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.
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.
It took the guys all day to carefully chop the tree down, pretty much branch by branch.
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.
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.
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.
But, but, but am I looking forward to spring gardening in my sunny backyard, you bet I am!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Of course summertime is the season of plenty in the flower garden and there really, really must be some to cut for the house.
Disappointingly, there are not as many as I would have hoped, but it is a start.
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.
It can all be a little disheartening, but that’s the standard trials and tribulations of gardening.
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.
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.
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.
You 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!!
For 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 . . .
And, here is my last photo of the garden taken on 27 February 2017 before the pots were loaded onto the lorry.
So it is thank goodness for the odd bunch of seasonal flowers.
For me certain colour combinations are simply crying out to be tweaked and developed into some form of textile work . . .
Here, 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.
After 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!
My favourite Iris reticulata cultivar is ‘Katharine Hodgkin’. Strictly speaking I. reticulata are late-winter bloomers brightening up the February gloom, but my bulbs often don’t flower until well into March. This cultivar is a hybrid between I.winogradowii and I.histrioides and, provided with free draining soil and some sunshine, flowers well. The above bulbs are in a pot. They were mistakenly dug up last autumn from beneath a weeping pear. They were then unceremoniously and temporarily shoved into an empty pot and forgotten until I found them blooming earlier this month. It appears benign neglect hasn’t been detrimental.
We’ve had a week of on and off sunshine here in Norfolk and most of the cherry trees are just about coming into bloom. However, even in more sheltered gardens the double blossoms are still only fat, about-to-burst buds. Sadly, the forty-year-old cherry tree in my father’s garden has died after a combination of old age and over vigorous pruning, but the Magnolia soulangeana lives to bloom for another spring.
Magnolia soulangeana is a flowering tree. It is often planted as a feature tree as I think this one was. It was originally surrounded by lawn, but rebuilding of the house and the introduction of a terrace has resulted in it now growing up against the terrace wall. Its moment of glory is fleeting, but as it’s so early in the horticultural year it is most welcome after the grey, grey winter.
It has plenty of blooms which can now be easily appreciated from standing on the terrace and looking down into the tree – a new and unexpected perspective.
Over several winter weekends I emptied all my pots in preparation for moving house.
I did take a few photos of the winter garden just before it was partially deconstructed.
It was hard, awkward work emptying the big pots and the biggest two pots with fifteen-year-old clipped yews had to be left. I couldn’t even budge them and I couldn’t bear to cut the yews to pieces. It all ended up making me feel like . . . . .
Still, an overflowing tub of grape hyacinths is an uplifting sight,
It is October, but the dahlias just keep on blooming. Some flowers are a little windblown and tatty, and the big blooms of dahlia ‘Crazy Love’ have been nibbled by earwigs, but they are still worth cutting and bringing indoors to cheer up a gloomy week.This is the second week of October and that’s three small fresh flower arrangements with no heated greenhouse or air miles involved. Flowers grown with the addition of homemade garden compost and watered with recycled bath water. I am rather pleased about that although it has been a battle with the slugs this year.
And, as I cleared away last week’s dying flowers I thought they still had a charm and grace in their faded condition worth photographing and perhaps using as the starting point for a scarf or two.
Finally, even the zingy lemony yellow dahlia (a potluck purchase as an unidentified tuber) has earned its keep as I have realised it’s acceptable in a blue and white vase on the kitchen window sill.
August in the garden, even when not hot and sunny, has a very different palette to the pastels seen at the beginning of summer.
I used to have a bed filled with bright pink echinaceas and hot orange rudbeckias, but these prairie lovers have been squeezed out as my garden has matured.
I miss my prairie, high summer bed which is now in the shade of a Bramley apple tree. It really is a bit too gloomy, but I have strategically placed large pots of dahlias to give it a lift.
Another part of my garden that has changed significantly is under the pergola. This area is now in fairly deep shade cast by the wisteria and a vigorous grape vine. However, towards the south-facing edge a blue hydrangea and some lily pots have just enough light to bloom, but they most definitely require regular watering.
I do love the scent of lilies, but in the end, on a dull August day, the vibrant, visual zing of a bunch of dahlias jolts me into remembering it is high summer after all.