Gardens are more than plants

Highly fragrant double white peony

Auntie Iris’ peony

There are certain plants in our garden which evoke memories of people of places and of points in life. What prompted this thought was the sight of ‘Auntie Iris’ peony’ which is laden with highly scented white blossoms at the minute. I have never been able to accurately name the plant but I have childhood memories of the peony in the wonderful formal garden Auntie Iris had on the shores of Strangford Lough near Killyleagh. When she moved from the garden she lifted the peony and I think it is at that point that my Dad had a cutting and  I took a cutting from his plant for our first little garden in Nottingham.

Since then whenever I move I  take part of my original peony and  have grown Auntie Iris’ peony at over 600ft in Lancashire and now it is happily established in Shropshire. I like to think that people who now live in our previous houses are enjoying the fragrance and beauty of the flowers and perhaps wonder about the origins of the plant,

Having come over to County Down for a holiday with my family it is good to know that the flowers that we picked from Mum and Dad’s garden and are scenting our holiday house in Strangford are only about 8 miles ‘as the crow flies’ from their original home in Auntie Iris’ garden.

Strawberries at last!

How many gardeners spend their time waging war on ‘pests’ ?- slugs, snails, birds, mice, squirrels, grazing children…

We have tried growing strawberries with little success for a number of years no matter what we do someone gets to the strawberries just as they ripen, We’ve tried nets  to protect the fruit from birds and squirrels only to feed our numerous shrew and mouse population.  We’ve tied them up to make it harder for the mice to climb up for a feast. Last year I tried hanging strawberry bags and got the watering wrong – failure.

This spring all the strawberry plants which had overwintered in a corner of the vegetable garden were dug up.  about half were put in large black plastic pots in a lovely rich leaf mould compost.  The other half were planted in the a new bed in the ‘big polytunnel’. Needless to say there is a bit of a his and hers competition in the strawberry department.  His were looking very healthy in the polytunnel obviously growing in a large bed.  but I persevered watering, feeding and generally loving ‘my’ strawberries in the glorious greenhouse.

Almost too good to eat!

Almost too good to eat!

 

So imagine my delight to be able to serve up ‘my’ mouse free ripe strawberries as part of his special birthday pudding this week.  His strawberries are ripening and feeding the lovely little shrew that seems to have set up residence in the tunnel!

And the verdict  – sweet, juicy and just delicious!

Thoughts of Gertrude Jekyll

As I pottered in the garden this evening checking on the progress of flowers, fruit and vegetables I stopped to watch a bumble bee explore the delicate flowers of one of my favourite plants – Solomon’s seal. Watching the bee seek its supper I looked up and realised that the garden and surrounding fields are clothed in fresh green and creamy white – May is really here.

I had often read about Gertrude Jekyll and the famous white garden at Sissinghurst but it wasn’t until I moved to Shropshire and watched spring arrive with snowdrops then the blackthorn, fruit tree blossom followed by swathes of dandelion clocks and ox-eye daisies which are iridescent in the early evening light that I understood the full beauty of the white garden.

So I took a few minutes to enjoy the dappled evening sunshine and  all the wonderful green and white around me – the Hawthorn in full bloom; the delicate lacy flowers of Guelder rose, Rowan, Sweet Cicely and Queen Anne’s lace; the pink tinged apple blossom of the late flowering King Edward and in the borders the Astrantia is just starting to open while the chrysanthemum hosmariense or Moroccan Daisy is in full bloom.

So here’s to Gertrude Jekyll and her wonderful sense of colour and design but more importantly here’s to spring with its hope, vigour and promise of new life.

Optimistic seed sowing and a busy Life

Yesterday I was optimistic about Spring actually being here but in fact I had suffered a rush of optimism about three weeks ago when I got that urge to get growing.

Compost was purchased (Fertile Fibre peat free) and the shiny metal box containing all my lovingly gathered and purchased seeds was opened with that rush of anticipation which heralds the start of a new growing season. Oh what to plant first and trying to be sensible and moderate the urge to fill scores of seed trays I rationed my early season planting to sweet pea, broccoli, rocket, greyhound cabbage and salad bowl lettuce. Remembering my brother’s mantra  ‘steady as you go’ I curbed my enthusiasm and stopped at that point (well for a day or two!)

next crop comingThe first two weeks were fine I had time to keep an eye on things ( and plant more seeds – stock, globe artichoke, butter-nut squash and basil to name a few) but then my early optimism came a cropper – working away from home, visiting parents, village events and in the flash of an eye seeds had germinated and stretched their leggy stalks up to the sky making them look quite unhealthy.  Oh why had I planted so early and why had I not taken a few minutes to check the seed trays?  How many times have we all said this to ourselves. Never fear one of my very useful birthday presents from my sister came into play a widger – a little stainless steel tool which replaces my rusty old teaspoon for gently lifting seedlings allowing you to transplant them without crushing their delicate stem or leaves.

The straggly cabbages were gently lifted out of the seed tray and  potted on into 9cm pots with the seedling planted deeply so that the compost covers the straggly stem and holds the leggy plant firmly in place.  After 10 days the plants are looking like sturdy little seedlings and my neglect is not evident.  All if safe for now but there are still many hurdles ahead – frost, slugs, pigeons, caterpillars and probably some more human neglect before we enjoy the first taste of the cabbage and bacon.

 

Is spring finally around the corner?

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wood anemoneThe weather has been so fickle recently –  one day sunny and warm the next the hail is bouncing off your face. But today as I went for a walk at lunch time I was filled with optimism as I saw a carpet of wood anemone in the wood so, despite the chilly wind, I was optimistic.

Imagine my delight when I got home in daylight and wandered down the vegetable patch and there in front of me was purple sprouting broccoli… suddenly the evening menu was looking brighter!

 

purple sprouting ready for the pot!

 

 

Within 20 minutes of spying the broccoli it was picked, popped in the steamer for about 5 minutes and then enjoyed by everyone.  The first harvest of the year – yes spring is finally on its way!