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

Annie's Little Plot

Annie's Little Plot

Thursday 30 July 2015

Lilac Squirrel

I thought that title might catch your eye!! More on the squirrel later, I'm continuing my visit to the Tatton Park Flower Show last week. I spent a full day there with my friend Tracy on the first day, its members day that day so seemed a little bit quieter. We had a good look round all the gardens as described in my previous post. We also looked round the Floral Marquee, I think I have got a bit blase about the displays in the marquee recently, if you go to a lot of the shows then you will notice that many nursery's display are the same every time. I remember my excitement at seeing these displays the first time I went to a flower show but I think I often just skim by many of them now, especially the ones that display only one type of plant. I'm never that keen on the big Begonia's with flowers the size of dinner plates and in colours that hurt your eyes. Though actually I might be a bit biased there as I love the display of South African Disa orchids by Dave Parkinson plants and you definitely need sunglasses here.
Fuchsia's also don't really catch my eye, and I'm not a big fan of the big displays of Chrysanthemums. The vegetable stands, such as that of Robinsons, though often similar each year, always attract my attention as there are often new varieties to try and I like a browse through the seeds. I love the displays by the Alpine plant growers, such meticulous and perfect combinations of mini plants, that always needs close attention. Some displays attract your attention from a distance with wafts of scent that get your nose twitching and looking round for the source of the perfume. This often happens with the glorious lily displays or the delicate sprays of Sweet peas. However by far I prefer the mixed displays, this year there was a stunning display of different climbing plants, by Tynings plants, great for ideas to give height in the garden. There was a mix of tender and hardy climbers. The herb displays such as that by Hookgreen Herbs are a verdant calming space to rest your eyes. For new varieties the perennial nursery's hit the spot. Hardy's Cottage Garden plants and  Cath's Garden Plants are always a must for the plantaholic. But I was interested to read in The Garden magazine in July that there was a project to help growers exhibit to win gold medals. It encouraged a change from the more traditional displays to a contemporary style. I think this was really refreshing and it was definitely noticeable and created some new displays in the Marquee. One example is the display by Letham Plants which specialises in Astrantia.
I'm definitely all for nurseries making some changes to their displays to invigorate the Floral Marquee. Wish I'd taken more photos now!
I spent the day on the Friday experiencing at first hand the enthusiasm and passion of the visitors to the show, by helping Sue Beesley on her stand for Bluebell Cottage Nursery in the Marquee. It was such a joy chatting to very knowledgeable gardeners about plants and helping more novice gardeners on whether the plant they had their eye on was really suitable for their gardens. It was certainly full on especially as it rained in the afternoon, which brought bigger crowds into the Marquee. Now to the title of this post, the plant of the day for the nursery was Sanguisorba 'Lilac Squirrel' we were continually restocking this. If you don't know what it looks like, here you are.
It dangles and swings in the air and the bright colour attracts the eye and once one person had one, you could see others looking and asking about it.
Sue is specialising in one of my favourite plants the Thalictrums, she has some gorgeous ones.
 But this is the real beauty. Thalictrum diffusiflorum
A tiring day but a really great experience.

Monday 27 July 2015

Tatton back on form

Its been the Tatton Park Flower Show this last week. This is my local show, I think I've been every year since it started and after tinkering with it quite a bit in the last few years, I think they've gone back to what it was like at the start. I definitely enjoyed it more this year despite the inclement weather. I think they have struggled to establish its own identity to stand apart from the other Flower shows like Chelsea and Hampton Court. But now they have adopted 'The Great Garden Carnival' theme which I actually think is fun and twice a day a Carnival parade makes its way through the showground. There is also a colourful Carousel which gives great views over the showground. Horticultural purists may not like all this but I think its a great way to get a mix of people into the show. As with the other shows they have the main Show gardens but its quite noticeable that the well-known designers that create gardens at Chelsea don't come here which is a shame I think, though Chris Beardshaw has created a few gardens here. The Show garden that won 'best in show' was the garden for the charity Perennial designed by Paul Hervey-Brookes, a very traditional garden with a long herbaceous border and a pavilion. A great advert for the charity. My photos aren't very good as it was a very dull day.
One of the most vibrant gardens even in the dull weather was the Aurora Arbora garden which was a contemporary garden inspired by the Northern Lights, the planting was really fabulous.
Tatton is establishing itself as a Flower show for up and coming designers and it has developed the RHS Young designer of the Year competition. The gardens created by the three designers were quite different gardens but all of good quality, with lots of nice ideas. In my opinion, these three gardens were some of the best in the show.

It was really difficult to take a photo of the Sunset garden as you could walk through this garden so always had lots of people in!! My favourite was the middle garden shown above, the Time is healer garden by Kate Savill, which was based on a Physic garden and was a very tranquil garden. 
Apparently after a lot of requests from visitors they have bought back the back-to-back gardens. These were always one of my favourite parts of the show. They are only small (6m x 4m) but the range of gardens that are designed is always fascinating to me, I always find that I get ideas from these for planting and design. More accessible to the average gardener I guess.

I had a couple of favourites, with quite different colour schemes. The first was Surf n' turf which was planted to evoke the waves of the sea and so was a mix of blues, purples and whites. I liked the feeling of enclosure that was achieved with the planting and timber posts, it felt like a secluded place for relaxing.

I also liked the Melitta garden which had a vibrant colour scheme of warm yellows, oranges and reds. As might be expected from the name this garden was designed to attract bees. I loved the willow bees and the hexagonal structures to represent the honeycomb to divide up the garden.

Tatton also has a range of gardens built round a central theme, in previous years this has been Galaxy in 2013 and Elements in 2014, this year the theme was the International year of light. 

All very abstract but some great examples of planting schemes on all of them.
Tatton used to renowned for the Flower beds that the councils built and there used to be many entrants and competition was fierce but its a sad sign of the times that there were only 3 this year!! Cutbacks in most if not all councils will surely mean that this will probably disappear in the next few years. A new feature this year were the 'Blooming beds' which were very small plots (3m x 3m), this was supposed to be a way for novice designers to test the water with small designs and planting schemes, or for small community groups to advertise themselves. These again had a theme which was Plant Hunters. I actually missed this bit and only heard about this on the TV coverage. There were a couple of other new competitions, one to design deckchairs (I think was to fill the gap where they usually have the council flowerbeds!!) and the other was the garden hideaways competition which turned out to be a big favourite with the visitors. But will finish this post here and update on the Floral Marquee and other features of the show in my next post.....

Friday 17 July 2015

My cut flower patch keeps expanding

Woke up all this morning to hear the rain on the window, that was a nice sound. At times it has been great recently with rain at night and then sunshine during the day. Perfect weather for gardeners, we could just do with a bit more night time rain. We are never happy!
The last couple of years I have been developing a proper cut flower patch on my allotment. I love having flowers in the house and have been growing Sweet Peas on my plot for many years but there are many other annuals that are easy to grow from seed which can also make lovely cut flowers. I guess a lot of this was started by Sarah Raven who has developed such a mouthwatering catalogue, but many other seed companies stock a good range of cut-flower seed, I've used Chiltern seeds and Higgledy garden this year and been impressed with both.  I've also been inspired by Wellywoman's book The Cut Flower Patch.
It started in earnest last year when I put aside one of my long beds on my allotment for a cut flower patch. I'd planted some Sweet William, some Gladioli corms and then the rest of the patch was left for annuals which I grew in modules or seed trays and potted on to reasonable size before planting at the plot (to give them a head start and a chance against slugs). These could all be grown almost like a cut-and-come again crop, so the more you pick for the house the more flowers they produce. Last year my plot included cornflowers in black and blue, Nigella 'Midnight', Amberboa muricata, Cosmos 'Click Cranberries', 'Rubenza' and 'Diablo', Salvia 'Blue Clary', Ammi majus, Nicotiana 'Black Knight', Tithonia 'Torch' and Didiscus 'Blue Lace'. I had a row of sunflowers on the edge of the plot including 'Velvet Queen', 'Claret', 'Valentine' and Vanilla Ice'. I was amazed how great they were as cut flowers. Once the first main flower has gone over you cut the flower head off and they send out lots of new flowers, often on nice long stems. I was picking these well into October. Another revelation was the Amberboa, which flowered over a long time, lasted long in a vase and had a light scent. I loved the flowers of Didiscus but the young plants were also loved by slugs and I think I only ended up with a couple of plants, they also got a bit swamped by more vigorous flowers so I have learnt to give them a bit more space. They need a bit more cosseting.
One of my first flowers for cutting last year was the Sweet William, which I'd bought as plug plants and planted them the previous year. These lasted for weeks.
I didn't have any of these this year and I missed them so in May/June this year I sowed a batch of mixed colour seed. These have been pricked out and are now growing nicely. They will be planted at the plot in September and will hopefully flower for me next spring.
The cutting patch after the initial planting in 2014.

I had lots of flowers by July, the harvesting was in earnest.
This was taken on the 10th October, and though it all looks a bit chaotic I was still picking flowers!
I wish I'd taken more pictures now of my arrangements but here is one.
This year I'm trying to grow a few more varieties, I'm trying the annual Scabious, Vipers Bugloss, Corncockle, Ammi visnaga 'Casablanca', Gypsophilia elegans 'Kermesina', Bupleurum rotundifolium, some Zinnias 'Envy' and 'Mammoth', a few other Nigella varieties 'Delft Blue', 'African Bride', 'Albion Black Pod' and a grass called Panicum 'Frosted Explosion', a few additional Sunflower varieties including 'Sparky' and 'Moonwalker'. The sunflowers again line the edge of my patch but I've also spread onto another part of my plot. My cutting patch has expanded into half of another long bed. Plus I've got some Dahlia 'Bishops Children' which I'm going to plant to replace some of my early crops. I'm also trying to grow things more like a crop this year so in rows, with better spacing, as I get to see how the flowers grow.
My first sunflowers are out now. I've been cutting lots of Vipers Bugloss already.

So just the start but I'll be seeing what works and what doesn't again this year.
I have a number of other plants on my plot that can be used as cut-flowers. I have chives that line the edges of nearly all of my beds, split from the original plants that I grew from seed, these go in my first few posies. They can be cut back hard after flowering and before they spread their seeds all round (I've learnt that lesson!). They have another added attraction of being a great bee and early butterfly plant. I keep trying to grow garlic chives which have lovely white flowers but I've struggled growing these from seed and even as pot plants that don't seem to thrive on my plot like the normal chive.
Another great plant that I've discovered as being great as a cut flower is the Purple Loosestrife which I have next to my rhubarb (I have to take care it doesn't get smothered in the spring. This is a perennial which is even better. It adds a vibrant pink to an arrangement. I've recently bought from Dove Cottage Nursery a paler pink variety which I think is Lythrum salicaria 'Blush'. So I'll see how that performs this year.
I have a couple of clumps of a dark red Astrantia which was given to me from one of the other plot holders after I admired it on their plot, which also is nice as a cutflower. So I'm trying to bulk that up a bit. I grew some Gaura lindheimeri 'The Bride' plants from seed last year, they came through the winter and are growing much stronger this year and flowering now. I also have a small patch of Dianthus 'Mrs Sinkins' which can look a bit straggly but I have used a bit this year in combination with the dark black cornflower to create a nice black and white mix. It has a lovely clove scent. I like the idea of having a few more perennial plants for cutting.
I often top up my bouquets with plants from my garden, such as Alchemilla mollis (which I have a love/hate relationship with, as it seeds all over my garden, I now make sure to cut flowers off before they go to seed), Linaria purpurea (and its lovely pale pink variety 'Canon Went'), Scabious, Knautia macedonica to name a few.
I'm loving learning and developing this and have a few plans for next year, one being that to cut down on all the spring sowing I'm going to try sowing some of the hardy annuals like Cornflowers, Nigella and Scabious in the autumn and overwinter them in my garden greenhouse. The idea is these will give me a head start next year, not only in sowing but hopefully also with flowering. But this is an experiment so we'll see.
So an exciting flower harvesting year ahead of me, I have a feeling my cutting patch might extend to even more of my allotment next year!

Monday 13 July 2015


Aargh, I hadn't quite realised that it is now 14 months since I last wrote a blog post. I've looked at my blog today for the first time in ages, realised how different my garden is now from the picture on the front! But the interesting thing is that if you look at the stats people are still looking at the old posts. I've had a break from updating my blog not because I didn't want to write but just that I didn't have the time. However, I've now got a bit more free time and the last few months I've been really missing the writing and how it allows me to follow the process of growing in my garden and allotment. Plus I've really missed the connection with other bloggers, so I'm going to get started again. I'm sure everyone has forgotten me but I have been keeping an eye on my favourite bloggers over the last year and hope I can back into regularly following and commenting on blogs. 
So a couple of things that I need to do is update the blog its looking very outdated, this I will do over the next few weeks, and the other is to just have a quick recap! Last time I wrote I was part way through my WRAGS training at York Gate Garden. That finished in August 2014 and I stayed on a few months after that as assistant gardener. But my contract was coming to the end and with a number of other changes in the garden I decided that whilst I had loved every minute of my time there I needed to get some experience other places. So I finished there in April this year, at the same time Sue Beesley from Bluebell Cottage Nursery in Cheshire advertised on Twitter for some help at weekends and so I got in contact and I'm now working there. My main role is to advise people on buying plants from the nursery, finding plants that may be looking for and helping out if people have problem areas in their garden that they'd like plants for. I also put stock out and have been helping with some plant propagation. The nursery sells only hardy perennials but there is an extensive range and this is exponentially increasing my plant knowledge! Sue has created a lovely garden, that people can visit, to showcase the plants that she sells and also for stock plants for propagation to sell. I am still working 3 days a week at my research job at Manchester Uni, plus I've still got my garden and allotment to keep going, more news on that later. But I'm hoping that I'll have a bit more time now to get back into writing. 
So my allotment is doing well, I'm in my 5th year now of growing there and its developed into a nice routine. The main structure of the plot is there with the paths and beds. I've made a few changes this year with some more fruit and more perennial crops. Also taking inspiration from Wellywoman's recent book I've established a proper cutting patch. This I started last year and developed further this year, extending into other beds. Its very addictive. I'll update on this separately.

But in a crazy moment in late Spring I also took on another plot, this is a plot in the site right behind my house, so much closer than my other plot. It needs a bit of work as you can see, below is a photo taken when I got the plot! As we speak its getting a bit out of hand in places but it is also producing some crops and one of the best things about it is there are 5-6 proper fruit trees on the plot. These are at the far end near the shed. At the moment its just being kept in check but I'm planning on making a proper plan for the plot.
The problem is I've worked so hard on my other plot I can't bear to let it go just yet so at the moment I've got two big plots. I might have to reassess this crazy scheme  if it gets too much....
My garden companion, Bob the cat, is still going strong, well he sleeps more than he used to and that's saying something.
Lovely to get back writing, lets hope I can keep it up!