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 Saturday-Agatha Christie

I have just finished reading Agatha Christie’s murder at the vicarage. Within Christie’s work gardens and gardening come up again and again. Miss Marple is an avid gardener enjoying the opportunities it gives her to observe the comings and goings in her village. Garden parties are a regular setting. Christie herself even had a rather lovely rose named after her. In Miss Marple’s final case we know she is getting on as she is advised not to exert herself gardening. So I thought this week I would look at six Agatha Christie gardening links.

1. Deadheading the roses

I understand, Miss Marple that Mrs. Protheroe passed this way yesterday evening?

Yes, she did. I called out to her, and she admired my roses.

Miss Marple spends much time tending her roses. This gives her ample time to be a busy body observing her neighbourhood. My roses are doing very well but I am now having to start on my deadheading. Lots more blooms coming through. I have a mix of repeat flowering roses and old roses.

2. Secateurs

Miss Marple favoured bypass secateurs for her pruning as do I. I’m sure she’d appreciate the gold leaf gloves as well.

3. Poison plants

Agatha Christie worked for a period as a dispenser and had a knowledge of poisonous plants. Torre Abbey even has a garden dedicated to the poisonous plants of Christie’s novels. In Postern of fate, foxgloves were planted in amongst sage the murderer knew would be collected for the evening’s meal. My foxgloves are going over but they have held up well through rain and wind.

4. Ferns

I am developing several areas with ferns. The corner near the shed has the most established. One of the supposed highlights of Christie’s garden, though I’ve never visited, is the fernery. I have found myself giving more space over to ferns and the front garden is going to be largely ferns and hostas.

5. Rocks

“Yes.” she said, it must have come as a very nasty shock for him to come across you just then. But her turned it off very well-pretending he was bringing it to me for me for my rock gardens. Only-Miss Marple became suddenly very emphatic. “It was the wrong sort of stone for my rock gardens! And that put me on the right track!”

Even the wrong sort of rock can set Miss Marple on your case. I’ve dug in a few rocks we had spare to go in the front garden. I’d like to look at cultivating the moss for a more natural look. Natural yoghurt mixed with compost is supposed to work.

6. Mystery plant

Christie wrote great mysteries so here is one for all of you. My mum gave me two of these seedlings but didn’t know what they were. Gardens hour suggested morning glory but now we have flowers I can see that was wrong. Anyone solve the case?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this literary-themed six. Any other good gardens out there in literature? Now I finished one Christie I face the problem of what to read next as everything seems inferior after.

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30 Days Wild: day 11-Save water

Today I’m looking at saving water in the garden. We have recently added two water butts One 300-litre beast in the back garden and one smaller 100-litre butt in the front garden. For the last week, I’ve been watering purely using the butts. Granted it has rained lots but as I’ve got quite a few newly planted trees and shrubs I want to make sure they are staying damp. At the bottom end, you can pay £30 for a cheap butt to make a big difference.

Installing a butt has many advantages both for the environment and practical:

    • If you’re on a water metre it saves money. In the future more of us may be put on metres if droughts continue. Get prepared!
    • Less water is taken out of rivers for drinking water. Up to 70% of the water from our taps is used for gardens at peak times. This means water companies have to drain streams and groundwater reducing valuable habitats for many species.
    • Most plants prefer rainwater to tap water, particularly if you live in an area of hard water like me.
    • It can save time and effort walking to the tap. This has helped me in the front garden where I have to walk a long way around.
    • It’s estimated if everyone in the UK used a butt we could save a reservoir worth of water.
    • It saves energy. Water treatment plants use up lots of energy so butts help save energy.
    • It potentially reduces flood risk. As you are reducing the water going down the drain it helps stop the drains get full.

Hope this inspires you to add one if you don’t already have a butt. We’ve already had one person in the neighbourhood say they’ve ordered one having seen ours at the front which is great news.

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30 Days of Wild: Idea 10-Write a wild poem

Writing a wild poem doesn’t have to be a difficult task. Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer there are simple enough forms for everyone.

Acrostic poems are a simple choice. You choose a word and write one word or sentence beginning with each letter in the word. For example wild:

Wonderful

Interesting

Lively

Day

The lost words by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane has great examples.  The John Muir trust put together a great guide on using this book in the classroom.

Haiku are another easy option. I’ve recently had one featured in the Wildlife Trusts 365 days wild book.

Haikus follow a set format. Three lines. The first line has five syllables, the second seven, then the third five syllables. Traditional zen thought is that the poem should form naturally. They shouldn’t be forced just what comes to mind. They shouldn’t have lots of time put it into them. They are capturing a quick moment and then moving on.

Gracefully flying

Flitting flower to flower

Never staying still

Please share if you give a poem a try. I’d love to read.

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Six on Saturday: 8.6.19-Cottage garden favourites

This week I seem to have ended up with a selection of Cottage Garden favourites. The building work is almost done now and the borders are full of activity with lots still to come up. I’ve spiked the lawn as it was badly damaged by building work and spread new seed. It will recover quickly enough but looks bad currently. We’ve had good bursts of sun and rain which should help. The front garden has had a few plants put in and I’m hoping to get a bit further this weekend.

1. Foxgloves

They are one of my favourites. The tall spires are always great to see and beloved by bees. I’ve got a mixture growing this year. Some I grew from seed, some that self-seeded and a few cheap ones purchased. Many of the varieties this year seem short so I’m going to start growing some taller types to make sure they are standing proud in the border next year.

2. Lupins

Last year I planted several patches of lupins. They were all devastated by slugs and snails with the exception of this on that is growing strong. It has been surrounded by sheep wool pellets to act as protection. It’s done the job well.

3. Honeysuckle Belgica

This early Dutch honeysuckle was planted last year. I planted this one on the edge of the patio with the intention that it will grow up to give the scent on the patio. I have some native honeysuckle in the corner of the border but no one ever gets close enough to enjoy it. This is growing up well gradually claiming a good section of fence. I’m gradually getting different climbers established along the fence to build up the greenery.

4. Marigolds

My mum planted a handful two years ago. I allow a few to self-seed and come back each year.

5. Azalea japonica-Agadir

I bought this little azalea last year. It’s not really my taste but I know Amy likes the one at her dads. It’s put on a good amount of growth since buying and has more flowers than I expected for its first year. It’s bold and brash so I’ve currently got it down by the bench at the end of the garden as it stands out from a distance.

6. Rose Scarlett Paul

Another addition from last year. I planted two of these bare root climbers last year. They have put on loads of growth and I’ve been working on training horizontal branches to encourage flowers. It’s covered in buds that are starting to open. It’s about a third of the way up the fence. In another year or so this should cover all of this fence section. Again, like the azalea, the flowers are bold and showy. This one doesn’t have any scent to speak of but there are two old roses still to flower with great scent.

Tomorrow is open gardens in my area so I’m hoping to get out and have a good look through lots of other peoples gardens. It didn’t run last year but the previous visit was great. There are some spectacular gardens around me and it gave me some great inspiration for what would probably do well in my garden when I first started out. If I get out you can expect mass numbers of photos

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30 Days Of Wild: Idea 1 painting stones

A simple idea to kick off my ideas for 30 days wild that only requires a little bit of preparation of finding a stone beforehand. Now taking stones from the beach is illegal and the craze for painting rocks last year drove my wife crazy as we were seeing people taking bucket loads of stones from the beach. So there have been campaigns to decorate and then return the rock to the beach. The kindness rocks project shows lots of nice ideas of people writing messages onto their rocks. The artist Jackie Morris is in the habit of decorating and returning rocks with her lovely spiral Celtic Maze designs in gold. If you plan to do this as a teacher with your class please source the stones responsibly.

For some reason, Alice doesn’t like to keep her rock painted. We’ve painted the same rock multiple times over the last month and she’s then wiped it. But never mind she’s enjoyed it.

I’ve done a simple design to sit on top of the bug hotel in the garden after a varnish. I may do an equally simple bee design next to go alongside this.

Hope you’re all getting involved with 30 days wild and have enjoyed your first day.

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