Friday, 27 June 2014

In praise of Neon Geraniums

When I was younger I worked (sometimes) in the garden of our posh near neighbours. They had a walled garden, and a flower garden, and a garden with a swimming pool, and a orchard with three grumpy geese and a big beech hedge (they used to pay me to cut that, with hand shears, which might have been what got me into hand-cutting hedges). They also had a peach house, against one of their walls, and although I only seldom went in it (just to pick up or return tools) I can remember the smell with exact precision. It didn't smell of peaches. It smelt of geraniums*.

Their geraniums were spidery things; small red flowers and deeply cut leaves, with a sharp musky fragrance that seemed more animal than vegetable. As if set by that first experience, any greenhouse, growhouse, garden shelter or cold frame I am using, big or small, temporary or permanent, doesn't seem finished without a geranium. I buy them from the bedding tables at the garden centre, picking the brightest and brashest plants. In the greenhouse they last a few years, and as the plants get older and weaker, their colour seems to intensify, until they glow against the green.

*More correctly and usually nowadays called Pelargoniums, to differentiate them from perennial border Geraniums.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Green roofs don't have to be virtuous

I like the idea of green roofs but too often the results are a bit... worthy. How to make a green roof that doesn't trumpet its own righteousness?

Maybe a face:


Maybe tropical

But we just have moss.

Click through to see more photos by these photographers.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Jasmine is June

I had a package to pick up from the postal depot. Google places it at 1.6 miles from me (give or take; it can't see a few of the shortcuts), perfect for a sunny evening stroll, past all the front gardens.

Near where I live, gardens have a functional feel; nearly everyone needs the parking in their front garden, and accordingly they are paved, gravelled, gone to hardstanding. Pots of petunias snuggle against warm brick walls and roses and clematis climb up the walls, and vigorous self seeders ooze out of every crack and crevice but this is just the lighthearted effusiveness of a working garden, with jobs to do; reduce the insurance premiums, kennel the wheelie bins, provide an important cat sunning area. The occasional mossy wilderness behind a vast privet hedge (brown with its annual hack) marks the jobless gardens, ivied and brambled.

As I cross the road and head up the hill, the gardens get bigger and I begin to see my first Jasmine bushes. Jasmine is June, and the scent is sweet in the air.  Here and there, I spot overexcited perennials running riot through the borders (flumped geraniums and lolling lysimachia), and shrubs falling to the first dry spells (a dead maple outcompeted by its less aesthetic but more vigorous sibling) but mostly the gardens are tidy, clipped, well turned out. I walk past a man watering his Jasmine bush, calm among the globes of his alliums. Even the gardens with no time to be gardened are trying hard, bedding plants pressed firmly into thin dry beds; abrupt arrangements of rocks and hardy, maintenance free shrubs.

Towards the bypass, the gardens start to become more haphazard and chaotic; here a front garden where everything is in the process of being hacked back with some handy implement (I would guess one which has nothing to do with gardening), there a garden colonised by a vast invasion of orangey day lillies, here a back garden out front, with a lady taking out spoiled strawberries for her bird table. A huge clump of Osteospermum has been  growing here for years, establishing outposts in other gardens, self-seeding up and down the street. Its billowy purple clouds have spread further since last year.

Right by the underpass, a huge and tempting back garden has topped its fence with barbed wire. Roses grow through it here and there, nodding huge blooms in the evening breeze, and the green tufts of Firethorn has scrambled up to join them, nature's barbed wire kinking round the human kind.

I collect my parcel from the municipal shrubs around the depot, then head back, selecting the exact same route, but the other side of the road. As I slip back through the footpath at the brow of the hill, I glance up and see a Red Kite's nest, stark against the sky in one of the big pines.

There are new benches on this side of the road, and I stop at one, to admire the cars coming up the hill and play a round of scrabble. Further down the hill I find a municipal tree dropping ripe cherries, and take a handful home. The sun is still bright.

At home I head for the watering can, and spend half an hour watering.

Friday, 13 June 2014

The White Rhododendron

I bought my White Rhododendron sometime last century from the check-out at Marks & Spencers. I'd been in buying bras (a dismal experience) and popped into the food hall to cheer myself up. There, rabidly reduced at the checkout, were a tumble of nondescript twigs marked "Colour, Vibrant, Year on Year" (and, in smaller letters, "Perennial Shrubs"). I abandoned all thoughts of fancy chocolate and took home a White Rhododendron ("Elegant, Timeless, Bright"), thereby committing myself to lugging a colossal planter full of ericaceous compost through a series of rental homes, but worth it, I thought, as I nipped into the ironmongers for the smallest sack of compost and the lightest pot I could find, as I wheeled the lot home on my bike, for my beautiful white rhododendron. And then it flowered:

OMG Rhododendron

That's how it looks now, not then; back then, excited to be in its first real home, its first flush of flowers were a screaming Barbie pink. I suppose I could have taken it back, but by then it was establishing, and there were the first hints of the huge beautiful patio monster it would become. I forgave it the pink, and bought it some food, and every spring  it brings me the bright. Red, for rhodies as for humans, comes through iron loading, and I feed it well throughout the summer. And then the cats have to put up with this:

rocking the look

Both it and old cat are pushing twenty now, and still looking good!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Pepperpot Bees

Last year a solitary bee made the contents of this plant pot its mission. The pot was hanging from the apex of my greenhouse roof and contained a cheerful windowsill chilli pepper, which flower and fruited and provided chillies for my stir fries while all the while an industrious little Leafcutter Bee came and went.  
look at those nests!

I saw the adult going into the holes at the bottom of the plant pot and briefly felt nervous about watering the pot, but it didn't seem to put the bee off in the slightest.

last year's bee nests access holes nests in the compost
There was nothing left in the little tubes (they are made of Amelanchier leaves) when I was disposing of last year's pots at the weekend (having let them sit all winter). I never saw any of the young bees emerge, but hopefully they did fine.

The same pot's back into the greenhouse, this time loaded up with a Nosferatu. Bees welcome.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

In praise of Yellow Flag Irises

The yellow flags are out along the riverbank at the moment. They were planted in big native-planted reed bundles put down when the riverbank was rebuilt not to slip into the river any more, a slightly sad process which included the demise of some large trees. However, it's not all about size, and we never had so many Irises before. The reed bundles also contain beauties like native balsams and the ducks and moorhens seem to like the cover and dibbling opportunities, so thumbs up as a solid concrete bank softener.

Yellow flags are big, of course. Conceivably, I could grow a single clump of yellow flag in my water planters. But the rest of what's in them would probably have to go.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Boycott luxury teabags

In the end I cracked, and gardened in the rain. I got soggy, and I got muddy, but all the plants were down or potted on or Chelsea snapped (my garden's a bit dense for chopping, so I tend to just snap off half the stems - any flowers or buds taken out by accident go into my garden vase). While I was digging holes for New Guinea Busy Lizzies and a colossal Borage (my third attempt to grow one -- one went to slugs, one was outcompeted by a geranium) I found that some elements of my spring top-dressing of home-made compost had not been dragged underground by the worms:

menace 2 the compost bin

Yes, absolutely, those are tea bags. Tea bags, the mainstay of any British compost bin. But not just any teabag, no. These are luxury pyramid teabags. They feel slightly silky to the touch, they came filled with premium large leaf tea, and foolishly I thought that they would be biodegradable. Not so. They see to be about as biodegradable as a pair of tights, and are now officially a menace to the compost bin.