has shown some types do still offer wildlife benefits. The RHS Plants for pollinators lists Hydrangea paniculata as beneficial with Kyushu, Big Ben, Floribunda and Brussels Lace having more fertile flowers. Unfortunately, I have limelight where only the flowers at the tip are fertile. That said, I’ve seen many butterflies stopping for good periods. I doubt they would stop so long if they weren’t getting some benefit. The RHS trials list more details of fertility.

I also discovered that many of the lacecaps have fertile flowers. The outer ring of larger flowers offers no benefits to pollinators, but the smaller inner flowers do.

The thin stems, lack of height mean hydrangeas don’t offer many benefits for birds. Sparrows perch on mine to survey the garden, but they aren’t suitable for nesting. However, the understory of my hydrangeas show lots of life. I keep a few logs under to provide homes for woodlice and beetles. Few plants can grow underneath as the the leaves stop the light to the ground. But the mass watering they receive means the ground is moist for frogs. I’ve needed to remove builder crud a few times recently and each time I’ve disturbed a horde of frogs. While I can’t argue that hydrangeas are high value to wildlife they aren’t devoid of benefits.

The climbing hydrangea is one of the few exceptions. It provides a good level of cover for many creatures and the small florets are great for small bees and hoverflies.

Variety

For many people when they think of hydrangeas I think they just imagine the rounded balls of the mopheads but there are many more types on offer. The paniculata offers cones in lime green, white pink and purple. The climbing hydrangea offers a reliable climber that can cover fences or house with a stunning layer of foliage without much hassle supporting as it largely finds its own way. The lacecaps offer more delicate flowers. The oakleaf offers stunning large-leaved foliage and gorgeous white flowers. The more recent developments with the award-winning runaway bride offers a variety with a mass of flowers suited to a pot for a display with a long season of interest. There are choices for everyone and many different situations.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my exploration of hydrangeas and if nothing else found some pleasure in the photos.

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Six on a Saturday: 20.7.19 holiday time

It is holiday time for me as a teacher. Got through another year. Now I get six weeks to catch up on weeding and enjoy the garden. But in true holiday fashion, it’s raining. But the water butts are getting refilled at least. I’ve been using the new butts for most of the watering at the front and to do the patio pots at the back. They’d just run out the last few days. Lasted pretty well.

1. Lilies

These lilies came from Thompson and Morgan. I’m sure they were meant to be a variety of colours but so far they are all pink. The growth has been a bit untidy as they were hidden away during building work. They probably would have benefited from staking and being rotated with the sun but the flowers are a nice bright burst. These tall pots are designed for lilies but I think I might change to hostas after these are done. They look good spilling out of tall pots and keeps the snails off a bit.

2. Lavender

I removed a lot of the lavender in the border as it had got leggy in a shaded position. I’ve kept a few in pots. My soil is heavy clay and not suited to lavender. In the pots, I can make the compost with lots of grit and sand to give it the drainage it needs. These pots have thrived for three years now. Very good for wildlife. When in full flower it gets lots of visitors.

3. Bargain Acer’s

I got these two little Acer’s for £5 from Thompson & Morgan. Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum is a purple-leaved variety turning to orange in Autumn. Then the orange dream is yellow turning again to orange for more Autumn interest. These are tiny at the moment and will probably go in pots for now. The couple I’ve got already suffer from leaf scorch with the strong sea winds so I have to keep them sheltered. They are an example of wrong plant wrong place but I like them enough that I’ve persisted trying to find the right place for them and planting shelter for them. While these two don’t look like much currently I’ve got the patience to see them grow gradually.

4. Water bath

Alice has been a bit obsessed with filling the water bath but the seagulls are appreciating her efforts.

5. Love in a mist

I sowed the seeds for these quite late on and they’ve been drowned by other growth. Some are poking out though. A lovely flower to photograph.

6. Hydrangea Libelle

This pretty lacecap was a birthday present. It suffered a bit from frost’s and wind but with plenty of watering it picked up again beautifully. I don’t normally use plastic pots but I thought with the thirsty nature of hydrangeas this would benefit from a plastic pot. This pot is meant to be a self-watering pot. It has a reservoir set up at the bottom so it doesn’t all drain out. The flowers are a bit sparse, but only the first year, though looking lovely. I’ve moved it to the pride position outside the back door so we see lots of it. The limelights planted this year are set to flower as well. Lots of hydrangea love this year!

Today is Hornsea carnival. We’ll probably head out later if the weather holds. There will be a float parade and rides and fairground games in the park, then usually a few craft stall. So probably won’t get up to much in the garden today. On a side note, Alice had her first sporting victory this week at the nursery sports day. Very proud of her.

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