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Paeony envy

On Saturday my sister and I did a trip round various National Trust properties in Somerset, and fitted in a visit to Kelways Nursery at Langport on the way back, a specialist paeony and bearded iris nursery. The paeonies were looking amazing, and they weren’t all in full bloom. My sister came away with a trolley load:

Paeonies from Kelways.

Some of the paeonies were on offer as they had been intended for Chelsea Flower Show but had flowered too soon, thanks to the lovely weather we’ve been having recently.

The beautiful view in my rear view mirror on the way home.

Paeonia ‘Shimane Seidai’.

Paeonia ‘Shimane Seidai’.

Paeonia ‘Shimane Seidai’.

Paeonia ‘Noemi Demay’.

Paeonia ‘Dr Alexander Fleming’.

Paeonia ‘Dr Alexander Fleming’.

Paeonia ‘Angel Cheeks’.

Paeonia ‘Syaraku’.

Paeonia ‘Syaraku’.

Gardens Illustrated full set for sale, issues 1-244

I have been a subscriber to Gardens Illustrated since it launched in spring 1993, and have kept every single issue. However, it’s time to part with my collection – our tiny cottage is barely able to hold it now. So with a heavy heart I am selling the complete set of 244 issues.

My full set of Gardens Illustrated issues, Issues 1 (April/May 1993) to 244 (February 2017).

In 1993 I was already a member of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), and received their monthly journal, The Garden, and took other gardening magazines as well, and I remember when Gardens Illustrated launched what a sensation it was. It was unlike any other gardening publication, with its large format, amazing photography, glossy production, and articles by the greatest gardeners and garden writers of our time: Penelope Hobhouse, Arne Maynard, Anna Pavord, the late Christopher Lloyd, Beth Chatto, Piet Oudolf and Dan Pearson to name a few.

Gardens Illustrated has been described as ‘the Vogue of gardening media’ and ‘the world’s most beautiful gardening magazine’. It’s a stunning magazine, full of inspiring gardens and informative articles.

The set includes eleven slipcases (some of which have seen better days). Gardens Illustrated still sells these slipcases (£7.50 each to subscribers; £9.50 each to non-subscribers), if you want to complete the set. The set also includes an index of the first 50 issues, and most of the additional supplements that came with the magazine in the early years. The one missing one that I know of is a map of the gardens of Scotland, which I lent to a friend and never got back 🙁

The magazines are in good condition, generally. The very earliest ones are a bit raggedy (Issue 1 in particular, as it was against a rather damp wall for a while before I realised it was damp), and over the years the tops of the pages have browned a bit.

The back of issue 1, with damp damage.

I am selling the complete set of 244 issues, the eleven slipcases and the additional supplements for £600. This is a bit of a snip considering that individual issues are on sale on eBay at £3.00 to £3.25 an issue, with the rarer, older issues going for £3.90 or more each. I haven’t seen an Issue 1 for sale but no doubt it would go for a lot more than that! Gardens Illustrated sells back issues going back to Issue 145 (January 2009) for £4.40 an issue to subscribers and £5.50 to non-subscribers. Earlier issues than Issue 145 are not available from Gardens Illustrated.

The buyer will have to collect. I am in south-west Wiltshire, about halfway between Shaftesbury and Warminster. Be warned that the set is both bulky and heavy!

If you are interested in buying this set, please contact me through the comments section below.

Issues 1-26 in the first two slipcases.

Issues 27-52 in the third and fourth slipcases.

Issues 53-78 in the fifth and sixth slipcases.

Issues 79-104 in the seventh and eight slipcases.

Issues 105-131 in the ninth and tenth slipcases.

Issues 132-148 in the eleventh slipcase.

Issues 149-168.

Issues 169-192.

Issues 193-216.

Issues 217-244.

Wollemi pine

Stories of scientific discoveries always pique my interest, especially when they are the discovery of a species or genus like the coelacanth, thought long-extinct. The Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) is one such discovery. This wonderful tree has only been known to science as a living specimen for 22 years: it was discovered in Australia in 1994 by a field officer with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (New South Wales), David Noble, in an isolated steep-sided gorge in the Blue Mountains. He was familiar enough with the flora of the area to realise that the tree in front of him was unlike any he had seen before. Scientists soon established it was a member of the family Araucariaceae, the same family as the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), and had previously been known only from fossil specimens. The new species was named after its discoverer.

Wollemi pines in their native habitat. © J.Plaza RBG Sydney.

Wollemi pines in their native habitat. © J.Plaza RBG Sydney.

King Billy, the world's largest Wollemi pine. © J.Plaza RBG Sydney.

King Billy, the world’s largest Wollemi pine. © J.Plaza RBG Sydney.

Fewer than 100 trees exist in the wild, and the population was clearly very endangered, and so a programme to increase specimen numbers was quickly put in place. Seeds were collected (via a brave volunteer dangling below a helicopter), and cuttings were taken. To try to protect the species, cuttings were distributed to botanic gardens around the world. A nursery in Cornwall was licensed to propagate the cuttings in the UK – Kernock Park Plants. We were very kindly given a plant by Dick Harnett, the proprietor of the nursery.

Our Wollemi pine, Dick, just after we got it in August 2009.

Our Wollemi pine newly potted up into a bigger pot, August 2009.

May 2010.

May 2010, with the growing bud at the top shedding its waxy protection.

Close up of the waxy cap that protects the growing bud over winter; the newly sprouting leaves are pushing it off. May 2010.

Close up of the waxy cap that protects the growing bud over winter; the newly sprouting leaves are pushing it off. May 2010.

Just a month later, June 2010. It grows fast!

Just a month later, June 2010. It grows very quickly!

The year's new growth is a much paler green.

The year’s new growth is a much paler green. June 2010.

Dick told us that the trees can grow quite happily in pots, but after a year or so the tree was putting on so much growth and I couldn’t bring myself to prune it to keep it in a suitable size for the pot. So I contacted Dr Wolfgang Bopp, the curator of the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum near Romsey in Hampshire, to see if the Arboretum would be interested in the donation of the tree. They already had two specimens, but given the rarity of the plant he was happy to accept it.

March 2011. At its new home in the Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum, near Romsey in Hampshire.

March 2011. Specimen 2010.0344 A at its new home in the Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum, near Romsey in Hampshire.

September 2016. Doing well!

September 2016. Doing well!

Another view, September 2016.

Another view, September 2016.

We went to visit the Gardens and ‘our’ Wollemi pine over the weekend, and it is doing really well.

Bringing our wildlife pond back to life

One of the first things we will do when / if we make another garden is put a wildlife pond in. Until we had our pond, we hadn’t realised how much it brings to a garden: not only do you get movement and light with the reflection of the skies (and cloudscapes), but it brings in a whole host of wildlife. Hedgehogs drink from it, birds bathe in it, frogs and newts breed in it, dragonflies and damselflies flit over it, lay their eggs and leave them to grow into the most Geiger-esque larvae (also called a nymph, though anything less nymph-like it’s hard to imagine). We used to spend hours pond watching.

Our pond 10 years ago, 1 June 2006.

Our pond ten years ago, 1 June 2006.

Gradually, over the years, the pond silted up. We weren’t the best at maintaining it, and an umbrella plant (Darmera peltata) I had put in the bog area to serve as a mini-gunnera gradually took over, shading the water. For the last three or four years we have had frogspawn but never tadpoles: something wasn’t working right in the pond. This summer it sprung a leak deep down and most of the water drained out.

Over the weekend at the beginning of the month we decided to take action. On the Saturday we undertook the VERY smelly job of emptying the last of the sludge out of the pond. We chucked it on to the surrounding flowerbeds to act as an organic mulch (and already as I write, the geraniums are forcing their way up through it). That we disturbed just one frog (Rana temporaria) and one immature common newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) was a sign of how poor a habitat it had become.

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I’m glad this blog doesn’t have smell-o-vision. The silt was very, very stinky.

Then we covered the old liner with some very thick dust sheets in case something had come through the old one to make it leak, and put a new liner over it. The pond took several hours to fill.

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Partially full, several hours later …

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As the pond was filling we were buzzed by a dragonfly – a female southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea). I don’t know how it detected the water, but it was straight on the case!

On the Sunday we edged part of the pond with stones and made a pebble beach, added three bags of pond soil, and replanted / threw in the few pond plants we’d salvaged from the previous incarnation, such as water forget-me-nots (Myosotis scorpioides) and Lesser spearwort (Ranunculus flammula), plus the ever-present duckweed.img_7092

Sludgey silt in the foreground.

Sludgey silt in the foreground. Plank to aid any beasties that might fall in.

Then we left it for a week, as work intervened. During that time the soil settled and the water cleared, frogs found the pond, and we saw our first greater water boatman (Notonectidae or Pleidae) and our first whirligig beetle (Gyrinidae), plus southern hawkers laying eggs on the few plants. Sadly the mosquitoes have also found the pond … Yesterday I bought some more plants, and as autumn is coming, the pond is complete for now.

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Turves laid to cover the liner.

Turves laid to cover the liner and create another easy access area for critters.

New plants added: Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga), bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) and Iris louisiana 'Her Highness'.

New plants added: brooklime (Veronica beccabunga), bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) and Iris louisiana ‘Her Highness’. I try to stick to British natives but couldn’t resist the iris.

It’s getting towards the end of the growing season so nothing will really happen until next spring – hopefully then we’ll have frogspawn that actually turns into tadpoles!

Update Sunday 18 September; We had a day out at the Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum near Romsey in Hampshire, and on the way back stopped at a specialist aquatic garden centre. Couldn’t resist the frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae), a yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea), and a water hawthorn / water hyacinth (Aponogeton distachyos: okay, I know this last one’s not a British native, but it’s so pretty …). The garden centre sold great ramshorn snails (Planorbarius corneus) at five for £2.50, but I was too mean to fork that out for them. So I was happy to see there were some snail eggs on one of the leaves of the Nuphar lutea plant we bought …

Mr Frog happily ensconced in the rejuvenated pond.

Mr Frog happily ensconced in the rejuvenated pond.

Gardens I’ve made: Berkshire

The second in a very occasional series about gardens I’ve designed. This one is a front garden of a thatched cottage in Berkshire.

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Part of a cottage front garden that I designed in Berkshire.

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Part of a cottage front garden that I designed in Berkshire.

Before I started work the front garden had two areas of lawn with a few old and sprawling hebes flanking a central old brick path. Behind these were some areas of flint cobbling. The main part of the thatched cottage is very old, and it was important that the path and cobbled areas be retained as they are part of the history of the house. As the central path is straight I decided to make small symmetrical parterre beds on either side.

Hard landscaping completed, before the planting.

Hard landscaping completed, before the planting.

The garden is north facing, and the area is on clay so can have quite a cold feel. As the old bricks of the house are lovely red and orange colours, I thought a fiery front garden might warm things up a bit, and so chose a colour palette to match. The fact that zingy oranges and reds are my favourite colours of all might have had something to do with the choice ….

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It was fun watching the evolution of the garden:

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A view from upstairs in the cottage:

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The beds were edged with Ilex crenata, a species of holly that looks a little like box. We chose not to use box because of the problems of box blight.

Arts and Crafts cicely (or is it cecily?) leaf motifs

I have quite a few pieces of silver jewellery in my Etsy shop that are inspired by British Arts and Crafts designs, most notably those of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. One of the motifs he and his contemporaries used quite a lot is known as the cicely leaf design – though I often see it written as cecily leaf.

Chalres Rennie Mackintosh design for a stencil to go on the back of a chair, 1902. It features two Glasgow Roses and several cicely leaves. From the collection of the Hunterian Museum.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh design, 1902. It features two Glasgow Roses and several cicely leaves. From the collection of the Hunterian Museum.

Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) is a member of the umbellifer family, similar to cow parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, fennel and wild carrot.

Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata). Photo by H. Zell.

Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata). Photo by H. Zell.

Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata)

Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata).

The problem is, the fern-like, divided pinnate leaf of sweet cicely looks nothing like the leaf described as the cicely (or cecily) leaf, with its broad heart-shaped or teardrop-shaped leaf and prominent central rib! I have no idea where the name of the motif came from, but it is in very common use. Maybe it is correctly spelled cecily, and was called after a lady of that name … I’ve had a good old truffle online and I’m none the wiser.

Cicely leaf overlap ring.

Cicely leaf overlap ring. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Vintage cecily leaf design peridot glass stud earrings. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Vintage cicely leaf sterling silver and peridot glass stud earrings. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh style sterling silver ring with cecily leaf design. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photos for details.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh style sterling silver ring with cicely leaf design. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photos for details. (NOW SOLD).

Vintage Ortak brooch with three cicely leaves. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Vintage Ortak brooch with three cicely leaves. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Vintage jadeite and sterling silver ring with cicely leaf design.

Vintage jadeite and sterling silver ring with cicely leaf design. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Charles Rennie Mackintosh style vintage brooch with Glasgow Rose and cicely leaves.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh style vintage brooch with Glasgow Rose and cicely leaves. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

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Vintage Charles Rennie Mackintosh style brooch with Glasgow Rose and cicely leaves. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Vintage Charles Rennie Mackintosh design pendant with figures and cicely leaf.

Vintage Charles Rennie Mackintosh design pendant with figures and cicely leaf. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Charles Rennie Mackintosh style necklace with cecily leaves. Made in sterling silver by Carrick Jewellery and hallmarked Edinburgh 1988. For sale: click on photos for details.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh style necklace with cecily leaves. Made in sterling silver by Carrick Jewellery and hallmarked Edinburgh 1988. For sale: click on photos for details. (NOW SOLD).

But whatever the origins of the motif and its various names, it’s a lovely one that was commonly used.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2016

Every year, on the last weekend in January, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) asks the British public to take part in the largest wildlife survey in the world: The Big Garden Birdwatch. We are asked to sit and watch our gardens for an hour, and to count what species and numbers of birds we see during that time. The results help the scientists at the RSPB to get an idea of the health of our bird populations.

Chap and I do this every year. Normally we do it at the same time, with one of us watching the front of the cottage (where our small garden is) and the other watching our tiny back yard. This year we’re doing it slightly differently: I did my stint yesterday, and Chap is doing his today as I type.

Our kitchen has a window that looks out over the back yard. There is a bird feeder with sunflower seeds hanging about a metre from the window, and we have a ‘borrowed landscape’ of our neighbours’ garden, with its shrubs and trees and fat balls in a feeder. I have to admit that I probably slightly skewed the results yesterday: we were sitting at the kitchen table when Chap glanced up and saw a goldcrest (Regulus regulus), creeping about and poking for bugs among the white mossy froth of the woolly aphids that live on the old apple tree. We haven’t seen a goldcrest in the garden for years. At that point I said ‘I’m starting the Bird Watch right now’.

Female Goldcrest (Regulus Regulus). Photo by Missy Osborn.

Female goldcrest (Regulus Regulus). Photo by Missy Osborn.

It’s always a very zen time, just taking an hour to do nothing other than watch the wildlife around us. I watched two robins (Erithacus rubecula) having a noisy territorial dispute, with lots of chest puffing and chasing each other, and the occasional physical spat. They were so wrapped up in their fighting that they didn’t notice the third robin who crept in and had a good feed while they were scrapping.

Robin (Erithracus rubecula). Photo by Ramin Nakisa.

Robin (Erithracus rubecula). Photo by Ramin Nakisa.

A pair of blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) visited the sunflower feeder too, separately, but I hope they are a breeding pair.

Male blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla). Photo by Spacebirdy.

Male blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla). Photo by Spacebirdy.

Female blackcap. Photo by Stefan Berndtsson.

Female blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla). Photo by Stefan Berndtsson.

The fat ball feeder attracted a gang of noisy house sparrows (Passer domesticus),

Male house sparrow (Passer domesticus). Photo by Lip Kee Yap.

Male house sparrow (Passer domesticus). Photo by Lip Kee Yap.

whereas the sunflower seed feeder was preferred by the even bigger gangs of goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) – our most common garden bird here.

Goldfinch () Photo by Ómar Runólfsson.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis). Photo by Ómar Runólfsson.

Last year’s results are impressive: over half a million people took part, counting a total of 8,546,845 birds in total.

There is still time to take part: the survey runs til midnight.

RSPB website

Sunny days in Devon

When the weather is gloomy and wet and miserable, I like to look through my photos to be reminded of sunnier days. Here are some I took of a garden in Salcombe in Devon, designed by fab garden and landscape designer Jo Stopher:

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My poor photography skills don’t do justice to this fab rooftop garden. Yes! Really! The garden is planted on the flat roof of a modern house: the last photo shows a hint of the garden ‘up top’, seen from below. It’s so clever in the way the garden borrows the landscape beyond, seemlessly merging the rooftop planting with the surrounding trees and plants and scenery.

Jo is a stunning designer, with a particular expertise in seaside planting. I met Jo when I was writing a feature for The English Garden on a garden she had designed; I was very lucky to be shown round a few of her creations in the gorgeous South Hams of Devon, including the one in the photos here, and will post some more photos of her creations soon.

Fascination with fasciation

Every now and then in our garden, we get a flower that has ‘gone wrong’. Sometimes it has way more petals than it should, or the stem is thickened or flattened; it doesn’t look right.

This snakeshead fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) should have one flower per stem. This one growing in our garden had four, and you can see the flattened stem quite clearly:

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Snakeshead fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) with fasciation.

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Snakeshead fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) with fasciation. The flattened stem is clearly visible.

We’ve also had snakeshead fritillaries with double or more the number of petals they should have.

What has happened is a condition called fasciation. The causes aren’t clear – they may be a combination of genetic, hormonal, environmental, fungal, bacterial, and viral factors. According to Wikipedia

is a relatively rare condition of abnormal growth in vascular plants in which the apical meristem (growing tip), which normally is concentrated around a single point and produces approximately cylindrical tissue, instead becomes elongated perpendicularly to the direction of growth, thus, producing flattened, ribbon-like, crested, or elaborately contorted tissue.

The plants in our garden in which we see the condition the most are euphorbias and fritillaries. We’ve also had our white foxgloves affected by it more than once. It doesn’t happen every year – probably every three or four years – but it’s so noticeable when it does happen, and as I like curiosities and oddities, I’m very happy to see it.