Blog

Spring opening at Ulting Wick!

Spring opening at Ulting Wick!
Time to visit Ulting Wick for the tulips and see a beautiful garden waking up again.

Its hard to believe its been a year since I saw Ulting Wick in the flesh for the first time, having admired it in many garden publications in the past. I came to view it not just because its an excellent garden but also to see how I would feel about taking on the job as Head Gardener so I came with my professional head on to assess how I would fit in. I fell in love with it. Over the last year Ive seen it grow and change in an amazing way. My initial viewing seems so long ago now!

DSC_0095.jpg

After what has been its safe to say, and has been much discussed, one of the hardest winters we have experienced in a long time and one of the slowest springs its fingers crossed for a more average April. Everything is still running at least 2 weeks behind as I write this but the sun is shining outside and I’m feeling hopeful.

The last 2 weeks it feels like it hasn’t stopped raining, I’m sure it has, in fact I know it has as shortly after the bank holiday I managed to get out of the house for a short walk. The wind was cold but the sky was blue, I however was pathetically weak. You see at the start of the bank holiday weekend I started to develop septicemia, thankfully I recognised the symptoms. I think this is my fourth bout? It’s easy to overlook, in my case it manifests much like the onset of a flu or a bad cold but it’s subtely different. It’s certainly one which needs dealing with quickly and I was lucky enough to get through to an out of hours doctor… anyway! I got my antibiotics, 2 sets, which I finished yesterday and I’ve been back to work all week… albeit in a much limited sense but my enforced week off had given the garden a chance to leap into action!

I last wrote about Ulting wick just before the beast hit, it feels like that was ages ago! In fact it feels like its been cold since forever but we carried on hammering through the various jobs on our list in the vague hope that spring would soon be on us.

DSC_0268.jpg

In late January I headed up to Waterperry to see the wonderful Pat Havers, Head Gardener and hero of mine. She was kind enough to indulge my love of Snowdrops and give me a tour of some of Waterperrys extensive collection. I also picked up some bare roots fruit trees, Apples for the fruit pruning course I had coming up and Pears … I ended up getting the wrong ones like a numpty but more on that later!

IMG-20180113-WA0003.jpg

Nick Black who ran the Fruit pruning course with me also gave me my first lesson in using a chainsaw. At present I don’t hold my ticket so can’t use one as a paid employee but it could be an incredible asset to a gardener to be trained and qualified so im looking into getting myself the proper certification.

Wendy’s gold was one of the first special snowdrops to show her face, despite the horrendous weather she showed up in mid JanuaryIMAG7064_1.jpg

Another grim job but well worth doing was cleaning and weeding the paths, this involves many hours with a path weeding knife groveling on the floor. Our brick paths and surrounding borders are way too delicate to be jet washed so this is the best method, even if a horrible one

IMG_-kbf9hg.jpg

Above is the before, below the after!

IMG_-fz2rhh.jpg

February, for me, was a good month in retrospect.

The malus trees got pruned, this is done in exactly the same way as you would an apple tree. The reason for doing this is to keep them loaded with blossom and fruit every year, otherwise they will have a tendency to go biennial. Fruiting heavily one year and not the next.

IMAG7133_1.jpg

Despite being bitterly cold as you’d expect for February it stayed relatively dry and allowed us to carry on working. I also had a few treats!

I popped down to one of my old workplaces in Kent, Hole Park, partly to see friends and the beautiful garden which is expertly maintained by my old Head Gardener Quentin Stark and his team and partly to see the first Plant fairs Roadshow of the year.

20180211_103208.jpg20180211_104142.jpg

Although Hole park is famous for its bluebells I can highly recommend a visit pretty much any time of the year and if you love snowdrops you wont be disappointed!

I also decided that I had, had my shoddy phone camera up to the back teeth (im pretty sure so had everyone else) since I dropped it in the pond this time last year it had never been quite the same and had in recent months been getting worse and worse. Id come to terms with the fact no amount of filters would make up for it and carrying round the Nikon just wasnt practical, so new phone it was!

20180217_143505.jpg

I’m still a bit impressed by it!

Anyway, once id had my jollys at hodsock priory and been prevented from joining the Garden Press event by ANOTHER dose of snow it was back to the garden!

Mainly rose pruning, we started on ‘Breath of life’ and truth be told Philippa stormed through most of them without me. I didn’t duck out entirely… honest! I think in reality though I only got involved in about 6 though.

20180216_084351.jpg

At the end of Feb I managed to get Salix ‘Mount Aso’ planted, the ground was like dairylea! It looks amazing reflected in the water and in the coming years it will only get better.

20180219_084650.jpg
Salix ‘Mount Aso’

It feels like the end of Feb was the last time we had a serious dry spell, I took a bit of time to clean and rearrange the conservatory out in readiness for the Dahlia tubers. they’ve been stored in the barns throughout the winter, now growing strongly in the heat and light, there may even be a select few available on our plant stall on our open days!

Whilst moving everything around I caught this Aeonium leaf in the rain, it was so beautiful I had to share it with you20180219_114805.jpg

March started like a lion! Another dump of snow seemed destined to bury us, my heart sank.  By now I was so sick of the cold I can’t even tell you! It didn’t last long but when it left us everything was soggy! Just soggy! Low light levels and still cold, everything sat and sulked… including me. Frustration abounded, it felt like all plans were continually scuppered.

20180301_154555.jpg20180309_061658.jpg

I had a much welcome visitor though! Ben Jones (@thehortdoctor) came to work and together we tackled the Ballerina bed. His enthusiasm is infectious it’s hard not to have a smile on your face when he’s around and he was an absolute machine, we weeded, dug and replanted the border in record time. leaving me feeling buoyant and positive for the coming month!

20180313_093155.jpg

In the glasshouses plants were waking up, this fuchsia, a particularly welcome sight and a myriad hyacinths in the border…

20180314_081056.jpg20180320_144032.jpg

A short break from the rain meant I could set up the wires, finally, for our new espaliers! I’m hoping these trees will be a feature for many years to come so getting the structure right to support and train them is incredibly important.  We have 2 new pears and an apple to grow on the outside of the swimming pool wall. Im hoping that in coming years they will time their blossom perfectly for our open days in spring, giving our visitors a wonderful display as they drive in and in the autumn provide us with gorgeous fruit. I’m trying out a new method, to me, of espaliering in the round rather than the traditional flat arms. I’ve seen it done with pears before and the seem to take to it incredibly well.

20180326_100623.jpg

Some more lovely Muscari added to the colour that was starting to fill the garden…

20180326_162649.jpg20180326_162724.jpg

and Philippa has been sowing like crazy, the glasshouses starting to fill up. This of course means we start shuffling plants around on almost a daily basis, the great plant jenga game has begun!

20180328_152411.jpg20180328_152405.jpg

So we reached the end of March, the clocks had changed and gradually the light levels improved, despite the rains seemingly endless supply we did get the odd sunny moment.

20180329_075535.jpg
Old farmyard

As March drifted into April I sadly took ill, squandering not only my bank holiday weekend in patheticness (I’ve decided this is a real word) but also the following sunny week! My guilt at not being fit combined with my very real inability to do more than walk from the bed to the bathroom and back again made me feel worse. I hate being ill, im the worst patient in the world! Anyway by the next weekend I had started to feel well enough to drive and ventured down to Great Dixter for its spring fair. In retrospect I was a bit ambitious as I spent most of my time sat down either eating cake and chatting or pestering Graeme from Plantbase Nursery for his chair. After a few hours I gave up and came home but it was lovely to see familiar faces and meet a few in real life for the first time, have a chat with real people and buy a few more Auriculas!

20180414_100844.jpg
Anemone pavonina
20180407_121433.jpg
Anemone ‘Lord Nelson’
20180411_131204.jpg
Unnamed Auricula seedling

The first Auricula has also opened at Ulting Wick! This is a new unamed seedling from Pops Plants which I’m growing on for them. She wont get a name till she’s won on the show bench and as its her first year she still has a while before she settles into her true form but early signs are she could well be succesful… either way I love her delicate colour.

Coming back to work after a week had given so many lovely things a chance to poke their heads up, there was still a few challenges regarding squishy lawns and beds but work on planting out the veg garden could continue apace… I say apace I appeared to have only one gear and that was ultra slow! By Tuesday afternoon I was utterly wiped and it must’ve showed, Philippa took one look at me and told me to come in late on Wednesday for which I will be eternally grateful!

I did however improve over the course of the week!

20180409_093111.jpg
The Potatoes are in!
20180409_154355.jpg
Gooseberry flowers are opening
20180411_153639.jpg
The ornamental Malus is about to break into bud
20180412_153423.jpg
Garlic is coming on strong and onion sets are now in
20180412_153417.jpg
Broad beans, of which there are many, are safely defended from passing rabbits, pheasants and anything else that fancys a munch!

With the kitchen garden coming on nicely a quick look round the garden shows us that so many lovely things will be in store for you if you come and see us on our opening days this month!

20180409_092523.jpg
A sea of Daffodils greeted me on my return
20180412_081611.jpg
And the Ligularia had erupted from nowhere
20180412_081549.jpg
Lysichiton americanus with its alien looking spathe too has been a welcome sight
20180412_081857.jpg
Bergenia’s are not my favourite plants  but this ‘Bressingham white’ might just change my mind… might!
20180413_161223.jpg
This beauty is a completely new one on me! (which is awesome!) Mertensia virginica
20180411_153741.jpg
The white garden is starting to live up to its name and filling up quickly
20180411_145645.jpg
and I am totally in love with this white Daffodil
20180411_145622.jpg
But my greatest excitement this week came from seeing these wonderful big fat buds on this Wisteria!

Looking at the weather for the next week with temperatures rising consistently im feeling more confident that the 10,000 tulips we planted over the autumn and winter will catch up quickly with the already magnificent display of wallflowers and we already have some early arrivals!

If you are free next Sunday 22nd we’d love you to come and see us, Philippa has baked an amazing amount of cakes (trust me her baking is sublime) and the tulips are going to be incredible! Another amazing reason to join us is we have a very special guest, Barbara Segall will join us to sign copies of her wonderful book ‘The Secret Gardens of East Anglia’ which of course feature the beautiful pictures of the late Marcus Harper

For all the details check in with the NGS website for this and further openings

20180411_143459.jpg20180411_153756.jpg

 

A visit to Canterbury Cathedrals NGS Gardens

A visit to Canterbury Cathedrals NGS Gardens
A rare opportunity to see the private gardens open for @NGSOpenGardens in May
Exceptional tranquility in the heart of the city

DSC_0090.jpg

One fine day in May I set off for a truly wonderful set of NGS gardens I hadn’t seen in about 2 years. I last visited when I lived relatively locally and I remember the day was freezing. It was the 31st May but I had a coat & jumper on, so different to this visit!

This time I was in shorts and it was still too hot, I say too hot, I’m lying, there’s no such thing! I did worry that the heat would have sent the Irises I remembered so fondly over though, I needn’t have worried…. I’m getting ahead of myself though!

I met Philip Oostenbrink just before he took over as Canterbury’s Head Gardener, he has an incredibly dry wit and an easy smile. His love of plants shines through and working at Canterbury has allowed that passion to grow, his love of the Cathedrals grounds and the team he’s built up is easy to see. So I was keen to not only catch up and have a natter but also to see how the gardens had grown in the intervening 2 years.

We met just before his talk and he’s a mine of information now on the grounds history, of which there’s a lot!

DSC_0075
No.1HG, Protector of paradise, as us mere mortals know him

One of the things I found interesting was the challenge of removing the Ivy from the stonemasonry around the grounds. It’s not just a case of pulling it from the walls as it can do so much damage to the old flintknapped buildings, pulling the mortar out from between stones, the work has to be scheduled to fit with the Cathedrals stonemasons… imagine gardening in that way!

Also it has been recently recognised there are some very special magnolia trees within the grounds. Bred by a now long gone local nursery its hoped the cathedrals collection can be studied more by the Magnolia society.

The Cathedral hold in its library one of the original prints of ‘Geralds Herbal’, those of you who have read some of my older blog posts will have head me talk about this amazing and sometimes hilarious book. Written in 1597 it has some very curious ideas about plants and often refers to the ‘Doctrine of signatures’. This was a method of divining what uses the plants had medically, it was thought a clue would be left by God somewhere in its makeup. Hence Spleenwort which resembles a spleen (if you have a good imagination) is used to cleanse the spleen. The wort part of the name signifies its beneficial. If you come across the word bane however avoid it as it is harmful. Hence wolfsbane (bad for wolves) and hensbane (bad for chickens). You can book an appointment to view this amazing book with the Cathedrals library!

The reason I mention this though is with relevance to the Cathedrals relatively new addition of a medieval style herb garden. Located where the monks dormitories once stood until a 2nd WW bomb flattened all but a few column bases and very near where the infirmary would have been. It has a snazzy little smart app where you can hold your phone near the label and view a page from the Herbal! I have absolutely no clue how this works so I suggest finding a small child and asking them!

After the talk I headed straight across to the plant stall, of course! I know Phillip has a love of unusual plants and was hoping to find something exotic. His staff didnt fail me, I was tipped off that the herb stall had a few coffee plants (possibly Coffea canephora?) and tea plants (Camellia sinensis) for sale so I hotfooted it over there before they sold out! By this time the gardens were well populated and the various stalls were doing a brisk trade My avarice satisfied I then returned to the gardens, with the plants snuggled in my camera bag, to No1 on the list, which confusingly is named No15!

DSC_0094DSC_0096

There are 2 sections effectively to this garden a beautiful, quaint highly terraced backyard full of colour and very much on a domestic scale. Then through a lovely rose arbour into the main part of the garden.

DSC_0100

The front of the house is festooned by a gorgeous climbing rose, pure white & highly scented. Absolutely covered in blooms!

Stretching away from the house and terraced up to the city walls is a fabulous herbaceous border with hidden paths. I loved this border on my first visit and it did not disappoint!

DSC_0101DSC_0104DSC_0108

Next on the tour is the Memorial garden, a place of quiet contemplation which I think is open to the public at all times. at the furthest point to the entrance gate is a small doorway, down here you can find the entrance to the Deacons walk. Now gated and somewhat unused there is an attractive sprinkling of wildflowers giving it a secretive and wild feel.

DSC_0127DSC_0124

The friends garden just outside the memorial garden is a lovely little space edged with borders containing a lovely array of plants, I was very taken with the oriental poppy’s. I think this one is Royal wedding but I could be wrong… either way its lovely!

DSC_0130

Following the map past the ruins of stonework, which I believe are the infirmary ruins, into shady cloisters that surround north side of the cathedral you catch glimpses of the  herbaceous borders that crowd up to the ancient walls. You continue through past the chapter house, above you beautiful ornate ceilings and in front the most exquisite stained glass frames the view of a large green. Secluded completely from the hustle and bustle of a city which surrounds you. It’s easy to forget how close the vibrant city of Canterbury is when you’re here!

This leads you to the entrance of the 4th garden on your tour, the Archdeaconry. The huge yew tree which dominates the garden also lends itself to the style of the circular way the grass is cut. It resembles when viewed from above a stone dropped into a pool, the ripples spreading outwards forever.

Everywhere you look are ancient walls, blocks of carved stone reminding you that this area is one of the oldest sites of worship in England. The history that is contained within these precincts is incredible. Princes, Kings & Queens of England have all sheltered beneath its roof’s, some of the most momentous moments in our fair land have taken place in this now peaceful oasis. Walking here you are walking on the same paths they have trodden and its hard not to think of these things whilst strolling and admiring these beautifully kept grounds.

Here also is the mythical Mulberry tree, supposedly the site where Thomas Becket’s murderers hid their swords before their heinous crime. This is of course a myth, the tree itself although hugely old can be no older than perhaps a 100 years at best, certainly not a 1000… but it could of course be a cutting taken and grown from the original Mulberry … lets say it’s that for the sake of romantic fiction!

DSC_0143DSC_0147

The tree is in a little side garden to the main Archdeaconry, the garden itself is built in older ruins, the remains of flintknapped walls and columns are sympathetically clothed in plants. I lingered for a while admiring a large unusual Callistemon with lovely large pale yellow flowers, possibly Callistemon pallidus. In the process of writing this I’ve discovered another plant name change! Apparently Callistemons are now Melaleuca and the  specific epithet pallida refers to the  pale colour of the flowers. This drew the attention of many visitors and I found I was being something of an impromptu tour guide myself!

DSC_0148.jpg

DSC_0149.jpgDSC_0153.jpg

As you leave the Archdeaconry there is a display of classic cars and an excellent, and very popular, Tea/cakes pavilion with ample seating. It’s a good point in your tour of the gardens to take a break and reflect on the wonderful historical architecture and plants you’ve just seen.

I brought my Dad to Canterbury a few years back to see the Cathedral for his birthday, I pointed out some of the graffiti that adorns the walls. I love that there is so much! He could not be convinced of its legitimacy as some are dated back over 400 years, granted it is hard to believe that you’re looking at a mark left by a random person but in some small way they, notable for no other reason than the time they spent carving their initials and a date into the wall, have achieved a weird sort of immortality just by this very act.

DSC_0140.jpg

Fully revictualled and refreshed your map directs you onwards to the last few gardens, next on the list is the Deanery. Its kind of mind blowing when you consider that a garden in the middle of Canterbury, which if you walk the streets outside of the Cathedrals grounds are a higgle piggle of houses and shops built atop each other, could possibly measure an acre! The building itself, in parts, dates back to the early 1500’s and the garden has a very naturalistic theme with a wildflower meadow and chickens wandering around.

DSC_0184.jpgDSC_0209.jpgDSC_0211.jpg

It’s really worth taking a moment to appreciate the wealth of roses here, the deadheading must take hours! The scent though is incredible!

DSC_0187.jpgDSC_0182.jpgDSC_0181.jpgDSC_0185.jpg

Having now thoroughly lost my way regarding where I was on the map I followed other wandering visitors and found the exit / entrance to the rear of the deaconry once more. I took a moment to appreciate the tiny corridor which, absolutely stuffed with plants, must be a marvellous place to spend a summers eve. The warmth of the day’s sun reflected back from the stone walls, the scent of the plants concentrated in this warm, still environment. It would be easy to imagine relaxing with a glass of wine and good company here.

DSC_0212.jpgDSC_0190.jpgDSC_0188.jpgDSC_0200.jpg

It’s definately worth giving yourself a good few hours, possibly even a full day, to really appreciate the gardens here. Especially given that they’re not normally accessible to the general public. There are lots of little secret hidden portions which I shall allow you to discover yourself!

I shall however leave you with a few pics from around the grounds…

Opening times for NGS can be found here Canterbury NGS open gardens

DSC_0205.jpgDSC_0175.jpgDSC_0169.jpgDSC_0159.jpgDSC_0141.jpg

Oh!

And did I mention there are owls?

THERE ARE OWLS!!!!

DSC_0088.jpgDSC_0080.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trialling Thompson & Morgan seeds, Part 2 – Flowers

Some exciting flowers from Thompson & Morgan!
What will we grow at Ulting Wick this year…

Following on from my last blog post, this time im talking about the flower seeds. You’ll have to forgive the lack of pics in this instance of real examples as I’ve only seen a few of them, never mind grown them! Thompson & Morgan have been lovely enough to let me trial a few of their range. Im hoping to be able to fit these in alongside Philippas choices in various places throughout the garden, if we cant find the right space for them though they will most likely find a place in my new garden (if the rabbits dont eat them!) or even on the plant sales which of course all the proceeds from go towards NGS charities.

I’ll start with a plant that’s seen an amazing resurgence in popularity. In recent years several plants which I remember as a young’un have made an comeback from being viewed as something your grannie grew to hip happening showstoppers and rightly so as far as im concerned! I guess it started with Dahlias but it seems to now encompass Pelargoniums, Begonias and of course the wonderful Zinnia. They have all been given a makeover and sent back out on the plant catwalk to strut their stuff

Zinnias in particular seem to have been given a somewhat punky new look and looking through the T&M range I think ive been given the chance to try out one of the funkiest!

Zinnia Whirlygig mixed

20180301_180207.jpg

Growing to around 45-60cm tall, that’s 18 to 24 inches in old money, these semi double cactus flowered style blooms promise a great colour range. They can be used either as a bedding plant, intermingling happily with your Dahlias & Salvias or grown as a cut flower, if youre feeling particulary generous with the seeds you could end up with both! As the packet contains around a 100 seeds this could easily be the case.

Sow between March, if you have heat & protection, to May. They are half hardy so wont appreciate getting cold. A second later sowing in June/July will guarantee flowers until the first frosts.

Cosmos Lemonade

20180301_180230.jpg

Now as far as I knew there was only one yellow flowered Cosmos on the market and that was xanthos which makes me quite excited to give Lemonade a try. Interestingly I do have a packet of Xanthos handy so thought I would compare and contrast the blurb on the back.

Flowering heights and times are comparable, max 60 cm (2ft), July to Oct. Lemonades blurb says it has a white eye but the pic on the front is distinctly yellow. Now it might be that Lemonade holds its flowers on a longer stem? Maybe its more floriferous? Honestly, im not sure. Only one way to find out, grow them side by side and see if I can spot a difference! Which is no real hardship as either way it looks a lovely plant.

Cupcakes mix & Cupcakes White

IMAG2264

When cupcakes came on the market a few years back it caused an absolute storm. Very much a marmite plant, I came down on the loving it side of the fence, I get the feeling Philippa not so much & she does have a point in her reasons for not liking it. It doesn’t look real and shes right it doesn’t.

A genetic mutation has caused this varieties petals to fuse, instead of having 5 or more separate petals it has one entire frilled cup, sometimes double, having a smaller cup held inside the outer one. A lot of work went into making this variety stable and it received the peoples choice in the trials ground at RHS Wisley.

The mix variety comes in shades of deep pink through to white & the white… well… comes in white. It can get up to 1.2M (4ft) in height if its happy & if deadheaded regularly its flowering period is greatly extended. A half hardy annual it has similar sowing requirements to the Zinnia. Also like the Zinnia a second later sowing will extend its season right up to first frosts.

Its also worth mentioning another cosmos worth growing if you like an oddity, seashells.

DSC_0055

The last 2 on the list are both perennials, the first we already grow at Ulting wick but certainly no harm in increasing the amount we have, the second is giving me a slight headache in trying to work out where exactly it might fit in… but ill come back to that!

Berkheya purpurea

DSC_0024

An odd but gorgeous plant, the RHS A-Z gives an entirely uninspiring description of it so you would be forgiven for overlooking it. Even if you were to see it in its unflowering state you would probably look at its spiny rosette of leaves and think thistle, and move on. Take a moment though, for its well worth your time and attention.

The description on T&Ms packet is a ‘thistle that thinks it’s a sunflower’, which personally I think is pushing it a bit but it does have a modicum of truth in it. In full flower it stands around 2ft tall. An incredibly useful plant for difficult dry conditions. Once established it can withstand long periods of practical drought conditions. Ive seen it grown at the QE park where everything else was wilting this plant was thriving! The flowers themselves are a delicate lavender colour, asteracea in form, up to 2 inches across and it really deserves garden space as its no prima donna. It has very few, if any, pests and diseases, the only thing it really objects to is having wet feet. In a moist position it can be prone to flopping a bit, in worst case senarios it may rot off, so keep this in mind when finding the right spot for it. Ooh! One last thing! You can, if this is your thing, cut off the entire flowering spike and hang upside down to dry. It will keep its colour and shape for many months in dried flower arrangements.

Sowing can start early in the year under glass, or you could sow in autumn if you haven’t got room. If sown in autumn you might get flowers the following year but remember this is a perennial so they like to bulk up a bit prior to flowering. Annuals are under pressure to get everything done before the frost hits but perennials don’t have that rush. Give them some time.

Which brings me to my final and most perplexing conundrum!

Aquilegia skinneri ‘Tequila Sunrise’

tandmAQUI-TT61838-A
Pic from T&M website

I have a love/hate relationship with Aquilegias, they are beautiful, delicate and enchanting… but they are also prolific breeders. In my first garden I had a few lovely double ones that I left when I redesigned it, the next year I had a few more, mostly double but in slightly different shades. In 5 years time I was on a seek and destroy mission with them. They had cross bred and become invasive, popping up in cracks in the pavement, walls, in between other plants, under shrubs, basically everywhere! I learnt very quickly to take the flowering spike off the instant they had finished and woe betide it if I missed one. Theres a saying in gardening ‘1 years seed, 7 years weed’ and it really rings true with Aquilegas.

Forget that though.

They are wonderful & I will always forgive them for their promiscuous ways.

So, Tequila sunrise, what makes this different? Special? Other than its colouring..

A bright red hood over a canary yellow petals, that’s pretty special, right!

But Aquilegas only flower in the spring right?

Not this one apparently! This one claims to flower from May till sept! Giving a profusion of flowers upto 3ft tall throughout the summer, im absolutely desperate to find a place where I can put this to the test. It has a preference for moist soils and there are a few places that could qualify at Ulting Wick. All I need to do now is persuade Philippa that it would work as it could be quite difficult to place colourwise.

Of course these are just SOME of the flowers on our extensive list & I cant wait for you to come and see what new things we have at Ulting Wick when we open for the NGS this coming year so please do write the dates in your diary and visit if you can!

Snowdrops at Hodsock Priory

A visit to a wonderful Snowdrop garden as winter turns to spring

DSC_0371

Just in case you hadn’t noticed its Snowdrop season!

And every year I go on the trail hunting Snowdrops, its my way of reminding myself winter doesn’t last forever.

Much like Tulips did in the 1700’s, Snowdrops seem to be increasing in popularity. Some of the rarer ones, like ‘Midas’ are selling for incredible prices per bulb but for the true Galanthophile it’s not about the money. The obsession is akin to being a railway enthusiast in some ways. You might travel miles to stand in the freezing cold just to catch a glimpse of a particular Snowdrop… but unlike trains there’s a chance you could end up carrying one home with you!

I will always remember my very first unusual Snowdrop, it was around 15 years ago. I’d been aware of them don’t get me wrong but they were on my peripheral vision. Small, white flower, unassuming, harbinger of spring, blah, blah, blah. They just hadn’t caught my imagination. Sadly for some, they never will… but when you get it, it’s like someone turned on a lightbulb in a darkened room. All except it’s a Snowdrop and that room is spring!

My first Snowdrop was ‘Flora pleno’ my amazement as I stared at this flower was unmeasured! In my ignorance I genuinely thought I might have uncovered something unheard of! I look back on this moment and smile at my overexcited self now. Yes it is a special Snowdrop but nowhere near as ‘rare’ as id envisioned it being.

The next time I got a real education on Snowdrops was whilst I worked at Hole Park, Quentin tried to teach me everything he knew. Given he seems to have an eidetic memory that’s quite a lot. I still count myself very much as a novice despite his best efforts but listening to someone who has a real love and enthusiasm for Snowdrops is utterly transforming. Suddenly they’re not just little white flowers, suddenly there’s a million different variations to look out for. Some subtle, easy for a novice to overlook. I would be hard pressed, in the field, to spot the differences between the flowers of Galanthus plicatus ‘Amy Doncaster’ & Galanthus elwesii ‘Selbourne green tips’ but I could spot the difference between the leaves and growth habit. I would definitely be able to tell that both are different to Galanthus nivalis, which is the one most of us think of when we think of snowdrops.

So it was with great excitement I received an invite to go and see the Snowdrops at Hodsock Priory from George & Katharine Buchanan & their team. Hodsock priory has a long and illustrious heritage which the Buchanan family very generously share, their gardens are open starting from the 10th of Feb to the 4th March 2018 for Snowdrops with the added bonus of outdoor theatre (16th to 18th Feb) included in the price of your ticket on the Sat & Sun.

DSC_0421

If you wish to soak up the history of Hodsock priory, learn about the kings that have stayed there (Edward I & Henry VIII are just two of the list!) the architecture and its involvement with the ‘Land girls’ during the second world war, George and his enthusiastic team give a daily talk on its history and tours of the garden. Check the blackboard by the Woodland Café when you visit for details of times.

DSC_0376

DSC_0419DSC_0412DSC_0407

The gardens were laid out in the 1820s, Hodsock priory itself received a facelift by the architect George Devey in 1873, and developed by the then Head Gardener Arthur Ford and his team of 5. Arthur was a well respected gardener of his time often writing for various garden journals. It was during his time that the Italianate terraces were laid out and flower beds introduced to the fan garden. He also introduced many fruit trees. Arthurs team continued there till 1930 when the womens Land Army turned the estate into food production to help with the war effort. It wasn’t till 1967 though that the Lady Buchanan decided to fill the gardens with snowdrops a benefit that we 40 years later can really appreciate.

DSC_0394
Hamamelis mollis
DSC_0393
Hamamelis mollis ‘Pallida’
DSC_0384
Prunus mume beni chidori
DSC_0375
Petasites fragrans
DSC_0368
Petasites japonicus

 

The garden has many winter beauties to appreciate, not just snowdrops, You can find Hellebores in abundance, carpets of Cyclamens and Aconites. The scent of Sarcoccoca, Chimonanthus & winter flowering Honeysuckle fill the air and delight the senses and the beautiful vibrant colours of Cornus and Willow stems can be appreciated in all their glory…. But! Back to Snowdrops!

Hodsock boasts quite a collection, listed below are some that can be seen growing there…

  • Galanthus Atkinsii
  • Galanthus Sam Arnott
  • Galanthus Worwonowii
  • Galanthus Lady Beatrix Stanley- Sir Andrew’s Grandmother
  • Galanthus Elwesii
  • Galanthus Magnet
  • Galanthus Plicatus
  • Galanthus Viridipicis
  • Galanthus Allenii
  • Galanthus Barbara’s Double -Sir Andrew’s mother
  • Galanthus Augustus
  • Galanthus Bill Bishop
  • Galanthus Brenda Troyle
  • Galanthus Hill Poe
  • Galanthus Robin Hood
  • Galanthus Nivalis double
  • Galanthus Nivalis single
DSC_0229 s arnott.JPG
Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’

A fantastic little thing, 2 snowdrops in their collection are named for George’s ancestors, I need to find out the story behind this!

Now at this point it might be worth looking a bit closer at the Galanthus genus

Disclaimer: I do NOT claim to be an expert but I’ll do my best to point out relevant features.

The one we all know is Nivalis but it is not as you’d be forgiven for thinking a British native. It’s thought it was introduced possibly by the Romans… they introduced a lot of things we should be thankful for, they also introduced Rabbits which I haven’t forgiven them for.. yet! There is a school of thought though that says it wasn’t introduced until the 16th century. Irregardless of this G.nivalis is the most widespread and easily available of all the species, there are others though!

Approximately 20 in the Galanthus genus, I know 20, bit of a shocker right!

What’s even more surprising is more are still being identified as new species, even as recently as 2001 G. trojanus was identified & in 2012 G. panjutinii, followed closely by G. samothracicus in 2014!

Galanthus species are split into 7 main ‘Clades’ or groups

  • Platyphyllus clade (Caucasus, W. Transcaucasus, NE Turkey)
  • Trojanus clade (NW Turkey)
  • Ikariae clade (Aegean Islands)
  • Elwesii clade (Turkey, Aegean Islands, SE Europe)
  • Nivalis clade (Europe, NW Turkey)
  • Woronowii clade (Caucasus, E. and NE Turkey, N. Iran)
  • Alpinus clade (Caucasus, NE Turkey, N.Iran)

Even if you’re keen on Snowdrops it’s a challenge to keep all this in your head but some of the names will be familiar. There are some that are worth noting specifically other than nivalis.

Galanthus plicatus, the specific epithet referring to the fact its leaves have a slight pleat to them, is sometimes called the Crimean Snowdrop. It was given this name because soldiers returning from the Crimean war supposedly brought them back with them.

Galanthus elwesii is exported in huge numbers, 7 million bulbs a year, from Turkey. Of all the snowdrop species it sports the largest flower. It also has more distinctive green markings than other species.

worononowii is an even bigger export at 15 million bulbs per year, its leaves are wider than most of the other species and a shiny light to medium green.

Then we come to the cultivars!

Generations of horticulturists have spent decades creating ‘new’ snowdrops. Heyrick Greatorex is just one example, an eccentric character to say the least. He named his snowdrops after Shakespearian characters. Sadly he was an awful record keeper! He would take the pollen from the only double flowered variety available at the time nivalis ‘flore pleno’ and crossed it with G. plicatus. The resulting hybrids became the basis for many modern doubles. One in particular which captures my fancy is ‘Hippolyta’

DSC_0268 Hippolyta
Hippolyta

Yellow snowdrops often cause a stir, oddly most of these variations seem to stem from a small wild group of nivalis in Northumberland. These are now classified under the umbrella title of Sandersii Group. There are other species that lack the pigmentation that gives rise to the distinctive yellow hue in place of green. One of the best known is G. plicatus ‘Wendys Gold’ native of Cambridge it was almost lost to cultivation in the 1980’s. It’s still not easy to get hold of but when it is it’s always cheaper than ‘Midas’ thought to be a naturally occurring cross between ‘Blonde Inge’ & ‘Trym’ obtaining it yellow colouration from the former.

elwesii has given rise to one of my absolute favourite cultivars though! Imagine a flower that has the cutest little face staring back at you! This would be ‘Grumpy’. Only discovered in 1990 in Cambridge it’s still selling at a price I’m not sure I could justify to myself even if I saw it for sale but I do so love that scowling little face!

I succumbed and bought myself Magnet & Atkinsii recently on a trip to see Waterperrys Snowdrops, I would be seriously hard pressed not to buy Hippolyta if I saw it. My list of ‘wants’ is becoming longer each year for what is essentially a plant that flowers for just a couple of weeks & I will never have enough to create the full effect of the magnificence that a large swathe of these tiny nodding miracles, promises of warmer days coming.

That’s why I need places like Hodsock, they’ve got that in spades! … you see what I did there right?

Spades… Snowdrops… spades?

Ok, I’ll shut up, here’s the Snowdrops!

DSC_0396DSC_0390DSC_0382DSC_0366DSC_0359DSC_0353DSC_0395DSC_0399

Trialling Thompson & Morgan seeds – Part 1, Veg

Some of Thompson and Morgans vegtable seed I will be trying out & reviewing this year!

IMAG6000(1)

Some of you may remember me posting about my visit to GLEE in September last year, some of the people I chatted to were the lovely staff on the Thompson & Morgan stand. I explained to one of the guys about where I worked and what sort of things we grew and asked if he could suggest anything we might find useful… The reaction was amazing! This chap, and I REALLY wish I could remember his name, knew his seeds!

He flew into action pointing out packets, extolling their virtues, talking about them intimately like old friends, it was incredible to behold!

Long story, short, by the end of our chat I came away clutching some lovely packets of seed to try out in the garden, not just flowers but some really exciting veg too.

Now with all of absolutely itching to start sowing I’ll give you an insight into some of the varieties we will be trying out, starting with the veg

Kohl Rabi Kolibri F1

DSC_0254

This is such a lovely veg I’ll never understand why it isn’t more commonly grown. Eaten young, golf ball up to cricket ball sized it can be plucked, peeled and eaten on the spot! In fact I highly recommend doing so. I loved using this veg to introduce kids to growing as it looks insane, a bit like a flying saucer. The taste is wonderful, incredible, juicy with a taste not dissimilar to the sweet heart of the cabbage. In over 3 or 400 younguns I gave it to not one said they didn’t like it and more often than not they came back for seconds! If you can resist peeling and eating it the second you pick it, it can be added to salads either grated or cubed. If for some strange reason you don’t get around to eating it this way it can still be used, it makes an excellent base for soups.

Dead easy to grow, start in March and successional sowing can carry on till late sept, it likes regular watering otherwise it can be prone to splitting. Although this in itself isn’t really a problem other than aesthetically…. If you’re like me and have a habit of eating everything the young leaves are quite tasty too.

Next on the plate and these look awesome are…

Radish Bluemoon & Redmoon F1 Hybrid mix

IMAG5997

Now we all like Radishes, right? What’s different about these ones though is the colour and oh wow! What a colour! As the name suggests the crisp juicy flesh, which we normally think of as white is shades of violet blue and ruby red respectively. I’m hoping they taste as good as they look because they look amazing!

Sow direct from mid May to the end of Aug, every 2 – 3 weeks, thinly & give them plenty of water to prevent bolting.

Carrot Sweet Imperator mix F1

If I ask you what colour a carrot is you’ll say orange and give me a funny look, right?

Now some of you may already know this and forgive me if you do but no, not all carrots are orange. In fact orange carrots are a relatively recent introduction speaking globally. The wild Daucus carotta is white and although is edible isn’t as nice as the carrots we have bred for eating. They are descended from the wild afghan carrot which is purple!

This colourful mix of specially bred carrots retains some of the more interesting colours they are available in, the mix includes Honeysnax F1, Creampak F1, Snowman F1, Yellowbunch F1 & Purple eliteF1

Sow thinly from April onwards, to reduce the need for further thinning, as the smell will attract Carrot root fly & if you can protect with a barrier such as Enviromesh. If the barrier is over 30cm high it will prevent the little blighters from destroying your crop as they can’t fly high. Carrots are one of the very first thing I remember growing with my granddad and the sweet smell will always bring back fond memories of gardening with him. These memories are treasures that can’t be bought and your children & grandchildren will hold them close as they grow up too.

Squash Coquina Inca gold F1

Everyone in the UK would love to be able to grow Butternut squashes successfully, why not it’s a lovely tasting squash…but! There’s a small problem with growing them in the UK, they don’t like our growing conditions. It can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening for people in their first forays into veg growing to have nursed a plant, loved it, hugged it, grown it carefully all season to get no real results from it.

In a good summer you may get one, maybe 2 fruits to grow successfully & if you do give yourself huge congratulations! Whilst growing for the restaurant at Sissinghurst in our best year from around 60 plants we managed a maximum of 60 fruits… in our worst, perhaps 20. We had a massive field of them and all of our other squashes were producing magnificently. Sometimes it’s not you, it’s the wrong plant, wrong place.

That said, this Squash which is a cross from the conventional Butternut and a South American variety Coquina purports to be able to withstand our British summers a bit more successfully! The packet tells me that even in a poor summer it could produce up to 4 fruits per plant which would be a far better use of valuable space in the veg garden than the conventional Butternut.

As with all squashes the urge is to start them early, resist! Unless you have heat and are prepared to repot regularly and the space to keep them inside till ALL risk of frost, or even cold, have passed you won’t be doing yourself or them any favours. They are fast growers so by waiting till the end of May to start them off they will soon catch up & even overtake ones started early. They are incredibly hungry plants too so by giving them sufficient space to really romp away you’ll get the best results. I use a 10 year crop rotation which relates to veg families and cucurbits come in at year no.8, this may seem extreme but it does mean that many diseases such as onion white rot can be avoided (I’ll talk a bit more about this at the end)

My final T&M trial variety is not a new one exactly but still a very useful addition to the winter vegetable garden…

Carrot Nantes 2 – Frubund

This carrot is something of a traditional one in some ways, something of a forgotten tradition for most but still worth giving a go!

I’ve grown it before at Ryton and it really does give you a wonderful early crop of carrots without having to worry about Carrot root fly!

Sow it as late as Oct & it will overwinter to give you fresh carrots from early April, brilliant!

 

In my plans for next years veg garden I have included some other lovely veg I’m familiar with that not only look good but taste amazing and importantly I’ve included some plants that will help attract beneficial insects, some that will be sacrificial plants & others as herbs. These are normally referred to as companion plants.

Companion plants

IMAG6084~2.jpg
Calendula ‘Snow princess’

One of the best companion plants I tried new last year is Calendula ‘Snow princess’ she is gorgeous! The traditional Calendula comes in shades of vibrant orange through to a pale yellow but this one is almost a pure white with a dark eye. A great pollinator it brings in all the wonderful bugs you want lurking in your garden especially the hoverflies. It also appeared to hold up well against the dreaded powdery mildew which Calendula is a martyr to. I intend on doing 2 sowings, one early around late April and another in late June. This should mean I get flowers all summer long and when the first sowing succumbs the second should take over.

Other companion plants you could consider are

alitex solanum aug 08
Tagetes minuta

Tagetes minuta – great attractant, its smell deters whitefly from your Brassicas and Solanacea. It’s also reputed to deter eelworms in the soil.

Nasturtium – I call this a sacrificial plant because blackfly will attack it over and above your more valuable crops. A level of pests in an organic garden will always have to be tolerated otherwise your predators such as ladybird larvae & hoverfly larvae will have nothing to eat. This can serve as a nursery for your predators and if you want to you can move the babies around to attack on your other plants!

Crop Rotation

I mentioned earlier I go for a 10 year crop rotation, this may seem extreme but it’s actually not so bad. Some of the worst diseases can stay active in the soil for several years and by splitting your veg up into families it makes managing these much easier & allows you to plan far into advance.

Heres how I plan mine with a few suggestions

Allium – Leeks, onions, garlic, chives

Fabeacea – Beans, peas

Brassica – Cabbage, Brocolli, radishes, rockets & mustards

Chenopodiacea – chard, beetroot

Asteracea – Lettuce, chicory

Apiacea – Carrots, coriander, celery, Parsnip

Solanacea – potatoes, peppers, tomatoes

Cucurbitacea – Squashes & pumpkins

Poa – Sweetcorn

Miscellaneous – Lambs lettuce, basil, put to green manure

Personally I find this so much easier than a 3 or 5 year rotation which throws the families out of the window but of course the choice is yours. One book which I found immensely useful & still do is Carol Klein’s book ‘Grow your own’ if I was allowed just one book on growing veg this would be it!

I’d love to share with you every variety I’ll be growing this year in the veg garden and the sowing times etc. but honestly it’s a massive list! I’m sure I’ll be sharing more of the successes, and of course failures as we all have them, on twitter and the blog throughout the year and I look forward to hearing about yours!

Next time some of the lovely flower seed from T&M

Happy growing & happy New Year!

A new year in Ulting Wick

A new year in Ulting Wick my thoughts on the last 6 months & the future

 

DSC_0093

The year has gone by in a blink and what a year it’s been. As I sit here, nursing a glass of sherry in the twilight zone between xmas & new years, and reflect on everything I’ve done, the places I’ve been and the wonderful people I’ve met im quite amazed. If you had told me at the start of the year I would probably have laughed and asked you when I was supposed to take a break!

DSC_0119
Phil, the master of the relaxed pose

And the plants! Oh my, the plants!

DSC_0309DSC_0253DSC_0104DSC_0106 (2)

DSC_0280

Now I realise that it’s almost impossible for one person to see, let alone remember every plant it’s possible to grow in the UK but I’m afraid I had become somewhat smug and complacent in recent years, something I’m not ashamed to admit. This year has been a wonderful and humbling reminder that although I have a good knowledge, and this is something I will happily say, I don’t know everything.

DSC_0123
Nicotiana glauca, one of the plants that reminded me I dont know everything

I have my skills, things which I count myself as very competent in, others which I have a working knowledge of, an interest in… but an acceptance, a willingness to learn is paramount to who I believe I am. It keeps me enthusiastic…. And what a learning curve its been!

DSC_0106DSC_0084

When I first saw Ulting Wick I fell in love with it, I could see the beauty which has been created here and mentally I compiled a list of things I felt could augment it. Thankfully Philippa is wonderfully open to ideas, obviously she knows her garden well & often has already tried some of the things I’ve suggested but equally she has been willing to either let me retry those ideas or given me permission to go ahead and change things altogether. In my experience this is the hallmark not just of a good boss but of a good person. She also has a vast plant knowledge and introduced me to many ‘new’ plants. Ones that I have seen grown nowhere else in the UK, which is incredibly exciting! Her enthusiasm for experimentation is infectious and has led me to search out plants which I think will compliment her vision. Since joining here I’ve come across some lovely new plants to me and reacquainted myself with a few others …

DSC_0029

We’ve also gone through some vast changes here in the last 6 months, over and above the normal change from tulips to tropical and back again. Over the course of the summer some of our background structure, mainly trees, has altered significantly. Some of it has been planned work but a few have caught us unawares. I’ll be honest, I’ve come to dread the sound of snapping wood, first to succumb was the giant remains of ‘pooh tree’ a huge willow stump which had guarded the entrance to the pond and Philippa had fond memories of her children climbing on. We viewed it sadly listing and the decision was taken to remove it entirely, a sensible one as it was almost entirely rotten through despite having some regrowth. This did of course open up a huge area for replanting which is of course incredibly exciting. I literally cant wait to see the results of this!

A section of hawthorn which had died was removed at the other end of the pond in the Spring bed, this was a huge education to me personally as to the soil type that is peculiar to Ulting Wick, where the ground hasn’t been worked or improved in the last 20 or so years the soil type is…. Stone…. Just stone

Honestly I’ve never come across anything like it in my life!

More suited to a mattock than a fork and spade, its ridiculous, and a testament to Philippa and her gardeners through the years. I now understand why there is a huge pile of stones in the meadow… which in its own way has turned out to be quite handy for repairing the track in preparation for our visitors in the spring… so, swings and roundabouts!

We also had an enormous poplar removed, planned work this time, around 80ft high it had been planted originally as part of a fast growing shelter belt, its presence now though was starting to cause all the other trees nearby to suffer and struggle for light including the beautiful tulip tree very close to its base. Full props to the Arb guys who took it down, given its height and proximity to more precious trees they did so little damage it was untrue!

With this work out of the way I breathed a sigh of relief thinking that surely this was the last of the tree work that would be occurring for the year… well, the big stuff, I had my eye on some jobs for the winter and into 2018 but nothing me and my trusty silky saw couldn’t cope with… or so I thought!

On the neighbouring land and a beautiful part of our borrowed landscape stands a coppiced oak, well most of it still stands… a huge branch, 1/3 of its canopy sheared off whilst in full leaf! The oak is anywhere between 500 and 800 years old. It’s difficult to tell due to the effect of coppicing and although damaged it will carry on for probably another 300 years easily, gradually and gracefully declining.

DSC_0269
The Oak prior to losing the branch on the right

As I sat admiring the sunrise one morning I heard the sound I now dread!

I leapt up, peering across the pond trying to work out what had gone, I was still hoping it was a large branch, it had gone down slowly whatever it was but I was dammed if I could spot it!

With this, I decided it couldn’t possibly have been a full tree so went inside to get dressed and then investigate… I quickly realised on investigation that the reason I hadn’t seen what it was, was because it had been hidden by one of our magnificent willow trees… it had been a full tree, kind of, another poplar! It was a large 60ft plus, multi-stemmed one. The last of the really big ones. One of its stems had broken off right at the base exposing quite significant heart rot, leaving 2 other large uprights which were now doubly unsafe. The falling trunk had in the process taken out 3 other smaller trees and had got itself neatly hung up in a nearby willow, nightmare!

The Arb guys were once again called out and once again impressive work, the hung up trunk, damaged branches and the other 3 trees were quickly despatched, leaving the 2 uprights… I spoke to the climber after and he said if hed known how badly the base was rotted through he would’ve thought twice about climbing it and fair play. They lowered the large trunk section by section, very carefully as it stood right above a prostrate yew (very unusual) and of course the precious tulip tree! The last large upright was felled in one section and this I was incredibly impressed by! They managed to get it so it fell in exactly the right spot, awy from the precious trees and straight into a 1ft gap between 2 other boundary trees, hardly breaking a branch in the process!

DSC_0288
The prostrate Yew with the now gone Poplar (back, right)

The entire base was rotten through, that’s the thing with heart rot, it’s almost impossible to spot and is totally unpreventable sadly… but on a positive note we will now have lots of lovely light flooding in which will help our remaining trees to grow straight and healthy!

We have lost a few more branches since in the snow and winds but fingers crossed no more like that!

I have been enchanted too by the amount of wildlife I’ve seen in the last 6 months, its felt at times like I’ve been transported to a Narnia type world. I’ve seen Muntjacs chasing pheasants. Cormorants, herons, moorhens and ducks. On my very first day here I saw a hare race across the lawn, there’s a resident stoat that gambols on the lawn, water rats swim in the pond, a fox even wanders past me some mornings. At night Tawny owls serenade each other and the occasional barn owl screeches its presence, I’m pretty sure I’ve even heard a little owl. Twice I’ve seen the amazing sight of a kingfisher, its high pitched pip, pip, pip call giving its presence away. The second time I stood gaping, open mouthed as it hovered in the waving fronds of the willow searching for a place it could fish in the frozen pond. It’s the clearest view ive ever had of this fast moving reclusive bird, magical! For a few short weeks in the summer we also gained 2 swans on the pond, incredible!

DSC_0097

Someone else who has been appreciating the wildlife, maybe not in quite the same way as me, is Phil. He has settled in ridiculously well & his territory encompasses the entire garden and he’s encroaching on neighbouring lands! That’s approx 11 acres! A ridiculous amount of space for one cat who doesn’t like to share… hes really antisocial regarding anything other than people! When we find a place of our own I’m expecting him to be somewhat resentful..

DSC_0105DSC_0006

Now as the wheel of the year turns, we start to consider the coming season, this is both thrilling and terrifying in equal parts. I’m still relying heavily on philippa’s & my assistant Kwab’s knowledge of the garden. To do anything else would be arrogant madness! You can read all the books you like, study and educate yourself but familiarity of the area is something that only comes with time, experience of how plants react to a locality can only be learnt through experience and what may work in one area might not work in another. We will also be welcoming a new member to the team! We will be welcoming our WRAG trainee, so exciting! WRAG’s is a fantastic way of learning, an apprenticeship open to people from all walks of life and any age group… and despite the acronym is open to both men & women!

I’ll leave you with a few pics of Ulting Wick from throughout the year & I’d like to say thank you to you all for reading my musings and adding your thoughts. Also a big thank you to everyone who has helped make this year very special, I hope you all have a marvellous 2018 and life gives you everything you need…. sometimes that’s better than what you want…

DSC_0219DSC_0089DSC_0078DSC_0064DSC_0015DSC_0001

Return of Pops Plants!

An exciting visit to Pops Plants nursery, home of the National collection of double Auriculas.

DSC_0008

Imagine a small normal suburban street, it could be any street in England, with a row of upmarket terraced Victorian houses. From the outside, anonymous, utterly normal. You could never guess what an amazing, magical delight could lurk in the back garden….

This is exactly what I found when I visited the lovely historic market town of Hitchin in late November. Hitchin was somewhere I knew well as a child, mum adored shopping there. I think the last time I visited would’ve been about 25 years ago and as I drove in there were some parts that seemed incredibly familiar, that funny road junction that dad hated, the old wooden beamed house that leans out precariously towards the road but subtle changes have taken place. As they always do in towns you haven’t seen in a long while, a new sainsburys, coffee shops where once a haberdashery once was. It’s always an odd feeling, vaguely twilight zone.

I had come with a purpose though!

My love of Auriculas had drawn me to this quiet, sleepy town. A chance follow on Twitter from a chap called Tom Morey, I noticed his @ as I scanned his profile and for some reason it rang a bell with me but what got my attention was the most gorgeous Auricula on his Twitter feed. I asked its name. Turned out it hasn’t, as yet, earned one…. An Auricula can’t be named till it’s won a show, Tom replied saying he would be entering it this coming year! He seemed a lovely chap & his feed was full of pretty Auriculas so I followed back… the penny still hadn’t dropped as to the significance of his @

A few days passed, I chatted to another chap ive known online for about 10 years now, Rhizowen, and the subject of my destroyed Auricula collection came up. I was living in a flat that had a communal garden, quite frankly it was awful but that’s by the by, my precious Auriculas which had survived multiple house moves, neglect and vine weevil attack were sat outside my flats windows. A small little ray of sunshine for me in what was a bleak place. One day on returning from work I filled my watering can and wandered outside, noticing the mow men had been and cut the grass, I turned the corner…. Horror!

A crime scene, destruction, wholesale mutilation… I stood not quite comprehending what I was seeing, it made no sense. Shattered terracotta fragments littered the grass, small shrivelled baked shreds of what could once have been plant material, compost and gravel strewn across the floor under my window and strips of black plastic pot …. Gradually the full horror sank in, the mow men had mown my Auriculas, gone straight over the top, pots and all!

To this day the wholesale destruction still amazes me (& breaks my heart) I’d had some of those plants since starting Ryton! Sibsey in particular was the love of my life but now gone… anyway, back to the present day!

Tom popped into the conversation empathising with my grief then did something totally unexpected and hugely generous! He offered me some of his Auriculas! My jaw literally hit the floor. The conversation rapidly switched to DM where on talking to him further the penny finally dropped… @Popsplants2, his twitter handle. Bear with me here, Pops Plants were a huge name in Auriculas for any number of years and I’m 99% sure that it was from them I bought Sibsey at the Malvern show. Pops Plants were owned by Lesley Roberts & Gil Dawson, they were not only responsible for holding the national Auricula collection but also for breeding, introducing & showing many new varieties … Their show medals would be tucked around the doorframe in the kitchen Tom tells me…and i was now talking to Lesley’s 2nd cousin Tom who had taken over the collection of doubles when herself & Gil decided to retire earlier this year! This was an opportunity to go and see the collection that I just couldn’t miss!

So off to Hitchin I went!

DSC_0032

Tom and his business partner Susi Clarke took on responsibility for the collection in May 2017 after receiving full tuition from Lesley & Gil on how to look after and propagate the collection. Susi’s husband built the most wonderful standing out Auricula house and it’s from here that Susi and Tom are rebuilding Pops Plants (hence the Twitter handle). It’s a remarkable undertaking for 2 people with full time jobs, families and a shared love of Auriculas.

They are currently building their stock of Auriculas up, mainly doubles at the moment but looking to expand into the fancies, striped and self’s and have just listed with the RHS Plant Finder. They also will be running a mail order business via their website popsplants2.co.uk

DSC_0013.JPG

‘Bittern Bounty’

DSC_0015

‘Cardinal Red’

DSC_0022

‘Forrest Bracken’

All of this plus holding down full time jobs & family lives keeps them very busy but you will still find them selling their plants at various fairs and markets! Here are some of the upcoming dates

Hitchin craft market – 16th Dec 2017

Southern Auricula show, old barn hall, Great Bodeham – 28th April 2018

Rare Plant fair, Winterbourne – 20th May 2018

As more dates are added to their calendar they will be added to the website so keep checking in!

Some of the original plants from pops plants can be now seen at Hampton Court.

DSC_0034

‘Avon Bunny’

Tom & Suzi also told me some hints and tips for growing Auriculas, a couple of which id never heard of before! Firstly, there is a thing called ‘Auricula finger’ this is not as entertaining as it initially sounds. Auricula leaves are covered in very fine hairs, when you’re potting on a lot of them, or have particularly sensitive skin that is prone to irritation it’s advisable to wear latex gloves as the hairs can irritate. Apparently the feeling is akin to pins and needles. Ive never experienced it myself but then I’ve never had to handle as many Auriculas as they do…. Also, I have the skin of a rhino & the only thing I’ve ever reacted to is fig sap, a nasty phototoxin!

Also the farina (the white dust often present on Auriculas) can cause a mild rash on particularly sensitive skin or through prolonged exposure. As with all plants there is a small chance that you can react so don’t worry overmuch about these things, more just be aware.

We had a chat about the shows too, they can be incredibly competitive! People love their Auriculas and in order to be able to name an Auricula it has to have won at a show which means that if you see a named variety it really is the best of the best!

This can sometimes lead people to resort to tricks which I would never have believed! The poor judges have to look out for things such as icing sugar or talc being used to accentuate farina or hairspay or glue being used on the anthers to make them more prominent! Madness!

As for the care of your Auriculas, Tom describes this as being ‘wilful neglect’ which I think describes my methods with both Auriculas and Orchids & is incredibly successful.

I often hear people saying they struggle to keep them alive and 90% of the time it’s because they love them too much. To understand their history is the key, they are bred from true alpine dwellers, high up In the mountains. Cold isn’t a problem for them, they happily survive below freezing temperatures and although they look dainty and frail are truly tough as old boots but drainage is key to their survival. Their ancestors grew in rocky positions, with only the barest sprinkling of topsoil, one of natures true survivors!

My Auricula Mix

There are probably as many different mixes as there are growers but this is one that I’ve found works incredibly well for me. I’ve found over time that although they will grow in plastic pots they thrive in the traditional terracotta you tend to see them exhibited in. The terracotta allows them to drain and breathe so much better than plastic and if you’re growing them outside without a frame above to keep rain off then it becomes even more important.

 

 

First, I start by selecting a small pot, this is important as whilst they build up a root system it means they don’t have to sit in cold, wet compost, an absolute killer for them.

IMAG0022.jpg

Second, I add a good layer of drainage, I use horticultural grit, this allows for the bottom inch of the pot to drain freely. If you don’t have this ready to hand you could use pebbles, gravel or even hydroleca (expanded clay bobbles) or at a push polystyrene, basically anything that won’t hold water and has sufficient gaps for water to pass through quickly and easily.

Next I mix the growing medium itself, I tend to use a peat free compost, in this case Dalefoot compost. Dalefoot is made primarily from composted sheep’s wool… yes, sheep’s wool… and its awesome!

Unlike other peat free composts it has a wonderfully smooth consistency, no chance of getting splinters in your fingers here and it doesn’t have an overly acidic level to it which can sometimes be a problem with other peat free mixes due to their high levels of pine bark.

To this I add generous amounts of grit, as a rough approximation about 40% but I do it purely based on sight and feel.

IMAG0023.jpg

As an extra help, to retain more nutrients within the mix I add some perlite. Perlite is a type of volcanic rock. It should not be confused with vermiculite which is very similar but retains more moisture. The nutrients will be absorbed by the perlite which the roots can then affix themselves to but will still allow for water to pass through easily. I adore perlite, it has so many uses, from sowing fine seeds, taking cuttings to mixing into composts for pelargoniums, orchids and of course Auriculas!

IMAG0027.jpg

Next I add a little bit of magic! Forget miracle grow which is basically sweeties for plants, I want my plants to grow big and strong on the horticultural version of my mums hotpot! Don’t get me wrong, chemical fertilisers have their place but should be used sparingly if at all. The problem with them is not just the environmental impact they have but also what happens to a plant raised on them. Imagine the plant is your child, you’d feed them good solid food, right? Something that would give them the energy to grow, all the major food groups and trace elements, vitamins etc. Yes sweets give them energy, they run round like maniacs for a few hours but then the sugar crash! Grumpy, sulky, tearful… and that’s just the parents!

I want these plants to put down roots first then bulk up vegetatively. If I do this right, come spring I will get an amazing display of flowers.

Here comes the science bit!

In order to encourage a plant to put on vegetative growth I need to make sure it has plenty of Nitrogen, preferably released slowly. For this I use pelleted chicken manure. I’ll be honest with you for the first week a sensitive nose can detect a certain whiff of farmyard but it very quickly dissipates & isn’t overpowering. For the 11 plants I made this mix for I used under half a cup, it really isn’t necessary to overfeed.

IMAG0026.jpg

Then I add another great Organic food, powdered seaweed. Packed full of trace elements it has an average NPK of 1-0-4… I say average as it can vary slightly given that its an organic food.

IMAG0025.jpg

NPK stands for Nitrogen, Phosphor & Potassium, the 3 main nutrients needed by plants… other than water & air, of course. Each has a different role to play and a good way to remember their uses by the plant are

  • Nitrogen – leafy growth
  • Phosphor – flowers
  • Potassium – fruit & root

With these added I now mix thoroughly. (those of you who are on the ball will have noticed in the pics I did this backwards!)

When filling the pot I allow a cm clearance from the compost to the base of the plantlet, this will be top dressed with more grit to level with the pot. This has 2 main advantages, again drainage, so moisture doesn’t sit round the plants neck and cause it to rot off. Secondly, and this is something we haven’t touched on yet, the main reason that last 10% are lost… the dreaded Vine Weevil!

IMAG0030.jpg

I have found a good layer of grit puts vine weevil off laying its eggs as direct access to the soil and therefore the roots is prevented.

IMAG0031.jpg

Also it has an aesthetic purpose, it just looks right, with Auriculas it’s all about the show!

A final note about Auriculas, they can suffer from a few problems, as I mentioned before vine weevil. Prevention is always better than cure in this case so treat with Nemasys vine weevil prevention as soon as the soil temp is above 15 degrees in the spring and then again in autumn before temperatures drop. If your plant starts looking a bit wilty despite watering then tip it out and check its roots for the beastly little grubs & squish them to death if you find any!

Another is root aphid, this can be an awkward one to deal with as they hide right inside the base of the rosettes. You have 2 real options here, one use a systemic insecticide (with great care that other pollinators are not present so either very early morning or late evening) the benefit of a systemic is it gets into the “bloodstream” of the plant & will continue killing the sap suckers for up to 10 days breaking their lifecycle. Contact insecticides rely on you being able to target the pest which can be difficult if you can’t get to them.

Your second option can risk the plant a little it involves taking the plant from its pot, disposing of the compost and washing the base of the rosette in just very slightly soapy water. When I say wash, I don’t mean scrub the plant rather just sluice it completely. Why soapy? Because soap acts as a wetting agent, it makes water wetter. Greenfly breathe through tiny tubes on the side of their body called spiricles. Water has too much surface tension ordinarily to flood these spriricles but the addition of a small amount of soap allows it to flood them and drown the aphids. Just 2 or 3 drops of washing up liquid to a litre of water is sufficient. Rinse under running water and repot.

Watch out for soft yellowing leaves, this indicates the plant has too much water.

Dry crispy wilty leaves, not enough water.

I hope you’ve found this helpful and are now inspired to grow your own Auriculas, don’t forget to follow @popsplants2 on twitter & check out their website!

Here’s a few other things I’ve written about this subject if you’d like to know more…

Primula auricula, the beauty & obsession

A short history of auriculas and description of ‘Show’ auricula standards (part 2)

Auriculas part 3, Alpines, Doubles, Borders & Seeds

 

Secret Gardens of East Anglia – Book Review

The secret gardens of east Anglia is a beautifully presented, informative & well written work of art which would grace any bookshelf, a must have book for garden lovers…

DSC_0003.jpg

Barbara Segall & Marcus Harpur

Some months ago I was given the opportunity to review a wonderful book. Although I had wanted to do it as soon as I received it circumstances forced me to put it on the back burner. A new job in Ulting Wick, lack of internet signal, blah blah blah & then there were so many other wonderful bloggers writing about it!

With a feeling that the market was somewhat saturated at that point I decided to wait till now as a reminder to all of you struggling to find that must have gift for the gardening love of your life for xmas!

Also, it gave me a bit more time to savour the sumptuous photographs of the late Marcus Harpur, sadly Marcus died shortly before the book was released and was honoured at this years Garden Media Guild Awards. He was posthumously awarded the prize for “Garden book photographer” an honour which he richly deserved.

DSC_0006.jpg

Marcus visited the gardens featured in the book many times which allowed him to capture them at their very best. Sadly for me I never got to meet him but seeing his pictures, particularly of Ulting Wick I found an inspiring experience. He captured the essence of the gardens featured in the book so skilfully and not just the gardens themselves but the owners, having met a few of them, their personality shines through.

What makes this book more than just a “Coffee table” book though are Barbara Seagalls skilful descriptions of the ideas, the driving force behind the creators of these wonderful spaces. Barbara visited and talked with the owners of each of the 22 gardens featured. She weaves the stories of each garden & draws you in till you feel an overwhelming urge to step into the book.

For each garden Barbara starts by setting the scene, giving a short history of the gardens and their owners. Between her words and Marcus’s photographs a skilful tapestry is woven. One thing I particularly liked was the fact that Barbara talks with the owners about the various challenges they’ve had to overcome whilst creating their dream. Too often we see just the finished product, we don’t see the disasters, the hard work, the sometimes crushing disappointments that come with creating something which is essentially ephemeral, temperamental & capricious in its nature. Gardens are a living breathing work of art, they do not stay static and in that require the viewer to be fluid in their own right. I’m often reminded of the old joke line “ you should’ve been here last week!” as the fleeting nature of perfection in a garden makes us gardeners pull our hair out.

DSC_0007.jpg

 

Introducing the book is the formidable Beth Chatto, the lady that made gardening in the challenging conditions of East Anglia famous, in introducing the gardens which are so inspiring she in turn mentions the gardens & their creators that she has been inspired by. East Anglia is of course a large area, the soil conditions varying from chalk to clay & everything in between. From the Fenlands to the Thames estuary every garden has its own character

All except one of the gardens, Winterton Lighthouse, are open to the public at various times of year and at the very back of the book is an awesome map which shows their approximate locations and a list of addresses, contacts and opening times so you can easily plan your visits to these wonderful creations.

I had planned to buy this book for my dad for xmas…. But I’d forgotten Dad reads my Twitter feed! Seeing me recommending it so highly when I first received my review copy he only went and bought one himself and excitedly text me to say how much he loved it & could we go and visit some when he came down next! To which of course I replied yes… then he asked very sheepishly if I knew the author Barbara and if I did could I get her to sign his copy, I said I’d ask nicely. If you knew my Dad you’d realise exactly how much this meant that he loved the book, which is one of the highest commendations you can get… in my eyes!

Dad will be coming down for xmas and I plan on taking him to some of the gardens (but don’t tell him obviously). Ulting Wick will be an easy one but given the time of year others may be a bit tricky!

I can understand why Dad loves this book so much, he & mum often visited East Anglia’s Gardens and Barbara’s descriptions combined with Marcus’s pictures have brought back memories of happy times for him and for me also as we would often go as a family.

Heres hoping you all have a fabulous Xmas however you celebrate it, although I can’t think of a better way than snuggled up in front of a fire planning your trips to the various “Secret Gardens of East Anglia”

 

Apple Tree Pruning course

Always wanted to learn how to prune your fruit trees?
Want to feel more confident about it?
Heres your chance to get some great training

DSC_0190.jpg
Some of you may remember I held my first training day last year for winter pruning. It was such a resounding success with great feedback I’ve decided to do it again, only this time bigger!
So what can you expect?

The Venue

This year we will be holding our first event at a private house with a large walled garden in Buckinghamshire on the 3rd February 2018 .
Approximately 25 fruit trees of a decent age to challenge yourself with & 2 instructors on-hand with between them over 25 years experience.Places will be limited so please contact A.SA.P. to reserve your place, all details will be sent through to you Via email as soon as we have heard from you.

The Instructors

At this point I’d like to introduce you to Nick Black.
Nick is a fully trained arborist & whilst we don’t expect you to be climbing trees like this his knowledge of both how trees work & horticulture is invaluable.
Nick can be found normally working as The Muddy Gardener. You can also find him being cheeky on twitter @imnickblack
As for me, I have nearly 20 years of looking after fruit trees under my belt, trained at Pershore college under John Edgerly, then at Ryton Organic gardens, I moved onto become the Veg gardener at Sissinghurst where we established a large Orchard under Amy Wardman who had been the Fruit student at RHS Wisley and was very generous at passing on her knowledge.
I was there that I first started training people to prune fruit & it gives me great joy to help people become confident and proficient.
IMG_20170226_205131_240IMG_20170226_204906_594
DSC_0131.jpg
The Orchard at Sissinghurst

The course

The day will start at 10am where you will all gather and we can discuss where your skill level is as we are happy to take on absolute beginners through to those that have experience & want to progress.
You will be shown all the tools you will need and have their safe use & maintenance explained to you. Then we will go through pruning maiden trees to establish the correct framework for freestanding, espalier, fan & other styles of fruit trees.
After a short break, to warm up & refuel on hot tea & cake, we will start to tackle the big trees! This will give us an excellent opportunity to discuss different methods of pruning & the reasons for it.  If you have a tree which has got out of hand this will be exactly what you need!
A break for a warming lunch of soup and then..
Once the demonstration is over you will be let loose on your own trees with both of us at your beck & call for advice if you get stuck!
Finally, we will gather to discuss any questions & do a quick session on apple tree pest, diseases & disorders
These are the trees we will be working on

The Cost

The day will cost £60.00 per person but will include Drinks, soup & snacks

Also £20 will go straight to Marie curie via my Just giving page

If youd like to sign up just fill in the form below and I will send you further details or if you wish to buy it as an xmas present for a loved one and keep it as a surprise we can arrange that too, look forward to hearing from you

3 months in Ulting wick

A quick update on the ever changing and exquisite Ulting wick

Hard to believe I’ve been here 3 months already! The garden has grown & changed so much in such a short time. We’ve had so many visitors, raising huge amounts of money for the NGS who in turn donate to lots of worthy charities. 

Soon we will be doing the change over from summer planting for the spring display of bulbs, an incredibly exciting time. Ulting wick is a dynamic garden which I am still learning about. Very different to any other garden I’ve ever worked in, I know it will take me a year of watching it through the seasons to get to grips with.

For me this is both slightly daunting & also challenging in a very positive way. It’s very easy to become complacent as a gardener, going through the routines which become habit. Ulting wick doesn’t allow for that due to its ever-changing nature.

Of course there are the jobs which need to be planned in as with every garden, pruning, training etc. But Phillipa’s enthusiasm for trying new things is bottomless, as is her energy!

Already plans for the next year ahead are multiplying and new planting in the beds has started. We cleared an area of rampant vinca a month or so ago. Some dead hawthorn hedging was removed opening huge possibilities. Last week we started to actually create in that area, adding exquisite Epimedium ‘spine tingler’, Geranium ‘splish splash’, G. Pheum & lots of thalictrums, ferns etc which when viewed from the opposite bank will create an amazing display!

We also noticed that sadly another tree has taken a blow in this year’s climbing tree toll! The old pollarded oak just across the boundary had succumbed to rot and one of its main limbs has ripped the trunk to the base, heartbreaking! Measuring just over 6 metres at the narrowest point of its base (making it between 5 & 600 years old!). This of course isn’t a death knell for this tree even if it’s a significant event, the tree will happily carry on for another 100 years at least but some of its perfect symmetry has been lost.

Other things that have been happening, I went to GLEE & to Kew (see previous posts!) Next week a lot of us are going to the Cotswold’s wild animal park, Harriet Rycroft (The guru of all things pots, colour & form) has very kindly organised us a tour with the HG & it coincides nicely with Roy Lancaster being there, so books shall be bought & signed! Exciting to meet such a gardening legend!

I was invited to do a talk on organic gardening for Tottenham flower and produce show, competing for volume against a steel drum band was a challenge even for someone as loud as me! Thankfully I had an incredibly receptive & interested audience who asked so many questions I ended up talking for far longer than planned which was lovely!

Phil cat has thoroughly settled in an honestly I haven’t seen him so happy in years! A few territory spats out of the way & an uneasy truce (on Phil’s part) with Bobby the spaniel, who is absolutely convinced he can make Phil love him if he just wags his tail a bit harder!

Although Phil’s reputation as a killer of all things rodent may be challenged given his reaction to the new residents in the cottage roof space the other morning… his face was a picture when he heard the skritching, scratching noises coming from above us! Hilarious!

The big hedges are now fully done for the year too, leaving only a bit of box to be completed. The weather has been utterly frustrating me on this front though! I’m beginning to think the whole “drier than Jerusalem” thing is a myth! We fitted irrigation in my first week here and since then it’s rained consistently and at times biblically! But hey ho! These things are sent to try us & I’m hoping next week for a few days of dry so I can crack on & finish up the parterre in the old farmyard.

Our meadow was cut & bailed for hay last week, done with a flail on the back of a tractor it took literally half an hour to cut. A few days later they came back to bale. To do this manually would have taken days!

The garden still has lots to offer in this beautiful autumn light so I’ll leave you with just a few of its delights to peruse until my next Ulting wick update…

Last of all, possibly one of my most favourite ever pics of Phil & I ever…