The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies. Gertrude Jekyll

Annie's Little Plot

Annie's Little Plot
Dreaming of my summer garden

Saturday, 22 October 2016

A new lettuce pest

Thats odd, I don't know how that happened but it seems that an email went out yesterday notifying people of a post that I wrote in July last year. Very odd! So apologies if there was some confusion.

I've been sorting my photos out that I've been taking this year and reflecting on some of the quirky things that have been going on in my garden this year. I decided early on in the year this year that I was going to grow my salad crops in my garden rather than at the allotment where I have a constant battle with slugs and snails. I don't go up frequently enough to keep on top of the problem. I'd bought a couple of new tin containers from Southport flower show last year and also had aquired some very handy mushroom trays and some wooden crates which I though would be the ideal container, once lined, to grow salad crops in. So I sowed some seeds in the greenhouse in modules, potted on a bit and then planted then out into the containers in May. Hardened off and then moved outside and had visions of picking salad crops over the next few weeks. Here they are looking splendid on first planting.

The varieties that I grew were some tried and tested ones which I knew were pretty reliable and a couple of new ones. So there was a variety called 'Bijou' which is a frilly dark red leaves, almost black and I've found in the past less likely to be eaten by slugs. 'Rosedale' a Cos type lettuce with dark-red tinged leaves and green centre, plus 'Little Gem' the classic short cos-type, which I've grown often before. Plus some mixed salad leaves seeds.
Now where to put them to keep them away from the slugs and I had the idea of placing them on my wheelie bins which are inevitable these days in most gardens. Slugs won't get up there I thought. So all well and good and they got going and grew on and I did get some leaves off, but then I noticed that something was nibbling the edges of the leaves. Slugs, I thought, managing to climb up there or had there been some in the compost. I kept an eye on them in the evenings when usually I go round picking off slugs and snails from my plants but no signs.
Now I like to think of myself as quite a natural gardener, I love trying to encourage bees and butterflies onto my plot by planting their favourite flowers. I have a number of bird feeders in my old apple tree to encourage the birds, one of the most common birds in my garden is the house sparrow and I'm pleased with that. Once a common bird but, if you look at the link above according to the RSPB, they are a bird in severe decline and they actually have a red status meaning that they have the highest conservation priority, with the species needing urgent action. They are a noisy lot, flitting around the gardens round here in quite big flocks and when the babies are there sat on the fence quivering away waiting for the parents to feed them I love to watch them. Anyway they congregate in my laurel bushes down the side of the house next to where I put my wheelie bins and often flit away as I walk down to get to the back door. I started to suspect them as my lettuce nibbler but struggled to catch them at it. Until one morning I caught them from the window of my utility room.

Caught in the act and as you can see the lettuce plants (this is the 'Little Gem') have been  almost demolished. They must love the tender green leaves. They definitely seem discerning about this as they didn't touch the red/black leaved lettuces. So I did get a good harvest off them. So here is a hint to gardeners, they are less often eaten by slugs and birds, do they know something we don't. Less sweet more bitter. I don't know.

In the end I was very relaxed about it and as you can see I just left them to it. I have noticed the house sparrows quite a few times since flitting amongst by flowers and plants nibbling I think. Could they be picking off bugs, drops of water or pecking the flowers? Probably all three. I'm sure they like the primrose flowers as they are often nibbled. But I'm just pleased to see the house sparrows thriving here and long may it continue.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

A tour of ......Trentham gardens

One of my gardening heroes is Nigel Dunnett, he specialises in research of 'modern' meadows and planting schemes using diverse plants with wildlife in mind but also plants to give a long flowering season. He was involved in developing the Pictorial meadows seed mixes, colourful flower meadow seed mix which are less reliant on nutrient poor soil. Originally I guess he had more of a lean towards landscape design in an urban setting and he was one of the designers for the Olympic park planting, he's transformed parts of Sheffield with his innovative planting plans and designs and he's also done the planting round the Barbican in London. He's a big advocate of green roofs and water management within garden design and has designed a number of gardens with these sorts of themes for the Chelsea Flower Show. I heard that he was developing some new perennial meadows and planting schemes at Trentham Gardens near Stoke and so this was on my summer list of gardens to visit.
Trentham was obviously a very big and impressive estate at one time but there are only a few remains of the house left. The demise of the estate was partly blamed on pollution in this once very industrial area and the house was abandoned in 1905, eventually sold and demolished in 1911. It seems there have been a few semi-revivals of the estate in the 1930s and again in the 1980s. My sisters have very fond memories of visits there as children, remembering the outdoor swimming pool there. But there appeared to be no big redevelopment until it was bought by a property company, who went on to build a shopping village with restaurants and a large garden centre at one side of the estate. This might make you cringe a bit but maybe it was necesary to revive the garden. They certainly seem to been innovative regarding the garden, bringing in experienced designers and plantsman such as Piet Oudolf, Tom Stuart-Smith and Nigel Dunnett.
After my visit there I feel excited for its development, it feels like a garden continually evolving and on the move embracing new concepts and ideas. It has a rich garden history, including the man of the moment Capability Brown who did a lot of work on the estate enlarging the lake and designing the main landscaped park. This is where we bring in Nigel Dunnett as he has been asked to develop the planting around this Brownian landscape to mark the tercentenary of the the man himself. There is more evidence within the garden of this concept of retaining the old but invigorating it with modern planting in the 19th century Italian garden, designed by Charles Barry. These have seen a makeover by Tom Stuart-Smith with perennial planting.

Piet Oudolf created the long borders flanking the Italian Garden.

Piet Oudolf was involved in the initial redevelopment where some new areas were created including the Rivers of Grass area.
Plus the Floral labyrinth where you can get up close and walk amongst fabulously tall perennial planting.

At the far end of the garden are some of the remains from the original big house.
However to see the new meadow planting schemes you need to walk round the lake through the estate. You can go on boat trips on the lake and also you may see rowers and other boat users as at the far end is the Trentham boat and canoe club who train here.
This summer there has been a scheme to engage children on the walk round the lake and through the estate where you can seek out the Trentham fairies which can be found dotted around the lake. These were delightful little wire creations which certainly engaged the child in me!

Around the estate there were also some stunning wood sculptures by Andy Burgess who is based in Cheshire and creates them from old tree stumps using a chain saw!
This top one was my favourite, a group of otters.

But there were a couple more...

But on to the meadow planting that I wanted to see, there were some perennial meadows close to the entrance at the side of the lake. Looking very purple with Verbena bonariensis, Leucanthemum, Achillea, Scabious, Lychnis coronaria Alba, Sanguisorba amongst the grasses.

Then there are a couple of areas of annual meadow planting, one a frothy mix of pinks and blues, mostly Cosmos when we went but there were cornflowers, Ammi, poppies and corncockles in the mix.

There was some tantalising shady meadow planting in the woodland areas of the lakeside, there was some mass planting of Michaelmas daisies. Unfortunately I couldn't get any very good photos of these. But they lit up this shady area.

Further along was some newer planting of spring flowering shade lovers a mix of Brunnera, Lamium, Ferns, Epimediums, Geraniums which will be interesting to follow its development.
But then as you walk back to the far end of the lake the woodland opens out into a meadow full of sunshine, looking glorious under the tall giants of the Redwoods.
Hope this wasn't too long a post but there was just so much to see in this beautiful estate, great for a good walk, lots of fabulous planting to see, there are big play areas for kids, a couple of cafes, you could spend the whole day there and I definitely recommend that you do just that.

Monday, 26 September 2016

A Gull on the roof and other stories

We've just got back from a much-needed break down in North Devon, a week in a small studio on the cliff tops of Putsborough beach
What a place to stay, we had our own set of steps down to the beach and were on there most days walking, beach-combing, playing frisbee, paddling, star-gazing, sun-bathing, reading, swimming, body-boarding and I was even persuaded to have a surfing lesson! Blimey that was hard work, I was aching all over for a couple of days after that but it was exhilarating being in the still warm sea. Admittedly I wasn't very good, Martin was much better, I might give it another go but body-boarding might be more my thing! It was certainly a good buy getting wetsuits last year. 
If you've never been, Putsborough beach is at the one end of a 3 mile stretch of beach with Woolacombe at the other end. Its one of the cleanest beaches I've ever seen. The whole stretch of beach has been awarded the best beach in the UK on TripAdvisor. Its not as popular as Croyde and Saunton sands for surfers but very good for beginners. Martin knows it well, he went there for many years as a child from their holiday base at Combe Martin, and he's introduced me to it. I think North Devon gets overlooked compared to the more popular beach resorts in South Devon and Cornwall, and long may that last. Though to be fair I've never been there at the height of summer so it might be manic then.
Looking out to Woolacombe.
Our view from the kitchen window.
We did a lot of walking, mostly round about from the accommodation, along the beach to Woolacombe, into Croyde the next village. But there was no mobile signal round there and much to Martin's dismay there was no wi-fi in the studio but actually we both enjoyed the break from that and did lots of reading. One thing I love when I go away is to see what books they have at the cottage. There is usually a shelf or two of ones that people have left behind or the owners have kindly provided. It can introduce you to books that you might not otherwise choose yourself and new authors. I quite like reading books about the area that I visit. The Island by Victoria Hislop on a visit to Crete, Daphne du Maurier books on a visit to Cornwall. On a visit years ago to a cottage on the Isle of Skye there was a load of books by Lilian Beckwith which I devoured in a week while I was there. Her tales of moving there from England in the 1950s and buying a croft and all the characters and shenaniggans that went on were brilliant and even better read in a cottage by the edge of a loch with the heather out and wildness all around. This time I was intrigued to see a book called A gull on the roof by Derek Tangye, about him and his wife Jeannie giving up a busy life in London to run a flower farm on the cliffs in Cornwall, again set in the 50s. Such a lovely book, with beautiful illustrations by Jeannie. Reading all about them growing potatoes and daffodils literally on the cliffs down to the sea, with all the challenges that they faced but how they embraced the simple life and the descriptions of the nature all around them and the seasonality was a joy. I'm looking to get the other books now too. Reading about the couple now online, this book is the first of the now called Minack Chronicles, named after the daffodil farm. The fields around the cottage are preserved as a nature reserve 'The Derek and Jeannie Tangye Minack Chronicles Nature Trust'. It is a place for solitude and quiet contemplation. Other books there to read included a Rosamund Pilcher book, an author who I've not read for years and her descriptions of Cornwall and beaches were just the thing to read on a beach, albeit in Devon!! Is it just me or do others have favourite books to read when they go certain places?
I did a couple of garden visits, to Arlington Court and also to RHS Rosemoor, both with glorious walled gardens. I'll blog about those later. Arlington Court had the Woollen Woods where you could spot a medley of woollen creatures. Some more realistic looking than others!
Living in a big town, where we are never far from street lighting it always fascinates me when I go away somewhere like Devon to be in the proper dark. We were well prepared with a couple of torches for when we walked back on the lanes from Croyde. But one night we just sat on a bench on the cliff and looked up and beheld an array of stars. A real treat for a reluctant townie like me.
We had an interesting last night there though, watching a helicopter fly over the bay with search lights and two lifeboats going up and down the seas again with big powerful lights obviously searching for something. They were there for a couple of hours searching a massive area of sea. What seemed to us like looking for a needle in a haystack Our hearts were in our mouths and we were again made aware about what an amazing job the RNLI do along our British coastlines. We looked at the local news the following day and it was thought that a handglider had gone into the sea off Baggy Point on the headland but thankfully this time it was a false alarm.
After the long drive home its time to catch up with washing and back to work and real life till next time.....

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

A tour of......Dove Cottage Nursery and Garden

One of the closest gardens to me in Huddersfield is Dove Cottage Nursery and Garden in Halifax, how lucky am I! A real treat for lovers of hardy perennials and the garden is a true showcase for the plants. I have done a post about it before when I first visited. But I've been a few times now and it is always changing, with new plant combinations and varieties. The nursery was recently visited by Roy Lancaster for one of his features on UK nurseries in the July issue of The Garden magazine.
My garden visit this time was at the end of August, probably the latest that I've been to visit the garden and it was still going strong and in fact was so lush that you really could almost get lost in the planting. The great thing about the garden is that its on a slope and you walk up and down the garden getting amazing views above and below the plants. There are many really tall plants around and lots of grasses so it always feels like such a swaying garden, lots of movement and colour. Delicious plant combinations abound and you really get a feel for how plants love to mingle.
Enclosed by tall yew hedges, you enter the garden from the nursery through a lovely old door with no view of what is on the other side and it makes you catch your breath as you step through.
 Then you can wind down the garden towards a small summer house and then meander upwards to the top of the garden, with views out to the hills around. It is hard to believe from the lush planting and the huge range of plants that this garden is situated on a north-facing hillside. So it gives you ideas of plants that will grow in more challenging conditions. The views change as you go round each bend in the path.
There is a river of the creeping bronze-leaved Acaena with the frothy grass Panicum. 

There are lots of lovely grass seed head at this time of year which look great against the sunshine, this is Hordeum jubatum.
The little summer house is almost buried by plants.
The Echinaceas were looking particularly splendid at this time of year.
There are also some lovely lower level plant combinations including this Oregano, bright pink geranium and Hordeum.
There is a gorgeous border full of lovely yellows, with Rudbeckias, Achillea, Fennel and the really tall white Sanguisorba.

This lovely plant caught my attention as I wandered through the garden.
If I had read the article in the magazine I would have see that it was a variety of Teasel called Dipsacus pilosus, but actually what is great about this place is that you can chat to the owners, Stephen and Kim about the plants, you can really feel their passion for them. So I asked about it and Stephen said this had been the plant that most people have talked about this year, its common name is actually Small Teasel but its not small at all, reaching up to 2.4m if grown in rich soil. The small actually refers to the flowers which are well loved by bees and hoverflies with lovely white scabious like flower. But I actually was more fascinated by the seed pods. I think the flowers and seed pods will make a lovely unusual cutflower. Its a biennial and can seed around a bit and there was evidence of that in the garden but I bought a small plant of them and am giving it a try.
It seems that they let quite a lot of plant self-seed, the bronze fennel, Erigeron anuus and the lovely acid yellow burpleurum, taking control later in the season, moving plants as they see fit. It all culminates in a garden with a contemporary feel but alive with movement not just from all the grasses but from the insects that the planting attracts.
I would recommend a visit here, but you will need to be quick for this season as the garden and nursery shut on the 30th September. The nursery will reopen again in 2017 around early March and the garden in June.