Tag Archives: colour

Wonderful wallflowers!

I’ve finally done it. Every year I forget to buy wallflowers in autumn, or I buy them and they’re disappointing - I am on acid soil, after all - or I buy them, forget what they are, and weed them out (ahem). A few years ago I bought some seeds and planted them carefully, snug in sectioned seed trays. They sat about not doing a lot and I kept forgetting they were there. But they thrived. So the autumn before last I planted them out, thinking I would have a lovely display come the spring.

Nah.

I nearly, nearly rooted them up. But something stopped me, and I’m so glad it did. I walked round the corner in February, and this is what I saw:

wallflower1

They’d suddenly decided to flower. And what is more, they’d suddenly decided to smell. No, that word’s evocative of pigsties and adolescent boys’ trainers. They scented the air for metres around. And they’ve gone on, and on, and on.

wallflowers 2

They shouldn’t be doing this – acid soil, remember? I can only assume that the bed in which I planted them – below the gable end of the house – isn’t as acid as the rest of the garden, possibly as a consequence of repointing the gable end ten years ago. I’d not tested it, but I will do so now, because if it is a bit more alkaline there are other plants which might flourish. Apart from the ******* Geranium macrorrhizum album and the lemon balm, that is. And always supposing I can shoehorn something else in beside those thugs (yes, I could move them, and yes, I have tried). It would have to be yellows, pinks, oranges – the wallflowers are bang on for the later colours of this bed. Er, apart from the hollyhocks which are supposed to be black. The first one flowered pink, so maybe the others will fit in too.

But for the moment, I’m enjoying the wallflowers.

wallflowers 3

They are proving surprisingly tough little bs, as well. They were blasted by the storms – they are slap bang in the line of fire, on a direct route between the sea and the hills, sitting just where the wind is funnelled down the side of the house. Many of the leaves shrivelled or went brown at the tips and edges, but they shrugged that off: fine now, thanks.

My one regret is that I didn’t plant more, but I’m rectifying that for next year – and, of course, I’m hoping that these will self-seed. Of course there’s a risk that they’ll revert to yellow, but I don’t mind that: it’s such a rich, generous yellow. Really lifts the heart and brightens up a gloomy day.

wallflowers 5

And then there’s the scent. It’s extraordinarily strong – I could smell it in the greenhouse the other day even though the wind was in the opposite direction, and that’s well away from the wallflowers. But I think the real reason why I love them is the memories they evoke. I remember them growing out of the top of a farmyard wall in France, where they fascinated me; my pockets were always full of popping seedheads and my mother used to complain endlessly about them getting everywhere when she took my coat off. And they grew under my window at college – not such a positive memory, that one, as it always meant the run towards exams and the scary realisation that I’d spent too much time in the bar and far too little in the library.

And, of course, they are such a fabulous splash of colour early in the season.

wallflower strip

Looking at this shot I think I may have another key to why they’ve done well: unconsciously, I seem to have recreated some of the conditions present in those farm walls. Very dry. I know the languages are similar – Breton and Welsh are the same branch of Celtic, along with Cornish – and perhaps the underlying geology is too. I must look it up (anything to stop me from continuing to muck out the garden stores – pigsty next, home of the biggest ant nest in Christendom).

Wonder if I can remember what this blend was called? Wonder if I kept a record? Hm – think I know the answer to that one, but perhaps searching would delay the cleaning up even more…

Arrival of the Big Yellow Thing

It could be daffodils, but it isn’t. SUN!

Yup, we’ve had sun. It’s even been quite warm. Ish. As long as you kept out of the wind. And the garden has basked in it. So, almost (ho, ho, it’s impossible) Wordlessly for Wednesday, here are some sunbathers:

chionodoxa

1. The chionodoxas, which I adore. They’re not all out yet – every day I see more small blue spikes sticking up out of the grass – but the ones that are blooming are loving the weather. And, incidentally, the absence of the rowan tree which used to be above them. Hm.

pulmonaria

2. The pulmonarias would look a lot better if they weren’t flowering n top of a great mound of salt- and wind-blasted leaves. But hey.

snowdrops

3. It’s not been a great year for the snowdrops; they were just reaching their best when the storms hit and blasted them to ******. But some have recovered, and some are late anyway. The rest will have another stab at it next year.

prims

4. And it’s definitely spring because the primroses are coming out. Again, some got blasted (what didn’t?) but happily most were still below ground. Lots more to come, but it’s looking promising.

wallflowers

5. The wallflowers (brown and shrivelled leaves on one side only) are amazingly scented, as well as being beautiful. I nearly ripped these out last year as they had failed to flower for three years running. So glad I lost the impulse to tidy up before I committed wallflowericide.

of course

6. Crocuses. My river of crocuses below the cherry in the bottom garden is migrating northwards into the newest bed behind the Capel, and the ones I planted about three, maybe four, years ago under the apple trees have decided to reappear in bulk. Crocuses just love this garden. They even cope with the winds. Good!

I weeded this

7. Weeds. Yup, they’re back in force – but when they’re as cute as daisies, I have to forgive them a bit. And I do tend to take daisies for granted; they’re lovely things really. OK, not in the iris bed – but I don’t mind them on the paths. And if I minded them in the lawns I’d be mad as a mad thing by now. There’s a weak point in that argument somewhere…

saxifrage

8. Looking forwards – there are buds on all sorts of things, from this little saxifrage to the magnolia, and lots of tender new leaves. No more storms, please…

Goodbye sun -

sunset

and do come back soon!

I garden, I get better

I get a terrible crick in the back, too, but that’s not the point. I get results, and I get all sorts of other benefits.

beautiful

It’s not simply the satisfaction of growing things which are beautiful, though there are plenty of those. It’s not just the satisfaction I get out of growing (largely) organically, which encourages all sorts of wildlife, from wrens and slow worms to crickets, moths and butterflies.

still eating

I started this year not at all well. As it turned out (eventually), an old neck injury had been exacerbated by a more recent fall and that had led to vertigo and all sorts of trouble with my back, one leg, one arm – you name it. Not being well meant I’d spent a lot of time inside feeling sorry for myself, and unsurprisingly I got quite down even though I recognised that the situation could have been a lot worse. Then my doctor suggested using a SAD lamp, on the grounds that last summer hadn’t been a summer. I tried it, and it worked. But even more effective was the real thing, and I couldn’t just laze about when I was out getting my dose of therapeutic light. So I weeded. And I planted.

wowser

And when I was tired from weeding and planting, I did my extremely boring physio outside and then sat and admired the view.

view

But only for a bit, because there was more to do. Pretty soon I noticed that I could look down to weed without getting dizzy, and that I could manage more and more digging and lifting. And the garden really benefitted from the attention,

cool blues

but I didn’t realise that I was also benefitting, and every bit as much. It took one of my friends to say it. She actually said – a little melodramatically, perhaps, but doesn’t translate very subtly – that it had ‘saved’ me. It certainly gave me back loads of pleasure. And some slight hysteria (the dragon, now possibly revealed as Next Door’s Cat, has been back), but there you go.

I shouldn’t be surprised, really. The charity Mind have been running a programme they call ‘ecotherapy’ – using gardening, growing food and doing conservation work to help people with mental health problems. Over 12,000 people have taken part in their Ecominds projects over several years, and – to sum up – the results have shown ‘significant increases in wellbeing’. Participants have reported that their self-esteem has improved, they are more likely to see their families and friends, and that they feel much more part of the community. For myself, I get a huge amount of uplift from colour, and I don’t think that’s unique to spinners, dyers, textile people, artists, whatever. I’m not saying I believe in structured ‘colour therapy’, because I don’t think I do, but I do believe in the sheer joy of colour.

helenium Wyndley

Back to Ecotherapy. The University of Essex analysed Mind’s results - it’s not a fluffy, woolly, PR-based piece of ‘research’ designed to generate feature articles (as an ex-hack, I’ve had my bellyful of those; I’ve written a few, as well). No, ‘ecotherapy’ has been shown to help people struggling with all sorts of issues, particularly anxiety and depression (and I’m not going to make any cracks about gardening actually increasing my anxiety when I discovered the dragon holes, oh, whoops, mentioned it).

Of course many other charities know all about the benefits of gardening and use them. One of my favourites is Thrive, with what they call ‘STH’ – social and therapeutic horticulture: check out some of their feedback to see how effective it can be. Another is Freedom From Torture – previously the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, which may not be as snappy as FFT but tells you more about what it does, and which our family have supported since its foundation. FFT has a ‘therapy garden’ (with gardening and psychotherapy combined, the latter often taking place in the garden), which is part of the natural growth project. There are a couple of FFT allotments in London, too, where their less vulnerable clients can work and find some sort of equilibrium. As one, Suleyman, said, ‘if the garden looks good, I feel good. When the soil sleeps, I sleep. Apart from these things you have, these snails and slugs which were new to me, there is no evil in the garden’.

Makes my recent problems pale into insignificance, and puts them back in their tiny little box where they are emphatically going to stay. And Suleyman is bang on. Go, garden!

meadow

Er, not literally – though if the weather forecasters are right, my entire garden might pitch up in Manchester overnight… fingers crossed that it stays put…

Evening in the garden (a not-at-all wordless Wednesday)

We had a surprisingly good day yesterday weatherwise, so I made the most of it given that I’ve no deadline to ignore and panic about later work towards. I had an appointment for a row discussion in the bank necessitating a tedious trip through Holiday Central, came home and washed everything in sight, even scoured part of a fleece from the biggest sheep in the world (I’m not mad, just a spinner), and decided the iris bed needed re-weeding… and then it was evening, and I was wrecked. So I collapsed in the garden with a cuppa, and I noticed – I evidently needed reminding – the beautiful effects of the evening light (the house faces west).

evening pots

I also realised how the year has suddenly moved into downshift. Yes, I’m cropping beans and tomatoes and spuds and courgettes and blueberries and wineberries and using the shallots and garlic, but there’s an unmistakeable whiff of autumn on the way. And the Welsh for July, Gorffennaf, is apt, after all: it’s derived from gorffen, finish, and haf, summer. The end of summer. Hopefully not entirely.

It’s partly also down to the colours,

pot mum

such as those of the two pot chrsyanths I bought from the man on the market (don’t laugh, it’s a good plant stall).  One autumn years ago I spent some time in Leiden and the ‘ball’ chrysanthemums always remind me of that, as do pyracathas in full berry. Haven’t got one of those (haven’t got a white-painted house on a canal near the botanic garden either but hey ho), but I do love the chrysanths.

There’s also the fact that the lilies have gone into overdrive.

lily1

Until I started deliberately trying to address the problem, I had virtually no flowers in the garden from mid-June onwards – apart, that is, for enough lilies to kit out a 1930s movie star’s dressing room and leave some over. The numbers have declined, but the splendour of some of them most certainly has not, especially the Big White by the back door. In the evening shade it’s even more emphatic,

lily2

filling the path with its scent and impressive height (over 1.5m, aka 5 feet) and bulk. One day I’m going to have to move it out of the pot it’s been in for the last five years, but maybe not quite yet. A couple of years ago I planted some other lilies in a bed (the tulip bed in spring) when their pots succumbed to winter weather, and expected they would disappear. They haven’t.

lily3

Or at any rate, haven’t yet. I love the low angle of the evening light, too, and the way it emphasises the texture of the petals, and gives those exaggerated shadows.

Better late than never, most of the cosmos are coming into flower too. At last.

cosmos

This cosmos, from Karen at the Artist’s Garden, is Psyche White, not Purity – grew that last year – and I think I prefer this. Especially against shadow!

The light also attracted me to the stump of the Western Red Cedar which came down about this time last year – it was either the tree or the house, alas. For some time the roots continued to grow but it has finally decided that it is, indeed, dead and has given up its world domination quest (leaving the other WRC in the top garden to continue the good work).

stump

For some time I ummed and erred over the stump but in the end just decided to leave it – it’s had a few large beach pebbles on it for a while now, in a sub-Andy Goldsworthy kind of way, but an interesting ceramic would be good. I’ve said this to my brother, several times and actually quite loudly, but he appears to have suddenly developed deafness. What’s the use of having a brother who’s a potter if he can’t suddenly produce perfect garden embellishments, eh?

Of course, when it comes to autumnal, you can’t beat crocosmia. And I’ve always had those to remind me of the changing seasons; you can’t get rid of them round here. Crocosmia and fuchsias, the plants of the west. Every year I tear up great clumps of the orange bastards; every year it’s as though I hadn’t bothered. I dread to think what it would be like if I didn’t rip gallons of them up – first house ever to be buried in crocosmia, perhaps? As a plant per se, I like it, especially the rather neat flower spikes prior to opening; it’s just the sheer quantity which can be rather overwhelming. I’ve been trying to remember the alternative word to ‘invasive’ which a friend uses when doing plant sales: ah, yes – vigorous. Very, very vigorous.

And then I realised that some of the garden colours were being echoed in the sky,

sunset 1

more and more intensely as the sun went down, and photography became impossible. I hesitate to say this, but it even got a little – shhh – chilly…

Red confessions

It is strange, the way our gardens change almost without us realising it. Or maybe it’s just me? I know I’ve put in the work, and yet I’m still surprised by the results – and sometimes they can be really astonishing. My garden used to be largely green at this time of year, and I set out to deliberately change that. I filled a large new bed with early plants, often in burgundy, which were succeeded by others in pinks, purples, whites. I then revived another bed and filled it with ‘hot’ colours. Quite deliberate. A lot of thought has gone into it; I know it’s there, I know what I wanted to acheive and I’ve got roughly what I wanted. And I’m still surprised by it.

Oh, and along the way I fell in love with heleniums.

helenium2

It’s the sheer amount of red I’ve got.

Don’t get me wrong: I love it; but there is a lot of it, and in an extraordinary range of shades. What has surprised me most – apart from the wild madness of Monarda Cambridge Scarlet which I nominate for the punkiest plant of 2013,

zowie

and possibly ever – is how well they all work together, and how well they work in combination with other plants.

It’s probably a bit facile to say that there are no clashes in nature, as I heard one garden commentator assert; I think there are some, and some combinations just don’t work. But all the colour theory in the world didn’t quite prepare me for Dahlia Arabian Nights in front of my euphorbia:

yikes

I love it!

Traditionally pink and red don’t go together. So much for tradition:

poppiness

I think the mystery packet of poppy seeds I scattered must have had a colour theme, because I haven’t had one that wasn’t a variation on red or saturated pink. It’s such I shame I didn’t save the packet so I could deliberately buy another, though I’m hoping they’ll seed themselves like mad. Knowing my luck, though, this may be the one year they decide not to behave in their usual undisciplined way.

Dahlias are new to my garden – well, to this garden under my tenure, I bet they’ve been grown in the past – and I’ve been very, very pleased with them. Apart from the two Arabian Nights (the third seems to have decided it’s not dead, just very very late), I have a glorious Karma Lagoon in my purple bed, and – but of course – a Bishop of Llandaff with the ‘hot’ colours. Someone I was talking to had actually had to shift the Bishop because he was so assertive, but he’s just fine where I’ve dug him in (though there is almost a clash with the Monarda).

bishop

(I must stop giving this dahlia a gender and calling it ‘The Bishop’ in tones of doom, as all that does is remind me of Blackadder and the baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells, which this lovely bronze-leaved beauty does not deserve.)

Oh dear, I suppose it’s time for Helenium Confessions. It started at Crug. Well, to be honest, it probably started a couple of years ago when I visited The Artist’s Garden for the first time; Karen has heavenly heleniums. Or maybe it started when I was a child, as I’m sure I remember them growing in my parents’ garden. Whatever, I’ve now got enough. Really.

helenium1

I have two Moerheim Beauties, a Mahogany (just coming into flower after I gave it a Chelsea chop to delay it a little), a Windley – yellow, but I don’t care – and my new addition, a Red Jewel.

helenium3

I mean, how could I possibly have resisted this? For some reason there were quite a few at Fron Goch garden centre, all tucked away behind some Sahin’s Early Flowerer which were doing just that – flowering their socks off and attracting a lot of attention. It’s worth ferretting about sometimes, it really is. Now what I need is something to tie this gem in with the Windley. I know – Helenium Potter’s Wheel, red with a yellow edge… help!

And, as a final note, and to distract me from searching online for Hel anything, ahem, I went a bit mad and bought a tray of mesembryanthemums. A real plant of my childhood, and one with a lot of acid tones, some of which – I have to say – don’t quite work where I’ve put them: at the foot of the cedar trunk, in an area which until last year was in deep shade until the cedar was cut down. Its removal has brought massive changes, not least to the house which is no longer in danger of becoming part of the tree. The sheer increase in light is wonderful, and the destruction of the wind tunnel created by the huge tree and the gable end of the house was almost completely unexpected. But the light is the most obvious benefit, and boy are the plants loving it. Not least my mesembryanthemums. Gorgeous.

mesembryanthemum

Wonder if there’s a helenium in this colour?

(No end of the month view post this time. Yesterday was considering finding timber to build ark. All plants closed up tight, and I can’t blame them. Now basking once again. This is summer, yipee….)

The story of a tulip bed

My tulip bed is just starting to go over, and I will really miss it. Actually, tulip ‘bed’ is a bit of a misnomer; it was really a sort of tulip dump, or so it was intended. There were tulips scattered around the garden following their usual springtime role in pots, some doing better than others, and I decided to put them in one place. I thought they might work together or they might not; but I didn’t really care. I just wanted some colour.

In the middle garden, the working garden where the picnic bench sits and the washing gets hung out, there’s a sundial. Around the sundial was a small bed, insignificant and far too tiny, but with a lot of Anemone blanda in it for early spring. So we enlarged it, and started sticking tulips in it last year. By the end of March they were starting to come up:

tulips 1

Now tulips aren’t supposed to come back year after year, but I’ve had reasonable success replanting, so I kept my fingers crossed. What I hadn’t anticipated was that there would be a balanced succession, or that we had spaced them out properly – they were planted as dry, anonymous bulbs and it got a bit chaotic cramming them in. We did start out quite organised, but that wasn’t quite how it ended. Ahem.

Much to my surprise, I got a wild burst of colour from all the orange tulips I had in pots last year, well before everything else, and they were even fairly equally spaced (some did appear at the back eventually, honest). Almost deliberate!

tulip gloom

It’s a rather gloomy photo because the weather in mid April was rather gloomy, but once the sun came out they opened up and glowed. Get the light behind them, and they were incandescent.

Then, as is the way with such things, they faded and the next lot opened, and at least I got a chance to capture the effect of the sun:

tulips 3

I have absolutely no idea at all what these are, due to my terrible end-of-season bulb-rescue habit in places like Wilkinson and B&Q; I then lose the packaging, which is usually pretty grotty by that stage anyway. But they are lovely. These were also in pots by the front door, but in 2010. They’ve gone on and on, and been replanted twice. I’m quite happy with where they are now…

Then some of the more miscellaneous ones started to open too, happily in colours (bright scarlet to deep red, with some unintentional striping, ahem) which worked with the others, though I am glad that the orange ones were earlier, I must admit.:

tulips 4

Some have been verging on the mad:

tulip5

and I was quite astonished to see these. They had been in pots years ago, then popped in a corner of the garden where they did precisely nothing. Replanting them here was a wild shot – I wanted shot of them and wildly decided to see if they did anything. I’ll say. Very glad I didn’t throw them out, and there are a couple more to move over.

By mid May the bed was still going strong,

wowser

with the almost-crimson white-edged tulips coming on a treat as well. There are no yellows – except for the unintentional stripes – or pure whites, but I’m not sure I ever had many of either, and some have failed to come up, though these blind ones are few. Overall, I am very, very pleased with this experiment, and it even sits well in context:

bed

Admittedly it’s been a weird spring, with all sorts of timings thrown out – my lilac, for instance, is just blooming; usually it’s brown by now. So next year this will probably look different, perhaps without so many primroses and certainly without the giant rosemary at top left which is shuffling off this mortal coil and is held together with baler twine (eat your heart out, Chelsea gardeners – you should always use baler twine for the authentic country cottage effect). I’m planning a small rhododendron or azalea for that spot, but it will have to work with the tulips. I’m thinking about an azalea arborescens – ‘Latest White‘ – at the moment, but that will probably change.

There’s one thing that won’t, though. The bed’s not big enough:

bed 2

See? Tom Tit on a round of beef, as I believe the saying is. And I’ve got more tulips to go in it – some we missed – plus some Queen of the Night are just opening, and I clearly need to buy more. And the rest, though this year’s pots were a real disappointment so they’re going out. I’m so glad I’ve discovered Peter Nyssen. They’re not doing autumn orders until 1 June, but you can build up a wish list. So far, mine has about 60 items on it. Sigh.

I also have another reason to be chuffed with my tulips. The previous owner’s husband, a great gardener and ex-WW2 pilot, died in about 1995/6. The Wing Commander had been a wild tulip fan, ordering something exotic every year which he would put in planters and then pop in the garden, as I now do. A few still come up – there are a clutch of pink and green parrot tulips that materialise up by the log pile which I must shift before they vanish again, for instance. So I’m channelling the past, evidently, and why not, when it works so well?

And incidentally, I did go back to the lovely NGS garden I visited at the start of the month. It was even more wonderful, and completely changed with leaves on the trees providing much more shade, lots of bluebells, lots of azaleas and rhododendrons. Can’t think where I got the idea of adding an azalea from, really. I still want a tree heather, though…

Spring hits the meadow – at last!

It’s finally happened. I know it’s going to get colder at the weekend – yipee – but the meadow couldn’t wait any longer. There have been daffodils blooming away for a few weeks now (I’ve already picked or deadheaded 510), but the rest? Nah. Too cold. But then things warmed up a little…

It began with the palest yellow primroses taking off about ten days ago,

primrose patch

starting to form a carpet and filling in the unmown areas. I snatched this photo from the box room to show clearly what happens when you mow paths, and when you just leave a ‘meadow’ like mine to do its thing and allow the primroses to set seed. And it’s a lot less effort, too. Not – perish the thought – that this entered my mind for a single second when I came up with the meadow idea. Certainly not.

The next thing I noticed was that one of the new damsons had covered itself in blossom overnight,

damson

and that is a real treat. The other is catching up now and, as if in competition, the Victoria plum suddenly has ten flowers on it. I have explained that unless it produces more fruit than last year (four plums, two of which fell off) it will be firewood. The threat does not appear to be working.

But the rest of the meadow is certainly performing:

meadow pear

and, much to my optimistic delight, the Comice pear in the foreground is covered in tight buds. Yes, please, please let’s have some pears this year. I know I rescued you from a bin in Lidl, I know you’ve been ill done by, but no longer. Go for it. (No firewood threats here. Yet.)

The primulas really have suddenly gone bonkers, and there are a lot more to come. You have to be really careful where you tread,

prim frit

and not just because of the primulas, as you can see. I reckon I’ve lost about a fifth to a quarter of my fritillaries this year; they were just beginning to lift their heads and form substantial buds when the Arctic blast hit. Some were shrivelled, some were merely damaged, but more than I expected have survived.

frit

and I keep coming across them. Many are stunted and have taken to hiding, and I cannot blame them in the slightest, poor little things!

The yellow daffs are now going almost over though there are still plenty to lift the heart (and if I miss bright yellow, I’ve always got dandelions),

daff prim

but the whites and pure narcissi are coming into their own, and this year they are stunning (they’ll be getting a post to themselves soon). The creamy-white pet–– no, let’s wait; there are plenty of other meadow delights to distract me, and I am ceaselessly amused by the clear path tracks -

mown path

like the one curving above – which criss-cross the meadow. They’ll probably get their first cut next week, I think; the rest, of course, waits till September / October and the Great Strim of Fate. We hang on to give everything a chance to set seed as lavishly as possible, and I am presently scouring the developing meadow for hints of the Salvia pratense having spread. Not a hint. Yet. Hopefully.

And another plus is that, finally, eureka, the birches are just beginning to put on some leaves. Phew. I know the bark is lovely but I’ve been admiring it for ages. Now I want fresh green leaves.

meadow and birches

The same cannot be said for most of the other trees, but doubtless they’ll catch up.

Maybe after this coming weekend…

Purple river

Spring is definitely here. I know, because not only is the birdbath still regularly frozen over, it’s also occasionally glittering in sunshine and thawing. There’s that, and the fact that the bottom garden is transformed.

drift

One minute there aren’t any crocuses at all, and the next minute it’s difficult to walk in that direction without doing serious damage. They’ve spread under the hydrangea (that’s it, it’s definitely coming out), over two lawns, up the side of the path:

path purples

and they change. In some light they appear almost blue or a reddish imperial purple,

blue?

in others they are lavender or a more conventional, coloured pencil purple. I don’t care; they are beautiful whatever the conditions. But they really, really come into their own in sunlight,

wowzer

and we’ve been lucky enough to have had some of that rare commodity recently.

The tree is an old cherry, and unfortunately its days are numbered. Cherries aren’t particularly long-lived anyway, and this one has already needed surgery, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it hangs on a little longer as it is such a good foil for the crocuses. Not that they really need it, mind:

wowzer2

I suppose one of the reasons I love these so much is that they’re really a transitory pleasure – they’re at their spectacular best for a short period of time, a couple of weeks if I’m lucky. And this year they are the best that I can remember. So I make no apologies for a swift succession of crocus glamour shots.

wowzer3

wowzer 4

wowzer5

The dragons (or foxes) which have been excavating the bed further up have shown no interest in digging here at all, even though it is perilously close to their preferred site, which is another bonus… That’s probably just as well, because if they did I’d have to start looking for dragon traps. Nothing interferes with the crocuses. And there’s another enjoyable and traditional sign of spring: P tiptoeing delicately through them in his boots…

For the love of stripes

Last year, I had a surprise with some Calendula officinalis seeds: I got a few plants which were attractively, and rather bizarrely, striped. So I saved the seed from those specific marigolds (and some from the others too, of course – who can walk past a marigold seedhead without saving at least a few?) and planted them in the spring, keeping my fingers crossed. Hybridisation, I thought, meant that my chances of getting some striped marigolds were low. I was wrong.

But what I did get was a huge variety of stripe intensity, as it were.

There’s just a hint here, on the underside. Looks as though someone’s been dipping the ends of the petals in paint and it’s dripped down a bit.

Then there’s the orange on orange variant, still with the darker tip:

which is almost terracotta on this flower. And then the ones like this open out a little more and you don’t notice the terracotta so much; you just see the stripes:

Some are rather more pale and interesting,

subtle in orange and cream (sounds like some sort of pudding), with a delicate fine stripe down the sides of the petals.

Some have ends which can only be described as splodgy,

but these aren’t, I suppose, strictly speaking, striped. Their paint has really run.

And then there are the rather more emphatic versions:

Still essentially orange and cream, but with a lot more orange. For some reason this makes me think of tangerine jelly and single cream at children’s parties, but that could just be because I need my tea. (I never liked that sort of alleged treat, anyway, and I do like these.)

I love the surprise of it. I walk towards the bed where I put them all, and I’ve no idea what I’m going to find. Will there be ones which are a solid colour? What will have happened to the ones which looked insignificant in bud, but which may have opened since I last checked them out?

And the insects seem to like them too. I think the flies are using the stripes like runways, guiding them to the centre of the flowers.

I like the variation in stripe thickness on this one, with the cream so much broader at the base of the petals. Or should that be ‘with the orange so much thinner’? Which is more important, the cream or the orange, I wonder? They’re both wonderful… guess I’ll be saving seeds from more choices this year. I only had a couple of seedheads to play with last year, after we’d had our horrible wet August, but this time there’ll be many, many more. And they’ve even been happily free of mildew this year, which is astonishing.

My passion for stripes doesn’t stop at Calendulas, though. I’d better not get onto the hardy geraniums just yet (I’ll save them up; they’ve been good this year), but I can’t resist a quick look

at this little petal. I do love them, but there’s something almost medical about the veining on these. The Calendulas look so deliberately painted, which I really enjoy. So do some other things,

but I’d better not start on spots. I think it must be a good year for Toad Lilies, too.

What a way to spend a Sunday!

I started by calling this post ‘Garden Open – not mine, phew’, and then decided against it (I was never a sub, they’re the ones who are hot with headlines), but that does convey something of the essence of Sunday.

The Artist’s Garden was open for charity under the NGS (National Gardens Scheme, aka the ‘yellow book’), and I was one of the friends roped in who volunteered to help.

I am so relieved it wasn’t my garden (not that mine would make the grade, especially in its present denuded state). There’s the agony over the weather, and Sunday opened with rain and mist and general unpleasantness. Mind you, Karen’s garden still looked lovely.

I played hooky from my kitchen duties for a few minutes to take a few shots – be warned, this is an image-heavy post – before people came surging through the gates. The paths were a little slippery but the rain was slacking off and temperatures were rising, and before long the slates were completely safe.

Walking down to the studio at first, though, was an exercise in how often you could get water down the back of your neck from overhanging grasses. But the raindrops on the grasses were spectacularly lovely, and it was good to be able to appreciate their undisturbed beauty.

Soon visitors began to arrive…

One of the interesting comments which was overheard again and again was about  attention to detail, and not just in planting. I don’t find it surprising; Karen is a textile artist, and the principles of layering and detail are equally as evident in the garden as they are in the studio. Below, for instance, you can just see a couple of contrasting stones placed on the rock just right of centre, and the blue glass globes in the foreground (as well as some lovely plants – that pink is a huge lily).

I think we’d better have a close up of the lily:

I have to get this. I don’t mean I ‘want’ it (after all, ‘I want never gets’), or that I would like it, but that I have to get it. Ahem. Back to non-plant detailing.

There are ceramics too, and interesting pieces of wood:

here forming a background to Echinaceas ‘white swan’ and purpurescens, and a rudbeckia. And the colour combinations, oh, the colour combinations – like the Echinacea purpurescens again but with a grass this time:

But my duties called me back, and soon we were essentially running a tea and cake production line. Elegant tea cups, delicious cakes, no rain: perfect. I think the double gazebos for shelter were a brilliant idea – if they’d not been there, I’m sure it would have rained all day…

Relatives of the cake maker (and of two of the waitresses), these three knew that the lime tray bake was well worth choosing. Delicious – but there was soon a distinct shortage. Sigh. Man, and particularly this woman, cannot live by Echinacea purpurescens alone, that’s what I say.

As the afternoon wore on it got warmer and warmer – quite sultry, in fact (and not just in the kitchen, either). The demand for teas dipped, and again I was able to zoom around. The medlar is fruiting nicely, and though it is some time off being ready, I have my foodie eyes on it.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty to go round. That’s a hint, by the way.

There were a huge number of insects, including lots of bees, all encouraged by the sudden appearance of sub-tropical conditions on the coast of west Wales – another thing that many visitors commented upon. I was especially taken by one which was coordinating so beautifully with its favoured plant,

a yellow and black bug on a yellow and black rudbeckia.

I fell terribly in love with some of the colour combinations. I’ve been doing quite a bit of natural dyeing lately, and I was especially taken with the subtlety of this Eryngium plenum matched with a pale yellow grass (I’m no good at grasses – I can identify about three – so please forgive me):

Hmm, can’t think how I would get anywhere near that – but I’ll bear it in mind… and extraordinarily I met three other spinners, and I only knew one of them. Either a textile artist’s studio being open had drawn them in, or there is a deep link between spinning and gardening. I’m opting for both. Ahem. Back to the garden.

And then there are those plants whose colour combines well not with another plant, but with their surroundings:

This is Lobelia Russian Princess. It’s not subtle, but against the grey of the stone wall it really works. For me this is a plant to be used with care – it could so easily overwhelm and clash with others. Lovely here, though, and it lights up a dark area.

There are plants where I fell in love with the form:

I’ve always liked the flower heads of echinacea (yup, sorry, that again). They almost look as though they should be soft, but of course they’re not. Very, very tactile though…

And there are plants where the dipping light gave them rather special quality, like these pelargoniums (‘Mystery’) in a container.

By now the clock was moving remorselessly towards 5 p.m. The cakes were running out, the kitchen staff were only able to crawl and Karen had developed a sore throat from talking to visitors. It was time to close the gate, take down the road signs and indulge in the traditional open-garden-helpers’ perks:

Apparently these ran out at about two in the morning, and if it isn’t a tradition, it certainly needs to become one. I’m an old hand now: got pinny, will make tea and cut cake, can be hired again for extortionate minimal fees, not to mention the traditional helpers’ perks. Phew, until next year – or the year after, since Karen will only be open by appointment next year. Well worth seeing…

And farewell from Digger too, who guarded the veg all day and didn’t get as much as a sniff of a helpers’ perk. The Gnome Liberation Front will be meeting next Monday at the village gardening club.