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Ulting wick, a year in..

Ulting wick, a year in..
I’ve been at Ulting Wick just over a year now and I’m such a happy bunny! A quick update on whats happening here, Dahlias, roses, exotics and more

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Its about time I gave you an update on whats been happening at the beautiful Ulting Wick. I’ve passed my years anniversary, its just flown by! Seriously, I haven’t felt so happy in my work like this in such a long time. Each day doesn’t seem long enough and Philippa is often urging me to go home but I love it here so much I just cant tear myself away. Its SO good to feel this way again about my job, good company and beautiful surroundings. I sing and laugh my way through pretty much every day.

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The last time I updated you it was fast approaching Tulip time, right? I’m delighted to say they performed beautifully and the weather behaved, mostly, for the openings and you guys made it an excellent couple of days. I adore seeing peoples reactions to the garden, it makes all those freezing cold, wet winter days worthwhile.

The tulips now seem a distant memory, even if it was only April, since they went over most have been lifted in preparation for planting out the old farmyard, beds have been mulched and composted, weeded and spritzed. The veg garden is now in full swing, sweetpeas have flowered their heads off!

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Most exciting, I started to clip the box, although since the intense sun kicked in I’ve taken a break, and planting out has been completed on the old farmyard. Now its a race against time and weather (for me) to get it clipped before the jungle sweeps over it and clipping becomes difficult. It going a lot quicker so far though and at a rough estimate each parterre will be the equivalent of 26,000 ‘steps’. That’s 104,000 times I’ll have gone ‘snip, snip, snip’ in total.

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Of course we are all talking about this freakishly hot, dry weather. I was warned about the fact it was dry here but for 6 straight weeks we’ve had pretty much no rain… unless you count the MM we had the other day. Compare that to last year or the average and its ridiculous!raindetail

In fact its so dry the grass is now crunchy and brown!

Spoiler alert, I know some people don’t like snakes so fair warning, at the VERY END of this post I will show you our giant grass snake BUT I will warn you again before doing so.

Fortunately the roses have been loving this weather!

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In the old farmyard planting the exotics out has been completed and its just starting to knit together beautifully, the paulownia is already about 6 or 7 ft high! and of course the Dahlias are doing their thing beautifully!

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But its not just Dahlias that have been shining brightly as stars of the garden, once mote Nicotiana glauca is performing beautifully!

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And the Canna australis are literally glowing, glowing I tell thee!

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Various other beauties around the garden have captured my heart in the last 6 weeks or so, this Argyrocytisus battandieri below, sometimes called Morrocan broom, has put on a wonderful show.

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The Duetzia, which is easily mistaken for a Philadelphus.

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Lilium martagon, which I genuinely don’t remember last year, have been gorgeous popping up through the ferns.

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Digitalis ‘Pams split’ has been insane!! topping out at 7 or 8ft they have unfortunately swamped out everything nearby but they have been truly magnificent.

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Finally on the flower front but by no means least! Lysmachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’, silvery glaucous leaves with deep magenta/crimson spires of flowers that are just divine.

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Something a bit different for me, an understated foliage plant, Osmunda regalis the royal fern and very regal it is too. reaching to around 4 – 5 ft high gentle, soft green foliage acts as a wonderful backdrop to weird reptilian fronds which are the ones that produce the spores. Ferns were around long before plants and this guy has a distinctly Jurassic look to him, love him!

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I’m really hoping these drought conditions wont have a detrimental effect for our August bank holiday opening though! As were all working very hard to make it special. I’m hoping my pumpkin arch will be hitting people on the heads with a veritable rain of fruit and that we might even get a shower or two to make our crunchy, brown grass green and soft once more!

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Talking of which…

SNAKE ALERT!

Now if you’re not a lover of our snakey friends I shall warn you scroll no further as this bad boy is MAGNIFICENT!!

A quick gestimation puts him, or more likely her, at about half a metre long and it is seriously the biggest grass snake I have ever had the pleasure of seeing, I literally squealed with delight and ran across to get a shot. Understandably the snake wasn’t so keen to meet me and streaked across the grass for cover but what a magical moment it was!

Ladies and gentlemen I give you….

Grassy Mcsnakeface!

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Floral fantasia at RHS Hyde Hall

Floral fantasia at RHS Hyde Hall with Thompson and Morgan
Set in the old vegetable garden T&M have created a wonderfully colourful display of some of their bedding plants available from seed and plug plants
Heres just a few of them on show!

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Imagine an entire garden just dedicated to bedding plants, a riot of colour and scent! Literally every way you turn there is an extravaganza of shapes and forms, they tumble from towers, explode from baskets, scramble up spires, drip from containers and carpet the beds.

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Well imagine no more! You can see this vision for real at RHS Hyde Hall from the 4th June to 30th September. Thompson & Morgan have created a breathtaking display using every available bedding plant you can think of and some you’ve possibly never heard of.

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Its rare these days to see displays of this magnitude. Growing up I remember public spaces, such as parks, would often have such bedding schemes that were incredibly complicated. The skill, the time and the effort that would be put into designing and growing the plants for this are phenomenal. Sadly for this reason most public spaces are given over to low maintenance programmes now and if I’m honest I miss this. Yes, it can be garish and overstated. Yes, they are loud, cheerful and brightly coloured… but honestly, is that really so bad?

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No, its not chic, its not thought of in polite gardening circles as stylish or understated. For me that is the joy of it though. Its fairgrounds and seaside, its sheer vivacity is uplifting! Its joyful, it shouts, its summer and ice creams and maybe its time we had more of this in our life?

Ok, maybe you don’t have to fill your garden with every colour or variety imaginable, you could just choose one or two of these gems to bedazzle your friends and neighbours. Often less is more but there is a return in interest to some of the more old fashioned flowers in the gardens around the country. Take the meteoric rise in Dahlias popularity in the last few years.

I’d like to share Some of the plants that caught my eye as I wandered round and hopefully you will see something that inspires you but Id really recommend visiting yourself as this is just a fraction of whats there.

Osteospermum ‘Blue eyed beauty’

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I adore Osteospermums, they just keep going! They don’t mind drought conditions which means less watering, and come in almost every colour. My very first was a variety called ‘Whirligig’ which had an odd mutant petal shape. This one has the most glorious colour combination of a butter yellow and a deep amethyst centre with just a hint of orange on the anthers, very Christopher Lloyd!

Osteospermum ‘Berry white’

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This Osteospermum is so new on the market its still protected by trademark! Part of a new range of double Osteospermums which cope well in low light conditions and unlike its single flowered relations the flowers stay open at nightfall. Its petals have a gentle magenta flush and the centre is a deep raspberry.

Calceolaria ‘calynopsis series- Orange’

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For sheer oddness and prolific flowering the award has to go to the recently introduced Calynopsis series. As a child I chose a Calceolaria as ‘my plant’ and I still remember it fondly. It lasted, despite my irregular ministrations and possible abuse for what seemed like forever. My mum called it a ‘poor mans orchid’ but they go by many common names, most often slipper or pouch flower. She would carefully deadhead it on my behalf and I suspect its success was down to her care more than mine. Seeing this plant brought back many happy memories. I’ve always thought they look a bit like cheerful muppet faces but regardless of all these associations there’s no denying their impact!

Grown from seed they are a biennial but the Calynopsis series are currently only available as plug plants.

Celosia argentea ‘Kelos Fire Purple’

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Another great new introduction, this member of the Amaranth family would normally be very dependent on day length to trigger flowering but extensive breeding has made this particular variety day length neutral, reaching up to 14 inches tall they make a real statement either in pots or in the border. Attractive foliage with feather like plumes held erect in great numbers, whats not to love!

Ageratum ‘High tide’

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Ageratum is one of the first bedding plants I sowed and grew for myself, at the time it wasn’t often seen, the heyday of its popularity had been as a summer carpet bedding plant. Breeding has given us a taller more floriferous plant which can in fact be used as a cut flower! Much taller than its predecessor it holds up well as a border plant rather than just a bedder.

Thompson and Morgan are also putting a lot of time and effort into breeding new plants and I felt very honoured to be shown some of their new introductions both in bedding plants and vegetables!

Alstromerias have seen a massive rise in popularity and not only have they bred an extra tall variety which can hold up to the British winter but they’ve also got a new one they’ll be releasing for sale which can grow and flower to 3ft from seed in one season!

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Also Begonia fragrant falls series

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And last but by no means least! ‘Sunbelievable’ a sunflower with good sized heads that can produce over a 1000 blooms over a summer!! And the bees absolutely love it!

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So if youre looking for this summers ‘must haves’ in bedding plants head over to RHS Hyde Hall for your inspiration!

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#RHSHamptonCourt – the ‘must have’ plants!

#RHSHamptonCourt is over for another year but what did you bring home with you? Heres some of my flower choices from this years show

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All the beautiful gardens at Hampton Court will have disappeared now, the only evidence they were ever there will be some  slightly yellow but soggy grass, some trampled areas from the thousands of feet that have passed by and some slightly perturbed bees looking for the flowers that they were sure were there yesterday!

If you didn’t get a chance to visit heres a look at which plants caught my eye both in the gardens and the floral marquee

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Firstly out in the gardens, there are always a few plants it seems that every designer includes. Last year it was a very popular dark purple, almost black Agapanthus and Achillea cassis in various scarlets and pink forms. This year it seems the must have plants for Hampton were …

calycanthus x raulstonii ‘Hartlage wine’

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Aka: Carolina allspice or sweetshrub

Named after the student who created the cross, Richard Hartlage. The plants parents are Sinocalycanthus chinensis (Chinese species) with Calycanthus floridus (U.S. species) in 1991 at the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University.

It prefers growing in a slightly shady position to get the best performance from it. Lightly prune for shape directly after flowering.

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I think I saw this on about 5 gardens around the showground and on at least 1 display in the marquee and I’m now in love with it!

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Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’

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I saw this a few times last year but this year it was in literally EVERY garden! Understandable, its a striking plant. A relatively new introduction with the aid of micro-propping supplies have been bulked up to epic proportions. Its drought tolerant, handy given this years weather, and really doesn’t care what type of soil you have so long as its not sitting in a bog garden.

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Its beautiful silver, felted leaves are its real selling point and also give you the clue it prefers full sun.

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I always spend ages in here as this is the place you’ll see the new, the old favourites and sometimes some stunning rarities

Dibleys always have an excellent display of Streptocarpus and as houseplants go you really cant fault them. They don’t mind indirect light, in fact they prefer a slightly darker corner. If given a feed they will flower almost continuously. Easy to propagate either through division or for the more adventurous spirit through leaf cuttings!

Going through old pics of their display from previous years I see I have photographed this particular variety multiple times so its obviously one im drawn to and at present I only have 1 Strep in my collection I might have to remedy that… although it does have to be said my dad has far more success with them than I do, I think I neglect them a bit too much!

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Going with the tender plant theme another house plant I love beyond words (but have little success with if im honest, I think I love them too much) are the Zantendeschias from Brighter Blooms.

There are 2 main types of Zantendeschia, the taller, hardy types with predominantly white flowers and the tender, shorter varieties with coloured blooms like these below. All will form a rhizome and I think this is where ive mistakenly given up on mine in the past as they have gone dormant and ive thought ive killed them, its also possible ive overwatered them and the rhizome rotted off. Now I know a bit more about them im inclined to try again!

They are happiest at an optimum temp of  25 °C, with growth being suppressed once daily average temperatures persist at 28 °C.

This chap, Zantendeschia ‘Memories’ with the almost black spathe and purple tinted leaf caught my eye, I think it has rehmannii parentage but happy to be corrected by others that know better.

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and this one with a gentler pastel tinted tone Zantendeschia ‘Picasso’

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My last selection on the tender side is this absolute beauty of a monster! This was part of the actual display so would take a while to grow to this size but its not unachievable for those of you who have a conservatory to overwinter it in, or you could just keep several small versions on the go by propagating from it on a regular basis.

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Echiveria ‘Red sea monster’ certainly lives up to its name, looking distinctly Kraken like rearing out of its pot with red edged, wavy, margined succulent leaves and at such a size!! What a stunner!

In fact the whole display of cacti and succulents from Southfield Nursery was a bit special, some of the slower growing varieties being older than me.

Moving onto the hardier plants for your garden I do find myself looking not just for colour but also for scent, a rule of thumb with most scented plants is their flowers will be less showy but there are always exceptions to this rule! These 2 dainty offerings are not overstated on size, in fact elegant is how I would describe them but the scent was heavenly! In our droughty summer they would also perform with very little intervention needed.

Calmazag Nursery had a stunning display of Dianthus but the scent from these two was sublime! D. ‘silver star’ had a slightly larger semi double flower with a raspberry eye, whilst D. ‘Stargazer had a wonderful open flower with a deep purple almost black eye.

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Perhaps Leucanthemums are seen as an old fashioned flower? If they are I don’t care. They are reliable, trouble free and just carry on flowering forever! They always remind me of my mum too which is nice, she used them a lot in flower arranging. Recently I’ve been seeing some doubles and semi doubles for sale which adds a whole new dimension to them. This one, Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Christine Hagemamm’ I spotted on the Hardy’s plants stall. I just love its frilly, frothy centre!

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Hardy’s has always been a great source of inspiration for me *Fan girl Klaxon!* ever since I got into gardening it was always their stall I lingered at longest and asked the most questions at… and often spent the most money at! Both Rosy and Rob have always been exceptionally gracious with their time and patient of me being annoying as have all their staff. I’ve always found something that  draws me so its little wonder that the next few plants I spotted on my list are featured on their display.

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Campanula ‘Pink octopus’ is an adorable bonkers little plant, not a new introduction but its one ive liked for a few years now. Unlike most campanulas where the petals are fused into a bell shape these are held separately and flare outwards in a pastel shade of raspberry pink, great for ground cover in a shady area.

This next one is just insanity though!

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Plantago major ‘Rosularis’ on talking to Rob I discovered this is not a new plant rather just one I’ve never seen! How I’ve missed this I’m not sure but hey, always learning! Its of the same family as the common plantain, which is often considered a weed due to its abundantly fertile habit. This is also the reason the plantagenet family chose it as their symbol. As a general rule I’m not keen on green flowers, they feel a bit pointless to me but I may change my mind after seeing this ruffled spire of loveliness!

Next up are the Salvias and if you want to see them in all their glory the Dyson’s nursery stand is where to head for. William has brought out a couple of new varieties this year despite having an awful winter by all accounts!

‘So cool pale blue’ and ‘So cool purple’ are lovely little short shrubby salvia varieties, excellent for pots and front of the border.

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Now as much as I love Salvias I admit I’m finding it really hard to like this one, over the last few years we’ve seen a number of new Salvias launched ‘Love and wishes’, ‘Embers wish’ and ‘Wendys wish’ being just 3 in the series. This year sees the launch of S. ‘Wishes and kisses’ and for me it falls very short of the mark (sorry). Maybe because the last few releases have been SO special I’m now spoilt? Its flower colour is insipid, none of the vibrancy I expect from a salvia and the calyx colour jars badly with the flower. I’m sure someone out there will love it, many in fact, but I’m not a fan.

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However!

And this is not a new release but an easy to grow bedder S. splendens ‘Go-Go purple’ is a real showstopper in my book! Big flowers, rich colouring, held high above vibrant green foliage, what’s not to love!

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A nutty little Allium for you all now, I saw this being used a few times around the place and also at GLEE last year.

Allium ‘Forelock’ has the most unusual appearance, a tight ball of maroon flowers tipped white which gives a frosted look to the flower head, with a Mohican style effect sprouting from the top!

Reaching half a metre tall these guys are sure to add interest to your borders!

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Last but by no means least!

If you’re looking for something both weird and wonderful look no further than Plantbase UK. Specialising in that something a bit out of the ordinary Graeme’s nursery is a treasure trove of the unusual.

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This fabulous single leaf belongs to Sauromatum venosum, a voodoo Lilly which produces an amazing, if somewhat pungent flower every other year.  If you have a shady spot that needs a wow factor this is just perfect for you!

Tell me what caught your eye this year!

Hampton Court 2018

Hampton Court 2018
Theres so much to see and do at this years Hampton I was plum tuckered by the end of the day
A first view of the gardens and a to do list!
I’ll be adding plant profiles later this week!
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Hampton Court has always been a favourite of mine, ever since my first view, driving a lorry laden with plants across a dusty, sun bleached field with a herd of deer in the distance. That first experience of an RHS Show was in retrospect an iconic moment in my career. To see a full grown rough, tough man on the verge of tears because his Jacaranda mimosifolia had lost its one flower in transport was memorable to say the least. I often wonder who he was and how his garden got on that year, I do hope he did ok. That was my first sighting of a tree that was to become one of my top 10 trees. The atmosphere on the build was amazing and honestly it made me realise that when I changed careers, scary as that was, I had made the best decision of my life!

Since then I have visited Hampton Court many times, both on build and as a visitor, I’ve always preferred it to Chelsea if I’m honest. It feels less crowded, less frantic. The standard of displays has always been just as good, if not better in some cases. In the past 2 years the butterfly dome has been an enormous draw for visitors, seeing a little girl looking at wonder at a huge butterfly that had decided to alight on her hand was just delightful. Hopefully a memory that might turn her into a future entomologist!

Theres lots of shopping opportunities at Hampton Court too, not just for sundries, gadgets and fancy things but for plants! The floral marquee is as always a dangerous place for those of us with plant avarice. Last year I picked up some gorgeous bits and pieces. Pelargonium ‘Springfield black’ and ‘Lord Bute’ came home and are now gracing the pots in various places at Ulting Wick, performing beautifully. A Colocasia ‘Hawaiian blue’ survived this harsh winter and has grown well enough to be split and is in pots by the front door. As usual I will be keeping my eyes open for the unusual or beautiful, I feel myself increasingly being drawn towards the amazing leaves of Begonias.

Outside there are beautiful gardens to admire and take inspiration from, one designer I’ve come to admire recently has been Charlie Bloom. Her designs are accessible for most urban gardeners. Materials and plant selections that would grace any average back garden and turn it into a paradise. Last year her garden ‘Colour box’ was literally overrun by admiring visitors, crowds standing 5 deep to catch a glimpse of the cheerful simplicity which was obviously something that was easily relatable to. Come sell off time the garden disappeared in minutes!

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Its worth mentioning the ethos behind her work at this point, unlike most show gardens the budget involved was minimal. The entire build was done on a shoestring! Charlie involved several suppliers, friends and volunteers to create her vision. Shes very vocal about this, praising each and every person involved. It really is a team effort, which is a beautiful thing to see. This year is no different in that sense, in fact maybe even more so with various parties such as Nickie Bonn, Stark and Greensmith, Lewis Normand, Art4Space, London Stone and possibly many others I haven’t named, giving time, materials and smiles to create ‘Brilliance in Bloom’. Having followed its creation on Twitter it’s another amazing garden which I’m sure the public will fall in love with.

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One which caught my eye from its design brief mainly due to the fantastical description was the Elements Mystique Garden by Elements Garden Design. It features the work of Belgian sculptor William Roobrouck. Corten steel in gardens seems to be very in vogue at the moment! The sphere which dominates the garden is representing a fallen meteor with a planting scheme representing the heat the plants closest would have suffered, ruptured paving from the impact has a fantasy element that appeals to me.

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There were 3 others which caught my eye

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First the Hampton Court gardens team has produced this amazing Battlefield garden, the sheer logistics in the build are stunning as is the attention to detail. It’s not classically pretty, no, but the feat of shifting tonnes of earth to create huge trenches, phenomenal!

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Even without being told you realise that as you journey through the garden you are travelling through time from a war zone, albeit a staged one, to an area abandoned by man and slowly being reclaimed by wildlife.

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Huge bombcraters, littered with remnants of rusted metal bearing witness to the fierce horror the land witnessed. The wildflowers which colonise the landscape as you travel through the installation are brought to life with dragonflies,butterflies and other wildlife that have colonised the site since the build started. the blasted, dead trees standing sentinel overall.

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The second literally stopped me in my tracks!

One of the most gorgeous Loquat trees I’ve seen in a long time, surrounded by gorgeous exotic foliage. Excellent use of hard landscaping and on a scale that didn’t dominate. As you travel along the garden you are suddenly treated to a blaze of colour carpeting the ground! Bizzie Lizzies!

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Ok, I admit when I read the brief on this garden I turned my snobby nose up… Its true, I admit it…. I take it all back!

Firstly my snobby brain went “B&Q! Making a show garden! Pfft!”…. I am shame

Second “Bizzie Lizzies! Oh god, how 1970’s!” … I am doubley shame

The guys who created this garden have got a well deserved gold medal, hats off, it’s not a horrible dated monstrosity even in the slightest, its gorgeous. Using Buzy Lizzies in such a way as to reflect their natural environment, understory planting in a garden that gives the feel of somewhere way more exotic than south, west London!

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And my final surprise is based on the quality of the plants used and the execution of the build. This one was a creeper in the sense it took me a while to realise exactly how good it was. I spent longer looking at this installation than at quite a few other more spectacular builds. Great Gardens of the USA is a garden of 2 halves

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The use of plants was exquisite, from the wild rugged Oregon gardens to the chic courtyard of Charlestown & South Carolina

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Once you’ve had your fill of the gardens and shopping take a moment to check out some of the workshops and talks being held throughout the week

Firstly, perhaps not one for the vegans (kidding before anyone gets annoyed), plants that eat meat!

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Take the time to have a look at Matthew Soper’s display, from Hampshire Carnivorous Plants. He’s been nominated as this years Master Grower. He is a wealth of information on this fascinating genre of plants that have evolved ingenious methods of supplementing their diet using insects and mammals as food sources. I love murderous plants!

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There are also various fun workshops and experiences to enjoy throughout the week. For those of you that missed the Chatsworth Orchid display there’s a second chance to see an insects eye view of pollinating an orchid! This virtual reality experience is great for adults and kids alike.

If you have kids with you there’s lots of stuff aimed at them like making fairy flower crowns and bumble bees! Also make your own bird feeders and mini gardens that you can take home with you… to be honest, that actually sounds quite fun, I get odd looks when I do these things without borrowing a friends child first, being an adult is so hard sometimes! *stamps foot*

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Anyway, you can dig for fossils, forage wild food, learn how to do a modern floral arrangement then learn calligraphy! With your new found skills you could host the most awesome dinner party to show off your fossil finds. Your menu could be made up from stuff you find in hedgerows with a lovely floral centrepiece and delicately inscribed namecards and invitations… am I right or am I right!

More details of where to find all these things will be available in your programme guide.

In fact there is a ridiculous amount to do, you’re going to be hard pushed to see and experience everything, think of this like an upmarket festival so careful planning may be needed to get the most out of your day. Think of it like Glastonbury for flowers where the “must see bands” are Piet Oudolf, Raymond Blanc, Greg Wallace, The floral marquee and the Kinetic trees!…. In fact that is an awesome band name… someone should use that!

Anyway, pack your sunnys, a hat, a bottle of water and your credit card cos Hampton is on! Enjoy!

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RHS Chatsworth, a grand day out!

RHS Chatsworth, a grand day out!
My new favourite Flower show
I had a fabulous day at Chatsworth here’s why you would too…

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This was my first visit to Chatsworth, both as a venue and for an RHS show there. Given I visit a lot of gardens I have been extremely remiss in not seeing this iconic Capability Brown landscape before now.

This is Chatsworth’s second year hosting one of the RHS monumental shows and it is an incredible feat of organisation and logistics, as are all of their shows! The planning for these events takes real skill and for the designers and nurseries attending it can be the pinnacle of months of planning.

So, what did I have on my ‘must see’ list?

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Naturally Orchids, there is  a huge instalment of over 5ooo, grown by Double H Nurseries in Hampshire.

Chatsworth was once home to one of the most extensive and rare Orchid collections in the world. John Gibson was instrumental in collecting many new varieties from the wild for the Duke of Devonshire and his Head Gardener Sir Joseph Paxton. So this display is something of a homecoming for Orchid lovers.

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Their display of Phalenopsis and other exotic Orchids  has been designed by Jonathan Moseley. There will also be talks and advice clinics to look forward to throughout the week for those of you who love these exotic beauties. For those of you wanting an insects eye view theres also a chance to try out a virtual reality experience of how insects see things!

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What I hadn’t realised, and this is incredibly exciting, is this would introduce me to a brand new series of scented Phalenopsis that have been 25 years in the breeding! I feel very honoured to now be the proud owner of 2 of their 3 new scented varieties. There are 3 which will soon be launched into supermarkets near you and they really are mouth wateringly gorgeous. Look out for ‘Diffusion’ with purple/pink petals, this beauty is a holder of the RHS AGM. Along with ‘New life’, another RHS AGM holder, whose petals are a delicate pink with a yellow lip. Finally ‘Sunny smell’ who’s blooms have a tropical, cheerful feel in yellow with shades of pink.

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Next up on my ‘must see’ list

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Paul Hervey-Brookes  has designed the Brewin Dolphin Garden, which I’ve been following with interest on Twitter for the last few weeks. For the last couple of years I’ve followed Paul’s journey, you’d have a harder heart than mine not to be touched by the sorrows hes been through yet his courage throughout it all has been inspiring.

His credentials both as a horticulturalist/botanist and a designer are utterly stunning! His work seems to consistently reinvent itself. He takes each new challenge and seems to look at it in an entirely different manner from the last, totally ignoring the idea that a garden designer has to develop a ‘style’ which can often box a designer into a corner, their popularity dependent entirely on the whims of fashion. If I seem a bit of a fan girl here its because I am, even if you ignore the fact he’s one of the Pershore club like myself, its his ability to seamlessly slip from cottage garden frothiness to brutalist modernism with incredible ease and always picking exactly the right plants to complement the hard landscaping involved.

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This garden has been inspired by a lost Chatsworth village, a disappeared part of local history that stood in the way of Capability Browns plans. The village now just a ghostly memory that haunts the land reappearing when weather conditions allow the grass to dry out and its streets and houses are laid out once more in the turf, only to vanish again when the rains come.

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The hard landscaping reflects local traditional building materials and methods, whilst the planting uses many plants we will all be familiar with. One comment made, not by myself, was that he manages to stitch them together in such a way that the plants themselves look new and exciting, which I thought was an excellent description!

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Inside the cathedral like space, which seems so hard from the outside there is a feeling of warmth and serenity, its like hiding in plain sight. You get glimpses of the world beyond but are totally hidden within its structure. Its also worth mentioning the finishing detail for an area which few will actually see up close is absolutely stunning even down to the beautiful vases of flowers on the tables.

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The insect life also loved the garden giving me the best view of a Mayfly I’ve ever had!

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I also have a new favourite fern, sadly I don’t know its name but it looks stunning with this Astrantia

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Surprises from around the show

I had a look at the show gardens where I fell in love with this one by Phil Hurst called “The Great Outdoors”. I loved the planting of bright colours giving it a feel of vibrance. The hard landscaping includes dark wood decks which appear to float over deep pools of water. The main path is a beautiful ochre that looks a bit like crushed sandstone. This leads to a wonderful structure, that I hesitate to call a pergola purely because of its jaunty shape, in a restful green oasis. For a small space there is so much movement going on here yet it doesn’t feel overly busy and its something that could easily be transferred to a small urban garden.

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Next up were the long borders where combinations of plants stole the show

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And of course the plant marquees and nurseries around the site, I did succumb to one or two beauties!

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One of the main things that struck me as being distinctly different to Chelsea and Hampton was a feeling of inclusivity, if you used to go to the Malvern shows about 10 years ago this is how they felt. It truly does feel family friendly, its not a set for people to pose for the press, it has educational, fun stuff. Large spaces for your wild things(children) to run free. Lots of gorgeous stalls selling art, fabrics, jewellery… pretty much everything you could ever think of! Yes there are beautiful show gardens and installations, yes there are amazing nurseries but there’s something very different, very special about Chatsworth and I think I’ve found my new favourite show!

 

The art of Topiary

Box clipping season is approaching, heres how I approach it with a few hints & tips on getting the best finish.

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Hidcote manor

It’s the start of May and I’m already thinking about clipping my Box hedging. I realise that I’m early, traditionally its always left till Derby day to allow new growth to toughen up. Those of you who follow my Twitter account will have realised I get a bit over excited about Box hedging. I guess it stems back to one of my very first jobs in horticulture when I was put in charge of renovating a collection of topiary shapes that were in a bit of a sorry state. Sat in pots with no food for a great length of time and sporadic watering I made a vow to bring them back into use.

It wasnt just box topiary, there were 6ft spirals of Cupressus ‘Goldcrest’ and small balls and spirals of lonicera nitida ‘baggesen’s gold’. My first act was to re-pot not by going up a size but by removing their pots, cutting off the old roots, banging out as much of the old compost as possible then re-potting in a good loam based compost. I couldn’t go up a size as these plants were effectively show plants and were taken around the country for various events so needed to stay in sensible sized pots. Then ensure they all got a damned good feed of Nitrogen, even despite the new compost these babies needed all the help they could get!

After 3 months and a couple of tidy haircuts they looked amazing again and I was so proud when the went back out on the show circuit for the first time in over a year.

But then maybe that wasnt the start of it? maybe I had absorbed this love from my dad? He’s always been the one who wanted to have things grown in odd shapes, he loves a good standard. It doesn’t matter of what, he’ll make pretty much anything into a standard left to his own devices. One of his proudest was a standard Callistemon he’d grown from a small cutting. Outside his house in Durham, he has carefully over a number of years clipped a Lonicera to resemble a cat. There used to be an owl on the other side of the path but its more of a dumpling now. Sadly during the heavy bout of snow we received recently the cat took a bit of a battering. First heavy snow made it lean a bit, then sadly dad ‘may’ have nudged it with his car as it was leaning further than he expected… oops! Oh well, it will recover but here it is in its glory days! Its tail used to be a tiny thin whip which went around the drain pipe in a single thin strand. Over the years it’s definition has been lost a bit but you can still see it’s a cat…. or a snail… maybe

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I’m not sure exactly why I find topiary so darned satisfying, both to look at and to do. Maybe its the structural element it brings to a garden? As seen here in a friends garden, the simplicity of this design is awe inspiring in its magnificence. Excellent use of clipped hedges and reflective pool with a borrowed landscape which looks fabulous in any season.

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Maybe it just satisfies something in my creative side? Whatever the reason I will happily spend hours crouched getting it just right… and then groan loudly as I finally unfurl to step back and admire it.

The art of creating shapes and patterns out of hedging plants dates back to Roman times and there are many English gardens which have amazing topiary hedges hundereds of years old. Beckley park, Hidcote, Great Dixter, Hever castle, Levens hall and Biddulph grange to name just a few.

More recently the Japanese art of Niwake, or cloud pruning, has become more popular in european gardens.

There are a million tips I could give you on how to get the best finish, I admit I’m a bit of a topiary snob and others will probably loudly disagree with some of the things I’ll say and that’s ok. They have every right but it doesn’t make me or them wrong. All I know is I’m happy with my methods.

My most favourite thing is restoring topiary shapes, a plant that hasn’t been clipped for two or three years can look daunting, the shape almost lost… but fear not! A well clipped shape will still be there inside the fuzzy soft growth… you just need to find it.

Heres what I mean…

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With really out of shape topiary go slowly, you can always take more off but you can’t stick it back on. One thing I will do repeatedly when cutting is flick my hands over the surface, this shakes loose any debris and also allows any soft fluffy growth to pop back up to the surface. You’ll know when you’ve hit the sweet spot, the plant will feel firm when you brush it over, it wont flop and fall over.

First you need a nice sharp pair of shears.

I have an amazing pair of Niwake shears I bought specifically for cutting topiary, its a total luxury in a way but they are so beautifully balanced and stay incredibly sharp, giving an incredible finish. The sharper the shears the cleaner the cut, there’s nothing worse than a pair of shears that chew their way through the hedge doing untold damage to the leaves and stems as they go. The fact they’re lightweight and balanced is equally important to me as after a day of cutting I have absolutely no strain to my hands, shoulders and forearms.

Of course you don’t have to invest so much in a tool but if you can, I would recommend doing so.

I know some people use hedgecutters, which is a skill in its own right but personally, on box, it’s not something I like doing. I will happily use them on pretty much every other type of hedging but the risk of spreading box blight when using a hedgecutter is high.

This is one of my all time favourite pics, taken by my head Gardener at the time Quentin, at Hole Park.  To cut the tops of the yew ‘Pianos’ was so much fun!

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The blades are difficult to clean properly and if you’re trying to restore an unruly topiary shape it can be difficult to get it just right, especially if there are awkward corners.

One last reason I’m not keen on hedgecutters is the risk of scorching the hedge with the exhaust, This example came from a contractor who used a long arm hedgecutter on a tree next to the box hedging. It can happen to us all, a moments lapse in concentration then a week or so later the damage appears.

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I know some people will take the thick off then swop to shears to give the finishing touches that feels like doing a job twice to me with the added disadvantage of more clean up time as the cutters will throw bits everywhere no matter how careful you are.

No.2 on my list of must have’s is camellia oil, for your blades. I’ve never felt comfortable putting WD40 or 3in1 oil onto something that is effectively going to wound a plant. This might just be me being weird but it just feels wrong to be introducing something so… chemical? synthesised? unnatural? to a plant. I have no proof this is any better or worse for the health of the plant but I do know it protects and lubricates the tools as good if not better than the conventional, modern alternatives.

Next a tarpaulin!

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If you have ever tried to clean up every tiny bit of box to prevent blight without using a tarp you will understand exactly why I use this.

Trying to clean up leaves from gravel is a nightmare!

In a border with other plants a lightweight plastic tarp can be draped over the top and stops bits flinging everywhere but without crushing the other plants nearby, tuck the edge under the topiary you are clipping and all you have to do at the end is gather it up trapping the debris inside.

One of the most important things with box especially is cleaning your blades. Clean them thoroughly between each plant to prevent spread of fungal infections. There are 2 things you can use, first is surgical spirits, the second is a weak solution of Jeyes fluid (mixed to the manufacturers recommendations). Both should be used with care to prevent contamination of waterways and kept out of the reach of pets and children.

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This pic above shows a desperate box ball struggling under Hydrangeas which had all but swamped it, I honestly don’t know how long it had been left unclipped but it had become incredibly top heavy pretty much collapsing under the weight of the new’ish growth. It took a bit of perseverance to find it again as every time you fluffed it big holes would reappear where it was still too heavy to support the shape. Gradually taking less and less off it came to the stage where I could fluff it and it retained its ball shape.

Below is a fun little hedge I used to do, this one had been installed relatively recently and kept in reasonable shape so very little restoration work was needed, I’d say its still one of my fave’s just for the pure design element of it.

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One of the first jobs I had mentally set my heart on when joining Ulting Wick was cutting the box hedging, Ill be honest here, it took way longer than id anticipated. It was incredibly shaggy by the time I started in July

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So the first bit I tackled was the Old Farmyard getting my eye in on the straight sides. I never use a line, I was taught that the eye can judge it better in the sense that if other angles around it are slightly off which they often are it makes even a perfectly straight line look wonky. As you can see the tops looked particularly fluffy at this point with the extra added challenge of having a jungle quickly encroaching on them!

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But perseverance won through!

I then moved onto the other box which actually wasnt so bad!

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To my chagrin though I ran out of time to do the pink garden, a combination of unsuitable weather conditions coupled with tall plants later in the year meant it got left…. but! Last week I made a start….. Oh my god they were fluffy!

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Its almost hard to see what shape they had been! …

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But gradually they emerged

One thing I do know is that because ive clipped them so hard they will retain their shape now till next year and clipping them again will never take so long and year on year the shape will become more robust and defined. One tip I can pass on is always cut back hard. If you don’t cut back to the old growth, over a period of years the plant will keep gaining size and much like my dads cat tail at the beginning will eventually lose all definition. Remember you control the size and shape not the plant.

Eventually you should end up with something like this!

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Its worth mentioning quickly, especially for those in the london area, about Box Caterpillar.

Introduced just 10 years ago on imported plants the moths babies can totally devastate and defoliate a box hedge in literally weeks. The caterpillars will eat their way through a hedge as soon as you can blink. Fear not though! At present they are limited to London and surrounding areas … although they are colonising outwards… and you can treat your Box to stop them in their tracks!

For the home gardener there are several options available, there are pheromone traps which lure the male moths in and trap them on sticky pads inside preventing them from mating with the females. There is also a biological control which can be used on the caterpillars themselves. This has the advantage of being quite specific to caterpillars and isn’t harmful to your pollinators, like a general insecticide spray which kills everything, but timing this is essential. Too soon and the fungus that does the damage to the caterpillars won’t be able to infect them, too late and the same problem. It works using a fungus called Bacillus thuringiensis which enters the caterpillar through its gut, the caterpillar eats the treated leaves and is infected that way.

There are now several reputable firms which have spotted the need for this treatment on a commercial basis in infected areas and if you have problems I would honestly recommend you ask one of them to do the treatment as they have access to the commercial treatments, they know the exact timing on when it should be applied and how much.

Ask them if they have their sprayers licences and a treatment programme. A good firm will know how to answer your questions on this and be transparent about their treatment plans.

If you have been unlucky enough to already take a hit from either Box blight or Box caterpillar fear not! Both are treatable! Although the really effective treatments are only available to licensed professionals.

I hope for all our sakes we are able through careful handling and treatment of these problems we will continue to enjoy our Box topiary for many years to come!

 

Woottens of Wenhaston

Woottens of Wenhaston is an independent nursery in suffolk, specialising in rare breed plants such as Auricula
Heres my visit to their open day

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‘Angel eyes’ Stripe, this years star performer

Every season brings me a reminder of a plant that gives me amazing joy, late winter its Snowdrops but come early spring I’m all about the Auriculas!

I know I’ve covered this subject in depth before regarding the history and the show rules so I wont go back over old ground. I even had the most amazing chance to talk to the new owners of Pops Plants late last year, holders of the National collection of double Auriculas. You may have seen a feature on them in The English Garden magazine this April.

Today though I was all about Woottens, I’ve been promising myself a visit to their new base in the romantically named Iris fields, the nursery itself has had a fascinating history for what is a relatively young name in Horticulture. Before going I’d had the pleasure of reading Barbara Segall’s interview with its owners, I highly recommend reading it Barbara has a wonderful way of connecting with people and bringing them to life with her words, you can find her work here. It’s also worth noting it includes a full description of their open days and some beautiful pictures of the Iris fields in bloom… The Garden Post

Id also been one of a million people who had lurked around their stall at Hyde Hall’s plant fair last Saturday. I’m not sure dad had the same enthusiasm for the 4 exquisite little gems I came away clutching but gave me that wonderfully patient and slightly bemused look he gives me when I get a bit overexcited at a tiny plant. Given their stall had already been raided by discerning plant lovers already I was all the more determined to see the full glory of their collection… I was not to be disappointed!

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I woke up late, for me, on Saturday. Phil cat had already attempted to tell me it was well past breakfast time and what kind of a human servant did I think I was! He managed to get me to look at him blurrily for about 30 seconds, get one stroke on the head and I was back out cold for another half an hour! In my defence we have had an exciting week with near on 2000 visitors through the door with NGS openings and private groups and Friday had been so cold in comparison to the previous days. I eventually struggled out of bed around 8ish, lurched round the house like a zombie with Phil shouting about food and being let out. Nursing a super strong coffee I pondered on the weather… it was vile… grey and mizzley (neither mist nor drizzle but a bit of both) I figured I would just have to make the best of it so eventually got myself moving.

However as I drove along the Essex lanes heading towards Colchester my spirits rose, the stong honey scent of the fields of oilseed rape in full bloom and its undeniable cheerful, zesty colour were turning a veritable spotlight on in my head. Suddenly the mizzle didn’t seem so gloomy and I was glad I’d ignored my grumpiness and forced myself out.

East Anglia is an area of England I’m still learning about, I have a very vague grasp of where things are. I know the Norfolk broads a bit, Ipswich too, from my childhood but I certainly can’t say I know a great deal about it so this really was an adventure. Suffolk as a county is pretty much an unknown quantity to me, my mental map has fanciful creatures and the legend “Here be Dragons!” emblazoned across it. On the map Whenhaston doesn’t look that far but driving there felt like it took longer as the A12/A14 wended its way alternately from wide dual carriageways flanked by brutalist architecture of the BT offices back to tiny hamlets with quaint thatched cottages and signs for “Table top sale held today”. I also passed tempting brown signs promising historic mills, market towns, various gardens and most oddly (I thought) a swimming pool!

The journey however did give my brain time to unwind, seeing the lush fresh growth of the trees and hedgerows was pleasant even despite the grey weather. Eventually though my sat nav warned me I needed the next turning and suddenly I found myself on a single track lane which wended its way between high hedges, left onto a very slightly wider lane then in a blink a large set of metal gates with a sign announcing Woottens. I was here!

I parked up, faffed around changing shoes, slurping coffee and grabbed my camera then followed the signs which directed me towards 3 large polytunnels, past a line of young fruit trees. Ahead of me I could see business was already thriving. People were leaving clutching their treasures and more were arriving behind me!

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The first structure you reach had obviously taken some damage in the winter storms, I was later to learn this was where the Auriculas had been housed over the winter!

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How heartbreaking this must have been I can only imagine but on first impression you would never know as the main body of the stock plants had been saved and held safely alongside the Pelargonium collection next door… and what a collection!

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The plants in the tunnels though are not for sale, very sensibly, 7 plants of each variety are kept aside as “mother stock”. Each year after flowering auriculas produce offsets around their base. These “pups” are gently teased away from the mother plant with a small amount of root attached and then very carefully potted on. 6 months later it will have developed a reliable root system of its own and be ready for sale. The main reason for propagating vegetatively is it keeps the variety true, the pups are clones of the mother, absolutely identical in every way.

Auriculas can be grown from seed of course and if you don’t really care about being able to show and give them a name, only plants that have won a first at an official auricula show can be named, you can come up with some absolutely amazing results!

I admit im a bit of a purist when it comes to auriculas but I have succumbed to at least 2 of Woottens unofficially named plants just purely because I loved their colouration so much!

These would never make it to show standard mainly as they are Pin eyed (where the stamen, looks like a pin head, is clearly visible above the anthers) but they can be used as a valuable gene pool for breeding. After all breeder Ray Downard raised Arundel stripe from a pineyed seedling and ‘Rajah’ cross.

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‘Woottens Ragged Canary’ Pin eyed
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‘Woottons Green Goddess’ Pin eyed

I was particularly after some more Self’s on this visit so headed down to where the sale benches were set out beside the cutest little red summer house matched at the far end by a red marquee.

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There were nearly 2 benches of doubles, half of alpines, one of borders and the other of stripes and fancies. I gravitated straight to the stripes and spotted one that both myself and Philippa had liked when we’d seen it posted on Twitter earlier in the week. Called ‘Warpaint’ its the most gorgeous dusty red with delicate yellow thin stripes and a white farina center.

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‘Warpaint’ Stripe

She was swiftly joined by ‘Violet surprise’ a yellow throated variety with a distinct farina collar, beautifully bold distinct stripes in cream and violet.

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‘Violet surprise’ stripe

Then ‘Regency emperor’ a pale yellow narrow throat with a white background streaked amethyst purple and lemon yellow.

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‘Regency emperor’ Stripe

One more in the lilac shades ‘Orwell tiger’ such a delicate tiny flower but held in profusion above a sturdy looking plant. Hints of pale yellow ring its white collar whilst the stripes hold a tint of raspberry.

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‘Orwell tiger’ Stripe

Next I moved onto the gold centered Alpines the vibrant colours of this class really catch my magpie eye. Shaded from dark to light they really are a show stopper.

This one is ‘Cuddles’ which brings to my mind that puppet from the 80’s, if you’re old enough to remember that? A ridiculous orange orangutan animated by Keith Harris… I wonder if that’s what the breeder had in mind when naming it? She has far more class than the puppet though but is equally as cheeky!

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‘Cuddles’ Gold centered alpine

Next up is ‘Sirbol’ such a cheerful colour she shone in the overcast conditions, hints of deep rose overlay a dusky orange that fades to yellow at the far edges.

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‘Sirbol’ Gold centered Alpine

The last of my gold centered alpines, but certainly not least, is ‘Pixie’ a fine name for this ethereal beauty.  A romantic rose-pink with hints of raspberry fading to dusky at the edges. The gold center is wonderfully pinked at its edges

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Whilst choosing these beauties I was chatting to fellow enthusiasts, comparing my basket to theirs and vice versa. One lovely chap was looking for a particular variety which he said was his first love, something I myself can really relate to, my firsts were a double called ‘Sibsey’ and a white centered alpine ‘Kevin Keegan’. Even after a ridiculous number of years I can still vividly remember the joy these gave me. I kept ‘Sibsey’ for many years, almost 20 I think but lost her in a terrible mowing accident along with all my others. I am delighted to report she is now back in the collection and about to flower thanks to Tom and Suzi of Pops Plants… I digress!

I couldn’t see many if any self’s on the benches so I asked about their whereabouts, this is when I learned the terrible tale of the polytunnel disaster! Of all the collection the self’s had taken the worst of the battering. I can’t imagine how devastating this must have felt, to lose hundreds of your babies in one fell swoop to the vagaries of a cruel winter… but very generously I was allowed to view the survivors in the small A&E tunnels off to one side. Some of the stock plants numbers had been decimated to just one or 2.

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I did however spot one or 2 to put on our “must have” list!

‘Bright ginger’ will be a very welcome addition when stock levels have risen sufficiently for her to go back on sale, light levels in the tunnel made it difficult to capture her true colour but as the name suggests she is the most gorgeous shade of ginger with a pure white collar.

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‘Bright ginger’ Self

Another was ‘Golden fleece’ another aptly named variety. These will join ‘Lucy Lockett’ and ‘Morello’ amongst our Self’s.

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‘Golden fleece’ Self

Below are some of our beauties that are already in flower at Ulting Wick, taking pictures on wet, windy days is difficult so I apologise for the quality of some of the pics but it gives you an idea.

Dont forget to check out Wootens website as they have a few Open days throughout the year worth going to, most notably their Pelargoniums which are a collection of choice, rare and species pellies and their Iris day coming up soon! Imagine a massive field full of beautiful bearded Iris all in flower, gorgeous heritage varieties. It’s an amazing sight to behold and I will most certainly be going back to see it!

 

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‘Heavenly blue’ Stripe
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‘Morello’ Self
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‘Ruddy duck’ Stripe
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‘Lincoln consort’ Double
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‘Forest glade’ Double
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‘Lord saye’ Stripe
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‘Cappuchinno’ Double

 

 

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!

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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.

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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!

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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

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Above is the before, below the after!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Anemone pavonina
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Anemone ‘Lord Nelson’
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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!

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The Potatoes are in!
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Gooseberry flowers are opening
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The ornamental Malus is about to break into bud
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Garlic is coming on strong and onion sets are now in
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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!

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A sea of Daffodils greeted me on my return
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And the Ligularia had erupted from nowhere
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Lysichiton americanus with its alien looking spathe too has been a welcome sight
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Bergenia’s are not my favourite plants  but this ‘Bressingham white’ might just change my mind… might!
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This beauty is a completely new one on me! (which is awesome!) Mertensia virginica
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The white garden is starting to live up to its name and filling up quickly
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and I am totally in love with this white Daffodil
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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

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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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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Oh!

And did I mention there are owls?

THERE ARE OWLS!!!!

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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’

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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!