Sunday 15th January 2023 – start where you are

A week away has kept me out of the garden but it sounds like the weather in Wales has been so atrocious that I wouldn’t have made it outside anyway. A break in the rain today found me itching to get muddy so I donned dungarees and got out there. It’s a mess. A soggy, floppy, slimy, tangled mess, punctuated with molehills. Refusing to be disheartened, and grateful for a glimpse of weak sun, I decided to start by tidying up the small flower bed closest to the house. When feeling daunted, I have found that focusing on a single, contained task, preferably in an area that is seen most often, makes things feel more like they can be got under control and makes progress more visible, spurring me on to do more in similar bite-size chunks. That’s my theory, anyway… I have to say that the garden’s resilience never fails to amaze me. There is much to be done, but there is also a lot going on without need of my intervention. I approach the new gardening year full of hope and plans. These are not very exciting photos but hopefully posting them today will get me back into a routine of blogging (and indeed gardening!)

The daphne is fixing up to flower very soon. It looks a bit yellow, doesn’t it? I suspect it’s struggling a bit with all the wet, though to be honest daphnes are miffy at the best of times anyway. I should have fed it really but I forgot… I’ll try to do it during the week. And this year I will cut several sprigs to bring indoors, so I can enjoy the scent, and I won’t feel guilty about it!
As usual I forgot to take a ‘before’ picture. It wouldn’t have been very exciting, just messier, not that this is a particularly thrilling shot. The snow-in-summer is a real thug – I found several clumps of snowdrops languishing under it and elsewhere it was engulfing two trailing rosemary bushes. I’ve taken it in hand – I like it to spill over onto the patio, but I do like to start the year being able to see the line of the bed. The paeonies in here appreciate a bit of light and air too. I don’t know whether the delphiniums in here will make it – we can hope. I have not been able to repeat my success in raising them from seed, so if these are lost I’ll have to start all over again – will it take me six years again before I get anywhere?!
Here is one of those struggling little snowdrops. Maybe I’ll rip the snow-in-summer out altogether… (I won’t. I threaten every year and I never do.)
The clematis armandii is putting on new growth all over. The generous feeding and mulching is paying off. Some little critter is nibbling out the new buds further down the stem, leaving a single hole and hollowing it out. Slugs? Woodlice? Who knows.
Time to start cutting down the dead stems, clearing things away and prepping the soil. Not exactly pretty at the moment but there are bulbs poking through everywhere and hopefully, if I tackle a bed at a time, I can get it looking a bit more presentable in a few weeks.
Another of those seedheads that has started to germinate in the extreme damp, this time a teasel. In fact this particular plant has this happening on every single seedhead. I’m quite glad about this as it means all those seeds are not germinating in the border, waiting to cause me problems when weeding!

January 2023 – reasons to be cheerful… and, better late than never

Happy New Year! I’ve neglected both blog and garden terribly in the past month or so. The weather has been terrible, life has been very busy… I have a catalogue of excuses. I had every intention of posting here for New Year’s Day, but that didn’t happen… no matter. I must remind myself that gardening and blogging are hobbies pursued for pleasure, not chores to be ticked off a list! New Year’s Day brought a welcome break from the rain and quite a few garden tasks were started, if not finished. I savagely pruned the gooseberries and moved them to a sunnier spot, in the hope of improved yields; I was similarly brutal in pruning the currants, with the intention of moving the red and white currants to make space for more blackcurrants (the latter being more useful in the kitchen but less bountiful in the harvest). None of that makes for terribly interesting photos, though, so I haven’t included any.

A brave self-seeded little primrose. These appear everywhere around the garden and I am always delighted to see them. I assume the early foraging bumble bees are too, when they emerge.
Mr Blackbird had a lengthy and joyful New Year’s Day dip in this birdbath (‘birdbath’ is a bit grand – it’s an old plate on top of an old washbasin pedestal). The droplets on the mirror behind are all from his enthusiastic splashing.
Viburnum bodnantense, underperforming as usual, but it smells so heavenly when it does bother to flower that I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. I don’t know what it needs to thrive, but I’m clearly not providing it.
Bulbs poking through all over the place. I think these are snowdrops, but I’m not honestly sure. This is the first year I haven’t ordered snowdrops in the green… there’s still time, though, I think! I cannot resist adding more snowdrops…
This clematis invariably gets off to an early start. I will end up cutting off new growth when I prune it now. I usually prune it far earlier than recommended, for this very reason, but just as an experiment I’m going to sit on my hands and prune in February as recommended, then note any difference in performance. It’s good to try different approaches to see what works best.
The Under-Gardener sulked in the shed on New Year’s Day, next to the over-wintering dahlias. He was most unimpressed at the return to outdoor activity, being at pains to point out that all the left-over Christmas food was indoors.

I enrolled in an Autumn/Winter 10 week beginners’ course in floristry at a local college and enjoyed it so much that I have signed up for the advanced course starting in March. I never expected to find the course so relaxing and fulfilling – it has been rewarding in ways I never imagined, something about it really speaks to me and harnesses skills and parts of my brain that seem to have been crying out for stimulation. I’ve included here a few (really poor!) photos of the arrangements and wreaths I made for Christmas – better late than never! I thoroughly enjoyed making these and was really pleased with the results, so I’ll be practising with dried materials throughout the year and shall make more with fresh materials next Christmas. I discovered the joys of spraying foraged items in gold, silver, cream and snow-effect, and got a bit carried away… I think I missed my calling as a Blue Peter presenter, frankly… the Under-Gardener and Chief Engineer both narrowly missed getting bronzed and snow-dusted!

This was intended as a table centrepiece or mantelpiece arrangement. Bringing it home from class on the train was a challenge! Nothing I tried could convince those candles to stand straight. I have tried to blank out the household mess that dominated the background in this shot – I think it’s safe to say I should leave the photo editing to Chief Engineer.
Another wonky candle and a shot that does not really show the detail of this arrangement to its best advantage. For some reason it seems to be especially hard to capture floral arrangements satisfactorily on camera. The shot below is marginally better (with apologies for kitchen clutter!)

I hope everyone had a restful holiday season. Many thanks to new followers new and old – I’m continually amazed and delighted that people are interested in seeing what I’m up to in the garden. Please do share your comments and thoughts if you are so minded, I love hearing from you all! I shall try to blog at least weekly through the year now… of course, I say that every January!

A week in flowers – 4th December 2022

I didn’t get around to blogging this weekend and missed a day in Cathy’s floral week, but I think I’ve just about got time to post a floral reminiscence today as part of Cathy’s event. Pop over to see her at Words and Herbs and see some other photo selections from other people’s gardening year: Thanks Cathy for cheering us all up on these cold gloomy days (well it’s certainly cold and gloomy in Wales, anyway).

Today I’m going with a sea of corncockles. I’m not at all sure what the bright green on the right is – possibly helianthemum. Here too are penstemon, salvia ‘Amistad’, some red hot pokers on their way out and possibly some dyer’s chamomile also getting in on the act in the background. The border probably looks its best about the time of year this was taken (June) and then heads downhill, descending into chaos from about the longest day onwards. Hope this pic has warmed everyone up!

A week of flowers – 2nd December 2022

Multiple summery things going on here: orange hemerocallis; yellow roses; a doughty floribunda rose in a pinky-red; white and pink cosmos; mixed hollyhocks; and a half-hidden bench under the rose arch to enjoy it all from. Won’t be long until I’m sitting out there again with a cuppa… or something stronger!

Thanks to Cathy at Words and Herbs for hosting and brightening our week – have a look at her post for today and everyone else’s over at her page:

A week of flowers – Thursday 1st December 2022

It’s so cheering to see all the bright blooms on Cathy’s page in this week of flowers – pop over and have a look at today’s posts:

I’m going for May’s glorious paeonies for my selection today, complete with a blurry bumblebee. These blowsy beauties are all too fleeting and are pretty dull for the rest of the year when not in bloom, but I love the sight and the smell of them and I wouldn’t be without them. just looking at those glowing colours brightens my day.

A week of flowers (well nearly) – 1st December 2022

I have only just stumbled across ‘A Week of Flowers’ hosted by Cathy at Words & Herbs – she is encouraging us all to post photos of our summer flowers every day for a week, to brighten the winter gloom for those of us in the Northern hemisphere. Having just had our first frost of the season here in Wales, this seems like an excellent idea, so I’m jumping aboard for the rest of the week! Pop over to Cathy’s site and be warmed by everyone else’s pics too.

What could be warmer than these red echinacea? I can’t remember the variety but I do recall that I bought these on a lovely weekend away in Cornwall, from an excellent little stall in a market in Truro. It seems a long way to transport a plant back to Wales, but it makes for a lovely souvenir and I do like to buy a plant on holiday if I’m in the UK (don’t bring plants or plant material back from overseas though people, the risk of introducing plant disease is sadly just too great). I’m never too confident this glowing friend is going to make it through the winter, but the stall holder assured me it was fully hardy, and it’s in its third year, so I probably worry unnecessarily (I’m prone to that). Thanks to Cathy for hosting – what a nice excuse to review the gardening year in photos (not that I need much excuse!)

In A Vase on Monday – 28th November 2022

After an absence, a post on IAVOM from me, in haste. I simply cannot get the hang of chrysanthemums. This year is my best year yet inasmuch as I did get some blooms at last, but these were on the end of rampant, tangled stems – I planted the plants in the greenhouse border and lost interest in all that pinching out and disbudding, as mentioned yesterday. This rather clashing collection represents all the blooms left languishing in the greenhouse, which has now been cleared and restocked with all the tender plants brought in from the garden against tonight’s forecast cold snap. The chrysanthemum crowns have been tamed and potted up – I’ll try again next year. Try again. Fail again. Fail better!

Thanks as always to Cathy for hosting IAVOM. Pop over to her site to see what’s in her vase and everyone else’s this week:

Sunday 27th November 2022 – Good Enough

You wait weeks for a blog post then two come along at once… a low of 3 Celsius is promised tomorrow and the Met Office tends to underestimate the low in our exact location. I’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the mild autumn and I needed to move quickly today to take the necessary precautions… plus there were a few other jobs I’ve been putting off for weeks…

The garlic and onions lifted at the end of the summer were still in the shed where I’d left them to dry, and were threatening to go mouldy as the shed takes on its winter damp gloom, so I settled down to one of my least favourite jobs and cleaned and tied them for kitchen storage. I had though it had been a bad year, but actually I’ve been using this year’s garlic harvest for months already and have easily already used twice as many onions from the garden as there are here, so that’s not actually such a bad harvest at all. Th.e onions were all grown from seed, and whilst the yield was relatively low, there were none that bolted, which I find always happens with onions grown from sets, so I will stick with growing from seed next year and just adjust my sowing times a bit. The garlic bulbs are small but the cloves are juicy and flavoursome. The red onions are brutally strong, but I look for that in an onion, so I shan’t complain.
Another poppy curiosity, this time a skeletonised seedhead with the remnants of germinated seeds in it. The poppies have behaved a little oddly this year. They’re opium poppies, maybe they’re all high on themselves!
This penstemon keeps on flowering right up to the first frost, which might be tomorrow…

It’s funny how one’s approach to some tasks evolves. Things that one might once have considered an almighty ball-ache become the obvious way to do a thing, after a while… instead of striking cuttings from my salvias and having to cosset baby plants through the winter, my more recent approach is to just lift the plants for overwintering. Monty Don does this with various plants, including his cannas, and I always used to think it looked like far too much bother, but actually it’s much less work. It has the advantage that the plants are more likely to survive; cuttings can always be struck from the over-wintered parents in the spring, when they are easier to care for and more likely to survive; plus the plant bulks up year on year, giving much more impact in the border and creating the potential for divisions, too. Now I’m not saying these plants won’t look sorrowful when they emerge from the greenhouse next year, but they’ll bounce back quickly and be more able to withstand the dreaded mollusc onslaught than tiny offspring could. Yes I know there are too many plants jammed in here too tightly, and I didn’t do an especially god job of potting them. It doesn’t matter. It’s good enough, as is the job I did of putting bubble wrap over the greenhouse louvre. Sometimes getting something done is more important than doing it perfectly. The greenhouse is utterly filthy though. Fingers crossed Chief Engineer will take pity on me and clean it for me in the spring. I am not a suitable height for the job (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).

See also pelargoniums. I know I need to trim them down mercilessly. For now, that will keep. Just getting them into the greenhouse today is a triumph. Mostly a triumph over the weather… I feel like I stole a day from the angry rain gods, or something. It has been dismally overcast all day but, mercifully, no rain.
And here’s what came out of the greenhouse for that lot to go in. I just can’t get chrysanthemums right. I fail every year. This year I swore I’d do better and I planted them into the greenhouse border, solemnly swearing to pinch out and disbud religiously. I got bored with that by about June and the damn things turned into giant, leggy, tangled triffids. Really I should have kept them in pots, brought them out of the greenhouse for high summer and put them back in again come autumn, and I think I should have kept pinching out and disbudding throughout. Well, anyway, here are the fistful of blooms salvaged from etiolated 5ft stems. These will probably make an appearance on IAVOM tomorrow, if I can fit it in. And the crowns are all potted up, labelled, and stored in the greenhouse for me to try yet again next year. If anyone has any tips, please do pipe up…
This area will get some attention next. There are strawberries to go in here but those might need to wait now (to my great shame I realise now I don’t know when strawberries are best planted. Bob Flowerdew will know though, so I’ll go and consult the over-crowded bookshelf.) Those artichokes have gone in much too close together, but they’re such beasts that I can’t bear to lift and re-space them, so we’ll just have to see what happens. A forest of artichokes doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, anyway. In the distance, the rose arch has been given proper attention, with a severe prune and tying in (probably the only thing that has had proper attention in the last two months, but then it is one of of my favourite jobs – I am inordinately fond of rose arches in general and that one in particular). The Brussels sprouts in the ramshackle cage just visible on the right are really poor – my husbandry in the sprout department was utterly dreadful this year. I resolve to do better next time. A shorter-growing variety might help, I’m sure such a thing must exist…
The Under-Gardener dislikes the winter intensely, he hates the damp and the cold and does not venture outside unless he really has to. He undertook a perfunctory inspection patrol and waddled back into the house to supervise Chief Engineer from the sofa. One can’t help thinking he has the right idea.

Six on Saturday 26th November 2022

Hello! I haven’t blogged or SoS’ed for ages, due to a combination of truly atrocious weather, an overwhelming schedule and a hefty dose of general malaise. Friday (yesterday) brought a brief moment of respite, so I grabbed it with both hands and got a spot of gardening done (though I still managed to cop for multiple soakings from unforecast heavy showers, prompting some choice Anglo-Saxon language from me).

Anyway, I battled on through the rain regardless. So here are six photos, not all of them especially pretty, but then neither is the garden after so much rain! Don’t be fooled by the slanting autumn sunshine… the rain fell regardless.

Do hop on over to Jim’s page, Garden Ruminations, to see what he and the other SoSers are up to this week: thanks as always to Jim for hosting!

I was trying to leave the monarda seedheads up for a bit of late interest, but the wind has caused them to topple over and the crown to lift, so I cut them down after taking this pic. You’ll note there’s an ugly – and overly-ambitious – clothesline prop in the background. The clean sheets got a soaking shortly after I took this photo and then they had to come down, too. You can just see some phlomis seedheads in the bottom right corner – I was hoping to have drifts of these for winter interest too, but they are most miffy about flowering for me. I think the soil might be too rich, encouraging leafy growth at the expense of flowers. Maybe they’ll be more obliging next year.
I assume it’s the damp conditions that cause the poppy seeds to germinate inside the seedheads like this.
The bulk of my gardening time was spent lifting, tying, labelling and washing dahlia tubers. Last year was the first year I bothered to lift any and I have to concede it made the world of difference to their performance. This lot are now all drying in the shed (inasmuch as anything can ever really dry in that damp place!) I have bought some sulphur to really do the job properly. I will dust these with it when it arrives, then they will all go in polystyrene boxes of barely damp compost in the shed. I should also be able to force some with a little bottom heat for an early start in the new year, and take cuttings from the new shoots, although where I’d fit any more dahlias into the borders may prove to be something of a problem… not that it’ll stop me.
Nobody has told the brugmansia it’s nearly December. It actually has new growth and flower buds on it. I have ordered a giant fleece bag for it, as the two huge ones I already have are now too small to contain this beast. I’ll be delighted if I can get just a bit of its great height through the winter. I’m hopeful – it actually seems much tougher than one might imagine. I’ve had it for about five years now, though the tallest stems on this one are not that old. I did manage to nurse this one through last winter, getting stems of about 3-4 foot to survive the winter, so I might manage to keep most of it again this year. It roots absurdly easily from cuttings so there are always smaller back up plants in the greenhouse, just in case.
This clematis has sulked for six years, and for the first time ever it has given me a beautiful display. I can’t remember what variety this one is, but I am, at last, very pleased with it.
This is not the same clematis, this is C. cirrhosa ‘Freckles’, I think, another reluctant flowerer that has finally obliged after several years, much to my delight. It’s turning into a bit of a thug, actually. We are soon to have new neighbours: I hope they like it, otherwise I’m in trouble here (and the same goes for the trachleospermum below it. But honestly, who doesn’t like trachleopspermum? If that person exists, they’re just plain wrong). The blue sky behind didn’t last very long but was very welcome while it did.
The Under-Gardener was most unimpressed by everything everywhere being damp, as it makes it impossible to supervise the Head Gardener from a comfortable prone position. He’s not very impressed with the gaps in my very uneven lavender hedge, either.

Six on Saturday – 22nd October 2022

I’m creeping in at the eleventh hour here but I didn’t want to miss Jim’s first week of hosting SOS as he takes over from Jon, Mr Propagator. You can take a look at Jim’s blog for this week and the activities of all the other SOSers here Happy weekend to gardeners around the globe, here is a dash around what’s happening in soggy Wales this weekend. We degenerate slowly into autumnal chaos with flashes of bright colour and we like it.

This salvia has a lovely clean blue colour and was grown from a cutting taken from a plant in my aunt’s garden. I know she’ll be reading, so thank you Dot!
It’s been a bumper year for apples. We have at least four other boxfuls of a similar size and I’ve already prepped another boxful for storage. I’m peeling, chopping and freezing as fast as I can but there’s only so much room in the freezer and these Golden Delicious are at best adequate rather than delicious. I might rename them Golden Adequate or perhaps Golden Tolerable If Cooked.
Borage self-seeds in this gap in the paving every single year. It’s pretty and the bees like it so I don’t interfere.
Corncockle will have a second flush of flowers if you cut it down after the first flush, apparently. I wish I’d learned this sooner. It might also be less rampant in its self-seeding then. Apologies for the blurry photo, a breeze was stirring, bringing with it more rain. I’m not sorry though – the plants may be soggy but the soil remains surprisingly dry beneath the surface, more rain is still needed (and by the looks of the forecast, we’re getting some!)