A green tomato year

Queen of the Night in Flower

Epiphyllum oxypetalum flowering for the first time a few weeks ago.

A funny old summer. A couple of blisteringly hot energy sapping days interspersed with temperature plummeting days of solid rain and normal english summer weather in between. Today it’s raining heavily again, on Saturday it was warm, sunny and humid, a couple of flashes of lightning on Saturday night.

The tomatoes in the re-sited greenhouse aren’t ripening very quickly as we shift into autumn gear. The greenhouse is more shaded then previously, it used to get full-on south facing light most of the day. One Gardener’s Delight today is displaying a faint blush, Costoluto Fiorentino and Big Rainbow are still in various shades of pale jade green, Gypsy is a darker green altogether with even darker green shoulders.

I was hoping to do some gardening today – forget it! The oceans of Fat Hen that came in with the cow muck will have to await uprooting and the cutting back too. I’m not in the mood for being showered and slapped by sodden and rotting foliage. The hornbeams should be trimmed – but not today.

I also need to start taking loads of cuttings, maybe this afternoon i’ll retreat to the leaky potting shed and commune with the spiders whose webs festoon everything, Miss Havisham would be proud. My auriculas also go un-repotted

Late summer flowers and produce

As I look down the rainy garden border blobs of doubled white Shasta Daisy Beauty of Droitwich catch the eye, then on to the downward belled Galtonia candicans towards the cloud of golden daises of Rudbeckia triloba. Dots of blue agapanthus add a more subtle eye line down the front of the border.  In the rose bed Lilium Black Beauty (in reality dark ruby and white) rear over 6 feet up out of the surrounding foliage, heads bowed by the rain.

The courgettes have started sulking with the dull cold weather and maybe i’ll get two squash out of 3 plants this year? This morning a Lungo Bianco courgette presses against the greenhouse glass palely looming out of the shadows, maybe the last at this rate!

Epiphyllum oxypetalum in bud

Epiphyllum oxypetalum in bud – very Little Shop of Horrors but she doesn’t sing

The new greenhouse position has suited Epiphyllum oxypetalum, the Queen of the Night, a great gangly grower with paddle bladed leaves, she rewarded me after quite a number of years of sulking with a huge white heavily scented flower a few weeks ago. The flower did stay open into daylight but certainly darkness triggered the dramatic opening. There is another scaly maroon bud on its way but I may have to move her back to the lighter conservatory which may upset things!

An abundance of empurpled golden Victoria Plums  plop to the ground from overladen branches where legions of flies are enjoying the harvest but seemingly few wasps. One can only eat so many and the jam is a bit insipid attested to by the fact I still have jars from two years ago lurking in the back of a cupboard.

No hornets so far are seen to be taking advantage of the somewhat smaller apples this year which are littering the ground unchewed, tipsy Red Admirals are few and far between.

The fruits of the Merryweather damson whose leaves were damaged by a heavy infestation of aphids earlier on are just turning (the aphids were also in the hazel trees, sticky honeydew rained down on my washing annoyingly for a couple of weeks and left sooty streaks on the polygonatum leaves before presumably nature balanced things out again). The Greengage decided not to flower this year and the Quince flowered with no set. Whichever critter likes the Early Rivers plums whipped them again, one minute the sparse crop was there, next day gone.

Brambles are aggressively thrusting their way out of the hedges, putting on it seems inches daily in another push of growth and the honeysuckle which has been cut back a number of times tries yet again to envelop bordering plants.

Self-seeded and planted Wild Angelica add a fuzzy froth of off-white to mauve flowers to the late summer streambanks and wood margins. The flower heads appear less defined en masse than some umbels, the supporting branches held aloft on sturdy stems complemented by broad leaves.

Thunbergia gregorii

Thunbergia gregorii

I’m enjoying Thunbergia gregorii bought from Hill House Nursery earlier this year. Huge orange flowers emerge from rusty furred pods. It’s only slightly behind a Morning Glory in the race to the top of an obelisk.

Crickets, blues and hobbies

Last weekend in the parish field a number of Common Blue butterflies (I think) were shut up for the night each having attached itself high up on a browned grass stem, and amongst the grasshoppers Dark Brown Crickets chirred. The Speckled Wood butterflies have emerged and occasional Peacocks and Commas dodge the showers. A new crop of Cabbage White caterpillars is steadily chewing it’s way through the rampant self-seeded nasturtiums.

The swirling Tree Bee activity stopped a few weeks ago. Our odd Starling is still it seems living in the nest under the eaves emerging in the morning and in the evening. We thought we saw a Hobby pass by a few weeks ago with its distinctive Swift outline. The Sparrowhawk has come crashing through the shrubs in the main border twice in the past week.

A mole is as usual taking advantage of the softened clay to go earth swimming, some plants in the newish (not as shady as I thought it would be) border are continually being uprooted by one of the many velvet coated pests which infest the garden!

The honeyfungus issue is still vexing me, I’ve lost a Stachyurus suddenly as well. How does a manky old plum tree survive? And honeyfungus must exist in a woodland environment so how does that work? Do other fungi compete with it and lessen its impact?


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Fabulous foxgloves

This part of the garden is only a year old.

This is the south facing area which was a tatty lawn in May last year, we dug it out and the other half got busy with the pine sleepers and paths. I’m particularly pleased with the Digitalis trojana, these plants were grown from seed from an original plant bought from The Botanic Nursery. They have remained in flower for weeks and are just starting to look tired now. Reportedly perennial.

The picture also shows how good some plants are for adding fast height even if you ditch them as slower growers come into their own, including the silver atriplex and Sphaeralcea Newleaze Coral from cuttings taken in Autumn 2013. Some grasses can also give quick height and screening.

Bunium bulbocastanum

Bunium bulbocastanum above from Special Plants Nursery seed sown last year is a neat smallish umbel with mats of leaves from which the flower stalks emerge. Said to be perennial.

Falcaria vulgaris

Another long-lasting pretty airy umbel this year is Longleaf,  Falcaria vulgaris, a biennial rare in the UK I think, the seeds came from France. This is growing in dry semi-shade and seems to be happy.

Pests and diseases

I have a number of umbels growing in the cottagey part of my woodbed. I’ve also planted a few shrubs in this area over the last couple of years, 2 tree peonies, a dogwood and a lespedeza. The dogwood failed and I thought it was because of the conditions (it’s very poor dry soil in which an aster, lungwort and Cyclamen hederifolium seem to thrive). Then suddenly a couple of weeks ago the lespedeza collapsed as did the two peonies this spring. On digging up these plants I diagnosed honey fungus, although I’ve never seen the fruiting bodies (the mushrooms), the roots were black and riddled with white mycelium. Someone had mentioned in passing the previous owners had had trees down because of it but not where. I only hope it’s really just this area that’s heavily affected, we have trees all round us which seem OK.

There are quite a few instances of fasciation this year although I’ve often seen it on Linaria purpurea others affected include Digitalis ferruginea and Veronicastrum.

Along with continuing mole issues i.e. going round and under rootballs and starving plants of water (it’s found its way into the newly re-positioned greenhouse borders. Only baked solid clay is preventing it from getting into the new raised veg beds). I say it, but actually we think there is more than one at work. Plus a rabbit digging in the borders and an occasional deer passes through delicately browsing the roses. One chicken is broody so has protected the eggs from marauding Magpies for the last few weeks – the respite will be over soon.

Owls and other birds

We’ve seen a Barn Owl sweep across the parish field a couple of times over the last few weeks at around 10:30 pm but any Tawny activity is a way away unlike previous years. The Sparrowhawk young are testing themselves as their calls have been more prevalent again the last couple of mornings accompanied by incessant Blackbird alarm calls (the manic screeching peaked in mating season in early April)

Butterflies so far are mainly Meadow Browns and Skippers. Tiger Moths have been quite prevalent, you just catch a fluster of red and black from the corner of your eye. We went looking for glow worms last night by the canal, we counted 8 females with their lamps lit, mainly in the mown grass. Some sites have already recorded up to 80 – Wow!

Philadelphus mexicanus x palmeri

Philadelphus mexicanus x palmeri

Picked the first sweet peas of the year a couple of weeks back, I bought a red, white and blue mix in a sale, only the blue Lord Nelson appears to have a scent sadly. The main scent now is Lonicera halliana and Lilium regale with a bit of heliotrope stirred in. The evening scented Zaluzianskya are also just coming into flower along with Brugmansias.

We have a fabulous Philadelphus from Pan Global Plants with the most amazing scent which was in flower a couple of weeks back. It also has small leaves and is pendant in growth so altogether lovely! (We’ve since been up to PGP and Nick Macer tells me he’s now named it Casa Azul (the Blue House) after the Frida Kahlo Museum (as this Mock Orange has Mexican roots).

We’re waiting for rain today but whether it will grace us I don’t know, otherwise I’ll have to continue watering.



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Nightingales with megaphones

Posy of June flowers  Garrigue

Freshly picked from the Languedoc garrigue in early June

How time flies! Two weeks ago I was staying with a friend who runs a chambres d’hote in the Languedoc. The house is in the garrigue. Garrigue is not just low growing shrubs and plants like rosemary but also comprises trees including pines, juniper and evergreen oaks interspersed with the occasional vineyard. The stony golden earth is home to a rich flora.

The highways people have been stripping areas back from the road of scrub (presumably a fire thing?), and other plants have taken advantage of this. Clematis flammula was growing in fresh dark green humps over the ground, the small white flowers just coming out (lost mine this winter along with a C rehederiana – why?). Lonicera etrusca with fine spidery scented trumpet flowers is covetable for the garden, the stem appears to pierce through a series of twinned cupped leaves. Phlomis lychnitis is definitely something I’d seek out for the drier garden as well. Low growing with silvered furry leaves and clear lemon flowers. An odd tightly growing little shrub with small cream flowers was Daphne gnidium.

Some grasses and other plants were already dried, a form of wild oat? bleached almost white looked gorgeous in the lowering evening sunlight.  Various helichrysums were also just coming into full-flower, tuffets of silver leaves topped with pale yellow bobbles. Also very close to home I found a splendid Lizard Orchid over a foot tall which the French call Goat Orchid as it apparently smells of goat.

Nightingales with megaphones
Nightingale song could be heard not just at night, they seemed to be everywhere and were even more noticeable over the Spanish border in the area around Girona. Whilst it can be lovely it’s also LOUDER than anyone else too. I also heard hoo, hoo and fleetingly saw the chestnut back and a glimpse of the raised barred crest of a Hoopoe. It flies like a Woodpecker in short dipping bursts. Also I heard Cuckoos – on their way back to Africa from elsewhere or local and staying longer? The sound of newly emerged Cicadas was also being added to the soundscape, the temperature had got high enough to trigger their hatching.

Meanwhile in Languedoc gardens
Oleander was in full flower in many colours, used mainly as hedging. In one town we passed through a really intensely dark blue Morning Glory tumbled over a gateway and in another a Caesalpinia gilliesii cockily strutted its stuff.

Very jealous of Dan Pearson who wrote about his visit to Annie’s Annuals in California in last week’s Observer. And shame on Joe Swift for not embracing the hanging basket ethos fully on Gardener’s World this week.

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Moving on swiftly

Iris Gingerbread Man

Miniature iris Gingerbread Man

Yesterday was sunny and blustery after the previous two weeks when we had frost every day followed by skirling winds and rain. I looked up into a cloudless blue sky when I heard the scream of swifts and above me in a layered cloud the underwings of the lower birds flashing as they caught the light, over 50 Swifts, 30 seconds later they had gone. I presume they’re coming in on the south westerlies.

In the last week the world has become more 3D as leaves have been filling out trees and hedges, all is at its brightest green. The first big iris, Katie-Koo is in flower, English Cottage is close behind. The first rose looks like it will be R Devoniensis the rest are still immature green buds.

The greengage hasn’t flowered this year but the rather forlorn quince has loads of pink flowers. The only wisteria of those planted last year with flowers is Prolific.

The starling babies calls are becoming deeper as they grow. The magpies are becoming a nuisance again raiding the hen house and gashing holes in the eggs. Last week they had enough time to get one out, I found a crushed shell in the chicken pen.

I was going to dig out a bit of Bergenia ciliata and brushed back some old leaves, there in a mossy cup a single wren’s egg, I tucked the leaves back but can’t think it will last long on the ground.

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A hare is a very fine thing

Blackbird's nest

Newly built Blackbird’s nest in the cold frame

A few weeks ago one evening contemplating the emerging shade loving plants in the woodbed I saw a rich brown something making it’s way down the byway to the side of the house, at first I thought it was a small terrier but it moved oddly – a hare was making speedy but not rushed progress along the road.

This morning at 7:30 in the parish field in front of the house a brown shape I thought it a small fox at first, but no the hare again. Seeming to be aware it was being watched it ambled around the field at one point up on it’s haunches the silvered ears swiveling to catch any sound, and then spooked by something it was off, streaking through the new fence. Gone the large quite bulky creature, transformed into the streamlined hare.

The new parish field fence has also allowed us to discover a badger path. Yours disgusted Mr Brock soon dug a scrape under the annoying fence to allow him on his way. Whether its a nightly ramble or an infrequent path we’ll soon find out.

Last weekend seems to have been au point for many birds. I discovered a beautifully built nest in the cold frame still heavy with wet mud built in the three days I hadn’t visited to water. Eschewing the nice new home we put up the Starlings have gone under the eaves again. After a screeching courtship last weekend they’ve settled down to nest building. The finches are hogging the sunflower seeds, Greenfinch is at the top of the pecking order (5 of them this morning) then a Bullfinch pair, the Goldfinch occasionally and the Chaffinch pair flutter around on the edges. Having not seen the woodpecker for months he (we presume) is drumming everywhere, a very old abandoned nestbox in an apple tree was a perfect amplifier to break the stillness yesterday morning.

I seem to have peony wilt on at least one P Rockii and a bit of die-back on another cultivar which is a pity if I have to abandon tree peonies. Two aquilegia I bought from a garden centre last year also started off well but looked dodgy so they’ve been burnt, I hope that doesn’t transfer to the other aquilegia.

After a warm and sunny few days the plum blossom has broken.

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Let’s hear it for the crocus

Crocus chrysanthus Herald

Crocus chrysanthus Herald

I can boast two daffodils out in the garden on St David’s Day, but a whole lot of crocus embraced the sun in the spring weather a whopping 11C. A few bees were seen out and about on their travels.

The copse, spinney, bit of wood at the end of the garden is a wash of snowdrops which are just over au point, spring is quickening.  I noticed two richly coloured violet flowers out, no primroses yet, but I’ve seen them palely loitering in the hedgerows already.

Crocus biflorus Blue Pearl

Crocus biflorus Blue Pearl

A rainy squall has just passed through putting paid to any thoughts of gardening. The season is already hastening away from me, weeding to be done, seeds to be sown, the last muck to be spread, too wet, too tired, no time.

It’s also the time of year when plants that look as if they’ve toughed it out against the frost simply don’t have the energy to jumpstart themselves into the spring thing and reveal themselves as dead or on the way. The jury is currently out on the Beschorneria but one Coronilla glauca Citrina has had it.

At Bath Spa station yesterday I sat staring up from the south facing platform into the wooded cliff that rises across the river. How many times in how many seasons have I been on that platform and looked into it in over 16 years? On this early spring day the many browns of twigs and branches were at their best, smudged here and there with the yellow of hazel catkins. One loses a sense of scale, it looks intimate and close, until a small, small buzzard lazily drifts up into the sky a long way away and a tiny flashing grey dot of a pigeon passes across the canvas and disappears. Then its seems vast and special so close to the centre of this city.

Jackdaws have rediscovered the bird food fatballs now thoughts are turning to nesting, three are currently sitting in a sumach tree, one balancing precariously on the wire tube stretching out a balancing wing. Earlier the sparrowhawk was on its rounds diving into the honeysuckle after a tit but missing.

Crocus Orange Monarch

Crocus Orange Monarch

The sun is out again now golden highlights against a grey sky. We’re 43 minutes away from sunset.

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It started with a hungry caterpillar

Aeonium arboreum

Who’s nibbled me aeonium?

Well actually the weekend was all about hungry things. First the mystery of the Aeonium arboreum muncher. A few months ago small caterpillar poo appeared on the leaves just after I had brought it in for the winter from the garden. OK you think, it will pupate soon, no worries. However a few weeks now down the line and this weekend large poo, bigger than mouse poo, but definitely caterpillar! So I had to find it, it was getting ridiculous -one big fat green, very torpid caterpillar was found and dislodged.

But a new discovery,  who’d have thought aeoniums have scented leaves? It appears some do, in my caterpillar probings a pleasant sweet scent could be detected, and a few times I’ve walked into the conservatory and thought, where is that scent coming from? Now I know.

Other hungry things – two Sparrowhawks, a grey backed male and brown backed female calling and making sorties past the bird feeders every few hours, seemingly not too bothered by my presence in the garden.

Mouse corn stash

Someone has been hiding corn

Voles are eating crocus corms, the shooting tops lie scattered on the soil. Many of the summer pots have become repositories for fist sized stashes of stolen chicken corn, probably field mice. Some stashes show themselves through a telltale shock of green sprouts, others by the stinky mush of semi rotting / fermenting grains, as I found when re-planting a peony that had been in a pot all summer.

After a night of rain and wind,  today the flooding came higher than it’s ever been up the garden, in the half light this morning silvered lakes of water occupied most of the garden, by 4:30 pm the water had retreated back to the swollen stream leaving tidelines of old hazel leaves to mark its passing, and a certain squelchiness underfoot especially the swollen mole runs. Where have the garden’s moles retreated to I wonder?

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No prizes to be won

Carpe Diem tile

Frosty sun

I wouldn’t do very well in the Cottage Garden Society most plants flowering on Christmas Day competition. My garden appears to be in lockdown and maybe we are colder here than other parts of the West Country as we’re on the flat with cold rolling down from Salisbury Plain? There is very little to look at flower-wise.

Trad is musing on tidying and order in the garden. I think there is a difference between tidy and order, tidy is a state, order is something potentially more decorative. My garden is neither!

Carpe Diem apparently originally meant ‘Pluck the day’, more appropriate for the garden and less aggressive than ‘Seize the day’. Today’s frost (after rain last night) is not as pretty as the previous post, a workmanlike freeze which isn’t going to lift much despite the sun. Some parts of the UK have had a snowfall but not here.

The first tentative ribbons unfurl from Hamamelis Westerstede

The first tentative ribbons unfurl from Hamamelis Westerstede

Witch Hazel Westerstede is one of only a couple of flowers attempting to bloom today. The other is Daphne Jacqueline Postill which is not quite ready to open although the buds are showing promise.

Gardening is supposed to be on the agenda today but with soggy and frosted soil it’s not much of a prospect – oh well.

Maybe it’s a day for planning the summer borders,  seed catalogues are starting to drop through the letterbox and Avon Bulbs are tempting me with snowdrops.

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Frost. What frost?

Eaten apple

Food for Blackbirds and Fieldfares

Yesterday another hard frost laid a glamorous mantle over the mouldering leaves and shaggy lawn. As I shut up the shed in the near dark the frost had crept back silver in the half light giving a slight crunch underfoot.

Today a big gold sun is just appearing over a line of trees having been officially up for 29 minutes accompanied by a strengthening south westerly wind. Green world is emphatically back.

We don’t have gently lowing cattle round here, this morning I can hear them shouting, complaining and bellowing more than grumpily as they do, the wonky Donkey in the village is sawing away, a distant cockerel is welcoming the sun and a couple of ducks are waak waaking in the waterlogged field.

Plants have had a few more rounds with The Frost and look further battered, more have succumbed or fully retreated. In hollows and by hedges plants didn’t see the sun all day and the frost didn’t lift. I tidied up my frozen auriculas, pulling off rotten leaves with numbing fingers, the sun fleetingly graced them in late afternoon.

I savour the still, light falling moments on clear cold days in the run up to the shortest day. Last night I stood under an ash tree, stubby twigs with arthritic black knobbed joints stood sharply defined against the last of a pale darjeeling tea coloured sunset. I was hoping like last Saturday to see a tawny owl swoop low across the field, but not last night.

In the garden the Jackdaws are back having been out in the country since early summer. They are hanging around the chicken run as are the Magpies who are getting cockier again as the food sources get fewer. Yesterday there was a squawk of Blackbird alarm by the replenished bird feeders and the Sparrowhawk came through, unsuccessful I think.

I set-to on the Merryweather Damson planted nearly two years ago, taking off lower branches and tipping back top branches, it already looks taller with its skirts lifted a little. I had a couple of damsons this year, more flavourful than an insipid Victoria Plum, just that little hint of pleasurable sourness even at their ripest.

Trees can be scary. From a not too distant perspective the old apple trees which have had major butchery at some point fairly recently are now covered with water shoots, they are getting towards their last probably, but are familiar and friendly. The closer you get to the trees with pruning in mind and look up into the network of naked branches, the higher the trees become and the likelihood of being able to get at most branches without a ladder recedes.  Now the leaves are off one of the apple trees I can see climbing rose The Garland has clambered higher than I had expected, sprays of small hips adding a faint air of festive jollity. A mole has had a field day running rings around the tree under the cover of a worm attracting hazel leaf carpet and rotting apples.

Skimmia japonica reevesiana

I shall have to make do with Skimmia instead.

Last year the birds left me plenty of holly berries, not so this year, suddenly they’ve all gone, none for me.

This time next week it will be the shortest day – the year turns again.

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I feel pretty…

Bittercress in frost

The gardener’s bane bittercress takes on a frosty glamour

I feel pretty and witty and bright!

Boy, does frost change everything. Even weeds look spiffing.

That was yesterday, today is windy with fitful rain, all is green again.


More tender plants have been battered into final submission, the newer growth on the myrtle has been taken but surprisingly Pelargonium sidoides is still with us, the rest of the pelargoniums have succumbed.

It is starting to brighten, pockets of blue amongst the grey can be seen and now shafts of sun are illuminating the garden.

Yesterday the frost stayed in the footprints of my random trails round the overgrown lawn, and as darkness fell a big gold moon heaved itself into the sky and a fire roared, its orange flames providing warmth and a focus in the darkening night.

Pennisetum Red Head

Pennisetum Red Head – the foliage is dying back but the fuzzies remain

In the frosty stillness of the day the loud clattering of individual leaves ricocheting off hazel branches as they fell startled me. Today the wind is making a restless soundscape and challenging the last few leaves still hanging on, mainly apple, oak and some hazels.

The Pennisetum and some of the other grasses are still holding their heads others are looking somewhat battered, although planting bulbs a few weeks ago I found my jumper had gathered quite a few embedded pennisetum seeds which had to be teased from the wool.

Hydrangea Crug So Cool

Iced flowers of Hydrangea Crug So Cool

The last sale bulbs are finding homes but as ever I’m digging up others in my quest to find space.

I finally shelled out for the white Allium Mount Everest mainly because
Avon Bulbs  had reduced them in their sale. Crocus Ladykiller has been added to the white border and daffodil W P Milner has taken up residence with Muscari Peppermint. Snowdrops and daffodils are already pushing through in the spinney, copse, brake.

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