garden drama

hollyhock gardening blogThe hollyhocks are coming out. One flower quietly unfurls, then it creates a domino effect up the stem. I like to imagine how it would look on one of those sped-up film sequences that were so popular in natural history documentaries in the 80s.

I’m beginning to realise that the garden is full of noiseless drama. Like when the giant poppies’ hairy pods suddenly popped to reveal a flash of rumpled satiny scarlet. And when the tight, fat peony buds unpeeled their blousy blooms one petal at a time.peony gardening blog

We can see it in Bobbie James, the rambling rose who is flinging himself up the pear tree. And of course in the squash plants that are almost frightening in their quest for garden-domination.

Our gardening has mostly taken a ‘stick it in and see what happens’ approach so far. We are talking about being a bit more planned next year. But I don’t think rigid colour schemes or structured planting are ever going to be our thing.

Instead, I wonder if we can plan our planting for dramatic effect, so that we are drawn to different corners and heights of the garden through the seasons. Could we let rambling roses loose up more of the trees – so when they flower it will be like switching on the Christmas lights. Could we fill the far, neglected corners with masses of bulbs so we get a carpet of colour calling us into the icy early spring air. Could we make better use of light at different times of the day and year to spotlight certain plants and trees.

The possibilities are endless. But there’s another thing I’m beginning to realise. As we get more ambitious in the garden, our stick it in and see what happens approach is only going to become more pronounced.

What are your favourite garden dramas? Please share…


outside-in: July (2/12)

Outside-in charts my attempts to bring the garden into the house with haphazard English Freestyle flower arranging.

It has been all about the sweet peas this month. If they were’t so lovely, I’d almost say picking them has become a bit of a chore. Our pastel-pink-and-white painted ladies are the most prolific. I adore the more vibrant purples and reds as well as the pure whites, but we have far fewer of them.

gardening blog white sweet peas

white sweet peas, bury-your-face-in gorgeous, but we don’t have many

Over the past couple of weeks many of the sweet peas have had very short stems – just a couple of inches. I wonder if the hot weather is bringing them on too quickly. But what they lack in length they make up for in abundance. Anyone who comes to visit walks away with a fistful.

gardening blog sweet peas in a cup

granny’s old teacups come in handy for short-stemmed flowers

And since most of them are too short for vases, I have scoured the cupboards for squat cups and glasses to put them in.

Here are some of the other flowers we’ve had in the house this month…

gardening blog hosta and grass

Steve grew some ornamental grass that teamed up well with these hosta flowers (should have dusted the window ledge..)


gardening blog sweet peas and garlic

we lifted our early purple garlic this month; love the way its earthy colours echo the fresher look of the sweet peas

gardening blog nigella

these nigella were very low-maintenance, we literally scattered the seed on the ground and watched them grow

gardening blog sweet peas and larkspur

the larkspur look so good in the garden I don’t like to pick them – but I managed to sacrifice a few stems


Most of these flowers – and the garlic – were from Sarah Raven and Pennard Plants seeds and sets.

lots of lovely larkspur

gardening blog larkspur mixA few weeks ago we (or rather Steve) dug up a well-established but ailing skimmia that we inherited with the garden.

The plan was to open up a new space for some hardy perennials and possibly a witch hazel or a crab apple tree. We haven’t quite decided yet. So for this summer the spot is home to M’s sunflowers. Then as an afterthought we threw in some Consolida (annual larkspur) that didn’t have anywhere else to go.

Steve grew the larkspur from a pack of Sarah Raven seed he picked up at the local garden centre. I haven’t really had any involvement, apart from pinching out the middles when  they were getting a bit leggy. To be honest, I didn’t see the point in them when we were already growing perennial delphiniums.

But as I ambled past today on the hunt for a watering can, I was struck by a frothy purple-pink-mauve sea of flowers that had unfolded in the space of a few hours. It is a bit of a higgledy mass (we probably should have staked them) but they are one of the loveliest things in the garden at the moment.

gardening blog larkspur mix (2)

the ramshackle look seems to suit our garden

They hide almost shyly in their feathery green foliage. But when you take a closer look they are like little jewels.

gardening blog larkspur1 (2)

the horizontal look…

I think I may have a new garden favourite.

gardening blog larkspur blue (2)

a tangled bed

gardening blog turks turban

apparently this is what Turk’s Turban will look like

Blue Hubbard, Turk’s Turban, Marina Di Chioggia…

With their evocative names, I couldn’t resist these squash seeds from Pennards at last year’s Malvern Autumn Show.

I also picked up some slightly less exotic sounding varieties like Acorn Table Ace and Butternut Ponca.

I knew at the time that we would never have room for them all. But following my paltry attempts at growing squash from seed last spring, I figured I should spread my bets.

Sure enough, the first sowing (late March) resulted in zero germination. Luckily I’d learnt something from last year’s efforts and had only used half the seeds in each pack. It must simply have been too cold. When I tried again a month later, it seemed only a matter of days before the hard little husks were shooting out of the compost perched on top of robust seedlings.

Each one grew into such a strong plant that I couldn’t bear to relegate any to the compost bin. So Steve dug a whole new bed for them. Space was still tight but I squeezed in as many as seemed sensible, and dotted a few  among the raspberry canes, alongside the garlic… anywhere I could find a spot.

Then the weather warmed up a few more notches and they started to GROW.

gardening blog escaping squashNow I can’t tell where one plant ends and the next begins. There is something almost sinister about the way they are reaching out to the next bed, latching on with their tendrils, and heaving themselves across. Some are even climbing the fence and making a bid for the freedom of the main garden.

I’ve watched in awe over the past couple of weeks as their  leaves have created a dense green canopy. Today I finally braved the rough, scratchy beasts and took a look beneath.

gardening blog under the squash

mouse-eye view under the squash leaves

Over-planted they may be, but they seem to be thriving. Lots of flowers and a few baby squash starting to appear.

gardening blog tangle of squash

looks promising – if any insects can fight their way through to pollinate…

Unfortunately I’m the only person in the family who really likes eating them. My vegetarian friends may be receiving a basket or three in a couple of months.

[You can read about our daughter helping to sow the squash in ‘helping hand‘]

fruits and labour

gardening blog wateringLooking after the garden is a labour of love in this heat wave.  All three of us are on watering duty.

We inherited five rainwater butts with the cottage, but they are close to empty, so we’re rationing what’s left for the hydrangeas and camellia, which apparently aren’t too keen on tap water.

Everything else gets a good dose with the hosepipe or watering can every day or two. But the hanging baskets at the front of the house were crispy when I checked them this evening. I treated them to a dunk in a water butt. Not sure if they will make it.

With the warmth and sun, everything is growing like crazy. It looks like we’ll be busy harvesting in a few weeks.

The blueberries aren’t far off ripening. If we’re lucky, we might get to them before the birds.

gardening blog blueberries

we planted our blueberries in terracotta pots of ericaceous soil – they are a bit spindly, but producing fruit…

And I pulled our first three garlic bulbs tonight (thank you Gardeners World magazine for the article explaining how to tell when they’re ready – I just thought they’d flopped in the heat).

Last year, our apple tree produced a grand total of five fruit. I read somewhere that the wet weather prevented many of the pollinating insects doing their thing. No such problem this year. It will be groaning with the weight of its apples soon. I think you’re supposed to thin them out, but they are a bit high up to make it practical (and besides we’re too busy watering).

gardening blog apples

we should probably thin these out a bit, but it seems to happen naturally – the dogs are finding lots of baby apples in the grass

Most exciting of all, the nectarine tree I bought on a whim from a local garden centre has three fruit fattening up nicely. One each. Something to look forward to later in the summer.

gardening blog nectarine

one of our greedily watched nectarines

peas at last

peas in pods Mice had most of our peas last year.

Just as the pods were starting to fatten up, we went away for a couple of days. When we came back each one had been systematically robbed.

At first we blamed the pigeons, because it looked like the peas had been pecked out. Then we looked closer and saw the tiny teeth marks.

This year’s crop is a bit later, but so far the mice haven’t found it. Or perhaps there are fewer mice around, now that a local farm cat has taken to visiting the garden in the evenings. (Our own cats are terrible hunters – they miaow with pride if they manage to catch a feather).

However, we have a new pea predator. Our almost-three-year-old adores the frozen variety and has discovered they are even better freshly picked.


M has discovered there is nothing quite like freshly picked peas

None of our peas ever seems to make it out of the veg patch and into the kitchen.

peas brookend cottage garden

peas, anyone?