Wednesday, 21 March 2018

bleak boxes of beauty

Our local affordable Conference Centre/Industrial Size Church, the King's Centre, is firmly in the industrial area/sports hall aesthetic. Its very hugeness militates against decoration. Fortunately, the building's owners don't let this discourage them, and inside there are fabric pieces and murals in the accessible church aesthetic of the 60s-80s, all smooth lines and welcoming curves; and outside there is planting.

the bleakest space

The planting is small, domestic, dwarfed by the scale of the building. Rustic planters dot the entrance. Snall troughs contain hardy plants And, here, my personal favourite, the wall garden.

the bleakest space the bleakest space
the bleakest space the bleakest space

It stands lonely and proud in the centre of a vast, pale metal wall, lovely in its basic ambition and steely determination. There's nothing here that couldn't be bought from one of the garden centres on the ring road - a few hardy herbs and houseleeks, foliage reddened by the stress of their esposed position - and yet the effect is clear an immediate; persistence in hardship, hope in bleakness, determination in the face of the cold north wind. For even in the coldest, brightest, most exposed of spaces, we may yet flower.

the bleakest space

Sunday, 18 March 2018

the mini-beast is a brawler

So, I stumbled out into the garden on Friday and swept a quick fleece over the most blossoming of the tiny fruit trees. I rammed a quick handful of straw into the centre of my tree fern (having the previous week, lovingly unwrapped it from its winter hessian). And the following morning I ran out and quickly put more fleece on more things. And then this morning I went out and put more fleece on more things.

I'm not sure I've put enough fleece on enough things.

goofy dinosaur under the fleece, the blossom snow-mantled
quince blossom pot smile kaiju in the snow
snow-flattened fine horsetail reeds wallflowers

Worst of all, Dwarf Peach Crimson Bonfire has picked this weekend to bust its blossom. I've fleeced it, but flipping heck. The temperature out there is plummeting

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

under the ivy

Oh, Hedera helix. It slides so quietly into the shady garden, the pale destructive fingers of its stems knuckling into every crevice and notch. I found it this spring, oozing through the back fence, into the flower bed. I'll have to rip that back, along with the tiny threads of proto-brambles already snaking across from the six inches of no-man's land between my fence and the neighbours' garages and sheds.

But the variegated ivy I see through the kitchen window, that's somehow worked itself into the shape of a feisty velociraptor (although maybe only for me - I see dinosaurs everywhere) is a tendril I cross-planted from where it grows over a dark, dark fence. This lights up with life and green, and that's thanks to the ivy - it's so dark, little else grows. But Hedera seizes every scrap of light and spins it into a home for spiders; wrens; sparrows.

Lovely, lovely ivy that grows where nothing else grows; that flowers after everything else has called it a year and rolled up into brown seed pods; that lures in pigeons for the Christmas treat of its sour black berries. Ivy that stills the air and traps the dust, making a warm space whatever the weather.

I love ivy. I've even bought ivy - a beautiful, miniature-leaved variety. Slow growing, I was promised. I didn't quite laugh in the nursery woman's face, but in all honesty all ivies grow slowly when they are small - and like the clappers when they are large.

And when that happens, ivy being ivy, it gets on top of you, and something like this happens:

massive ivy collapse

Or worse; I lived in a modern new build at the turn of the century, with vigorous shrubs planted in the handkerchief-sized back garden including a vigorous variegated ivy that took apart window frames and invaded the loft. My neighbour is in that situation at the moment, and torn because he too loves the ivy; the butterflies that feed on it, the sparrows that nest in it. But it's thugging his place to bits.

The house I lived in after that one also had ivy, and there I took it in hand, with regret, because nothing is lovelier than overgrown ivy in October, buzzing with hedonic raves of dying bees and drunken wasps. But overgrown ivy pulls down the wall it has grown on.

So, the five rules of managing ivy in a confined space:

  1. If it gets above head height, chop it off.
  2. Check if it has got above head height every month in the winter and more often in the growing season.
  3. If it gets more than a handspan from the surface it is growing up, chop it back to the surface.
  4. Define its space and chop it back to this - cut tendrils, do not weave them back in, because ivy is very mobile and will head straight back to where it was before.
  5. Wherever it begins to thicken (on top of a fence for example), thin it as if it was a head of hair, by chopping out a percentage (30-70%, depending on the brutality of your haircut) of the tendrils.
Sadly, this regime, although it will keep your ivy under control, will not produce a flowering plant. There's a lot to enjoy in ivy leaves, of course, but if you want the full banana, you'll need to dedicate space (an old structure, a tall tree trunk, a shed) where the ivy can get up and bush out into some sun, and just deal with the fact that the whole thing will collapse under its own weight periodically. 

I don't have space for that right now, but I'd definitely consider that part of a chaos enough garden. Last word on the subject from Kate Bush, who understands the lure of ivy very well:

Sunday, 11 March 2018

counting the frost cost

I have a visitor coming to the garden soon - a tree surgeon with the usual nominatively determinate name and his gang of apprentices with ladders and pole loppers. They're taking out the back hedge overhang, but before they do that there are a few things to do. Tidying up before the tidy-up if you like. Mainly the things involve the Passion Vine, which is on the frost damage list from last week. Also on the list:
  • Abutilon x 3 (all leaves frost scorched)
  • Early Japanese Cherry (some blossom browned)
  • Tree Fern (exposed fronds partly frost scorched)
  • Fancy Fuchsia x 3 (plants appear completely dead)
  • Roses (larger new growth frost wilted)
  • Glossy fern (fronds snapped and flattened by snow)
  • Etc.
Some of this is easily fixed - the roses, due a prune anyway, were quickly tidied - and the fern just need to loose their winter wrapping and have the wrost damage pruned out. Others aren't that important - the Cherry will bounce back. The Fuchsias, though, are galling, particularly as I'd been keeping them safe in the shed. But the wind swung round and blew straight through everything. There were Sweet Pea seedlings in there too -- and these I think I have saved, though they lost leaves.

Back to the Passion Vine. Although I want my overhang removed, I'd like as little disruption as possible to the creepers I grow up my neighbour's severe evergreens. To do this they need to be as separated and obvious as possible - without looking tidy, for I follow the principles of chaos-enough gardening, and neat lines and clear delineation are anathema to my garden.

So the process is as follows:
  1. Draw out the withered and obviously dead stems, in sections.
  2. Pull out vine tendrils into hanks and put them roughly where they belong (in this base, against a trellis or on top of an arch).
  3. Draw out long tendrils of vine and use these to secure your passion vine into its spaces.
  4. Cut away/pull up suckers from where they should not be (in this case, all over the greenhouse and under the arch).
  5. Do a tidy-up pass through everything getting rid of fallen leaves, the worst of the winter-tatty tendrils, and doing extra weave and securing.
There's a sixth step too, that happens three days later which involves cutting out all the tendrils you killed while doing this - but that's strictly optional. At this time of year, the Passion Vine expects a lot of dead and damaged overgrowth, and uses it to shelter new shoots.

The other back-creepers can happily be hacked to the fence, though I'd like to avoid them being crushed out too badly, so I tidied back a clematis, a honeysuckle.

They'll be so happy when the overhang is gone and they finally all have light.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

toxic sweeties in the garden

New Scientist chimed in this week busting some gardening myths or something but while most were the same old (Why not use old tights in your flower pots instead of crocks? Er, no. Did you know you can get away without pinching out side shoots on some tomatoes? Why, yes.) same old, one small snippet was instantly intriguing, and not a little worrying.

"Rhododendron nectar is so toxic for bees that beekeepers tend to keep hives closed during their flower season."

Is it? Do they? Haven't I seen bees taking my rhododendron pollen?

Sure I have, but only Bumblebees, according to bee sources. Though there certainly are some honey bees that pollinate some rhododendrons, to make special buzzy honey that numbs your mouth and fuzzes your head (I think it's a bit of stretch to call it hallucinogenic, as this article does), our humble honey bee probably won't, though I'll check this year to see if I'm spiking any local hives.

More intriguing still is the effect described on solitary bees. If they're feeding on my Rhodey, I should see them passed out in the garden, and then recovering. Although it's possible our local Lime Trees may be the culprit, with their caffeinated nectaries.

Bees on drugs. What is this area coming to?

Sunday, 4 March 2018

the recognition of hazardous trees

I can't really remember where I got this leaflet from. The date on it is 1988, so possibly I picked it up from a public library or post office in Devon or Dorset, where I grew up; certainly I think it's mine and always has been, it's not just another ephemeral scrap gathered from the Oxfam Bookshop where I volunteered, for years.

Although this is a useful leaflet I picked up from a public office of some kind, although its use to me at the time was questionable: I wasn't a landowner who needed to be told my responsibilities concerning trees. It would be years before I owned any kind of tree, let alone a dangerous one. But something about that sinister sketch of a hazardous tree lead me to hold onto the leaflet, with its dark talk of liability and risk assessment, and invocation of Shigometers and  Pressler Borers.

The central diagram breaks down the difficulties this hazardous tree is experiencing. Weak forks, basal cavities (particularly dangerous if present between more than one pair of buttresses) and target cankers. Who knew that trees concealed such darkness, such danger? The tree itself is some odd composite with Oakish bark, Ashish habit, Beechish leaves and an improbable pollard point at more than twice human height. It radiates the commonsense hostility of a technical diagram, while having all the chummy familiarity of a Ladybird picture book. It hints at drastic solutions, but the section on how To render a dangerous tree safe is tantalisingly brief.

Hazardous trees are a massive concern at the moment of course. You'll have heard about the Sheffield Tree Massacre. The methodology applied to modern trees is a little different; originally the 5Ds, now expanded into full 6D. Is the tree:

  • Dead
  • Dying
  • Diseased
  • Dangerous
  • Damaging
  • Discriminatory 

If so, it's hazardous, and is taken down. But here's a glance back to simpler days:

 The Recognition of Hazardous Trees - The Forestry Commission.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

under the snow

My ridiculous, tiny cherry tree is already in flower. And now, under a layer of fleece, of course. The sting in the tail of February is a sharp one this year. Although the snow looks trivial, each afternoon it is melting, a little, and each evening it is refreezing into a black-ice jacket over everything. The Passion Vine (under fleece, behind the greenhouse) won't be happy. The nectarine and peach (under fleece, against the fence) won't be happy. And then there's the olive, the grape vine, the fig and even an overwintering Petunia in a hanging pot - what will live until the cold snap fades?

A few years ago there was a week at -10°. The Thames froze across down at Donnington Bridge and I lost a lot of plants, including a treasured olive tree. This year isn't as cold. So far....