Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Nearly there with the Garden Spring clean

Sundays seem to be gardening days recently here at Easter Mosshat. This one dawned beautifully sunny: chilly but a great day to be outside with some brief hail showers in the afternoon. The first job of the day was to scatter pelleted chicken manure over all the borders and around trees planted in the lawns. I've used pelleted chicken manure for a few years now, moving on from Growmore. Growmore works as a slow release fertiliser but I have found the pellets to be much better, producing stronger happier plants, and it's organic. As the garden has grown so has the consumption of pellets, two big buckets wasn't enough: I ran out in the veg garden. I'll be stopping off at the DIY store on the way home from work this week to get some more.

Looking into the woodland garden with the north bed on the right.
Spot the Bracken!

The big job today was to start the woodland garden spring clean. Not long to go now until the spring clean is finished then we can get on to more exciting jobs in the gardens. I like the woodland garden at this time of year as its full of spring woodlanders doing their thing. This makes it a bit tricky to tidy round as they are flowering and delicate. To make it even harder plants are so much further forward this year, with the warm winter. After edging the grass paths it was a case of doing the same as in the rest of the garden: lifting leaves, cutting back the perennials; then forking over the beds. Everything is doing well or better than well in some cases and some plants will be needing thinned out at some point this year. A lot of woodland plants are strong growers. Many of them are natives and have to be tough to survive under trees.

Two beds all tidied

The north bed is only four feet wide and is due to be extended if we get time this year, to incorporate a sweeping Piet Oudolf style border (I love his work, designs and use of plants). It will include tall perennials in large numbers, inter-planted with grasses to give interest. Many of the plants will also go on to have interesting seed-heads, giving this border lots of autumn and winter interest, similar in some ways to the prairie bed by the workshop. For now it already has dwarf Narcissus 'Tete a Tete' and Cardamine pentaphylla flowering.

The den bed extended to the right

The den bed, so called because it is next to the kids den was extended last autumn to get rid of a messy, weedy area between it and the den. Now it is backed by shrubs which will eventually hide the den and give a colourful all year round backdrop to the border. Coming forward there are very tall, tough perennials gradually coming down to smaller bulbs, shrubs and perennials at the front, with some special woodland gems sheltered by tougher plants. I have dotted some grasses through this border to add foliage and form interest. To ease the cost of new plants I split and spread out some of the perennials that have been there for some time. This rejuvenates them and fills out the border instantly because they are such large clumps. I did this with two different Astilbes and Astrantia 'Roma'. Cardamine kitabillii (a cream coloured unusual Cardamine) and some Hellebores, including my own seedlings are in full flower.

Viewed from the top

David and Adam cut up a fallen pine tree in the woods that came down in the autumn storm. The branches were added to the giant log pile which is much appreciated by the wildlife. They then fixed the fence blown down in the same storm: a few pieces of angle iron down the sides of some of the posts soon had it standing upright again.

Another day should finish the woodland garden. Just the moon garden, fence border and bog garden to do, but by 4pm we'd had enough. It was lovely to be out under the trees in the sunshine, listening to the curlews flying overhead and all the other wee birds singing their hearts out ready for spring.

Here are some of the woodlanders in flower here at Easter Mosshat at the moment.

Ranunculus 'Brazen Hussy'
Cardamine kitabillii

Helleborus seedling
Pulmonaria 'Beth Chatto'


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Saturday, 22 March 2014

A Sunday Afternoon Potter in the garden

I'm getting behind, I haven't even finished last weekend's blog and its the weekend again! Saturday was wet and very windy so it was an indoor day and Sunday was set to be the same, I was getting cabin fever, there is so much to do in the garden. By late morning the wind had lessened a bit and I decided to wrap up and head down to the veg garden to finish spring cleaning this area (although I suspected I'd be chasing leaves around). It's also a more sheltered area of the garden at the bottom of the slope behind the woodland fence.

Looking up from the orchard
I finished weeding, tidying and forking over the red current and raspberry beds and a bed where I temporarily heel plants in. The daffodils under the raspberries are almost in flower. I grow a summer Raspberry variety 'Glen Clova' and an autumn variety 'Autumn Bliss', although to be honest we rarely get any autumn fruit as early frosts put an end to them. This also happens with the brambles (Blackberry 'Oregon Thornless').

A bit of leaf raking on the orchard lawn was good for warming up and exercise then I got the newly serviced lawn mower out to pick up the worst of the leaves. I am a bad gardener: I neglect my lawn mower. We decided to put it in for a proper service this year and get a few things fixed on it. What a difference, well worth the £80 it cost. I then picked up the mountain of leaves that had gathered all the way along the bottom stock fence between us and the adjoining sheep field. I can see this area from the house, so it's great when its been tidied: it looks great.

The veg garden from the potting shed

Next on the job list, (now the mammoth spring clean of the veg garden was done) was to plant out the bedding pansies I bought the other week. I hadn't got round to planting them but at least there has been no danger of them drying out in the recent weather, more likely to be blown away! I planted a few of these in each of the six large half barrels dotted around the back door area and in front of where we park the cars. The rest went in old chimney pots along the front of the house. These pansies will last for months and often seed around in the gravel under the pots and I like to leave them to grow and flower there every year.

Now that the Snowdrops are beginning to fade and finish flowering this is the time to lift and divide them. Commonly referred to as 'in the green' at this point, they will easily move and be rooted by next year. I divided up some of the clumps growing at the front gate, which have been there for several years now. These are original Easter Mosshat snowdrops, one of the few plants still growing in the derelict garden when I bought the property. Over the past month or so when the Snowdrops have been flowering I have been planning where new clumps would look good and catch the eye in the front garden. This was usually done as I was driving in and out. I settled on three new areas, under the Ulmus 'Jaqueline Hillier', in front of the Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula' on top of the wall and right the way up the dry stone dyke between the front garden and woods. I divided up three clumps and there are still masses left undivided so they will do for another year. I planted half a dozen or so bulbs every couple of feet up the dry stone wall. They will eventually come form a bank of snowdrops all the way up to the bench.

I'm glad I made an effort to go out int he garden despite the strong winds, the feeling of achieving something and ticking another job off the list always makes me feels better. Here are a few plants that are looking good this week in the garden.

Corylus avellana 'Contorta'

Crocus chrysanthus 'Cream Beauty'

Corydalis malkensis

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Being creative and artistic while being Practical

Last weekend we had good weather both days and a child-free weekend so we got lots of work done in the garden. It was a good thing since a couple of days later my back gave up and I was signed off work for a week. On Saturday I carried on with the veg garden: cutting back herbaceous plants; tidying the beds; lifting leaves and forking over the soil. The down-side to gravel paths is lifting the leaves after autumn. I find raking the paths loses more stones than leaves. It's easier to hand lift them, hard work but I don't have to top up the gravel so often.

The top beds before tidying
It's satisfying to tidy the beds and see how well plants have grown over the past year, how well they are doing (or not) and to plan if any need moved to create better spacing or if new plants need added to replace dead ones. This is when self-sown seedlings are discovered and left in situ if suitable, lifted and potted or weeded out. There are certain plant seedlings I leave and others definitely have to be removed. Foxgloves, Aquilegias and Myosotis get left to soften the spaces between other plants in the beds. Invasive pests such as Ladies' Mantle (alchemilla) and Cowslips are weeded out unless I use them for something else. I got the seating area and both top beds tidied and dug over, its a very satisfying job.

Looking down the veg garden before
This area still gets called the fruit and veg garden even though there has been no veg sown and grown there since 2011 when I decided to stop growing veg. I didn't have the time due to working full time, they weren't producing enough and the kids weren't into veg. So I gradually planted up the four beds with perennials that caught my eye to give colour and interest all year round. The top easterly bed is finished, filled with scented Phlox, bright Geraniums and Echinops for winter interest seed heads. The top westerly bed is mostly planted, with a few gaps awaiting filling when I acquire some new plants that will suit. This bed is largely Paeonias and Iris with some grasses, eye catching Cirsiums and edged with strawberry plants. The bottom two beds are partially planted with shade lovers as they are lower down the slope and under one of the huge beech trees on the edge of the woods. There are also some plants heeled in here until their final home is ready.

David has come to think maybe gardening isn't for him,
he prefers being the gopher
The fruit part of the garden is still going strong with Redcurrents and Rasps on wires and lots of black and white currents, Gooseberries and Blueberries (my favourite). There are also Apple, Pear, Cherry and Medlar trees in the orchard.

On Sunday we decided to have a clearing, landscaping and construction day at the top end of the garden. As David had dumped some good garden soil on the rest of the prairie bed during the week I got this levelled out and laid out the plants I'd collected together for the Prairie bed. As the bed will be viewed from two sides its important to get the plants in the right place. I wanted tall plants at the back but also through the centre of the bed to eventually form a screen for the workshop. Once I was happy with the layout I got on with planting them. There are a few gaps along the path edge for the plants I have growing on from seed in the greenhouse. Once big enough they will be planted out.

Placing plants before planting
Before starting the workshop
 and work area

I then went and joined David to do a bit more clearing at the back of the workshop. This has gone from a Steptoe's yard type place to a huge work area where we can store useful stuff, work on big projects and it will be the entrance to the polytunnel. We want it to be functional, but also to look good too. We have some chunky bits of stone and a lot of slate from the old house to store, which we will eventually use in the garden. The slates had been stacked on wooden pallets for years, but they were now rotten and had given way. So we came up with a practical and decorative way to store the two materials. By stacking up the large stones and making mini walls, three high and two or three deep, four feet apart, we created an area to stack the slate. The stones won't give way so the slate will stay neatly stacked until required and it looks pretty cool too. This took most of the afternoon, then the rain came on and we persevered and finished the job, soaked but really pleased with our days work.

Starting to clear out the mess
last summer
Today, lots of space for storage
and working
Bracken thinks the bonfire is the place to sit
The stone and slate store


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Friday, 7 March 2014

Hellebores, Spring Gems for shady places

Hellebores, together with snowdrops, crocus and aconites are ever-popular early spring plants: those flowers that always appeared early in our grandparents and parents gardens, poking out from the dead leaves with their hanging heads, shy to show the beauty they hid within. Mostly these old hellebores were the white H. nigre the "Christmas Rose" and its cousin H. orientalis, the taller purple "Lenten Rose", though they are not related to roses in the slightest. Over the years these species have given rise to a huge number of cultivars, strains and selected seedling collections because they seed freely and the seedlings can give rise to exciting new marked flowers or better foliage.

Helleborus x hybridus 'White spotted double'
I have introduced several cultivars to the gardens at Easter Mosshat over the years, yet strangely H.nigre never survives. Most of my collection are spotted Harvington Hybrids and their children, as when the seedlings that grow like a mini forest under the parent plant are big enough, I plant them out in other shady areas in the garden to see what they will become. In time I will remove the weedy, unexciting ones and keep the interesting well-marked plants. I also have H. sternii, a rougher-leaved upright-growing Hellebore with greenish yellow flowers. It also seeds freely and is great for foliage effect, with its mottled leaves. H. viridis, with its smaller cup shaped green flowers grows well in the woodland garden

One of my own seedlings
A dark flowered seedling at Binny Plants

A double white cultivar at Binny Plants

These days people go mad for the spotted flowering hellebores, especially double whites, of which there are many strains. Another popular group are the very dark, almost black flowering strains. Many of these are sold under a non-specific name such as Hellebore 'Double White Spotted' or Hellebore 'Pink Lady Spotted' or Hellebore 'Black Form'. Because these are all grown from seed there will variations in the pattern of spotting or colour so its always best to buy in flower. That way you can choose the best of the bunch. I once bought H.'Yellow Queen', but when it flowered it was pink!

Dingle Gardens, Wales
Hellebores are easy to grow, they like a reasonable soil, a bit of shade and the old foliage cut off in early spring, so we can enjoy the flowers and new foliage emerging. They do take a while to bulk up enough to split and can be huffy if moved: sulky and refusing to flower much until re-established. Slugs can sometimes be a problem, eating through the stems of forming flowers just as you are looking forward to the flowers opening.

Helleborus x hybridus White spotted double

Hellebores can be bought and planted at any time of year, if bought in pots. Autumn is a good time, so they can get their roots into the warm soil before winter and prepare to flower the following spring. A pinch of general fertiliser will give them a boost when planting and in spring, once you have spring-cleaned the garden. For some interesting cultivars, strains and species have a look at the following nurseries:




A good way to see Hellebores is to visit some of the great gardens open in spring or some of the nurseries specialising in Hellebores (see above). I have visited Ashwood Nursery several times and the gardens at this time of year abound with mouthwatering Hellebores. Binny Plants also has an exciting collection in their woodland garden, with many seedlings from Helen Ballard, a famous Hellebore breeder in the 1950's and 60's.

Helleborus x hybridus 'Ashwood Garden hybrids'

Helleborus orientalis 'Harvington Pink Speckled''


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