It’s autumn already …

Cyclamen hederifolium

The first Cyclamen hederifolium of the 2014 autumn season

The first tentative Cyclamen hederifolium flowers are showing with many more gawky necked beaked buds starting to unravel from the corm.

And its hot, like you know real summer – what’s that all about?

Light and shade play across the drowsing afternoon garden, sharpening the curves and focusing individual trees in the woodland along the edges of nearby Salisbury Plain. High white clouds glide across a blue sky, it’s only raining on Ireland today according to the rain radar.

We were on the edges of thunderstorms on Saturday, the rain hammered down briefly, but now some parts of the garden are dry again,  plants in the wrong place such as the Primula florindae look woebegone every few days. And when I water after the damn mole has been lifting plants with its back,  it comes back again, and again – bye, bye Eschscholzias it was nice seeing you in full glorious flower briefly, and the diascia, and oenothera, and… Much easier for moldewarp to shift aside nice moist soil not hard baked clay, elsewhere it’s surface runs in the clay are cracking and collapsing making the lawn a little treacherous.

It’s a period of downtime for me,  it feels like dim and distant school summer holidays, hot brightly lit days drifting one into another, the torpor of the dog days takes hold, my birthday comes and goes, and then the coolness of September, freshly sharpened pencils carefully inscribe new exercise books with name and form, and so autumn term begins.

There are heavy guns going off intermittently on the plain and I think of all those people around the world for whom today that rumble and thump will have meaning, bringing hope or dread. Here at least this hot summer afternoon the booms of the ordnance being fired up on that great chalk downland aren’t in anger or an immediate threat, except perhaps to a few Great Bustards and local villages with the occasional wayward shell.

Crossing paths with wildlife part 102: The toad in the watering can. The empty cans had been lazily thrown onto the lawn the evening before. I filled one can from the outside tap. I thought I heard a plop as I was watering, didn’t think any more of it, just water sloshing a bit. Then I filled the can again, and just as I picked it up, up came a toad, it looked at me and dived,  and came up and dived again – needless to say it was released from the maelstrom back onto terra firma.

The fat milky green hazelnuts are being raided by squirrels earlier than last year. Day on day the endless nittering of shells being opened can be heard and the evidence is strewn across the lawn. All the Early Rivers Plums just at the point of ripeness went within a day, I presume squirrels, and apples are also being broached.

For two days in a row a skinny but lithe young fox has been in the field across the stream, so very close to the chickens. Unconcerned about me watching it, it padded around the field every so often doing the 4 feet off the  ground at once pounce onto too nifty voles (I guess). Only a very rumbly farm tractor making its way along the bordering road had it running pell mell for cover.

And I’ve just had a young bullfinch sporting a bright pink breast but rather scruffily as if its stuffing was falling out, and with a rather full beak, stare at me through the window, shrug and disappear again.

The not quite right white/blue/yellow border

The not quite right white/blue/yellow border

And finally I apologise to any readers of my articles in LandScape magazine for the seeming obsession with the not right white/yellow/blue border! I’m working on it!! And today I’m liking the Helianthus debilis Vanilla Ice, a pale lemon/cream. Campanula Lactiflora Pritchard’s Variety, a little mauvey blue but he’s staying. Then the drift of Nicotiana alata by the bench kicks in as evening falls, the large white flowers open fully again and release intense scent, mmmm.

It’s the Big Butterfly Count for the next few weeks – I’ve done the first of a couple of counts. In the last few days I’ve seen Red Admirals, Peacocks, Small Whites, Green Veined Whites, Large Skippers, Commas, Speckled Woods, Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Tortoiseshells, plus a few Marbled Whites drifting by. The Grasshoppers are also busy zizzing away, it almost feels like the Mediterranean!

Posted in Diary | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Robin, I thought we were friends until …

Kniphofia Tawny King

The tawny bed after rain, Kniphofia Tawny King and Digitalis laevigata

… you ate all my fruit.

OK, so the fruit is not in full production but in holding pots awaiting a proper home this autumn. So far you’ve had the Gloire de Sablon pink currants, the one ripening All Gold raspberry, and between yesterday and today all 6 red not quite ripe Whinham Industry gooseberries. Plus I found you had been into the living room and pooped on the sofa – not nice. It’s all very cute looking at me with your limpid round black eye, all speckley feathered, teetering on the edge of a plant pot with those dainty little feet. And I saw you this morning cheekily taking a bath sitting on a waterlily pad, but this take, take, take, will have to stop! Well actually apart from the blackberries you’ve already taken the lot!

We’re surrounded by young birds various at the moment trying to make their way in the world it seems. A young Carrion Crow tells the young Magpies where to get off when it comes to first dibs on the bird table, although the cheeky Magpies were teasing (not mobbing) the crow just now in one of the trees,  the crow eventually flapped off in a huff. We’ve got a plethora of robins, and at least 1 wren still feeding fledged young, Bullfinches various hold court on the sunflower seeds. Gangs of Long Tailed Tits can be heard and sometimes spotted, the Starlings and Jackdaws though appear to have taken themselves off into the wider countryside. Saw a Barn Owl swoop low over the field in the dimming light last night and the Tawny Owl babes are still calling loudly and testily for food.

We’ve had rain today, and hail and thunder and everything. The rain has been missing us for days but today a welcome downpour,  the temperature has dropped somewhat.

The picture above shows Kniphofia Tawny King which in the last garden didn’t support itself terribly well, but standing to attention here. The Digitalis ferruginea is now in flower, the bees busily clambering aboard each lipped landing platform. (22/7/14 Actually I think I must correct myself, D laevigata was first in flower and shown above although I do have D ferruginea but he is brown lipped, D laevigata has a pale lip).

Brugmansia Grand Marnier

Brugmansia Grand Marnier

The Brugmansia is doing it’s thing, the scent is just starting to ramp up for the evening, vying with Lonicera halliana and Nicotiana alata. It’s unattractively festooned with Bioline packs to try to combat spider mites.

Beware fried toads in empty ceramic pots. Sadly a few weeks ago I found a desiccated toad which had somehow climbed into an empty plant pot and then couldn’t get out. On Sunday morning, drowning not waving a toad was seen stretching up trying to get out of another empty pot as the sun warmed up, needless to say it was released.

Posted in Diary | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Where have all the flowers gone?

gone for hayThe village green was a waving sea of grass last week and then poof! It’s all gone. The Meadow Brown butterflies could be seen flopping disconsolately around in the shortened grass, their habitat somewhat curtailed. Grasshoppers have just started to emerge and zizz, now under somewhat reduced circumstances.

There’s something gorgeously glossy about a meadow at it’s peak, flowering grasses moving sinuously in the breeze. And I do understand that it needs to be cut otherwise it will just become a tussocky sodden mess. Most of the Green has been cut for haylage which is better than merely mowing it which I don’t think is particularly beneficial. I hope that they keep to this sort of regime rather than trying to enforce a prim and proper boring all the time sort of village green.

Marston’s clay land isn’t as floristically diverse as neighbouring Salisbury Plain chalk downland  but nonetheless is home to bugs, butterflies and other scuttlers which in turn provide food for swallows, bats and the local owls. A lot of the grassland around here has been “improved” so the Green offers a more diverse area of grass and flowers. The margin in the picture above contains amongst other things, Geranium pratense, Meadowsweet and Meadow Vetchling.

My parents have just returned from SW France and were bowled over by the flowers in bloom both wild and in gardens. They went particularly WOW! on seeing the roadsides on the way Minerve awash with wildflowers which they decided to revisit a couple of days later, only to find that the margins had been mown in the interim – no more flowers!

The diversity of butterflies is increasing as summer rolls on, Large Skippers are abroad in the garden and feasting on Meadow Vetchling in field and by way margins and I’ve seen a few Scarlet Tiger moths. A Marbled White butterfly passed through the garden to somewhere more interesting.

Fourteen gardeners and more allotmenteers were brave enough to open their gardens / allotments to public scrutiny in Marston and Worton on Sunday. Thank you! We visited most, and all were clearly loved and tended, nearly everyone had a veg plot of some description tucked somewhere, I was most envious of new potatoes, ripening strawberries and plumptious currants.

And we had rain hurrah! Although it was a bit odd to be confined indoors in the gloom after weeks of sun.

Posted in Diary | Tagged , | Leave a comment

That was the longest day

Dactylorhiza X Grandis Blackthorn Strain and Corydalis flexuosa

Dactylorhiza X grandis Blackthorn Strain and Corydalis flexuosa

It’s all downhill from here… the sun rose around 4:50AM and set around 9:20PM and it didn’t rain, in fact is was actually sunny (well I wasn’t up quite so early but the chickens told me so). We haven’t had rain here (apart from a scatter of drops one evening) for over 3 weeks.

This year the Clegs seem worse than last, apparently it’s only the female fly that bites (sorry Nick), the males waft around eating pollen, little consolation as I dance and twirl around the garden trying to fend off a marauder,  especially if I missed first slap advantage. It makes gardening trickier as once I’m concentrating on weeding, pruning etc. they sneak in and, ouch! It doesn’t help that we have damp woodland, long meadow grass and a stream, perfect conditions for them. Interestingly (or not) my Ma is Norwegian and they call them Klegg (Scottish/northern?).

We’re still getting hornets flying by,  generally at second storey level. There’s a bumble bee nest just above the front door. The Beautiful Demoiselles and other Damsel Flies continue to play and mate and lay, now joined by Chaser Dragonflys. The main butterflies at the moment are Tortoiseshells and Meadow Browns who particularly favour a rather dull mounding mauve scabious which may be Pink Mist, it can’t be Butterfly Blue that would be misnamed.

A white Dactylorhiza fuchsii (unless someone knows better?)

A white Dactylorhiza fuchsii (unless someone knows better?)

I have a few orchids in the garden,  Dactylorhiza praetermissa and D maculata have already been and gone. Dactylorhiza x grandis ‘Blackthorn Strain’ which came originally from Keith Wiley’s nursery has picked up the baton and is particularly large and in your face right now. Another Dactylorhiza I’ve had for years which might be Eskimo Nell or D fuchsii O’Kellyi, has white flowers and unmarked leaves, much smaller and more retiring, forming modest little clumps.

A Chatterbox orchid, Epimedium gigantea (a US native) from Avon Bulbs is just coming into flower.  As a kid on summer holidays I remember the huge helleborines in the sand dunes at Shell Island near Barmouth in Wales.

Cypripedium reginae in bud (May)

Cypripedium reginae in bud (May)

An end of season bargain Cypripedium bought a couple of years ago, probably C reginae also now over, produced a sister this year. I don’t think some orchids like to be lonely, they often form little colonies of interlocking forked roots. There is something a little bloated about these particular orchids in full flower but I look forward to the build up to flowering, from a small sheathed bud, to enclosed pouch then bud burst.

Shown with the D Blackthorn is Corydalis flexuosa which is supposed to disappear underground in summer? It remained low growing and green all winter. The purple and the blue don’t quite go together, it’s a slightly nauseous combo which I have inadvertently also created in a temporary planting with Salvia patens Guanajuato from Constantine Nursery (who also stock a white D fuchsii) and two heliotropes (thankfully Lord Roberts’s first flowers are fading as they age).

Delphinium Alice Artindale

Delphinium Alice Artindale

Alice has gone mad, mad I say! I’ve had this double flowered delphinium a number of times over the years, (this one from Pan Global Plants last year). Mostly she has been a little wan and spindly, is this boom and bust I wonder, just one big burst and no more. As you might be able to deduce (already dead headed clump to the left), she’s kicking in as the main delphinium show in my garden is finishing, although in another local garden their fabulous delphinium show is just peaking. This delphinium was introduced in 1935 by Artindale’s nursery and named Alice after the owner’s wife. I see that many more doubles are now available including the Highlander series bred in Glasgow by Tony Coakley (the Elizabeth McGregor nursery stocks a range).

The sun has gone in briefly, hurrah! I must away to rake up lawn clippings and dance with Clegs.

Posted in Diary | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

It’s quiet here in the country … not

Stemmacantha buds

Stemmacantha buds

Outside at this moment blackbirds are sounding persistent warnings and trying to fend off squirrels (I think) in a nearby tree, we’ve got some cocky squirrely youngsters who’re also raiding the bird food. Which is also going down at an alarming rate as we are host to hordes of greenfinch, bullfinch, chaffinch and various tit fledgies.

Earlier four or five buzzards, probably youngsters (the underwing markings were not so definite), were exploring the thermals, loop the looping and making daring low level forays over the garden until a grumpy carrion crow decided to spoil their fun and see them off.

Last night two tawny owl youngsters in nearby oak trees were rustily “sfweeping” in competition presumably for parental food. I gave up watching for an incoming silhouette as the daylight turned down and the moon got brighter. One night last year we had a youngster right by the house that went on and on, and on, until finally a parent turned up with a frog offering.

The magpies continue to run egg forays and it’s their excited yakking and ratattating that now alerts me to the possibility that the chickens have laid, 3 – 0 to me today, 1 – 1 to the magpies yesterday.

The evening light makes the towering white foxgloves glow briefly and then fade out reminding me of a Tove Jansson Midsummer Madness moomin illustration. Soon the foxgloves will have had their time, the gloves are dropping one by one accompanied by the trumpet amplified buzzing of bees.

Sweet Pea Matucana

Sweet Pea Matucana

Scent is starting to build as I walk out from the back door, heliotrope, brugmansia, nemesia, honeysuckle and sweet pea Matucana, a heady mix.

But damn the bl***y mole, the courgette plants were all undermined today and wilting in the sun, newly planted iris set all askew and rings run around plants whose soil I stamped down yesterday.

Posted in Diary | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Things I quite like at the moment

Iris Provencal with I Katie Koo in the background

Iris Provencal with I Katie Koo in the background

Apart from magpies, moles, squirrels, capsid bugs, chlorosis and various fungal blights and diseases.

The magpies are stealing the chicken eggs. One or other of a pair hop up to the little ramp into the chicken house, cock one eye towards the opening,  if there’s an egg it’s in and gashing at it to empty it enough to get it away to a place of safety to finish it off.

Luckily it’s raining at the moment and the chickens are in the hen house, but I can hear the magpies chakking and skreaking close by, just watching, (as are the jackdaws and less often the rather magnificent Carrion Crows). Is someone molesting the Goldcrest nest (magpie/squirrel)? I’ve found mossy nest remnants over the last two weeks under the tree they are active in.

The mole is running rings round plants and dehydrating them. On the River Dart in Devon last week a dead mole gently floated by,  its large white paddle paws raised to the sky.

I’ve enjoyed a number of the iris for the first time this year, I bought some a while back which languished in pots during the move. Madame Chereau has been good value, the white flowers have strong blue plicate edges and are smaller than “normal”, held on elegant candelabra. She’s been in flower for a good few weeks, just coming to an end now. Nassak has pale blue standards and white falls with blue plicate markings, it is beautifully scented like English Cottage, and like EC was toppled by heavy rain. Katie Koo is a smaller I germanica, earlier flowering with purple-blue flowers, a good sturdy do’er and strongly scented. The picture above shows Provencal which along with Patina will be relocated to the south facing garden, with their odd colouring they don’t fit in the cream/blue getting more pinky mauve (oh no!) border. Ya gotta be disciplined with this colour scheme thing,  it ain’t happening for me yet. Iris suppliers Woottens and Cayeux

Allium schubertii with Carex buchananii

Allium schubertii with Carex buchananii

Thalictrum Elin with Pimpinella major Rosea

Pimpinella major Rosea with foliage of Thalictrum Elin

Clematis Lasurstern with elder

Clematis Lasurstern and a dark leaved elder

Allium christophii viola Louisa

Allium christophii with viola Louisa

I like this mad explosion of the allium with the swirling Carex. The pinky russet tones complement each other.

Bees like alliums too.





This picture doesn’t capture the metallic glaucous gorgeousness of Thalictrum Elin’s foliage (the flowerheads are another few feet up in the air). The pointillist panicles of the pimpinella airily float around it. The pimpinella flowers are a light crushed blueberry and cream sort of pink.




This clematis had been left by the previous owner on a south facing wall and I relocated it. I’m guessing it’s Lasurstern which is described as having dinner plate sized flowers. I’ll keep the elder clipped fairly tight, this year it caught up with the clematis. Later on Morning Glory Heavenly Blue will become intertwined for a late summer/autumn contrast show (slugs permitting).


Who’d have thought these starry alliums would have a sweet scent? Weeding has its bonuses when you get down and personal with the soil. Viola Louisa from Elizabeth McGregor’s nursery is also a good do’er, long flowering and scented. Rosa Chapeau de Napoleon is struggling to get a look in in the mix at the moment, the crested buds are in the middle of the picture.

Posted in Diary | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

There’s a bright golden haze …

Buttercups in late May

Buttercups in late May

It’s not the corn of Oklahoma but the quintessential British buttercup, utterly pointless commercially but a fabulous sight. It’s Ranunculus acris, the Meadow Buttercup rather than the Creeping Buttercup R repens which comprises half our lawn. It has occurred to me that weakening the grass in the meadow bit in the garden with Yellow Rattle will open up more space for Creeping Buttercup rather defeating the object of greater floristic diversity?

Lush May and the silage has been being gathered before the expected downpours, the drone of the machines in the fields and then the sudden rattle of farm machinery belting by on the road.

Over the last few days the indolence of full summer has hit me, the plants in greenhouse and conservatory stressed by high temperatures, and plants to go in the garden stacking up with nowhere to put ‘em until we have some softening rain and a bit of overcast weather.

Buckeye Belle

Buckeye Belle

There may well be a June flowering gap as many plants are already in full flower. Peony Buckeye Belle is well ahead of the other herbaceous peonies though, what a fabulous colour.

First roses into flower have been Louis XIV, the deep red flowers scorched as usual, three already here, Mary Rose, Handel and Queen Elizabeth, and Gloire de Dijon restored for now at least to a luscious apricot colour (last year it flowered more pink which apparently it does sometimes when it’s hot).

The starling missions stopped a few days ago so they must have fledged well ahead of last year.

Posted in Diary | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Twisting my lupins man

DSC02054My poor lupins, first it was a few collapsing leaves now the flowering stems are writhing. It’s not lupin aphid that much I know. I’m guessing it’s lupin anthracnose which according to the RHS is more likely in wet conditions. If the whole lot collapses it’ll have to come out, bye, bye lupins.

Yesterday in a slight break in the rain, above the burbling of swallows skimming the field, swifts scything the air, the first I’ve seen this year.

Posted in Diary | Tagged , , | Leave a comment



Now open – the Holmen / Braviken pergola

The latest addition to the garden was finished last weekend, architect designed and built with no real help from me at all.

We’ve decided not to paint it but let it silver naturally even though it’s stamped all over with Holmen / Braviken the wood suppliers. In a corner of Wiltshire a bit of Swedish forest stands proud.

The path with a brick edge down to the stream already existed. We didn’t want it to look too blocky so opted for the open uprights rather than solid. The structure has to act as a SW windbreak and as a carrier for four Wisteria, an unnamed white, W sinensis Prolific and Amethyst and W floribunda Lavender Lace. It’s also going to take a couple of climbing roses including Guinee.

The top is strung with wires which create a curve. When the wisteria has grown and is trained a tunnel effect will be achieved.

Work in progress

Work in progress day 3

Posted in Diary | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Warm leatherette

Tulip Queen of Night

Queen of Night

I picked two tulip Queen of Night and have them in a vase on the kitchen windowsill where I can marvel at the softest leathery sheened petals and deep deep colour.

In the Saturday Telegraph this weekend Fergus Garrett was talking about reliably perennial tulips and the importance of choosing finer leaved varieties for borders so they don’t flop all over newly emerging plants. For pot display I would normally throw away the bulbs anyway and treat them like an annual. However in one very neglected pot which is weed filled and hasn’t been touched for a couple of years, a deep red-purple tulip is flowering away merrily. It may be Havran as it is less cup shaped and more pointy than Queen of Night or it could be Philippe de Comines.

We visited the plant fair at Great Chalfield yesterday and they had planted a black tulip probably QofN in amongst cow parsley,  tulip / cow parsley is a classic May combo, normally with scarlet tulips, black was an interesting change, but you do need to pick tulips with staying power and which don’t mind jostling with thuggish ‘weeds’ (these are other variations on the theme collected by Ben Pentreath. I’d say the meadowing in the Mall has been going on longer as I remember maybe 10 or more years ago riding down the Mall in a black cab on a rain washed May day and being enchanted by a similar scene).

Tulip batalinii Apricot Jewel nearly over

Tulip batalinii Apricot Jewel nearly over

Much as I like tulips I haven’t quite convinced myself to add swathes to the long borders (yesterday at Great Chalfield there was a very pleasing combination of creamy pink and apricot tulips). I do have some species tulips dotted about and must remind myself to add more T batalinii Apricot Jewel to the tawny border this autumn. I have some much carted about scarlet T sprengeri, there were 3 bulbs originally 10 years ago now only 2, you can see how successful I am with this tulip! They’ll go on the move again. I also have the elegant yellow early in to flower T sylvestris  in the woodland bed.

And I forgot to celebrate May Day in writing, well it did rain most of the day, but I can say that the candles on the Horse Chestnut are well alight. I’m still fretting over the Ash trees of which we have a number round here, barely a whisper of greening. Then I have to tell myself with this advanced season it’s only early May, patience.

Iris and Allium May

Fat buds of iris English Cottage and Allium stipitatum

The first proper iris is out  I Florentina (the mini’s Gingerbread Man and Jewelers Art started first), I was so hoping I still had a bit of this iris. As usual I didn’t label up pots when I moved house so have had to wait a year to see what was what and who was who. She isn’t much really to look at being a mopey off white, it’s just one of those sentimental (and scented) things. She’s closest to the really wet section of the border so will be moved to the back garden when we’ve made raised beds. The eremurus at this end has already decided to call it a day due to squadge despite grit. Next iris out will be I germanica English Cottage, white with a blue picotee edge and heavy scent and then a wave of I sibirica’s.

And those darned vine weevils fooled me again, everything looks fine then comes spring. Rather than break up some of the summer pots I left them in the greenhouse over the winter. One contained Fuchsia Lady Bacon, a ginger and a dahlia. Lady Bacon looked a little sad suddenly a few weeks ago, I thought it was lack of water as the greenhouse was starting to get warm and pots to dry out. Yesterday I decided to break the pots up and redistribute the plants, Lady Bacon still looking decidedly worse for wear. One light tug and away she came, too easily parted from the soil, she had no roots left at all.  I managed to break the emerging ginger shoot in the tipping out. The chickens got the pot soil to beak and claw through, some of the weevils were already in their soon to be beetle state.

And it looks like a good year for Hemlock Water Dropwort, it’s coming up in the garden and great lush swathes are pushing up from the stream banks, did the flooding aid it’s proliferation this year? ‘Tis a pity that this pretty umbellifer is extremely poisonous, Glyphosate time..

The first shy flower on Molly The Witch and the woodbed one year on

The first shy flower on Molly The Witch and the woodbed one year on

Posted in Diary | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment