Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The post-Christmas purples

I've got that post-Christmas feeling. Lazy and languid, more inclined to look at the outside world than get out into it. I'm in a very pleasant sofa-space right now; overfed, pampered, fussed and spoiled. Cat and chocolates easily to hand. I feel imperial, but towards the fall of the Empire; richly lazing in my ruined environment, replete and delighted, but haunted by a slight purple wistfulness. The end is coming; new year and the new term approaching like the unstoppable rise of decaying trade routes, annoying warlords and squabbling inheritors. The raven calls across the falling embers of 2015... and quoth the Raven: here is my faaaabulous 2016 seed catalogue.

There's no shortage of beautiful purples. Here are my top eleven purple seeds, plus a stray corm, because Christmas.
  • Zinnia Elegans Giant Purple Prince - proper Imperial Purple, and likely to be a proper fusspot that needs repeatedly staking. Ruffleicious.
  • Silene Armeria Electra - the humble Catchfly gets an imperial makeover. A proper rebel - likely to prove invasive, and may revert to its pinker origins.
  • Opium Poppy Blackcurrant Fizz - everyone's favourite fling and forget seeds in a ridiculously ruffled blackcurrant pop-party dress. OTT, bonkers, beautiful.
  • Shizanthus Dr Badger - little orchidaceous stunners with petals like tiny lilac butterfly wings. This variety has patches so dark they're almost black, hence the badger.
  • Phlox 21st Century Blue - foxes the digital cameras with its incredible deep indigo flowers, little orange eyes peek out of the centre of the flowers. Proper showgarden.
  • Sweet Pea Blue Velvet - ridiculous watered-silk ball-dress petals, heavily scented, unfussy, huge wows. You can plant them today if you've got a bit of shelter.
  • Scabious Burgundy Beau - Wine-dark pincushion plant. Looks at its best decorated with a small bumble bee. Lovely white stamens like tiny fairy lights. Fireworks.
  • Purple Cobaea - The cup-and-saucer vine's purple variety is green on the outside, lilac on the inside, like a fancy couture skirt. A scrambler, but classy.
  • Larkspur Mauve - poisonous, fussy, fancy and almost certainly irresistible to slugs. A good looking prestige item available as plugs later for when your seeds fail.
  • Hibiscus Tronium - The flower-of-an-hour has a dark maroon eye in a sweet white flower with glossy shiny dark foliage. Uplifting.
  • Foxglove - nothing fancy, just the hedgerow plant; a drunken leaner, annoyingly biannual so it will spend a good year sprawling dull leaves over everything until it achieves dominion or leaves your garden. Perfect opponent for your Hollyhocks.
  • Dahlia Edge of Joy - and here's the stray corm - a pale, fashionable, bee-friendly semi-single flower streaked through with a brushstroke of purple. Gorgeous.
Of course I've made myself a firm promise that I'll use up the seeds I already have before buying any more, so this is strictly fantasy shopping. 

We-ell. Maybe just the badger.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

A host of Golden Santas

So, er Merry Christmas!?

I photographed these at Solstice in Cambridge. You can't see the bees, but there were bees.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Spring 2016 Collection

Here come the emails! Are you suffering retail withdrawal now that Christmas shopping is over? Don't worry. Spring is coming... and with spring, comes the new spring collection.

I'm not baking a cake this year (and I've come to terms with the shame of that) so yes I have time - for a quick break from Christmas to see what's strutting down the garden path for 2016.

First up - the unexpected colour explosions collection. Think you know Amaranthus? You don't. Amaranthus has had a multicolour makeover. Amaranthus is a food crop - Fat Spike was probably an attempt to boost production that turned unexpectedly decorative. Some crazy has made a multigrafted Brugmansia - three colours on one plant; and if insufficiently dazzled, psychedelic bedding that will also please the bees; Calibrachoa Candy Bouquet and Bidens Beedance.

Next up - the global warming collection: can you grow exotic red-flowered sprawling/climbing shrub Glory Pea, aka the Lobster's Claw outside in the UK? We think so! So why not give it a go? Will your Mexican Dayflower (so achingly blue) survive the winter? Mulch it! It'll be fine! Will it be bright enough for Ancistus Australis, aka the Blue Angel's Trumpet? Worth a try! And what about your very own Frangipane? Give the British bees a thrill with something really exotic.

Finally - the dark collection. Flowers for gothic drama, with betrayals and beheadings. Chop them down and put them in your cruellest vase, while reflecting that gardening is all about death, really: Snapdragon Black Prince, Eucomis Burgundy, dark and stabby - the sickly pallor of green Galtonia, the terrifying Fuchsia Voodoo and a properly dark Petunia - Table Red. Topping it off; the frankly terrifying Starfish Lily with its weird brown bobbly bits. Nothing is mentioned of its scent, but I note from elsewhere on the internet that it is nicknamed Carrion Lily, so not one to plant anywhere you'll be eating...

This mild winter, it feels like spring is here already. But this collection says 2016 will be hot, bright, vivid, decadently scented - tropical spring.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Unwise Christmas purchasing decisions

I stand up. I raise my hand. I admit I was seduced by the pretty pictures in the Christmas catalogue and thought, oooh, pretty flowers for Christmas. What a great idea for my sister/mum/aunt/etc. Yes! And I ordered Christmas plants for delivery. To me, rather than their recipients, thank goodness.

Christmas Begonia disappointing amaryllis
Hibiscus Christmas Begonia

Two battered parcels turned up (out of three) and were left in the rain by the wheelie bin, one upside down, despite the prominent "this way up" sign. The third turned up the following day, having clearly been found under a pile of something. That's it bottom right, with its distinctive "sat on" look. The petals on the Begonias are browning, done in by the cold or the rain. The Hibiscus flowers are fretting and fading before they're open. Here's hoping one of them will be fit to gift by Christmas.

This year's Amaryllis (top right) was as usual found at a checkout (this time I went upmarket - Sainsburys!) but it's not happy. You can see the brown rot on the bulb. Still that bud should make a flower at some point.

I think I'll not bother with any more flowers this Christmas. Fairy lights all the way.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Trees of the winter city

The fairy lights are on the trees now, but my camera can only see them sometimes. Top left there, mistletoe lights are visible as a black bundle of twigs, the lights disappeared into the sky. In these four photos, Witney is grey and Oxford is blue, but all of the fairy lights on the trees are tastefully white.

decorated tree Christmas Lights 2
Christmas Lights 1 trees in witney

The seasonal interest on the tow-path is of a different nature. I've observed Psychotic Robin (below) picking a fight with a magpie; here he is picking a fight with me.

the boldest robin

Honestly you weigh less than an orange

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Going to ground

The garden is full of jobs to do. Plant the bulbs, clear the leaves from the patio, strip the grapes from the vine, cut back the raspberries, pot up the apple tree, thin the columbines, trim back the passion vine... but actually I find myself looking out of the window and thinking of new ways to curl up indoors and stay warm. Like a badger I have gone to ground; not proper hibernating, because every weak ray of sunshine has me rushing outside to synthesise some emergency Vitamin D, but a sort of bedding down, crawling under the blankets and the cat and drinking hot drinks to soothe the minor winter ailments that seem to run back-to-back nowadays.

Like the badger, I am also grumpy. Annoyed with this year's Amaryllis, for taking too long to sprout; irritated with next door's twisted willow, not for the leaves (a blanket for my flower bed) but because of the endless fiddly annoying twiglets it drops with them; impatient with the raspberries and grapes, still throwing out fruit which has soured and dampened with autumn until nothing wants to eat them, least of all me.

The orange aubergines were too bitter to eat; their tattered remnants are waiting to be cleared away. I might grow them next year as decoration, but they're never going to be food, sadly. The last of my tomatoes are ripening on the windowsill, astonishingly sharp-sweet under their tough skins. I have cyclamen and heather waiting for me to decide where to put them.

But all I want to do is curl up inside and sleep.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Container clematis - go again or change tack?

This year, my Clematis Fragrant Oberon fell to the vine weevil menace. Oberon is a relatively new plant, but I fell for the tiny green intensely scented flowers and the glossy fussy lacy foliage (it's evergreen, so the foliage matters) right away.

While I'm prepared to admit that it is possible for Oberon to grow in the ground, mine took objection to the soil or the shade or the competition and sulked desperately until I hoiked him out and put him in a good long pot and gave him a little pyramid to smother. Smother it he did; but every three months I needed to remove some wilt or trim some pests or (groan) drag him out of the pot entirely for a full de-weevilling.

This spring I was too busy or possibly out of patience with the plant we now called Tragic Oberon. He didn't get his roots combed for weevils, and subsequently in the first warm wet snap I gave the (now drooping) plant a little tug and up it came, roots all nibbled to nothing. Alas poor Oberon.

Since then, the pot's sat empty (well it's been colonised by some strawberries, Herb Robert and Armpit Plant) and its little pyramid has been sat in the shed. Which leads us to the question, try again with another Oberon? Or find another thing just as good? Oberon has a big sister now - Nunn's Gift - or I could go blue, if I want to keep it Clematis and fragrant, with many more options if I'm prepared to drop the fragrance.

Of course, any Clematis I buy will still be vulnerable to weeviling. There are things that aren't, but it's limiting, and I'm not going to cover that little pyramid with ivy. We've got enough of that already!    

Thursday, 3 December 2015

first frost on the garden

First frost is here, though this antirrhinum did not get the memo. Over a week since I took this photo, and it's still going strong.

first frost

Those plants you think of as tender, annuals, some keep lingering. The last time planted Alyssum, for example, was four years ago, and the same plants are still happily growing. It's not merrily self-seeding through my patio, as I once hoped it might (neither is the Erigeron or Campanula) but my garden is a hard place for seeds to start, between the cold, the dark and the slugs.

I've now definitively missed the autumn perennial planting window for 2015. But mild days have returned, so I may be able to slip my current batch of seedlings (foxgloves, verbascum and, er, something else in a similar height about which the only thing I can remember is that the cultivar name is Red Rocket) into the soil for them to start spreading their roots out in time for next spring. They're all tall, so they could do with the extra time, and since the first two frosts, the weather has been sweet and mild.

There will be a certain amount of clearing to do first, though, as Fennel, Aquilegia, and Alpine Strawberry have all run riot through the bed, and the Alkanet and Geraniums are asserting their "spreading, clump-forming" nature.

And I might slip in a few suitable seeds under the blanket of willow leaves and spent compost I'll cover everything with afterwards. You never know.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

the hanging basket

Some years ago, I lived in a shared house with a tiny kitchen where I didn't want to give over any counter space to an electric kettle. So I bought stove-top kettles, then going through a spatter of fashionability following the appearance of the Alessi Whistling Bird Kettle in films like Shopping, cheap but appealing items bought from our local department store Boswells ("everything for students and everyone else"), replaced with cheerful regularity each time one sprung a leak or warped so hard in the gas flame it couldn't balance on the stove any more, or boiled dry fatally while I was busy finishing another page or staring at birds in the garden. One of my housemates, frustrated by this parade of inadequate consumer items, brought home, with a flourish, a decent kettle. Le bloody Creuset, in fact:

hanging basket

Practical, robust, chunky and functional, in a sort of old-worldy way, it was almost the anti-Alessi. The sort of kettle your mum would tut at the price of but secretly approve of.

I hated it. I used it, but I hated it. The thick metal was slow to heat, the whistle was carefully set to be pleasant rather than piercing, and it was heavy, heavy with its bottom weighted water and that high handle that always meant I was overstretching my arm.

The day I came home from the shops to find it glowing red, the whistle melted, and the inside bone dry, and hoiked it off the hob and dropped it from a badly-burned hand onto the floor, chipping the overheated enamel, was the day I realised stove-top kettles were over, for me; and indeed though the kettle was still usable (being shockingly robust) and used by my housemates (who preferred it) I brought in a cheap plastic kettle that turned itself off to save us all from my absent-mindedness.

The kettle, as high-quality consumer goods tend to, continued to pursue us, after its original purchaser had emigrated, through the tiny shed-like starter home, after we'd moved into a property and it was then, when I first had to take a drill to my walls that I realised that with a little careful clamping, one might be able to drill drainage holes in a fancy le Creuset kettle.

It's not the best planter - the narrow top gets no rain, so the plants tend to be thin and unsubstantial, like steam from a kettle. But that works; and I always have a hanging basket to hang on that bracket which inevitably you find, next to your door, when you move in, waiting for whatever the next residents think should greet you, morning and night, family and visitor, next to the door, when you come home.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

half an hour before dusk

We've hit that time of year. Late afternoon and you realise it's half an hour before full darkness and if you intended to do anything in the garden it's now or not, and given that there's going to be a hard frost that night (the soft one having taken out the top foliage of the dahlia and the begonia the night before) then it's now, or no more (abutilon) (agapanthus) (nectarine) etc.

I decided that the small stone fruit trees were too heavy for the greenhouse this year. They've gone into the shed (it's got a perspex roof). The Fuchsia were all looking quite rough, not having liked the previous night's touch of frost at all; into the greenhouse with them, to nestle up against the chillies (there are too many to come inside).

One last desperate check round for anything forgotten; a quick check of labels on the fancy plants. A dither over the South African Heathers and the Tree Fern (out for now - may come in). The sky darkening fast, the garden still a chaos of weeds and autumn leaves and hands that need decontaminating before shaping the bread (on its one hour rest).

My poor grape vine. Huge bunches of nearly ripened grapes and yellow, tattered leaves. I fear it will all go into the compost this year.

Next up: winter container activity, including potting on the apple tree.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

first frost and the strangest autumn colour

First frost is forecast. The temperature is plunging. The condensation is crawling up the windows and the leaves from the trees are scattered across the patio. All, that is, except for Dwarf Peach Crimson Bonfire, which despite the chilling of the days, is still clinging to the late green leaves which have been the signature of this autumn.

The season has been so warm that leaves have been clinging to their chlorophyll, ending up chequered and harlequinned, autumn colour striped and patched on still-photosynthesising leaves.

leaves against the river smoke bush 1
smoke bush 2 blueberry leaf

The peach and the nectarine and the olive and the fig must be manoevered (sack truck to the rescue) into sheltered spaces for winter coddling. Abutilons x 2 and Fuchsias x ?8 must go into the greenhouse, along with the Tweedia and the Agapanthus (which this year sulked and gave me a single sullen flower).

This is what must happen, preferably before the first frost, but almost certainly after it, in a tearing hurry, sparked by the sudden collapse of the final begonia.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

coming indoors

The chillies have started to suffer end of stem rot. The shoots and tips suddenly wither as the plant auto-amputates the cold-shocked stem, which then sprouts a fur of soft grey mould. The effect is very strange, like a special effect abruptly applied, like a zombie plant limb. Sometimes an entire flower goes in full bloom, the little lanterns suddenly browned and sprouting the instamould seemingly in moments.

So I've brought two in, the largest and most prolific of the Vampire/Nosferatu (I planted both black varieties, and am honestly not sure which is which) and one of the Kashmiri chillies planted from a bag of delicious dried chillies sourced from The Eden Project. We're growing them for culinary reasons, but I suspect they will not be as nice, grown in my back garden (verandah now). They're both still in their outdoor pots while they acclimatise (the Kashmiri sharing its pot with a scented geranium, which is loving the sudden warmth!) but once I'm sure the warm shock isn't going to kill them I'll move them to their winter homes. Vampire had a zombie twig (now removed) so that's the more vulnerable of the two plants, I'd say. There are another five or six chilli plants out in the greenhouse - but they can't all come in. Can they?

I've closed down all of the begonias and dahlias too, and tucked them into their dry, spent compost for the winter, bar the tree Begonia which is still (improbably) flowering in the corner of the Patio. It'll need to be taken into its winter home this weekend though, I think. It's getting cooler and way wetter. I'm almost nervous about how big the corm will be, but I can always stow it in a washing up bowl or something if none of the pots are big enough.The ginger lily went in at the same time. It was a bad summer for tender bulbs; not a single tiger lily flowered. Typically this was the year I'd decided to send Tiger lilies to all my sisters... and it just wasn't the weather for them.

I yanked up all the Zinnias bar one and into the compost they went. Some year I'll get them out into the garden.

Then to the grapes. I picked a bowlful (they have oh-so-nearly ripened) but they were too acidic for snacking, and I ended up putting them in the compost. On the vine; big black bunches of fat grapes, tattered yellow autumn leaves. I probably have enough for wine again, but I'm barely drinking at the moment and lack enthusiasm. Maybe I can find someone else who wants the grapes.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

dyed lillies and the evolution of a bouquet

My nephew and niece bought me flowers. Can you guess which bunch is from which? You'd be right! This photo doesn't quite do the screaming luridity of the blooms justice. When I was carrying them back to the office, people across the street were staring. I'm quite pleased by the concept; take a slightly morbid flower (the funereal white lily) and render it instantly child-friendly by dint of dipping it in some dye. The dye flushes the petals (and to a lesser extent the leaves) and hey-presto, the Toys-Я-Us bouquet is born.

there's a colour found in nature

They went to the kitchen table, where the morning sun would catch them and light them up like a World of Barbie torch. This is a low cat traffic area (lilies are toxic to all pets) but she's been known to hop up onto the table, so I carefully trimmed off the stamens as each flower opened to avoid her getting sprinkled with pollen and cleaning it off into her stomach. She's not a foliage nibbler, thankfully.

domestic scene

After a week or so, the flowers stopped opening and the leaves started dropping. Not bad going for a bouquet that's had so much done to it. The final phase of all my bouquets is to go outside, so I can enjoy the last shreds of brightness from the flowers without having to smell their rotting stems. The slugs and snails will eat their way through all this, lining their stomachs with pink and blue dye.

the final hurrah

If the wind doesn't take it first.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

the fading of the light

Autumn is right here now, but the flowers are still blooming. Some, like the campanula (top right) are having a second flush, while others (like the fuchsia) had a late start. Most (like the pansy and the fire heath (top left)) are showing wear. The seasons are beginning to grind them down. They are slowing; more settling, less growing.

fire heath campanula lonerica tomato! fuchsia shredded pansy
Then there's the fruit. Everything with berries is doing well this year, and my two dimensional lonerica (I'm growing it up a fence and snipping off everything that sticks out) is no exception. The raspberries are also doing well, though they've begun to taste a bit of rain and the damp, and of maybe getting a bit sick after eating them.

I grew the orange pears (it's a fancy heritage cherry tomato variety) in the flower beds after I ran out of space in the greenhouse. I always overshoot on my tomato seedlings and end up filing a few among the roses and geraniums. These did badly - only turning orange as they went rotten or were nibbled by slugs - but it's hard to know if I should blame the bad weather. Nobody's tomatoes did well this year.

With the exception of a mysterious yellow heritage tomato. My sister in law gave me a few plants and they blasted through the manky summer and threw out a bumper crop. They're not the very best flavour but they're solid gold reliable, and the best chance I've seen so far of a quality border tomato. I've saved some seeds and we'll see how it goes.

Friday, 6 November 2015

building that biome

I've had a badly upset stomach this week. It coincided with the bread first being a bit squishy, and then getting mould. It seems that after ten months of regular baking, we have now created a steady, predictable environment, where those bacteria that thrive on bread can grow, expand and proliferate. And so we have rope, bane of the baker; and mould, monster of the store cupboard. A bacterial biome that conspires to take our food and use it before we can.

I visited my old place at the weekend. I planted a lot when I got there, mostly because the garden had no good borders. So I put in a front hedge, a box hedge, a fuchsia hedge, a native hedge, a rosa rugosa hedge and over the bit where we sometimes got people vaulting over and scampering through the property - a thorn hedge with firethorn and Berberis for berries and colour. A few took quickly, but the Fuchsia sulked for years. It's only recently that it's started to screen the ugly concrete wall it was planted to hide, and once again I'm inclined to blame the biome. All this planting preceded the easy availability of rootgrow, so everything had to build its own relationships with whatever it could find in the way of mycorrhizal helpers. The fuchsia, planted right next to a recently built concrete wall, had the hardest job on its hands, followed by the Rugosa, planted in a narrow trench cut through a field of very vigorous grass. Once the trees (I also put a cherry out back and a magnolia front) got big enough to start spreading the joy, then everything woody benefited. Plains gave way to shrubland. The biome changed.

Looking down at the patio today, Tim commented that we should clean it next spring. Our neighbours have a large steam cleaner that does do a super job and makes everything look sparkly fresh. But the patio too is a biome - rock pavement - and has its microscopic inhabitants. Algae, lichens, insects, moss; the columns of gnats that swirl above it, tempting in bats and dragonflies; the colonies of worms and ants that live beneath; the woodlice and, yes, even the slugs and snails. All of its invaders and inhabitants.

Gardeners build biomes and break them, shift them and change them. Our humaniform biomes sometimes fold out perfectly; other times, they seem permanently askew, and hard to fix. In my garden, for example, the slugs and snails are too plentiful, and there's an overplus of ants. Would steaming the patio help? Or would it just drive the survivors all the harder onto my young plants?

Maybe we'll find out this spring.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

the fog comes down

November is here, and it is so warm that almost nothing has stopped flowering. A few years ago, I would photograph November flowers; tiny frail things, defiant against the cold. I was so delighted whenever I found one!

november flowers

This year, I am walking past gardens where the ruins of dahlias and the wreckage of chrysanthemums are everywhere, nodding richly in the mild November breeze. The unfalling leaves are checkered with chlorophyll unwilling to leave while there is still a breath of warmth in the air; a last sweet shock of Indian summer.

In my garden, all the HHAs are still wildly blooming, even proper tropics like the lantana. The golden raspberries are still a-fruiting, I have chillies up against the wall and even the grapes look like they might make a bucket of wine...

...and then the fog comes down like a curtain and the moist cool starts on all those plants, blotching them with brown and rot and the clammy hands of autumn close around the fruits and the flowers and the leaves begin to fall, scattering paths, pavements, rivers, puddles with elegant patterns in sumptuous autumnal Liberty of London complex colours.

The rain is falling, finally, washing the petals from the flowers, shrinking the roses, rotting the fruit and raising the water table slowly and inexorably. Time to get the pots up on pot feet or into the shed or out of the wind.

But it's so hard when the Begonias and the Germaniums and even the Zinnias are still flowering. I keep wanting to pretend it's still summer.

Friday, 30 October 2015

autumn colour

For the season, it is a-changing.

bryony garlands crimson bonfire aubergines
vine on the turn leaf on the grass cherry tree
grapes leaf-cutter bees blueberry leaf

I still haven't quite dared try the orange aubergines. They look so much like something I shouldn't be eating.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

cactacae and succa

At Tent, I was wavering between which present I should buy myself. There was a pendant in the shape of a French curve, and a small concrete dodecahedral planter. The waver was brief and the concrete came home with me. The planter was for cacti or succulents (the designer used the term succa* which I wasn't familiar with) and it occurred to me that the front windowsill is already half full of succulents and that winter might be the perfect time to cease my front-windowsill  habit of slowly murdering supermarket pot herbs and replace it with one of torturing cacti and succulents.

Four days later I wandered out to the florist that often has very cheap and tough pot plants for the student market, and they had an expansive selection of cut-price tiny cacti on sale, three for two. I bought four. A few weeks later I've packed them all into more-or-less acceptable pots (the most interesting one got the concrete jungles geometric planter) but I still have no idea what any of them are.

The local library had no single topic books on cacti (much to my surprise) so I'm now peering at the House Plant Expert (which is weirdly judgemental -- one plant is judged a "slow growing grotesque mutant" and another "nothing special") and concluding sadly that it might be struggle to identify them. One might be an Old Man cactus of some kind, and two of them are probably some variety of column, and the other two (no idea) but to be honest  it probably didn't help that I picked the odd looking ones. They're certainly not in the top ten.

I note with some trepidation that the most interesting one already looks a bit bigger since I first put it in the planter. It was flattened and irregular in shape, like a little rooted cartoon cactus cloud, and I've not yet spotted anything remotely like it online (it's probably some kind of var.).

Still at least and as ever HPE gives me the basics. Tepid water, just enough to keep it ticking over until light levels increase in spring, keep above 15C, and then up water levels as light and warmth increase, and see if any flowers appear.

And then I might be able to figure out what they all are.

*Google suggests that a succa more normally means a wooden framed temporary structure built for Sukkot celebrations, although urban dictionary suggests (as ever) that it's a word for your mum.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

jewels at dusk

I've been on the buses more than usual this month, looking down into gardens, and scuttling home fast at the day's end. This year has been phenomenal for berries and fruits of all kind, yet warm enough that the gardens are still full of flowers and everywhere in the dim, flowers and fruits gleam together on the trees and in the borders like jewels, rich reds, pinks, oranges and golds.

fuchsia space shuttle anenome clematis final hurrah

The leaves have just started to turn, but only some; so reds and golds and oranges sit among the dim and dark greens of late summer and evergreens in the hedges. Yews have so many berries arils this year that when the sun hits them from the right direction it looks like they're covered in posh Christmas lights. Hawthorns are a riot of red, gold and green, with foliage on the turn and a massive berry crop. Here and there a late butterfly picks up the last of the sun and the nectar on autumn flowers. In the low evening light everything lights up like a torch.

oranging leaves butterfly autumn colour

In rapidly-shading shelter of my back garden everything is racing to fruit and flower before winter closes off light and warmth. The golden raspberries are jostling with fuschias (still in resplendent flower) and the dahlias and marigolds are finally outracing the slugs as winter closes on pest and plant alike. Peppers and pelargoniums and aubergines and begonias are all still all over the patio. There's a lot to do before the first frost, but no sign of that yet. Cuttings and late summer plugs are racing to put on growth before it gets too cold, and the grapes are striving to ripen (I fear they'll fail).

Dahlia grapes geranium

In the dim special attention space of my lean-to, this year's new begonias, zinnias, chrysanthemums and other oddities (a ginger, some cuttings) are finally beginning to flower. Every year I try and grow zinnias. Easy, it says on the packet in large, mocking letters; but they cannot cope with my voracious slugs and heavy clay soil. So I grow them in modules and sow them in pots and seed trays, but then I forget and neglect, and they're so thirsty they'll dry to dead in a week. Of three survivors this year, two are in flower, so I'm pleased. It's often none at all.

crispa marginata red zinnia pink zinnia

The sun's failing faster and earlier every day now; soon I won't be home when there's light on the garden most days of the week. But those evenings I do get home and there's still a golden sunset in the sky, pinking the houses and skimming the treetops, I'll still be surrounded by flowers like little torches in the evening gloom.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Up on the Southbank roof(garden)

Brutalism is having a bit of a moment at the moment, and  we're both keen on all flavours of future so off we went to the South Bank to hear about the ultimate brutalist people's palace, and how it had been inspired by natural landscapes. The aim had been to create vistas, gulleys, grottos, ravines, views, vistas and aspects, as if Capability Brown had been reborn as a concrete-pouring socialist robot. The National Trust Concrete Enthusiasts who were leading the tour were men of great modernist passions, but they also had a fine eye for detail; explaining which woods had been used for the concrete casting, for example, and why.

The South Bank is in need of renovation, and wraps are about to go on, which is why the tours are happening, This meant that those with an eye for urban decay and plant invaders had plenty to snap.

These are mostly from one of the sculpture courts (the one at the bottom is next to one of the staircases).  It wasn't that long ago since we were watching a car do weird things on a loop out here -- 6 months, maybe? So this is this summer's growth, only:

crack gardens of the sculpture court sculpture court crack garden weeds and shadows
colossal weed wire and concrete crack gardens of the sculpture court
Wallflowers lawn and feature plant one last concrete garden

The Southbank Roof Garden is not far from here so seeds have probably blown over. There's all sorts in the roof garden, from a shady grove of birches to cheerful raised beds full of veg, but here we're mostly seeing the classics of the urban landscape; couch grass, buddleia, and weeds. I can't readily identify them, but not one is a plant you'd keep. Yet every single one has made this National Monument absolutely  their own.

The Sculpture Gardens are going to be resurfaced, told us the man from the Southbank with a slight wrinkle in his nose, as I cheerfully snapped the weeds in the cracks. Something more hard-wearing, and more in keeping with modern surfacing.

But I doubt they will be able to keep out the weeds.