Warning plants want to kill you! Part 1 – the edible killers

Warning plants want to kill you! Part 1 – the edible killers
We often hear dire warnings of plants toxicity on the internet but how bad are they really?
Heres some fun facts on poisonous plants you can eat and survive!

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Ive been threatening to write this for a long while now, if youre easily disturbed, prone to nightmares, find it difficult to watch Day of the Triffids, Little shop of horrors or have an unfounded of fear of a plant leaping out of the border to wound, maim and kill you in a vicious, unprovoked attack then this will be your only warning!

There will be graphic scenes of killer plants malevolently growing!

Some of these vicious, psychopathic killers may be just outside your door. Worse! you may have even welcomed some of these murderous felons into your house! Stop, look very carefully at that plant on the windowsill, you’ve lovingly watered, repotted and fed it for years…. all the while its been sitting there, waiting for you to drop your guard so it can thrust its leaves down your unwilling throat and poison you!

The cads! Continue reading “Warning plants want to kill you! Part 1 – the edible killers”

STIHL FSA 130 brushcutter and AR 1000 backpack battery – Review

STIHL FSA 130 brushcutter and AR 1000 backpack battery – Review
Considering going battery? the cordless range from STIHL is worth looking at
Tools of quality from a trusted name

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Disclaimer!

The guys at STIHL have very kindly given me this kit to trial and review. I have received no payment from them.

There, now we’ve got that out of the way I can tell you all about it!

A while back, at GLEE, the lovely people at STIHL told me their battery powered kit was equal to any petrol driven kit on the market, including their own!

That’s quite a claim to make! So I went up to RHS Hyde Hall to see their Chainsaws in action, after all if you’re looking to challenge battery vs petrol a chainsaw would be one of the toughest challenges, right?

So on a chilly November day I turned up to see some of the STIHL products on demo… and see Matthew’s giant pumpkins obvs!dsc_0391

After watching an expert Chainsaw artist at work carving an owl, which really was a truly stunning display of skill – don’t try this at home folks! I got to see the battery powered option in action, ridiculously quiet in comparison.

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Dave
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A battery chainsaw making short work of this log

The guys on the STIHL display stand were really happy to chat to me and take me through the pros and cons of battery vs petrol and reassured me that their battery options have come on in leaps and bounds since id last tried one out including various battery sizes to suit different needs.

I was asked if id like to try out one of their chainsaws but as im not licensed to use one I politely declined and instead went for something which doesn’t get as much visibility as it deserves, a brushcutter!

Most of us know about strimmers and they’re a handy bit of kit for gentle tasks around the garden but if you want something with a bit more ‘WOOF!’ what you need is a brush cutter.

How do they differ?

A strimmer has a nylon cord which feeds through the head and effectively whips things to death by revolving incredibly fast. The downside of this is when you come up against things that have a bit more structure to them, say for example a reedbed, a meadow or even small tree saplings. The strimmer cord wears away very quickly and you find yourself replacing it on a regular basis.

A brushcutter has a metal blade, this allows you to tackle pretty much all the same jobs as with a strimmer head, with small exceptions which ill come back to, and then go on to tackle some of the bigger jobs which a strimmer just isn’t built for.

I figured that if I was really going to test battery vs petrol it needed to be on the kind of work that would really challenge it. Something you normally associate brute strength given by petrol engines on. So they suggested I try out the FSA 130 with the backpack battery AR 1000

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So I started it off on ‘Twist’, this is our annual wildflower meadow bit around the sculpture of that name. After flowering we would normally strim this down so the seeds get a chance to be dispersed but a strimmer isn’t great at scarifying which gives the seeds a chance to get themselves in a position to germinate, a brushcutter can do that. obviously you’re not looking to strip the ground, just cut into the top vegetation sufficiently to allow the seeds to get down to the soil.

At this point I had no clue how long the battery would last or how quickly I could get through the job. The backpack battery has a handy little readout on the back which when you press a button it will light up a series of indicator lights to give you an idea of how much charge it has. This obviously isn’t an indicator of time as there are many variables which come into play regarding how long your charge will last. You can also buy different battery sizes to fit your own needs which will fit the entire range of STIHL cordless products. So if we decided to get the cordless hedge trimmers in the future this battery pack comes with an adaptor to fit them and the backpack has the advantage of holding a larger charge and distributing the weight for the user better than a petrol model.

The backpack model I was using weighs just 5.5KG in total which genuinely is barely noticeable in use. I’m not a big person, I weigh 53KG wet through and stand at just 5ft3 so you really don’t have to be Jeff Capes to use this kit. On that note if I have one criticism of the backpack it would only be that its made for someone taller than me. As you can see from the pic getting it to sit right is a bit of a challenge for someone with a short body and a more curvy frame, shall we say, than your average bloke

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It sits higher on my back than I suspect it is designed to do and it has an unfortunate placing on the chest webbing which I can deal with but I suspect if I was more buxom would become a serious problem. This is often a problem when it comes to power tools, and tractors for that matter, as traditionally it has been great big strapping blokes using them and its taking manufactures a while to catch up and take into account that some of us are more slightly built. I am lucky as I find ways round this but it might be something in the future which might be worth considering given that about 50% of the workforce in horticulture is female. Perhaps an option of harnesses could be given?

That said, this is a small criticism, and not one I would reject it over.

It took around half an hour to cut down this area and the brush cutter makes far less of a mess than a strimmer to clean up.

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When I checked to see how much battery life I had left I was pleasantly surprised to find I’d barely dented the charge so I thought id give it a bit more of a challenge!

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Around the edge of our pond we have lots of annoying reeds which have gradually moved further and further out into the grass, obscuring the edge and potential hazards, like tree stumps, when mowing. You can strim these but you go through cord like no tomorrow and it just doesn’t do as good a job. In order to weaken the reeds and re-establish the mowing line cutting them down is the most effective method. Yes I could spray them off but its less than 3M from a watercourse. I couldn’t use a broadleaf weedkiller as it wouldn’t affect reeds so my options on which chemicals I could use are severely limited and we just don’t have the time to physically dig them out.

The brush cutter made short work of these annoying invaders, allowing us to take the ‘edge’ of the grass right back to the more ornamental grass which lurks nicely on the waterline.

We ended up clearing about 6 trailer loads of debris away!

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We can now decide how much of these guys to allow to creep back in for wildlife and aesthetics and keep them looking tidy.

Even at the end of this I still hadn’t managed to completely drain the battery despite running on full power for most of the time.

The FSA 130 has interchangeable heads available for different jobs, as I’ve said we chose the brushcutter attachment, a general all purpose blade, but you can fit a strimmer head. A choice of metal blades for different purposes and a circular saw blade!

This obviously makes it a very versatile piece of kit but it should also be treated with respect. There is always a danger of kickback and flying objects. When you’re using it it’s always advisable to walk the area first to ensure any hazards are noted and small animals such as hedgehogs or snakes have been ushered into a safer place. Also ‘don’t do as I do’ advice. Spot my deliberate mistake in the pics? As the weather was so hot I stupidly decided to wear shorts, something I wouldn’t normally do at work for H&S reasons… I got an excellent reminder why this shouldn’t be done! Not only did I get hit by bits of debris (which isn’t so bad till you hit a slug or something gross) but just as seriously I got bitten by a tic which I didn’t know anything about till a week or so later. On this occasion I think I’ve been lucky but it’s really not worth taking any chances over!

Overall I can say I’m honestly pleasantly surprised by its performance and I’m now looking for more areas we can used the FSA 130 in! I’ve gone brushcutter happy!

If you have any questions on it and want a brutally honest answer I’ll be happy to answer them from an end users point of view, if you’re looking for a more technical reply I’d advise talking to the lovely people at STIHL

Overall how happy with it?

It’s quiet, lightweight, powerful, holds charge for ages!

I’m bloody delighted with it and I’d recommend to anyone!

 

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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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!

Snowdrops at Hodsock Priory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hamamelis mollis
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Hamamelis mollis ‘Pallida’
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Prunus mume beni chidori
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Petasites fragrans
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Petasites japonicus

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we come to the cultivars!

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

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Hippolyta

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

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

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

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

Spades… Snowdrops… spades?

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

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Trialling Thompson & Morgan seeds – Part 1, Veg

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

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

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

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

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

Kohl Rabi Kolibri F1

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

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

Next on the plate and these look awesome are…

Radish Bluemoon & Redmoon F1 Hybrid mix

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

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

Carrot Sweet Imperator mix F1

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

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

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

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

Squash Coquina Inca gold F1

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

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

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

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

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

Carrot Nantes 2 – Frubund

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

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

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

 

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

Companion plants

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Calendula ‘Snow princess’

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

Other companion plants you could consider are

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Tagetes minuta

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

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

Crop Rotation

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

Heres how I plan mine with a few suggestions

Allium – Leeks, onions, garlic, chives

Fabeacea – Beans, peas

Brassica – Cabbage, Brocolli, radishes, rockets & mustards

Chenopodiacea – chard, beetroot

Asteracea – Lettuce, chicory

Apiacea – Carrots, coriander, celery, Parsnip

Solanacea – potatoes, peppers, tomatoes

Cucurbitacea – Squashes & pumpkins

Poa – Sweetcorn

Miscellaneous – Lambs lettuce, basil, put to green manure

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

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

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

Happy growing & happy New Year!

A new year in Ulting Wick

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

 

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

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Phil, the master of the relaxed pose

And the plants! Oh my, the plants!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Oak prior to losing the branch on the right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Secret Gardens of East Anglia – Book Review

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

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Barbara Segall & Marcus Harpur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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