Sweet Peas and Bumble Bees

Summer gardening and Ashley the Champion Sheep Herder

Saturday, 19 June 2010

The garden continues to keep us all very busy, lots of weeding, manure, preparing beds for planting out, clearing beds that have finished and planting a new batch of young plants in fresh beds. Some days we look as though we are playing a strange game involving adding and removing clothing. We go out in rain macs and in minutes can be topping up the sun tan lotion and wearing summer vests.

We have had a fantastic crop of lupins and foxgloves this year. The nigella is still giving us a good crop as are the sweet williams. The roses have loved a heavy burst of rain and are covered with gloriously scented blooms. They make gorgeous bouquets. The lower field that we planted with grass seed to help overcome the years of weeds (prior to our time on the garden) is full of meadow flowers particularly poppies. It couldn't look more beautiful. However, this is where we planted our sweet peas and they are flourishing.

On a slightly madder note!...... The sheep are constantly teasing me as I try to leave the garden in my truck. I get out to open the large wooden gates and a small group of them watch me from the coppice that sits a few metres away, just waiting for me to get back into the truck so that they can head for the open gate and the Michelin 3 star grass yonder. One particularly challenging sheep (male I'm sure!) had me running backwards and forwards 6 times, like the game Mr Wolf (fitting I feel). Just as I got back to the truck to reverse out he would run for the gate opening. I think they must chat about me during the day, " what game shall we try with that plump old gardener today, we know she can't run fast so our options are many!"

Still, my other bigger fear, was reversing over one of my sheep atagonists!.... I thought that I had come up with a cunning plan to stop my having to make lamb hotpot for the rest of the month. Unfortunately, it could be added to the list of Baldrick's cunning plans......... I assumed that if I beeped the truck horn in small constant beeps it would scare away the 5 or so sheep in the coppice. No..... no such thing, the 300 or so sheep friends that up until then had been roaming aimlessly at a far greater distance, grouped and ran at pace towards me. It was almost a stampede!..... I can on guess that in the winter it is how their food is provided, via a honking landrover. I feel adding champion sheep herder to my curriculum vitae is now only fair!x yours the plum gardener x baaaah

Longing for rain..... or only the crumbliest, flakeyist, chocolate!?

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

We have been longing for rain on the garden and to help fill our huge water tank. Finally, after many rain dances, or chasing pheasants..... similiar I think? the heavens opened. The soil greatly needed a good drink (don't we all!) and, although no longer gasping, could still do with a few more rounds!

We are furiously planting out huge numbers of seedlings while weeding, watering and cutting. It's that time of year when there are not enough hours. Our Lupins are superb this month, so much so that I find it hard to sell them. Today I stood amongst the swathes of swaying blue and pink cornflowers. They mesmerize me and the bees that tenaciously stay upon them as they sway. We are using some for a lovely country wedding this Saturday.

I have perfected a wonderful whoop to forewarn pheaseants that my puppy Willow is about to take their tail feathers. It's very effective but Alastair has not quite mastered it yet and sounds more like he has stepped on a thorn!

I felt it was time to let you all see the beauty that is willow... although I feel she may overshadow the flowers...... no easy job!

Our roses are in bud and the delightful scented sweet peas will be ready to cut this week. We are digging holes for some new Dahlia tubers. I can't wait to see them later in the year as we have some unusual flowers in smokey pinks and creams.

Our plan to take control of the lower garden by seeding it with grass to then cut beds into it has worked well. This was a heavy weed area. However, it looks so simple and fresh as it is I keep getting the urge to run across it pretending I'm in a flake advert rather than in a garden. I think Alastair may think me totally insane if he sees a large plump woman attempting to serenly cross a bumpy field with a chocolate bar in her hand, when I'm meant to be watering the sweet peas. For some reason I must be wearing a flowery dress and floppy straw hat when I attempt this goddess run. Hopefully, having worked with me for a year and a half he has a fondness for madness!x The plump gardener x

The wrong trousers..... or the wrong Knickers!?

Sunday, 11 April 2010

We have been working incredibly hard this week, a so called 'spring clean' of the garden. Laying wood chip paths, weeding, painting the tea room (garden shed!) inside and out. We are all usually muddy, exhausted and hungry as we trudge mindlessly into the tea room taking little note of our surroundings. We decided Spring was a good excuse to perk up the place..... and as part of our eco friendly regime I decided to use paint that has sat in our garage for aons. This resulted in the walls being a glories fuschia pink and the ceiling a shocking aqua blue. It would be great for a sixties movie and Alastair says it's a perfect match to my lipstick. My mum, Poppy, a friend Glynnis and I all contributed in the final painted masterpiece. However, it was only as I washed up, swept out and added fresh parrot tulips in jam jars that I really felt like Calamity Jane in changing our little cabin into something rather fetching!

We have obviously made it very appealing as Dave our part time gardener was almost ravaged by two pheasants fighting in the tea room as he went for his morning cuppa. We are not sure if we have to log this in our health and safety book? Pheasant pecking below knees????Armour recommended?

The week continued to go with much hilarity and disaster as I have a stinking cold and have to keep stopping to blow my nose, this was the same day that Dave and I were rolling up vast sheets of black weed control material. This means that you are constantly bent over. It soon became apparent that I was wearing the wrong Knickers for the job!!!! every few minutes I had to say, "sorry Dave, could we stop I've got to blow my nose, sorry Dave could we stop I've got to pull my knickers up... and so on and so on....... this led to an active discussion between Dave, Alastair and I on the best knickers for the job. I confirmed that I didn't have the bottom or the desire to try a thong but my current bridget jones knicker collection was not up to the job! We concluded that I should try boxer shorts from now on.... I just keep getting sexier and sexier with this job.

My final disaster for the day involved my tripping over a pole and falling heavily I was initially so concussed and in pain that I feared moving my arms. They had taken the brunt of the fall and I'm very heavy! Our gorgeous overly fluffy plum Norfolk terrier, Willow, decided that this was an opportune moment to sit on my face and lick me to within an inch of my life. Dave rushed over to see if I was o.k but it is difficult to say with a plump puppy sitting on your face!

Still the weather was glorious this week, and I have to admit I've had a few things going on personally that have given me a slightly stressful week but as I enter the garden and I get hotter and grubbier..... with my skin warmed by the sun and the sheep bleeting in the valley surrounding us...... I find that I leave tired but glowing and with a kind of peace and a smile on my face x

The Spring Campaign!

Friday, 12 March 2010

I can't believe we are near to starting a new season all over again. Where has the time gone. Alastair has had the short straw and spent many more days in the freezing cold garden, than I, this winter. We have spent our time wisely preparing for the new season. The greenhouse has been cleaned, we have both been scrubbing pots..... amazing for me, as you never usually see me near the washing up! We have just started our early seed trays and can't wait to get all of our babies in their beds. Our first flowers are through, paperwhites, lovely scent. Unfortunately, the cold had delayed our tulips a little, they are just beginning to peak through the ground.

The rats moved into the tea room over winter and finding no food, decided to lunch on our thick blue water pipe. They must have been very hungry as lots of it has gone!

Horse manure is now arriving in regular loads which will bring joy to Willow my dog! I'm sure in my city days I smelt of expensive perfume, but nowdays, on a good day, I smell of wood smoke from the wood burning stove and on bad days, once willow has wallowed through manure, blood, fish and bone and leaf mould, I have a nice wet doggy pungent scent about me. Very earthy!

We have chosen some gorgeous and unusual seedlings this year and I particularly can't wait for new Dahlia tubers we are trying. Dahlias have crept into my favourite flower list, probably at number 5.

We still have a list of jobs to finish before the season really kicks off, eviction notice to the rats!, paint the shed, finish the big pathway, spread the manure...... it should all help lose the winter pounds I've gained. We are also sowing a small patch of grass near our little tea room haven. Alastair has said that I'm not allowed to tread on it, obviously I gained more weight over winter than I realized!

Autumn in the Walled Garden - Alastair Gunn

Monday, 9 November 2009

Autumn has arrived, bringing rain with it. Like most gardeners in the south-east I've been longing for rain most of the summer and finally it arrives, too late to keep the zinnias in good health and too late to stave off powdery mildew. But now it's November all of that is irrelevant.
Dense greenery has turned to russets and golds. Trees are gradually shedding their leaves and there have been heavy autumnal mists in the mornings, dissolving the landscape into ambiguities. The ancient celts believed that the fabric between the physical world and the shadowy realm of spirits was fraying at this time of year and I feel like I understand why.

There are a few plants soldiering on into autumn; the amaranths are still vivid, Scabiosa wear occasional late, stray blooms and the roses flower on. Few are of a quality that permits cutting but they look beautiful amidst the dissolution of the year. Dahlias bloom with gaudy abandon. Schizostylis get better and better. The Nerine would be lovely now, had they not been shredded by young pheasants recently released from wherever the gamekeeper was breeding them. Evidently Nerine flowers look better than they taste since none are thoroughly consumed. The young birds strut through the garden in the morning and evening, but largely depart for the cover of trees beyond the walls during the day, particularly when Ashley's puppy is around. The puppy watches them with growing interest.
Miscanthus are only now beginning to bloom and Panicum virgatum is at its best. Pensetmon cultivars - surely every lazy gardener should grow them? - are mostly between bouts but will be flowering again soon, weather permitting.

There is much to be done. I'm still taking cuttings for next year but only from those evergreen penstemon cultivars and the developing basal shoots of Achillea millefolium cultivars. The weeds don't mind the lower temperatures or dropping light levels and are beginning to outcompete some of the sweet william so we'll pull the worst offenders up this week. The others will go later and the soil from where they've been yanked will be mulched with rotted manure, green waste compost or even decomposing wood chip. Fall and winter are also good times to get all our paths properly laid out, ready for use in spring. And of course, there are many, many bulbs to plant. Right now I'd prefer not to think about them: I'll be back to that task tomorrow...


It's all coming up Roses... or potatoes!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

I can't believe we are nearing our anniversary in the Walled garden. We have certainly made dramatic changes to the top half of the garden. It is unrecognizable from the sad and unloved garden that I viewed almost a year ago. September's mellowness and light makes me stop more often and look at what we have achieved... it still seems unreal that we have all created something so beautiful.

Alastair has been a Godsend and calmly organized everyone to keep the project on track.

I caught my foot in the Dahlia netting and fell full body weight, face down into the wood chip... earth tremors were felt across the region! I quietly got up and removed soil and splinters from my hair, having gained some stonking bruises and a large dent to my pride.

Our Scabiosa have been truly sumptuous in wine velvets, lilacs and peaches... I keep thinking I have found my favourite flower and something new and gorgeous comes along. The Zinnias seen somehow out of place in September, so bright and vibrant surely should be a July flower! The butterflies love them.

Poppy (my daughter) has helped wonderfully with weeding through the summer holidays and while fantastically learning lots of the latin names quicker than me... Miss goldfish memory.... she did ask if that is a 'Hyperthermia' the other day!... Hydrangea I think she was aiming at!.... we only grow the Hyperthermia in January and February!!!!! As you can see she is as stunning as our flowers.

And... who says Romance is dead.... I have had a lovely treat delivered by our 80 year old tractor driver, a sack of Maris Piper potatoes, grown in his field..... and he's got REDS as well if I want them!... how kind... I shall never go short of a roast potato and of course shall have to remain the Plump gardener! x

A blaze of colour

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Dear all

Its been a long while since my last blog... mainly because we have been working our socks off in the garden and in selling our beautiful flowers. Where should I start... we loved and cherished 6000 seedlings this year and initially thought we would never get them into the ground as the soil was so hard. Why worry!..... eventually the English weather performed as expected and we had a steady stream of rain and shine to help us on our way. We have had many lovely helpers along the way, my mum, a friend from Saffron Walden, (Chris), my lovely daughter Poppy (watch out for her on Gardener's world in 10 years time) and more recently, taking a break from the city, Graham. Combined with our fabulous gardening team we have managed to fill the 1st two acres of our wonderful garden. Alastair the head gardener, has kept us on course and trained us along the way. My latin names have come on a treat, just don't ask me to spell them!

We have had a succession of amazing flowers, double cosmos, cornflower (stunning blue), marigolds, hydrangea, old English roses, nicotiana, nigella, sweet peas (of course!) to name but a few..... and at last our sad empty garden has come back to life. My favourite times are when everyone is in and the bees, ladybirds and butterflies fill the garden. You feel as though time stands still and it could be Victorian gardeners bent over the soil and flowers giving their love and attention. In terms of sheer beauty the garden is at its most stunning after a rain downpour on a warm day... as the sun warms the garden and the mists lift off the flowers its simple tranquility is a joy to behold.

We are now regulars at many farmers markets. We were delighted to supply our flowers for a big 21st party all starting from the sale of a small bunch of ranunculus.... a little bunch of perfection... according to the client!.... lovely..... and a real pleasure was making our first wedding and bridesmaid bouquet from our garden flowers. A mixture of sweet peas, old English roses for the bride and cornflowers and nigella for the bridesmaid.

About to bloom in the garden are Rubeckia. Dahlias are coming on a treat and Zinnias to look forward to. It's a never ending cycle as we will soon planning for the next season and are busy in the green house with the biennials now.......

Thank you everyone who has bought our flowers this year and especially to staff, friends and family who have carried us along.

Physically I am more dexterous! as promised by Alastair but all this hard work makes a girl hungry.... I think I shall always be the Plump Gardener! x