Friday, 24 December 2010

Frozen Images

Oh the weather outside is frightful and the fire is so delightful...and here are some images from Holly Grove this frozen December day...MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Snowy Shropshire

Thought I'd post a few photos from our garden and the lanes around our home this snowy, frosty December...keep warm everyone!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Home Renovations and Cooking

I'm afraid that there is not much change going on in the garden at the moment as we are focusing on some home improvements and preserving the late autumn harvest - pop over to Holly Grove kitchen to see what we're up to...

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Goodbye Unwelcome Visitors

In a previous post earlier this year I mentioned that we had spotted wasps building a nest on our little blue garden house...well that was early June. Sometime around the end of July I noticed less activity around the nest and on closer (and careful) inspection I saw a number of dead wasps under the entrance to the nest. 

We watched the nest throughout August and came to the conclusion that the nest was no longer in use.  But just in case we left it in place and continued to give it a wide berth, until last week when we noticed that the nest was beginning to fall apart.

Beginning to decay

So today was the day to dislodge the nest and inspect the inside.  A wasps' nest is not an attractive structure from the outside, but quite fascinating inside.
2 parts to the nest
Subtle colours on the nest shell

Wasp honeycomb and eggs
The nest was amazingly light in weight, the nest formed in two parts: the shell of the nest resembling thin, paper like bandages in soft grey, white and lilac, added in layers and the honeycomb centre filled with eggs, some of which were cracked open, others with a baby wasp partly formed and more complete eggs - amazing!

The question outstanding is: what happened to the wasps that they died or abandoned the nest?  If there are any entomologists out there it would be great to hear an explanation of what might have happened to the colony.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Renovation and Reroofing

The title of this post doesn't sound as though it has much to do with gardening but the Handyman's largest project to date will have a significant influence on the look of our surroundings and on how we use the garden.

When we first moved here over three years ago there was a selection of outbuildings opposite the back of the house, christened 'the shantie town' by the Handyman. It was a real jumble of corregated iron and wood shacks together with the original outhouse and a concrete block building that had been built to house goats kept by a previous owner of Holly Grove.

Over the time we've been here the Handyman has removed some of these shacks and has plans to renovate the original outhouse. The old Goat House is the largest and most substantial of the buildings and has been used by us as a workshop, this was to become the biggest and most complex of the Handyman's projects to date.

The work began last August when we designed the party patio and incorporated the proposed pitched roof of the Goat House renovation into the patio design. The photos below show the two beams that will support the end of the pitched roof, the end of Goat House can be seen that will support the outside fire and chimney.

On completion of the party patio the focus shifted through the winter months to creating a workshop for the Handyman in a small barn on the other side of the garden. When the building was ready it took several weeks to relocate all the tools etc.

So as Spring arrived it was time to start work on the pitched roof. Roofing is not a job that the Handyman has tackled before, but he likes a challenge! So with some advice from his brother C, the Handyman set off. Unfortunately due to an accident and some broken bones the project was put on hold for 8 weeks or so...

Following confirmation that his bones were healing well, the project continued...below are a couple of photos of the beginnings of the handcut roof, each piece cut and put in place by the Handyman. there was much deliberation over the angle of pitch and the inclusion of hips on each end of the building - we find ourselves looking at the shapes and sizes of local roofs and deliberating on the aesthetics of each.

The next stages were to apply the felt and then the battens for the tiling. I spent a lot of time feeling very anxious as I watched the Handyman climbing up the scaffolding and across the roof - all this just 16 weeks after breaking two bones in his leg!

We then spent more time looking at a range of tiles - colour, shape and size - and eventually the Handyman sourced some reclaimed tiles which should allow the building to blend into the garden and surrounding architecture. Then last Saturday the tiling began, with the help and knowledge of a friend P, who shared some of the secrets of roof tiling with the Handyman.

When the tiling is complete the rest of the project to turn the Goat House into a garden studio will be mothballed until next Spring whilst we start work on a couple of major projects in the house. I'll update this blog with the progress of the Goat House as things are added.

I've ventured up onto the scaffolding at various stages, though I found the experience somewhat daunting (I don't do heights very well).

The views across the garden and surrounding countryside were amazing - wonder if the Handyman could incorporate a viewing platform in the roof design? Hmm!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Tooty Fruity!

Quick update on the soft fruit front...raspberries and blackcurrants in abundance light up the fruit cage. So far we've had 3lbs 2ozs of raspberries and about 4lbs of blackcurrants. Much use has been made of these in the Holly Grove kitchen.

There are more raspberries ripening each day and more blackcurrants. The redcurrants are beginning to colour and there is the prospect of a bumper crop of blackberries later in the summer. Delicious!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Freshest of Veg

Well, harvesting time has arrived as seeds sown in April and May start to produce lovely fresh vegetables for the kitchen. We've been eating sugarsnap peas, lettuce, baby carrots and the odd kohl rabi for ten days or so and yesterday we had the first of our soft fruit in the shape of raspberries and blackcurrants.

Today I've got a basket of vegetables to roast for our tea. In the trug are some of the usual suspects: beetroot, carrots, baby courgettes, with some first time arrivals at Holly Grove: florence fennel and kohl rabi. The kohl rabi is becoming a favourite with us. A more sophisticated version of turnip, it is tender and sweet when any size between golf ball and tennis ball. It peels easily and this variety 'Green Delicacy' has lovely white flesh. I've just sown another row which should be ready around the end of August.

I haven't grown Florence fennel before so I'm looking forward to tasting it. So far it has proven easy to germinate and grow, though I think it could do with a bit more frequent watering to swell the edible stem base and two or three more weeks in the ground should produce better sized bulbs. However I just couldn't wait any longer to have a taste, so have taken one immature bulb to try.

There really is nothing quite like fruit and veg from your own plot!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Border Bouquet

Just a quick note as I have a busy day ahead both in the garden and the kitchen. Look out for a new post on Holly Grove Kitchen coming soon...

Whilst deadheading the roses yesterday I also cut back a few stray stems of border perennials. Rather than consigning them to the compost bin I put them in a vase and before you know it a border bouquet had emerged. Okay, so it wouldn't win any flower arranging prizes but it really gives a flavour of the borders at Holly Grove.

In the mix are shasta daisies, various penstemons, scabious, valerian, campanula and the odd frond of fern - a real cottage garden fusion!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

On Display

We are expecting visitors this weekend, my cousin and her husband are staying overnight with us on their way to Spain for the summer. So the garden has had its hands and face washed - this takes the form of a bit of furniture painting, cushion washing, patio sweeping, grass cutting and border edging. The end result is a very tidy plot, hopefully showing off Holly Grove at its best.

Fingers crossed for fine weather on Saturday so that we can sit in the garden and enjoy all the hard work.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Gardener Turned Painter?

We have lots of places to sit at Holly Grove - not that we spend much time using them! But they are an important part of the garden; the metal table and chairs outside the sunroom door make a lovely spot to sit for breakfast and the companion seat at the top of the circle lawns is perfect for an afternoon cuppa, then the swingseat in the evening sun...

To these the Handyman is adding a small gazebo in the shade by Valentine's gate. This was a structure he made for our previous garden and it has been sitting dismantled in the 'builder's yard' since we moved here three years ago, so as you may imagine it is in need of a coat of garden paint/ job.

Not quite the transition between gardener and painter that Monet evoked in his Giverny garden but then he probably had 'staff' to paint the Chinois bridge. The painting of the gazebo will take me several days to complete as I intend to attack it a bit at a time. At the same time I'm repainting the metal table and chairs, a glutton for punishment you may say, but the reward will be in having one new place to linger and another refreshed.

As an antidote to all this painting I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen garden removing the gone-to-seed rocket and radish (I always sow more than we can eat) to the compost bin and sowing two more rows of carrots and one row of Little Gem lettuce in their place. The cut and come again lettuce sown in the half barrel earlier this year has been a great success and is still flourishing and we had the first thinnings of our carrots last night for tea with the first of the sugar snap peas - delicious! I don't have a photo of these as they went straight from plot to plate in minutes.

In the greenhouse the first courgettes are ready and small green tomatoes are appearing on all the varieties. The first two tiny cucumbers have also materialised -- how exciting! Oh, and I glimpsed the first ripe raspberry as I was sowing the carrots; must go out and harvest it for my breakfast...
Yummee! Hoping for more in the coming days.

Friday, 25 June 2010

In Full Bloom

Wonderful June and the garden is awash with peonies and roses in bloom!

The peonies have been in place since the spring of 2007 and bloomed for the first time last year. And what a welcome sight they were, this year they have put on a better floral show and the scent of them when working through the borders is light and fresh - it almost makes weeding a pleasure! A friend has given us a third peony this year and it is planted in a sunny spot in the grand lawn borders. No doubt we'll have to wait a couple of years for it to settle in with us, but if the flowers are anywhere near as lovely as the two we already have, it will be worth the wait.

Roses seem to be the plant of the moment for us as we have added ten to the garden this year; eight climbers, one rambler and one shrub. The rambler; Felicite et Perpetue; joins Paul's Himalayan Musk at the foot of the long hawthorn hedge dividing Holly Grove from the adjoining field. Two of the climbers; Summertime and Super Excelsa (below bottom right); will hopefully cover the pillars on the party patio and the other six; Creme Anglaise (below top right), Blush Noisette (below bottom left), Ballerina, Iceberg (below middle right), Rambling Rosie and Evening Light; have been planted on the newly constructed pergola.

Other roses planted over the past three years are beginning to settle down and come into their own. Geoff Hamilton (above middle left) was an addition last year and has beautiful clusters of lovely pink blooms with a soft scent, whilst Creme Brulee (above top left) was also purchased last year but was only planted early this spring to climb up a post on the swingseat.

I couldn't end a blog on the roses without mentioning a rose that was here when we arrived, though it was in a pretty sorry state. It climbs up trellis on the front of the house and when we arrived it had been neglected and was lanky with lots of spindly growth. We've pruned it a little at a time, more work is required to ensure that it is rose-covered on all its height. Rosa Masquerade (above centre) is worth growing for its multi-coloured flowers alone but has the added bonus of a delicious scent. It will flower throughout the summer if deadheaded - but how to reach the ones at the top!

I haven't mentioned all of our roses here but hopefully it gives a flavour of the variety and value that roses add to Holly Grove.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Time Flies...

I can't believe that it is almost a week since my last post on this blog. The weather has been variable from hot, sunny days to cloudy and cool with heavy showers. The poor plants don't know whether they are coming or going and neither do I; one day in shorts, t-shirt and sunhat and the next back in my fleecy trousers and waterproof jacket.

On one of the sunny days I lifted the autumn planted onions, a fairly good crop they are drying off on the greenhouse staging and then we'll see how they store. In the space freed up I have planted Brassica Petit Posy plug plants - a free offer from one of the gardening magazines. By all accounts these plants should provide greens through autumn and winter. We're looking forward to tasting this brussel sprout/kale cross vegetable. Cauliflower, Pak Choi and Wa Wa Sui cabbage seeds have also been sown.

The red onions are shortly to be lifted freeing up another half bed. More carrots will be sown here with a second sowing of kohl rabi.

In the (nearly completed) greenhouse the tomatoes, courgettes and peppers are in flower and it's time for me to pot on the cucumbers to their final pots and keep my fingers crossed for baby cucumbers later in the summer.

On the construction front: work continues intermittently on the greenhouse, the glazing panels are a nightmare to fit, however one side of the greenhouse and both ends are now fully glazed, leaving only 2 panels on the other side and half the roof to complete. A new slimline water butt and stand await positioning on the end of the greenhouse to catch precious rain water and whilst it was raining yesterday I put together my recently delivered potting bench (below), a posh addition to my very tidy shed.

The pergola linking the steps is progressing much more quickly than the greenhouse (that's because this is the Handyman's project). My contribution has been to paint the structure and select and plant the plants. The side supports are all in place (below), leaving only the overhead struts to position and a bit more painting to complete.

Planting has already commenced with two climbing roses on the trellis by the top steps. The roses are Creme Anglaise and Evening Light (below). I've yet to decide on what to plant by the remaining four panels but no doubt clematis and more roses will feature.

So an enjoyable week in the garden, lots of different jobs completed and more to look forward to over the coming days, including a trip to the local nurseries looking for inspirational climbers for our new pergola.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Time to Tidy

This morning started well, sunny intervals and very acceptable temperature, so I had plans to weed and tidy a couple of borders and then sit in the sunshine with a good book. Then the Handyman suggested that we go out to buy the materials for a new pergola he's building to link the woodland border to the large lawn, eager to get the structure going as I have two climbing roses in we went...

On our return we decided to enjoy the sun and sit on the party patio and have lunch and then begin on our seperate garden projects. By the time we were ready to start the sky was looking very ominous and then the heavens opened and it rained monsoon-like for the rest of the day.

So what to do with the day now? Well, I could start on the ever increasing ironing or I could tidy my shed...guess which task won?

Over the past couple of weeks I've been so eager to get out in the garden that tools etc were hauled out of the shed in the morning and piled back in at night; resulting in chaos. So a good use of a very wet afternoon results in a very organised shed and no impact on the ironing!

Friday, 11 June 2010


Although the weather has been disappointing for June, lots of heavy showers and dull days, the cooler temperatures have made working in the garden easier and the plants have enjoyed the natural waterings. I've put the time to use pottering in the kitchen garden and planting out in the beds and borders all our recent purchases and seedlings from sowings in April.

The giant sunflowers, properly staked this year, have gone into the 'hot' border. Hopefully they'll rise above the recently planted Stipa Gigantea and the large yellow flower heads will compliment the softly flowing grass. Looking at the size of the grass at the moment it may take a couple of years for the effect to be realised, so I'll save the sunflower seed each year and replant.

I've also planted Rosa Smarty by the top steps on the edge of the grand lawn and it's already in flower and looking settled, though this is as a result of the good life and growth made in its pot. It will take some time to settle and gain goodness from its planting position. I have enriched the soil with horse manure as we are on fine, free-draining soil here.

I've grown winter squash and butternut squash from seed and the plants are now a good size with four or more true leaves, so time to plant, but where? Squash like to spread themselves about and require quite a bit of space. The kitchen garden beds are full and the borders where I grew them last year are now filled with shrubs and perennials.

There is an area at the top of the new drive that has only just been developed. As a new area of open ground this is susceptible to weed infestation. I have planted potatoes in about half of it to help to clear the ground. So a good spot for wandering squash as their large leaves covering the soil will hamper weed growth. I weeded the ground and planted the squash, along with a tripod of runner beans and another of a yellow podded bean, Fagiolo Rampicante. The beans should be on their way up the canes before the squash have colonised the ground and the combination of colour from these edible plants should cheer up the entrance to Holly Grove.

The digging of the soil for the cultivation of potatoes, the ground cover to hamper weeds and the nitrogen in the roots of the beans will help to enrich this border soil. So escapees from the kitchen garden help to prepare this border for next spring's planting of shrubs and flowering plants.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Luscious Lupins

Last year we had a beautiful and stately stand of lupins in the swingseat border. Viewed from the terrace in the evening light they looked stunning. They flowered for weeks on end and I thought they might have exhausted themselves, so I didn't hold out much hope of a great display this year. But how wrong I was, thank goodness, for here they are in all their pretty white glory...

They are mirrored in the opposite border flanking the path to the swingseat and their tall spires provide focal points amongst the frothy masses of other cottage garden plants. This year I'm going to save the seed and attempt to grow some more of these delightful and hard working plants for other locations in the garden.