Garden Journal 26.7.20

Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – an entry for the week to Saturday 25 July. This week: getting ‘bogged down’ at Coughton Court, plus pond life and speedy blades at Broadwell.

Bogged Down
Last weekend brought another pre-booked garden visit, this time to Coughton Court, near Alcester in Warwickshire. Alas we couldn’t enter the house itself which was a shame because it’s beautifully formed and steeped in history and intrigue – another time for sure. We could however tour most of the gardens including an area that was sure to be in top form just now – the bog garden.

Bright pink plumes of Astilbe flowers lighting up a big garden
Pink and jazzy Astilbe lighting up the pathway

It’s been a good few years since I made it across to the bog garden, and more fool me. Apart from sitting beside the river and watching the damsel and dragonflies, the trip around the bog garden was a real treat, and without doubt the absolute highlight of the visit.

Red hemerocallis flower in the bog garden area at Coughton Court
A stunning day lily or Hemerocallis – how exotic is that?!

The core bog garden is relatively compact by some standards, and reached by following a one-way route alongside an alder shaded brook. After a short walk the river meanders away, and ancient fish ponds become the dominant feature with views across to the church. Twisted branches form the edging to a soft, bark chipped footpath, and it isn’t long before woodland ferns blend with more voluminous and exotic foliage types.

The pond around which the bog plants are arranged is thickly planted with marginals yet there’s plenty of open water, or space, to balance the wider view. With tall trees above leading down to shrubs and lush herbaceous underplanting, it really is an impressive space and not one you’d necessarily expect. At the very moment I visited most plants seemed to be flowering their socks off, with classic bog planting on show including: Aruncus – Goat’s beard; Lysimachia – Purple and Chinese loosestrife; Hemerocallis – Day lilies; Astilbe; Ligularia; and Hosta. You can be assured there are many more plant varieties than listed here, and also that collectively, they form a quality exotic space you’d go a long way to experience in an accessible open space locally.

Pond Life
Back on the work front, most of Friday was again enjoyed beside the pond, but this week with two extra pairs of helping hands; Alex and Mary. With watering duties completed and sweet peas picked for the week, it was down to the poolside we strolled with our ropes and rakes and trusty wheel barrow.

Pond weeding in progress, beside a densely growing band of reeds
Alex & Mary hauling out the pond weed!

I won’t repeat the story from last week’s journal entry, but in short we’ve settled on a process of repeatedly casting a wide landscape rake across the pond, only to haul it back with a load of weed attached. This is then pulled out of the water to dry on the pool side until the following week; a process that is proving really effective and is slowly making the improvement we’re seeking – removing as much blanket weed as possible, and reducing the quantity of a submerged plant that I believe is Fontinalis antipyretica.

Rake flinging – a new Olympic sport I believe!

Realistically, we’re not going to sort all the weedy issues that this pond presently has overnight, as there is much more to understand and quite possibly some larger scale restoration to undertake. However, once we’ve washed that pleasant pond aroma out of our gardening gloves and clothes, and given our back muscles a few days to recoup, we’ll be back again next week to re-engage in another battle, and to progress our battle with pond weed – if indeed it is ever possible!

Removing blanket and pond weed from a pond, with a rope and a rake
The end, if not the bottom, is in sight!

Highlights of the gardening week:
Before I move onto my final thought, here’s my key gardening moments from last week:
Sunday – Visit to Coughton Court.
Monday – Watering and deadheading containers; weeding and edging dahlia border; mowing.
Tuesday – Mowing; weeding; making range poles/rods.
Wednesday – Watering; Mowing; Strimming.
Thursday – Weeding; Sweet pea maintenance; composting; watering and check over in KG.
Friday – Watering, dead-heading sweet peas; feeding conservatory plants; pond maintenance.

Speedy Blades
It’s not been too many weeks since the rain came to swell the ground and thankfully top up the reserves. Prior to this soil was desiccated and growth slower than hoped for. One place where growth rate becomes noticeable at such times is across our beloved lawns, and especially when viewed across the season.

Mowing – just keep them revs up!

If you’re one who chooses to irrigate your lawn during dry periods, and especially if you like to weed and feed your lawn, then you’ll be used to whipping the mower out pretty much every week from March or April through to October or November – and possibly on occasion in winter too. However, if your lawn is left to its own devices and allowed to grow as the seasonal weather dictates, then growth rate becomes noticeably reactive to the availability of water, amongst other things.

Soil type, temperature, light levels etc, also have an impact on the growth of a lawn, and all need to be taken in our stride to present the ideal lawn, whatever that may be. However, at the risk of harping on about the incredibly fascinating subject of ‘how quick does your grass grow’, I simply want to say the following, and highlight what may or may not be obvious:

Walking around as we do, pushing the odd wheelbarrow, or if we’re blessed, pootling around on a tractor and trailer, gardeners can often screen the fact that they’re actually in a race. For, when the soil has had its fill, the light is good and humidity high, most plants do actually grow for it, and the race is on. Whether it’s to get tasks done before the morning, the day or the week is out, the pressure mounts.

All those other tasks do still need attending too, probably more so – container watering, weeding and tying in to say the least. But then there’s the grass… which grows for it too. Those speedy blades start shooting up the moment their partners are severed by the blades of the mower – if you look closely, fresh blades of grass will be waving at you as you walk away from the locked mower shed…

It’s all in a day’s work, as they say, and there’s certainly no need to stress over it, but also it’s not a good time to procrastinate, as grass waits for no one. Those speedy blades and that smooth and freshly cut lawn will sneak up and catch out the unwary gardener – you have been warned!

Until next week…

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Garden Journal 11.4.20

Tulip time!

What an absolute stunning week of weather we’re having! (Apologies if that opening line jinxed the weather for the rest of Easter by the way!) Temperatures up into the mid-teens and wall-to-wall sunshine have made these last few days an absolute dream, but needless to say it’s been a week if intense gardening activity both at work and home.

My mind is presently fixed on mid-spring activity which includes all the April classics such as mowing, weeding and container work. Generally speaking, there’s still enough moisture in the soil so that weeding is about as easy now as it’s going to get, especially if conditions remain dry – and so if you haven’t started yet, there is no time like the present to get the hoe or cultivator tool on the move!

In terms of the garden at Broadwell, I’ve also been working to ensure that the hard work given out over the winter isn’t wasted now by taking the foot of the gas. For example, the mild winter has allowed me to get on top of some grassy areas that last year had grown a little lengthy, shall we say. In some areas a number of cuts have been made during the cooler months with the height of each cut gradually being reduced – it’s not an exact science, nor does it have to be, but at this stage of the game, and for the mowing equipment available, I’m happy that all is under control.

Where ornamental containers are concerned, many at Broadwell have recently been re-potted, which of course leads to root disturbance and a hit to water uptake until their roots settle into the new compost. The ongoing issue therefore encourages me to monitor the fresh foliage closely for signs of drooping, and to ensure plants are sufficiently irrigated – the plants will communicate their needs one way or another, I just have to watch that I’m not too busy to notice!

My summary for key tasks at Broadwell and home this week: Monday – Watering. Disinfected dahlia storage boxes and various clay containers. Sorted through nursery plants. Initiated shrub border renovation. Tuesday – Completed shrub area work, cleared debris and mulched with leaf mould. Wednesday – Relocated wallflowers and repotted lillies. Mowed lawns. Thursday – Watering. Wood splitting. Furniture moving. Friday – Bank Holiday! Drew together list of autumn 2019 bulb planting for the borders at Broadwell. At home – made paper pots and started sowing ornamental seeds. Made solitary bee hotels with my son for the garden. Generally moved trays of seedlings around the garden to keep them exposed to the sun!

My first main image this week highlights the autumn through to spring journey for on border at Broadwell, and shows some of the first tulip blooms to open. I’m looking forward to seeing the other tulip groups flower over the coming weeks.

Tulip Apricot Beauty
‘Apricot Beauty’, one of the first tulips into flower at Broadwell

Next up is a photo to remind me that mowing is and will continue to be a primary activity for the months ahead. There’s ample lawn area for me to play with and manipulate with a mixture of cutting equipment and mowing regimes, and there’s enough room to develop some good quality wild flower areas too; something I look forward to with much anticipation.

In the meantime, I might look a little silly driving around on a pint-sized John Deere, but it’s an incredibly versatile machine, and my mowing work alone is already drawing comments of approval from local passers-by. So far, so good…

Lawns need a cuttin!

Next up is a micro scene that jumped out as I passed by a raised bed. It was, quite simply, a droplet of water cradled by lupin leaves. It’s a detail that many will instantly recognise, but it never ceases to amaze how often these details are overlooked, or the shear wonder on someone’s face when they tune in to such a sight. The crystal ball like qualities of those tense droplets of moisture must surely enchant the hardiest of gardeners?!

Lupin leaves and water droplets
Lupins and water droplets…

When I left my last role I was surprised and delighted to receive a little pot maker from my team, amongst many humorous and touching gifts. Naturally, I have waited until now to try the little gadget, and I’m happy to say it works really well! Now I’m not really short of pots, but the size of paper pot this press makes is a perfect half way house between seed tray and container. I’m optimistic that if the paper holds together, I’ll be using this more often – I might even start buying newspapers again, if only to keep me going in raw materials!

Making paper seedling plant pots
Making my own pots… My self sufficiency rating raised a little further!

My last image was taken at Broadwell and won some praise on social media. I can’t lay claim to taking the photo, just to sowing the seeds, but it’s photographer knows how to turn a plant, and Clearly knows how to turn out a great photo too – many thanks for passing over the image 😊.

The image does remind me though of how quickly a packet of seeds turns into a food plant. These courgette seedlings were sown just three weeks ago – an incredible thing to witness and be part of. If you possibly can, grow something; even for me, a lifelong gardener, it feels more important now than ever before, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for giving you focus and engaging the mind and body.

Courgette seedlings, growing our own
Courgette seedlings at Broadwell.

At home my own sowed crops are coming along nicely. I have but a single heated propagation unit that suits my needs, and it has been on the go for the last month or so now, starting things like tomato and chilli seedlings to begin with, and Eventually moving on now to ornamentals. Mind you, the temperatures we’re currently enjoying does give sufficient window ledge temperatures to germinate most seeds that need heat, so if you don’t have a heated propagator, don’t let it stop you trying to sow a few seeds – to this end, the easiest way to get hold of a packet is on the front of a garden magazine! (Keep your eyes peeled when next in the supermarket!)

I must finish up now, although I could very easily type away all day. To garden is to fill the memory with sights and sounds, activities and images that flow back as soon as I look at my diary. Looking to the present moment though, the window is open, the early evening is cool now, the nearby roads are silent, and the birds – birdsong fills the air. I must get out there! Stay safe, and if you must; stay home.

Regards, Gary

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