Garden blogging

I Have an Allotment!

When faced with an overgrown allotment and not know what to do first, as the song goes: “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.”

I finally moved to Emsworth at the end of the day on Friday 20th April after my Buyer’s solicitors took things right up to the wire on completion day.

I met the lady I am caretaking the allotment for on Sunday and started work in earnest on Tuesday. The plot is the one in the left hand corner of the photo with the apple blossom tree. You can see how overgrown it is. It certainly stands out from the others – but not for long.

I know she said her previous helper hadn’t worked on it for while but I wasn’t expecting it to be so overgrown! However, we all know how quickly weeds and grass take hold so it may not have been left that long.

There are five raised beds, and the rest of it is broken up with chipped bark paths, so I decided to break up the work and deal with one segment at a time. My first day was dedicated to clearing one bed, with excellent soil, so that I can start to plant a few veggies. I was very firm with myself and set two hours and tried very hard not to get side tracked doing other things on the plot. It’s amazing what catches your eye when doing one job and before you know it you’ve wandered off to another part to start clearing that patch. You have then done a little bit of this and a little bit of that, walking away at the end of the day looking back and seeing nothing tangible.

There are a lot of hidden gems, with strawberries running everywhere, an apple tree, which I am told has cooking apples, and lots of lovely currant bushes of various types. I will have to start jam making!

What made me chuckle was the ‘shed’. Another allotment holder told me that they all clubbed together with bits and pieces to make this shed, which now sadly has almost collapsed. I did chuckle at the blue ‘Fire door keep shut’ sign.

Now I’m retired, I need some structure in my life so a couple of hours a day will give me something to focus on. Also whilst the plot needs to be returned into working order that may well be enough hard work for the time being. I am on the waiting list for a permanent plot of my own so must be sure not to put in so much effort only to find in a year or two the owner decides to relinquish the plot all together. I suppose that is the risk of caretaking. Meanwhile it is exciting to have an allotment to work on and I’ve always enjoyed a challenge. I have decided to keep one half of the allotment tidy and concentrate on the other half growing vegetables and flowers in the raised beds.

Today (Day 2) I went back, after the torrential rain this morning, with a strimmer and cleared the front of the plot. Someone said to me to follow the National Trust idea of always making sure the first 18″ of a border tidy and weed free as that is what most people will see initially. Good thinking. There appears to be a trough around the plot giving it a sunken effect, and unfortunately it also acts like a moat, so this afternoon it was rather wet around the edges.

My job tomorrow (Thursday) is to tidy up this blackcurrant which has grown wild. Friday I will be back in my daughter’s garden to move some rose bushes to make a new border.

Who needs to pay for exercise classes with an allotment and a garden to work in!!

Garden blogging, Garden Visits

West Dean Gardens Victorian Glasshouses

It is a pretty good bet that anyone visiting West Dean Gardens, near Chichester, will make for the Victorian Glasshouses no matter whether this is their first or one of many visits. On our recent visit we headed to the newly restored nectarine house.

The beautiful Glasshouses in West Dean were built in 1890 and 1900 and after sadly being allowed to fall into disrepair were restored in 1990. There are 26 glasshouses and the one above is number 25 – the nectarine house.

The most exciting thing I found on this early Spring visit was that all the nuts and bolts of the workings of a glasshouses were visible. The repairs to glasshouse 25 were completed mid 2017 and closed over the winter months, so we must have been amongst the first visitors now it is open. The gleaming white paintwork and the contrast of the delicate pink nectarine blossom against the stark white walls was awesome.

A glasshouse in West Dean costs on average £31,000 to £34,000 to repair taking two gardeners, two months to complete. The nectarine glasshouse used £900 of specialist durable paint and 264 panels of glass, all hand fitted. To help fund the restoration project West Dean launched a Save our Glasshouses Appeal in 2014. The glasshouses are repaired on a 4 year cycle and the next on the list are the tomato and peach houses.

You will see from the above notice that West Dean gardeners move things about to facilitate repairs. Instead of melons, we found a splendid display of pelargoniums, ferns and fuchsias. Again you could clearly see the amazing piece of machinery that open and close the windows.

In another glasshouse, we found a magnificent showcase of vegetables and herbs.

I have just upgraded my iPhone and am so impressed with the image quality. The photo below is one I took of purple pak choi. I apologise to my Nikon DSLR who will no longer come out with me on very many visits.

Just as we were leaving, I couldn’t resist taking one more photo of the mechanics of a glasshouse. The glasshouses were built by Foster & Pearson a Sussex firm established in 1841 and still in business.

Other glasshouses were filling up with with trays of seedling getting ready to be planted out in the next few months for summer delights in the borders. These particular houses are heated and sunk slightly into the ground, entered by steps down.

Just to give you a taster of what else there is to see at West Dean, below is the Kitchen Garden, complete with boot scrappers on the eastern of each bed – something else you don’t notice when everything is in full summer regalia.

There is also an excellent restaurant where we had delicious homemade soup served in small cast iron bowls with lids. The restaurant is always a great place for lunch before walking around the estate, and tea and cake afterwards.

Acknowledgement to the West Dean Gardens website, where I found lots of background information about the resplendent glasshouses, please take a look and you can find out more about them and a link to the glasshouse appeal. If you have never been I really do recommend a visit West Dean if you are near, it is a delightful place with lots to see, as well as the glasshouses.

Garden blogging

Tulips from Worthing

Unfortunately my plans to tick a visit to the Amsterdam Tulip fields off my list went awry this year.  I have consoled myself with my tulips from Worthing.   I am more than delighted with the display and the thought I had gone overboard buying bulbs last year has proved me wrong.  You can never buy too many tulip bulbs! 


As well as using containers, I planted bulbs in the open border and these are Sweetheart, Purissima and Yellow King with a few pink Botanical mixed.   They have combined well with the white narcissi Botanical Thalia.


On the side patio most of the containers have tulips left over from last year – the pink are Angelique which are not as good this year.  The new bulbs are lovely red Tulip Kaufmanniana and you can see there is also a white one.   The yellow/white Tulip is Sweetheart and I think is a perfect partner with narcissi. 


 There is one solitary Grand Perfection left over from last year.  I like this one so will make a not to buy more for 2018.   I grew them in 2016 with Ronaldo and the combination was quite striking. 


This interesting tulip is a double fringed variety called Bastia – it isn’t quite open so as I write this on a Sunday morning I can’t show it to its full glory, but if you check out the link you will see what it will look like.  I suspect it’s a tulip equivalent of Marmite, you will love it or hate it. 


I found this year that the tulips took a while to open but once open, the petals fell quite quickly. Perhaps it’s because it’s been really quite warm this last week.   I hope you’ve liked what you see and would be interested in seeing your favourite tulips to give me some ideas for 2018.  

Book Review, Garden

Book Review: Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds’

The idea of a secret garden is fascinating, and to be given the privilege of actually viewing a secret garden is all the more exciting.  “Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds – a Personal Tour of 20 Private Gardens” opens the gate for us to sneak a look at gardens. Thank you Francis Lincoln Publishers for sending me this book to review which I have thoroughly enjoyed browsing and making a note of those I would like to visit.

secret-gardens-of-the-cotswolds

The author, Victoria Summerley, is a gardening journalist, and blogger, who moved to the Cotswolds in 2012 and lives in what William Morris called “the most beautiful village in England”.  Accompanied with photographs by Hugo Rittson-Thomas, who also is lucky enough to live in the Cotswolds, this coffee table book takes us on a visit of 20 privately owned homes with beautiful and interesting gardens, many of which are influenced by Rosemary Verey, Isabel and Julian Bannerman, Repton and Capability Brown.

We are given a history of the gardens and the designs and inspirations which has developed them through the years. Being particularly nosey, whilst in awe of the gardens rather than the fantastic houses they come with,  it is always of interest to see who owns them and each chapter also has a photo of one or both of the owners as well as, in some cases, the head gardeners.  For me it added an extra personal touch rather than just a book of photographs of gardens.

Disappointingly, only 14 of the 20 are open to the public, the other 6 remain a secret unless you have been lucky enough to see them in this book.   Those 14 are, however, only open at certain times of the year and mostly for the National Garden Scheme.  At the back of the book is a sketch map together with details of opening times, so you can plan your visit to the Cotswolds around those gardens you particularly want to see.

‘Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds’ is published on 5 February 2015 and would make a wonderful gift for anyone who not only has a love of, or desire to visit, the Cotswolds, coupled with a love of beautiful gardens.

To order ‘Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds’ at the discounted price of £16 including p&p* (RRP: £20) telephone 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code APG281

*UK ONLY – please add £2.50 if ordering from abroad.

Francis Lincoln Publishers have a number of other lovely garden books just waiting to be published, including ‘Gardens of the Amalfi Coast‘ in February and ‘First Ladies of Gardening‘ in March.

Garden Bloggers Foliage Day

Garden Foliage Day : 22 April 2012

Here we are almost at the end of April, and time again to take a look at the foliage in the garden.  This last week of torrential showers, has brought absolutely everything on by leaps and bounds.   It is amazing what a good drenching can do for plants and trees alike.    The one drawback to all this rain is that the grass is growing too and my lawn sounds like a sponge when I stand on it, so mowing it out of the question at the moment.

The Aquilegia are really making their presence known all around the garden, with it’s different coloured leaves according to the variety.  There are a couple of almost lime green plants that really stand out but most are the usual green.

I know I have mentioned this before, but I do appear to have a lot of plants in the garden that start with the letter “A”,  this is not intentional at all, it is only when I started to write about them this dawned on me!   To add to the “A” list the Astilbe have spread themselves in the damp north-facing bed down the right handside of the garden.  They are excellent value, because they love this spot and the dried flowers remain upright in the Winter, giving some archtecural height.   Judging by the amount of leaves that have come through this year there is going to be an excellent show of pink feathery flowers.

The hardy geraniums are filling out and at the moment are still neat mounds.   A lady I work with said she uses old wire hanging baskets, placed upside down on her geraniums and it helps keep them neat and tidy.  At just under £1.50 for small wire baskets from Wilkinsons, this definitely an idea I will try this year.

I need to keep an eye on the Geraniums (Cranesbill) in the bottom bed because they are going to choke the Astrantia if I am not careful.   Just behind the Astrantia, the Agapanthus are looking in good form, having made it through another Winter and at the back of the border is a Ballerina Rose – this is a very pretty rose with hydrangea type flowerheads.   I love the variety of green tones in the bed at the moment.

I have a feeling that this year is going to be a really good one for the Peony in the side bed, it now is so thick with leaves I am having to add extra support.   I am sure it is so very advanced because I covered it through the Winter with a cloche, the peony in the bottom bed is only just now sending up long shoots.  I love the pinkish hue to the leaves and the almost burgundy edging they have.

The Fennel is now about a foot high and will eventually reach about 6 foot, I love how the new leaves look fluffy and soft, like miniature pine trees.

I thought I had lost a number of my lavender bushes but this little one was having none of it, and to prove me wrong is producing lots and lots of new leaves, so I will only have a couple to replace this year.

The Hostas are particularly slow in making an appearance this year but hopefully in May there will be a good show for the next Garden Bloggers Foliage Day.

Thank you Christina from Creating My Own Garden of the Hesperides who hosts this monthly meme.   Please hop over to her blog and take a look at lots of foliage posts.  It is always so interesting to see what is happening in gardens all around the World.

Related articles

Garden, Garden blogging

Farewell Sweet Pea

At the beginning of this year I decided I would grow my own Sweet Peas from seed.   In past years I have always been given starter plants by friends.  Determined to do it correctly,  I collected my toilet rolls and dug out a few root trainers from the back of the shed and after a little deliberation I choose Cupani.  I loved the colour of the flower on the seed packet, which also advised that they were a heavily fragranced.

Sweet Pea seedlings Feb 2011

Cupani are an original sweet pea,  growing into bushy plants and supposed to rarely grow above 4 ft. and ideal for a modern garden.   Actually this bit of information I gleened from the internet was not quite true, mine grew to above 6ft.   The flowers were quite small with only two per stem,  but the colour was intense and with a wonderful scent, however, for some reason mine didn’t have that ‘knock you back’ when you walk in a room perfume.

The colour was glorious, with the various shades of purple through to maroon.  I did find them almost overpowering, to me there was just too much purple, I missed the lovely pale pinks and blues that you get with a variety such as a Spencer Mix.   I cut them regularly, sadly they didn’t last more than a couple of days, but as they were growing prolifically I had more than enough to regularly replenish vases.   In a recent Gardeners World program, Monty Don suggested that if you cut off all the flowers they will continue to shoot lots more in an effort to produce seed pods.  He also said that way you could be lucky enough to continue to have Sweet Peas until September.   I was not that lucky.  The resulting stems were very short, almost too short for the smallest vase, I put mine in a sherry glass.

Cupani is a very tough resilient plant with good strong stems and it has only been in the last few weeks they started to go brown at the base and were sticky with greenfly.  The flowers were very small and not worth cutting any more.

Last weekend, I pulled them all up because they really were looking raggy and unkempt, happier to produce seed pods and not flowers.   I will grow them again next year and saw recently a wonderful idea of growing them under a Lilac bush.  The article said they should start to flower just after the lilac has finished and you just let them scramble through the tree.  It’s worth a try anyway.  I will also grow Spencer Mixed or a similar variety for the lovely pastel colours.   Meanwhile, one last photo of a beautiful Sweet Pea.