Hot Days in a Suffolk Backyard

Well, the British are known for their conversations about the weather so naturally this past week of record-breaking temperatures requires a comment – it was hot.

Not pleasantly, summer hols hot, but horrible hot. Here in Suffolk there was even a wildfire as grassland together with a field of wheat went up in flames not two miles from where I used to live in Tunstall.

According to the Fire & Rescue Service a wildfire is “Any uncontrolled vegetation fire which requires a decision, or action, regarding suppression” and this particular Suffolk wildfire required active suppression. The fire-fighting was captured for the East Anglian Daily Times by my next-door neighbour. She is a staff photographer on the local newspaper and just happened to be driving along the A12 (the main road up the eastern side of the county) when she spotted dark smoke filling the skyline. Diverting across country to Campsea Ashe she arrived at the scene as the first fire crew began tackling the blaze. You can see her amazing and frightening photographs here.

The seasonal bedding plants like direct sun, but potted up even they need watering twice a day in the recent high temperatures.

With 40 degrees Celsius being recorded for the first time in the UK more and more people are finally realising what we are facing with the Climate Crisis. If nothing else, this week’s heatwave has shown the UK’s housing stock to be poorly insulated. Good insulation not only means keeping homes warm in the winter, but it helps to keep indoor temperatures liveable in the high heat of summer. Unlike homes in tropical or even Mediterranean countries our housing is not built with the heat in mind and a solution of widely installing air conditioning is neither affordable nor environmentally sound. It’s time for some political leadership to get a national insulation scheme up and running – whoops, I forgot, we don’t have a leader. And, with the tragedy of short-termism in our political system, I can’t see either of the current candidates for Prime Minister making housing insulation a priority. In fact, despairingly, I can’t see either of them moving the green agenda forwards.

But what of my ‘concrete scarred’ backyard in the heat. The summer bedding is doing okay.

Pelargoniums enjoying the full sun.

Of course, with most of my plants in pots due to the concrete issue, there’s lots of regular watering to do.

The concrete issue – and there are layers too!

However, even with watering and positioned in partial shade, some flowers have gone over very quickly so I cut them for the house.

Lilies, rose ‘Breath of Life’ and a few sweet peas.
Orange canna and peach rose for colour inspiration.

This year is the first year that the climbing rose ‘Breath of Life’, on a south-facing fence, has flowered. However, before the blooms were scorched to crispy, dried flowers I cut them and took them indoors. I love both their scent and their colour.

Finally, there are some plants that have been lapping up the hot sun in the displays at the local park such as these tropical cannas. I have singled out a gorgeous orange canna and together with the peachy orange rose found some ‘hot’ inspiration for my work.

A ‘Vase Trial’ by Default

Instagram can be very annoying at times often suggesting and putting random pictures on your feed ‘because you liked’ some other post, story or reel in the past. It does this under the label ‘we think you’ll like this’ as it displays arbitrary pictures and videos. And, surprise, surprise more often than not I am not remotely interested in anything the algorithm suggests.

However, once in a blue moon the Instagram algorithm scores a goal. It did just this when it suggested I might like the account of florist, Graeme Corbett, at Bloom and Burn. Now, having seen lots of his lovely, contemporary flower displays I was inspired to have a go at his loose style using an old fashioned, painted vase with my own homegrown flowers.

Arrangement of roses ‘Souvenir du Docteur Jamain’, ‘L’Aimant’ and ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ in a leaky vase.

Not quite in the free-flowing form of Graeme’s work, but I was reasonably pleased with my first effort. Then, I noticed a dark patch spreading across the black cloth and realised this old vase leaked. It was originally a charity shop purchase of my mother’s some 20 years ago and when I thought about it I couldn’t remember ever seeing it used for fresh flowers. Now I know why and so began the trial of the vases.

To immediately deal with the leak situation I grabbed the first vessel to hand which was a jug. It turned out that the free-flowing look and my trusty old Spode jug did not a fine match make. Something to do with the size of the bunch and the size of the individual blooms.

Turned out the Spode was too small.

And, then, when I switched to a green, glass vase (a gift from my sister) the height of the vase required cutting something taller from the backyard. I found a white foxglove and gave it a try, but the whole arrangement still didn’t work.

Green vase was a no-go even with props!

Finally, I nipped upstairs to my bedroom where my grandmother’s lustre jug normally sits on a chest of drawers, emptied it of random bits and pieces and brought it down to the kitchen. Not to be caught out again I first filled it with water and checked it for leaks. After relegating the foxglove to the compost bin, I grouped the remaining flowers into a satisfactory arrangement.

Honestly, what a fuss to achieve an informal, free-flowing, ‘it just happened’ floral display.

Roses on Quay Street, Orford

On Saturday I went to Orford on the Suffolk coast to hear an organ and voice recital as part of the Aldeburgh Festival. The performance was held in the village’s medieval church of St Bartholomew. Parking was down near the quay, but there was an agreeable walk up Quay Street to the church.

Of course, June is the month for roses and this delightful, east-facing climbing combination was at peak bloom.

As was this clever elegant use of a white climbing rose or two, at ‘Avocets’, further up Quay Street. This planting also faces east with the blooms in the sunlight and the roots planted about five feet down in the dip of the front garden. It isn’t obvious from the road there is such a difference in levels, but if you look at Quay Street on Google Street View you can see the single storey house along with the front garden from 2011 before the hedge screened the property from nosy passers-by like me.

White roses at ‘Avocets’, Quay Street, Orford.

Turning our attention to the other side of the road a pair of painted cottages are set back from the highway with an open aspect facing west. One cottage has a well-trained rose set off against the painted brickwork. However, the first floral flush had waned and there were only a couple of rich, red blooms still in flower.

As we continue the walk up from the river Quay Street becomes Church Street and just before we enter the churchyard more climbing roses are flowering well despite fairly tough growing conditions. They are planted very close to the walls of the building, in tiny beds and are in partial shade from the large trees opposite. I expect they need plenty of watering and feeding. In truth these conditions are more suitable for hollyhocks and as you can see in the photographs the hollyhocks are doing well, and look vigorous and healthy.

Red and yellow climbing roses and hollyhocks on Church Street, Orford.

As with so much in life, gardening is all about choices. Choosing the right plant for the right place often makes life easier, however, sometimes the extra effort required to maintain, in less than ideal conditions, a striking planting is worth it. I think the folk at ‘Avocets’ struck a workable balance with the aesthetically pleasing combination of time-demanding roses together with low-maintenance variegated euonymus and rosemary to edge the driveway.

So that was May 2022

I don’t know about you, but I seemed to have been waiting and waiting for the appearance of flowers this year. Maybe it’s because there’s been so much bad news around that the need for garden beauty has been more pressing. Finally, fat, colourful buds appeared.

Tight buds of aquilegias and closed tulips.

As my own backyard isn’t particularly sunny I resorted to walking over to the local park. However, the most stunning display wasn’t in the park, but this delightful wisteria and front garden planting at 16, Fonnereau Road, Ipswich. The bold, mid-nineteenth century architecture of this Grade II listed building is complimented and softened by the delicate palette of the flowers and foliage.

Wisteria sinensis at 16, Fonnereau Road.

In my own back garden the clematis montana ‘Rubens’ has grown to the top of the fence at last and by early May the first flowers bloomed.

Clematis montana ‘Rubens’

However, again the most stunning wall/fence treatment was not at my place nor even in the park, but this gorgeous ceanothus arboreus ‘Trewithin Blue’ topping the fence on a back garden running along High Street, Ipswich.

Ceanothus arboreus ‘Trewithen Blue’

Now, really I should not complain as by mid May I had plenty of flowering going on in the yard, but it was nearly all white. Self-seeded white honesty was in every bed. I had noticed it had seeded prolifically, but couldn’t bring my self to remove any.

White honesty. Lunaria. annua var. albiflora

There was a charming, fairytale quality with all the shimmering white for about a week, before the flowers began to fade. Fortunately, by then tulips in pots were coming into full bloom and

Selection of pot-grown tulips.
Tulip ‘Amazing Parrot’

then my favourites for this time of year, the aquilegias, now too mostly self-seeded, opened into all their intriguing colour combinations.

Self-seeded aquilegias

Towards the end of the month a small clump of alliums showed off their globes of tiny star-like flowers despite my earlier stupidity of leaving a heavy pot on top of their foliage.

Allium hollandicum

And, that’s it we’ve reached June and May 2022 is now history. But before I go, I think I’d like to award first prize for the most over-the-top May display to clematis ‘Nelly Moser’. Not the most subtle of the Group 2 clematis, but it’s hanging on in there despite slugs, snails, unreliable watering and all the various fungi that thrive in the still, damp air of a less than sunny backyard.

Early Christmas Present Brings Mixed Feelings

Long term readers of my blog will know I am a keen gardener, but also a big moaner about the trials and tribulations of gardening in a backyard shaded by a large, mature eucalyptus tree.

Left – the big old eucalyptus this summer. Right – the day of the big chop.

Well, on Monday of this week Christmas came early for gardening me as the supremely professional ‘Acorn Trees’ arrived in the backyards of my neighbours and began the process of chopping down the eucalyptus.

As a kid I loved tree-climbing, but these days, no thanks.

It took the guys all day to carefully chop the tree down, pretty much branch by branch.

One half cleared, now to begin on the other side.

As the tree began to disappear the daylight to the rooms at the back of my house increased and, of course, my backyard that hasn’t seen full winter sun in decades, fairly glistened.

The skilful tree surgeon securing the next branch to be removed.

It wasn’t all good news though as I know that such a large tree was perch and roost to many birds and environmental me doesn’t like to see the loss of a single tree.

However, there’s no doubt it was very much the wrong tree in the wrong place. It was far, far too close to four or five nearby homes and with the increasing number of bad storms perhaps it was considered too risky to leave standing.

Left -from the guest bedroom the last moments of a leafy view. Right – view from my office the floor above just the trunk to go.

Finally, it has been a case of careful what you wish for. The view from my office window used to be all green and leafy, but now it is the ugly backs of some dreary interwar housing.

That’s it the tree has gone and the top half of my office window is now all sky.

But, but, but am I looking forward to spring gardening in my sunny backyard, you bet I am!

Early Autumn and the Last Flowers of Summer

Back in early spring I sowed twenty sunflower seeds in a tray indoors and about six weeks later I considered planting them out.

April was unusually cold with quite a few frosts that would certainly have killed off the seedlings – so no planting out in April. I waited for the arrival of May. It began cold and then turned extremely wet, but eventually the temperatures warmed up. I thought now is the moment to plant our my sunflower seedlings.

The clematis has done well this year enjoying damp roots, but with enough summer sun to flower.

It looked at first as though I had timed it perfectly as May became June and the temperatures began to rise towards a little summer heat. And then it poured. It rained and rained and in my part of the world the rainfall was almost double the average for the time of year. And, as I blogged in ‘climate, rain, snails‘ earlier this year my backyard offered the ideal conditions for a population explosion of slugs and snails.

The upshot of all the rain was only one of the original twenty sunflower seedlings made it to flowering maturity. Not only did just a single plant survive, but it has flowered so late it has provided the feature blooms for the ‘last flowers of summer 2021’ arrangement.

I thought the one stem with its five blooms would look balanced and in proportion placed in my grandmother’s old, blue and white vase. Of course, I had forgotten that I’d never seen fresh flowers in this vase and soon discovered why. Somewhere it has a fine, hairline crack. First I grabbed a plate to collect the slowly pooling water, but no.

I think you’ll agree the plate doesn’t look right, too bright and white. So thinking a bowl would also be more practical for the slow leak, I tried a gold bowl and plate set up. That all just looked weird.

Knowing when you are beaten is a strength – apparently. Though only mildly irritated I pulled apart the arrangement, chopped stems, ditched the leaking vase and stuffed the flowers into a trusted leak-free milk jug. Finally, the last bouquet of this year’s homegrown flowers for my kitchen table. A touch dumpy, but very colourful and cheery.

Summer Flowers

Well, who’d have thought we’d go from cool and rainy to very hot and sunny from one week to the next. Of course, the answer is anybody used to English weather.

Rose L’Aimant in the rain.
Planted last autumn in a pot. Initially L’Aimant only produced three blooms, but more buds are forming following a mid-season feed.
Climbing rose ‘Breath of Life’. Planted last autumn against a south-facing fence.
Clematis ‘Margaret Hunt’ in a pot and doing well. Grown over three years from a small, £3 supermarket offering.

The roses, clematis and lilies have most definitely appreciated the moist soil followed by plenty of sunshine.

And, finally the pots planted up with summer bedding have eventually taken off and got into their stride.

This year’s summer bedding in containers.

Whilst writing this post I took a moment to review the progress over the last three years of getting my concrete backyard to look like a garden.

It has taken a fair amount of effort and time, but, at last, when I look out at the backyard I do feel as though I am looking at a garden. Unfortunately, the excess of rain at the wrong time facilitated a population explosion of slugs and snails. This has done entirely for the runner beans with every single one eaten to the ground and has also pretty much annihilated the sweet peas resulting in only one in five surviving to flower. However, there are plenty of plants that have not been eaten (yet) and the recent sunshine has boosted flower production enough for me to cut and have a scented arrangement for indoors.

Concrete yard or garden?

It’s one of those everyday, standard gardening problems – how to deal with the backyard of the classic Victorian terraced house. Famously, these yards are long (or longish), narrow, rectangular spaces, frequently shaded by taller urban buildings or inappropriately planted, large overgrown trees.

Daylilies, cosmos and ammi visnaga in pots.

My problematic space has been made worse as over three-quarters of the ground has been covered with concrete in one form or another by previous owners. Luckily, when I moved into this house as I was able to bring with me all of my pots from my previous gardens, but sadly none of the old plants that they had contained.

Bronze leaf dahlia and courgettes in pots.

This is now my third summer here and my second where I have been able to get to grips with the ‘garden’ and plant up the pots. They are all now in use and I even have a couple of courgette plants cropping in containers.

I have tried to take a full garden photo in the garden, but without success. However, I have managed to show nearly all the yard from an upstairs window. I would just say that if I had unlimited funds this would not be my solution to the long, narrow backyard problem. To begin with there would definitely be no concrete, however there would be water, a brick path, tall trellises across the narrow space and flowerbeds where plants could be planted directly into the soil.

View from the first floor back bedroom window. Hydrangea and a couple of clematis in pots.

You have probably noticed on the right of the above picture a corner of a slate roof that looks very much the worse for wear. It is the roof of the partially derelict outhouse. The surveyor who produced an extensive (Dickens’ length) report on this house before I bought it, assured me, much to his surprise, that the brickwork was sound. Although he did add that the roof slates were perished and the woodwork was decayed and rotting. I call it the Urban Folly!

The Urban Folly.

Flowering favourites, July 2019

Well, it is the end of July so there should be some flowers in the garden. My hollyhocks, sown from seed earlier this year, won’t bloom until next summer, but I spotted this beautiful single pink variety in our local park.

Single hollyhock in Christchurch Park, Ipswich.

Of course summertime is the season of plenty in the flower garden and there really, really must be some to cut for the house.

A spray of the rambling rose ‘Ethel’ (planted as a bare-root rose this spring), a mophead from the old hydrangea and a couple of old-fashioned sweet peas.

Disappointingly, there are not as many as I would have hoped, but it is a start.

The second and last spray of the rambling rose and a mophead from my newly planted hyrdrangea ‘Schneeball’ and a few old-fashioned sweet peas.

And, naturally, just as my late-sown sweet peas are getting into their stride, Mother Nature gifts us a mini heatwave. And, sweet peas do not like the heat.

First of the dark red dahlias to bloom – dahlia ‘Black Jack’

It can all be a little disheartening, but that’s the standard trials and tribulations of gardening.

I don’t have a photo of the old hydrangea in the front before the rain, but I saw my next door neighbour has posted a couple of pictures on Instagram.

As if all this heat wasn’t enough, last Friday we had torrential rain through the night and I woke up to find the big old hydrangea at the front of my house had split in two.

The sheer number of huge, sodden blooms had weighed down the shrub until one of the two main stems split. I have had to remove nearly half of the plant. I stuck a handful of blooms in a vase and have strung up some stems to dry, but sadly most of it has been chopped up and added to the compost bin.

And, a few more sweet peas, dahlias and clematis and the salvaged hydrangea blooms in the background.

Nevertheless there is good news, the remains of the hydrangea is still adding some oomph to the pot arrangements at the front of the house.

High summer, really?

Pink-hollyhocks

Well, before all the rain and unseasonal drops in temperature, it was that time of year where many gardens across the towns and villages of East Suffolk had plenty of flowering plants in their grounds and many front gardens were adorned by the splendid hollyhock.

Summer-hollyhocksYou couldn’t miss cottage gardens decorated with these colourful beauties, often self-seeded, thriving in the local free-draining soil.  This very blousy, double pink hollyhock was attracting plenty of busy bees in the sun between the recent showers. And, then the torrential downpours arrived bringing hard times for both bees and butterflies. Apparently, the jet stream is in the wrong place again!!

Bee-double-hollyhock

So, this is today’s weather .  .  .  .  .

Today-more-rain

I may be temporarily gardenless but . . .

Bouquet-kitchenFor the first time in 22 years I am not spending spring weekends both coaxing and at the same time taming a garden from its winter state. It is a strange sensation to be without even a windowsill of outdoor plant space. Dare I say it, for the moment it makes me feel rootless!

Here is my old garden last year on the 26th April 2016 . . .

26-April-2016And, here is my last photo of the garden taken on 27 February 2017 before the pots were loaded onto the lorry.

Back-garden-27-Feb-2017B&W

So it is thank goodness for the odd bunch of seasonal flowers.

seasonal-flowersFor me certain colour combinations are simply crying out to be tweaked and developed into some form of textile work .  .  .

sp2watercoourHere, above and below, are a couple of ways I have manipulated the images to emphasise the colours and the shapes in preparation for possibly a silk scarf or a hand hooked cushion cover.

sp2-sketchAfter working on these photos saving some and deleting others, I pondered my gardenless state. Reminiscing I scrolled back through hundreds of old photos featuring the gone garden when I came upon this strange picture. If you were wondering just how odd some people can get here’s proof. No, it wasn’t April Fool’s Day either when I concocted this visual yarn!

A-moment-of-whimsey