Tulip Planting Season in the Hornbeam Walkway

Doesn’t seem like yesterday when I was last planting tulip bulbs. This year has passed by so quickly.

Although I leave the tulips bulbs in the ground every year, very rarely do they reappear or naturalise. So I always have to plant new bulbs to ensure a good display.

A favourite area in one of the gardens where I work is the Hornbeam Walkway that links the back of the house with the main garden. Snowdrops and hellebores are the first flowers to wake this area up from its winter slumber. Then during late spring the area is awash with colour from tulips, followed by alliums.

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Summer and early autumn is less about colour but more about foliage and texture. Hostas show off their beautiful foliage, with ferns filling the shady spaces. Sedums planted near the start of the Walkway offer the last blast of colour in late autumn before the area re-enters it winter dormancy.

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In November all the perennial foliage has died back and the fallen hornbeam leaves have been cleared. This is the time every year I plant the same three tulip varieties- Negrita, Paul Scherer and Shirley.

Negrita is a purple tulip, veined with beetroot purple. The tulip grows 45cm high and is lightly fragranced. Paul Scherer is a rich dark purple, almost black tulip that grows up to 50cm in height. Shirley is a white tulip with flecks of purple and a purple edge, growing up to 50cm tall.

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Because I’ve got three different tulip varieties, I put ten of each variety in a pot and then set them out where I want them to get a good mix of colour. When ready, I tip each pot over, scatter on the ground and plant the bulbs where they land. By planting each variety in groups of ten means you get little blocks of colour, which seems to work well.

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When seeing the Hornbeam Walkway like this on a cold, cloudy November day, it’s hard to believe the mass of foliage and colours that will hid this dull bare soil. Two years ago was a fantastic year for tulip flowers. But last year was not so good as there seemed to be more foliage than flower. I think this was down to unusual weather conditions.

So far the weather has been similar to two years ago, albeit with less rain. So I look forward to next April and welcoming the tulips for what hopefully will be a wonderful display.

 

Regenerating Willow Logs

I wanted to share with you a picture of a log cut from a willow tree during a garden restoration project.

I cut the tree down in April. With the help of my able assistant Zac (my son), we loaded the logs into a trailer and covered them with a tarpaulin.

They stayed there for a month as I didn’t need to use the trailer. When I pulled back the tarpaulin in May to unload the logs, I was amazed to see the willow had started growing. This is one of the logs.

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I don’t know how willow can continue to grow without key elements such as water or sunlight, or without any roots to access important nutrients.

I know willow is often used for living structures because of this ability to regenerate. But that is easier to understand as the willow sticks are pushed into soil where they grow new roots, in the same way Cornus can be propagated. I never expected willow logs stored in a dark, dry trailer for 4 weeks to do the same!

I realise there is probably a simple explanation for this regenerative ability that someone more science minded than myself could understand. But even if there is, nature never ceases to surprise me.

 

Renovating a Cutting Garden

This winter I have been renovating a cutting garden. The previous one had an interesting shape to it. There were six individual beds with two small circular beds in between to plant sweet pea wigwams.


This is a good design for parterres with low hedging, especially as a rose garden. But as a cutting garden it wasn’t practical and not the best use of space. The dahlias, chrysanthemums and gladioli were packed into their individual flower beds and had a tendency to flop over the grass paths, even with supports. When walking through the cutting garden after a rain shower you had to push past soggy dahlias and chrysanthemums, getting drenched in the process. And every week the grass paths had to be cut and the edges trimmed. Add in the regular dead-heading and weeding, and this created a very high maintenance cutting garden.

So my first decision was to remove the grass paths and create a rectangular shaped garden with the planting in vertical rows. The cutting garden is south facing so this layout meant every plant would benefit from maximum sunshine. In the old cutting garden tall perennials, such as the dahlias, had to be planted in the back beds to prevent them blocking out the sunlight from smaller plants. Planting in rows also makes it easier harvesting the flowers rather than having to lean across flower beds to reach the plants at the back.

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The yew pyramid in the centre was not in my initial plans! The yew was supposed to be for a walled garden by the front of the house. But because of its size and difficulty in being moved, the cutting garden was a more accessible solution. I planted standard bay trees on the four corners and in front of the yew, which will add some balance as they grow. And I am planting a low box hedging around the edge of the cutting garden to create structure and enhance the formal look

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The old cutting garden backed up against the wall, making it a difficult area to access and enabling perennial weeds such as couch grass and nettles to become established. So I created a gravel path at the back to improve accessibility and to help keep on top of the weeds.

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The renovated cutting garden has now been planted with daffodils, alliums, chrysanthemums, delphiniums and dahlias. I kept a rose called ‘Champagne Moment’ because of its stunning, creamy white blooms tinged with apricot.

Although designed to be a cutting garden, I have also planted some broad beans, courgettes and runner beans. These work well planted amongst the daffodils, making use of the space while the bulbs’ foliage dies back. The box hedge will be completed at the end of year when the box is available to buy bare root.

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Although the yew was unplanned, it has become a beautiful centre piece and focal point. The cutting garden has taken on a more structured, formal look than initially intended, but still remains a practical space for growing flowers (and vegetables). And the style is now in keeping with the rest of the garden so I am really pleased with the outcome.

 

 

A Good Month for Tulips

It’s been a good month for tulips at the Cotswold garden where I work.

We did lose quite a lot to mice or squirrels, indicated by the tell-tale small holes where the tulips should have been. Also the warm, wet weather over winter meant this was not a vintage tulip year.

Nevertheless the long awaited sunshine that arrived at the beginning of May did encourage the remaining tulips to put on a wonderful display.

Here is a selection of my favourite:

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Tulip ‘Abu Hassan’

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Walled Garden Borders and Parterres

Tulips ‘Apricot Beauty’, ‘Shirley’ and ‘Mount Tacoma’

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Terrace

Tulip ‘Ballerina’

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Walkway

Tulips ‘Negrita’, ‘Paul Scherer’ and ‘Shirley’

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Courtyard

Tulip ‘Mount Tacoma’

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Hat tip to the owner who chose the colour schemes for the tulips.

Success with a Stubborn Wisteria

Nothing more satisfying as a gardener than having success with a plant that is being awkward. These two wisteria had stopped flowering and the owner was contemplating cutting them down.

The wisterias had flowered in the past so there wasn’t a defect with the plants. I gave them a hard prune so all the wisterias energy was directed into fattening up the flower buds. I also gave them a good feed with a slow fertiliser and made sure they were well watered.

Thankfully this spring we have been treated to a magnificent display. Now the challenge is to keep the flowering this spectacular next year and not put it down to this being a very good year for wisterias.

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Planted a new beech hedge

Planted a new beech hedge. Used 2 year old, bare root beech (Fagus Sylvatica). Bought it from a small nursery in Wales and was really impressed with the quality. Lots of of lovely, undamaged roots, which should give the beech a good chance of establishing quickly.

To be honest they need all the help they can in this soil. Looks ok in the pictures but underneath is quite a collection of stones and builders rubble as this is the site of the outdoor swimming pool that once belonged to the manor house you can see in the distance. When demolished, the builders decided to pile the rubble in a mound and cover with just enough soil to grass over.

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I worked the soil for sometime before planting the beech, removing as many stones as possible. So hopefully there is enough soil structure there for the beech to establish.

Had to to plant a double row with 5 plants to a metre. This is to create a dense hedge that may offer some protection from the cows in the neighbouring field who occasionally decide to visit the garden!

Rabbit guards are also essential as there is a large rabbit population who would love a nibble on the tasty buds of the young beech.

Root growth only occurs with beech after the first bud burst. With the weather starting to warm up this should be sometime soon. In the meantime we are having plenty of rain to help keep the roots moist, sparing me the job of regular watering.

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The Fashion for Cloud Pruned Yew Hedges

If you follow this blog or my social media profiles you may have noticed I am building a small collection of vintage gardening books. This is not intentional.

I find it difficult to resist when I see an interesting antique gardening book on an online auction site and my low bids seem to be winning. One lucky acquisition was this 1904 First Edition ‘Some English Gardens’ with beautiful prints of watercolours by George S. Elgood and commentary by Gertrude Jekyll.

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One print that caught my eye was a watercolour titled ‘Yew Alley at Rockingham’ and painted about 1900. The yew has been clipped in a cloud pruned fashion with magnificent waves and undulations.

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It didn’t take much research to discover this yew alley still exists. A quick search on Google revealed a hedge known as the ‘Elephant Hedge’ at Rockingham Castle. A helpful blog post on Hedge Britannia confirmed this is the same one.

The Elephant Hedge, so named because the undulations look like the backs of elephants, is 450 years old and has survived a Royalist siege in the English Civil War. Below is the image of the hedge now from the blog post, and shows how little has changed since 1900.

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Seeing this Yew hedge raised the question of when the fashion for cutting hedges like this began. Although there is evidence this hedge is over 450 years old, I am not convinced it has always be trimmed in this ‘cloud pruned’ fashion.

There is a similar yew hedge at Walmer Castle. The hedge began life in the late 19th century as a formal, clipped yew hedge that acted as a backdrop for long, flower borders. This Italian style of walkway and vista was in keeping with the fashion at the time.

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However, the hedge was neglected during the Second World War and as a result the straight, linear edges were lost as the yew continued to grow. A hard winter in 1947 with heavy snow added to the hedge becoming even more misshapen. The result was an undulating yew hedge that would have required major pruning to restore the straight, formal lines of before. So the decision was taken to follow the naturally formed contours, resulting in the cloud pruned style hedge seen below.

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Another famous yew hedge is located at Powis Castle. The history of this hedge is similar to Walmer Castle. The yews were originally planted in the 18th century as small cones and pyramids, influenced by the formal Italian garden style. But by the end of the century English landscape gardening was becoming the fashion, inspired by famous designers such as Capability Brown and Humphry Repton. So the yews were left to grow into their natural, tree-like shapes.

By the time the desire for more formal gardening had returned in the Victorian period, the yews had grown to such an extent that the only option was to shape them into the famous hedges that we see today.

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The common theme with these two famous yew hedges is they arrived at their current appearance more by accident than by choice, often after periods of neglect. I am not sure whether this is the same for the yew hedge at Rockingham Castle but George S. Elgood’s watercolour has inspired me to see ‘Elephant Hedge’ in person and find out more.