Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Simple Summer Pots

A huge blue pot and Heuchera
A huge pot plus a large-leaved Heuchera makes a striking statement in Linda Hostetler's Viginian garden

I've always been struck by the bold use of pots at the gardens visited on previous Garden Bloggers' Flings and this year was another visual feast. The planting combinations are varied and exceptional, often using plants - such as coleus - I've dismissed previously as not my 'thing'.

Unlike some Fling bloggers*, I have only a few photos to show what I've liked and learned from this year's trip. Instead, I've realised sights like the one above have influenced the simple summer pots I've put together since I got back.

Large trough with three coleus

I've started on a makeover of my front garden and one of the tiny baby steps along that path is to replace the multitude of small pots on the ugly telephone junction box at the very front. I don't usually go for plastic with my pots, but I found this one more attractive to usual. Besides, I need to keep things relatively light in case the telephone engineers need access.

I've planted 3 coleus which will fill out and engulf the pot in a few weeks time. I thought about using just one colourway, but I liked the contrast of the middle plant when I put it with the others at the garden centre. I hope these will flower like those I saw in the States, as the spikes also look attractive.

Alpine planter filled with around 100 allium seed heads

This arrangement came together by accident when I was tidying up the garden at the weekend. I was cutting back some of my spent alliums ready for shredding and needed to put the flower heads into something as I worked so they didn't seed themselves everywhere. The pictured pot was to hand, and I liked the look of the few heads in there so much, I decided to put in the whole lot to make a temporary display. There are around 100 of them in there.

I love the way the individual stalks of the flower heads tremble in the breeze a bit like some deely boppers do, which adds another dimension to this pot. What do you think?



My final example is the hanging basket by the front door. I usually stuff this with scented petunias like the striking 'Night Sky' I trialled last year. Sadly, my seedlings got some kind of rot and then I couldn't resist the pictured trailing begonia instead when I went to buy their replacements (full name = Begonia boliviensis 'Bossa Nova White').

This is another planter which has still to reach its full potential. Watch this space for a progress report...


I'm sure huge pots with lots of bold plants - even an obelisk or two - like these I found in downtown Charlottesville - will feature in my garden's future in some way. Until then, I'm enjoying the simple summer pots I've put together for this year.

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Disclosure: I was given the two planters featured in this post by Stewart. They're not being used in the way I'd originally envisaged, but I'm glad they're doing the job I eventually gave them.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Photography on tour - a cautionary tale

The Japanese Garden at Hillwood - my favourite spot
Just to prove I really was there - a lovely photo of Hillwood with me for scale taken by my friend Barbara 

It's taken me a while to get round to writing about the wonders of this year's Garden Bloggers' Fling, primarily because I don't have photos for most of it. It means lots of the coverage I'd planned from all but the last day won't be blogged, or I'll use post-Fling photos instead.

I got home from a wonderful holiday all fired up to tell you all about it, loaded up my SD Cards in readiness... then found all my photos from the first 5 days of our holiday were missing. I know they were there originally because I showed some of them to NAH, but even his prowess with SD recovery programs failed to find even a ghost of an original photo.

This is what I think happened...

On Fling Day 2 I arrived at our first garden (this wonderful one, full of neat little touches and that bench in Pam's blog post was a shoe-in for a Friday Bench on't other blog) only to find my camera battery died after taking the first photo. Luckily Teri had a spare camera, so I was able to load my SD card into it and click happily away. I then recharged my camera's battery that evening and returned to using my own camera for the rest of our holiday.

It looks like either changing cameras or recharging the battery led to my original photos being wiped. Of course I'm kicking myself for making such a basic mistake, especially as I took a spare camera, batteries and SD cards with me to the States. BUT it was so hot in DC, I decided not to take any spares with me, I even left my phone in the hotel, so keen was I to travel light that day.

Garden Bloggers' Fling 2017: Group photo in the Lunar Garden at Hillwood
Spot me in the Fling group photo - photo credit: Wendy Niemi Kremer

So what should I have done?

I should have taken my phone, or my spare lightweight camera, or a spare battery with me that day, despite the heat. Like Helen does when she's on tour, I should have used a fresh SD card too. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

In an ideal world I would have taken a laptop with me to the States and backed up my photos onto it each evening. That's what I did in France earlier this year, and I got extremely grumpy lugging it around with me as it was so heavy. I knew that was a no-no for the States, besides I've never lost any photos before. That smugness was my downfall.

What else could I have done?

I did take my tablet with me, plus an SD card designed to fit in both my camera and the smaller slot of my tablet. I could have used these to backup my photos onto my Google Drive each evening. I have 21 GB of free space there, which is plenty. Why didn't I think of that before?


Tammy Schmitt at Casa Mariposa
At last, one of my photos: Tammy welcomes us to Casa Mariposa on #GBFling2017 Day 3 

Luckily I still have my memories and NAH took some photos when we were together in Washington DC. Plus there are all the blog posts from my Fling friends to make up for the lack of my own photos and posts.

In some ways my photo woes are a blessing as I have far fewer stories to blog about, when the garden and allotment are still calling me for attention.

How do you prevent photo mishaps when you're on the move?

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: Hemerocallis 'Corky'

'Hemerocallis Corky' daylily

This plant is the sole survivor of the ones I bought home from Tatton Show in 2012. I don't usually go for daylilies but there was something about the clear yellow flower and relatively short stature of this one which caught my eye. When I found out they don't mind clay soils like mine, that clinched the deal.

This year 'Corky' welcomed me home from the States with a much larger display than usual. Either it's decided the front of my lower terrace bed is truly home, or it's enjoying the drier and hotter summer we're having... perhaps both?

Sue asked recently whether the large numbers pollen beetles she's seeing currently are prevalent elsewhere this summer. As you can see a couple of them have strayed into the above photo. It's not surprising as these tiny beetles love the colour yellow, and there's certainly enough pollen for them on my plant.

Germany Valley in the Allegheny Mountains, West Virginia
Roadside ditch lilies overlooking scenic and historic Germany Valley in West Virginia

Corky's abundant daily blooms are helping me keep holiday memories at the front of my mind, as at last I understand why these blooms are commonly called 'ditch lilies' in the States. I spotted them everywhere we went and I naturally assumed I must be looking at a native plant, they were so abundant. Wikipedia has served to put me right since I returned home: not only are they not native, their abundance in some of the relatively remote places we visited now worries me. Sure enough, they're considered invasive in some States, who've banned them from being planted.

My daylily is proving to be much better behaved so far. Besides, if it does start to get out of hand, I can always start adding the spicy tasting flowers to our salads.

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Shedwork

My shed at the bottom of the garden
What horrors lie behind those doors? Read on to find out... 

A little while ago Beryl 'fessed up about the sorry state of a corner of her allotment and challenged others to do the same. I told her I would soon reveal the horror that is my garden shed instead. As you can see, now's the time to do so.

My shed stuffed to the gills with all sorts
BEFORE: the view inside - I could only just about squeeze in to start sorting things out

How did my beloved shed get into this sorry state of affairs? Well, it's been too easy just to dump and store stuff in there when we've had any major clearing up to do. After a while it got so bad, I felt too overwhelmed to go down there and sort it out.

This spring I found the constant bending over pots for seed sowing and potting up wasn't a comfortable way of doing things any more. At this point the potting bench in the corner of my shed started to send out subliminal messages reminding me I have the solution ready and waiting.

Time to get cracking with that clearout now the weather's decent enough to do so...

The garden strewn with items unearthed from my shed
Starting to sort out what lies within

As well as providing a major appartment block for spiders, I was amazed at how much I'd managed to cram inside the TARDIS-like interior of my shed AND forget it was there...

  • Not one, but two tub trugs. NAH bought another two earlier this year because he thought I needed them
  • A compost bin - now added to the collection up at the allotment
  • A bag of citrus compost for the kaffir lime I had (RIP, probably because I never repotted it with said special compost), I hope it'll prove of good service to a friend's moribund citrus tree instead
  • Four cheap ready to assemble garden arches - now proven to be too cheap as they've rusted through
  • A whole mini-greenhouse - bought originally for use at peak sowing time, but that idea was abandoned when I realised the proposed location was too shady from the trees nearby. Now I'm working out how to use it up at the allotment without it blowing away
  • Lots of garden ornaments brought in for the winter
  • Enough protective fleece to cover the entire garden
  • The geological hammer I thought I'd lost
  • The usual flotsam of pots, trays, baskets, empty compost bags, supports and bits of 'useful wood for later'
  • A carload of various items for recycling or dumping - broken garden ornaments, those garden arches, empty cardboard boxes, rotted through garden bench covers, some of that 'useful wood' etc etc

The shed after its tidy up - part one
AFTER: It's not perfect, a repair to that shelf and some more storage boxes will help improve things further

A quick day's work and now I know where everything is and my potting bench can be used again. It's just as well as I potted up 180 box cuttings earlier this week. It was lovely not to have an aching back after dealing with that little lot.

Now to decide just how many 'useful pots and trays' I need to keep for later, then recycle the rest at my local garden centre.

Do you have a horror corner somewhere in your garden or allotment? Beryl and I are eager to hear your confessions...




Disclosure: This post is sponsored by The Big Yellow Self Storage Company.

Note that sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs; the words and pictures are mine. There are no cookies or affiliate links associated with this post.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Postcard from Washington DC


I'm back from an amazing couple of weeks in the USA and the Garden Bloggers Fling, which this year was based in the Washington DC area, taking in gardens in Maryland and Virginia along the way. NAH came with me, so we spent a few days exploring the States' capital before I headed off for the Fling.

I'd always wanted to see the Lincoln Memorial, and it was an emotional time for me there, despite the hordes of tourists all vying to take their photographs and selfies. To the side of Lincoln's statue are some of his iconic speeches, which give great cause for thought.

Post-Fling we had a week exploring what Virginia and West Virginia have to offer, particularly in the mountains of Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington/Monongahela National Forests. We discovered some early US national history too, including sites from the Civil War.

A visit to Monticello - Thomas Jefferson's Virginia plantation home - was especially timely as we were there on the 241st anniversary of his presentation of the Declaration of Independence on 28th June. It was only later the 4th of July was declared the nation's birthday.

There are more posts to follow...

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Monday, 26 June 2017

Bonsai: care tips from the experts

Bonsai trees exhibited by the Federation of British Bonsai Societies at Chelsea Flower Show
Part of the Federation of British Bonsai Societies gold medal exhibit
at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, including some from Swindon.  
I have a confession. I usually leave the bonsai exhibits at flower shows alone. They're quite difficult to photograph and until recently this is a branch of gardening which was a mystery to me ('scuse pun).

However, I was given a bonsai tree in March and it's clear I need some help to look after it properly. I'd read they should be kept outdoors, which was fine until April's hard frosts. My poor tree ended up with lots of leaves sporting an unhealthy bleached look.

So this year for once I made a beeline for the Federation of British Bonsai Societies' exhibit at Chelsea Flower Show, where a friendly expert was more than happy to give me a few tips.

My bonsai tree
My tree is probably Ligustrum sinense and is approximately 9 years old 

As you can see, my tree is quite small, even by bonsai standards and my first piece of advice was to bring it in for the winter for quite some time to come. Here you can see it in the final spot I've chosen for it for the summer, on the table on our patio.

This is because I need to see it from our kitchen so I'm reminded to water it daily - my second piece of advice, the tree should not be allowed to dry out. Ideally it should be fed daily too, with a dilute solution of the plant food I usually use. I was told there is no need to buy the special feeds available. I'm currently trialling some seaweed feeds, and my tree's looking much happier... it did go through an alarming period of the bleached leaves turning yellow and then dropping off. Now there's a lot of new growth - phew.

I was concerned about my tree's exposed roots and I was reassured to hear these are fine. If there are any exposed ends, then these can simply be snipped off. I spotted that most of the bonsai on display at Chelsea showed even more exposed roots than mine, with many sporting moss between them which looked quite decorative.

Now my tree has recovered from its frosty shock and has started to grow it's time to think about thinning out the foliage and training it further into shape. For this I will need some wire and I was surprised that training can also involve anchoring some of the wires into the soil. Mine is vaguely growing in an s-shape (not one of the traditional forms I was told) and this gave my expert a clue to my tree's origin:

'Aha', he said, 'you've got one of those trees imported from China via Holland.' I don't think he was that impressed.

Bonsai tree with ladybird larva

I'll persist with my tree, though going on holiday may prove a challenge. My neighbour's kindly agreed to water it every day, thank goodness. If you think a bonsai tree is an ideal gift for a keen gardener, do give it some thought. You're giving them something which requires daily attention. Will they be up for that?

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Blightwatch revisited

Good looking potato foliage and flowers

Once upon a time I wrote about potatoes and the excellent service called Blightwatch which warns when weather conditions become ripe for an outbreak of potato blight.

Back then the service looked out for a Smith Period i.e. a time during the potato/tomato crop season when the weather served up 90% humidity over an 11 hour period in temperatures above 10°C for 24 hours, and for both conditions to exist over a period of two days. If this occurred for my postcode area, then I'd get an email warning me that a Smith Period had happened, or one saying there was a near miss if the conditions only occurred for a day.

These emails usually started around July/August time and I always received them with a sense of impending doom.

Now since May this year I've had several emails called a Hutton Alert from the same service instead. This is much earlier to receive a blight warning and slightly worrying. Is my practise of growing early spuds to avoid late blight in danger now?

It seems the Smith criteria are no longer performing well, so the James Hutton Institute conducted some research to see if the system could be improved. All aspects of the criteria were tested and their results showed lowering the humidity factor to a mere six hours improved blight prediction significantly.

From what I've seen so far, it means pretty much any period of rain or damp weather results in a warning email and as a consequence I've become more blasé about the future health of my crop. I'm sure the farmers for whom this service is really designed take it much more seriously than I.

I do remember an incredibly early blight year a couple of years ago (in June) so I do have anecdotal evidence of the need for a different system, perhaps in response to a change in the way the blight fungus performs. However, my allotment is on a windy site, which I'm sure helps keep the blight at bay.

In the meantime, I'm watching my potato leaves for signs of an earlier blight than usual. All's well so far *crosses fingers*.

How's your potato crop faring this year? Do you subscribe to the Blightwatch alert system?

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Colour from the garden

Nettie Edwards in her temporary studio at Lacock Abbey

Sometimes even the most familiar things in life can offer a surprise which sets you off in a completely different direction. This is exactly what happened to me at Lacock Abbey recently - the garden I visit the most - in the form of Nettie Edwards, pictured above.

She was based in the botanic garden showing her work with anthotypes, a technique which uses plants as the light sensitive material to produce a photographic print. The technique itself is well over a century old, and until Nettie's demonstration I hadn't realised it's easy to do at home.

Nettie's view of her outdoor studio
The studio on the day I did pop by - Twitter screen grab courtesy of Nettie Edwards

All that's needed is some suitable plant material, a means to extract its juices, a paper and frame for printing, a positive image for reproduction, a source of light, and plenty of time. The combination of two of my favourite things - photography and gardens - got me fired up and itching to get started. Nettie's enthusiasm for her work also helped :)

The start of my colour notebook for VP Gardens
Click to enlarge if needed.
Note the scan hasn't quite reproduced the
actual colours, but you get the idea
I was taken with Nettie's notebook, where she documents the colours found on her travels, so I've started one of my own for VP Gardens. You'll see I've taken a simple approach of picking some likely looking material, squishing it directly onto the paper and letting it dry. Quite a few of the colours look entirely different when dry, and some of them went through quite a range of colours in front of my eyes.

From this I can instantly see which plants look the most likely candidates to play with - Centaurea montana, Clematis 'Arabella', buttercup, red berberis leaf, Rosa 'The Fairy' and Geranium psilostemon. The Monarda leaf result looks far better in real life (a lovely light green), so I've added it to my list.

Nettie's currently experimenting with 'Bull's Blood' beetroot and Allium christophii heads, though the latter came out a little disappointing in my test. Sue Carter - Lacock's Head Gardener - is growing a range of other plants for her to try and a tweet on June 13th, shows foraged wild garlic paste, and another on June 12th some gorgeous deep flower colours. Berries and other juicy produce are other possibilities to try.

My next consideration is which of my shortlisted plants can produce enough extract to coat the paper I'm going to use. I've reluctantly discarded the electric colours of the Centaurea and geranium as these currently only have a few flowers. The rest are up for grabs - watch this space!



Notes about the process for my future experiments


Pestle and mortar with Berberis thunbergii 'Gold Ring' leaves
New growth on Berberis thunbergii 'Gold Ring' - compare the colour obtained with old growth extract?

Extraction

Use a pestle and mortar or a small blender. Need to filter the liquid out from the rest of the material e.g. use a tea strainer, coffee filter paper, or a clean cloth such as muslin. May need to add a few drops of water (what effect does our hard water have?) or clear alcohol (Nettie held up a bottle of vodka!) to thin down thicker extracts such as the Bull's Blood beetroot she was demonstrating.

As the material is sensitive to light, I guess it has to be used quickly. How to store to preserve its 'shelf life'... possibly in the fridge?

Paper

Don't use shiny paper, use matte so the liquid doesn't 'pool' on top of the paper. Note that chemicals in the paper can affect the final colours, depending on the chemicals used in the production process. Adding chemicals such as a few drops of lemon juice (acid), or bicarbonate of soda (alkaline) is a great way of playing around with the colours obtained. Even gently touching the damp paper with a finger can change the colour.

Several coats of plant extract may be needed to produce a colour deep enough for printing (hence the need to think about possible storage).

Drying

The paper needs to be dried in darkness before applying the next coat, or going onto printing. I'm going to use our airing cupboard.

Recent feet on the lawn image converted to black and white
I love the idea of linking my recent #mygardenrightnow project with anthotypes in some way

Image selection for printing

This is a positive:positive process, so an object or a transparency is needed for the final image. Leaves e.g. ferns would be a great way of connecting my experiments with the early photographers celebrated at Lacock Abbey, especially Fox Talbot himself.

Transparencies need to have a high contrast, preferably with lots of black & white. These can be made easily by converting a digital photo into a black & white one, upping the contrast if needed, then printing it out onto acetate. An inkjet printer like we have should be fine.

Printing frame

Nettie had some lovely vintage contact printing frames, but I found later these are expensive to buy. Improvisation with various picture frames is the name of the game and I'm going to try some cheap clip frames. Nettie suggested I use masking tape to attach the image I use to the print paper. How the print is progressing needs to be checked from time to time and the masking tape prevents the image from going out of alignment.

Producing the print

The print frame + paper/positive image needs to be left for some time to develop. The sun is used as the light source needed to bleach out the white/lighter parts of the image onto the paper, so I've earmarked my south facing windowsill upstairs for the job. How long the print takes to develop depends on where in the world and the time of year. In Italy it'll probably take just a couple of hours; here at this time of year we're looking at a couple of weeks or so, depending on the weather (hence the need to check progress).

Rosa 'The Fairy'
Or how about a plant portrait using the flower as the photographic material? I have so many ideas I want to try!


After care

Unlike most photographic prints, these can't be fixed so they deteriorate when lit as the light continues the bleaching process. Prints need to be stored in darkness and brought out on special occasions for viewing (it'd be like having a secret garden!). Alternatively prints can be mounted behind museum quality glass which reduces the UV light levels.

Nettie takes photos of her finished prints, but for her it's nothing like looking at the real print itself. The ephemeral nature of the process (just like a garden is too) and the gradual decay of the print is part of the continuing life of the image.

There are anthotype images around which are over 100 years old, so it is possible to limit the loss to a slow decline. Just like there's a slow flower movement, there should be a slow photography one too.

Other notes

I love the element of unpredictability in this process. The colours obtained from a plant will vary depending on time of picking, location, climate, weather, soil type etc etc. Then there's the potential of added variation with the paper used, the extraction process, the number of coats applied to the paper, the addition of other chemicals, and a host of other things I haven't thought of, even my mood perhaps?

I'm going to enjoy lots of experimentation with this process, by playing around with it and my garden, perhaps even linking Lacock Abbey to the project in some way. In view of the time needed, please grant me the patience to carry it through...



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Nettie's demonstrations continue on weekdays until the end of June. Highly recommended.

Read Nettie's description of the anthotype process and the production of her first print on her blog. Note the improvised equipment she used from what's to hand at the time. It's something I'm going to enjoy doing with my own experiments.

Read about some of my other visits to Lacock Abbey on my Garden Visits Page (or visit!). NB the curators at Lacock have a great way of linking the garden and photography together using various art and photography exhibitions, plus different installations in the garden - both temporary and permanent. It befits the place where modern analogue photography began.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: In the white garden

Rambling Rector rose above the clematis

I usually think of my garden in terms of cool blues and mauves at this time of the year because of the many alliums, clematis and other flowers in full flow.

Whilst they're there as expected, their presence is dwarfed by the outburst of white that's happened over the past week or so, mainly in the trees which surround the garden. Here you can see my 'Rambling Rector' rose which has leapt over the fence onto the public land next door. The clematis you can see are draped over six foot high obelisks which gives you some idea of how high the roses have jumped.

Elderflowers at the bottom of the garden
It's also peak elderflower time, and the creamy flower heads keep the white theme going at the bottom of the garden (click to enlarge the picture if needed).

If you looked at my submission for #mygardenrightnow the first weekend of June, you'll know that bright ox-eye daisies have taken over the lawn. White clover is also making its presence felt (along with some red), and I was surprised to find some sweet rocket lying in the grass at the bottom of the double terrace bed.

I grew this flower in the lower terrace for the first couple of years (2001-2) of the garden's incarnation, only for it to disappear in year three. It must have gone to seed and remained dormant for around 15 or so years. It's a testament to the seed's viability... I wonder what stirred it into action this year, lack of lawn mowing perhaps?

Here's a closer view of some of the most notable white flowers in VP Gardens this month...

White flowers from the garden this June

Key:

1. White clover, Trifolium repens - no 4-leafed clover found... yet
2. Rosa 'Kew Gardens' - compare the flower colour with its bud
3. Ox-eye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare
4. Rosa 'Rambling Rector'
5. Mock orange, Philadelphus 'Virginal'
6. Marguerite daisy, Agyranthemum Molimba® L White
7. Mexican fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus
8. Nemesia 'Wisley Vanilla'
9. Sweet rocket, Hesperis matronalis
10. A sprinkle of delicate elder flowers which have fallen from the flowerheads above

Rambling Rector and the mock orange are on the western fence and the prevailing wind is combining their scents in a most pleasing fashion. Too bad I can't share that piece of my garden with you. 

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.
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