January 2012 - The Barn Annex

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Snowdrops, Pulmonaria, Hazel catkins, Hellebore niger (Christmas Rose),  Viburnum (buds), Pussy Willow, Cyclamen, Dog Violet,  Hellebore foetidas.

After I bought Green Valley and once the farmhouse itself was habitable, I developed a growing wish to make the adjoining barn into an annex to the  main house as it faces due south. It also has a good roof  already and strong walls with many windows facing across the valley. When I applied for the planning permission, however, there were three long-eared bats discovered in the attic of the barn which liked to hang out there in the late summer for a few months. This meant that I had to jump through all sorts of hoops to get the go ahead for developing the barn as they are a protected species. Eventually, by the end of 2011 I had been given the permission which I required to develop it, but only on the condition that one of the attic spaces was reserved purely for the bats. I was quite happy with this arrangement as after all, they had been living there a lot longer than me. 

So over the winter months, the plans for the annex were finalized, having been drawn up by an architect a couple of years earlier and having gone through several different versions of the lay-out in the meantime.  I was really excited to be doing such a significant building project which I knew would transform the whole property eventually, as part of the landscaping plans were to continue the south facing terrace all along the front of the farm. The building work itself was set to start in April, but prior to that, there was a lot to think about: not only regarding the internal work, but also the way in which it would influence the garden landscaping.  Indeed, I already had lots of verbena seedlings in the greenhouse ready to plant out next spring, as well as some of the taller herbs including bronze fennel, angelica and lovage which I wanted to plant alongside the rhubarb on the south side of the barb.  Rather than try to dig up the ancient rhubarb plants, I decided to adapt the bed infront of the door of the barn to a kind of potager/herb garden using all the larger-than-life aromatic specimens.

December 2011 - The Joy of Compost

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Feverfew, Primula, Wintersweet, Beauty Berry, Cowslip, Christmas Hellebore (niger).

I finally got round to overhauling the front border to the south of the garden early this month. There were many plants that needed dividing and the whole structure needed rearranging a little. Some parts of the border which I had planted only two years ago were proving successful - such as the silver birch tree in the middle of the bed surrounded by a nest of purple primula with masses of ladies mantle edging the front next to the grass.  But other parts were not so pleasing - such as the rampant perennial geraniums and six hills giant nepeta which were tending to smother the more delicate species as the season wore on.  So now while everything was dormant and when the days were clear, I took to digging up quite a few of the plants and renewing the look of the beds entirely.  At the same time, it was good way of reviving the vigor of the existing plants and also removing some which had outgrown their usefulness altogether. Now, for example, I wished I had not planted the creeping flowering bramble as a ground cover a few years back, as it was turning out to be a menace to remove! 

Right across the valley, the leaves are all but gone from the trees. Sweeping the driveway and collecting the leaves into builders merchant large bags has become a yearly ritual now.  Having also just learnt that dried, composted bracken is a fantastic mulch for acid loving plants such as rhododendron, I have also bundled some of this into sacks - and there is masses of bracken on the land.  I realize how fortunate I am to have everything so easily to hand for the garden: the stakes for the sweet peas come from the woods along with the hazel twigs for the peas; the leaves, bracken and grass clippings feed the compost along with the kitchen waste; even the ash from the woodburners can be recycled here to good effect. There are also masses of worms here - so something must be working. My composting area is far from perfect however being made up of a diverse collection of plastic compost bins, building sacks, loose piles of earth, bonfire ash and messy nettle beds.  Sometime soon I would love to tidy it up a little ...

November 2011 - Early Snow

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Cowslip,  Primula, Winter-sweet,  Nepeta, Roses, Hebe, Lungwort, Beauty Berry, Himalayan Honeysuckle, Viburnum, Nasturtium, Sweet peas, Cosmos.

The predictions had been for a cold winter again this year, and it certainly looked like this would be the case as the trees were covered in berries. But the late autumn was warm and benign right until near the end of the month when suddenly the temperatures plunged and some early snow fell.  This year I was better prepared than the previous, and wrapped up all the more tender outdoor plants, including my camelias well before the icy winds arrived. Even so, the cold weather and the light snow cover only lasted a couple of weeks and then the warm weather returned.

The vegetable garden was still providing some food and flowers this month: the sweet peas lasted well into November and after they had gone I left the wigwam up supporting them to enjoy the structure. Clearing out the beds took quite some time: removing the all the hazel twigs supports and then digging over the earth in preparation for the following spring.  There were still a few celariac and parsnip left in the ground which I dug up ...  also some leeks and some spring onions which I have left to mature a little more.  The purple sprouting broccoli is starting to put out its hazy-purple fresh flowering shoots, which taste delicious straight from the garden. But over all, everything is dying back as the year comes to an end. I left my daughter to pull out the last sweetcorn plants and throw them onto the compost along with the leafy remains of the annual flowers, such as cosmos and nasturtium. 

October 2011 - Preparing for Winter

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Marigolds, Roses, Nepeta, Herbaceous Geranium, Pinks, Grasses, Honeysuckle, Borage, Tagetes, Sweet peas, Cosmos.

The last couple of weeks of October have been devoted to getting ready for the cold winter months.  I am determined not to lose so many tender plants again this year, so I have moved a lot of the plants in pots from the terrace to the cold greenhouse/potting shed for over-wintering.  This includes all my geraniums, rosemary, verbena seedlings, small turkey fig and several other semi-tender shrubs. I have also covered the artichoke plants with fleece, covered over the fresh inner heart-leaves of my rampant 'gunnera' specimen with dried bracken and moved my large evergreen magnolia next to the west wall of the farmhouse in the hope that it will get sufficient protection from the biting winds that sweep across the valley in the winter. 

The vegetable garden still looks very colourful with the green sweet-pea wigwams covered in flowers, masses of marigolds and lots of multi-hued cosmos in bloom.  The early purple broccoli seeds which I threw down late in summer have now almost reached maturity, while there are still several rows of main crop potatoes still to be lifted as well the last of the celariac and parsnips.  My  leeks went in late so they are still putting on growth.  I have managed to clear many of the beds now ready for next year - the spent outdoor tomato plants, basil, french beans, runner beans and pea plants have all gone on the compost heap already.  I am hoping my daughter will finish the job of clearing the potager when she visits with her family in a few weeks time.  This is her favourite part of the garden and she spent many days having tea and picnics here in summer with her partner and daughter!

This month I also finished planted up the new orchard with a variety of apple trees, pear & plum varieties, including a walnut and a peach tree against the warm west wall of the potting shed ... but I have to see if it survives the winter.  I seem to have a strange determination to test the limitations of the Welsh climate at Green Valley and  I would still like a cherry tree and maybe even a mulberry somewhere on the land.  I realize this growing food business is really rather addictive, as I have planned (the prepared the ground) for where I want to plant some currant bushes such as blackcurrant, gooseberry and blueberry bushes as soon as the weather gets warmer.

I also finally managed to tackle the front garden by the pond and the border which had become quite wild and rampant over the summer this month.  I divided some of the herbaceous geraniums, re-arranged some of the evergreen structural shrubs to create a better balance in the overall design and generally slashed everything back.  However, I cannot say that this part of the garden looks by any means immaculate at present as it still needs to be thoroughly weeded and mulched. I will have to see what is possible next month ...

September 2011 - Harvesting Crops

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Marigold; Nasturtium; Chicory; Love-in-the-Mist; Cornflower; Tagetes; White Marjoram; Chives:; Oregano; several Clematis & many types of grasses.

Gathering handfuls of fresh vegetables from the garden on a daily basis for cooking is wonderful knowing that everything has been grown without the use of any kind of chemicals. Ruby stemmed chard, two types of french beans, runner beans, main crop potatoes, sweetcorn and courgettes are especially plentiful. There are even a few artichokes ready and a few late strawberries still.

The driveway has become rather overgrown this last month although it is good to see that the grass on the new protective earth barrier running along above the stream is looking really healthy. I also need to overhaul the border in October and move or divide some of the perennial geraniums which are swamping the overall effect.  But although the border looks wild and overgrown just now, the shrubs which form it's main structure have put on alot of growth this season and once I tackle the mess I think it will start to look really mature next year.  After all, it was only three years ago that much of the border was first planted.

I love having a potting shed, so when the rain sweeps in, I can retire inside with a cup of tea and pot up some seedlings or stare at a rainbow across the valley from the shelter of the door.

August 2011 - The Wildlife Pond & Garden

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Water-lilies (several types), Sweet peas, Roses, Lavender, Sage, Stock, Pinks, Thrift, Iris, Meadowsweet, Nepeta, Mallow, Forget-me-not, Lilies.

This month has been cooler than usual with many days being grey and overcast.  But despite this, the pond has seen lots of action: toads call to each other during periods of quiet in the day; the motionless heads of golden frogs can often be seen just above the surface;  while newts appear in the shallows and masses of dragonflies skim the surface in tones of brilliant blue and emerald.  It is such a pleasure to see that this wildlife pond which was only created a couple of years ago is already teeming with life. The redstart was back nesting in the box on the birch tree in the main border earlier this year and can often be seen flitting around in the low branches.  The swallows are back in the barn too along with the long-eared bats.

The vegetable garden is full of food already with small carrots, parsnip, celariac already ready; the peas are going over but there are tons of broad beans.  The runner beans are racing up the wigwams provided and have already passed the top, the same as the beautiful dark purple sweet pea plants. The main disaster in this part of the garden is my lettuces, rocket and salad crops which tend to bolt immediately due to the lack of rain (or water provided).  Also my coriander has refused to grow despite several sowings which again I think was due to lack of rain at the critical time.  Still the flourishing herb garden provides plenty of aromatic leaves for cooking with tarragon, sage, lovage, angelica, thyme, bay, parsley, chives, marjoram, oregano and several mints in a separate trough to keep the roots from spreading. The mini box seedlings with which I edged the bed are growing strongly too. But I now realize I have grown far too many potatoes, enough to feed the whole valley, so have started giving them away by the sackful! 

I am not sure why my vegetables have hardly suffered from snails, slugs or rabbit damage this year, as there are plenty of them around in the garden.  I guess Cous cous keeps the rabbits at bay: confined to the far side of the stream. Having deep beds, surrounded by cedarwood chips may also prove to be a good natural deterrent for slugs and snails, or maybe it is the large family of hedgehogs which I discovered earlier in the autumn and which had taken up residence, are keeping them down. On the other hand it may be pure luck in that the pests have not had time to discover the existence of the edibles in the vegetable garden yet ... and next year will be different story!

July 2011 - Peas, Beans, Potatoes & Greens

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Roses, Lavender, Sage, Penstamon, Chives, Nepeta, Feverfew, Santolina, Marigold, Tagetes, Sweet Peas, Cornflower, Honeysuckle, Day Lilies, Meadowsweet, Ladies Mantle, Herbaceous Geraniums, Waterlily.

The border is now at it's peak with the cottage garden roses in flower and soft leaves of the ladies mantle tumbling onto the lawn's edges.  The Siberian iris are already going over but the perennial foxgloves, shrubs and the mixture of ornamental grasses which I planted as seedlings are putting on alot of new growth as the year progresses having mulched them last year with composted bark.

The pond area also looks really mature for the first time this summer, with masses of maroon day-lilies flowering and the water lilies progressively opening with their pure whiteness ...
I still need to put some grey local gravel around the the stones which form the border of the pond to soften the edges a little but the overall structure looks pretty much OK.  The spreading chamomile between the paving stones and white thrift have also rapidly created green patches against the grey of the stone. While the bull-rushes planted in the boggy area next to the curved wall are already shoulder height next to meadowsweet and catnip.

The herbs in the south facing gravel bed are thriving, apart from the viridiflora santolina which is just a little too tender to take the cold winters here - in contrast to the more common grey leaved 'cotton-lavender' which is quickly taking over the steps.

But still it is the vegetable garden which is grabbing all my attention.... I still need to finish putting down the cedar-wood bark chippings from a local sawmill which will eventually form the paths all around the deep beds.  But all the beds are finally planted up now to include an asparagus bed, an artichoke bed, a strawberry bed and an area for cut flowers. Everything seems to grow profusely on this south facing slope with the generous rainfall in the valley, despite the fact that the weather has been cooler than usual for the time of year, apart from a few really warm days.  It is just fantastic to dig up new potatoes, eat masses of peas direct from their pods, gather broad beans and pick herbs by the basket on a daily basis ....

June 2011 - A Whole New Gardening Experience!

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Roses; Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant'; Herbaceous Geraniums; Siberian Iris; Ceanothus; Honeysuckle; Columbine; Sage & Chives.

The pleasure seeing the vegetable garden grow and mature is a whole new gardening experience for me.  The pea plants are healthy & growing strongly as are all the potatoes; the broad beans are already over two feet high and the root vegetables, including the celariac, are all thriving. I have lots of newly planted sweet corn that I bought as young plants which are still covered in fleece but which have survived the cooler nights, along with eight lovely artichoke plants (also covered in fleece).  Between many of the vegetables I have planted various types of flowers such as marigold and nasturtium.  I also have an old wheelbarrow now planted up squash and pumpkin having 'babied' them in the greenhouse for some time.  The only plants which do not seem to be doing so well in the veg patch are the various kinds of salad crop - and this is due to the profound lack of rain this Spring.  They have gone to seed almost as soon as they have germinated unlike the other crops which seem to have tolerated the lack of water remarkably well, especially since I have hardly given them any extra water at all.

Apart from the vegetables, I also have masses of sweet peas climbing up wigwams next to the runner beans; lots of verbena seedlings; as well as over twenty tomato plants and chilli pepper plants in pots.  I also have some cottage garden plants such as verbascum, which I grew from seed last year, ready to plant out in the border. Meanwhile, in the pond the beautiful, deep purple Japaneses iris (ensata) have begun to flower and the self-sown mayweed has again quickly sprung up all around it's rim.

May 2011 - Early Spring Flowering

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Tibetan Tree Peaony; Hardy Geranium; many types of Tulip notably masses of 'Spring Green'; May Blossom; Blackthorn; Bluebells; Chives & Camassia

This year has seen one the hottest, driest Spring periods on record.  Only a few weeks ago the local farmer predicted a very dry spell based on the old country rhyme: 

" Oak before Ash you are in for a splash,
Ash before Oak, you are in for a soak!"

The saying means that if the ash tree bursts into leaf before the oak then there will be plenty of rain. But, this year since the oak trees came into leaf well before the local ash trees, the prediction was for a very dry start to the year. And it has turned out to be true...
Already there is hardly any water flowing in the stream while all around in the fields and garden the ground is quite parched.  On the other hand, the heat has brought the flowering time of many plants forward by as much as a few weeks.  In previous years, the giant yellow Tibetan tree paeonies in the courtyard have flowered towards the end of May, whereas this year they were in glorious full bloom by the second week!  Likewise, the bluebells in the woods that usually do not flower until towards the end of the month were already turning the woodland blue by mid May. The hellebores, on the other hand did not enjoy the unusually warm, dry weather.  Since they tend to thrive in moist, cool conditions, they did not bloom as well as in previous years - nor was their show so long lasting.

In the main southern border, the mass of herbaceous plants are springing up happily, including Ladies Mantle, Geraniums, Day Lilies, Siberian Iris and Alliums.  The area around the pond is also beginning to emerge from it's Winter cloak with the Water Lilies and Japanese Iris sending out plenty of new green shoots. The water in the pond however, still has the tendency   to turn green and I have ordered a solar powered system to help avoid this from happening.

But my main obsession this year is the the new vegetable garden.  Infact, as the result the rest of the garden has been rather neglected! By the end of the month the whole' potager' is pretty much completed, with all the new deep beds filled with soil, and most of them planted up.  I want to have a bed for artichokes, one for asparagus, a strawberry bed and one specially for growing cut flowers. I will see how easy it is to keep up once the season progresses ...

April 2011 - Planting Potatoes & Seeds.

PLANTS IN FLOWER:  Narcissus, early Tulips, Primrose, Primula, Daffodils, Hyacinths, Fritillaria, Pulmonaria (many types) & Grape hyacinth.

Planted into the 'potager' so far: A whole bed of mainly early potatoes (Rocket) in Bed 1 (covered in fleece); in another pea plants (covered in fleece) and broad beans (and additional peas sown); in the third bed: seeds of beet root, carrot & parsnip; in Bed 4, annul flower seeds such as cornflower and calendula along with salad crops.  I will continue with seed planting etc as the month progresses as I have may packets of seeds which are waiting to go in, including several varieties of french bean and and squash. As young plants in seed trays I have three types of sweet peas; sunflowers; pak choi; two varieties of tomato; many chilli pepper seedlings and zinnea. 

Apart from working on the vegetable garden, I also managed to clear most of the dead leaves and debris from the borders to allow some air to reach the emerging new shoots.  The grass is growing fast and needed the first cut of the year at the beginning of the month.  The weather is unusually warm for the time of year - as much as 10 c above average with many beautiful, clear days.

In the middle of this month I visited Capel Manor College (just off the M25) to the north of London with a gardening friend.  It is a large site dedicated to the training of gardeners and florists with an emphasis on experimental horticulture.  Wandering around the 30 acre extensive grounds on a hot sunny day was an eye opening experience for me as I was not previously aware of their fund of knowledge based on ongoing field trials.  The large number of model gardens which are constantly on show were also inspiring to see, not so much for their high quality of presentation, but because to my mind they showed how 'themed' buildings and gardens were married together.  For example, there was a small Mediterranean style cottage with ochre washed walls and a gravel garden (largely based on grasses and lavender) which was arranged just like a stage set - since the actual building was actually only about a metre in width so as to just show the facade.  Different types of walls and structures were constantly contrasted with different styles of planting including formal topiary, water gardens and  borders.  One of my favorite of the show gardens was a relatively simply design of herbs based on bronze fennel, purple sage, architectural soft green artichoke specimens and 'mounds of herbaceous geranium. It made me think I would like to include artichoke plants in my own garden not only for their food value but also for their lovely structure.

March 2011 - Birth of the Potting Shed/Greenhouse

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Auricula, Hellebores (various), Miniature Hebe, Primroses, many types of early Daffodils & Narcissus, early Tupils in bud, Iris bucharica, Crocus, Primula.

This month has seen the transformation of the old stable into a good sized potting shed/greenhouse with a good working surface and several shelves.  I cannot wait to get it all organized into a horticultural workshop!!! It is situated at the bottom of the field by the new deep beds and is now surrounded with hardcore to provide another working surface.  I am not sure whether to use some old concrete paving that I have stacked against the barn at present to make the whole area a little smoother and more pleasing.  I want to discuss the overall layout with my brother when he visits next month since he has a created a spectacular large, urban vegetable garden in the area of King's Cross in central London from a piece of wasteland.  For example, I would like to make some proper compost bins from wooden pallets as well as designate an area for an outside fire pit and some additional seed beds.

In terms of hard landscaping, the paving around the pond has now been repaired: the area just requires a topping of grey pea gravel to fill in the gaps between the stones around the pond and top-dress the sloping aromatic south-facing beds beside it to help suppress the weeds. Contrary to my high hopes, all my rosemary has died again over this winter.  I will have to protect any future plants under shelter during the colder months as I am getting tired of watching the demise of so many valuable and carefully nurtured specimen each year. I will replace it with lavender officinalis which I know survives well in this terrain - taking the lead from the Maesmynis Lavender farm just across the valley from me.  My kitchen herb garden, however, is looking quite healthy with many of the plants springing to life already: the chives which line the front of the bed are even in bud.

The four newly commissioned deep beds have also been finished in the field.  Now I just need to lay some weed-proof meshing and cover the surrounding paths with chipped bark to keep the area tidy and weed free over the summer: that is the theory anyway ...... 

February 2011 - Moving Topsoil

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Iris reticulata, Hazel catkins, Pulmonaria, Snowdrops, Hellebore orientalis, Hellebore niger, Hellebore foetidas, Primula,  Viburnum - plus various types of fungi in the woodlands.

Following the bitter cold in December, the early months of 2011 have been quite mild so far.  The mass of tiny iris reticulata which I planted amidst the 'Pheasant' grasses surrounding the terrace last year are in full bloom by the end of this month.  The pond which is brimming with tiny black fish still freezes over as soon as there is a heavy frost overnight and the cold winter has also taken a toll on the surrounding paving where the cement has been cracked by the ice.  I will have to get this and some of the terrace and steps re-pointed in the Spring. Cous cous of course likes to watch everything that goes on in the garden and has returned to his previous sleek form now he can be outside again performing his usual hunting rounds.
Since the garden is largely still asleep, I have devoted February to choosing and buying organic vegetable seeds for my precious new potager.  I still need to complete filling the beds using the massive mound of topsoil which had been dumped in the field.  With the help of my partner Ossian and his friend Erik, we finally managed to get all the beds topped up by the end of the month and ready for planting.  At first we were worried there would not be enough soil to complete the job, but soon it became evident that there would be too much .... So at this point, I decided to commission four more deep beds made to the same construction as the previous ones i.e. from old treated railway sleepers.  These could be used to plant perennial crops such as raspberries, blueberries, black currants, strawberries and maybe asparagus. The four main, large beds could then be used for rotational annual planting.  At the same time, I also started to think about planting up the orchard with a few hardy fruit trees before the end of April.

January 2011 - Preparing the Potager for Spring

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Snowdrops, Pulmonaria, Hazel catkins, Hellebore niger (Christmas Rose),  Viburnum (buds).

In contrast to last month, January has been quite mild. The snowdrops are out in the raised beds and the oriental hellabores are beginning to push their way through the dark compost which I put down in autumn last year. Only the Christmas Roses are actually in flower with their delicate pinky-white petals. My main job before early Spring is to get the deep beds filled up with top soil and the ground mulched with bark around them. Although the thermometer outside the kitchen door showed minus 5 c. first thing in the morning, I spent a very chilly couple of days lining the two deep beds closest the field with cardboard and then shoveling a layer of compost and straw into their base.  The promised top soil arrived right at the end of the month in a vast digger, but I have yet to fill up the beds with it as will take a quite a bit of solid work. This I will do in February when the soil has warmed up a little ... hopefully.

Instead I spent the last day of January planning how to divide up the beds for planting.  I would use the bed closest to the field for salad crops and some cut flowers;  beans and peas etc in the next bed along; root vegetables in the deeper soil of the third bed; and finally position long-term fruit and vegetable crops in the bed closest to the hedge. The soil elsewhere in the garden was frozen too hard to do much other work outside.  The pond was also frozen solid with a thick layer of ice, but I could see several goldfish swimming around quite happily beneath the surface.  

Making a the tour of the garden in the the pale but welcome winter sunshine, I was amazed to see that nearly all my rosemary 'Miss Jessup's Upright' that I had planted in the sloping bed at the front of the house had survived the harsh temperatures of December. But all my other varieties of rosemary were dead again - just like last winter - even some pink and white flowered rosemany bushes which I had planted right up against the shelter of a west facing wall. Emerging buds of the tiny reticula iris which I planted around the west facing terrace were beginning to emerge but many of the surrounding grasses were bleached white by the freezing wind.  I only hope they will spring into life again when the weather gets warmer.  All around the garden a few hesitant shoots were beginning to appear:crocus; early narcissus; hyacinth; daffodil; and several types of allium. Drinking tea on the terrace in the afternoon sun with  the sound of the stream mingling with birdsong in the valley, it was almost possible to believe that Spring was just around the corner.

December 2010 - A Freezing Start to Winter

PLANTS IN FLOWER: purple Primula, Wintersweet
, Beauty Berry, Cowslip & many colourful hips on the Roses.

This winter has started with a spell of freezing cold weather. All over the country, especially in Scotland and in Wales, the temperatures have dropped to record lows - at one point it was minus 22 c in Powys! It has caused chaos on the roads as usual and the extent of the snowfall and build up of ice has made Green Valley totally off limits for weeks on end. The amount of berries on the trees had indicated that a cold winter was coming but not the coldest December since 1910!

Arriving at Green Valley during a brief thaw about a week before Christmas, I was glad to find that the workings of the farmhouse were still fine - the pipes had not burst during the thaw & Cous cous had actually grown a little fat...
But many of the plants in the garden were looking frost bitten: my newly planted rosemary bushes; the dark grape vine that had been looking so vigorous only a few weeks earlier; and my lovely chocolate vine were all looking bleached. The pond was frozen hard and in the ice I could see one of the goldfish frozen stiff beneath the surface. There were also very few birds on the bird table and I hoped that they had migrated down beside the steam in the valley where the water was still trickling over the icy rocks.
There was nothing to do in the garden but watch for the cold weather to subside. I checked that there was still a good pile of top soil waiting for me at the yard in Builth for my vegetable garden - which was confirmed - so now I just need to wait until the early Spring to get the potager finished and planted with seeds...

November 2010 - A Clear, Warm Autumn Spell

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Cowslip,  Primula, Winter-sweet,  Eucalyptus, Nepeta, Roses, Hebe, Lungwort, Beauty Berry, Himalayan Honeysuckle, Viburnum.

In the middle of the month there were a few really warm, clear days.  Making the best of the benign weather, I planted out masses of spring bulbs, notably hundreds of poeticus narcissus in the grass along the driveway. Nearby, on the steep bank beneath the hazels, lots of self-seeded foxgloves are springing up. I also planted a number of new shrubs along the driveway at the same time: a witch hazel, two flowering 'Buffalo' Ribes  for their early yellow blossom and a white-flowered, ornamental cherry tree which I had taken as a cutting from a friend's garden.

In the wide herbaceous border, I added a variety of new alliums including the tall 'Violet Beauty', the purple 'A. Aflatunense' and the whitish-green 'A. Multibulbosum to the planting scheme and put in some of the small pure-white allium 'A. Cowanii' amongst the day lilies around the pond. I also planted a few of my precious evergreen African iris, the tall yellow 'Chelsea', alongside the roses, although I am nervous about their hardiness.  As always, it was a pleasure to plant up a number of terracotta pots with a selection of spring flowing bulbs: hyacinth, white narcissi, the stunning metallic 'Allium Christophiii'  and some fragrant miniature daffodils. 

Finally, I cut back all the shrubs around the courtyard and tidied up the raised bed ready for the Spring. I cut back quite a few of the hellebore leaves to enable them to show their flowers off to best advantage when they emerge in the next couple of months. I could already see a few green shoots of early crocus and the buds of the red pulmonaria appearing amidst the fallen leaves.  My wonderful, evergreen para-hebe which tumbles over the edge of this bed is still in bloom with it's miniature white flowers. At the end, I mulched the whole bed with dark, composted bark to keep down the weeds and provide a good foil for the white snowdrops and hellebore. 
I raked the rotting leaves from the gravel in the courtyard and driveway and threw them into one of the old sacks which was used to deliver the bark chips, so as to turn them into compost for the vegetable garden. However, I left quite a lot of seed head on the plants all around the garden, including many of the allium heads as food for the birds, rather than cutting them down as part of the general tidying up:  I will wait until March next year to do this. I brought indoors all my geraniums and tender plants and then, having wrapped up my least hardy plants in thermal fleece for the Winter, I was satisfied that I had put the garden 'to bed' for the Winter.

October 2010 - Creatures

PLANTS IN FLOWER : Cowslip, Primula, Pheasant Grass, Festuca, Shrub Roses, Forget-me -Not, Sedum, Nepeta (Six Hills Giant).

The family of hedgehogs which had taken up residence in the vegetable garden have moved their nest from the pile of compost to the woodland. The mother and her five babies clearly decided there was too much action in the previously neglected vegetable patch to remain hibernating there over the winter.  I am actually quite glad, because I need to burn the growing pile of roots and branches which have been accumulating this last month, and I am afraid of disturbing any creatures which are tempted to make it their home.  I guess I will simply have to dismantle it before setting it on fire, when there is break in the weather.

The swallows from the barn have left for the Winter too, while whirling swarms of starlings pass over the fields. Since I feed the birds over the Autumn and Winter months, it is pleasure to see a wide variety of birds back on the bird table: chaffinches, bullfinches, nut hatches, blue tits, coal tits, great tits and even a shy wren. The pair of red Kites are also often in view above the valley, frequently mobbed by the resident crows and ravens.  The naturalistic pond has encouraged an increase in water loving creatures such as newts, frogs and toads, often uncovered beneath some leaves, and which can now sometimes be heard calling in the evening. The multitude of tiny, pure-black fish born over the summer to the pair of gold fish in the pond, are now beginning to show some gold tints.  I wonder if they will survive the thick ice though since the forecast is for a very cold Winter this year!

In preparation for planting bulbs by the driveway, I moved a lot of ferns from the grassy slope to the base of the new wall outside the kitchen door where it is semi-shady.  I am glad to see all my little box bushes in the herb bed have settled in and the herb garden is looking really established.  I have also taken some cuttings of the viridiflora santolina when I trimmed the sloping gravel garden on the south side of the farmhouse, as I expect to see some significant gaps in the Spring after the cold has taken its toll.

September 2010 - Creating the Vegetable Garden

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Roses (including the climber 'Compassion'), various Clematis, Water Lily, Oriental Lilies, Chives, Marjoram, Oregano, Day Lilies, Evening Primrose, Nepeta, Japanese Anemone, Perovskia, Cosmos.

At the beginning of the month I visited Fenton House in Hampstead since I had read that it had a lovely and long-standing wholly organic vegetable and fruit garden tucked away behind the stately National Trust property.  It was pouring with rain when I arrived at the garden gate, but even if it had been blazing sunshine during my visit, I'm sure I would still have left with a slight feeling of disappointment. Although the garden itself had a well-established and formal structure, with massive clipped yew hedges and a very mature orchard, the overall appearance of the wide borders beneath the walls and the vegetable garden itself appeared a little neglected. There were considerable gaps in the planting and I couldn't help thinking that the beautiful, high stone walls which surrounded the entire garden could have been utilized to better effect. Maybe it was just a little late in the year to enjoy the garden to full effect. Nevertheless, the mix of vegetables and flowers, ripe fruit and herbs all laid out in a rectangular area with a small greenhouse at one end did inspire me to get to work on my own plot of land.

Since I was adamant that I was not prepared to use weed killers of any kind on the small field at Green Valley, I was faced with two alternatives: covering designated areas of turf with black plastic for at least a season or two (taking into account the well established bramble roots) or digging it over laboriously by hand. I opted for the latter, using industrial black plastic from the local farmer's merchants to contain the soil in the raised beds and to stop the weeds from encroaching underneath the railway sleepers later on. I had no idea what the soil would be like when I put the fork into the ground on the first morning, but to my astonishment it was of an excellent consistency.  It then occurred to me that a horse had grazed the field for many years previous to my arrival, which had fed the soil indirectly and stopped it from turning into a complete wilderness. There were masses of bramble roots and nettles to extract, but apart from these there was no dock or bindweed or other pernicious weeds to uproot.  After a few days of digging from 8am to 7pm each day, pretty much non-stop, I was virtually dead: it was very hard work! Laying weed resistant mesh around the beds was the next task, ready to be covered with bark from my builder.  He also promised to reserve me some additional top soil which he had in his yard to top-up the deep beds before the Spring.  

Another bonus was a mound of hay, bracken and horse manure that had been cleared out of the old stable a few weeks earlier.  This proved to be fantastic compost so I started shoveling it onto the two newly prepared deep beds immediately.  At one point, looking closely at the remaining pile, I thought I saw something moving amongst the leaves.  Then I saw that there was not one - but five baby hedgehogs living in the heap together with their mother.  It was the most touching moment I had experienced for weeks in the garden ... and I clearly could not continue dismantling their home.  So now the compost and the other deep beds will have to wait a while longer to be completed ...

Early on in October I also managed to clip back and tidy all the plants and grasses in the south facing  Mediterranean gravel bed.  Next summer I hope it really starts to show its full potential, as some of the aromatics mature and fill it out.  The herb garden outside the kitchen is also beginning to look quite good now I have taken out all the annual rocket and salad leaves. Most herbs grow so quickly that in less than six months this garden already looks quite established, although the miniature box hedge that surrounds it has a long way to go.  I also managed to plant over two hundred Iris Reticulata 'Harmony' around the terrace, so I hope next February there will be quite a show!

August 2010 - The Allure of the Mediterranean

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Lilies, Achillea, Agapanthus, Roses, Begonias, Lavender, Chives, Fremontodendron , Water lilies, Day lilies,  Astrantia, Echinacea, Euphorbia, Penstemon, Buddleja, Sarcococca, Ceanothus.

I have planted a grape vine next to the kitchen door on the west side of the farmhouse in place of the lovely mimosa which died due to the freezing temperatures.  It is hardy variety which bears black fruit so I am hopeful that it will survive in this sheltered spot.  It is certainly looking very healthy at the moment and sending up masses of new shoots which will all need to be trained along wires eventually!  At its feet there are lots of begonias in flower in warm reds and oranges which have much the same leaf shape as the vine! Various types of lilies have also been flowering in pots along the terrace this last month - some with virtually black flowers, some with magenta red and others of pure white, such as the heady madonna lily. My Fremontodendron from California has also been flowering for weeks on end against the west wall with its gorgeous, bright yellow cup-shaped flowers, despite having an aversion to the cold and damp.

I have bought a hardy 'Turkey' fig tree for the south side of the barn as well as the tender pittosporum 'tobira' which I am confident I will be able to look after if I provide cover over the winter.  The allure of the Mediterranean plants which I most associate with holidays spent in Italy and France is very seductive.  I have even filled in the gaps in the sloping gravel bed with another variety of rosemary, 'Miss Jessups Upright', which has very narrow leaves and is hopefully therefore going to prove hardier than the prostrate forms which I lost over the winter. I have also planted a few purple liriope (lily turf) next to the steps in this bed since they flower in the bleakest of seasons.

I have given up on the driveway and woodland area for this year as they have both become very wild and overgrown. However, I have had a new idea for the development of the driveway inspired by a property which I drive past on my way from London to Green Valley, near Crickhowell. Now I have simply decided to systematically grass the areas on both sides of the track and plant interesting ornamental shrubs at intervals, under-planted with seasonal bulbs. This will be much easier to maintain than my former plan of creating a kind of woodland border with foxgloves, bluebells, ferns and hellebores etc.  I will need to add some extra top soil and move some of the existing plants though. To one side of driveway in the woods, the stream bed is completely dry - something which I have never seen before in my three years of residence.

Planning the new potager has been a great source of pleasure.  I visited the old and vast traditional vegetable garden at Hergest Croft near Kington earlier this month and loved the way they mix flowers, fruit and vegetables throughout the plot. I would like to do the same on a more modest scale, as well as having an area specifically for growing cut flowers and for perennial plants, such as artichokes and strawberries.

July 2010 - High Summer

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Roses, Nepeta, Ladies Mantle, Lavender, Meadowsweet, Honeysuckle, Santolina, , Allium, Thrift, Forget-Me-Not, Day Lilies, Poppies, Water Lily, Feverfew.

By the middle of July, the poppies, self-seeded mayweed and day-lilies surrounding the pond are looking quite spectacular; however, the main border is already appearing very overblown.  The vigorous nepeta 'Six Hills Giant' is all but suffocating the roses; the swathes of ladies mantle have collapsed onto the surrounding plants, virtually smothering the emerging day lilies and penstemons; while the herbaceous geraniums which tend to dominate the planting, are looking leggy and past their best.  I decided it would be best to cut both these latter back hard to the ground this year to encourage a further flush of leaves in August. But in September I will need to review the organization of this bed, as there is clearly not enough evergreen structure to hold it's own at mid summer.  

I have also discovered without a shadow of doubt that I've lost every single one of my lovely tall verbenas which I had grown from seed a couple of years ago.  The cold winter killed them all, and if I want to enjoy their effect again I will need to grow them annually, as they look stunning amidst the grasses which dominate the area around the silver birch in the middle of the border. I have planted all my new ornamental grass seedling in this border too,  but not the masses of aqualegia which are still in pots by the herb garden.  My hollyhock seedlings are also still in pots as well as a variety of herbs, waiting to go into the herb garden once the salad crops are finished. 

But the real success in terms of planting combinations is the border around the terrace: the drumstick allium, combined with pheasant grass and interspersed with different forms of acer is really pleasing.  My plan for the autumn is to under-plant this narrow border with literally hundreds of miniature iris which will flower in February, to extend the season. I also plan to add more types of allium to the main border, along with more of the statuesque bearded iris and some different siberian forms, as they all seem to thrive in this garden.

In the small field the four main vegetable beds have been created from railway sleepers, but are yet to be filled with earth.  For the design, I was inspired by a visit to Hackney City Farm with my daughter, where they have an urban organic garden plot about the same size as my small field. Within the plot, they have created an orchard as well as many raised beds using old sleepers as the means of dividing up the different sections.  On my plot I want to follow a similar scheme with further smaller raised beds being added between the old stable and proposed orchard. Still, the soil around the old stable needs to be leveled before the paving can be laid and the humble building transformed into a greenhouse/potting shed.  The hazel trees beside the vegetable garden and orchard have been trimmed back to let more light into the whole area: and this has given me the idea to match the planting on the other side next to the field with a line of hazels to act as wind protection.  However, there is still a massive amount to be done to bring this particular project to completion before the winter. 

June 2010 - The Season of Roses

PLANTS IN FLOWER:  Irises, Stock, Foxgloves,  Nepeta ,  Gladioli, Ladies mantle, Roses, Penstemon, Feverfew, Mayweed, Wisteria, Honeysuckle, Dogwood, Astrantia, Herbaceous Geraniums, Euphorbias.

Due to sunny weather, this month has really seen a sudden maturation of the garden in all its aspects. The white Iceberg roses are climbing rapidly up the south side of the farmhouse; the grasses around the terrace have shot up with fresh green growth and amidst them, the drumstick alliums are about to burst into flower; while on the east side, the newly planted wisterias are confidently winding their way up the warm stone walls in the courtyard. 
The main borders too have filled out with siberian irises, pale stock, white foxgloves, nepeta 'Six Hills Giant', byzantine gladioli, ladies mantle and masses of roses: wild pink roses, David Austin's cerise 'Gertrude Jekyll' and his pale pink 'Cottage Garden' roses all coming into bloom. On the other side of the border there are massive banks of the white form of Rosa rugosa and the exquisite dark leaved Rosa moschata. 

The pond has lost its green tinge and is beginning to look established with the stunning black iris ensata in bud and water lily pads spreading across the surface.  There are masses of tiny goldfish with newts, frogs and water boatmen taking up residence too, while lots of different kinds of dragonfly skim the surface when the sun is out.  The aquatic wildlife has not escaped the attention of a local heron who has started visiting the pond. The young redstarts who nested in the box I attached to the silver birch tree seem to have already flown; but the extended family of pied wagtails still visit the water each morning to catch tiny insects by its borders; and the swifts which are also back nesting in the barn sweep the surface with great speed.

The gravel bed has burst into flower with the azure blue penstemons making a spectacular show.  I have planted in some purple sage seedlings to contrast with the golden feverfew leaves but have yet to add the green sage officinalis seedlings which I still are waiting in their seed trays. But the biggest change of all in the garden this month is the clearing of the small field. The local farmer leveled it last week and now it is possible to see for the first time the real potential of this area.  Beforehand, it was so overgrown with nettles, brambles and bracken that it was impossible to really visualize how to plan it out. Now it is clear, I have decided to divide the lower area into deep beds using old railway sleepers as a vegetable garden and plant the upper part as an orchard.

May 2010 - Working on the Gravel Garden

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Tulip 'Spring Green', Bluebells, Ladies Smock, Forget-me-not, Allium 'Purple Sensation', various types of Columbine, Violets, Love-lies bleeding, Camassia, Azaleas.

The weather in the early part of May has been generally warm, but with clear cold nights and some biting winds.  The lambs have been feeling the pinch again this year!  The sunny days enabled my daughter Tasha to weed the sloping Mediterranean garden which I have decided will be topped with gravel to keep the moisture in and the weeds out.  I have a lot of sage seedlings, including some purple sage to replace the rosemary which died; also a few dianthus 'Siberian blue' which I have grown from seed and a handful of grey-leaved cotton lavender. Since some of the green viridiflora santolina died during the cold winter, Tasha has been replacing the dead plants with new cuttings which I took at the end of last year.  I have also bought quite a quantity of a miniature purple iris,  but I am not sure how hardy it will prove to be here. Of course it will take some time for this bed to look mature again with these big gaps in the planting.

The herbaceous border is beginning to spring into life with the viridflora tulips 'Spring Green' emerging from the young foliage of the ladies mantle which fronts the beds.  The bright blue camassias are just beginning to flower amid the leaves of siberian iris, foxglove, alstromeria, budding alliums and masses of herbaceous geraniums.  There are still some conspicuous gaps in the planting, however, and I hope that my trays of seedlings will go a long way to completing the effect by the end of this summer. I still need to weed the area all around the white shrub roses at one side of the border which at present is swamped in nettles. All around the pond, the day lilies 'Black Knight' are sending up clusters of healthy green leaves which I hope will prove to be evergreen - or at least semi-evergreen. And in the water of the pond (which still looks an unhealthy green) the irises and water lilies seem to be thriving. 

April 2010 - Spring Flowers & Blossom

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Magnolias, Hellebores, Dwarf Daffodils, Cherry Blossom, Grape Hyacinth, Hyacinths, Blackthorn, Auriculas, Forget-me-not, Early Tulips, Iris Bucharica

Shopping for plants at Columbia Road flower market in East London is no longer a bargain. The area has become very trendy in the last few years and the street prices reflect this! I bought a good sized white magnolia 'Stella' for £10 on Easter Sunday but even the herbs at the market are £2 each now. It is better to grow most perennials from seed in any case, and I have quite a few seedlings which I have propagated these last weeks ... maroon hollyhocks, white foxgloves and a few different types of grasses, such as the feathery mauve Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum).

Early April has been sunny and warm this year and the weeds are growing fast. I have bought four tons of composting bark to put on the herbaceous border to try and prevent the garden getting out of hand like last year. The sunny days towards the end of the month gave me the opportunity to weed the border and get most of the bark down.  In these south facing beds, the large clumps of pulmonaria are now interspersed with clumps of the early white tulip 'White Emperor' and the stunning maroon tulip 'Queen of Night'.  The fresh green leaves of several varieties of herbaceous geraniums, ladies mantle and astrantia are pushing through the dark earth optimistically.

Visiting Kew Gardens right at the end of this month has inspired me to focus more on aromatic plants in Green Valley.  There is a beautiful small garden at Kew called the 'Nosegay Garden' which is tucked away beyond all the main attractions, such as the vast greenhouses full of tropical plants, the avenues of rhododendrons and swathes of flowering blossom which look so spectacular at this time of year.  Here, herbs and medicinal plants are arranged around an oblong plot with a sunken garden at the centre; while around the edge, weeping yellow chains of laburnum flowers are trained over a pergola.  The intimate atmosphere of this hidden garden seemed somehow exquisite amidst the grandeur of the other attractions, with its humble plants such as sage, thyme, lavender and soapwort together with more statuesque plants such as angelica and artichoke emerging from symmetrical narrow beds.

March 2010 - A Late Spring

PLANTS IN FLOWER: Winter Iris; Snowdrop; Primula; Primrose; Cowslip; Early Daffodils (several early types); Hellebore Orientalis; Christmas Rose; Pulmonaria (many varieties); Euphorbia; Crocus; Hazel Catkins.
So much for Spring arriving early! I have been told by the local farmers on the Epynt that Spring is about four weeks behind last year. I could have guessed this by looking at the plant growth in the garden. By the middle of the month there are hardly any flowers out at all: the daffodils are still in bud and even the hellebores in the courtyard are yet to open fully whereas last year at this time they were at their best. Although the weather has been sunny for the first two weeks of March, this has done little to bring any sign of new growth. Meanwhile the tiny lambs bleat in the fields and shiver in the cold easterly wind.

The real impact of the freeing cold winter months is showing now. I am pretty sure all my beautiful ‘Severn Sea’ rosemary are dead, even my few common Rosmarinus officinalis are brown and frost damaged …much like last year; the Santolina viridiflora in the dry bed at the front are also mainly brown; the thyme is dead in the herb garden and it looks like my beautiful mimosa by the kitchen door is also past repair. The lovely orange trumpet-flowered climbers on the west wall look like they will not recover and may have to be replaced with something hardier, such as the evergreen clematis armandeii ‘Apple Blossom. On the south wall my Trachleosperum jasminoides is also dead because of the biting winds which sweep across the valley. I need to plant some evergreen hedges this season to protect the plants from the chilling winds and create more shelter within the confines of the garden.

Alongside the driveway and beside my proposed vegetable garden I have already planted a hedge of ruby flowered Rosa rugosa to create more protection and help break up the different areas of the garden. These will combine well with the many native foxgloves which are emerging on the bank by the old hazels. I have also done lots of work in the main border this last week. I have planted several Anchusa ‘Loddon Royalist’ in the centre of the border for their stunning blue colour and height and put in more Penstemon ‘Sour Grapes’ since it goes so well with the verbena boniaris and grasses which are all at their best towards the end of the year. I have covered the young plants with plenty of dried bracken since the temperatures can still plummet at this time of year. I have weeded about half of the border too in preparation for mulching it before the weeds really get going. Sure enough, right at the end of this month a sprinkling of snow fell again … in the highlands of Scotland the snow was treacherous causing accidents and power cuts!

February 2010 - Clear Cold Days

The middle of the month and there is a beautiful clear blue sky although the gravel in the courtyard still retains a sprinkling of frost on the north side of the barn. The temperature is 1 centigrade but the ground is frozen hard, as is the pond. Looking round the garden I can see plenty of signs of frost damage and blighted growth due to the chilly conditions following last months heavy and prolonged snowy weather. In the courtyard beds, the early snowdrops are flowering but the oriental hellebores are only just pushing their fresh new shoots and flowers buds above ground; only the foetida hellebore is in full bud and about to burst into blossom. Looking at my notes, this is much later than last year. There are no flowers on the ungularis iris and the only other colour is from a few early purple crocuses beside the driveway. Some green shoots of early narcissus and blue bells are showing, but that is all.

I have a new Witch Hazel which is flowering with its feathery, yellow spindles on the terrace and down in the woods the bright red fungi has appeared again, but by no means as prolifically as last year. My lovely mimosa by the kitchen door is barely hanging on to life: the upper shoots are dead but the base is still alive. Lets hope this is corresponds to what I have heard about this species, that it can be cut back by a sharp frost, but will spring to life again with the growing warmth. The prostate rosemary in the Mediterranean bed also looks very sorry for itself, virtually frosted to a crisp, but I hope it will pull through. The pheasants grass also is very dry, as are the diarama by the pond … these were always a bit of a risk. Many of the rhododendrons have yellow leaves although they are covered in buds. It is hard to imagine that spring is just round the corner looking at the garden now, although snow is forecast next week…

A new report has shown that Spring is arriving earlier each year …now it is nine days ahead of fifty years ago on average, but I guess there are always variations to this general trend since this is certainly not the case in Green Valley. I already have some trays of seeds, the diathus ‘Siberian blue’ which failed to be the correct colour last year; some sensitive plants, a form of mimosa, and a variety of herbs for the new herb bed. The fields around the house are empty of livestock but Cous cous is fine and there are plenty of birds on the bird table.

January 2010 - White Britain

Snow fell this month earlier than usual. By the first week of the month, over a foot of snow had settled and the farmhouse became inaccessible. It was impossible to get up the steep slope leading to the far end of the valley, even in a four-wheel drive. Meanwhile the whole of Britain became a frozen wilderness, which continued for several weeks. I worried about the birds and Cous Cous but I will have to wait for the snow to melt to see what damage it has caused. The Met Office had predicted a warm winter … is the Gulf Steam leaving these islands! Or is it just a case of total climatic unpredictability. The temperature in Green Valley has dropped to minus 17 this month which is lower than for a decade.

December 2009 - Planting Trees and Shrubs

Lots more narcissus and the miniature white dwarf Daffodil; ‘Thalia’ which flowers in April, were planted along the drive early this month along with more rhododendron and some flowering trees, such as the ornamental Japanese weeping cherry. Of course if everything had been planned and landscaped in the first year I had bought the property, such trees would already be established by now. But that is not how it has worked out … time nor finances have allowed such a luxury and so it has to develop on a slow and steady basis instead.

I also spent some time clearing out the barn in preparation for building work next year.

November 2009 - Last minute Bulbs

Early this month was devoted to planting out masses of early flowering bulbs, whilst praying that the soil would not be too hard to dig them in. Luckily I was OK. I put in swathes the early viridiflora tulip ‘Spring Green’ right along the front of the border to combine with the frothy Ladies Mantle … also some of the very early tulip ‘White Emperor’ to combine with the pulmonaria ‘Sissinghust White’ and mauve primroses. Waves of the small burgundy gladioli, G. byzantinus were threaded between clumps of geraniums and day lilies together with the sultry tones of the perennial foxglove planted towards the back. The purple Jacobs Ladder had self-seeded madly so I also split and planted them out in loose clumps.

I also buried several roots of the statuesque white Foxtail Lily, Eremurus Brutus at the back of the border, having been inspired by the winning garden at the Chelsea Flower show earlier in the year. I was careful to protect the centre of their splayed out roots from damp by placing a little gravel beneath each one. Nearby, clumps of the vivid blue Camassia, C. Leichtlinii Caerulea combine with White Bellflower (Campanula glomerata) and the evergreen variegated Sedge Grass, Carex 'Ice Dance' to provide year round interest. At the very back of the border, I have planted several clumps of the tall Ornamental Grass; Miscanthus ‘Super Stripe’ which looks stunning in the autumn. When all this was done, my partner Ossian finally mulched the border with many barrow loads of chipped bark … but there is still some bare soil remaining.

October 2009 - Reassessing the Border

The herbaceous border does not look after itself … by the end of the summer it is a profusion of weeds. The coarse field grass is particularly difficult to eradicate, as its spreading roots are extensive and often entangled with tree roots and those of other plants. The weeding of a small section took several days alone. Early on in the year this border looked quite successful but now apart from the tall verbenas and the towering penstemon ‘Sour Grapes’, which has a sumptuous late summer colour, the main section of the border holds little interest at present. On the other hand, having moved the ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ roses from the south wall of the farmhouse into the deeper, richer clay soil at the corner of the border they are now thriving, as are the cottage garden cerise peonies P. lactiflora ‘Felix Crousse’ , which I also moved for the same reason. The soil was not deep or rich enough for them in their previous location by the house and they were looking parched. I also had to move my precious ‘Molly the Witch’ peony from the raised bed in the courtyard to the front border for the opposite reason - it was much too wet for it and looked like it could rot.

In this corner the shrubs are mainly blue and yellow: there are several Californian Lilac: Ceonothus thyrsiflorus ‘Skylark’; Squaw Carpet Ceanothus prostrates and Creeping Blue Blossom, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus. Other shrubs include Beauty Berry, Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’; Himalayan Honeysuckle, Leycesteria Formosa; Viburnum, V. davidii ; thyrsiflorus ; Buddleja; B. davidii ‘Black Knight’and the unusual Buddleja, B. globosa with its spectacular yellow balls. I realize that the main border will actually take a lot of time to look really established. Apart from the shrubs, the clumps of day lilies, ornamental grasses and irises which dominate the planting around the silver birch will take a few years to mature fully.