Saturday, 15 October 2011

Indian Summer

The first of October created a new record here in the UK; the hottest October day since records began: 29.9C at Gravesend and the plants, especially the roses, have responded to this unexpected summer heat.  Alongside this the shrubs and trees have continued to change colour and lose their leaves so everything looks and feels a little bizarre in the garden.

sunny Shropshire!
 I'll start with a couple of photos of a flower carpet rose that's been in the garden for two years.  These roses are fantastic providing lovely flowers from June until the first frosts and sometimes beyond.  They are incredibly healthy and robust and require very little attention other than an annual prune in mid to late spring - I cut them with shears back to six inches (yes, six inches) from the ground, then feed and leave alone for the remainder of the season.  The are relatively low growing, about two feet high, but spread and provide good ground cover.  I have three at the moment: flower carpet pink, white and coral (in photos) and intend to add more of the range over the next few seasons.

Following on from the roses is lavatera. What can I say other than still flowering!

Sedums always bring a burst of colour, and butterflies, to the late summer and autumn borders and this year is no different.  I keep promising that I'll increase my stock of these great plants but never seem to get around to it and they are so easy to propagate from early spring divisions - definitely next year!

sedum telephium autumn joy

sedum erythrostictum frosty morn
And finally for a real bit of autumn colour amongst, what I've just noticed, is a predominantly pink selection.  These are the stunning autumnal leaves of hememelis x intermedia Diane.  This shrub bears tiny flowers in late winter on bare stems and then somewhat ordinary green leaves through the spring and summer but for me it's the autumn colour that wins it its place in our garden - what do you think?

So, another roundup for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day completed.  Why not go over to May Dreams Garden to see some more delightful October gardens.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Nice Weather for Ducks (VFTA No 8)

Another day out with my gardening buddy, A...this time to Trentham Gardens in Staffordshire...and the weather was awful; cold, wet and grey!  But we had a really enjoyable day, though I should say that we spent most of our time having morning coffee - whilst waiting for the rain to ease - and eating a late lunch - to warm up after our walk around the gardens.

I did however manage to take a few photos which have turned out better than I expected and even though we're close to the middle of October I think the gardens were well worth the visit.  Due to the weather we didn't wander too far around the park but stuck with the Piet Oudolf prairie plantings on the Eastern Pleasure Ground and the Italian Garden, designed by Tom Stuart-Smith, leading down to the lake.

The prairie planting was astonishingly beautiful even though most of the plants were past their prime, the drying flower heads of eupatorium and coneflower combined with the wafting seed heads of the grasses and the mass planting of sedums and asters was a joy to behold even on this greyest of days.  The planting snakes around the pleasure ground with closely cut grass paths between the planting - I'm going to have to go back next year probably at the end of August to see more of the plants in bloom, but I'm glad to have seen this autumnal sight.

The Italian Garden by contrast is very formal, and in its own way lovely, but not so much my cup of tea, though I can appreciate the work that's gone in to creating such a garden.

At the foot of the Italian Garden is the magnificent lake and it is possible to walk around the lake through the woodlands; though we did not take this opportunity on this visit, too cold and wet for us. 

I'm sure we saw only a very small proportion of the gardens and grounds and we will definitely go back for more, but we'll wait until next summer when hopefully we'll be able to spend more time enjoying the outdoors with a picnic.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Mellow Fruitfullness (VFTA No 7)

I made a trip to Malvern in Worcestershire last weekend to spend the day with my best friend, C at the Autumn Show.  This is the 4th year that we've met here for three reasons: 1) it's half way between our homes - I'm in Shropshire and C is in Devon; 2) it's a fun day out; 3) we've been so lucky with the weather each year benefitting from September sun.

This year we were dubious about point 3 as the weather has been variable from sunshine to grey and miserable however the show didn't let us down, the sun shone for most of the day and it stayed dry and warm.

Malvern Autumn show really is a family day out with events in the two arenas; this year we spent some time watching the falconry display - fantastic to see these beautiful creatures in full flight.  There is something for everyone including beautiful crafts, giant vegetables, (almost like a village show), plant stands and displays from specialist nurseries, displays of ancient farm equiment and machinery, country clothing stalls, dog breeds, chickens, rabbits etc, etc, etc...

rustic images

fantastic veg

Gold medal winner through the square window

one for the Handyman...

and another!
So there are a few images of our day, not as many as I would have liked but we were so engaged with the show and catching up on news and just being together for a while that the camera was forgotten though the day remains fresh in my memory - a lovely day out with a very dear friend!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

September in Bloom

It can't be the middle of September already - can it?  Seems like it is and it's time for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day courtesy of May Dreams here's what's blooming at Holly Grove this September...

Lilium White Heaven opened its buds on 1st September; it's as lovely as I remember when I bought the bulbs at the Malvern Spring show in April this year.  It is a very robust lily and about 90cm tall and the scent is gorgeous.

This is the first of my sunflowers to bloom this year.  A poor show for me with the first batch of seeds failing to produce anything.  It was an old packet so I'll be gathering some new seeds from this flower for next year.  I expect the weather has played a part too - not sunny enough for these chaps.

This little nasturtium has selfseeded itself right next to the little purple-black viola below; what a lovely combination!

I planted several violas earlier this year and they have been flowering non-stop since June. This one is viola Rosecastle Black, I also have viola Rebecca Yellow and a pale blue one that I can't remember the name of at the moment; all little gems.

I've planted two of these pretty blue autumn flowering shrubs in the past year - ceratostigma willmottianum - and they are beginning to settle in and produce their flowers.  With the leaves blushed pink at the edges they promise to be a lovely autumn addition to the garden.

We have several lavatera around Holly Grove, this one is lavatera Bredon Springs; they flower profusely from June to the first frosts.  Although a realatively short lived shrub they are so easy to propogate from cuttings (and they selfseed so easily in our light soil) that we are able to replace any losses.  They also have the advantage of speedy growth filling a space and adding height to a border in a single season. 

This malus Sunset has produced lots of lovely apples this year though it will be a little longer before they are ready to pick.  This variety provides a relatively late harvest around the end of October when the apples are a glorious bright red.

This unusual plant was a last minute purchase for a shallow basket.  I know it as cigar plant, cuphea ignea, it is a native of Mexico and therefore is grown in the UK as an annual.

These hardy fuchsias are growing in a very difficult spot at the back of the swing seat; they receive very little light and the soil is very dry as this corner of the border is very tight to the hedgerow.  Despite all of this they produce these lovely bright flowers and, hopefuly, they will grow into large shrubs providing interest through the autumn.

Well, there's more blooming at Holly Grove in September that I expected; have alook at other gardens in bloom around the world at the Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day hosted by  May Dreams Gardens.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Shropshire Plum

It's the time of year to scour the hedgerows around Holly Grove in search of autumn fruits.  In recent weeks I've spotted crab apples, sloes and damsons and have been waiting for them to ripen a little before foraging. 

Then I took my eye off the ball and was distracted by our courgette glut; finally I refocused and gathered some riper than expected damsons.  I say some but actually there was more than 5kg on the kitchen table when I finally managed to stop myself.

All this from two small and gnarled damson trees in our hedge; damson trees are prolific in this part of Shropshire, all over the hedgerows, no wonder they are known as the Shropshire plum.  Strange and magical little fruits, too bitter to eat au naturel, they are great for making jam, cheese, chutney, liqueurs etc and they look beautiful too!

You can see what use I put them to over at Holly Grove kitchen...

Monday, 5 September 2011

Nasturtium Time

I planted a few nasturtium seeds a couple of years ago and ever since they've been selfseeding madly around the garden.  Nasturtiums generate a huge number of seeds so there are no issues with gathering and storing or giving away.

However the other day whilst browing through a recently acquired preserving book, River Cottage Handbook No 2 Preserves, I found an unusual use for these little green seeds...nasturtium 'capers'.

So I gathered the required quantity and had a go; very easy to prepare and pickle, I'm now waiting a few weeks before I try using them in any recipe that requires a more traditional caper.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Harvest Time

Whoever said the countryside was quiet?  Since adopting a country life I've come to realise that this is very seldom the case, there are the sounds of birds and bees, the sheep bleating in the fields either side of us, horses and riders down the lanes, hedging tools, lawnmowers, the occasional shotgun in the distance and of course, farm machinery.  And at this time of the year that machinery and its accompanying symphony are all around us as the farmers make the most of the dry weather to bring in their crops.

shropshire oak in a field of golden grain
A couple of days ago the Handyman and I decided to take a walk along one of our local footpaths; it was a glorious evening so we donned our good sturdy walking boots and set off.  As we left the lane and started out along the side of a field of (what we thought was) golden barley, we were met by the sight of an enormous combine harvester finishing the gathering of the grain.

can you spot the farmer and the Handyman chatting?
The machine was a sight to behold as was the rush of golden grain raining down into the trailer.  The Handyman took the opportunity to have a chat with the combine driver and it turned out that the grain was not barley, but rather a barley-wheat cross which is grown as animal feed.

more work to do

a rush of golden grain
As we continued our walk the baling machine started work gathering the straw left by the combine and creating the bales.

ready for baling

A few fields further on we were able to watch the next stage of the process as tractors pulling what looked like ploughshares and discs ran over the ground breaking up the surface with the plough and then chopping the clods with the discs.

two tractors are better than one
All of this is endlessly fascinating to someone like me brought up in the heart of the city and second nature to someone like the Handyman born and bred in the countryside.  I wonder what the next crop in these fields will be?

So we continued our evening walk through the Shropshire fields ending up with a well deserved brew at our local pub and then a meander home down the lane musing on how fortunate we are to be surrounded by such production and beauty!

Monday, 22 August 2011

A Lesson Learned

Last night the Handyman appeared at the french doors looking forlorn, in his hands the branch of an apple tree laden with fruit...'just found this lying in the border, too much weight for a young tree'.

It was a branch from our young Cox's Orange Pippin tree, torn off by the weight of the fruit.  This year has been a bonus season for fruit and we have been lazy (and possibly greedy) in not picking off some of the fruit early to help out our young fruit trees.

So a hard lesson learned, we went out into the garden to relieve our other young trees of some apples and pears to ensure that there is no further damage.

Note: we didn't waste the apples as, although they are not quite ripe and consequently a bit tart, I made a large batch of apple puree with honey to sweeten; perfect for adding to the Handyman's breakfast cereal and some for the freezer to be added to apple pies and crumbles when proper apple-picking time arrives.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Colour Purple

...a great book and film, and this year the theme for some of my kitchen garden produce.

a handful of Purple Queen french beans for our evening meal...oh, and more courgettes!
I was attracted by the seeds of the purple podded french bean, Purple Queen, when I planted them in May of this year.  The plants have rewarded me with foliage that is green with a purple tinge, really pretty purple flowers and then the beans themselves.  Like many french beans they do not grow very tall, about 60cm, so they don't need much in the way of support.  They do seem to be producing a decent crop, though not prolific...perhaps if I watered them more frequently, a constant cry in the garden this summer.

contrasting colours...before cooking
When prepared for the pot they make a lovely contrast to the bright green of our runner beans, however when cooked they revert to green.  Flavour wise, they are tender and tasty.  I will grow these again next year, if for nothing more than the purple flowers and the liquorice stick beans.

Note: The purple pepper in the photo is F1 Mavros, very attractive in the greenhouse alongside Mohawk, an orange pepper and red pepper, Thor.  Both Mohawk and Thor fruits are still green at the moment, photos and post to follow when they change colour.