Book Review: Rhapsody in Green
Back in December, I listed a few books on my Christmas list that I hoped to get my sticky-from-all-the-mince-pies hands on and this was one of them. I’d not heard about Charlotte before but this title kept cropping up on my Twitter feed and book review sections of magazines so I thought I’d better give it a read.
What it’s about
Charlotte is a London-based novelist who is trapped between her insatiable addiction to gardening and the realities of a small back garden. Very few of us have the perfect garden and Charlotte captures the longing for more space, better harvests, less slug damage, and infatuation with catalogue descriptions. It’s a very real, very personal, diary.
The book is ordered into chapters covering early, mid and late periods of the four seasons. That’s where the structure ends, unfortunately. The sub-chapters are more random in their construction with topics seemingly placed without order. On its own, this isn’t a problem; it’s a good book for reading intermittently, and the variety would keep it interesting. My main issue is the topic creep. What starts off talking about compost might end, instead, discussing bees. This, as a spreadsheet and listmaker, I found irritating and a thorough editing would have improved it.
That being said, Charlotte is clearly a very gifted writer. Her sentences are rich with description and the tone throughout the book is engaging. Her observations are spot on and there’s humour throughout the book.
I like the list of other books that have inspired and informed her gardening; titled The Blacklist, ‘they will lead you astray; approach with caution’.
I nice read for someone who has a less-than-perfect garden and is looking for reassurance that it isn’t always like it says in the books. Engaging text but would have benefited from tighter editing to keep things on topic.
Garden Update 24th June 2017: Sun, Sun and more Sun
Devon has had a scorcher of a week. We’ve been near 30 degrees for 3-4 days which has felt very much like being back in Australia. While this is lovely, it does pose some danger to young plants recently planted at the allotment.
Last week’s update was replaced by a post on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. It was nice to join in the larger meme for the week and I felt the topic is similar to these updates so didn’t want to bore you with repeating myself.
The lack of rain and extremely hot sunny days has taken its toll on some of the sweetcorn plants. The beans and peas have coped really well and the roots are still just sitting there as small seedlings. I’m hoping they’re biding their time before taking off when the rain comes.
I harvested some blackcurrants – although they’re not very sweet so I may have been too quick to pull them off the plant.
I’ve turned some unfinished bed space into a ‘No-dig’ experiment (I’ll do a post on the construction another time). I thought I’d use the space to see how a couple of squash plants do under the landscape fabric. Since watering is an issue I’ve installed submerged bottles next to the squashes (and the fruit bushes) to reduce evaporation and deliver water straight to the root zone.
My basil plants have provided a great meal to the resident slug population (well they needed something to wash down the kale, romanesco and PSB devoured last week). My mum kindly donated a replacement to be kept up high on a shelf. I was inspired by the Still Growing Podcast during the recent Basilmania episode where she recommended taking cuttings of basil. I am hopeless at getting basil to germinate so I’m hoping this technique will be more successful.
My replacement Kale, Romanesco and Purple Sprouting Brocolli germinated in record quick time of just 2 days!
After my initial disappointment in the size of the germinated New Zealand Spinach seeds, I have completed changed my mind. It turns out that they’re cluster seeds (a little like beetroot but not knobbly) so each seed produces a small handful of seedlings. They’re now potted on into modules to get a little more established before braving the allotment.
The rejuvenation of the far garden continues. I’ve purchased a Eucalyptus gunnii to bring a feel of Australia to Devon. The bindweed keeps making little bids to re-establish so I’m being vigilant in pulling it out.
I’ve planted out some Stocks for some colour later in summer and there’s a perennial Gerbera to brighten things up.
Time for a new section to these weekly updates. This weekI became the proud owner of a new houseplant to add to the growing collection happening in our back room, grandly titled the Garden Room, which looks out over the garden.
Having never grown an African Violet before I asked the internet and had some great advice from instagram on how to look after this one.
My poor Peace Lily also became famous this week after being featured on Jane Perrone’s excellent houseplant podcast : On The Ledge. It’s become very yellowed after being split a couple of months ago and doesn’t look grateful and happy at all. Hearing the options I decided it’s like transplant shock so I’m hoping time and TLC will do the job.
Book Review: Real Gardens
Adam Frost is cropping up all over the place at the moment, fronting a hugely popular segment in Gardeners’ World – the Twitter reaction has been encouraging – and taking us around the Chelsea Flower Show 2017. It’s taken me a while to warm to him and I don’t know why. However, I’m now firmly in the fan club and listened to him speak at my local Toby’s GardenFest. He came across as very down to earth, humble about his impressive achievements and very approachable. As I’m doing more designing, in my own space and for others, I was drawn to his book detailing the process and plans involved in designing his seven gold medal-winning gardens at Chelsea.
What it’s about
The book aims to show the inspiration for each of the gardens and also taking a look at Adam’s own experiences in developing them. It’s as much about him as the gardens themselves.
Each garden is given its own chapter. Information about the concept, the inspiration, the sponsorship and the build are all covered. The plants used are described in the text but there’s also a section showing some key plants used in the design in more detail. Built components are given in plan form drawings should you be tempted to recreate them. A garden plan image is provided to make sense of the layout. Smaller boxes are dotted about taking some information that’s not directly about the garden into an aside should you want to know more. Examples of this are a mini-biography of Frank Lloyd Wright and John Clare, the inspiration for Adam’s 2012 garden. These add a depth of information that doesn’t clutter the focus of the book.
This book would fall into the coffee-table-book end of the spectrum. It’s easy to read but is much more engaging than the normal offerings in this category. Adam’s warm and self-deprecating text draws you in and he comes across as thoroughly likeable. Importantly, there’s no grandstanding or peacock about his description of these gardens.
The drawing plans of the garden structures, although interesting, would likely only appeal to a small number of readers who would go out to build and recreate some of the hard landscaping. More useful would have been a list of suppliers for materials, rills, obelisks, plants etc so you could start work on sourcing items for your own space. I loved the garden design plans and seeing the finished gardens alongside these is great.
A beautifully presented garden design book. The images are stunning and the text explains the ideas and skills used to create the gardens. Adam’s story is equally engaging and the whole book is a treat for fans, designers and gardeners.
Joining a popular garden bloggers meme and sharing the flowers blooming in my garden each month.
Every 15th of the month garden bloggers around the month share what’s happening in their gardens by photographing what’s in flower on their plot on that day. I last joined in this event in April 2014 and thought it might be fun to come out to play again. I’m looking forward to connecting with more garden bloggers through this.
Previous Garden Bloggers Bloom Day posts
Where it started
Carol at May Dreams Gardens hosts this very popular meme and you can find out more about her blog here.
With the help of this useful map my garden would be in the USDA plant hardiness Zone 9a.
Garden Bloggers Bloom Day June 2017
This guy can get to over 6ft in the border – I’ve sown more seeds this year to see if I can get a few more dotted through the sunny border in the far garden.
I love, love, love this plant and I can’t wait for it to produce seeds so I can get a drift going. The leaves feel exactly the same as our chocolate labrador’s ears. He passed away last year and it’s lovely to sit and stroke them.
The best smelling climbing rose; its bright pink (bordering on Barbie) is tolerated for the scent.
I’ve taken out clumps of this from around the garden as the coarse strap leaves and muddy flowers are easily out-performed with something else in the space.
I know I planted this one 3 years ago but it’s the only rose not to have its label kept in the ‘label bag’. Lightly scented and closer to the colour pallet we’re aiming for in this part of the garden. It tones down Gertrude Jekyll.
Other UK blogs that get involved
Book Review: The Apple Orchard
The Story of our most English fruit
Back in December I listed a few books on my Christmas list that I hoped to get my sticky-from-all-the-mince-pies hands on. An Amazon voucher from my sister-in-law meant I was able to purchase the hardback of this book guilt free. I’m really glad I did. It may not be for everyone, I gave it to my mum to read whilst I was finishing another book and she couldn’t get into it as ‘it was all about apples’. Apparently, there’s a certain amount of NerdAlert needed to read this.
What it’s about
The blurb says this is going to be the author spending a year in the apple-growing regions of the UK uncovering the mythology and the true history of the apple.
The book is sorted into sections titled Blossoming, Fruiting, Ripening, Harvesting, Celebrating, Transforming, and Slumbering. These are all pretty self-explanatory and nicely echo the rhythm of the yearly cycle in the orchard. The chapters are a good length, perfect for reading a couple before bed or during your morning commute.
Pete’s writing style is excellently engaging. The unexpected F-bombs remind me of chatting with a friend rather than being lectured at by a professor which would have been a risk had the tone of the book been more traditional. I like it. It’s so much more approachable and will win over someone not sure how much they’re into non-fiction books. The shortish chapters and humorous observations, akin to Bill Bryson, make it very easy to plough through the book faster than you’d like. I even put it down to read a magazine for a few days just so I didn’t rush it.
At the end of the book is a reading list should your interest be peaked. This is a nice touch. After getting all fired up with optimism about small-scale private growers (not the bits on commercial farming and the general public’s changing tastes – that’s truly depressing) it would have been nice to have a list of UK growers if you wanted to source your own orchard. I suppose ten minutes on Google would probably give you that.
Simultaneously informative and enjoyable, this book did exactly what I hoped it would, but in a style that was refreshing and engaging. I’ve not read his other works on Cider and Beer but that matters not when this book is so good. I’m glad I went for the hardback as it now sits on my gardening shelf proudly.
Garden Update 10th June 2017: Rain and Wind
It’s been a quiet week here in the garden, greenhouse, and allotment. The rain and the wind have put the dampeners on much progress but at least it’s given the allotment seeds and seedlings a good watering in.
The wind has been the biggest thing to contend with. The unfilled water butt was knocked over and the cardboard laid on the paths to keep the weeds down broke free of the staking and went visiting other plots. This has now been tidied without damage. I’ve finished lifting turf on the boundaries and created a long bed that I’m going to play a little ‘no-dig’ experiment with. Jobs for next week will be more landscape fabric and bark chippings on the paths.
I’ve decided to give the aspirin spray idea a go on my plants. Take a read of James Wong’s books for the recipe. The evidence is that it will produce more resilient plants and tastier crops. Watch this space.
The New Zealand Spinach seedlings have come up and are mightily disappointing considering the side of the seeds. Instead, I’ll make do with watching the healthy Asparagus Peas develop.
The Tomato ‘Marmande’ seedlings are now little plants.
The rain has helped the garden get a good drink. Having taken off the huge quantities of weed coverage, the soil was looking a little bare but at least the moisture can get right down to the roots now. The Moody Blue rose looks like it’s going to sprout again.
The two variants of my Eryngium borgatii are looking really healthy and should flower well and the Lavender is starting to brighten up the green.
Garden Update 3rd June 2017: Paths, Protection and Poo
The biggest change has been putting down material to suppress some weed growth that’s coming through where we removed the turf. I’d hate the grass to re-establish and undo all our hard work taking the turf off. One light rain and they dutifully curved up but that’s not a huge deal.
I now have a water storage at the plot. We don’t yet have a mains water line to the allotment so water butts are essential. I’m still sourcing an IBC tank so in the meantime, these water butts from the house have been called up.
My lovely horse-owning cousin has provided a donation of ‘Black Gold’ to the plot. She drove the trailer whilst I was on chief shovelling duty. I now have a bulk bag of well-rotted manure on site ready for soil conditioning and mulching the plot. I’m really chuffed.
The sheep are now living in the field well the horse manure is rotting down – he had to come to inspect.
I lost a couple of pea seedlings to the pigeons this week so I grabbed some leftover chicken wire sheets and constructed a protection cage which will also serve as an initial climbing support for the young plants. Higher up I’ll pull some netting to support the mangetout and tall peas.
We spent an hour the other evening planting out Sweetcorn, Cucumbers (an experiment), Squash, and Climbing French Beans. There was plenty of muck in the planting holes so I’m hoping they’ll do really well this year.
Moving out the Squash, Cucumber and Climbing Bean plants has created some gaps so I’ve started off some more seeds (Keep track of these by taking a look at my seed sowing spreadsheet). I’ve put the spares outside the cottage for sale.
The tomatoes have finally started to look like they’ve decided to stay and put on some growth this week. I’ve been a little better watering them which may have something to do with it. It was also time to plant the Tomato ‘Marmande’ in the beds.
I took part in the Chili Challenge in 2014 and had a terrible year for Chillies. This year, just when the pressure is off, they’ve done really well!
After tackling the overgrowth and weeds in the far garden, I am pleased to see some old features of the garden making a come-back and drawing some attention.
The smell of this rose is incredible. Despite the colour being a little too Barbie for my tastes we’d never remove it. Everyone who visits gets a couple of flowers in a posy to take home.
This white geranium is lovely, delicate and light, I want it to spread around the garden so I’ll watch the seedpods closely.
There were lots of alliums in the garden when we came but I’ve noticed they’ve diminished. I’ve saved some seed from the Gladiator types and started them in the greenhouse.
Also going in a pot are these Cirsium seeds – I’m hoping to get a small bunch to put up in the Far Garden.
Returning to a garden occupied by tenants is a little like playing Weed Bingo
After getting the house ship shape it was time to get into the garden. I’ve already tidied the Immediate Garden, replanted the front containers, filling the greenhouse, and now it’s time to tackle The Far Garden.
This area is our main summer eating area and it gets the evening sun which is perfect for lazy drinks at the end of a hard day. The idea is that it’s going to be a bright, colourful space to immerse yourself in. I like the idea of tall planting enclosing you in a space. It’s private; you can’t be seen by any of the neighbours, and it’s quiet. That’s the dream. The reality of returning to the garden was a little hard initially. I’m not sure my tenants had a good idea of what weeding should entail and we seem to have accumulated a few more perennial weeds.
The view from above
This gives you an indication of the space as a whole. It’s a not-quite-square square, paved with beautiful flagstone and bordered on two sides by dry stone walls. The End Border is a slim dry and sunny patch. The Right Border gets a lot of sun and is backed by the neighbour’s shed (which is due to be replaced at the end of the year which will cause some disruption initially but will be a good opportunity). The Left Border is moist and supports some shadier conditions.
The Left Border
The dominating feature has become the Buddleia in the middle. I think it’s a Buddleia x weyeriania variety and was grown as a cutting from the in-laws’ garden in Surrey. The idea was that it gets cut back each ear to provide a shortish colourful shrub at the back of the border but it obviously hasn’t received the brief. The Acer isn’t a favourite of mine but since it is so established I’ve decided to leave it in place. That too is getting too big for the border to accommodate.
Even though it’s the wrong time of year, the Buddleia had to be pulled back into line so that’s been the biggest change. The Acer has been trimmed and the weedy undergrowth cleared. You can now see the Rose ‘Moody Blue’ struggling for light and another small Acer looking unhappy. I have a Echinops ritro at the back that I’d forgotten about and wouldn’t have been seen behind the Buddleia.
This child-like sketch is my plant plan. There’s still a fair amount in here and I’ll watch to see how they recover after being unearthed. I’m hoping the extra light and water will bring them on a bit.
The End Border
The Vinca had completed dominated this far end of the garden. Most of the interesting plants were craning forward to get away from it.
The hedge above this border is due to be cut shortly and that will tidy the whole garden and hopefully bring a little bit more light in again. The dry stone wall looks lovely but I think some crafty sowing into the gaps might make more of the space. I have two Eryngium planum middle centre, both grown from seed, with slightly different foliage patterns. The tall spire is another Eryngium, I think probably paniculatam (for a while I was sure it was agavifolium). These were all sown from the same mixed seed packet as the planum and I love them all.
I’m sad to see my Australian Mint Bush ( Prostranthera rotundifolia) doesn’t seems to have survived but it was looking great when I left. I know where to get some more, however. The Salvia ‘Hot Lips and’ and Nepeta are still there, just a little flattened by competing with the vinca.
The Right Border
As much as a like the flowering currants, they’re not behaving the way I wanted them to. The idea was they’d provide a vertical element to reveal the garden as you take the slight turn to get in. They’re reaching over the box and giving a crowded feeling. The climbing rose is being as pesky as normal – flowering on meter-long growth that’s way too high to pick or enjoy. It had a thorough prune 3 years ago but not much since. I’ll likely take it back down when the shed and it’s trellis support get removed at the end of the year.
I can now add Bindweed, Wood Avens, Brambles, and Nettles to my weed-list. I had none of these two years ago and it’s a real shame. I’ve pulled out as much as I can but I’m watching like a hawk for regrown so I can attack it again. The Alliums are bravely coming on though and the Larkspur never fails to perform. It’s such a good substitute for Delphiniums who get slaughtered by the slugs each year.
I’ve got the bamboo on a watch-list too. Depending on how ugly it gets this year there may be more work in the top right corner to do. The Box balls are now trimmed and looking handsome which is really pleasing.
The Australian dining set has been pulled out of the way to allow maintenance of the garden, and broom the flagstones, but I’ll re-position it now to create useable seating. There’s a lot of replanting and soil care needed in this bit of the garden but I feel I’ve made a huge start in bringing it back into line.
Garden Update 27th May 2017:
Seeds, Sweetcorn and Single Digging
This week I discovered that it is a 10-minute walk to my new allotment (previously we’ve been coming from my mothers’ which is in the next village and having to transport up wood and tools and sheds so it’s not been an on foot task). This is excellent as the dog gets another walk, time to run around the playing field and just 15 mins after leaving the house I’m unlocking the allotment shed door.
I’ve had two busy sessions up there this week. Last Sunday I single-dug (to remove the perennial weed seeds – no deeper as I’m doing a no-dig approach after this initial intrusion) two beds to complete my root and legume sections. I had to make a decision, whilst sitting with a coffee from a flask, that the climbing beans won’t fit in that bed. It would have been too crowded. Instead, they will move across to the other side of the path to what is now officially known as The Three Sisters Bed (rather grand) alongside my sweetcorn and squash plants.
Later in the week, I spent a short evening, after most of the heat had settled, finishing the cut flower bed. I’ve gathered together old seed packets, dished out by Gardeners Illustrated Magazine and some from the bottom of the seed tin, to start a cheap and cheerful cut flower bed. I have blocks of cornflower, Velvet Queen and simple Yellow Sunflowers, Cosmos, Calendula, Scabious and Ammi. This year I also bought Nigella and Zinnia from Chiltern Seeds so these went in too.
I have now moved everything over from mum’s greenhouse into my own, slightly less fancy/insulated, glasshouse. The hot, sunny weather has really brought some things on so I’ve shifted the Romanesco, Kale, PSB and sweetcorn outside so they don’t get too hot or stressed. I love how the red variety of sweetcorn has already shown its colours even at the seedling stage.
My Pepper (Long Red Marconi) and Chili (Anaheim, Cayenne Red) seedlings have all been treated to a room to themselves in small individual pots. I’m hoping this will spur them on to some more growth. The warmer weather has meant things have been much more successful than when I did the Chili Challenge a few years ago.
I’ve started off my climbing French beans for the allotment (Cosse Violette, Cherokee trail of tears) in pots to transplant once the bed has been prepared and they can go in with the sweetcorn and squash. The two squashes (Baby Blue Hubbard, Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato) have both germinated well and are at the two seed leaf stage.
I’ve also started off Asparagus Pea and New Zealand Spinach, both new crops to me, and they too will go up to the allotment when the beds are ready.
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Finally this week I sowed Garlic Chives, new to me also, and another try with Basil. I’ve never had success with Basil germination even with a propagator. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong but I shall persist.