Friday, 31 October 2014

my first native hedge is all grown up

I'm a big fan of hedges. and it's probably the Ladybird Books that are to blame. Ladybird Books were a big deal when I was growing up, and they were full of ecology; trees, the countryside and even an entire book on hedges. When I moved into a house with a rough patchwork of fences, I went to the internet and bought a native hedge. It arrived in the depths of winter, unpromising twigs wrapped in black plastic. Look at it now:

It's a deliberate height to screen, being an urban garden, but it's hit that awkward point where it sees the possibility of trees in its future and starts shooting for the sky every moment your back is turned. You can just hack it back with an industrial strength trimmer of course (that is the country way) but you can also do what I'm doing here, which is taking out branches that are trunking and leaving the thinner, bushier growth. Where you cut, you get a puff of fresh growth, so lots of cuts at different heights fill out the hedge and make it bushier. Kind of like layers in a haircut, but for hedges.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

the doomed seedlings of october

The autumn is so warm this year, that the seeds are spouting everywhere. I found two tiny seedlings struggling out of raw tarmac this week, doubtless with grand plans of growing vast and cracking the tow-path wide open. Respect to their ambition, but if they can't get beyond their seed leaves before the first frost, that's not going to happen. In fact, between dry cold, wet cold, hard rain, frost and low light levels, it's probably not going  to happen at all. Poor little things.

Although ... I'm guessing they're Red Valerian, like the seedlings in this nearby grime-encrusted drain cover, and they grow like a scorch and can find space in any crack. So maybe I'll find them next spring, cracking the path from side to side.

There's still time for planting this year - broadbeans, garlic and onions outside, annuals into the beds and perennials in the greenhouse, sweet peas in the growhouse. Not all seedlings will be doomed, particularly those I have in the greenhouse or under fleece or cloche.

Cloche, cloche. I mean those plastic trays fruit come in from the supermarket.

Friday, 24 October 2014

October is ivy

The meeting is over and I'm coming home. Light levels are plummeting as if the earth is a lift dropping into the earth. I've decided to drop by a few chores on the way and I slip down an urban street in the twilight fringes of the retail park, large houses in various states of repair, some scattered with political slogans, others growing ripe crops of rotting vehicles. But on the whole the houses are becoming more grand; drives going down, windows gussying up, paint smartening, front gardens straightening. Two gardens this year have fallen in love with dahlias, and the remnants of their passions are still bright as jelly beans and plastic toys in their front gardens, waving improbable tentacular heads.

At the end of the street the garden shades into the park, mature plane trees rising up like a rich green curtain, scattered with gold and flecked with brown, and the fence against the park, heavy with the flower heads of ivy. October is ivy, walking through its thick vanillary cloying scent and halo of buzzing drunken insects. The original trees in the park date back to the estate; 1920s, 1930s, and if the Poplars had not been pollarded almost to half their potential height they would be dangerously vast. In the triangle described by the grandfather trees, a modern play area clusters around one of the vast felled trunks, left for games of King of the Castle. Here and there the autumn blaze of mid-sized urban trees breaks up the green, Maples and Liquidamber each with an attendant sniff of evening walking dogs.

Into the shops for the chores. Not successful. But by the time I came back out again, night was falling, and the front gardens were dim and shadowy, scattered with cats of varying friendliness, and the air smelt of wet leaves, damp soil, and the rain that would soon be falling.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

All hail the semi-hardy self seeders

Just a few weeks after I found petunias self seeded in building perimeters within urban gust distance of balconies and municipal planting, a rather more rurally located friend found, inamongst the other joys of the British hedgerow, a self-seeded Lobelia.

What's going on? Apart from anything else, all the hanging baskets in the city centre this year were revolutionary red and feisty orange (with the brightest examples reserved for the troughs outside County Hall), yet here they are, reverted to white, pink and purple allsorts:

Part of the mystery is the very warm autumn we are enjoying. This means I'm still clinging to hope for my grapes, but also that lots of plants are trying to squeeze in an extra generation before the frosts. The second is that Lobelia comes true from seed, and Petunias don't. Learning for me? Buy some bedding and see if it'll do its stuff in the cracks on the patio. I'm not the world's biggest Petunia fan, but for these hardy inhabitants of marginally hospitable cracks, I make an exception.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Note to self : get more dinosaurs

Inspiration of the day: Platform by Matt Girling at Modern Art Oxford. Makes me feel like I need more dinosaurs.

I like those curvy contoured shelves, and the tripod marks on the floor to enable your stop-motion projects. Screens probably best kept for indoor use only. The dinosaurs have all been painted in plain matt paint, which added an element of quest to the I've got one of those! game.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Autumn comes to the garden

It's getting dark out there, but the flowers are still in full swing. Not a breath of frost, soil still warm, and the wind is not even that cold. There's even another tomato coming where I didn't quite clear away a plant. The grapes are still trying to ripen. It's been a rich year, but slow. I'm not sure I'll get the grapes to wine, for all that the vine has been prolific.

That Euonymous Fortune Gold isn't the one in my garden -- it's a front garden down the street. Lots of them have berried spectacularly this year, possibly even mine -- I've not checked. Fuschia "Space Shuttle" is mine, all mine though; I'd given up on it flowering this year but it's up and running now! I picked up the White Scaevola as plugs for a few quid in the Raven's sale, and every flower has been perfect. I even gave a few away. Cyclamen; irresistible at this time of year, with their petals wrapped like umbrellas.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Cracked and got tulips

It's been a bad day! It's not my fault! Also these two were completely irrestible.

Tulip "Aladdin" - lily flowered, rich red, feathered with gold.
Tulip "Purple Prince" - velvety purple single triumph early

Be still my heart.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

What's a Georgian Urn?

I musts confess that I find Georgian Urns a bit fussy. They also always look too small. How can anything live in such a small space? And also, surely, every time it rains, they must flood? Still, I see them doing extraordinary things in fancy gardens, so possibly you just learn the skills to keep them working. That or just refresh the plants, weekly, which is possibly what's going on with this very stylish example I found in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Loving the paint job, but I'm guessing that's cast metal, so include also temperature swings in the list of problems challenges to be met.

I may have to start taking a similarly disposable attitude to me poor old Pot O' Doom. I pulled out the freebie Rose of Sharon which had been testing the limits of its plant killing capabilities (it only had a few leaves left anyway, so, very capable) and tossed in a few cyclamen, as winter bedding. But if it's going to be showing off temporary plants, then all manner of things are possible (though admittedly not that many at this time of year -- pansies? Maybe that Wallflower everyone raves about?). But come next year, the sky's the limit. Cannas for example -- like this one I spotted over a wall while stopped at the traffic lights (in the passenger seat) on the way out of Portsmouth. Canna Pretoria, AKA Bengal Tiger I think. Va va voom.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Other people's gardens: that's a nice hedge

I had to stand in the middle of a (side) road to take this, so the photograph is not excellent. However the communal gardens outside these flats is a very nice bit of shrubbery!

Each shrub, though it has gown into its neighbour, is treated as an individual, and given a smooth cut in an unmatched curvy shape. It looks like an abstract landscape; a series of soft green curves set low enough not to obscure light from the lower floor, but wide enough to make a proper barrier. The dense-growing hedging plants along the front have taken it the best but the more open shrubs behind are starting to join in the party. The whole thing feels a bit fortressy, but in a smooth way; not attacking the street, more encouraging it to slide off the property. Those dense thick bushes are good for tiny birds, too; in fact, yes. That's what it looks like, a Zaha Hadid fortress for sparrows.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

A walk through the village

I like to walk somewhere every day; days I'm in the office for the day. my commute has it covered, but when I'm working from home, and the most I have to do is nip down to the shops, I have to get creative. So I go to the shop up the hill rather than the one on the corner, and walking back from there I notice an alleyway leading off the A road and into the Village.

The Village is old. It has a Saxon arch on the church doorway, and ancient trees shade the houses. There are fat loafy cottages in it with thatched roofs (now subdivided for letting to well-behaved professionals) and there are still paddocks, with sheep and horses, although the barns have been converted into business workspace long since. As the city steadily swamped the village, it clung onto its village nature by refusing through roads. Instead there are pedestrian paths, and into the village I went, along one of these.

Behind the high old stone walls covered with Erigeron and Red Valerian, pergolas and arches were just visible in the gardens covered with fancy clematis and  Thunbergia, the occasional tall Hollyhock or Sunflower  peering over the walls. The far end of the passageway dropped me back in the tidy lower end of the estate beyond, with front gardens full of cats, cars and tidy specimen shrubs. At the end of a cul de sac, the houses became a little more rambly and overgrown and then a steep passageway fenced on both sides, bordered by nettles and overshadowed by dark trees took me back down to the village corner, where it joins the main road. On the turn, a row of expensive houses have become almost a traffic island and their gardens express a sort of variability of affluence; in one garden, tumbledown landscaping and a smart Monkey Puzzle tree bounded by ancient Lonerica hedges slashed back to the brown; in the next, a tidy drive bordered by smart, colourful semi-professional planting; in the next, dark parched ground, stacked timber under a single, massive, mature tree and a tickle of clematis on a rusted arch; in the next a Chelsea-perfect courtyard flaunting prestige shrubs, deep rasied beds full of big tropical leaves and colourful Katsura trees.

As I emerge onto the main road, I take a sharp left to cut through the playing field, past the first of the houses of our estate. The front gardens have the eccentricity that starts to emerge as houses get closer to allotments (these are on the other side of the playing field) with houses proudly sharing climbing roses and Wisteria with their neighbours, competitions for the fanciest front shrubs in full flush and the presence of obsessively tended sunflowers marking out the houses with children. 

There are dogs on the meadow, chasing after balls. As a watch one, in his enthusiasm to beat a very fast spaniel to the ball, does a double sideways roll on the soft grass, bounces to his feet and trots off, triumphant.