I lost my heart at Aberglasney Garden!

Aberglasney Garden in the Tywi valley of Carmarthenshire is rapidly becoming my favorite garden to visit. I first visited in October 2014 and was bowled over by the brilliant plant combinations and formal and informal elements of the design.

Take this wall: clothed in virginia creeper, for example, perfectly complemented by the deep red dahlias in the foreground bedding scheme.

Virginia creeper & dahlias

or the perfect placing of this architectural honey bush, Melianthus major, at the left side of the entrance to the walled garden.

This architectural plant marks the entry to the walled garden at Aberglasney

Melianthus major: This architectural plant marks the entry to the walled garden at Aberglasney

It is often said that good planting structure is best illustrated in  black and white photography but the same may be said of a winter garden. If structure works well in the depths of winter when the garden is stripped of its perennials and deciduous leaves, chances are this structure will uphold well throughout the year. So it was with great excitement I had the chance to visit Aberglasney again on a frosty day in late December recently. I was not disappointed!

The walled garden at Aberglasney

The walled garden at Aberglasney: yew cones and long shadows in December

The walled garden at Aberglasney in October

The walled garden at Aberglasney in October

The yew cones in the walled garden: while in autumn they provide a supporting structure and rhythm to the flurry of late perennials, in winter they are exposed to reveal their majestic essence and purpose.

Frosted ferns provide foreground interest while the eye is led along a brook into the elegant trees beyond.

Frosted ferns

Frosted ferns

The stream leads the eye from the ferns to the trees

The stream leads the eye from the ferns to the trees

Here the flamboyant hydrangea flowers of autumn have turned to rich decorative sculptures lit by the winter sun.

A pink cultivar of Hydrangea paniculata

A pink cultivar of Hydrangea paniculate in October

Winter flowers of Hydrangea paniculata

Winter flowers of Hydrangea paniculata

Frosted Hydrangea paniculata

Frosted Hydrangea paniculata

The effect of frost on plants is one of winter’s irresistible treats.

The effect of frost on plants is one of winter’s irresistible treats.

Roll on spring, I will definitely be back at Aberglasney!

(with thanks to Mike Edwards for extra photos)

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Tiny pond

No garden is too small for a pond! A pond is guaranteed to bring delights to your garden with pond skaters arriving, seemingly from no where, and visiting dragonflies and damsel flies. They are great for wildlife, in fact having a pond is one for the best things you can do for wildlife in your garden. This lovely pot

This Urbis pot has been specially sealed so it can be use as a pond

This Urbis pot has been specially sealed so it can be use as a pond

from Urbis (urbisdesign.co.uk) is planted up with plants from The Waterside Nursery (waterside nursery.co.uk) who do pond plant kits for small ponds to make ordering easier. I planted the garden a year ago and the pond has just been added to complete the picture.

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THE RAYMOND BLANC NATIONAL HERITAGE GARDEN COMPETITION AT LE MANOIR

I am very pleased to have been shortlisted for the Raymond Blanc National Heritage Garden Design competition.

For more information on the competition see

http://www.sgd-raymondblanc-gardendesigncompetition.com/

Raymond Blanc Heritage Garden at le Manoir

Raymond Blanc Heritage Garden at le Manoir proposal

 

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Singing the Blues

Hyacynthoides non-scripta, the English Bluebell

Native Bluebells in Wanstead Park

Now is the season of the colour blue.  It is easy to be spell-bound by this colour particularly the deep blue of our native bluebell which en mass seems to shimmer and transport us to another world.. Wanstead Park in east London has been excelling itself. Here the native bluebell still thrives but around the edges and especially in nearby gardens are signs of the encroaching Spanish Bluebell. To find out more about why the Spanish Bluebell threatens the native one and how to distinguish between the 2 species follow this link:

http://www.plantlife.org.uk/about_us/faq/bluebells/

Then get out the glyphosate and seek and destroy the Spanish one!..I love almost all things Spanish, honest, just not the Spanish Bluebell which looks, and is, thuggish in comparison.

Now I’ve had my rant..back to seasonal blues: An early spring blue which is now just about over is the brilliant ground cover, front of border, Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’. It is a lungwort but unusually does not have the spotted leaves of the wild one. The flowers are an intense electric blue, wonderful with yellow daffodils.

Pulmonaria Blue Ensign: A great early spring plant for the front of the border

Pulmonaria Blue Ensign: A great early spring plant for the front of the border

Pulmonaria Blue Ensign 2

The electric blue of Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’

Ceanothus is now having its moment. In particular the deep rich blue of Ceanothus concha and the huge C. arboreus ‘Trewithen Blue’ which rapidly grows into a tree if you turn your back (the word ‘arboreus ‘ in its name is the key) and  C.thysiflorus ‘Skylark’ . They hang over the walls of front gardens grabbing attention for a few, all too brief, weeks. People stop and stare almost in disbelief that nature can produce such an intense colour blue!

Ceanothus concha, Nadina domestica, Cistus x purpureus

Ceanothus concha, Nadina domestica, Cistus x purpureus

Ceanothus concha with Cistus x purpureus

Ceanothus concha with Cistus x purpureus

For more on Ceanothus varieties: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/profile.aspx?pid=354

Blue and deep pink are a great combination. Other favorite combinations: blue with orange tulips (eg. Tulipa Ballerina) , blue with limey green (eg Euphorbia  x martinii)

Orange Tulips ( a T.Ballerina cross)

Orange Tulips ( a T.Ballerina cross?)

This is what Tulipa Ballerina should look like here shown with Euphorbia x martinii

This is what Tulipa Ballerina should look like here shown with Euphorbia x martinii

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ICELAND Landscape Inspirations from 64 degrees North

Iceland may not seem the most obvious place to take inspiration for garden design, especially in winter, but inspirations for artists and designers come from diverse &, sometimes  unlikely, places.

Although Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream, it is still at a latitude of 64.8  o N, and  with the wind chill it can be very cold (when I was there in late February on some days it was down to approx – 6 o C which was -20 o C with the bitter wind chill factor). The cold winter temperatures and often cool summer, strong winds and thin soils  do make cultivating plants & gardening there challenging. However, as Cleve West recently pointed out (in ‘into Gardens’, Winter 2013) when he journeyed there in September last year, perhaps with such a stunning and ever erupting landscape, garden design becomes irrelevant.  Here I am not aiming to show that I know whether this is true or not, as I think garden design always has a place, nor to set myself up as an authority on Icelandic plants, design or anything more than a passing tourist with an artist’s eye. I offer you some strange and wonderful and quirky sights.

Like a friendly radio tuner offering warmth in the encroaching dark, this glowing slab is one of the glass houses where salads are grown. Most vegetables have to be imported.

Tune in

Tune in.

Lava is a prominent & extensive landscape feature, with moss thick like snow gracefully cushioning the jagged surfaces. Moss acts like a sponge holding water that drips and freezes hence the icicles:

Pathway. Lava is a prominent and extensive landscape feature, with moss thick like snow gracefully cushioning the jagged surfaces. Moss acts like a sponge holding water that drips and freezes hence the icicles.

Pathway.

Mossy larva & icicles 2

It reminds me of something:

No, this isn’t in  Iceland! It’s a moss fountain I once saw in Provence

Moss fountain

No, this isn’t in  Iceland! It’s a moss fountain I once saw in Provence. Inspirations can travel far.

The following images were taken on Snaefellsnes peninsula. A stunning and desolate place in winter.

Ytri-Raudamelur church

Ytri-Raudamelur church on raised lava wall platform with birch trees

The ‘garden’ of this church  is on a raised volcanic stone wall. Maybe to increase or create soil depth or to give the church prominence.  There is no shelter, certainly.

The landscape is largely treeless  (cut down many years ago by humans) although attempts to replant are now being made. Treeless landscapes are often hard to scale. These birches, which are generally more stunted than English ones, are an unusual and welcome sight.

Spot the white hay (sileage) bales in the distance:

The landscape is largely treeless  (cut down many years ago by humans) although attempts to replant are now being made. Treeless landscapes are often hard to scale. These birches, which are generally more stunted than English ones, are an unusual and welcome sight.

Birch trees and sileage bales

Willow stems colour the rim of the frozen pool.      Purple stems of  shrubs on mountain behind.

Willow stems colour the rim of the frozen pool. Purple stems of shrubs on mountain behind.

The Icelandic horse seems to issue from the landscape Horses ..made of lava and willow stems?

The Icelandic horse seems to issue from the landscape Horses ..made of lava and willow stems?

Salix lanata: Willow with soft golden buds

Salix lanata: Willow with soft golden buds

The rough with the smooth: The enduring pleasure of cobbles

The rough with the smooth: The enduring pleasure of cobbles

The wind blows whipping the  dune grasses in endless circles and etching the sand:

Grass circles (with stray dog paws): wind blown grass forever circulating on the sand

Grass circles (with stray dog paws): wind blown grass forever circulating on the sand

 2

Grass circles

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Red lava, green moss

Never think of the Icelandic landscape as colourless.

Large stone triangles, a roll of barbed wire and angled posts disappearing into an ochre  landscape. Rhythm and repetition personified:

A pleasing gateway installation

A pleasing gateway installation

Gateway church and posts

Hellner Church

Hellnar Church (above). A lonely little church right on the clifftop. I love this simple but pointless gateway with the massive gatepost and wayward barbed wire.

Lava roundabout (below) : simple but effective and very low maintenance! Black is an under-used colour in garden design. This would be amazing with planting of orange flowers eg. Geum Prinses Juliana, or Eschscholzia . 

Lava roundabout

Lava roundabout

Hot choc mini -landscape: sadly, non-sustainable

Hot choc mini -landscape: sadly, non-sustainable

Icelandic hot chocolate really is the best!

I digress…

Small rust garden

Small rust garden

Landscaping on a mountain top, near Nesjavellir, courtesy of the geothermal energy company.
Nice use of Corten steel, sunburst design logo and clever use of real grass laid directly on lava chippings. Hmm. Could be up for an award?

(Below) A blue lagoon sandwich or is that the sky? Water features often serve to reflect the sky but in this case the water really is that colour due to the minerals in the power plant outflow and blue green algae. Lovely and warm for bathing in.

Blue lagoon sandwich

Green-ice-wall

In Rekjavik: a frozen green wall. Wonder what it will look like next summer.

Shrub in a Reykavik park

Shrub in a Reykavik park

Has this parkland shrub been coiffured or is it natural?!

And here, finally, is a genuine Icelandic garden, complete with whale bones and home for elves:

Grindavik garden

Grindavik garden

curved benches

Curved benches in Reykavik

Reykjavik : A frozen lake, a flat battery, and some serpentine seats for.. when summer comes.

And here are another two vehicles  forming a sculptural event in the landscape, or rather, taking a break from landscaping activities until the soil thaws:

untitled 61

Landscaping at Nesjavellir near Hotel Ion

RAGNA RÓBERTSDÓTTIR

RAGNA RÓBERTSDÓTTIR: Larva Carpet installation view, Reykjavik Art Museum – Kjarvalsstadir, Iceland, 2004

And lastly this is the work of  Icelandic artist Ragna RÓBERTSDÓTTIR responding to the  landscape. Check out her recent work at the i8 gallery in Reykavik  http://www.i8.is

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March actions

It’s time to cut down those Cornus (dogwood) stems  that  have been glowing red/green or orange  all winter and bring them inside so you can extend enjoyment of them, while allowing new growth buds to form outside.  If you cut only a third or half of the stems you can still have flowers this year and get coloured stems next winter from the new ones. Preferably place them in a turquoise pot so the colours can zing with each other!

Cornus siberica stems with Sarcoccoca

Cornus siberica stems with Sarcoccoca

Add some evergreen leaves if you like although I think they look great on their own generally. These ones are a bit twisted so I have added some Sarcocca stems. Sarcoccoa is still flowering here in London after more than 2 months,  sending out  sweet perfume to welcome all who arrive at our front door. A wonderful plant for a dark corner in winter. See more here

http://www.rhs.org.uk/Gardens/Wisley/About-Wisley/Plant-of-the-month/January/Sarcococca-hookeriana-var–digyna

Summer flowering clematis should generally  be pruned at about 30cm height now (but check which pruning group yours belong to first).

http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/profile.aspx?pid=109

Cut the dead stems of summer flowering clematis to within about 30cm of the ground

Cut the dead stems of summer flowering clematis to within about 30cm of the ground

Stems of Miscanthus and Calamogrostis grasses should also be cut back before the new ones start to grow.  Tatty evergreen fern leaves can soon be removed to make way for new growth. Cut back old Sedum flowers which have been giving sculptural interest all winter and the new leaves should already have formed rosettes at the base. This brilliant plant  never has a dull moment. (see below)

Sedums: Now forming rosettes of grey green leaves at base

Sedums: Now forming rosettes of grey green leaves at base

Pulmonaria

Pulmonaria in flower now

Iris reticulata harmony

Iris reticulata harmony

Other plants that are great right now apart from daffodils & snowdrops are the Pulmonarias (lungwort)  and tiny reticulate irises .

And lastly the frogs have already started their activity in our pond (don’t they realize we only have room for 4 pairs?!!)  so if you have a bog garden or pond that needs cleaning out or cutting back this may be your last chance to avoid disturbing wildlife.

Bog garden partly cleared of roots and old stems: This makes way for new growth and leaves some open water for frog spawn

Bog garden partly cleared of roots and old stems: This makes way for new growth and leaves some open water for frog spawn

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Hosepipe ban lifted after record rain

Britain’s biggest water company is lifting its ‘hosepipe ban’ today, 14th June,  after an extraordinary amount of rain eased the severity of the water shortage in the South and East.

Thames Water said “a heartfelt thank you” to the 8.8m people it supplies across London and the Thames Valley for complying with the Temporary Use Ban, helping save more than 100 million litres a day during the hot spell in May.

But with the possibility of a third dry winter in a row this year, the firm urged its customers to continue to use water wisely, reiterating its offer of free water-saving devices that can be ordered on the company website.

Hosepipe bans were imposed on April 5 by Thames Water and six other firms following the driest two-year period on record.

But within hours the heavens opened and stayed open, delivering more than two-and-a-half times the average rainfall in April, steady showers in May and further monsoon-style downpours so far in June with more forecast.

Although the record spring rain has enabled Thames Water to fill up its reservoirs, water levels in the natural storage basins deep underground remain low.

At this stage of the year, with plants and trees growing and sucking up much of the moisture, groundwater levels are not expected to recover fully until there is sustained winter rainfall that seeps deep into the ground.

Richard Aylard, sustainability director for Thames Water, said:
“We would like to say a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all our customers for complying with the restrictions, and for their ongoing efforts to use water wisely. They really are much appreciated.

“In early April things looked very different than they do now. We had had the two driest years on record and we had no idea how long it was going to stay dry.

“While we prepared for worst, bringing in restrictions to save water to ensure there would be enough if the dry spell continued, the topsy-turvy British weather had other ideas.

“Since we imposed the Temporary Use Ban just over two months ago, we have received an extraordinary amount of rain.

“We are really pleased we can now lift the ban but, with groundwater levels still low and the possibility of a third successive dry winter, we still need to be careful. We don’t need a ban, but we do need to ask everyone to keep on using water wisely.

“So if you’ve bought a water butt this year, please keep using it. If you’ve started taking shorter showers, please keep it up. And again, thanks for your help and understanding.”

In addition to the 100m litres of water a day saved by Thames Water customers adhering to the ban, the company is also 60m litres a day below its regulator-agreed leakage-reduction target for this year.

This has saved about 6% of the 2.6bn litres of water a day that the company supplies.

Earlier this week the company announced it had hit its sixth successive annual leak-cutting goal.

By replacing 1,600 miles of old pipes the firm has cut leakage from its 20,000-mile network by more than a third since its peak in 2004.

Thames Water’s ban will end at 0001 on Thursday.

Southern Water and Anglian Water are also expected to lift their Temporary Use Bans.

Meanwhile the other four companies, which are more heavily reliant on groundwater supplies, are expected to need to keep their restrictions in place for longer.

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Stop Press: Update to hosepipe ban 21st May 2012

Embattled landscaping, turf and gardening businesses were made exempt from the ‘hosepipe ban’ today after it was confirmed that record rainfall had reduced the severity of the ongoing water shortage in the South and East of England.
The adjustment to the Temporary Use Bans imposed by Thames Water and six other companies will allow gardening businesses to use hosepipes to water newly laid turf and plants, for up to 28 days. This includes allowing the clients of garden businesses to water their new plants/lawns for up to 28 days with a hosepipe. Obviously we should all still be as frugal as possible with watering but this is great news for the anyone planning to replant their garden this summer.

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How to survive the hosepipe ban

Thames Water has now imposed a ban on using a hosepipe to water gardens. This means that most people will only be able to use a watering can or drip feed irrigation for watering their gardens. For exemptions see: http://www.thameswater.co.uk/cps/rde/xchg/corp/hs.xsl/15443.htm

How to survive the drought

In a recent article for The Times, garden designer, broadcaster and Registered  Member of the SGD Joe Swift offered readers guidance on how to survive the drought.  A summary of his advice follows:

Planting

Plants that are suited to dry conditions can usually be spotted by their adaptations:

water molecules stick to fine hairy leaves (Verbascum, Teucrium fruticans, Stachys byzantina etc); silver foliage plants reflect the heat of the sun (Artemisias, Achillea, Euphorbias,  Eryngium, Dianthus,  lavenders, Caryopteris, Echinops, Convolvulus, Cneorum etc); and fine foliage or needles reduce transpiration (rosemary, junipers, Santolina, small-leaved hebes, Genista, Cytisus etc) . Many ornamental grasses are also a good choice for dry soils.

Lawns

Don’t worry about the lawn drying up and going yellow. It won’t kill it and will quickly green up once it rains. Don’t lay or seed a new lawn unless it’s small and you can water it with stored water (see below), as they need plenty of moisture to establish.

Soil improvement

Incorporating plenty of organic matter in your soil on a continuing basis will increase its water-retention capabilities significantly. It will also increase its fertility and, when used as a mulch, suppress weeds and lock moisture in. Only mulch when the soil is already wet. 

Watering

Water efficiently. Drip irrigation systems are usually OK to use during a hosepipe ban (check your supplier), because they are extremely efficient and can be put on a timer.

If you use your own collected water then try to water early morning (the best) or evening to reduce evaporation during the day. Water to the roots of the plants — a good soak every now and then is better than a light sprinkling. Don’t bother with established plants unless they look desperate. Water seedlings and pots/ containers first. Use a saucer or tray under pots to catch the excess. Consider mixing water-retaining granules into compost for larger pots and also when planting new plants into the ground; they swell up into a gel and retain plenty of moisture.

Rainwater harvesting

Small water butts will quickly fill up when it does rain, but the problem is that you will use this water up quickly too during dry spells. Any water that does land on your house or garage roof can be stored and used. If you already have one butt then consider either adding another to a separate downpipe or connecting a series of them together with pipes so they fill up in sequence. Water from baths, showers and washbasins can be used directly on the garden for watering if you can devise an ingenious method with pumps or diverters (or just use buckets?), but this water can’t be stored. Washing-up water contains food, which will only encourage vermin, and washing-machine water contains too much detergent for the garden.

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April and May in Your Garden

April and May in your Garden                    

APRIL is a time of major activity in the garden. Plants will be putting on lots of new growth and so will be glad of some feeding. A general purpose fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone is best,  applying it at the recommended rate as stated on the package.

Amalanchier lamarckii  in the first flush of flowering with fresh green perennial undergrowth including a variety of ferns, hellebores, lungwort and euphorbias.

The soil should be warm enough to sow seeds directly into the ground. Hardy annuals such as pot marigolds, love in the mist, candytufts, cornflowers and nasturtiums can be planted in the positions that you want them to grow. Sunflowers  can also be sown.  Sow the seeds in recognisable shapes so as to distinguish them from weeds.

Balmy days will promote weed growth of course so try and stay on top of the weeding as small weed seedlings are easily destroyed with a hoe.  Choose a dry, sunny day to do your hoeing. More persistent, perennial weeds like dandelions should be dug out by hand whilst the most difficult infestations can be treated with a weedkiller like glyphosate. If necessary, choose a dry day & paint this chemical on individual leaves to prevent it getting on the plants you want to keep. In a week or so the weed will have taken up the chemical and will start to die back. Some like Japanese knotweed,  and,  in the wrong place, ivy and bramble will probably need several treatments to kill them off completely. To discourage weeds in the coming months apply mulch and consider filling up any gaps, particularly at the front of the borders and between shrubs, with suitable ground cover plants.

Bulbswhich have flowered earlier on should be deadheaded and the leaves allowed to die down. A liquid feed at this time can help them build up reserves for next year.

Tulips strategically place in pots are beginning to emerge.

April is the time to plant evergreens such as new evergreen hedges (yew, pyracantha, bay) and shrubs like phormiums while spring flowering shrubs can be pruned as soon as their flowers have faded.  Grey leaved plants such as lavender & curry plant can be trimmed (by 2.5-5cm)and reshaped but do not cut into the old wood. To keep deciduous shrubs such as forsythia, kerria, winter jasmine  & flowering currents  in shape, cut back the stems that have just flowered to strong young shoots lower down. You could also remove about 20% of the older stems  at their base to encourage new growth.

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