Week 12th June

A week of beautiful sunny weather and good temperatures. We’ve been out and about visiting gardens for inspiration and relaxation. On Monday was National Trust Knightshayes Court where we always head straight for the huge walled kitchen garden. The gardeners and volunteers do a terrific job managing such a big space and we are invariably impressed. There are useful little boards dotted in the beds with information about what’s growing and what’s problematic and how they are dealing with it. The veg was looking good – especially the broad beans and brassica, and a huge bed of rhubarb with a note saying that they pick it until midsummers day and then leave it alone until the following year. In the middle of the garden is a round pond with raised sides – it was probably designed as the dipping pond for the garden, but it has been planted up and the water level is very low. Nonetheless, a female mallard was busy encouraging her six ducklings to climb out and disport themselves in all their fluffy, stripey cuteness on the grass paths. On the other side of the house (Victorian gothic) the herbaceous borders were full of peonies and iris, and hardy geraniums, with great billowing clouds of gypsophila drawing the eye. Lovely.

Later in the week we visited another favourite of ours, the much less well-known Burrow Farm Gardens hidden in the Devon countryside between Honiton and Axminster. This is a garden that fits perfectly into the landscape. There are beautifully planted gardens; we were very taken with roses climbing through trees – a scarlet rose through an acer was particularly striking – a garden of grasses dotted with perennials; a long slope with shrubs leading down to a pool alive with dragonflies and damselflies like jewels over the water; a quarry garden and a glorious wildflower meadow noisy with bees and studded with orchids. There’s also a collection of cornus trees that are magnificent at this time of year. It’s an absolute delight. Do seek it out.

At home we are still working hard in the garden – weeding mostly, but also finding space to plant one or two unusual things that we have picked up from our favourite local(ish) nursery – Plant World.

This is digitalis ferruginea or the rusty foxglove. The bees absolutely love it and the small browny-pink flowers with a creamy yellow interior are really sweet.

And this is silybum (yes, really) marianum or St Mary’s Milk Thistle. Common enough but usually rooted out of gardens. That variegated foliage is stunning and I can’t wait to see the purple flower.

There’s more but I don’t have decent photographs yet. More good weather is promised next week so I’m sure we will be out and about and I’ll have more to share.

Week 5th June

This morning I realised I haven’t blogged for almost a month. My love for knitting rather took over my life as I finished two pairs of socks and a slouchy cardigan for chilly summer evenings. I’m one of those personalities that can’t put something down mid-way; I have to keep going til it’s finished. I’m the same with books, and sweeties.

The weather has been variable. Periods of good strong sunshine, almost always accompanied by a cool breeze though, and hardly any rain for the past couple of weeks. The garden is growing strongly and work is being done as and when it can be fitted in. We are turning our attention to the large side garden which is very overgrown and I am struggling to convince myself I can get away with insisting it is ‘re-wilding’. The brambles are beyond a joke and yesterday I noticed two cherry saplings and an ash. I suspect it’s going to be a mixture of digging and fairly noxious weedkiller, carefully applied. In the meantime, we are tackling small patches at a time. This week we cleared the half-moon bed which had been planted with roses. The roses have never settled properly and were weak and spindly – the soil is poor and it’s the drier part of the garden. In spite of soil improver and mulching, they haven’t taken to it at all. Two of the roses we transplanted into large pots – Gertrude Jekyll and one of the Munstead Wood are now thriving in their own little micro-gardens. The other two Munsteads look too feeble to rejuvenate, but I have pruned them right back and we will persevere in pots for a while.

The garden is full of young birds – goldfinches with the bright wing bar but no red faces, chaffinch, tubby little blackbirds with short tails and rich, chestnut speckled feathers. Mama blackbird helped us in the garden, around our feet darting in for anything that moved – mostly wireworms. We have had the robin close to us in the garden before, but never the blackbirds. She wasn’t a bit afraid and was backwards and forwards all afternoon. Blue tits were diligently working their way through a fuchsia bush, winkling out the froghopper babies from the cuckoo spit. The fuchsia bush is a real trier – we have fuchsia gall mite and all our fuchsia bushes have succumbed. I’ve removed some, but left a couple of bushes at the front and cut them right down to the ground in early spring. They have flowers, but all the tips of the new shoots are discoloured and distorted. I’m trying to weigh up whether the flowers are worth the unsightly foliage. It’s a close run thing at the moment so no pictures.

The cottage garden is beginning to fill out now, although there is still plenty of space for planting. It’s very hot there, in full sun all day so I have dotted in osteospermum and some rather splendid gazanias which are both very cheery and love the sun. The lychnis is flowering – a fabulous lipstick deep cerise against grey foliage; and an argyranthemum has been flowering for weeks. Last year’s canna came through the winter really well and are growing up nicely, there are flower spikes on the shorter ones, and likewise the dahlias – winter survivors and putting on good growth.

Today we sat on the deck and watched the small fields on the hill being cut for hay. The tractors and machinery like Dinky toys being moved by some invisible hand across the faded fields. First a tractor pulling the baler moving diligently around the field in ever-decreasing circles, occasionally slowing to release a bale like some strange grassy egg. Then a small tractor with forks trundles in and picks up two bales at a time, taking them across to the field gate nearest the road and lining them up in a row of stumpy , rotund soldiers. They’re small fields and small tractors and it’s almost like going back in time watching them work. There’s something comforting about watching the fields fulfil their purpose across the seasons, and trying to feel that age-old connection with the land.


Week 15th May

A hiatus in my musings last week as I’ve had two weeks of visitors and no time for anything very much except keeping people fed and reasonably entertained. Fortunately the weather was reasonable so we could get out and about which meant not much time in the garden.

We did however give up on ‘No Mow May’ as leaving the lawn meant the rear garden began to look completely unkempt, and a freshly mown lawn does so much to deceive the eye into general tidiness. I keep telling myself we will get it sorted slowly. The little alpine strip bed we planted earlier in the season has been absolutely delightful – it’s a mass of saxifrage, sedum, gentian and tiny phlox and really cheers up the front pathway. We are beginning to fill the two herbaceous beds too, although they are still a bit sparse. Next year they should fill out nicely. There is now alchemilla, geum, lychnis, hardy geranium, foxgloves, polemonium and some later flowering rudbeckia. At the front the cotoneaster hedge is in flower and alive with bees. They love it – yesterday a buff-tailed queen was so drunk on nectar that she had collapsed onto the flagstones. It was ten minutes before she could manage to buzz unsteadily away. And the back garden? Well, as I said, the cut lawn makes a difference…

The changeable weather has given us some stunning cloudscapes across the bay. Purple storm clouds backlit by the sun, the edges shining gold against a blue sky; feathery wisps of mare’s tail clouds with false promises of fine weather as the shower clouds pushed in from the west; and night-time displays of almost constant lightning flashing behind the clouds and illuminating the sea for over an hour one night last week. Sleep-disturbing but very beautiful.

We have seen no fledglings yet, but plenty of evidence of feeding as the blackbirds and robin dart in and out of the hedge and shrubs with beaks full of worms and insects. The blackbird’s song is thrilling at around 9am and again late in the afternoon, they are in fine voice. I’m also learning to identify the trilling song of the chaffinch, apart from his ‘pink, pink’, and the wren blasts out his cascade of song, so urgent and loud it’s hard to believe it comes from such a tiny throat. This week we’ve also had all the local woodpeckers – green woodpeckers investigating the gaps in the paving for ants and a less frequent great spotted woodpecker spending time in the cherry tree in the early morning.

In spite of the changeable weather, the season has really gathered pace in the last two weeks – the trees now full of leaf and the tulips and daffodils fading away as the roses and oriental poppies start to take over. I do hope we get some really fine, warm weather in longer spells; just sitting outside feeling the warmth on your skin is so restorative. I hope it’s warm where you are.

Week 1st May

Warmer weather has lifted spirits this week. Still a cool breeze at times, but on the calm days we have had temperatures of 19 degrees – such a difference. The garden loves it, though an absence of any rain for a while means a fair bit of watering. We have invested in new water butts and are aiming for one on every downpipe plus the shed and greenhouse. Then wait for the rain…..

The garden is keeping us busy so little time for longer walks at the moment. We did spend a day at Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival last Friday, at Powderham Castle. Lots of lovely plant stalls and garden supplies, as well as local food and drink and some interesting crafts. We were impressed by a chap hand making garden sieves – beautifully crafted from wood and copper wire – also beautifully expensive, but they were lovely. We came home with a big banana plant, some sedum, a gadget for sharpening garden tool blades, some hand-dyed yarn and a new garden parasol. So a good day all round. The grounds there are lovely, we often walk along the side of the deer park and down to the estuary. There’s a herd of fallow deer always browsing in the fields, their dappled coats so pretty and their white tails flicking from side to side. There is always a good gathering of crows, rooks and jackdaws fussing around and small birds a-plenty. Plus The Orangery café is good for lunch!

Clearing the matted clumps of iris and crocosmia (see last week) caused a small problem – I broke my trusty border fork that I’ve had for more than twenty years. Another excuse for a trip to the garden centre.

There is lots of loveliness appearing in the garden now as the plants fill out and start to flower. We have arranged a cluster of different sized pots near the front door with roses, ipomoea, passion flower and lilies. Another month and it should really be coming into it’s own and welcoming visitors with bloom. and scent. The rose is a ‘Munstead Wood’, which I love, and which has been planted in the garden for a couple of years. It has been miserable and has not thrived at all, so we dug it out yesterday and put it in a big pot with good compost and plenty of feed. It’s already looking perkier. The veg garden’s starting to do well, the potatoes are up now, as are spring onion, lettuce and chard and I have planted out the courgettes and celery. Beans and peas still not quite big enough for planting out. I think we will be busy in the garden for some weeks to come – and I love it!

Week 25th April

I missed a week last week due to a busy week of new boiler fitting, hospital appointments, and bedroom painting – not much time for getting out and about. Also, it was half-term week, and anyone who lives in a seaside town or holiday area will know that it’s best to stay at home and do all those jobs you’ve been saving up since last school holidays. That’s not to be (too) churlish – visitors are welcome, but it helps to plan in advance to avoid the crowds.

The beginning of this week was unseasonably cold. Jumper and coat weather, and who had swapped over summer and winter wardrobes just in time for it? Yes, I was that Michelin woman in fourteen layered T-shirts, cropped jeans and ankle warmers. 10 degrees accompanied by north-east winds is just not what one expects in late April. Brrr!

Fortunately the end of the week saw a pleasant improvement. By Thursday we were able to get back to work in the garden – it’s as dry as dust and quite hard work, but finally the beds on the west side of the house are cleared of weeds and old, matted areas of crocosmia and iris. Sadly it wasn’t possible to separate the iris from the crocosmia so I couldn’t save them. I love crocosmia when it’s first planted, but after a year or two it needs stringent control to keep it in bounds, and a sharp eye for random seeding. The iris (sibirica in blue and white) were lovely and I shall replace them for next year. The greenhouse is coming into its own with the tomatoes in their final pots, two sweet pepper plants doing really well, and for the first time we are trying to grow aubergines. They look a bit sickly, but I am hopeful that once in their larger pots they will grow away. The annual flower seeds I put in are not doing very well at all, with poor germination. I’m also waiting for the runner beans to germinate and some sugar-snap peas. I planted potatoes in the ground over Easter weekend and was hoping they might show up soon, but nothing doing. Either it’s been too cold, or the seed potatoes got frazzled in the greenhouse for too long before I planted them. We shall see.

The blackbirds and robin are loving all the freshly turned soil. We have at least three male blackbirds who co-exist reasonably peacefully – just the occasional alarm call chase – and one female who I hope is nesting in the hedge. The cotoneaster hedge outside the sitting room window is coming into flower and is a real bee magnet. White, buff and red tail bumblebees are feeding there and common carders. Yesterday I saw a tree bumblebee which I haven’t noticed in the garden before, although I’m sure they’ve been around. A green woodpecker scared the life out of me as I was pegging out washing, it called from the cherry tree about six feet away – so loud! It called three or four times before it flew off with that unmistakeable undulating flight and still yaffling as it flew. It made me grin like an idiot.

This morning is 1st May. The Beltane festival when the Maiden goddess makes the great marriage with the young Oak King, and all is returned to abundant fertility, vitality and joy for the height of Spring and the coming of Summer. So, if you have a May tree (Hawthorn) in your garden have a little dance round it, if you have a rowan then tie a ribbon on a couple of the branches and ask it for protection from the mischievous fairies, and if you have an oak nearby then touch its bark and feel its age and its heart and its connection between earth and sky. Another turn of the year’s wheel.

Week 10th April

A cool start to the week and that persistent wind, well…..persists. Walks have been short and brisk. Up and down the Esplanade, watching the brave swimming, and a quick look at the river to see if has developed a clear run into the sea. Sadly not, as it seems that each tide pushes more beach against the harbour wall, blocking the flow of the river. Behind the shingle bank the water is turgid and full of detritus from further upstream, but the flow manages to percolate through the beach and find its way into the sea in three or four small, fast flowing streams. The gulls like it, they bathe in the flowing water, dipping their heads and fluffing their feathers, squabbling amongst themselves, as usual.

Three days this week were taken up having the builders in. What we thought would be a a quick one day job partially boarding the loft turned into a three full days of joist strengthening before the panels could be laid. Heigh ho. At least it’s safer now for the gas fitter when the new boiler is fitted next week. It’s all go on the home maintenance front.

A warm Easter weekend was promised, and arrived on Good Friday with blue skies, warm sunshine and very little breeze. At last some real time could be spent in the garden. I set to hand weed four beds at the side of the house, getting though three by Saturday afternoon. Bittercress, dandelions, thistles and persistent Spanish bluebells were teased, dug and forked out of the soil. The bluebells especially are so difficult to remove completely, but I have discovered an additional bane of the border – the lesser celandine, which sends it’s roots down much further than the flowering part leads you to believe, and breaks them off unless you trowel them out diligently. Despite the back breaking weeds, the perennials are really coming through now – foxgloves, asters, lychnis, alchemilla mollis, hardy geraniums – all are making substantial clumps. We have some iris here too which really need to be rejuvenated by splitting. Digging them up was a nightmare of matted roots, so we just managed to lift one clump and split off five small plantlets, discarding the remainder. The rest of the overgrown patch will have to wait.

Last year I planted goose-neck loosestrife in one of these beds. I love the graceful curve of the flower heads, but oh my, after dying back completely over winter, it is now popping up all over the bed. I suspect that it is actually rather perniciously invasive and will need to be controlled by brute force, or removed altogether. The sun brought out dancing peacock butterflies, and flittering Holly blues, furry little beeflies were exploring saxifrage flowers, and native ladybirds, woodlice and ants scurried off away from my probing hand fork. I turned up a shiny, brown chrysalis which I think was probably from a cutworm moth, but the blackbird would probably have it for supper so I left it exposed. My gardening was accompanied by the robin, as usual, and a fat little dunnock in and out of the hedge bottom. Properly warm weather makes such a difference to gardening motivation, and I hope to spend many hours outside over the bank holiday. I hope it’s warm and sunny where you are, and Happy Easter to you all. (Please forgive the blurry ladybird!)

Week 3rd April

Changeable weather still – cold, windy, showery, occasional sunshine. A difficult week for getting anything done or for walking as it’s so unpredictable. We did manage to give the lawn its first cut – it’s surprisingly wet and yellowed in patches, hopefully now it’s cut it can dry out a little. The beds and borders in this part of the garden are full of couch grass. We are spending a couple of hours a day – when it’s dry enough – hand weeding it out. It’s hard work. It seems to come from nowhere, and before you realise there are clumps of it everywhere.

We went for a walk along the beach at Budleigh in the week, but it was so cold we didn’t get further than the Longboat café and its bacon and scallop sandwiches (again). There were only crows on the beach, stalking around, the wind ruffling through their feathers. Occasionally one or two of them would lift and balance in the wind, just a few feet in the air, and then drop down again. There didn’t seem to be anything for them amongst the huge pebbles that Budleigh is famous for, but they seemed happy enough.

Back in the garden the cherry tree is coming into bloom just as the amelanchier blossom fades. The cherry flowers are sugar pink and at any other time of the year they might be considered vulgar, but they are so welcome now, and they are lighting up the garden. The young leaves following them are deep maroon, and the contrast is striking, especially against a clear blue sky. We are seeing more and more of the garden birds, even without feeding them, and we also seem to have a very local pair of pheasant. We haven’t seen them in our garden yet but they are regularly in a neighbours and nested there last year. I love the ‘cuk-cu-uk’ noise they make and the clatter of their wings when they are flushed out. I am hoping they will venture into our garden and make a home here!

The unpredictable weather means our view of the sea has been changing every day. Sometimes it’s a flat, grey segment with no real horizon between it and the sky, on windy days we can see the white flecks of wave crests, in the sunshine our segment of sea sparkles and reflects blue, and sometimes we see drifts of showers crossing the bay. It was this view of the sea that sold the house to us, and we enjoy it every day – even when we can’t go out.

Week 27th March

Well, that was a bit of a change! Overnight frosts, day-time temperatures in low single figures, freezing north and north-easterly winds. Good job I haven’t ‘cast a clout..’ yet; all the winter clothes were layered on. At least it was sunny most days, and if you could find a place out of the wind (not easy on the coast) there was direct warmth.

Our walks have been in search of cheering blossom so it was a couple of trips to the arboretum. The formal garden is bright with bedding colour, a riot of polyanthus, pansies and forget-me-not punctuated with striped cordyline, dwarf conifers and standard bay trees. Very jolly. On the pond the ducks are paired and possessive and the resident swans have started to lay out a nest at the bottom of one of the herbaceous borders. They all usually produce fine broods but not too many survive – the gulls and crows take them once they are out of the nest. The nearby banks are buttered with primroses, a rogue pale pink hybridised polyanthus stands out from the spread.

The magnolia and camellia are still beautiful on Monday – by Thursday they are dropping their coloured tears on the ground and it’s time for the rhododendrons and azaleas to take over. Most of them are very mature plants and they are stunning in the spring light against a clear blue sky. In the rougher areas there are carpets of celandines and the fresh growth on the pines and conifers give them all a spruced-up look (sorry for the pun!).

There is a thrush whistling his thrice-repeated song, blackbirds singing and tits making their myriad different calls and twitterings. We sit in front of the little estate church for a moment, enjoying a view of magnolia and rhododendron and listening to the mewing calls of a pair of buzzard circling higher and higher into a cloudless sky.

At home we brave the cold to finish off the refreshed bed at the side of the house. It’s a windy spot and seems to pick up every weed that’s blowing around, so we have planted a variety of hebe and top-dressed with gravel. Not everyone’s favourite, but they are evergreen, can be clipped to keep them tidy and have long flowering periods, attractive to pollinators. The foliage comes in a range of colours – grey, bright green, bronzy and variegated – and they will reach from 20cms tall to 60 cms. We hope they will soon fill out and provide a billowing low cloudscape for bees and butterflies and that the covered soil will remain weed-free (ever hopeful).

I hope you’ve managed to be outside for a while this week. See you next week, when I hope I will have got the vegetable seedlings underway, and it’s warm enough to walk further afield.

Week 20th March

Finally….a change in the weather. A beautiful week here in East Devon with calm days of bright sunshine, blue skies, and warmth. At last a real chance to get into the garden, so it is our horticultural efforts that take up most of this blog. The daffodils are still looking perky, one of my favourites is this one called ‘Ringtone’. When it first opens it rather shyly hangs it head but looks straight out as it matures. It has the palest lemon, rounded outer petals and a short golden trumpet tipped with a line of orange. As it fades, the collar petals become a deeper lemon colour. As well as looking lovely, it has the most delicate, soft scent. We have it in a container at the top of the front path, with polyanthus and muscari – I wrote about that last week. Here is a closer look at ‘Ringtone’.

Working on the front garden meant removing more ancient rose roots. We had cut them right down earlier in the year and finally set aside some time to tackle digging them out. Gardening with an axe, a bow saw and a pickaxe is not my idea of gardening, but lucky for me MrOG was feeling strong. Accompanied at all stages by our resident robin who urged us on with cheery song, not only did the rose roots come out, but also a long length of root from a cherry tree which we had taken down when we first moved in. It was hard work, but very satisfying, and we will have an empty bed to fill!

One of the blackbirds is spending time in the front hedge, I hope considering it as a nesting site. They used it last spring and managed two broods. The robin also looks as though he’s settled on last year’s site again – a tightly clipped conifer is his choice. Again, he -or she – has been popping in and out. Also this week red-tailed bumblebees have joined the buff-tailed queens feeding in the coronilla. It’s a little early for the red-tails so I hope the promised cold spell next week doesn’t catch them out. A single six-spot ladybird and a bedraggled peacock butterfly completed our gardening wildlife!

The 21st of March brought the vernal equinox, the point when day and night are of equal length, but from now, the light begins to win the battle bringing spring warmth, sunshine, renewal, rebirth and fertility to the ground. It is the ancient festival of Ostara, sometimes known as Oestre, and it was her festival that early Christianity pinned Easter on. Ostara is sometimes shown as a woman with the head and shoulders of a hare; her symbols are the hare and the egg – also taken into Easter as the bunny and the chocolate egg.

I hope you’ve all had a good week, with some fine weather and a chance to feel the sun. See you next week.

Week 13th March

Over the week the cold and rain has slowly given way to sunshine, and as the wind has dropped it has been almost warm. Certainly Thursday and Friday gave us clear blue skies and if we sat in just the right spot then the sun had some heat. There have been bumblebees and Red Admiral butterflies in the garden and this morning the blackbird sang properly for the first time. It was a joy to hear and to see him, beak open, perched right at the top of the conifer, announcing his ownership of the garden.

I’ve just seen my first Brimstone butterfly of the season, unmistakeable buttery-yellow wings, dancing its way across the garden and over the hedge. They are not common but they are widespread in England and are a marker for the return of Spring. It was good to see.

The garden is also beginning to show up. The camellias are lovely, covered in blowsy, pink and red blooms, there are daffodils and the palest primroses, a daphne scents the front of the house, and potted magnolia stellata unfurls each tight bud in sequence to spread its snowy fingers to the sun.

We’ve planted a few alpines in a narrow border in front of the kitchen window – anemones, saxifrages, sedum and thrift – the saxifrages and anemone are flowering. In a concrete saucer by the front path we have planted sempervivum and top-dressed with grit, and opposite in another concrete tub we have put daffodils and muscari and blue and yellow polyanthus. They’re lovely. It looks, and feels, like spring.

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