Supermoon gazing at West Dean Gardens

I am spending a few days at West Dean College, teaching two courses in a row with a day off in between. Today I can have a lie in, admiring the ceiling in my beautiful tower room, taking the time to feel all Rapunzel like. I will go for a few walks, eat the gorgeous food in the restaurant, sit by the giant fire that burns night and day from mid-November to the end of winter in the Oak Hall, doing crochet in a big armchair while getting roasted and generally being lazy.

For a few days we have a Supermoon to admire at night. The biggest this century apparently. I went for a long walk in the arboretum last night at sunset and took a few pictures I was quite pleased with…

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… until I came back and my friend Stephen Tattersall, who is a security guard here, showed me his.

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Isn’t this an amazing picture?

Don’t forget to go out and watch the skies tonight. The full moon will coincide with the perigee and we won’t get our moon this bright and this close again in our lifetime. I suppose we should also skip under the moonlight through the dewy fields while wearing nothing but a garland of autumn leaves but we don’t want to catch a chill… so let’s just wrap up warm and look up.

Happy moon gazing and happy skipping if you’re up for it!

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Plant of the month – July 2016 – White lavender

Order:Lamiales Family:Lamiaceae Subfamily:Nepetoideae Genus:Lavandula
Type: Hardy to tender, annual to perennial herbaceous plants or small shrubs
Propagation: Cuttings or Seed (won’t come true in hybrids)
Native to: Mediterranean Europe, Middle East and India

Every year I have a new craze for my garden, a plant I never noticed before or didn’t use to like, which suddenly becomes an essential part of my big plan. Last year it was Sedums, the year before that it was passionflowers, and before that all sorts of Buddlejas in different shades of deep purples. These come and go on a backdrop of all times favourites such as Hydrangeas, roses and the lovely Verbena bonariensis.
This year is the year of the lavender. Probably influenced by my recent holiday in Ardèche, where the vast and lush garden was full of thriving lavender plants that attracted more insects of all varieties than all the other plants. I realised that lavender is beautiful, resilient, low-maintenance, can go a long time in the sun without need of watering and to state the obvious it really does smell lovely.
Like most gardeners I have had lavenders hanging around in the garden for as long as I can remember. However, I have no idea what their second names are and even when buying them myself, I picked randomly without realising the wide range of colours or forms that were available.
I don’t even remember buying the white lavender I chose for this July “plant of the month”. Surprisingly, it has a prominent place, in a border by the patio, next to the path, so the smell flutters up in exquisite waves when we walk by and brush our legs against the flowers. The perfume is strong and spreads easily but it is less medicinal, more floral than the purple lavenders I am used to. Unfortunately, because I haven’t been paying attention, I do not know the exact name of my white lavender. I expect that because I got it from a garden centre, it is probably one of the most common white, ‘Arctic Snow’ or perhaps ‘Alba’.

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Now that my interest is piqued, I am looking online to see what specialist nurseries are offering. I am finding some real beauties! I restrained myself so far and ordered just 4 varieties for now, to see how they will do in my garden. In a couple of days I am even going to visit a lavender farm somewhere around Alton.
In the meanwhile, I shall follow the advice I gathered online while looking up “lavenders” and harvest the seed heads in September to fill sachets for the lingerie drawers and the linen cupboard…

Happy gardening!

Somebody else likes having white lavender in the garden...

Somebody else likes having white lavender in the garden…

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Lazy like a Sunday morning

I know that it’s not the exact title of the song (sorry Lionel), but it is how it feels this morning… I love a lazy, sunny summer Sunday morning breakfast in the garden.

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This 31st of July 2016 is a perfect morning on the South coast of England.

The sky is a flawless intense cobalt blue, and at 10am the sun is not yet strong enough to burn but just enough to warm your skin. There is a gentle breeze swaying the Verbena and scabious but leaving the roses and Hydrangeas as still as in a photograph. The lavenders and scabious are buzzing with all sorts of insects and multicoloured butterflies, all excited at the freshly opened flowers.

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Even the birds look lazy this morning. They perch on the feeder but spend more time looking around, having less than usual frantic conversations while occasionally pecking a seed, more often than not dropping it on the head of the grounded pigeon.

I treasure these fleeting peaceful moments, when you indulge in the beauty of your surroundings and take time to appreciate nature, even domesticated as it is in a suburban garden, in all its exquisiteness and magnificence. It brings to the front the good things in your life, forgetting for an instant the sad and painful times we all have scattered through our existence, as well as the terrible current state of the human world.

This morning my world stops at the garden’s walls and it’s full of sun, filled with a thousand flowers, humming with bumblebees and fluttering with a dozen butterflies, turquoise dragonflies, a few sleepy sparrows, a cooing dove and my dad’s homemade jam.

My little paradise on Earth for a few hours…

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Plant of the month – June 2016 – Rosa ‘Jasmina’

Order: Rosales       Family: Rosaceae     Subfamily: Rosoideae

Genus: Rosa          Type: Perennial        Propagation: Seed, plant propagation, cuttings, grafting

Native to: Mostly Asia, some Europe and North America

This rose is a spectacular rambler with such vivacity that I have to hack through it after the first flowering in order to stop it from invading the whole garden. She happily climbs up and runs along the wall, over the patio screen and flowing onto the trellis, shadowing the pavement on the other side. I can see that she is now making her way towards the arch, cunningly overtaking the passionflower, the honeysuckle and the Rosa ‘Calypso’.

The first flowering didn’t last very long this year because the rain spoiled the tightly wound flower. Once the water gets in, the flowers get heavy, droop and then rot quite quickly.

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There are many reasons for my liking this rose so much: the pale, delicate pink blush is the very picture of an English rose; the profusion of luminous blooms brightens up the patio, even in the shade; the sweet perfume is dizzying; the flowering goes on all summer, as long as I deadhead regularly and trim the long shooting arches; the sparrows love to play hide and seek in the tight foliage, feeling protected by the thorns and the intricate network of branches.

I also like the fact that it overflows over the garden wall. Sometimes as I walk to my car, I see people walking by on the pavement stop and stand on tiptoes to smell the blooms. I have even seen some of them cut a stem and take it away. I don’t mind… I like to share the beauty of Jasmina and it saves me some work when pruning time comes.

So if you are looking for a rambler with strong stems and an abundance of flowers, I would definitely recommend Rosa ‘Jasmina’. May she give you happiness for years to come.

Happy gardening!

A list of slug-proof plants

As my garden is completely organic, slug pellets are prohibited. The organic status makes sure we have plenty of birds and lots of happy bees, but we also have a healthy population of snails and slugs. We also heard from the Hampshire Wildlife Trust that hedgehogs are dying by the thousands, killed by second-hand poisoning, after eating poisoned slugs and snails. The consequences are dire: apart from the tragic all time low in hedgehog numbers, this in turn causes a proliferation of gastropods.

Because we don’t like to kill things, even ugly squishy slimy slugs, death traps are not an option either in the Flora’s Patch garden.

As for snails, I actually quite like them, especially the small stripy ones.

The only way left is to plant things they find disgusting or too hairy or spiky for them to climb on. Over the years, the strategy seems to have paid off. The population has naturally been reduced by the lack of delectable food supplies. However, in this year of 2016, slugs seem to be doing particularly well, with a democratic surge that seems to defy the laws of nature.

Fortunately, there are plenty of plants that the snails and slugs will not eat, enough to make a beautiful, nature friendly garden.

Here is a list of plants I have successfully grown so far (I will update each time I find something new):

Agapanthus

Allium

Aquilegia

Bergenia

Buttercups

Daisies

Erigeron

Eryngium

Erysimum

Euphorbia

Ferns

Forget-me-not

Fuchsia

Geranium

Grasses (the ones I tried anyway…)

Honeysuckle

Hydrangea

Japanese Anemones

Hellebores

Jasmine

Lavender

Lilac

Mallow

Paeonies

Passion flowers

Pelargonium

Penstemon

Poppies

Roses (Thank goodness, a walled garden without roses is like a kiss without a moustache- that’s a French saying, I’m not sure how well it translates…)

Scabious

Verbena bonariensis

Veronica

Wild primrose

Wild strawberries

Wild violets

If you are a Hosta collector, it might be a problem…

Please feel free to use the comments if you know plants that can be added to this list.

Back to hedgehogs: we have a walled garden, so no hedgehog can find his way in. We are looking to kidnap one from somewhere but no opportunity has so far arisen.

HEDGEHOG APPEAL: if you know a hedgehog in need of a home, please let us know. The garden is walled all around and completely safe and there is plenty to eat. They might have to fend off the odd attempt at stroking or cuddling or being fussed at, but they are spikily well equipped against this kind of things. Thank you…

In the meanwhile, if you haven’t already seen this, it’s worth having a look. If I do get a hedgehog, I will definitely try to feed him carrots:

YouTube link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vn0flJnBXD0

 

The Birdbath Coup

“It will never work”       “They will completely ignore it”       “It will always be filthy”

That was Mr. Flora’s Patch’s verdict on the general usefulness of a birdbath. Eventually he gave in, probably because it was easier. On a sale day at the garden centre, I got my birds a bath and proudly installed it by the birch tree where the feeders hang. We filled it with water and sat in the patio, with an anticipatory stance that was probably enough to scare the birds away even if the new, unfamiliar structure wasn’t going to.

Within twenty minutes, 3 species of birds had tried their newly discovered, dedicated feature: the first one, surprisingly, was the pigeon (he is usually a bit of a scaredy cat); the second one was the blackbird (frantic as usual); the third one was the robin (always nosy that one…)

The unexpected entertainment factor is that every bird has its own bathing style.

The dove and the pigeon’s disparity

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birdbathpigeon1blog The graceful dove and the clumsy pigeon

The prettiest bathers have to be the collared doves. They sit on the ledge and try one foot first. They look like a 1920s young lady in a rather stylish pale grey bathing costume with a little black collar for good effect, extending her pointed toes to test the temperature before risking a full bath. Compared to the fat pigeon who lands straight in the centre with a big flop that sends the water over the edge, the collared doves are the most graceful creatures on Earth. When several visit together and sit around the edge, they look like a live incarnation of Pliny’s doves. It is magical.

The robin’s little engine

The wildest is the robin. He gathers momentum first by standing on the rim, looking intently at the water in great concentration. Then he jumps right in, plunging his head under water before coming up in a great bust of energy, the beads of water rolling down the back of his neck and flying in great arcs from the tip of his wings. He flaps his little wings so hard that he actually uses them as a method of propulsion, sending him right across the bird bath in half a dozen strokes, turning at the end and swimming back to his starting point like a tiny feather duster gone mad. He then comes back to rest on the rim for a minute, taking a breather before going back in for another wild bath. When the night falls, he flies up to the birch tree above, exhausted and happy, ready to fall asleep in a wet fluffy ball and dream of being a flying fish in a dish made of stone and carved roses.

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The slightly blurry robin

The blackbirds’ back crawl

As usual, the blackbirds, both Mr. and Mrs., are rather energetic. Unlike the tidal wave of the pigeons, their effusions are like a rainbow of droplets. They manage to shake every millimeter of their body all at once, making the most of the cool water on a hot sweaty day. They come out looking disheveled and disappointingly not much less stressed than they were before their swim.

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The hyperactive blackbird

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What?!

The goldfinches’ day out

Yesterday for the first time the birdbath was invaded by a flock of goldfinches, chatting away noisily as they shared the pool Roman style, on what looked like an organised spa day trip for small colourful birds. Unfortunately they were moving so fast that I never managed to get a single picture of the group in focus. I expect that their exciting chattering could be heard in a two-mile radius.

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The sparrows’ disappearance

The sparrows actually like to go underwater! They sit on the edge for a bit, evaluating the depth of the pool, then they take the plunge and completely disappear, flat on the bottom, until suddenly their little heads emerge over the rim. They make me feel like a lifeguard on duty, ready with my resuscitation kit! As several of them do this together, I wonder if they’re holding some kind of competition, Le Grand Bleu style…

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Can you see me?

Sparrow underwater antics

Ta-daaaa!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sparrow aquatic antics

There are still some inhabitants of my garden who have yet to get their feet wet: I have never seen the wrens, the blue tits, the great tits, the long-tailed tits or the greenfinches capering in there. I am keeping an eye out and will update the post if I catch them.

I wish the squirrel would have a go as well. I bet that would be funny!

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Pool party, the Pliny’s way…

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…The real ones

I must admit, one of the arguments against the birdbath was justified: it IS always filthy and a bit of a chore keeping it clean, but worth every scrub of the brush for the constant spectacle it offers.

I shall finish with the rudest of them all (no surprise there!)

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The mooning pigeon (He totally knew I was there…)

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Plant of the month – May 2016 – Aquilegia

Order: Ranunculales                  Family: Ranunculaceae

Subfamily: Thalictroideae        Genus: Aquilegia

Type: Hardy perennial                Propagation: Seed

Native to: Europe and North America

I never planted an Aquilegia, yet at this time of year my garden is full of them. They are not fancy ones with strange colours and extra long spurs at the back of their heads, which always remind me of an alien creature freshly out of a Giger designed spaceship. Still they have a good range of colours, from pure white to pale pink, lilac and mauve, deep burgundy or rich violet. I even get the occasional double white and double pink. The name ‘Aquilegia’ is for the Latin word for eagle, “Aquila”, because the petals resemble eagle claws. So alien is not that far off really. Just a bit scarier.

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The Aquilegia has a few common names. ‘Granny’s Bonnet’ is the most well-known and self explanatory. “Columbine” again is from a Latin word, this time for “dove”, because the petals look like little doves in a group hug. This is the peaceful, sweet version of the eagle’s claws. In spite of their sweet appearance, Aquilegias are toxic (especially the roots and seeds), so the eagle version is probably closer to the truth than the gentle dove.

After the flowering season, I let them dry out in situ. When the seedpods are ready, I give them a good shake before cutting the stems, encouraging self-seeding should they wish to propagate. They usually do. The reason the fancy ones tend to disappear from the borders is that these new pretty varieties are more fragile than their more robust ancestor. This fragility means that they are short lived. There is also the fact that Aquilegias being interfertile, these recessive genes beauties are taken over by the dominant genes dinosaurs and the results of their frolicking revert to the wild version generation after generation. In other words, the aristocratic parents die young and their descendants become more and more common.

My favourite specimen this year is an all-white beauty growing under the Camellia. The white is the purest I have ever seen on a bloom. It looks like a commercial for washing powder, whiter than white that might blind you if you look straight at it for too long. The petals are so delicate that they look like insect wings, transparent enough to let the sunlight through several layers. Yet with all this delicate lacework, their stems are straight and strong, seemingly indestructible as they sway in the strong May winds. A perfect alliance of fragility and strength. I really hope this one comes back again.

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So in conclusion, eagle or dove?

Perhaps a gentle eagle, or a fierce dove, or as the Aquilegia itself a cross between the strongest eagle and the tenderest dove…

 

 

 

 

 

Tech-free week-end for a new border

After visiting a friend’s garden on the Isle of Wight (Yes Sally, I’m talking about your lovely garden), I came back to the mainland full of inspiration to create a new border. Fortunately, I somehow infected Richard (Mr Flora’s Patch) with my motivation and we decided to have a go during the Bank Holiday week-end. Three days should be enough to create and plant a border, rebuild the low walls around two existing borders, start on the long-planned – since last summer- herb garden and mow the lawn as a finishing touch? Hhhhhmmm….

I can’t exactly remember how it happened but as part of the same conversation we decided unanimously that we spend too much time on our laptops. Before we realised what we were getting ourselves into, the gardening week-end turned into a tech-free gardening week-end. Doubting our will power, we actually went to the extent of unplugging the router so that no-one could have a sneaky look at their emails while the other was busy planting a Petunia, oblivious to the abominable treachery.

Day 1 – Saturday

Our first mistake – although I do not think it counts as a mistake because we had a lovely time- was to invite some friends for lunch in the garden. Great company, good food, good wine, nice weather and well, we were still at the table at 4pm. By the time they left we were kind of tired. We made a half-hearted attempt at digging the border, a bit of weeding and pruning here and there, but our progress was slow and then we kind of crashed, had a little lie down in the grass and before we knew it, it was tea time.

On top of our blatant lack of results, we didn’t even get to read our email or go online, so we were suffering from withdrawal symptoms.

This is what the new border looked like at the end of day 1. (Oooops…)

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Day 2- Sunday

Invigorated by a beautiful blue sky and feeling slightly guilty about the day 1 fiasco, we made an early start. Some were earlier than others. Richard was out there digging by 7am. I joined the team around 9.30am.

By lunchtime, the border shape I had designed with the yellow hose was dug up, a couple of Hydrangeas were in, looking undeniably happier than they did in the pots they overgrew years ago.

Lunch in the garden, a quick nap under the birch tree and back to work.

Around 3pm, I started to suspect that we didn’t have enough sorry-for-themselves-in-their-pots plants so we nipped to Haskins to buy a Japanese Anemone called ‘Wild Swan’ that I had been coveting. We came back with the Anemone, a strange looking blue grass trying to make an impression of Simon Gallup 1986 hairstyle and a pack of six herbs to make a start on the herb garden.

At the end of day 2, the results were more satisfactory.

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Day 3- Monday

Monday dawned cold and windy. Adding to the un-inspirational weather, we were pretty tired from what was a pleasant but exhausting Sunday. Our morning efforts were not particularly energetic and we got side-tracked before lunchtime, with a trip to Winchester to buy garden furniture. We managed to gather one last reserve of vigour in the afternoon, replacing the borders’ walls of collapsed stone with a tidy tessellation of salvaged old bricks. After this we were as collapsed as the old stones, but we could finally crash into our new garden sofas and admire the result of our hard week-end of work. The herb garden will have to wait until next week-end and mowing the lawn wasn’t that urgent anyway.

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As for the tech-free trial? It was tough at the beginning but by Monday night we had almost forgotten that Internet existed and we have now decided to have tech-free Sunday every week.

I wonder how long THAT’s going to last…