Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Monday, 29 September 2014

Powis Castle: At a Gallop

This is a writing experiment involving a story within a story. You can either read the pictures and their captions, or the plain text in between. You comments on whether this works for you are much appreciated - I wanted you to share in my garden visit and read about how it happened...

Part of the walk through the Powis Castle estate from Welshpool. This is a quieter (if slower) way to approach
the garden judging by the number of people I saw vs. the number of cars in the car park. There is also the
opportunity to spot deer and wildlife along the way and to understand the castle in its surrounding landscape.

We always have a fair share in deciding what to do on holiday. There are common interests to explore - such as looking at industrial heritage and drinking real ale - plus the selection of our own choices to visit together. I like NAH's noisy steam and he enjoys the peaceful contrast of a garden visit.

So our recent holiday in Shropshire saw us taking a return tootle up the line at the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway for him, plus a visit to Stockton Bury Gardens* for me.

A good starting point is to neatly sidestep the garden's entrance and peer cautiously over the low wall
which is found in the castle green area, where teas are also served. You can really appreciate how the
garden drops steeply away from the castle and how it dominates the surrounding countryside.

NAH was so keen to get going on the Welshpool and Llanfair visit he completely overlooked our day was in danger of ending just after lunch. That was until I pointed out the tickets were day rover ones. I could tell NAH was keen to swap stories with the friendly train guard we'd met, so my company would really be surplus to requirements.

We agreed to part for the afternoon whilst he rode the train again and I walked into Welshpool to get to know the town a little better. I was just debating where to have my afternoon coffee and cake, when I spotted some rather grand looking gates and sign at the bottom of a side street.

Once in the garden, the terraced borders have pictures of how Powis Castle looked in various
decades, so you can compare and contrast with today's view. It's garden history without tears.

It was the entrance to Powis Castle estate...

... with a sign saying it was just a mile's walk to the castle and therefore the garden. I had just one and a half hours before I had to meet NAH off the train...

... so what's a girl to do when presented with the opportunity for an unscheduled extra garden visit?

Naturally, I took a leaf out of Charlotte's book and went round at a gallop.

The terrace borders certainly had the wow factor, even in mid-September. I found huge cannas, bananas and
aeoniums sitting comfortably alongside the late season stalwarts such as dahlias, salvias and fuchsias.

I decided to focus on the terraced part of the garden. The bumpily shaped giant yews leaning comfortably over the walls always give me a fit of the giggles and the late season borders were magnificent. NAH and I had thoroughly visited this garden** on a previous holiday in Wales, so I didn't feel I was being short changed.

Besides it also gave me the opportunity to examine the glorious pots more closely. These had only just been planted up when we last visited on a June day. I think you'll agree September is a fine month to see them.

Yes, those fuchsias are in pots - burgeoning isn't a sufficiently descriptive word for Powis's pots.

My walking and admission time may have cut my visit down to a mere 45 minutes, but it was still worth it.

Whilst most of my views of the garden suggests it was still summer,
this view in the opposite direction showed autumn wasn't too far away.

* = the season's ended at Stockton Bury for 2014, so there'll be a delay before I blog about it.

** = Powis Castle is a rather poignant place for us as this is where we received the call to say my MIL did indeed have dementia. It was one of those calls where you never forget where you were at the time. As this was in the part of the garden I didn't have time to visit - even at a gallop - I'm a bit relieved I didn't need to face that particular demon.

A final look at some of the gigglesome yews and a tantalising glimpse of the formal
gardens beyond the steep terraces. A place to take you the next time we visit.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Salad Days: My Simple 4-Step Salad Guide

In the early days of The 52 Week Salad Challenge, I asked the question What is a salad? I didn't have the definitive answer back then and I've since realised there isn't really one. The key question to ponder is What makes a great salad for me?

One of the reasons I started the Challenge 3 years ago was to prove to NAH salads needn't be boring and I believe I've done that many times over. I've found it takes just four simple steps to ensure we have a great tasting salad every time. All ingredients are raw, unless stated otherwise.

Step 1 - Make a large base layer of seasonal greens

Choose from:
  • Lettuce
  • Rocket, especially wild
  • Watercress
  • Land cress (aka American cress)
  • Nasturtium leaves
  • Foraged greens e.g. hairy bittercress, fat hen, young dandelions
  • Winter purslane
  • Lamb's lettuce
  • Kale
  • Pea shoots
  • Oriental leaves e.g mustards, pak choi
  • Endive or chicory
  • Sorrel - small amounts give a deliciously lemony kick to a salad (thanks Janet for reminding me)

Step 2 - Add colour contrast(s)

  • Red lettuce e.g. Lollo Rosso, Relic, Red Salad Bowl
  • Radicchio
  • Beetroot - leaf and/or root, especially 'Bull's Blood' for leaves
  • Rainbow chard
  • Tomatoes - especially sweet cherry types such as Sungold or Gardener's Delight
  • Carrots - grated, cubed or sliced
  • Pumpkin or squash - cooked (I like them roasted), then sliced or cubed
  • Radishes
  • Peppers (not green - I especially like the elongated type for their flavour)
  • Fruit e.g. orange segments, pomegranate *
  • Edible flowers

Step 3 - Make it crunchy
  • Cucumber
  • Salad onions
  • Sprouted seeds and pulses
  • Sliced green beans (or whole French), shelled peas (or mangetout), or broad beans (all lightly cooked first)
  • Bulb fennel
  • Pulses cooked al dente e.g. chick peas, puy lentils
  • Toasted nuts & seeds e.g. sunflower, pumpkin, peanuts
  • Croutons (as suggested by Anna)
  • Sliced or grated fruit e.g. apple, pear *

Step 4 - Intensify the taste
  • Herbs - e.g. basil, chives, coriander, chervil, dill, mint
  • Microgreens
  • Capers
  • Oils, vinegars (as they are, or flavoured - like the above preparations for making raspberry vinegar) or a dressing
  • Dried fruit e.g raisins, apricots *
* = select just one of these, or not at all e.g. if orange segments are selected for colour contrast, don't use other fruit to add crunch or intensify the taste.

The amounts used gets progressively smaller - at least half of the salad is selected from step 1 and the smallest amount is added from the list in step 4. The amounts and numbers used in each step depends on what you like and have to hand that's in season. The final size of the salad is up to you, depending on your appetite.

Mix all the ingredients together to accompany a serving of cheese (e.g. feta crumbled through for a classic Greek salad) or an omelet, or grilled meat or fish. We only occasionally have a slice of quiche for a change as we're trying to avoid having too much pastry.

How do you make your ideal salad?

Monday, 22 September 2014

Postcard from Shropshire

We've just got back from a quiet week away in Shropshire, a place where time seems to have stood still for a while. This wasn't always the case as the county hosted landmark events during the Industrial Revolution. Here's a view of the world's first iron bridge as evidence.

Our whole week was steeped in heritage. It started with visits to the excellent Heritage Open Day activities in Bishop's Castle (where we were staying) and Ellesmere Wharf. We also learned how the Victorians farmed at Acton Scott and contrasted it with the town life of that time at Blist's Hill, part of the Ironbridge museum complex.

Our explorations also extended into the natural world. We visited Long Mynd, a long hill which is one of the oldest places in Britain as it is comprised of Pre-Cambrian rock i.e. rock with a minimum age of 541 million years. You can't get any more ancient than that.

Friday, 19 September 2014

My Miniature Garden

Sometimes gardens happen by accident, just as it did with my old birdbath. The result is a miniature garden which reminds me of those dishes seen in the children's section at local garden shows.

Here you can see my miniature garden in its context. For many years it was a successful birdbath, which I bought for a song at a local auction. Then one winter it got badly cracked and a subsequent repair with some polyfilla worked for a couple of years. Then another severe frost meant the bowl cracked again and snapped into two pieces. It's now held together by some wire just below the rim.

For a while I used it as an extra pot for seasonal bedding; violas or pansies in the main, then one summer I tried some mimulus for a change. They've self-sown themselves every year since, adding the splashes of red and orange you can see in the top picture.

Further neglect and poor drainage meant a moss garden was born. Just the effect I strived for elsewhere in the garden, but failed to achieve when done with a purpose in mind.

As well as the mimulus it's interesting to see what else has self-sown itself into the moss. An aquilegia provides an almost tree-like canopy and there's also a small strawberry plant. I wonder what else will appear in the future?

The cushioned moss also makes a superb medium in which to place my rain gauge. Its open aspect and position just a few short steps from our kitchen doors makes it a perfect spot for my weather observations.

I shall continue to enjoy my smallest and most accidental part of VP Gardens, especially to see how it changes without any interference from me.

What's happened in your garden by accident?

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Wild About My Garden

It's Wild About Gardens Week, so I thought I'd show you some of the latest wildlife photographs from VP Gardens. This year's theme is gardening for pollinators, so I've started with a common carder bee on Agastache 'Blackadder'. This has been in flower since May and is my number one bee plant this year.

I've enjoyed watching the lavender go 'sproing' when the bees land on it over the past few weeks. It's still warm enough to eat lunch and drink coffee on the patio so this has been great entertainment as the pot is right next to the bench where I sit.

Of course the mass descent of small tortoiseshells into my garden happened after the Big Butterfly Count finished last month. The red admiral butterfly always makes a late appearance here and I've yet to capture one with my camera...

I had a bit of a surprise whilst tidying up my tomatoes recently. I heard a kerploosh in the water tray below and thought I'd dropped one in there. About a minute later this handsome chap appeared instead. I wondered about the lack of slugs around my tomatoes, now I know why.

I've not really thought that much about the harvestmen in my garden before, but finding this one posing in my dahlia pot made me go and find out a little more. It's another of those unsung but useful invertebrates which help to keep our gardens tidy.

Warning... some of the more squeamish of you won't like the next photo, so scroll down quickly past it if you need to...

I always feel autumn is well on its way when these orb spiders appear. Later this month there'll be plenty of opportunity to take more photos with the webs sprinkled with early morning dew or raindrops. It's a magical time in the garden.

What's wild in your garden this week?
Other recent wildlife related posts you may be interested in:

Monday, 15 September 2014

GBBD: Salvia 'Hadspen'

Salvia involucrata 'Hadspen' is a new plant at VP Gardens. Karen gave it to me last year after we'd admired it on a trip to Bodnant when I went to stay with her. I rather like this early morning shot as you can see the autumnal orb spiders are starting to capture it for their webby schemes.

I've planted it in the top terrace bed, where it nods to my Salvia 'Amistad' across the way. Both are tall specimens (S. 'Amistad' is as tall as me this year) so they need plenty of space. S. 'Hadspen' has decided to splay out a little and its flowers make me giggle. They're such a girly pink - not like me at all - and they make me think of a row of bright lipsticks lined up along the stem.

Here's a closer shot of some of the flowers along one of the plant's bracts- see what I mean? And what about those ticklesome little 'brushes'? I need to find out more about the unusual staminal lever mechanism adaptation* salvias have for their pollination.

This salvia hails from Mexico and the leaves are very aromatic Thank goodness they're in the more acceptable blackcurrant-like bracket than the unpleasant cat-pee one some salvias have. It's a tender perennial - hence my placing it in the well-drained and protective walled part of my garden. This is another plant which will be given a Dahlia Duvet after autumn's first frost.

I'm delighted with this plant in its first year here. It's a reminder of good friends and happy times as well as being attractive in its own right.

* = Wikipedia's general introduction to Salvias, plus this scientific paper are a good start if you'd like to join me on this quest. There's an impressive lineup of papers to peruse after googling too.

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Got a Great Gardening Idea? The Future Fund Wants to Hear From YOU!

It's not often I get to tick a garden off my 'Must See' list AND hear a great story, but my visit to Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons yesterday turned out to be a red letter day.

Imagine the scene...

... it's an ordinary day at your magazine's office, then the postman brings you a sober looking solicitor's letter. What could it be? If you're like me, you'd immediately assume the worst.

But stop and consider the complete opposite instead. You rip the letter open and learn someone has not only read your magazine for years, they've loved it so much they've left the magazine a sum of money in their will.

Well, what would you do?

That's exactly the delicious dilemma The English Garden faced recently and the result was yesterday's launch of the Future Fund. It comprises a bursary of £5,000 for 5 recipients (one per year) and is open for anyone to apply to fund their bright idea.

There are no limits on what's included, except the applicant must be over 18, reside in the UK and the idea must be garden(ing) related and help the gardening community in some way. That doesn't mean it's exclusively for community gardening; it can be for anything which helps to grow and benefit our horticultural community as a whole.

It's the ultimate horticultural 'pay it forward' in my view.

Have a look at the above video and The English Garden's website for more information. If you don't have a bright idea (just like me), then please tell everyone you know who just might have the nub of something which is in need of some cash to help it on its way.

Full details and application forms will also be in The English Garden's October and November editions.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Plant Profile: Pyracantha

It's a versatile shrub - on our estate we have stand alone specimens, hedges with one or more varieties,
plus mixed hedges with Euonymus, hawthorn, Viburnum and Mahonia proving the most popular companions

Until recently I haven't felt the need to grow Pyracantha (aka firethorn) at VP Gardens. It's in abundance on our estate where it forms plenty of the hedge planting, just like it did for us at our previous house. It has plenty of plus points; it's an evergreen shrub, relatively quick to grow and has short, sharp thorns which makes it an effective security barrier.

It also has double season of interest, bearing creamy white flowers in the spring and bright berries from now until they're devoured by the birds. As you can it's a good year for berries. Within a few minutes walk of our house there are both red and orange bearing varieties on show, which echo those found on the rowan trees nearby.

My border of shame - long, shady and in need of rather a lot of attention
Last week whilst writing September's Tree Following post I reluctantly decided the 'Rambling Rector' rose is to go. It seemed perfect for protecting the long fence along our garden's boundary and stopping curious children from climbing over. However, it's rather too good for the job and I have to spend a lot of time hacking it back. Also the hips it's supposed to produce have never been that abundant, so its winter interest - one of the reasons why I bought it - is poor at best.

Pyracantha can be trained easily, so it's ideal for hedges - both short and tall - and other forms
So this year I'm looking at Pyracantha with a fresh eye and reconsidering the whole design of my side shady border to sit alongside my rose's replacement. Since we've moved here I've learned Pyracantha can be trained easily and I like the idea of an espalliered form along the fence. It has exactly the same plus points as the rose I originally chose, plus better interest for wildlife.

If I do go for it, I shall choose a yellow berried variety so we'll be different to what's around the rest of the estate.
Further cultivation notes

Pyracantha is suited to most soils except heavy clay. Berrying can be reduced if the site is shady (so I may need to reconsider its suitability for where I have in mind).

Berries are produced on last season's wood, so this needs to be born in mind when growing as a hedge or other trained forms.

Now (autumn) is a good time to plant. If planting against a wall or fence, plant it about 18 inches away to avoid the dry spot there.

Pyracantha is fully hardy and relatively easy to grow. It attains a height and spread of around 10-12 feet.

Scab and fireblight are the two most common problems. Prune out affected wood/leaves and burn. It may be attacked by woolly aphids which can be washed off with a pressure spray.

Propagation is easy via hard or semi-ripe cuttings. If growing from seed, then 3 months of cold-stratification is needed.

The berries aren't edible when raw, though just like Rowan, they can be made into a jelly.

Further reading:
RHS website entry for Pyracantha
A website dedicated to all things Pyracantha
RHS guidance on espallier training trees

Picture credit: Pyracantha flowers - Stan Shebs via Wikimedia
Plant Profiles is sponsored by Whitehall Garden Centre.

Note to readers:
Sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs; the words are my own There are no cookies or affiliate links associated with this post.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Tree Following With Lucy: September

This month my ash tree forms the backdrop to the plant activity happening below it. As in other years, the plants growing against the garden fence have stretched themselves upwards to meet the lower branches of the tree. These are the ones NAH is so sure he wants to get rid of.

The thin, diagonal 'branches' you can see in the foreground are from my Rosa 'Rambling Rector'. This rose certainly lives up to its name and makes regular bids for freedom beyond my garden. I often have to untangle it from the ash tree at this time of the year.

The main plant you can see is Clematis 'Kermesina', a more delicate looking clematis of the viticella type. Don't be fooled, those stems are quite wiry and just like the rose it strives upwards in its bid to bend other, more sturdy plants to its will. This clematis always surprises me as it's usually hidden amongst the rose, then it pops out into the open in the autumn. I love its rich red blooms, especially when the dappled afternoon sunshine begins to shine through them.

The proximity of the ash's lower branches to my rose/clematis combo means I'm having a think about the future of the plants along my fence. More on that anon.

Have a look at Loose and Leafy's Tree Following entry to find out how Lucy and the rest of this year's tree followers are getting on this month.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Slugs: A Surprise Garden Friend

I found this very distinctive slug noodling around one of my garden pots recently. It's a leopard slug and my niece and nephew could see immediately how it got its name.

Unlike most slugs, these are a surprise garden friend. They eat fungi, rotting plants and other slugs, so they help keep the garden tidy and free from their pesky cousins. That's a huge thumbs up from me.

They're thought to be widespread in the UK, but actual records are scarce. Therefore OPAL (the Open Air Laboratory) is looking to find out more about its distribution via its Species Quest initiative.

You can help by sending in your sightings of this, plus any devil's coach horse, green shieldbug, small tortoiseshell butterfly, tree bumble bee or two-spot ladybirds which cross your path.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

I Love September For...

... Residual warmth

The garden has developed a definite autumnish air about it in the past week or so and last week's plentiful rain means the soil has opened up again ready to nurture new plants. As you can see I've been nursing quite a few on one of the garden walls over the summer in readiness for this moment.

The lavender are earmarked to replace some woody looking specimens in one of my garden pots on the patio. They're still in flower and the bees are visiting regularly, so I haven't quite got the heart to replace them yet. The brunnera is earmarked for the front side garden, as are the self-sown aquilegia plants I rescued from the back garden's gravel path last week.

September is usually a fabulous time for planting because there's plenty of residual warmth in the soil - even in a clay one like mine - plus plenty of moisture which lets the plants get settled in nicely before winter hits the garden. I've found my autumn plantings tend to do better than spring ones - I reckon it's down to all that clay holding onto the winter's cold and rain and unlike their spring cousins, the autumn plantings have had time to toughen up beforehand.

There's a plant sale at West Kington Nurseries this weekend, so I expect there'll be a wheelbarrow load of bargains to join these plants. I've already downloaded their catalogue and earmarked those I want to seek out in their multitude of greenhouses. It's all part of my ongoing revamp of the garden.

What do you love about September?

Monday, 1 September 2014

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