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.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Made with Love (VFTA No 6)

There is a garden on the borders of Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire, tucked away in the countryside that I've wanted to visit ever since I read the story of its creation.  The story of this garden tugs at the heartstrings and ensures that any gardener with a romantic bent would want to visit to see the results of this garden made with love.

The Dorothy Clive Garden was begun by Colonel Harry Clive in 1940; it was to be a garden where his wife Dorothy, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, could take some daily exercise.  Sadly Dorothy died in 1942 but Colonel Harry continued with work on the garden in Dorothy's memory.  In 1958 the Colonel set up the Willoughbridge Garden Trust as a memorial to Dorothy and to provide a place of rest and recreation for the public.  Harry died in 1963 leaving a beautiful garden for us to enjoy. 

our first proper view from the first level across the pond and Staffordshire countryside
So you can see the appeal of visiting this garden - will the planting be as romantic in nature or will it be more formal as may befit the era in which it was begun?  My friend and fellow garden addict, A, and I set off from Holly Grove on a sunny Saturday morning to find out.

On arrival and parking the car I was struck that there seemed to be no garden visible, but following the entry signs we were soon under the tree canopy and climbing the grassy slope; soon the path spilt and we had several choices.  Although we had been given a map of the gardens on entry we decided rather to wander where our fancy took us, and so meandered along paths of gravel and grass.

meandering gravel paths lead you through the garden
 The planting at this time of year in the open areas of the garden consists of grasses, salvias, eupatorium, dahlias, sunflowers, rudbekia etc making colourful displays and, on our visit, swaying in the breeze.

pale lemon sunflowers and helenium make a lovely picture
Following our instincts we eventually made our way out of the sunlight and down into the quarry garden.  This garden must be stunning in late spring as it is predominantly planted with rhododendron.  The tree canopy is quite dense but very high and the quality of cool light is lovely; then around a twisting path...a small but perfectly formed waterfall!

ferns and that lovely sound of falling water
Walking up the paths from the waterfall we had another surprise awaiting us...a magnificent stag in the woods...

impressive garden wildlife!
Then onwards and upwards and back out through the laburnum arch and past the azalea walk (more reasons to visit in late spring) onto a wide grass path leading to another viewing point.  This time the view was across farmland right at the top of this steeply sloping garden.

golden harvest
So having made our way from the bottom to the top of the garden via the quarry we headed for the tearoom for a much needed cuppa, not to mention the carrot and St Clements cakes: homemade, delicious and heartily recommended!

Next to the tearoom is a small plant sales area.  All the plants looked healthy and were reasonably priced but, unusually for me, nothing took my fancy - the Handyman will be shocked!

I would have bought one of these if they'd had some - no label, so no idea of plant name
Following our stop for refreshments and a good old chat, we set off back down the hillside through the gravel garden.  Then reaching the pond we looked upwards towards the top of the garden and the vista of mature trees.

from the pond back up the hill
The garden has lots of places to sit, many of them with great views of the garden and surrounding countryside.  They are needed as the paths can be steep.  Although spread over 12 acres the garden is surprisingly intimate.  Like many gardens in this part of the world some of the planting is suffering from a lack of water but overall we enjoyed our visit and will ensure that we go back when the rhododendrons are in bloom.

The garden is a lovely and fitting memorial to both Dorothy and Colonel Harry!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Potato Harvest

This year I have grown two varieties of potato; Charlotte and Pink Fir Apple.  Charlotte is an old favourite of ours.  It is essentially a salad potato with firm, creamy coloured flesh, however it also chips, roasts and mashes well, though thinking about it, I've never tried it as a baked potato...hmm. 

Anyway, I planted up one of our raised beds with Charlotte seed potatoes and the Pink Fir Apple tubers went into the large ex-water butt (it sprung a leak a few seasons ago and has since been used as a potato planter). 

a few Charlottes for tea
The Charlotte potatoes were dug up last week as all the top growth had died off.  On digging through the bed I was disappointed with the size of the crop; I think this is down to the exceedingly dry weather of the past couple of months and also my lack of watering.  In total the plot delivered about half a sack of potatoes, so I don't think we'll be enjoying any homegrown potatoes this Christmas, as we have done in years past.

The Pink Fir Apple is still growing away and it's been more frequently watered - easier to water a container with my trusty watering can then a whole raised bed.  So hopefully the yield will be better.  I've grown this variety as it is rarely available in the supermarket and, although it looks a bit odd, it takes delicious...I wonder how much longer I'll be able to resist tipping out the barrel?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Monday, 15 August 2011

August Bloomers

I've recently discovered Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day over on May Dreams Gardens and thought I'd join the fray this month; so a selection of blooming lovelies follows:



blush noisette



patricia's pride

ground carpet

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Close Quarters

I spend a lot of time in this garden at close quarters with the plants as I deadhead, weed and generally tidy up throughout the summer months.  One of the advantages of this close contact is that I get to fully appreciate the texture and scent of plants up close and personal.

fuchsia stem colour and leaf texture
I'm a big fan of fuchsias especially the trailing varieties, then whilst clearing up some fallen blooms from this plant I really took notice of the red stems and the contrast with the fresh green leaves; the flowers just felt like an added bonus.

hosta guacamole
In a large terracotta pot next to the fuchsia is this hosta.  It's a sublime green with large ribbed leaves crying out to be touched.  A couple of weeks ago it also had the addition of tall, white, lightly scented flowers, but it's the leaves that win this plant its place in the garden.

pinus sylvestris 'Chantry Blue'
Sticking with the green theme, the arrangement of the needles on this Scot's pine are mesmerising, I could stand and stare for ages (and often do!).

sedum spectabile 'Brilliant'
The combination of fleshy, succulent leaves and impending flowers give this plant real status in the texture stakes.  Then when the flowers open and its nectar brings the butterflies it's a supercharged plant for the late summer border.

This close up of a large pot of marguerite standing on the party patio reminds me of a Laura Ashley fabric, pretty white petals with dainty yellow centres and flowering profusely throughout the summer - a bargain buy!

Generally on a visit to someone else's garden I don't get this kind of view; I think it might look as though I'm searching for faults rather than appreciating the plants.  However by not adopting this stance I'm missing out on some real treasure, so next time I visit a garden or flower show you may well find me down amongst the foliage and flowers appreciating the real detail of the planting.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Birthday Treats

In amongst my birthday presents at the end of July were some garden vouchers from my friend, C; I love it when I get presents for the garden and the vouchers have the bonus that I can go and choose from plants, tools etc.

So a good excuse for another visit to the Country Garden Plant Centre and their plethora of roses.  I made my annual trip there in early June and now I had an excuse to revisit.

Etoile de Holland?
We have an old climbing rose here at Holly Grove that is the deepest red and has the most astonishingly beautiful scent and I have spent sometime trying to identify it.  I had come to the conclusion that it was most probably Etoile de Holland and the lady at Country Garden was also of that opinion; so a large specimen of this rose was destined for Holly Grove.

Birthday Girl
Next I wanted a shrub rose for the border along the entrance drive to Holly Grove.  On my last visit I bought Erfurt and it is doing well in this location.  How lovely when I found my perfect rose to compliment Erfurt, and its name is so appropriate: Birthday Girl!  So she joined the climber in the trolley.

Now, I should have stopped at this point as I had used up my vouchers, but...I was tempted by two more roses: another ground cover rose this time from the Counties range, Hertfordshire and another shrub rose, Sally Holmes.  After taking time to consider my purchases with a cup of tea and piece of delicious cake it was time to drag the trolley to the cash desk, load the car and head back to Holly Grove for planting. 
Thank you C for my lovely roses, I'll be thinking of you each time I see them in our garden.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Famous Flower Show

It's Shrewsbury Flower Show tomorrow and Saturday and I'm ashamed to say that, although I've lived in the county for over twenty years, I've never attended.  I'm hoping to change that this year, weather permitting. 

If I manage to get there I'll be adding another View from the Audience post - so keep your fingers crossed for fine weather and your eyes peeled for the VFTA review!

Update - no go on the flower show visit.  The friend I was going with had to call off and the weather has been variable anyway with lots of heavy showers; well perhaps next year!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Tranquillity and Respite

Life can get very complex and confusing sometimes and it's on these occasions that I retreat to our garden.  Here, even with the borders crying out for weeding and the grass calling for a haircut, I can find tranquillity and respite from the challenges of everyday living.  So time for a wander around Holly Grove and then onward and upward!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Spring Planning in August

Over the past few weeks I've been receiving bulb catalogues and this has coincided with me considering gaps in the Holly Grove borders during late May/early June and again in August/September.  After many happy hours making lists of potential bulbs to fill the gaps I came up with these:

May and June

allium neopolitanum grandiflorum

allium schubertii
gladioli byzantinus

June and July

allium cernuum

allium pulchellum, pulchellum album
and allium flavum 

July to September

lilium White Heaven

So having selected my gap fillers for the summer borders, I couldn't resist some spring bulbs...

March to May

tulipa linifolia, tarda, eastern star,
turkestanica, saxatalis, clusiana chrysantha

puschkinia libanotica

tulipa red riding hood

daffodils and narcissi

tulipa green star

fritillaria meleagris
Phew!  Quite a list and it's drained by savings but I'm sure I'll be pleased that I made the commitment next year when these lovely bulbs come into bloom; on the plus side the Red Riding Hood tulips were free as were the daffodil and narcissi mix - that's how much I spent!  The bulbs were ordered from J Parker's and that's where most of the photos came from - I've had bulbs from them before, they seem to be reasonably priced and they've all done well.

Now I need to get back to the present day and get out and lift and store the potato harvest!