When I started this blog last year I had no idea how addictive it would become and apart from a blip over winter when I was in hibernation, hardly a day passes without drafting a post or two and it has definitely helped to shape my thoughts and ideas. Taking the camera out into the garden regularly has also improved my photography skills and provided hundreds of photographs I otherwise wouldn’t have taken. By reading and following other blogs I have recognised the value and importance of good photography which can make or break a posting. I have learned about ‘depth of field’, the value of early morning sunlight, and by using both standard and macro lenses I have been able to get up close and personal with my fauna and flora.
Despite the wettest summer for 100 years, on the whole 2012 was a pretty good year for the garden. I got most of the digging and re-shaping work done in the warm, dry days of March and early April and once planted, everything grew twice as fast and twice as tall. Flower colours were brighter, less bleached by a hot summer sun, and the greenery was lush and sappy. Fortunately, my planting schemes were tightly packed, perhaps over-planted, and so supported themselves without much staking, although the discreet rusty hoops and girdles bought at Malvern in May came in handy for a few choice plants which had collapsed the year before and were even taller this year.
However, it wasn’t all good. The slugs and snails revelled in the wet conditions and gorged on my dahlias and hostas, caterpillars munched young seedlings of Sweet Rocket and my redcurrants disappeared one morning without a trace. The gooseberry bushes were shredded by sawfly and, once again, the Viburnum beetle turned leaves into lace doilies.
Back in the dark, cold days of January and February, I set about turning the old vegetable patch into a ‘cutting garden’ where I could grow flowers specifically for the vase. I went public in my Garden News column claiming that I would have flowers in the house from Mothers Day to Christmas Day. Well………maybe next year! The raised beds I made from scaffold planks were just right, the new top soil from Dandy’s mixed with compost provided an ideal growing medium, it was just that I grew too much! I squeezed in too many plants because I couldn’t bear to throw any away and then the staking and tying-in became impossible. What a mess! It all started so well and we did have flowers every few days from June to September but the Chrysanths were a disaster, some reaching 7 ft tall because I had failed to ‘stop’ them at the right times and when the wind blew in October I lost the lot. Snapped like twigs. Still, you live and learn, it won’t happen again next year!
As I reported extensively in another posting, the Autumn raspberries were a triumph, they loved the wet summer and the composted horse manure I applied in February. I left a few canes to see if I could get an earlier crop but it was not very successful. We did get some fruit but it was tasteless. Perhaps in a better year the sugar levels would have increased improving the flavour but I think Autumn raspberries are just that, for Autumn!
The plants which pleased me most last year were two perennials I had grown from seed in 2011 and planted out thinking they would get eaten by slugs or fail to re-appear. They were special because they were the only seedlings I had managed to raise from an entire packet of seeds from the Cottage Garden Seed Exchange and I had only seen them in photographs, never in real life. The first was Thalictrum rochebrunianum, a meadow rue with the most beautiful lilac petals and bright yellow stamens. It made me gasp when I first saw it in a photograph and I wasn’t disappointed when it grew to 5 ft tall and several stems produced a frothy mass of flowers as if to say “there you are, told you I was gorgeous!”
The other was Sanguisorba menziesii with 3ft tall bottle brush flowers on strong waving stems which I honestly didn’t think would survive as it was barely 6in high when I planted it. It turned out to be a stunning mid-border beauty which is already growing strongly again this year.
I suppose the highlight, and what most of our friends seem to remember, were the Sweet Peas in the front garden. Each year we have planted an obelisk with 9 mixed Grandifloras in the same spot and they seem to love it. I don’t have the time or the patience to go out every day from May to August and cut them, remove the tendrils, dead head them and tie them in, but Cathy does and she does it well.
We also joined the Which? Gardening trial team and grew Sweet Pea ‘High Scent’ for which we submitted our opinion on a number of aspects. I shouldn’t reveal our findings yet as the results have still not been published but all I will say is they won’t be top of our list! 2013 is Mr Fothergills ‘Year of the Sweet Pea’, so we are pushing the boat out and growing 20 different varieties in a trial to find the best cut flowers for length, scent and form. We might even enter a local competition!
We learned a lot last year, had success and failure in equal measure, knocked the garden into shape and enjoyed fabulous colour and scent which is why we do it. This year has started off slowly due to the cold weather but is now catching up fast. I am trying to keep a cool head as I race around with my constantly lengthening list of “must do” jobs so that I apply what I have learned and gradually improve my knowledge and skill in the garden.