Warning – some of the links in this post are going to be VERY time limited! So be quick!
Some 20-odd years ago when I was first turning a large “virgin-lawned” rear patch into something approximating to a garden, whilst still paying off all the house purchase and kit-out bills, I succumbed to the temptation of one of those comparatively cheap large packs of perennial plants you see advertised everywhere. Amongst the little babies I received were a few “white phlox.” That’s what they were called; no more details supplied.
Now, after 20 years, I’m praying that my efforts to eradicate it have, at last, succeeded. It’s big, invasive and it has a scent reminiscent of the changing rooms in my old school – stale sweat and feet! Its (probably distant) coloured paniculata relatives are a bit smaller, less invasive and have a much more pleasant scent. Around five square metres-worth of the stuff has been dug up and consigned to the local tip as I don’t want it colonising my compost heap!
In place of it I’m planting some carefully selected and cultivated coloured Phlox paniculata mixed with Helenium cultivars in a range of colours and “under planted” with tree lilies (which might manage to flower this year and provide a bit of earlier colour). Although both Phlox and Heleniums flower late, the border is on one side of a path and against a boundary fence. Between the path and the lawn on the other side is another border full of earlier flowering plants so viewed from where it’ll usually be viewed from, a late-flowering border won’t look too bad (I hope).
One of the star plants in this second border will be a new variety of foxglove – Digitalis illumination – which gained the Plant of the Year Award for Thompson and Morgan at Chelsea last year. I ordered a selection soon after Chelsea but had to wait until this spring for delivery. Impressed by the strength of their growth, I’ve bought more so will have just over 20 to pop into their allocated space in a few weeks’ time. T&M say they are sterile so will flower for up to six months when established and, unlike most foxgloves, they are truly perennial and semi-evergreen to boot.
I’ve taken another “buy now, wait till next year” approach with not one but two plant varieties from T&M. The first is a new type of poppy but the second is the one that excites me. It was shortlisted for this year’s Plant of the Year Award and managed a respectable third place. Is it some really exotic plant? No! It’s a nasturtium called “Fruit Salad.” But it’s a stunner. (The photo’s courtesy of Michael Perry, T&M’s New Product Development Manager; click to enlarge and click outside it to reduce again.) It’s also sterile so should flower better and longer. The unusual flower and leaf shapes are what grabbed my attention.
Growing about a foot high and two across, it’s better behaved than ordinary nasturtiums. I’ll have to wait until next April to get my pack of ten. If you fancy some, you’ll need to get in quickly as stocks are limited. Nip along to the cunningly hidden page on T&M’s web site.
There is actually a third colour – Apricot – but that’s only available via the TV shopping channel QVC. Again, if you’re not quick it’ll probably be gone.
Over the course of my nearly 59 years, I’ve had my share of broken bones, including a couple of ankles. Those lovely heavy plasters you get fitted with have nice strong feet and, with a bit of old tyre for protection, leave you pretty mobile and capable of doing just about anything you could do normally.But thanks to a faulty ladder and a fall from about 4 feet off the ground, I now find myself with nothing more than a sprained ankle. And it’s driving me nuts, not because of the bit of pain but because I cannot do something as simple as dig the garden – I have to keep the faulty foot off the ground and support myself on a pair of crutches. I can bum-wriggle to do a bit of weeding ok but digging is out of the question. And I’ve got a load of new plants to get into the ground, many currently in 5 litre pots. There’s no way I can bum-wriggle into the middle of a border and I’ll be digging for ages if I use a trowel. And that’s assuming I can find a way to shift the 5 litre pot near to where the plant is going.
But while I sit here getting increasingly fed up the hourly arrival of pre-bank holiday emails from garden centres, nurseries and the like, I realise that I’m getting frustrated and almost angry over nothing. It’s only a sprain. It’s just that, like so many, I simply take for granted that I’ll always be able to do x, y, z in the way I’ve always done them and have no way of adapting when I cannot.
My dad had only one leg but he coped with almost everything. Mum developed osteoporosis but despite needing a walking frame on wheels to get around, she kept on gardening almost all her life. And I know people who live in wheelchairs yet achieve a lot – just look at what our Paralympians achieved last summer. One thing is common between them – I’ve never heard them bemoaning their lot. They just get on with life and they do that pretty well.
So with my mere sprain, I hang my head in shame and stop moaning. At least it won’t be long before I’m ok again.
But those plants had better survive in their pots a bit longer or I shall have some sharp words for them!
Why this has taken me nine months to write I don’t know. Maybe I was worried about incurring the wrath of a certain garden maker. But I realised that the aforementioned garden maker (the famous – or should it be infamous – Anne Wareham) professes to hate luvvy compliments and relish criticism (so she says anyway) and decided to publish and be damned.
So my thoughts on Veddw House Garden are here. And not a single photograph of the iconic reflective pool!
When it’s a Sukoppu”.
“Eh?” I hear you ask silently, “What the ‘eck is one of those?”
Most gardeners will have a selection of spades and shovels – digging, border, snow, rubble; maybe some ordinary steel and some stainless steel. There’s a bit more science to the selection of a spade or shovel. Weight, balance, length of shaft and what the shaft is made of all make a difference. Smaller or weaker people tend to go for border spades which are smaller and lighter than digging ones.
The Sukoppu is different. They say when the Japanese put their minds to making something they do it well and they’ve certainly done that here. It’s all steel but, at a mere 1.8kg, it’s remarkably light (lighter than my border spade anyway) and so puts a good digging spade within the capabilities of someone who might be unable to manage the weight of a normal one.
Yet it’s surprisingly strong (I’ve used mine to lever out some tree roots, a job for which I’d normally use a wrecking bar, without feeling any worry about it bending or breaking). It cuts through the ground with little effort, shifting stones out of its way and slicing through roots up to (so far) ¾ of an inch thick as it they were paper.
Being all steel, the shaft is welded to the blade and the handle is welded to the shaft, making for a really strong construction. And it’s a unique gold colour – I guess this will eventually wear off but despite hours of heavy use, mine’s not even showing scratches yet so it seems quite a resilient coating. The colour adds to its gift potential for a golden wedding anniversary maybe or when a keen gardener’s retiring from your office?
Why not pop along to the Niwaki web site and have a look at the Sukoppu and maybe, while you’re there, at the other Japanese stuff on sale. I’ll be writing about my new secateurs soon.Note: I write about products now and then because I choose to; because I’m moved to say I like something or loathe it, not because someone pays me or asks me. So the above is my honest, unsolicited opinion.
Celandine is appearing everywhere, despite all my efforts to eradicate it, the various red, blue and mauve primulas I planted around the garden are hiding while yellow ones appear in beds and borders as well as in the lawns where they fight for the title of most yellow flower with the dandelions that have suddenly sprung up. In the pond the marsh marigolds have started to flower in their usual brilliant (you guessed it) yellow. Higher up, the forsythia is also flowering in its appointed yellow. The middle level is populated by daffodils; I would say “narcissi” except that every one of a so-called mix has turned out to be uniformly yellow with not even an orange trumpet to break the monotony.
It’s yellow again; that season before multi-coloured summer kicks in.
So far this year, the slugs and snails haven’t put in an appearance and neither have the lily beetles (which appeared last year in January!). But that does not mean I have been pest free!
In addition to birds eating me out of house and home, squirrels have been visiting in growing numbers, the highest simultaneous total so far being six. In an effort to stop them stripping the bird table bare on a single visit I’ve been putting out so-called squirrel food. They have taken to that. They visit the bird-proof squirrel feeder, remove all the large nuts and carry them off somewhere before returning to strip the bird table bare.
I tried some squirrel-proof hanging feeders but they also turned out to be bird-proof so I’ve ended up adapting some seed feeders to deliver ground peanuts as well as sunflower hearts to the birds. The small apertures on these have so far defeated the best efforts of the tree rats who then vented their spleen by digging up all the lily bulbs I’d planted in containers. They didn’t eat the bulbs or damage them noticeably; they just dug them up and laid them in a row on the ground beside each container.
But all this is of minor significance compared to a single vandal that visited the garden. Initially I thought it was a fox though I’ve never known foxes to do damage here (and they’re regular visitors). But then I discovered the hole dug under the fence and a gravel board that had been chewed or clawed in half (if you’ve ever tried to saw through a gravel board you’ll know they’re dense!). Yep, a badger. And this badger was bad! If he’d been a goodger I wouldn’t have minded and would probably have added to my wildlife conservation costs by feeding him.
But what I was advised was a single male who was getting on a bit and had been ejected from the sett by a younger usurper, was going to make life hell for me.The picture above shows a single night’s damage covering an area of about 25 square feet.
Priority was to block this hole before badger got used to it. But everything I tried proved futile and each night he got past my barrier and destroyed another area of lawn. So desperate measures were called for in the shape of chain-link fencing, metal posts, concrete and kerb stones.
I dug a trench along the outside of the fence about a foot and a half deep and wide. Metal posts were driven into the ground along the “inside” of the trench and the chain-link fencing attached to those with its bottom in the trench. The trench was then filled with concrete. Along the outside of the concrete there are kerbstones laid in a slanting sort of herringbone pattern. If badger tries to dig under those , they are designed to slide down into the hole and, even if he gets past the first line, he’s got a lot of concrete and metal to get past before encountering the original wood fence. And I can’t see this aberration of metal as it’s behind the fence in “no man’s land”.
So far so good. All I have to do now is repair the lawn!