Preparing for today’s (?) landscapers

In theory, today marks the arrival in our hundred square metres of the first and most crucial bit of landscaping: the fencing and privet removal. This change at the boundaries really has to be put in place first, so that we can then start to modify the contents without getting in the way of the boundary work.

On Saturday, I started to prepare the garden for such a shock. All of my plants in pots are hiding around the front, and all of the items I care about in the back garden are hiding on the decking, well away from boundaries:


I also felt it was key to provide the fencing landscapers with clear visual cues of how our garden’s levels would change, once we had put the new terracing in place. Concrete “gravel boards” would be needed up to the height of the ground on either side, as wooden panels would just buckle and rot, and buckle some more.

However, my experience has been that often you can tell tradespeople how things should be until you’re blue in the face, but if it conflicts with what they think you actually want, they’ll go with that instead. Visual cues are much better, as it makes it clear as they go on working, where things will be.

Here’s a few rows of bricks, and a tomato growbag tray, marking the likely height of the terrace at the top of the garden:


And here, at the bottom of the garden, I dug out a trench to the depth of the first terrace, then stacked bricks on a broken terracotta pot to give the height of the middle terrace; behind the pot, hidden from view, are a few more concrete blocks, marking the same height:


The earth working was surprisingly easy, boding well for when I will need to start doing some serious digging to build retaining walls. But today I’m resting up with a badly bruised Achilles’ tendon (otherwise I’d take a better photo of that boundary) so I’m glad I got the digging out of the way over the weekend!

At least there’s some structure in place now, for the landscapers to work with and towards. Whether or not they end up doing the right thing is another matter, and depends also on whether or not they even turn up. It’s now 9:17am. They’re meant to be here at 10am. For now… we wait….

Cleaning the awful decking: estimating the time required

I was hoping that our inherited and terrible decking would hold out for one last season without being cleaned, and then I could tear it up. But it was starting to turn into an ice rink, and so the Welsh rose’s father has lent me a power-washer.

A bit of spraying made clear just how dirty the decking was:


The sprayed wood was also much easier to walk on without slipping, so I reluctantly decided to do a fair bit more:


I focussed on the steps, and part of the lowest decking that’s always in use, as owing to hazard and risk respectively these are the most dangerous bits. All told, cleaning the two or three square metres that are noticeably a different colour in that photo took me some forty minutes, including setup time and working out how the spray works.

In the same way as I previously calculated that the privet would be too tough for me to remove, I used this initial trial as a way to get some idea of how long it would take to clean the rest of the decking:

  • Lower (backdoor) deck: 1–1.5hr
  • Patio deck: 1.5–2hr
  • Upper (plants) deck: 2hr?

If I were to clean all of the decking at once, then, it could take me a good five or six hours. I might resent that, given I don’t even want the decking in the garden! But cleaning the lower deck felt like an easily achievable aim, and hopefully that plus a couple of “walking strips” across the other two decks might last us the winter.

Here’s the result:


The whole lower deck is now remarkably cleaner and less slippy, although in places the deck was so rotten that it began to flake and I could smell pine. If I cared about the wood, I’d probably paint it with a preservative now. But the long-term plan is to remove it, so it’s probably not worth the extra effort.

Otherwise, the results feel very satisfactory: it took me a bit over an hour, and might just prevent a broken neck this winter!

One last vegetable hurrah

Right now I’m full of a cold, and also waiting for October 24 when long, long-awaited fencing that kicks off our landscaping is meant to start (I’ll believe it when I see it!) Those two things together mean there’s not a lot of new things happening in the garden, although I do need to plant bulbs pretty soon….

In the mean time, our remaining vegetables are all racing to a soft finishing line of the weather getting colder, and a hard finishing line of the first frosts. Our “Latvian” peas—hoping to overwinter—have put on a decent amount of growth:


Although some undetermined pest is nibbling lower leaves to turn them into a kind of lacework affair. Could be woodlice or centipedes?

Tomato “Tumbling Tom”, despite me not being sure about it, is producing quite a few decent, small tomatoes:


Every few days we get a decent crop of them:


I wasn’t sure about Tom, because the trailing varieties are almost impossible to prune (and hence can get quite dense and prone to blight.) But it’s doing considerably better than our upright “Totem”, which has only produced one truss of decent fruit:


I’ve moved that round to the front, to get more sun and maybe ripen a bit before we pick the fruit and put the fruit with some bananas to ripen further indoors. Because the front of the house is also more exposed, I stuck a few more canes in to prevent the main stem from rocking so much it broke:


Now it’s round the front, “Totem” has been keeping the straggly remnants of our “Butterbush” squash plants company:


I think the watering has been intermittent, leading to fewer female flowers (and dropped fruit when they’re produced.) It’s pretty much the end of the line for the one above, but this squash fruit has some mileage in it:


Indeed, shortly after that photo was taken, I picked our sole squash, product of four (four!) plants:


It looks like a decent enough fruit in itself; I just wish there’d been more of them!

Dublin Botanic Gardens in early autumn

I’ve not been blogging or tweeting much in the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been on a work outing to a conference in Dublin. But that did give me the opportunity to visit the city’s Botanic Gardens, and take a few photos.

As I’d taken a wrong turn on while cycling, I ended up coming through Glasnevin cemetery and into the gardens near….

The alpine house


It was a sizable building, reminiscent of the one at RHS Wisley. Inside, each plant was well spaced from its neighbours. Rather aptly, the first thing I saw was this Ipheion uniflorum “Wisley Blue”:


Then there was this showoff Gloriosa superba, like a cascade of fireworks by one door:


and this Viola hederacea popping its flowers up eagerly:


I rounded a corner, looked back at this lovely bit of hard and soft landscaping:


Then continued past banks of irises, grasses and these remarkable Tigridia pavonia ‘Speciosa’:


To the most friendly security guard in the world, who complimented me on my bicycle, and directed me to the racks in the car park. From there, I retraced my steps to….

The conservatory at the main gate

At this point the sky started to darken, and the light levels were all over the place. So apologies for the darkness of some of the photos below!

The conservatory was quite a grand building, especially if it was the first thing you were approaching from the main entrance:


It turns out that the entire gardens were dotted with artwork in amongst the plants, and here were some kind of ghost-laundry birds hanging inside the conservatory:


They looked quite moody and dramatic, and filled the vertical space. Maybe a few vines and the like could’ve accompanied them, but there were plenty of plants at eye level:


Metres of shelf space taken up by Pelargoniums (and more of them later)! The Welsh Rose would’ve loved it.

There were some lovely Solenostemon, like this “Pineapple Beauty”:


And this, “Chocolate Mint”, interspersed with the glaucous foliage of Centaurea gymnocarpa “Colchester White”:


This Abutilon ‘Souvenir de Bonn’ rose delicately above the many pellies:


Whereas this Asplenium nidus just landed whoomph all over them and was damned if it wouldn’t:


Through the back door I went, and round the corner to….

The visitors’ centre and sensory garden

The building overlooked some very inventive bedding:


Closer to it was this rather lovely Hebe “Purple passion” in amongst the crowding Hosta:


Further away, the succulent beds were a bit of comparatively silly fun, but no less impressive for it:


These took you to the sensory garden, which I think suffered a bit from being too close to Botanic Road, and the intentionally dribbly water feature just couldn’t compete with car noise:


But there was this adorable little Skimmia japonica (another “Wisley”: a theme?)


And my heart was broken by how the sunlight illuminated the peeling bark of what I think was a Prunus serrula:


More restfully, in the opposite corner from the fountain, was this bench hidden in a grove of climbers over pergolas:



But I didn’t have much time to tarry: there was rain forecast, and I wanted to cycle back via Phoenix Park. So I continued on past the sadly closed fernery and succulent houses (many of the plants were to be found elsewhere, I think) to….

The Curvilinear Range (!)

This was a long, partitioned glasshouse similar to those at Sheffield Botanic Gardens. They contained a broad sweep of plants, from Micronesia and Polynesia, through south-east Asia, to the Mediterranean.

My camera was eerily incapable of capturing the purpleness of this Tibouchina urvilleana:


But it quite nicely captured the exuberance of this Streptocarpus thompsonii:


The kale-like leaves on this Pelargonium tricuspidatum gave off an odour when rubbed, reminding me of the compacted-sugar alphabet letters I used to eat when I was a child:


Whereas this P. “Attar of roses” reminded me that I have one on order from Fibrex nurseries, to hopefully arrive later this month:


In parts of the glasshouse, the autumn sun made everything glow, cosily:


When it wasn’t ruining the contrast on my photos, that is!

This Bougainvillea glabra “Variegata” was making a bid to revert to “Unvariegata”, but clearly flourishing on its extra chlorophyll:


This Aeonium nobile was as big as yer ‘ead:


This Amaranthus caudatus was lolling about the place like a teenager that had just been dumped:


And this Ipomoea “Clark’s Heavenly Blue” did something funny to the colours on my phone again, but I think I’ve captured its weird minty-blue glow:


At the far side of the Range was a kind of cycadic fernery:


Complete with a powerful water feature, to keep the atmosphere damp. There were lots of rhododendrons there, if you like that sort of thing; I’m not a fan, but this “Sunny” leapt out at me:


At this point I went back outside to:

The family beds and others

The family beds were good but didn’t photograph well: the light was too low, and at this time of year a lot of the flowers were over anyway. The abiding floral memory I have is of this Lathyrus latifolius, which made me wonder how my own Pisum sativum were getting on at home:


There was a bed of annuals and tender plants that kept surprising me:


Along with the usual suspects (Rudbeckia, late asters) were some rainbow chard “Bright Lights” planted with… a banana:


(Ensete ventricosum “Maurelli” to be precise.) There were some lovely views up the hill, past sculptures and plants, to the central Palm House:


I don’t know what these two made of it all:


There was a replica Viking house, illustrating one of the earliest Dublin habitations, from the 9th and 10th centuries:


The planting around it was intended to be horticulturally accurate, and alongside brassicas (maybe a bit too well-differentiated in variety for the 10th century?) there was flax, madder, woad and weld.

Further down, there was a big styled bed of lavender, salvia, veronicastrum (?) and banks of Dahlia:


Including these bright, bouncy “Mascot Maya”:


And this much more artful “Curiosity”:


And the rest?

It was at around this point that the weather started to look seriously foreboding, and so I headed off after only a cursory look around the temporary succulents and palm house. I hadn’t even made it to the wider fields behind the house either, so it would all have to wait for another day. Indeed, another excursion entirely, as I would have to get the ferry the next morning.

But: thank you, Dublin Botanic Gardens! The grounds were majestic, the plants extraordinary, the staff welcoming and the food in the visitors’ centre just the ticket for a cool, autumn afternoon. If you’re ever in the city, head over in that direction. It was a real treat.

Preserving apples as dried slices

Our apple tree is so out of control that we’ve filled an entire compost bin with windfall, and still it comes. We’ve given it away at work; we’ve made apple cookies: still it drops.


In slight desperation, we’ve turned to simply preserving them. A straightforward recipe for drying, taken from Alys Fowler’s book, involves cutting into 5mm slices, dipping in a citric acid solution (1tsp to 3/4pt) to minimize browning, and then drying; either in the sun for three days:


Or (especially if the weather should abruptly change part-way through your drying process) in a cool oven for six hours:


I think there were about fifteen or sixteen good-sized apples initially, resulting in three containers of dried fruit.

The proof of the drying is in the eating, of course; well?

four apple rings on a plate

They’re smashing: really sweet and appley now that they’re concentrated down. The oven has slightly caramelized them but as far as I’m concerned that’s all to the good. I’ll definitely dry some more if I get the chance: but maybe do them entirely in the oven this time rather than faffing with bamboo canes and chairs. After all, the nights are drawing in….

If you like peas, then you’ll love: more peas!

Once the Latvian peas had gone over, I was wondering what to plant in their place. Imaginatively, I decided: more peas!

This has been a year of succession planting, with some of the planting after the solstice. Here are our new peas:


I suppose a number of things can now happen to these seedlings:

  1. They get confused and die off.
  2. They grow until the first frosts and die off.
  3. They bolt, and produce flowers but not any peas in time.
  4. They bolt, and produce flowers and more peas.

It’s a little bit of an experiment, to see exactly what’s going to happen next.

In a similar vein, I planted new Lettuce Tantan and Buttercrunch, only a handful of each:


The Buttercrunch (right) has tended to go to seed faster, whereas the Tantan (left) is still hearting up. In addition, when we’ve pulled up the blown Buttercrunch, they’ve also tended to be full of slightly bitter sap, although immersing cut leaves in water for an hour really helps and leaves the buttery flavour behind: in comparison, the Tantan seems to still be not too bitter. With this in mind, Tantan would make a good successional crop, next year.

This year, I’ve no space guaranteed untouched because of the landscaping, so I can’t really plant any overwintering crops. In their place, then, these trials are as good as anything!

Eyam well-dressing

A bit over a week ago, a few of us stumbled across the well-dressing festival in Eyam. It was the Welsh Rose’s birthday

Gwenfar has already written about the dressings, but here’s a few more pictures. There was quite the crowd, including a brass band:


The main well-dressing celebrated a number of Eyam anniversaries, with the number of years since they happened:


The detail is mind-boggling: the bay (or hebe?) leaves behind Peter Rabbit, and the hydrangea flowers for his smock:


I love this cat, but I can’t work out what leaf could be used to make that black!


The dressings were huge temporary structures: like old wooden doorframes with a classical surround. In contrast the wells were very small, but this second one was especially very much like a hole in the ground:


Detail again:


Like the weird guy/diorama competitions in Cotswold villages, well-dressing appears to have turned into an excuse to decorate your house with, well, whatever you fancy:


I think that might be Kevin the secretary sat on the doorstep. Elsewhere, a maypole was being decorated:


I can’t tell if maypole dances are more or less eerie than Ghostbusters dioramas, but luckily the cafe was calling us away.

I didn’t actually kill the jasmine

After what looks like years of neglect by the previous owners (spot a theme?) the jasmine pulled itself off the wall a few weeks ago, and collapsed over much of the front garden:


I did try to trim it over winter, but didn’t want to do too much as it tends to flower on the last season’s growth, so any trim would reduce the number of flowers. It clearly wasn’t enough, though. Even before the Great Collapse, the jasmine had apparently invaded the old boiler through its vent, strangling it. We only discovered this when we replaced it.

Sadly, when I started cutting the plant back hard but—I hoped—selectively, it all started to fall forward, making ominous cracking noises as the remaining few wires holding it back pinged like guitar strings:


As I found myself vainly working my way around the damaged areas, the sprawling areas, and combinations of the two, I realized the only solution was to hack it back utterly, and it was a shadow of its former self that ultimately sagged and whimpered against the wall:


As a few more branches died off in the subsequent weeks, I’d reconciled myself to the fact that I’d basically killed it with the shock. But! only yesterday, we spotted considerable new shoots, budding off every part of it, including the old wood:


I’m still reserving judgment on whether it will put on enough growth to survive the winter. But I now have my fingers crossed that we’ll still have a jasmine by the front door next year. And flowers in 2018!

New pruning knife, made in Sheffield by Wright & Son

I’ve been wanting to get a garden knife, for pruning and cutting, for a while now. And while I could make do with secateurs and the like, when I did finally splash out on a knife, I wanted to get one made in Sheffield, and if possible bought in Sheffield.

Here’s my purchase; the Wright & Son’s pruning knife, with rosewood handle:



Not only is the knife locally made, but the manufacturers Wright & Son are practically on my commute to work, inhabiting as they do a tall building between the Rutland Arms and the car park behind the student union “kettles”. The very helpful staff at The Famous Sheffield Shop on Ecclesall Road told me that, on some days, you could smell “dentists” as you passed by their workshop. Those were the days they were working stag horn for handles…!

Wright & Son became internet-famous for this remarkable video of a “putter”—the old word for an assembler of scissors—doing just that:

And they’re also nearly at the end of a successful Kickstarter to recreate a classic design of scissor. Calmly, in their own way, they’re a Sheffield icon.

Anyway, I’m not normally one of those weird men on the internet that admire knives all the time, but this is a particularly lovely thing, and sits very nicely in my hand. Here’s hoping we’ll both see plenty of work in the garden together. Me and, um, my knife.

Looking less squashed now they’re tied up

The Butternut squashes on the drive and front garden have survived pest attack in their early stages, and the devastating effects of strong winds on their papery, sail-like leaves. However, being in pots means they’re starting to sprawl beyond those pots:


I’ve never considered tying up squashes before, but this weekend I saw the tendrils starting to form on these fruiting branches, and thought it might be worth a try. I used four canes in the biggest pot, and three in the others: one cane snapped though—the last of that length of cane—and I replaced it with one of the water shoots I cut off the apple tree over winter.

The end results I think are remarkable, given the small amount of work involved:


Suddenly they seem neater, more compact and structural, even though they’re not very much taller. I wouldn’t say it looks perfect (especially with the one substituted cane) but there’s definitely more form to the plants now.

I call this particular work “The Three Weird Sisters”:


anyway, today I had another look at the plants, and they’ve really settled into their new verticality. I think it’s probably healthier for them—reducing the likelihood of mildew—and also lets them trap more sunlight and hence feed more efficiently. Fellow gardener Gwenfar did mention that she’s training up an unused growframe, to provide platforms for the fruit as they grow: but I’d be just happy with several small fruit that I could pick as the plants develop.