Monthly Archives: March 2014

Mottistone Mother’s Day

2013 05 and prior 055Sunday saw me on a Mother’s Day trip to the National Trust’s Mottistone Manor, towards the eastern end of the Isle of Wight.  The garden is quite small by NT standards, and probably best known for its herbaceous borders much later in the year, but at this time of year there was still plenty to see, not least the stunning naturalised daffodils above and below.


As well as the bulbs, there were a number of new plants on me – the Fritillaria imperialis (which I know and don’t particulalry like), looked stunning against the Libertia peregrinans ‘Gold Leaf’ which I didn’t.  It was used elsewhere in the garden, and I looked for one for sale but although there were some described as ‘nursery stock’ there were none actually for sale – maybe worth a return visit!

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New growth was, on occasion, almost extra terrestrial – see the Rheum palmatum ‘Atrosanguineum‘ just breaking through the soil’s surface below.  Amazing to think that by the summer it could be two metres high.


I also liked the new growth of the Restio Elegia capensis, another new one on me, which is also likely to be around two metres later in the year.  (Entertaining to see the creeping buttercup to the right of the photo, now that is one I do know…)


The herbaceous border was still (understandably) looking quite bare, but I love the repetition of the Eryngium spires (I think it’s mutabile) with the Euphorbia behind.


And lastly, not a plant at all, but who can resist an early butterfly?  See below the Polygonia c-album, according to the Butterfly Conservation website a good news story:

“The Comma is a fascinating butterfly. The scalloped edges and cryptic colouring of the wings conceal hibernating adults amongst dead leaves, while the larvae, flecked with brown and white markings, bear close resemblance to bird droppings.

The species has a flexible life cycle, which allows it to capitalize on favourable weather conditions. However, the most remarkable feature of the Comma has been its severe decline in the twentieth century and subsequent comeback. It is now widespread in southern Britain and its range is expanding northwards.”

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Now I love a cryptic crossword, but am absolutely rubbish at them and only made any progress at all when I had my mother by my side.  I still remember the day we completed The Telegraph cryptic crossword on a coach trip to Great Dixter – a red letter day for me as I have never completed a cryptic before, but probably much more of a red letter day for my mother, who got to flirt with Christopher Lloyd who happened to be sitting in the shop.

Sadly it was the eighth anniversary of her death on 11th March, but coincidentally, I’d spent the day before back on the cryptic, on another journey, with another ‘wise one’ (my boss, not much of a gardener, but you can’t have everything).  And the challenge?  The Times new ‘Quick’ Cryptic Crossword, and, with the ‘wise one’ by my side we managed to finish it in about half an hour, and I’m delighted to say I solved 3 down, the answer being ‘combinations’ (I’ve forgotten the clue – sorry).

Consequently the word’s been with me ever since, partly because it was a word my mother taught me, as she apparently used to wear them (according to Wiki: “a type of underwear that combines a vest or camisole with trousers or drawers”) but also because it’s of perennial interest in gardening.

During spring 2013, when winter seemed to go on well into April, my carefully planned daffodil (Sinopel) and tulip (Spring Green) succession in the ‘grass bed’ all bloomed together in a very unexpected combination (see below).  The poor tulips also got very wind battered and consequently looked rather disheveled almost from the start.  At the moment the only things flowering in this bed are a few wallflowers and the forget me knots.  It’ll be interesting to see whether the tulips succeed the daffodils this year, and if so, whether it’s anything like as attractive as the mad scene last year.

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Another planned combination which didn’t quite go to plan this year was the trough planting.  The stocks (Matthiola incana) were grown from seed and didn’t flower last year but there are buds showing now and the plan is that the scent will be apparent from the table on the decking above.  Where it’s all gone a little awry is with the Narcissi.  I thought I was planting Narcissi ‘Cornish Chuckle’, but what I seem to have is ‘Minnow’, which is lovely, but not what I expected.  Perhaps Bloms thought they knew better.

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Another planned combination this year is more ‘Minnow’ with the Wallflower ‘Ivory Giant’ in the ‘drive bed.’  I saw the wallflower on Gardeners’ World and eventually tracked down seed from Seedaholic and grew them for the first time in 2012.  They now seem to be returning happily for the second year after I chopped them back quite hard in the autumn.

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And lastly, a completely unexpected combination – the flower (first ever to my knowledge) on my Melianthus major ‘looking’ at the chicken.


Greenhouse gratification – March

Greenhouse (2)Now I know I’m a very lucky girl to have such a lovely large greenhouse but it’s amazing how it fills up.   I’m already wishing away the days until I can be confident we’re frost free and I can put out all the succulents and pelargoniums which are currently occupying a significant amount of space.



Because of ongoing problems with the ankle I’ve been unable to do anything too strenuous and so have gone a bit mad with the seed planting.

First I updated my ‘Seed 2014’ spreadsheet to discover I have well over one hundred seed packets from Chilterns, Seaspring Seeds, Derry Watkins, Jekka McVicar, Sarah Raven and the RHS.  What was I thinking?

Secondly, I treated myself to a heated propagation mat, something so toasty I imagine the seeds are happy even when I’m not there keeping them company.  And thirdly, I’ve been planting.  Largely according to Maria but I have strayed occasionally (please don’t tell).

Already many seeds are popping up – certainly the sweet peas planted in February are well on the way – they’ve been pinched out and are bushing out strongly.  A second wave (in the round pots) clearly has some way to go, but the tomatoes will soon need potting on.  I’ve also already planted aubergine (Turkish Orange) and Peppers (Marconi and Mini Belle Yellow). I’ve never done that well with either in the past, but last year it was definitely because I planted too late.

I have also in the past planted the Padron Peppers, which I adore fried in the bit of olive oil and lots of sea salt, but after eating literally over a hundred when I was in Madrid recently, I’m not sure they like me as much as I like them, so I think I might give them a rest this year!

And to finish, to give even me greenhouse envy, see below a shot of one of the glasshouses at the stunning West Dean gardens taken last year.  Is it just me, but do you find that more appealing than a box of chocolates?

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Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – 15th March


So, late again, I’ve decided to join a number of other bloggers I follow to capture blooms blooming in my garden on the 15th.  I struggled to choose the headliner, but in the end went with the Leptospermum scoparium above, as it hasn’t been featured previously, and has been blooming non stop all winter.  What a plant!

There are a number of different narcissi, some inherited,IMG_1359

but also Tete a Tete (here with Leucojum aestivum) IMG_1346


and Minnow (the small one, I’m not sure what the taller one is, but it is so multiheaded and tall it tends to fall over).IMG_1330

And in pots I have Narcissi Thalia, IMG_1322

and, in my long troughs, Segovia.IMG_1369 (2)

In other pots I have Tulip Apricot Beauty, Grevillea and pale yellow pansies.IMG_1319

Elsewhere in the garden, fruit blossom (Nectarine and Cherry),

some blues – clockwise Forget me not (in front of Stipa tenuissima), Cerinthe, Scilla, Pulmonaria and Lithodora Heavenly Blue (with Crocus cream Beauty).

and some pinks, Geranium, hellebore, bergenia and beautiful self seeded primula.



And then in the greenhouse, pelargoniums

and lastly this beauty.  It was bought in the flower market in Funchal in Madeira last Christmas, but I’ve got no idea what it’s called.  And suggestions?IMG_1378

My over-the-road oak, March


Like Annette at My Aberdeen Garden with her Copper Beech, I’m (rather belatedly) joining  Lucy  at  LooseAndLeafy with her meme on ‘Follow  a Tree’.

The tree I’ve chosen isn’t actually in my garden, it’s over the road on the National Trust land in front of our house.  To the bottom of this photo you can see the sign for the footpath that runs down the hill to the Duver at the bottom, and on to the beach.

The oak is to the south of us and so, come Autumn, the prevailing winds ensure that 90% of all the leaves end up in our garden or on the drive.  Consequently we now have two leaf mould bins, which are overflowing.

Although this post is supposed to be just about the tree, I couldn’t help but add in the backdrop of Bembridge Harbour to give the tree some island context.

What would give some really special island context would be if I could ever capture a picture of one of the red squirrels in the oak.  They regularly run across the road, up into this tree and then jump from tree to tree to wherever their drey is situated, much further away from the road.  I’ve tried to photograph them once or twice, but boy do they move fast.

I look forward to sharing this tree with you over the coming months.


Jenny up, Jenny down


On Monday and Tuesday this week I was working away from home, and on my return I discovered that the daffodils in both the Swing Beds, and the Oak Bed, had all burst into flower.  The particular daffodils in question are Narcissus Jenny , first bought by my mother as a cunning (September) birthday present for A. knowing that I’d love them, which I do.

Not only do I like the fact that the petals are pale, dainty and reflexed, but of course I like the fact they share my name, and since that first bag of bulbs at least ten years ago, I’ve always grown them.  I obviously grow other Narcissi too to extend the season – Tete a Tete, Thalia, Sinopel, Cornish Chuckle, Minnow, Segovia and Old Pheasants Eye but I think the Jennys are my favourites.



So if that’s ‘Jenny up’ what’s ‘Jenny down’?  Well that would be me, missing the last step outside the house in the dark last night (sober!) and spraining my ankle.  Not sure what’s more distasteful about this picture, the swollen ankle or my winter white skin….


So consequently I am hobbling around feeling rather foolish and useless, and yet taking a moment to appreciate how lucky I am to be usually fit and active.

And of course the real joke is – guess what was delivered yesterday morning:


Now who on earth is going to barrow that around?  Sigh.

Vanity thy name is Duver Diary*


Recently I’ve been reading other bloggers’ posts showing their flowerbeds in all their wintery nakedness and I’m wondering whether to follow suit.  On the one hand, part of the point of the blog is to capture the garden as the year progresses, and yet, i would also like it to be a visual treat, (especially after last weekend’s photography course).  Consequently, like an extended Burlesque show, I think I’ll show you a glimpse at a time, and hopefully, by the time all is revealed, it won’t still be naked.

Along the way I also wanted to share a few close ups captured during the recent glorious weather.  The one above shows the new leaves of a honeysuckle planted last year to grow up a tree.  As this shot shows, it hasn’t yet reached the tree and its current ‘mid air’ habit prompted me to stop and admire the leaves, rather than the flowers, as one would usually.

The picture below is of Crocus Cream Beauty whose sunny faces are smiling at me from numerous pots around the garden.  I love the perfect shadow of the anthers against the petal.


So the first reveal.  These are the ‘Swing beds,’ named after the beautiful Sitting Spiritually swing we installed over three years ago when these beds were first created.  The swing faces west and the beds are roughly symmetrical, although there is an apple tree growing in the right hand bed that was already in situ that we didn’t have the heart to pull out.


To the left of these beds are some terraced vegetable and fruit beds (out of sight and very naked currently), and to the right is the so called ‘Grass’ bed which runs alongside the road (although 10ft higher) which is lined by Stipa tenuissima, probably my favourite grass.  Beyond the garden you can see the mouth of Bembridge Harbour and the eastern end of the Solent.

Thursday was largely spent working on the Swing beds, pruning the roses, cutting back and dividing, as well as weeding a worrying patch of couch grass.  I’ve recently ordered two ton sacks of compost from the council and the next job is to mulch them.

Here’s the left hand bed a little closer.   The stand out plant at the moment is the lovely lime green of the Euphorbia wulfennii which was moved from elsewhere in the garden when the beds were first planted, but also, although you can’t see from this distance, some Cerinthe Major plants which have survived the mild winter are also just starting to flower.



And lastly a peek of the ‘Blue’ bed last year.  Take a careful look at the Erysimum Bowles Mauve…2013 05 006 (2)

…and now look at it.  Ah well, thank goodness I took cuttings.


*So just for our Shakespearean education, I thought I’d check where the quote came from and it turns out that ‘Vanity….’ isn’t the quote.  The quote, from Hamlet, is actually “Frailty, thy name is woman!” and, according to Yahoo answers, Hamlet says it because he was cross with his mother for remarrying his father’s brother within a month of his father’s death.  

Furthermore, Wikipedia, tells us that ” ______ thy name is ______” is “a ‘snowclone’, used to indicate the completeness with which something or somebody (indicated by the second part) embodies a particular quality (indicated by the first part), usually a negative one”.  And ‘snowclone’ is defined  “a neologism for a type of cliché and phrasal template originally defined as a multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn, quoted or misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of different variants”

So now we know.  But I’m still not going to change the title.

March’s barrow

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To be honest the barrow hasn’t moved on much from February.

The fuschia (amazingly) continues to flower, but I’ve also added my Grevillea to the mix, as well as the Carex ‘Everillo’ to pick up on the yellow of the Tete a tete.  Lastly I popped a pot of tulips, which were flowering in the greenhouse, on top of the Cineraria.

Don’t f-stop me now


Yesterday I was back at the Ventnor Botanic Garden to attend a photography course entitled “Get off Auto”.

Modern digital SLR cameras are so easy and effective on Auto mode that it is tempting to never stray, and just click away, rejecting any photos that don’t work.  And indeed that’s what I’ve done to date with the photos on this blog.  However, having had a father who was photography obsessed (pre digital, of course), I’ve always known there was a ‘non Auto’ world out there, and yesterday I took some baby steps to discover it, with the help of my two lovely course tutors Julian Winslow and Simon Wells.

We learnt about composition, aperture, depth of field and shutter speed.  And then, after a tasty lunch, got into even more detail with exposure (exposure level increments are measured in f-stops, hence the title) as well as light metering, white balance and ‘chimping’.


The two photos above of magnolia, both flower and bud, taken at VBG yesterday, were an exercise in the use of a relatively short depth of field, where the background was made deliberately blurry.  Conversely, the picture below taken at home this morning of the ‘Gentleman Bather’ sculpture by Denis Fairweather looking at my Prunus persica Mesembrine was all about exposure compensation, where I manually increased the exposure to ensure the Gentleman’s features could be seen.  I think I’ve rather overdone it as the peach blossom looks a little bleached, but I actually quite like the effect and it is heartening to realise I couldn’t have got a shot anything like it by leaving the camera on Auto, so I must have learnt something!


This particular tree is a nectarine with doughtnut shaped fruit (which I think I chose because I’d read that they ripen more easily than the larger spherical ones).  It grows in a large pot under a glass canopy, and not only does the canopy offer some protection against the dreaded ‘peach leaf curl’, but the glass warms the surroundings and thus helps to ripen the fruit.  Last year (year 2) we harvested just three fruits, but the flavour was stunning – unrecognisable from the bullet like nectarines we are offered by the supermarkets.  I think one of the reasons for the lack of fruit last year was some rather erratic watering, so I need to be more careful this year.  Also, I will need to tickle the blossom with a soft paint brush to ensure pollination of these beautiful flowers, as the bees are currently rather thin on the ground (or indeed the air).

And the last plant pictures are a mystery one from Ventnor (do you know what it is yet?) as well as a continued celebration of my Melianthus Major.  This has never previously got through the winter without being ‘frosted’.  I continue to cross my fingers.

Now whether the course will make any noticeable difference to the quality of my pictures  I don’t know.  What I do know however is that today I’ve been wandering round and round the garden taking the same picture over and over again using different settings and then uploading and critiquing, and then starting again.  Which is all very interesting and enjoyable, but it doesn’t get the seeds planted: