Time to fill the gap – a summer rambler perhaps?

Rosa-Debutante-againIt is definitive – after a year’s grace my beautiful old climbing rose is definitely dead. Last weekend I spent a few hours cutting down and removing the old skeleton of tangled lifeless branches. This winter’s tidy up has revealed quite a gap on the east end of the pergola and dividing trellis.

Initially I had been considering another pink rose planted away from the site of the dead rose, but still trailing up over the pergola. There are hundreds of pink roses to choose from and it is a case of deciding what qualities I would like such as colour, scent, length of flowering period, height and possible hip production. And, also very importantly whether the rose will tolerate my impoverished, free-draining soil and low rainfall. But another pink rose?

Perhaps not pink then. How about a white rose (the neighbouring wisteria is white) or even a pale yellow?

Of course, also, what about hips too for the autumn and winter months?

But having a good think and looking again at some of my favourite colour combinations.

Pinks-a-favourite-pallet-apricot

And, I think that the peachy apricot colour I’m looking for could be this rose, rosa François Juranville. It was first introduced in 1906 and as it is a Wichurana Rambler it will only flower once in mid-summer, but within a few years that should make a spectacular display for July. It’s the colour and scent that wins the day!

François Juranville
Sprays of scented double flowers, rosa François Juranville.
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Painterly tulips, Balthasar van der Ast and May Day

Tulipa-Princess-IreneMy friends know I enjoy down time in the garden and little garden gifts are much appreciated. I always plant out everything I’m given, but sometimes the colours don’t fit well with a particular planting. This situation at first may appear disappointing, but in general, it is a bonus as I don’t feel guilty when I immediately cut them for the house.

Every spring these striking red and yellow tulips (tulipa Gavota) return and, despite plenty of background green, do not fit with the main pink, white and orange display in the back bed. Therefore, it is the chop!

On cutting and arranging them I was reminded of the Dutch craze for tulips in the seventeenth century and the many beautiful still life oil paintings of floral displays that included tulips. The above painting, ‘Flowers in a vase with shells and insects’, is by Balthasar van der Ast and now hangs in the National Gallery, London. Photographic reproductions do not do these type of paintings justice. With a close examination of the flowers in the painting I can clearly see an iris, some tulips, a rose, some carnations, a pale pink and white antirrhinum, and, more in the shadows a fritillary and a sprig of mauve lilac.

I don’t grow carnations and I have lost all my snake’s head fritillaries as my soil is far too gritty and parched, but I’ve just been out in the garden (May Day) and located examples of flowers in the painting. Although some are by no means in full bloom and others have nearly gone over, the snap dragons (antirrhinum Night and Day) have not even started producing buds! We all know that the professional growers can keep flowering back or force it forwards, just think what they do for Chelsea each year, and I’m guessing some of these skills are centuries old. But we must not forget that however true to life a work of art may appear it is still the product of the artist’s creative interpretation. All those different flowers may or may not have been together in that pewter jug sometime in May 1630.

And, this wouldn’t be a May Day post without a photo of the classic May-tree blossom – the hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) – commonly used for garlands (outside the house only) for a traditional English May Day celebration.

Crataegus-laevigata

Spring flowers drooping and cascading

helleborous orientalisLast autumn I hacked back an overgrown climbing rose. I had let it run free to see if it would flower more, but it was still heavily overshadowed by my neighbour’s large conifers.

clematis armandii Snowdrift
Clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’
It is an ongoing problem of gardening that after the first five years of a new planting, serious, annual pruning is needed to keep the more successful specimens to appropriate sizes.

With the rose reduced in size the previously swamped clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’ has finally started to flower. More of a trickle than a cascade so far.

However, the clematis armandii ‘Appleblossom’, planted at the same time as the ‘Snowdrift’, now cascades down the trellis. The pair make a textbook example of the direct sunlight requirements for most flowering climbers to give a good show.

clematis armandii Appleblossom
Clematis armandii ‘Appleblossom’ in full flow.

On the other hand some plants only require the light of dappled shade to produce a display of delicate, drooping jewels.

pink hellebore flower
A pink jewel.
Helleborus orientalis

Nature’s Version of Winter Pink

Small pink bloom rose Madame Isaac PereireNormally the Bourbon rose, Madame Isaac Pereire shows off with large and glamorous blooms, but last week I noticed it had made an out of season effort to flower. Yes, the bloom is small, but nevertheless it does provide a cheery pink addition to the winter garden. The rose is grown in a moderately sheltered corner up against the wall of the house, but doesn’t usually start flowering until May. A few blasts of easterly winter wind keeps it dormant, but so far this winter we’ve had buckets of rain from the southwest, no snow and few easterlies.

Pink rose Karlsruhe

Further down in the garden a tough, modern climbing rose, Karlsruhe, has also managed to produce a fuchsia pink bloom to lift the gloomy grey. Looking at these roses again I think that undersized and blighted flowers look odd and messy. This particularly applies to the last of the winter outliers, the David Austin English rose, St Swithun. In summer the flowers are very large, opened cupped and a delicate soft warm pink, but this January bloom is small and a darker pink. Realistically, I should just cut off all the stunted flowers and save the plants their energy. Oh, how we clutch at straws.

rosa St Swithun

Acanthus Roulette

acanthus seed podNovember, often relentlessly grey and misty here in East Anglia, is the time of year I put together my first dried flower arrangement for the winter mantlepiece. This past summer was warm and sunny enough for the acanthus to send up spiky flower stalks above their architectural leaves, and, along with some beautiful pale blue mophead hydrangeas, I’ve managed to create an understated floral arrangement to suit the coming winter light.

dried flower arrangement
A dried flower arrangement of acanthus spikes, mophead hydrangea flowers and acer palmatum Osakazuki leaves.

It looks low-key, ripened nature gently fading away, but as the central heating comes on in the evening and the room warms up the seed pods on the acanthus burst with a cracking sound like a fairground rifle and I jump out of my skin. The very first time it happened I even dived for cover. The seeds are forcefully propelled out across the room – none have hit me yet – hence ‘Russian Roulette’ springs to mind. Now, each time it happens it makes me laugh as I crawl round the floor picking up the bits.

Dried blue hydrangea flower
The benign mophead hyrdrangea flowers fade slowly to a pale bluey grey across the winter months.

A Good Year for the Roses

This summer has been good for roses. Good displays as long as the roses are healthy bushes with established root runs. Within the UK East Anglia is a low rainfall region added to that I garden on a very light, sandy soil and, as you may know, not ideal for most roses.

Pink rose on pergola
Cascading down from the pergola Rosa Debutante

But I do love roses and as they really prefer heavier, rich soil I have to feed them well. I always mulch them generously using most of my garden compost to feed their greedy needs and retain moisture.

The white wisteria covering the pergola has now finished flowering, but continues to provide some welcome green shade. However, down the other end of the pergola the pink rambler rose, Debutante, has broken into a glamorous profusion of pink blooms.

Other roses flowering at the moment are the fully double pink Rosa Karlsruhe, the striped Rosa Ferdinand Pichard, the single white species rose Rosa fedtschenkoana and the single white rambler Rosa Francis E Lester . I grow both the white ramblers through mixed hedging to provide hips for the birds in the autumn.


Also clusters of white roses add highlights to a predominantly green hedge informally planted with hazel, hawthorn and deciduous viburnum.

In the evening the garden is awash with delicate perfumes as you pass under the various climbing and rambling roses. A gentle, uplifting pleasure.

Rose on pergola
The warm evening sun catches the roses and fills the air with sweet scent,

Wisteria – A Lesson in Delayed Gratification

Winter gardening even in East Anglia can be a chilly affair, but the wisteria’s annual winter prune is an essential task I usually tackle in February. But last Boxing Day it felt quite balmy in my back garden so before I knew it I was up the ladder and cutting away.

Wisteria in bud
Full of potential – fat buds of wisteria floribunda in late April.

Now – I have been a bit nervous through this recent long, cold spring that I had cut too soon, but as our Victorian forebears insisted patience is a virtue and this time it has been rewarded with this glorious display.

White wisteria floribunda
View from my kitchen window.

A photograph only gives an approximation of the experience of sitting under this Japanese wisteria as on a warm evening its rich, velvety, slightly spicy fragrance hangs all around complementing the visual delight. Since the end of April I have tracked the development of this early summer show-off.

But even as the racemes become fully developed they start to shed a snow of petal confetti.

A delicate beauty gently fading.
A delicate beauty gently fading. 9th June 2013

Think, Eat, Save

Wednesday, 5th June is World Environment Day and the theme this year is ‘Think, Eat, Save’ as we are encouraged to consider how to reduce food waste by the United Nations Environment Programme http://www.unep.org/wed/. On my micro plot in East Anglia my slender contribution is growing some fruit and veg, and recycling kitchen and garden waste by composting.

Composting Bin
Brown & Green Waste In
Bottom of compost bin
Six months later compost out (needs sieving now)

Through trial and error I’ve discovered the obvious that for me it is only really worth growing what you and your friends and family like to eat. I have found that growing fruit has been less demanding than vegetables, more successful and we all love eating it. Also fruit trees in particular have beautiful blossom I can photograph and use for designs.

Of course I still grow easy veg like beans, courgettes and tomatoes from seed as homegrown often tastes better especially when freshly picked and no food miles.

My vegetables from seed this year have been very tricky as the germination rate has been poor due to the coldest spring in the UK in over 50 years. Even though I start most of my seeds indoors on the kitchen window sill, it has been so cold I’ve had to resow both the french beans and lettuce. And, still no signs of any courgette seedlings. But, at least, the fan-trained pear blossomed really beautifully.

Fan Pear 'Doyenne du Comice'
In its full glory, trained as a fan, the pear ‘Doyenne du Comice’