Kiftsgate Court Garden

We have returned from our holiday in the Cotswolds, which is pretty much a paradise for garden visits. I asked Twitter where they recommended and Kiftsgate Court Gardens was suggested. I looked it up and found we got two for one with our Gardeners World card so even better. The garden is the result of three successive female gardeners starting with Heather Muir in the 1920’s. She was aided by Lawrence Johnson of Hidcote Manor. We didn’t make it to Hidcote. Hidcote is arguably one of the most famous of the arts and crafts movement gardens. It is currently under National Trust stewardship and I don’t totally trust the National Trust for several of their environmental stances and the excessive price they charge for visiting their properties. As it was, it has been so hot the last week we have chosen gardens with shade. We may manage Hidcote in future. After Heather, Diany Binny took over and developed the white sunk garden and began to open the garden to the public. Anne Chambers took over and carried on the evolution of the garden with the tennis court becoming a water garden. The staff were very welcoming on entry explaining the layout and they were friendly to Alice. Not every garden we visit is happy to see children.

The banks and pool

We began our visit heading down the winding bank paths. These looked to have been replanted recently with a few areas of hardy geraniums and ferns that haven’t been established yet. It will look nice as it spreads if it can survive the current heatwave. As we got down the planting was more established. The paths wind down to the summer house which has a lovely view across the pool and Cotswolds. Then coming down from the summer house the steps lead to a little pond.

The pool at the bottom has a sunken ha-ha giving you another view out to the rolling hills.

In the heat, all seating was appreciated. If it was cooler we might have stayed down here longer to admire the view but we needed shade.

The lilies were the standout flower all over the garden. While many plants have suffered with the heat these were loving it.

Amy was very determined to get a photo of Alice by the pool with her reflection but Alice quickly lost interest and got fed up of squinting.

The walk back up was hot work with multiple stops on the way. The route took us under the towering Scots pines. Their shade was much appreciated. By the end of this holiday, I have become convinced that these should be planted everywhere as they have saved us from heat exhaustion, again and again, the last week.

I rather liked this statue that you find located part of the way back up. Statues are often placed badly in gardens or they are out of proportion with their surroundings but this fitted beautifully. There was also a stone bench to sit on which was needed for us to stop and drink more water.

Yellow border

The yellow border was more of an orange border currently with crocosmia and lilies dominating the colour.

Though no less beautiful for being orange rather than yellow.

At the end of this border, there were a number of topiary animals creating a mini farm.

And a stone which in my mind has a face.

The water garden

As already mentioned the water garden was previously a tennis court. It has kept the strong straight lines of the court. The dragonflies were skimming the surface enjoying hunting the other insects on the water.

The water pleasantly trickles over the leaves. On a cooler day this would be a nice serene place to stop and wander. But in the heat of our visit we mainly stayed in the shelter.

Luckily to the side there was a much appreciated shelter.

The rose garden

The rose garden was a bit lacking in roses in flower. I assume they are either over or the next flush hasn’t come through yet. Most of the photos I took here were badly over exposed so I don’t have any of the few roses that were looking good.

One end of the rose garden leads back towards the house while the other takes you through to the wild garden and orchard. I really liked how the smaller leaves of the formal yew hedge had been combined with the larger leaves to make the arch.

And a statue seat drawing the eye up the path.

Wild garden and orchard

The wild garden was not full of much activity. Much of the plants had finished flowering and gone to seed ready for next year. There will have been lots of life hidden away amongst the stems but not much moving in the heat.

The orchard had some fine-looking fruit forming. The grass has gone very parched but will still be providing habitats for lots of insects and other life. Many of their old apple trees had died and have been replaced but all looks to be settling in well. Underneath is planted with Camassias and the tulip Jan Reus which are well over now but would make a spring visit worthwhile with the fruit trees blossom.

The avenue

The avenue is made up of a formal seating arrangement with gravel arranged to make the diamond shape.

Then the avenue stretches out, lined by tulip trees, to a sculpture at the end by Pete Moorhouse. Looking at it as a photo the sculpture doesn’t look quite proportioned right to the length of the avenue and the size of the trees.

I can’t say I was that bothered for walking down to see it in the heat but Alice insisted. I’m not interested in formal layouts like this. They leave me feeling a bit cold, combined with the heat I can’t say I liked this area. The water garden was formal but that was all done with a bit more panache. This still feels like a work in progress. It extends the garden but I didn’t feel it fitted with the more intimate feel of the other garden rooms.

Alice on the other hand enjoyed running up and down the banks.

White sunk garden and four squares

By this point, legs were getting tired so we started heading back to the house. We stopped to have a look in the white sunk garden on the way.

There was a lot flowering around this area doing well in the heat. Roses and agapanthus were thriving.

Then the wide border and four squares were filled with lots of colourful beauties.

Then a well-earned ice cream for Alice. We’d given her legs a good workout and nice cake for us in the cafe.

We appreciated the shade and breeze that filtered through the plants around the window after our hot exploration of the garden.

Even in the heat, this was a lovely garden to visit. There were a lot of plants suffering in the heat but the dahlias and lilies were looking fabulous. I particularly like the yellow and wide borders. Lots of perennials looking good. The fern garden I didn’t photograph much but that had a lovely mix of ferns. The banks were a nice stroll down and back up through the pines. Hard work in the heat but well worth it. Sadly I couldn’t make plant purchases as we wouldn’t be able to fit them for the journey home but the selection on offer looked very good. I’d like to return again at another time of year to see it in a different season or at least a few degrees cooler. I would recommend it for a visit though you may struggle if you have mobility issues as the bank is steep and many of the garden rooms are on different levels. It made a good start to our stay in Moreton In Marsh.

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Six on Saturday: Epiphyllum plant rescue

I’ve fancied an epiphyllum cactus for a little while. Also known as orchid cactus, these are native to Central and South America. They are epiphytes and would naturally be found in crevices of trees or rocks where enough humus has formed to capture water. It’s a forest cactus rather than the more usual desert cactus that comes to mind with the word cactus. They live in the understory so like a little more shade than desert cactus making them good houseplants. Epiphyllum look good hanging over the edge of pots and suit hanging pots well so they can hang as they would in the wild from tree branches.

1. The plant

I found a large one growing in one of the local garden centres. It is not looking the best currently but it was cheap for the size. This has suffered in just about every way a plant can. It has been sat on a waterlogged bench in a boiling hot greenhouse. The greenhouse has no vents beyond opening the doors so it has been fried and drowned. Not ideal for a cactus. It also appears to have been nibbled on by something and had a good A-Z of weeds including two varieties of Oxalis. On the face of it a plant not worth getting but it was cheap for a decent-sized plant. It may turn out I can’t fix the issues and then it will be used as a large amount of cutting material to propagate more.

2. The weeds

The first step was removing as much of the weeds as possible. I took it out of the pot. A lot of it peeled off the outer layer in big sections leaving the plant behind.

3. Soil removing

The soil it had been potted in was less than ideal and it was rather sodden so I removed much of the existing soil. This left the plant which only has a small root network. I imagine this is pretty normal though going off its epiphytic nature.

4. Potting mix

I mixed a more suitable potting mix made up of part sand, part grit and part compost. This will have some moisture retention but free enough draining that it doesn’t sit in water like it has been.

5. Potting up

I potted it back up in a smaller pot. having removed the weeds and probably losing some of the roots in the process the root ball was much smaller and generally, you want a plant growing in a pot that is just slightly bigger than the root ball. I’ve potted it slightly higher than it was previously as by my reckoning it had been buried a bit low. This has left a bit of unsightly damaged stem but this will be hidden as it grows. But I think the stem may suffer with rot left as it was.

6. Finishing touches

I then top-dressed it with some grit and found it a cache pot. It doesn’t suit the plant that well but it will do for now. There are two rather grand flowers so I get a taste of what it may be like in future years. It’s got quite a bad lean to it that I’m trying to rectify by facing it away from the light. Though to be fair I don’t mind it on a plant like this where I think it looks a bit more natural having a sense of direction.

Hopefully, now it’s out of the direct sun it should darken a bit. It is more yellow than the photos appear. This is probably a mix of the watering and the sun. We’ll see if it sorts itself out over the next few months. I’d still quite like an Epiphyllum anguliger, the fishbone cactus, but this will do for now. It still has signs of its mistreatment but if I can keep it going it will be a plant with a bit more of a story and character.

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Six on Saturday: 6.8.22 Wassand Hall

Wassand Hall is one of our closest gardens to visit. We went a few months back and Alice enjoyed it so much she has been pestering to go back each time we drive past the turn off. I think this may be because she gets a bag of sweets for completing the woodland trail more than an interest in plants. But it is one of my favourite local gardens. The Wassand estate manages a lot for wildlife and the walled gardens are as nice as any gardens we visit. It’s a bit rough around the edges as it’s primarily run by volunteers but it is small enough it can be maintained with exciting plants.

Tropical corner

The tropical corner is one of my favourite areas of the walled garden. The mix of large-leaved plants with bright flowers is fabulous. The bananas and tetrapanax are a bit crisped this year but it’s still great seeing the big leaves.

Alice is still at an age where she’s excited by the idea of banana trees in the UK.

Colocasia envy

Each time we visit I end up with envy of the greenhouse. It’s a lovely structure and heated with a humifier. It is a perfect environment for a whole host of tropical plants including this bench of colocasia. I’ve tried one before but didn’t get it to anywhere near these levels and mine suffered with disease and pests by the end of the season. I have got my own aroid in the form of a little caladium on the go from my plant rescue box I wrote about earlier in the week. The variegated leaves on this are bringing me some pleasure but have to see if I can bring it back to health to keep through winter.

Carnivorous plants

Also in the greenhouse is the collection of carnivorous plants. The different adaptations to trap insects is endlessly fascinating. I have just ended up with a Drosera for free from the local gardeners Facebook group so I was interested to check theirs out.

The Sarracenia are my favourite with their veined leaves. These form pitchers filled with liquid. The insects are attracted to the liquid which they drown in and then they are absorbed by the plant gradually.

Hydrangea Annabelle

Each time we visit at this time of year the hydrangeas have been covered with butterflies. They normally get listed as low benefit for wildlife but I find they are quite popular with butterflies.

Dahlias

There were a good few dahlias but I think this shocking pink was one of the best. I’m not a fan of the muted washed out dahlias like cafe au lait. Dahlias should be bright and in your face not something that looks like weak tea.

Plant purchases

There are normally some interesting plants for sale on their sales bench. I normally find something not readily available at the garden centres. For some reason, I was attracted to the drought-tolerant plants. I went with a dark-leaved purple emperor and a little alpine succulent, Chiastophyllum oppositifolium. Then the day lilly was a cheap purchase they were clearing out.

Well, that’s your six for the week. Back to the watering. We have had a few short bursts of rain but it isn’t having much impact on the garden but it has helped refill the water butts. I’m trying to keep the garden well-watered ready for being away. Enjoy your weekends.

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Plant Rescue Box

The new local houseplant shop, Botany Boutique, has partnered with the plant rescuer, Sarah Gerrard-Jones, to stock plant rescue boxes. These are bags or boxes of plants that need a bit of care to get them back to pristine sales point. They may need a repot or can be saved by taking cuttings. They are an opportunity to grab some interesting plants at bargain prices. When I saw Botany Boutique was going to be offering these I reserved one straight away as I like a plant rescue project. There is a sense of satisfaction in bringing back a plant to health that otherwise would add to the waste in this world. Sarah’s book the plant rescuer is currently on sale for kindle. I’ve bought it and probably going to give a read after I’ve finished my current book. I’m not generally keen on plant books on kindle but as I had a voucher it was pretty cheap. If it turns out to be good I’ll probably buy a hard copy.

The collection

For £15 I received:

Sago palmCaladium, Kalanchoe, 2 African violets, peace Lilly, Hoya, 2 calatheas and a few succulents.

  • Sago palm (Cycas revoluta)
  • Caladium
  • Kalanchoe
  • 2 African Violets (Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia)
  • Peace Lilly (Spathiphyllum)
  • Hoya kerri
  • 2 Calatheas
  • A collection of succulents

The state of these varied of why they’d been included. Some like the peace lily and African violets I think have been included as they are going past flowering point. The succulents are pretty disfigured. The caladium had a good few bent stems. The sago palm had two crisped smaller leaves and two larger healthy leaves.

Caladium

The caladium is one of the plants that interested me more as it isn’t one I have and it has an interesting leaf. It was quite a large plant but many of the stems had been knocked and weren’t going to heal. I don’t know caladiums well enough to know the variety but it looks pretty to me. It could be gingerland but they change a lot depending on the light levels.

I began by cutting out the damaged stems. This left a much-reduced plant but still a good couple of leaves.

The soil had a little bit of fungal growth. Possibly grey mould. Fungal issues are not uncommon for plants like this that need a decent level of moisture. The fallen leaves were causing part of the issue. With some plants, you can leave them to dry out between watering to reduce fungal problems but as caladiums need a good level of water this isn’t a great option. So I went with the more extreme option of removing the existing soil and repotting in fresh soil.

As it was a decent clump and one section had the fungal covering I decided to divide it while the soil was off. Caladiums form tubers, much like dahlias. You can take cuttings so long as it has a little section with a tuber on. I divided two smaller sections with leaves that are set to unfurl. Earlier in the year you could probably get away with just tuber and let it form new stems. I went with how it naturally wanted to split cutting this section with a sharp sterilised knife to avoid spreading disease.

The larger tuber section had a bit of root rot. If you looking at the photo below you can see a number of roots that have gone brown and they felt like mush. These were cut off and the healthy white roots were retained.

To pot it up it needs holding in the pot at the desired level and then the soil was poured around the roots, tapping every so often to let the soil go down and continuing until the pot was full to just below the rim. The old soil has gone in the council bin just in case it was a nastier fungal disease than I believe.

At the end of this process, I have two small pots and a larger one. I have left them for a good soak in a tray. With any luck, I’ll have one decent plant for me and two I can gift away. They are often recommended for growing for one summer season buying the tubers in spring and not keeping so we’ll see how I get on with the winter dormancy period.

Succulents

The succulents are the ones I have the least interest in as I already have healthy versions of many of these. The sempervivum looked like it had just gone leggy but when I inspected it came away from the soil.

I stripped off the rotting and dead leaves back to the small central stem that was still healthy. I have a number of semperivums already so I’ve just poked a hole in the other pots and slotted it in. It may root, it may not. It doesn’t bother me too much either way as it isn’t one I’m that bothered about. It’ll be a while until it gets to any size to be worthwhile.

The succulent at the front has just been labelled succulent. Not sure exactly what it is. Could just be an etiolated echeveria or crassula.

I’ve stripped off the lower leaves and potted it deeper. I could have potted up the leaves and they would form new plants too but it doesn’t look like anything I’m too interested in. I considered composting it but it felt cruel when I was trying to rescue everything else. You can see it has several small leaves at the top that will hopefully form a fresh healthy plant. The stem below the ground can root us into the ground and it looks a bit neater for removing damaged leaves.

Kalanchoe

I was gifted a few Kalanchoe plantlets a few months back and they have been growing well. I think this may be another kalanchoe daigremontiana, mother of thousands. So I may well be swamped with this plant as it is very good at propagating itself. It had a few damaged lower leaves.

I potted it on into a slightly bigger pot. I removed the lower damaged leaves and potted it slightly lower with the repot. This is one I’ll probably just gift on unless it appears to be a different Kalanchoe from what I already have.

Healthy plants

The calatheas largely look healthy enough. They just have a few yellowing leaves. These have gone in the bathroom along with a few relatives as I already have a maranta and Goeppertia. These like to be moist with good humidity so the bathroom is the ideal spot. Mine is south facing so if I place them on the far wall they seem to get about the right light level and be happy. I’ll monitor these and see how they do and if there are any more problems. They are in small pots currently and it is always harder to keep the water level right. As plants grow and get potted on they become a bit more forgiving. The leaves need a bit of a clean so I’ll take them in the shower with me over the week to give a clean off.

The African Violets look to be fine. They have finished flowering so it will just be a matter of growing them on and potting as needed until they are ready to flower. For now, I have just put them in the north-facing spare room. I’ll keep my eye out for some small pots to put these in.

Sago palm

Despite the name, they aren’t actually palm trees, though they have the look of one. They are actually gymnosperms, relatives of conifers. They originate from southern Japan. Cycads have very ancient origins going back to Jurassic times with many dying out in the great extinction but some survived to modern times. This had two smaller leaves on the outside that had browned off. These have been removed. If I remember rightly new leaves form from the centre so hopefully, I have just removed older leaves. When checking plant health the roots are my first port of call. By taking a plant out of its pot you can check for watering issues, whether over or under watering as well as pests and disease. This had some white powdery egg like growth at the bottom and similar yellow growth higher up.

As I was unsure of what this was I figured a repot was probably a good plan. I removed the soil and washed off as much as I could. Scraped off a little bit of what looked to be fungal growth.

It seems to be increasingly rare to receive a plant in a potting medium that actually suits the plant. I reckon I see daily posts on the British Cactus and Succulent Society Facebook group where people have root rot from cactus purchased in moisture retentive soil. The sago palm comes from Japanese islands and when I’ve seen pictures in its native environment it is usually rocky slopes. So I’ve gone for a free draining mix with a good level of sand and grit. I’ve top-dressed it with grit as I plan to place it outside for summer and this will prevent a few weeds getting in. I’ve kept it in for now as it is a particularly windy day out there and didn’t want to traumatise it anymore. These can grow 5m or so but as it is slow growing this won’t be happening anytime soon.

Hoya kerrii

Hoya kerrii is known as the sweetheart plant. It is generally sold around Valentine’s Day as a single cutting of the heart-shaped leaf. I rarely see it actually sold as a vine with any stem. It is almost always sold as leaf cutting that is barely rooted and doesn’t survive much beyond February. Removing it from the pot confirmed my suspicion. This had the tiniest bit of root wrapped in a little bit of what I assumed was coir fibre wrapped in an elastic band. The leaf is yellowed and a bit wrinkled so I’m assuming the issue with this was underwatering made worse by its lack of root system.

I carefully unwrapped the fibre from around the root and kept as much root as I can. I then potted it into the soil so it has space for more roots to grow. The plant looks better on one side so I’ve kept that side facing out while the yellower side is hidden. The yellowing is difficult to judge why it’s happened as it could be over or underwatering, lack of nutrients, too many nutrients, too much sun, or too little sun. So I’m just going to have to see if giving it a better root run helps first and that should help with watering and nutrient issues. My suspicion is its days are numbered but I can probably get a little enjoyment from it before composting.

All in all, I’m very happy with what I got in the plant rescue box. There are several plants that appear decent enough quality without any effort and a good few that I think will recover. A few succulents I’m not so bothered about, not that I dislike succulents, I have many, but these are already ones I have or close enough to ones I have. The plants would have cost many times the amount paid so if I can bring them back it’ll have been a good saving. I’ve enjoyed the initial process of diagnosing and starting them on the road to recovery. We’ll see how many of them I manage to keep going back to full health.

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Helmsley Walled Gardens

We have returned from a break away in North Yorkshire. We’ve had a fabulous time glamping out in the moors. We’ve crammed a lot into a short break away but today’s blog will focus on our trip to Helmsley Walled Gardens. I had heard of the gardens previously but haven’t visited. We opted for it as we had for one through the gardener’s world magazine card. This comes free with the magazine once a year and is well worth the issue price. Just this one trip has paid back for the magazine. Alice was free as under 16’s don’t have to pay. She also got a good activity booklet to take away.

The walled gardens go back to 1758 when it was built by the Feversham family to supply them with fruit and veg at the nearby Dumcombe Park. It fell into disrepair after WWI but was re-envisioned as a therapeutic garden by a local practise nurse, Alison Ticehurst. While she didn’t get to see her idea come to her fruition it has continued as a place for people to heal through horticulture. The garden continues to aid people with a variety of physical disabilities as well as depression and anxiety. It is maintained by a core of staff and friendly volunteers, many of whom we chatted with as went around.

The Orchid House

You enter the gardens through the cafe area and we then turned around to see the Orchid House. This is in the process of being renovated. The panes have been replaced which has been a painstaking process as the spaces are of many different sizes. A new heating and water system is going in. It is looking good and when it’s all complete and stocked it will be able to house some fascinating plants I’m sure.

Currently, it is housing the pelargoniums in the centre.

Then one side has a good collection of aeoniums. I enjoyed a talk from the British Cactus & Succulent Society last month on aeoniums so it was good to see many together. It showed their native spread across the Canary Islands. It was interesting to see the variety in the lecture as we normally see just a handful that have emerged from the same couple of cultivars. My own two are a bit sorry looking and I want to try and give them better care through this winter.

Then a few random succulents along the bench.

There were several moth traps set along the orchid house and outside and several of the catches were on display before being released. There was a good variety and a volunteer showed us some of the catches.

The Long Border

From the Orchid House we went along the long border. This runs from one end of the garden to the Orchid House. This is largely herbaceous perennials and it was looking very nice currently. The central hot border was used for the 2018 film of the Secret Garden.

The Echinops were stars currently. They grow in poor soil and are drought tolerant. But when grown on richer soil they grow taller. These had formed large globes.

The bees could get enough of them.

Hidden Gardens

Alice was excited to explore all the paths from the side of the long border which she considered to be secret paths.

Little border run off the long border with spots to sit and explore.

The annual border

To what I think was the east side of the gardens several large beds had been given to annuals. The cornflower were dominating the mix currently. I hope they get left to go to seed as the birds will love all the seed heads.

Then some daises and poppies stood out amongst the blue.

The Orchard

Alongside the annual beds there is a good orchard stocking a good variety of fruit trees, then a few more growing as cordons along the wall.

They are looking to have a good harvest in a few months. The shop sells a number of preserves and chutneys so I imagine these are harvested for those.

The labyrinth

Neighbouring the orchard is a labyrinth cut into the grass. Garden labyrinths fit well into the therapeutic garden as they are meant to be walked as a time and place for contemplation.

Alice on the other hand has no respect for tradition and sees them as a race to the centre.

Chickens

At the other end of the garden is a wildlife pond and chicken area adding to the productivity of the garden.

Not the friendliest-looking birds though.

And in the corner a shaded area with a good grouping of Acers.

The west wall is given over to Irises which are over now but I’m sure make a spring visit worthwhile. There were a few Kniphofia still in flower.

Statues

There are a number of metal statues dotted around the garden. These are nicely displayed and fit nicely within the loose planting style.

Insects

Even though it was a bit of an overcast day there was still plenty of pollinator activity.

There were many busy bees taking advantage of the garden. In many ways, I think gardens encourage more biodiversity than reserves with the gardener’s desire to ram in many different plants rather than small monoculture areas of limited planting.

Wasps have a bad reputation but they are actually quite useful as pollinators and they attack many pests of garden plants maintaining a natural balance.

A wall of passionflowers in the plant sales area was buzzing with many visitors.

The Vinehouse Cafe

No garden visit is really complete without refreshments. The cafe is housed within an orangery setup along one of the garden’s walls. It was worth a visit having been voted Visit England’s Visitor Experience Award winners in Yorkshire within the food and drink category. Grapevines grow up from one edge and hang over the tables.

We both enjoyed a savoury scone, while Alice had a caramel shortbread slice. I particularly enjoyed mine as I went for a blue cheese and walnut scone. Blue cheese is frowned upon by the rest of the family when at home but I can get away with it when out.

The grapes are reaching a good size. I don’t know how well they ripen but it looks very nice.

Normally a garden visit would have ended with a plant purchase but as the car space was going to be needed for the return journey after glamping I had to forgo that pleasure. The plants for sale were largely from the Yorkshire Plants company which are stocked local to me there wasn’t anything I couldn’t get closer to home. If space wasn’t an issue there was a decent selection of plants available at a reasonable price. I would recommend a visit to the gardens. It was a good family day out The gardens were looking good. The food was delicious and we all came away happy. Plus by visiting and spending you support the therapeutic side of the garden. Hope you’ve enjoyed the tour.

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Wassand Hall

It’s been a good while since I wrote a blog but this week I finished my last RHS exams. Hopefully, I passed and won’t need to resit. The first exam covered fruit and veg which isn’t my strongest knowledge area but it didn’t feel too bad. The second is on protected environments. They had changed the exam from any of the previous past papers. You usually have a good few questions where you write profiles of particular houseplants. There weren’t any of these questions but a lot more of growing veg in protected structures. A bit disappointed as I know houseplants better but so it goes. Now I’ve got the exams out the way I can get back to actually focussing on my own garden so expect a few updates.

Yesterday I made it out with Alice to Wassand Hall. It’s our closest country house and garden open to the public and we’ve visited it plenty of times before so I’m not going to go into lots of detail about the gardens in this blog. Check the previous blogs for more information. After a few weekends of revision, it was good to get out and to get Alice outside into nature.

Meadows

We began with a walk around the meadow land that surrounds the house. The grassland was filled with butterflies and damselflies. Countless speckled browns and meadow browns and a few more colourful butterflies on the wing. I’ve spotted the deer quite a few times while I’ve been out on my own but no sign today. We did see a good few orchids though.

Alice walked much further than I thought she would, enjoying everything we saw. This area is such a valuable habitat for so much wildlife I’m glad we have it on our doorstep. I’m glad it’s managed as it is creating a variety of niches for different wildlife.

Walled garden

After a snack refuel we headed into the walled gardens. The walled garden is roughly split into four beds with a tropical corner, a more cottage garden feel, a shaded corner and a more mixed one. Alice loves a water feature. Whenever we visit the garden centre she loves spending her time on the water fountain aisle. She spent a good while watching the fish in the central pond.

The tropical corner is probably my favourite area. The large foliage plants mixed with spectacular lilies and dahlias are just so lush to be irresistible.

With the heat, an ice cream break was needed.

Hot house

After cooling off with ice cream we headed into the hot house. Every time we visit I am very envious of the hothouse. They have a fabulous collection of plants growing in there at sizes I could never achieve without the heat and humidity they can create in here. As the last exam was on protected environments it was good to see it all in action.

Alice loved walking through the mist of the humidifier which with the heat outside was quite refreshing. I don’t think Amy will allow me to do this with the summer room though sadly.

Fabulous gloriosa.

Mandevilla growing from a large pot.

The carnivorous pitcher, sarracenia guards the door against insects.

And a few more carnivorous nepenthes protecting the greenhouse from pests.

Back to the outside world Alice was attracted to the rill. As I said she is fascinated by the water features.

Woodland Walk

I thought Alice would have had enough of walking by this point but she was determined to do the woodland walk. It takes you in a circle around the woodland surrounding the walled garden. Along the way you look for animals doors and record the colour on a sheet.

It takes you to the stumpery, which any long term readers will know I like a lot. The mix of ferns and gunnery and wonderful foliage plants makes for a wonderfully calm environment.

I’m glad Alice still enjoys doing activities as basic as these trails. It’s valuable time together and she still found such pleasure in finding each door. At the end, we returned the clipboard to the cafe for a reward of a bag of sweets.

Cactus house

To the side of the cafe is a long thin glass-ceilinged room with the cactus and succulents collection. A stark contrast to the hot house. From warm and humid to super dry. Cactus and succulents are fascinating if strange-looking things. My A-level biology teacher had a love of them and had them dotted around the lab. At least I assume she loved them from the quantity. I also have a suspicion that they were out so the more annoying students would end up touching when they decided to give the furry-looking ones a stroke. She did have a bit of a sadistic sense of humour, though a very good teacher. For adaptations, there are few plants as interesting botanically.

While I’m sure most readers understand the cactus and succulent distinction a few might not. Succulents are defined as plants with water-storing adaptations such as fleshy leaves or fleshy trunks. While cacti are succulents with leaves that have adapted to become spines or scales to suit desert conditions.

While it is only the one stretch of plants there is an amazing variety of plants that have adapted differently for dry conditions. The spines forming micro climates to conserve water and protect the plant from anything that might eat it.

While the succulents have fleshy leaves for water storage in all manners of configurations.

I think this little one was one of my favourites, Mammillaria gracillis. I like how the spines are adapted to flatten over the cactus stems to make a web.

Plant sales

OK, I’ll be honest this was one of the main reasons we came out. I was looking to take Alice out for a nice day but no reason that couldn’t cross over with me seeing some interesting plant stalls. There were a few local nurseries there with a mix of perennials and bedding plants. Long Riston plants are very reasonably priced. The Hardy Plant Society were there with a good selection of perennials. But as we visited the local open gardens a few weeks back I already have a good pile of plants needing planting so I resisted these. I couldn’t resist the Hull branch of the British Cactus and Succulents society stand.

I think they have involvement with the display at Wassand and they had brought out a great selection for the display table.

Alice likes the ones which look like they are covered in wool as mum likes to needle felt and she felt it looked like the wool she uses.

Best of all, all of the pots were £1 each regardless of size and rarity value meaning we could pick many just based on what we liked. We both picked a good few. Then a picked up a not-so-mini tetrapanax. This is capable of becoming a large-leaved tropical-looking tree. In milder areas, they can remain evergreen. I expect mine to be deciduous dying to the ground in winter. Accounts online differ in how it copes with the wind. But I have seen a good few accounts saying it can manage with sea salt winds so I’m going to risk it. If it works out it will make for an impressive specimen within the front garden jungle.

Glad I managed to find my favourite cactus from the cactus house. I can see how people become obsessed with collecting and growing these wonderful plants. Their small nature means anyone can fit a good few. The great variety makes them very interesting. I’m tempted to join the society as they look to have a good number of online lectures each month making it easy for me to fit it around Alice. Then they meet once a month close enough for me to get to. If they ever have a press office job going I’d leap at that for the amount of bad puns that can be made. “They’re a bit of a prickly bunch with dry sense of humours.”

It was a great day out and wonderful seeing Alice taking such enjoyment from the wildlife in the meadow, to the plants in the garden, to the woodland trail, to simple pleasures such as watching the water. Despite dragging her around for over 16,000 steps, during the whole day out the only whine was when I said it was time to go.

Stillingfleet Lodge Gardens

Last Friday I made it to Stillingfleet Lodge Gardens. I had seen them on Twitter for a while but hadn’t really connected that it was fairly close to me. But, while sourcing a plant I realised they were close enough for a visit at just over an hour away. The garden is an absolute treat with the nursery having a focus on perennials. I arrived for opening at 1 and I’m glad I did. It gave me a chance to do a loop of the gardens while it was still quiet and see more of the wildlife. It was a bit of a grey day so there wasn’t as much about as there would have been on a sunnier day but still plenty to enjoy.

The cafe courtyard

The cafe courtyard was lovely and peaceful when I entered. Quite a shaded spot with a nice mix of foliage plants around the edges.

The steps were lovely with the pots and plants spilling out the brickwork. I didn’t note what it was at the time but looks like creeping toadflax.

A pair of doves were going in and out of a window at the top of the cafe.

I was happy to see a pot of podophyllum after seeing it in a recent lecture from Phillip Oostenbrink.

Bird feeders

There were two paths out from the courtyard and I chose the one less travelled as the view looked inviting. More people were heading out the other way. This took me to the bird feeders.

There was a nice mix of birds visiting. Several types of tits and robins.

Though the arrival of the slinky cat put them off.

From the feeders, I found some deep pink dahlias.

And anemones.

The rill garden

I think I’ve missed the peak of the rill garden flowers. It looked like Nigella, love-in-a-mist had gone over in many of the planters. But the water tinkling through is always a pleasant sound.

On a sunnier day, I imagine this catches the light beautifully.

The pond

The pond had some nice tall planting surrounding it with a few views in.

A waterlily set to unfurl.

The meadow area

From the pond, I headed around the woodland meadow area. This is made up of many hardy geraniums with other plants mixed in. A nice mix of spreading plants. They had a few hives hidden away. I didn’t notice any honey for sale sadly as I do like a souvenir pot of honey.

There was a good number of small and large white butterflies about and the odd peacock. As I said, it was quite a grey day so not as much moving in the meadow as there would be a sunnier day.

Wonderful peeling bark.

I rather like the tansy flowers in the meadow, Tanacetum vulgare. Lovely little yellow balls. I was tempted by a pot in the nursery but I don’t think it would gel with my other plants.

The long border

From the house, there is a long border with clipped bushes along the middle. I realise looking back at my photos I didn’t take a decent long shot. I possibly didn’t want to annoy visitors photographing them or getting them to move. These borders were spectacular filled with lots of perennials. It’s always good to visit other gardens as this when you see plant combinations that work well. Stillingfleet had lots of effective combinations. Some are plants unsuited to my soil and conditions but still lovely to see.

I seem to have seen Monarda a lot this year. I’m not sure whether it’s just that I’ve noticed it or that more people are using it. There was a stand on the BBC coverage of RHS Tatton Park talking about them. It is a lovely vibrant plant and loved by bees. In the mint family with quite a pleasant smell to my mind.

The wasps were loving the echinops. They are very rich in nectar so I don’t know if that’s the draw. I only have one of the smaller varieties but I could be tempted with some of the taller types.

There was plenty of dahlias dotted around.

And plenty more visual treats.

On the way around the house, I spotted a little trough of pitcher plants, Sarracenia. This is a carnivorous bog plant. It’s usually grown as a house plant or in greenhouses, but it can be grown outside as its native range is across North America. I meant to ask someone what soil they were growing it in and what drainage they’d given it but I forgot by the time I got around to any of the staff.

Wire sculptures

Dotted around the garden there were sculptures by Chris Moss. I saw lots of visitors eyeing them up. The robin on a spade seemed to be very popular. I saw lots of people checking the price while I had a cup of tea in the cafe courtyard.

The stock gardens

I actually really enjoyed looking in the stock gardens. A lot of gardens hide them away or keep them private but it’s nice seeing the plants growing in masses and the many different varieties. The entrance was covered in honeysuckle giving you a nice waft of scent to put you in a spending mood.

The agapanthus was the standout plant. They seem to be having a good year from many peoples accounts. I was very tempted to add a few more when I got to the nursery sales but I resisted. I spoke about mine in yesterday’s six on Saturday.

Twister was one of the finest available in my opinion. The two colours are very attractive.

Though there was some dark beauties set to unfurl.

There was a good section of borage in the stock area. This is such a good plant for bees as it refills its nectaries within two minutes. Anyone keeping honeybees should have it around to avoid honey bees depleting flowers from native wild bees. The flower is also edible. It looks particularly pretty in ice cubes.

The robins were serenading visitors around all areas of the garden but they were posing for photos in this area.

A peacock enjoying the buddleia.

The inevitable plant purchases

Obviously I wasn’t going to come away with no purchases. The range of plants they stock is amazing. Download the catalogue and feel envious. The main focus is perennials with an amazing collection of hardy geraniums and pulmonarias. It was a pleasure to see such choice when I’ve become accustomed to garden centres stocking smaller and smaller ranges. During my last outing to the local garden centre I asked for directions for an astrantia and hardy geraniums and it was clear none of the staff had any knowledge of plants. They openly admitted they didn’t know what these were. It strikes me as strange that you can work in a garden centre without knowing what you are putting on the tables. The equvialant would be a supermarket shelf stacker who didn’t know where to direct you for baked beans. But that’s all the garden centres are now is supermarkets for plants. The plant space is getting cut down in my closest to make room for more scented candles, bath bombs and other gifts. They are places for people to go for a day out and have a slice of cake. The plants are becoming an inconvinient nuisance that need looking after. So, now I’ve put my plant shopping experiences in context you can see why Stillingfleet was such a joy.

I had specifically gone to obtain Iris foetidissima lutescens. They are the only stockist of the plant in the whole country. It is much like any other Iris foetidissima. It has the strap like evergreen leaves but has an all yellow flower, a little bigger maybe than the normal variety. It’s reckoned to be slightly more tender than the normal version but being a pretty bomb proof plant to start with I’m feeling fairly confident it will be alright. I’ve now ended up with six of the nine varieties of Iris foetidissima that the RHS lists. I’ve still got my eye on trying to get hold of the variegated one next year. It might seem like an odd plant to decide to collect varieties of as it is far from the prettiest iris around. The main interest comes from the berries in winter. But it is one of only two native irises to the UK and I feel it’s worth preserving. I’ve recently joined plant heritage who work conserving rare plants in cultivation. With more and more nurseries closing it seems important to try and keep these more unusual plants in circulation. Like I said, the garden centres are offering less and less choice so supporting nurseries that offer more is important. For the long term we need a great variety of plants to survive whatever may happen with our climate.

I also picked up two varieties of sea holly ready for our anniversary. They formed part of our wedding flowers, but they are also wonderful plants for wildlife on top of that. Eryngium bourgatii picos amethyst looks to be a darker more vibrant blue than my existing ones.

And Eryngium giganteum ‘silver ghost’. This is described as growing as a biennial by most sources but should hopefully self seed. It’s a tall white sea holly offering great spikey architectural flowers.

And the final purchase for me, a Persicaria ‘purple fantasy’. I’ve cavorted a persicaria and this had such stunning foliage. I’ve put in a pot for now while I decide where it will go. They have a reputation for spreading rapidly beyond where they are wanted but I believe this is meant to be quite a well behaved one. I could have come away with a lot more, but I wanted an anniversary the next day, not a divorce. Got my eye on the pulmonaria list for future visits.

I really enjoyed my trip to Stillingfleet. The gardens are very much to my taste with lots of informality. Lots of the plants are spreading and sprawling out of gaps in paving and into each other. But it’s absolutely lovely. There are a lot of Capability Brown landscape gardens around me on far grander scales, but these largely leave me cold. I like plants, and ideally plants rammed in thickly. The intimacy of this little garden was fantastic. The plant range immense, a plantsperson’s dream. Well worth a visit.

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Six on Saturday: Furzey Gardens

While down in Dorset we visited Furzey gardens. This is a lovely little garden nestled within the New Forest. It is an RHS partners garden so I probably could have got free entry but didn’t mind paying to support. The garden is a social enterprise providing work experience and training for people with learning disabilities. There is a cafe within the gardens. Currently, it was offering drinks and a few light bites. I don’t know if it is any different when Covid restrictions are fully over.

  1. The Cottage Garden

When you first enter the garden you are met with the cottage. This is surrounded by informal cottage garden style borders. Lots of herbaceous perennials. They do have a cottage you can let for occasions. I’m not sure if this one is available to let or if there is another one on site.

It rained on and off lightly while we were there so the bees were in and out during our visit. But, this border was very active.

These borders were stunning, filled with colour. Amy spent ages taking close up photos of many flowers. If I used her photos we would be getting on for 66 on a Saturday, probably more.

2. Woodland borders

As you’d expect from a garden in the New Forest much of the garden is wooded. There are a lot of camellias and rhododendrons, but these weren’t offering any colour at this time of year. There are little hidden paths and structures with viewing points over the area hidden away.

Hidden within the garden are 40 fairy doors. I think we found maybe 20. Alice enjoyed looking so kept her busy.

The woodland contains lots of ferns and some interesting foliage plants.

And a good few hydrangea happy in the shade.

3. The play area

The play area is made up of a large scale fairy village. Lots of huts and tunnels and walls to climb around.

Alice was a bit unsure of the ladders but once she’d been up a few times she loved it.

She had a good play before falling off the swing which put an end to her fun. But she recovered after a snack.

4. The meadow

Surrounding the play area there is an area of meadow with paths cut through.

This area was very species-rich with many hoverflies, bees, butterflies and beetles visible. Here we have a soldier beetle.

In this photo there is a small copper with the wings open and a gatekeeper.

Gatekeepers have been the most numerous butterfly we saw in Dorset.

5. The pond

On the walk down to the pond, there was bursts of rain. But, by the time we got down there it was stupendously hot. You can see how much the sun is shining off the water. I took a lot of overexposed photos along this section.

Grey wagtails were hopping back and forth on the lilypads.

Around the side, massive gunneras dominated an area. Alice refused to stand next to them for comparison.

And there were a few different butterflies. A brimstone.

And a speckled wood.

6. Birds

There was lots of birds around the garden. Many of the smaller ones were quite tame. The robins came onto the picnic tables while we had our lunch.They were very accommodating for photos.

I thoroughly enjoyed this garden. From the description we thought it would be a little drop off and then head into Lyndhurst but we spent a good few hours there. Alice loved the fairy trail and playpark. Amy was happy taking photos and I was happy enjoying the wildlife and plants. The plant sales were very reasonable priced and by souther standards were probably excellent. From little £2 pots of easy self seeders to some decent shrubs. If we lived closer I’d be using it regularly, but I wasn’t going to to fit anything in the car for the journey back. But I did get some primula seeds so I can hopefully grow a memento of the garden. I am working on my next plant profiles for my current RHS assignment so I’ll probably research these one. Hope you all enjoy your weekends, we have a busy one ahead but then I have two days with Alice booked in for ballet school, so have a bit of time to ourselves.

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Six on Saturday: 5.9.20 Monocots & Dicots

For this weeks six I thought I would do a blog to aid with revision for my first RHS exam in a few weeks. Having had a look through past exam papers the differences between monocts and dicots is a regular exam question. Flowering plants (Angiosperms) are divided into two key groups moncots and discots. The course never really explains why this is important to know but it does give you a good idea of how a plant will grow, what leaves it will have. Some diseases may affect dicots but not monocots so it can be useful to be able to categorise the two.

1. Leaves

The leaves of monocotyledonous plants have parallel veins. They are usually strap-like in shape and have the stomata (where oxygen exits and carbon dioxide enters) are spread evenly between the top and bottom of the leaves. Grasses would be a good example of this. Here we have a hosta showing the parallel veins.

Whereas, dicotyledonous plants have spreading, reticulate (net-like) and branching veins. Here on the heuchera you can see the veins spreading out like a web. The stomata are located on the underside of the leaves.

2. Stems

Monocot stems have vascular bundles scattered around the stem with an epidermis one layer thick. They cannot undergo secondary thickening so they do not form woody stems. There are some exceptions such as palm trees and bananas that can form larger stems but these are exceptions that have developed different strategies than dicot stems for growing larger. So while something like a hosta may grow large leaves it does not develop a large stem. Here the agapanthus has the strap like leaves with a long stem but it cannot undergo secondary thickening to make it more stable.

Dicot stems have vascular bundles arranged in circles around the pith acting as a starch store. They can undergo secondary thickening. So, in general, most trees will be dicots.

3. Flowers

Monocot flower parts are arranged in multiples of 3. Irises and lilies are good examples of this.

Whereas, dicot flowers have parts arranged in multiples of 4 or 5.

4. Seeds

Monocot seeds have one cotyledon, thus the name monocot. The cotyledon is the embryonic leaf that the plant initially grows when first germinated. As it grows larger it forms the true leaves. In the case of monocots, as already said, strap-like.

In dicot seeds, they have two cotyledons. Here we have the two seed leaves of the dicot coneflowers, Echinacea purpurea.

5. Roots

In monocot roots are usually fibrous. They sometimes have an initial taproot that dies off quickly to be replaced by the adventitious fibrous roots. Whereas dicots can form a tap root system with a central thicker root growing down with roots branching off this. Then from the secondary roots smaller taproots may form. Here we have the fibrous roots coming off an onion.

6. Pollen grains

Monocot pollen is monosulcate. This means it has a single pore through the outer layer.

Whereas dicot pollen is tricolpate meaning it has 3 ridges through the outer layer.

I hope you have enjoyed me sharing some of my course knowledge. Hopefully, some of it may be accurate. One more weekend to go before the test so I have a bit more time to cram. Sorry if I don’t get around to reading everyone else’s sixes this week. Between starting my new job on Monday and preparing for my exam I am a bit busy. But it should settle into a nice routine after the exam. Enjoy your weekends.

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