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:

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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:

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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:

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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”:

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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.

EOMV July: all still stalled

I thought June’s EOMV post showed me at my most frustrated and embattled, but I now see that I ought to have considered myself in for the long haul. Both my energy levels and the weather have been terrible since, and so I’m only just putting together a tardy July EOMV.

The landscaping of our garden and our neighbours’ is, well:

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Stalled. Next door’s nephew has ended up on another job, so he won’t be finishing their fencing any time soon. And won’t be starting our fencing until after that. If it weren’t for the politics of neighbourliness we’d have got someone else in by now, except they’d have a month’s lead time too. The Welsh rose did say she heard our neighbour giving someone a talking-to today, but nothing seemed to come of it.

Plants, on the other hand, move on: inexorably. I’ve even had to trim the privet that I hoped would be gone by now:

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It’s neither straight nor neat, and I don’t really care. In the lower photo, top right, you can see it isn’t trimmed at all; because I didn’t want to damage this hebe, which has been covered in bees the past few weeks:

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The flowers on it are starting to go over, but other plants are starting to take the place, including the buddleia and the crocosmia I’ve been intermittently trying to save from the landscaping that might never happen:

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Heaven knows what I’ll do to save that lovely, now bronzed, acer.

One thing I’ll be happy not to save is the apple tree that has almost completely taken over the garden:

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It gets in the way of everything I try to do, and blocks light from all except the few plants I have on the decking. Moving around the garden has become hazardous for someone over six foot tall:

On the other hand, the burgeoning of other plants is heartwarming. Although the Latvian pea plants are starting to go over—cheering in itself, as we have seed crop for next year—the blown chard have recovered well from the flower heads being trimmed, and our two tomatoes are starting to bulk up with their first flowers:

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Although the Lamprocapnos is struggling a little bit, my other RHS Malvern plants are happy, and the Geum “Prinses Juliana” might even throw a few more flower spikes out:

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It’s also cheering to see the Impatiens omeiana recovering more and more while undercover and away from the predators that are everywhere:

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And once I’d put the squashes out of the way of the same, scent-hidden with sage, they too have gone full gangbusters:

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Some of them probably need repotting, especially now that I’ve found limited plants suitable for potting into the bigger containers.

Although a lot of people find common zonal Pelargonium plants somewhat tacky and “bedding”-y, I can’t help but feel great affection to these few that we brought all the way from Oxfordshire:

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They’re showing the rosemary and Anthemis (respectively) just how to go about flowering, brightening up the decking and just firing off pellie scents and flowers so red and pink that they look like a printer’s error, hyperreal inks accidentally offset from reality itself.

Finally, despite an urgent and severe prune over winter—and it still managed to strangle the motor inside our boiler by creeping inside the outflow pipe!—the jasmine by our front door has flowered, and its scent is obvious every time we pass it:

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We might not yet have many plants we truly love: but the ones we do, love us back in equal or greater measure. And affection from a plant, like that from a pet or a wild animal, or your landscaper of choice, can’t be bought or sold.

(Thanks to Helen Johnstone for hosting the EOMV meme.)

Fitting an overflow to the water butt using a tank connector

Our house’s previous owners installed a water butt. Like many of the decisions they made about the house and garden, this one sounds nice in theory but has a number of practical flaws.

Here’s the water butt, on the drive:

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Ignore for a second the fact that it takes up substantial width of drive—we don’t have a car—and is mounted on a slope—we’ve managed to mitigate that through shifting and shimmying it around. With all that aside, it is:

  1. fed by a drainpipe that isn’t very well fixed to the wall, and tends to fall into its component parts during particularly bad weather.
  2. has no overflow, meaning that when the water butt is full, excess water simply empties out, splashes by the brickwork, and flows down the drive into the street.

We’ve already managed to mitigate the problems with the inflow, by adding an extra bend to the drainpipe, and propping it up on a half-brick. Once we’ve got a permanent site, it’s now close enough to the wall that we can drill up a mount.

The outflow problem is a bit trickier. Really, it needs what YouTube instructional videos (American) call something like a bulkhead fitting. It took me a lot of googling, and visiting DIY shops (Plumb Center even denied they were sold in the UK), to realise that we usually call the same fitting a tank connector (how they plumb up is also slightly different, I think, but whatever works!) But the great thing about tank connectors is that (once you know what to call them) you find they’re sold in plenty of places: I got mine online.

The following, disassembled, was advertised as a half-inch, Hozelock-compatible connector. However, the measurement seems to refer to its inner dimension, and calipers put its outer width at something like 22mm. Luckily I already had a drill bit to match. Here’s the exploded view of all components and the bit:

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From left to right: Hozelock connector; external nut; internal fitting with rubber gasket; drill bit.

Before drilling, I emptied the water butt a little, but not much. Just enough to be clear of the hole, plus a few more centimetres (but then I’ve got a history of drilling into containers holding water, so you might want to drain a lot more!) I did however need to take off the dust lid, and re-prop up the drainpipe on a different-sized brick:

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Drilling was pretty straightforward: plastic is quite soft and fairly forgiving. One point is that it’s definitely worth fishing out the curls and disc of plastic that result, any of which might one day clog up the tap or the overflow pipe:

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As the butt was mostly full, these all floated on the surface and were easy to spot.

I then re-filled the water butt with a couple of buckets of water, and was able to test its watertightness:

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It pours! And there’s no moisture underneath the fitting (what you see in the picture above is just a few dints and scratches, not drips.) You can see there’s no gasket—the rubber “washer”—in this picture, as it’s on the inside of the tank.

Until I could return to the DIY shop for the remaining fitments, I added a temporary drain underneath; just a concrete channel, really:

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Already it was an improvement, but yesterday I was finally able to connect a couple of metres of hose up. Here’s the finished system:

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Two full watering cans, with a covering to prevent the cat from drinking diluted comfrey from them sometimes; a full bucket, which I added during a brief rainstorm before the heatwave began; and our water butt with overflow and a platform underneath the tap so the cans line up properly with it.

In the interim, the barrel has dropped to perhaps only a third full, so right now the full system isn’t tested. It didn’t feel right, wasting drinking water in the volumes needed to test. But sooner or later there’s bound to be a spot of rain in Sheffield, right?

The Peace of Pilley garden

Somewhat north of Sheffield, immediately west of J36 on the M1, sits the quiet little village of Pilley near Tankersley. I was passing near this very place on a cycle ride last Wednesday, when the oppressive heat meant I’d finished all my water supplies. Along with an insatiable desire for flapjack, my need for fluids led me into the village itself.

My three initial encounters with Pilley residents were all very promising: the pair of polite, kind tween boys who saw I was nearing death and pointed me in the direction of the village shop; the shop customer, who chatted with me about the weather; and the owner, who chatted with me too but a red mist was beginning to descend as I contemplated my immediate fizzy-drink future.

But it was the welcome I received from Pilley’s small communal garden that’s stayed with me the most:

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The gardens only occupy a quarter of a circle, itself perhaps sixteen metres in diameter. But as you can see above a (edit: birch) tree with a weeping habit provided perfect shade over a bench on which I sat to rehydrate. They were created in 2004 by a team of volunteers and with (in part) EU money that they sadly might not see again now.

There are beds of Alchemilla mollis, euonymous, tiny spruces, geraniums and other plants you might expect in such a garden:

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No surprises, perhaps, but a lesson in how to build a self-sustaining public garden, with nary a bedding plant in sight! The garden was backed by hawthorns, tall shrubs, more conifers and a fruiting amelanchier (edit: thanks for the ID, @helenintgarden!):

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(Trees aren’t my strong point!)

Although you might not find it anywhere on the web, the title of this blogpost reflects the garden’s own declared name: the same poster board that detailed the garden’s own history is titled “Peace of Pilley”, and explains that the garden is both a local shared space and also a commemoration of the Wharncliffe Silkstone Colliery disaster of 1914, in which 11 local men lost their lives. This explains the sculpture on site:

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Nobody in Pilley is likely to say that the Peace of Pilley was a garden that you should go out of your way to visit; nor, probably, would they thank me for saying so! But it’s a neat, caring, sensitive use of what would otherwise be some brownfield site of rubble and brambles, and for a few minutes on a baking July day, it made me feel at home.

Garlic harvesting at the start of July

Way back in December I planted garlic in containers. Recently, I started to think about harvesting them: I could have left them in for another few weeks maybe, but from what I can gather bulb yield don’t increase much after midsummer; the bulbs just tend to separate into their cloves. The spears had become as thick as bamboo (50p piece for scale):

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although they hadn’t actually scaped yet (thrown up a flower head). I take it this was down to having them in small containers, or maybe just planting too late.

Regardless, it felt like time to harvest. From the containers described here, the bulbs were as follows:

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Although none of the bulbs was much bigger than a ping-pong ball, I think smallness is expected of Solent Wight. They were generally of good quality, entire and undamaged, which felt like a success in itself.

From necessity as much as anything else they were planted originally in a hodge-podge of differently sized pots. Gwenfar is doing a trial into the yield from one-, two- and three-bulb containers, but I wasn’t doing anything quite as scientific as that. The only difference I found between containers is that the five- and six-cloved containers yielded the most consistent size, Meanwhile, the single clove I put in a container on its own sprouted more than one spear, and ultimately provided this odd bulb cluster:

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I didn’t weigh the harvest—difficult to do with the stems still attached—but it’s not a bad one:

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They’ve been moved around a bit to find the best place to dry them, and are currently drying under glass, but we’ll see where’s best. It’s just nice to have had a (rather small) success this season! Especially with garlic, which is just yum.

Two green spaces in Bath: Sydney Gardens and Henrietta Park

While preparations were under way for the wedding (including the ivy) I took the chance to wander round bits of Bath north of Great Pulteney Street: specifically, two large city gardens.

Sydney Gardens

Of the two sites, Sydney Gardens are the most famous They were a haunt of Jane Austen’s, and the family actually lived near here at a time when to do so was to be considered rather distant from the focus of Bath society! Even now they’re at most twenty minutes’ walk from the train station, so Bath must have felt very compact back then.

The Holburne Museum of Art is at the lower, Pulteney-Road etc. end of the gardens: while it’s an attractive building, recently added to with a glass extension, the roses outside were more interesting, among topiary, trained up walls, and generally clambering away:

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Bedding plants were in transition between poppies and possibly something like wallflower, with underplanted pansies keeping them looking fresh in the mean time:

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The park is criss-crossed by train tracks, the Kennet and Avon Canal, and wide paths in a late 17th century style, but with a confusion of Italianate and Greco-Roman additions in a much later style. This leads to some quite complicated views across the centuries:

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Sydney House, the lodge in the far distance, competes with Italianate bridge work and a green light down on the train tracks!

Sometimes these mixed views work very well, providing perspective shifts and grand lines off into the distance:

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Even the steps down to a path alongside the train tracks are an excuse for an intriguing twirl of stone and shrubs:

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But there’s a lot of slicing-up of space going on. Worse, the divisions themselves are wide, and often divide it up into tennis courts and playgrounds that didn’t feel accessible. A lot of the remaining space was taken up by monumental buildings (I didn’t even photograph of the enormous and ridiculous Minerva’s Temple!) which meant that, overall, Sydney Gardens felt more like a sculpture park attached to the museum, than a garden in any restful sense.

Only occasionally do you get a glimpse of its potential as a more secluded, woodland setting:

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But grandiosity has definitely been rolled out everywhere else. Better than no garden at all, but definitely more a tourist’s curiosity than a place to feel at home!

Henrietta Park

To the west of its famous cousin lies Henrietta Park, less assuming and grand, and perhaps more off the beaten track. It’s not even a green space on Google Maps, but it’s a council-run park as this sign attests:

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The rose above especially drew me into the park, as it was similar to one we inherited from our house’s previous owners, that’s currently doing its level best to cheer me up.

I think this tree was a Lawson cypress:

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With its forked stem, its shaggy bark and those blue cones, it was smashing: like a dawn redwood you could still keep in a smaller garden. Maybe it was actually a dawn redwood, but I just don’t think it was big or entire enough.

The garden had plenty of other trees for shade, and gently curving paths, making it feel much more secluded than Sydney Gardens. Here are two of what could have been birches (from the leaves) or maybe mulberries, in front of a towering pine:

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There was enough light and clearing for Henrietta Park to feel spacious and safe, but enough shade and interruptions in the vistas that someone was comfortable doing yoga, another person sitting on a bench, another few walking their dogs.

However, not only did the more public areas feel that little bit more private than in Sydney Gardens, but almost hidden in one corner was a sensory garden, clustered around the site of the original garden’s dedication stone:

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You rounded a corner of railings, went through a gateway and then ta-da!

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Hotter bedding areas had these cannas and peonies:

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While the more secluded corners had alliums and these things that aren’t Veronicastrum:

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(I think it’s too short) Around the edges of the water feature were long pergolas:

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Planted under and around these were all manner of herbs and roses, and these two big bowers of single roses filled the air around them with a cloud of heady scent:

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Out behind the sensory garden were semi-secret woodland walks:

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These linked up with the rest of the garden, through copses and secluded areas.

I’d happily spend a long time in Henrietta Park. As gardens go, it felt loved, and hugged, and tended to, in a way that only the best gardens can feel. If you’re going to venture north of Bath’s chocolate-boxey, Georgian-spa centre, then it’s the work of a moment to turn the corner off Great Poulteney Street and end up in this park. The work of a moment, then the leisure of hours. I just wish I’d had longer to lounge around in it, maybe with a picnic!

Keeping ivy watered invisibly for several days of wedding

I spent last Friday drowning my sorrows at my sister-in-law’s wedding at Priston Mill, just outside bath. My mother-in-law, Joy Griffin, had done most of the floral arrangements for the event, and they were really beautiful.

Here’s all the ivy beforehand, drowning its own sorrows:

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Which is all very well, but how do you keep it from going limp when you’re putting together beautiful table and windowsill decorations like this the day before?

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Joy had a trick up her sleeve, which is to take the small glass “test-tubes” normally used for orchids and the like:

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Then she filled them with water and an ivy stem each, and wrapped them in a pinned ivy leaf, for camouflage.

Once you know it’s there, you can just about see one of them to the left of the swag of ivy in the picture below:

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But really, if you didn’t know what to look for, you’d have missed it completely!

At the end, the venue put all the flower arrangements to one side, and the parents of the bride were able to take them home: they just look unbelievable en masse on the table below:

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The venue was stunning as it was, and of course nothing can outshine the bride (he said, hastily): but the flower arrangements really brought something else to what was already a lovely day. More of Joy’s arrangements, but outside this time:

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… blend seamlessly into the pergolas, rose bowers and water feature at the heart of the garden…

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… paths from which drift off along a lavender walk…

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… and into the dusk, and the end of a wonderful day:

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EOMV: hope feels a long way away even though it’s only fifteen miles

The solstice might seem an arbitrary point in the modern calendar, but to plants it’s all too crucial: the inversion of changes in daylight length cause leaf crops to bolt, and garlics to cease swelling their bulbs. How we garden ends up changing gradually too. In which case, now we’ve passed midsummer, I want to use this End of Month View to take stock of what’s happened in the garden so far this season.

I can’t say I’m in the best of moods at the moment, and looking back on the first eight months of the new garden, there’s a lot to be disappointed with: the landscaping is stalled, logjammed even; few cuttings have rooted (there’s more dead buddleia, which I didn’t even have the heart to report); and I’ve never experienced a season in which so much has been eaten by pests.

Well over half of the leaf crops, and all of the carrot seedlings, have disappeared. Even broadbean leaves and ornamentals have been grazed, and sometimes stripped bare. That combined with my inability to make large-scale changes that might dry out the garden and protect the crops has been completely demoralizing.

But hope springs eternal. Here’s what hope looks like:

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Not the nearby Peak-District village, but lettuce seedlings. Sown after midsummer, they’ll either bolt to blazes, or they’ll actually get confused, and not bolt at all (this does happen with coriander, I think.) But I just have to hope, because I don’t have much else left.

Well, I do still have two sage cuttings from my forays with Grow Sheffield, and five squash seedlings:

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After these photos, I put water bottles in the two large tubs, to permit watering the roots without rotting off the stems. Shortly after that, one of the two squash seedlings was consumed completely, down to a stump.

However, at least the Tiarella “Sugar and Spice” has bounced back from being eaten:

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The Cirsium rivulare (Atropurpureum) has done too, although it’s still missing all except one flower spike:

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The Geum “Prinses Juliana” behind it is apparently inedible. Meanwhile, the Impatiens omeiana “Pink Nerves” has recovered to about the point where I originally bought it:

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Shortly after this photo, it went back under cover, having started to be eaten again.

Miraculously, the two lots of peas “Latvian” have not just thrived in themselves, but also protected the lettuce “Buttercrunch” underneath them:

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They’ve also just started flowering the most gorgeous claret-and-geranium-coloured flowers:

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Rainbow chard and Salvia “Ember’s Wish” are doing OK:

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And this random rose—which I saw elsewhere, so more about later—makes me think of candyfloss and strawberry Chewits:

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Finally, we’re having to trim our hedges, even though many of them are to be removed eventually. They’re just out of control. So I took the opportunity to turn our once-square-blocky front hedge into a vaguely topiarized chain of more interesting bobbly bits:

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I’ve had this go-with-the-flow idea for trimming in the back of my head, ever since Monty Don tried his hand at a bit of topiary in Big Dreams: Small Spaces this year. In the programme, he suggested to a wannabe gardener (both of them with shears in their hands) that she should try to cut the long priet hedge in the shape it wanted to be cut, rounding it off whenever it felt right to do so, rather than trying to turn it into a geometric, straight-edged wall of green.

“If it’s going to end up looking like a caterpillar,” I think Monty said, “then so be it.”

So be it.

(Thanks to Helen Johnstone for hosting the EOMV meme.)