Garden Journal 31.5.20

Welcome to my garden journal for the last week in May.

A selection of key images from my gardening week.

It’s funny when you become aware that the default topic of conversation between people is often the weather. I suppose that whether we like it or not, weather affects most everything we do – and especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors. So, whilst I never want to admit it, it is often what I drop into my journal each week, not as a detailed record but as a general comment on how it has guided or impacted my week.

This week is therefore no different, and here’s my weather remark for the week at the end of May: Strewth it’s been bloody hot this week!

Gary Webb
Fun in the sun!

It was a slightly shorter week due to the Bank Holiday, but it was a tough one to get through simply because of the heat, of which I’m not altogether fond. I won’t dwell on it, as I have far more interesting things to record in the post, but I only hope the weather offers a bit more balance, and maybe some rain, and soon!

A summary of my gardening week both at work and home reads like so: Monday – Various potting on of veg plants at home. Trimming box topiary. Tuesday – Watering (Lots). Received large delivery of topsoil. Compost heap working. Mowing. Wednesday – Scything and grass clearing. Strung-up wigwams. Weeded through tulips beds. Thursday – Watering. Mowing. Began brewing compost tea. Potting up. Touch of topiary training. Friday – Watering, including auriculas. Cleared dell area to access pond pump. Cleared tulip bed & prepared for planting.

Early Purple Orchid?

The stunning flower above I took for a common spotted-orchid, (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) though on further investigation I’m now more inclined to see it as an early purple orchid. (As such I’ve focussed again on it in my journal entry for 6.6.20) It was a real treat to find a little collection growing alongside the pond at Broadwell. I didn’t pause for too long as I was midway through a mowing session, but they had a rich colouring to the flowers that really shone out from amongst the flag iris foliage where they were hiding, and as always, it was a real thrill to discover them somewhere new. My awareness is now heightened for sightings elsewhere!

Ragged Robin & my ‘circle of friends’

The next image shows an age old favourite called Ragged Robin (Silene flos-cuculi). Another beautiful flower but it doesn’t matter how hard I try, all I can see is a ring of pink suited little people…. Please tell me you can see it too!

Strawberry bucket planter.

Anyway, on with another moment, the first strawberry to ripen at home! It’s basically an old galvanised bucket, drilled for drainage, and planted with three strawberry ‘Honeoye’ plants that are apparently good in patio containers. The first one is now ripe, and is reserved for my youngest son who loves strawberries, in fact they were planted largely for him, although for some reason he’s not yet ready to try the first fruit… I can but try!

The next image picks up on one of my favourite occupations, that of scything. I’ve cherished my Austrian scythe for a few years now, although I’m the first to admit the correct technique still alludes me. I remember my tutor making the scything action look so effortless…

Scything Selfie

The task was the clearance of some undergrowth in order to access a water pump, but once this was finished I moved on to a brief session removing flowering stems, and a few thousand future seeds, from a good few docks growing amongst a grassy sward. “One years seed is seven years seed” as people say..

The scythe is excellent for both of the tasks mentioned, especially when used with the shorter ‘ditching’ blade, and where the docks are concerned it’s simply a task of swishing (none technical term!) the blade above the grass to take out the flowering dock stems. It may not be the complete answer, but it’s fuel and chemical free & it’ll stop them spreading ever further – a little bit of natural selection if you like.

A makeshift Silent Space

My last image above of sun setting behind the trees is an image of mine taken for use, along with some text, on the Silent Space website. The new web page added this week will grow as more articles are added, and is intended to offer views of how, during lockdown, some people have found calm and solace through nature.

If you haven’t discovered the Silent Space initiative as yet, you might like to explore the link at the end of this post. Essentially though, a most basic explanation is that Silent Space exists to help people find a space, usually in a park or garden, where they can properly relax and enjoy a few peaceful moments of peace. During lockdown however, most ‘arranged’ Silent Spaces in gardens have been closed to visitors.

I’m glad to say that Silent Space in general is set to go from strength to strength, and its need is more important than ever before now that many more people are discovering the restorative power of gardens and green spaces. Do please check the link below and see the incredible number of places that will soon be open again to offer their Silent Spaces.

Well that has to be it for this week, but needless to say I have another busy gardening week ahead, and will be back with more luscious images and text next week.

Regards, Gary.

Silent Space

Garden Journal 23.5.20

A week in my garden spaces. From flag iris at Broadwell to the first ‘Boscobel’ rose in my garden at home.

Hello and welcome to my garden journal covering the past week, where I trust that you, like me have taken more than a few moments to appreciate plants, to stroll in the fresh air, to sow some seeds or plant something?!

It’s been incredibly challenging for gardeners on the weather front recently. Following weeks of very little rainfall and warm temps, late frosts popped up to surprise a few who might not have caught the forecasts. How many times have we heard “there can always be a late frost in May;” well this year there was one…

Young plants that might have been hardening off were at real risk of damage and sure enough – many pictures on social media showed harsh proof of frost damage – tomatoes to beech leaves were frustratingly displayed showing the effects of weather. As if this were not enough, temperatures shot up this week to the upper 20s and again; establishing plants with their delicate leaves were at real risk of damage. And there’s more – now we have blustery, leaf desiccating and stem breaking winds coming at us that can be really damaging.

I only hope that you’ve kept your plants covered when it turned cold, shaded when things turned hot, and kept your pots well watered to bolster their strength and turgidity when the gales arrived.

Sneeboer spade
Digging-In’ a border at Broadwell. The spades are made by Sneeboer, I’m not getting any freebies for the mention, but I can honestly say they’re beautiful digging companions! (Tell them I sent you! 😉 )

On a personal front, it’s been a tough one for me as my key task was digging and planting along a rather warm south facing border. It was kind of time pressured because most of the 100+ pots of dahlias were beginning to struggle in their plastic pots which are quick to heat up and dry out. Therefore, when starting the week with a good few metres of soil to prepare and plant, and with temperatures predicted to rise, it was a head down and get stuck in week from the get-go on Monday.

By close of play Thursday, I was relieved to have puddled-in the very last dahlia, and to have tied in the lowest strings around 12 rather large wigwams – for the growing of sweet peas. On Friday I naively thought that the overdue mowing on a ride-on would at least give me a chance to take the weight off – although I hadn’t bargained for the bone shaking ride over concrete-like paddocks!

Flag Iris growing alongside the pond at Broadwell. Suffice to say, they’re very well established!

On the work summary front, : Monday – Watering. Digging. Tuesday – Divided & potted hellebores. Erected half of the wigwams for sweet peas. Wednesday – Cut fresh rods & erected remaining wigwams. Thursday – Planted dahlias. Mowing. Produced AMAZING TikTok video! (Check link at bottom of article!) Friday – Watering. Mowing. Received topsoil delivery. (It doesn’t sound like a busy week, but it was I can assure you!)

My final words this week pick up on the NoMowMay thread that is receiving lots of credit and support just now, and rightfully so. I’ve been a long term convert to the reduction of intensively managed grass, and to the embracing of all the wonderful plants and creatures that arrive when a patch of lawn is left to re-wild itself. However, as always when you begin to gain some knowledge about a subject; you quickly learn there is so much more to know – if only ‘no-mow’ were that easy!

If you’ve space to experiment, you can try out different mowing heights & frequencies to create varied habitats. I’d expect to find voles, frogs & grass snakes in that patch beyond the reeds, along with buttercups & cuckoo flowers.

I’ve been playing with mowing regimes for two decades now, and might write a more focussed article about it at some stage. For now though I can wholeheartedly agree that looking carefully at our traditional and regular mowing regimes is exactly what we should be doing at this point in time, and for so many positive reasons.

First and foremost, I do support the NoMowMay initiative, but… If the results don’t turn out as hoped for, what to do next? There are so many questions that can arise, such as: How can that hoped for wild flower patch be manipulated and improved? When is best to mow that long grass? When the grass has grown thick and lush and collapsed on itself, how can I cut it? How can I balance the wild look with the desire to keep things tidy? Why aren’t there many flowers? Is a dock or nettle allowed to stay? So many questions…!

Common knapweed I believe, getting stronger in this ‘no-mow’ patch (Centaurea nigra).

I can’t answer all these questions in this journal, but I will say that if those questions are seen as barriers, then push them aside, get the answer, and get your wild flower patch moving – you won’t look back, and here’s why:

I’m convinced that a wild flower patch can be every bit as interesting and plant-packed as a typical herbaceous border. On a windy day like today, in the second half of May, your patch could be studded with countless golden buttercups, daisies, or the prettiest of blue speedwell flowers. Taller grass stalks could register every wind blow like a choppy sea, and cow parsley might tempt you to walk through with your hands out stretched. Who knows, maybe next year an all important orchid may choose to appear, or a solitary bee or butterfly might stop by to say thanks.

Many wild flowers (buttercup shown here) will still find a way to flower, even with a reduced mowing frequency – area to left un-mown this season, area to right mown ten days previously. Note – watch out for bumblebees if you do mow – they’re slow to react & take off!

If you’re able to, and haven’t as yet created a little pocket of wild flower heaven, I’d urge you to give it a go – either by the first step of joining in the NoMowMay initiative, or by taking a little advice and actively managing a patch to encourage wild flowers*. I can definitely suggest looking at this Plantlife initiative for advice and guidance.

Until next week,
Regards, Gary

Check out that TikTok:

*If you don’t have a patch of lawn, follow the great example of my friend Anne, and sow a packet of wild flower seeds into a container. It’s compact, easy to manage, and will be a perfect draw for pollinators! (There’s really no getting out of this – you’re committed now!)