Andrew from Dolton
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In My Garden, November and December.
"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it,
the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show."
At seven in the morning a full moon shines out over a silvery garden, we've now had the first proper Dahlia slaying frosts. This coldness strikes a chill as harsh as the frost itself into the hearts of summer only gardeners. Killing off the last dregs of summer it's now time for winter work to begin in earnest and to draw up plans for the coming new year.
An exciting tree has just been delivered with a peculiar name: +Laburnocytissus adamii. The "+" denoting a chimera or graft hybrid. In the 1820's a Parisian nursery was growing standards of purple broom by grafting it onto a Laburnum stem, the two species are very closely related. One of these was broken and damaged but from where the union of the two plants had been a curious shoot grew with foliage half way between the laburnum and broom. I have to say it makes a rather unattractive tree, the growth is like a somewhat shrubby laburnum and the flowers an unpretty muddy pink. However there are other coloured flowers too, about 20 percent of the tree remains pure laburnum whilst a tiny amount of purple broom also thrives as wiry stemmed tufts amongst the branches. Twelve years or so ago there were various gardens opened in the village as a fund raising event for charity. A very new incomer to the village at the time I became disoriented and ended up in a wrong garden, just off the village square. In this garden was the most spectacular Adam's laburnum in a perfect flush of full flower, by far best specimen I'd ever seen (an exceptional crimson hawthorn next to it too), in the half dozen or so open gardens this was without doubt the most interesting plant to be seen that afternoon.
After a promising start today the sky soon clouded and a grey lid of gloominess spread across the heavens, it was not long before there was steady and heavy rain. I detest working in these conditions as it's very bad for the soil if you keep tramping about all over it when it is wet. I changed tack and bought baskets of logs inside instead and my lemon tree too. Lemons are one of the hardiest of citrus fruits but even so its time spent alfresco can be somewhat of an ordeal in my garden with night time temperatures even in summer too cool for its tastes.
I was staying in Barbados seven years ago and every evening at my hotel bar from half past five to half past six they held an "attitude adjustment" hour. The bar and restaurant were right on the beach with the sea lapping up against one side of it. Two drinks for the price of one soon creates a high spirited ambience in any bar, but here at around a quarter past six a hush gradually descends as the customers begin looking around and orienting themselves towards the west; the sun has started its descent below the horizon. Dawn and dusk are very short events on the island with only a brief period of change between afternoon and night, the rapid transit from bright sunshine into darkness. For fifteen minutes or so conversation is reduced to muted tones as everyone stands in awe to admire the beauty. One especially fine occasion; reds, purples, oranges, vermillion, enough to have driven Turner to tears, sticks in my mind. I was sipping on a spectacularly well poured gin and tonic and musing that life was very good indeed, I noticed a pip within the slice of lemon. I wrapped this inside a napkin and took it back home to Devon with me. Two plants germinated from it, slugs ate one, but the other survived and is over two metres tall now. Citrus seldom make good plants grown from seed, growing too vigorously making a thorny tree then fruiting poorly. Nevertheless the leaves have a wonderful peppery lemon fragrance when rubbed in my fingers and the little tree reminds me of blessed times in The Caribbean.
Thank you to the people who give me so much positivity and encouragement for my writing in The Diary; mid-winter cheerfulness and a very happy 2018 to you all.
© AndrewtheGardener 12/11/17
In My garden, October.
"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it,
and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth
seeking the successive autumns."
At the entrance to Halsdon Woods and opposite my cottage by the stream ash saplings are presenting the first signs of Chalara, ash die back disease. This could be as devastating to ash trees as Dutch elm disease was to elms fifty years ago.
In the 1990's I partook on several plant collecting expeditions to Romania. Back then to enable you move plants from one country to another a visit to the relevant Ministry of Agriculture department was required. Before leaving the country of origin the plants were inspected and once they were pronounced free of any disease or pests they were given a phytosanitary certificate. On returning home you entered customs via the red channel declaring the plants and appropriate certification; any plants without correct papers were almost without exception destroyed. You were then only permitted for six weeks to grow the plants in a designated location isolated from any other related plants until the Min. of Ag. had inspected them again.
Around twenty years ago restrictions were lifted allowing plants greater freedom of movement making export and importing a far simpler process. Since that time many more pathogens and undesirable creepy crawlies have found their way onto our shores, every year new troubles are reported and gaining a toe-hold here. Perhaps one good legacy of Brexit will be a return to more stringent plant hygiene and pest control.
My mother was highly intelligent and particularly artistic, able to execute and complicated tapestry or intricate knitting pattern. She was always keen to start some new project, her mind ever active in perusing new crafts; weaving, spinning, dyeing, ribbon work and sewing, as if she wanted to thwart the declining dexterity in her fingers and hands before they became as useless as the rest of her body; she had M.S.. On days out we would often collect stuff we found, sheep’s wool and fir cones, maple seeds or the little furry acorn cups from Quercus cerris, the turkey oak for various creative projects she was planning. On one outing to a stately home whilst walking through the magnificent stands of Weymouth pines, Pinus strobus, we collected cones from these trees, elongated, pale tan coloured and covered in horrid sticky resin. My mother had great plans to do something artful with them. They however stayed in their bag for years in a cupboard in my bedroom, later during a tidying up session and amidst cries of “I’m keeping those!” they migrated up into the loft. And it was here that I found them many years later buried in the clutter of thirty years habitation and storage a sad souvenir of happier times. I was clearing-out the house prior to moving away to Devon. The cones were crushed and broken, shrivelled and useless however at the bottom of the bag were hundreds and hundreds of rounded dark grey seeds.
I planted a handful of these seeds in a pan that was placed inside a cold frame and left for the winter. Seeds are best stored in a constantly cool atmosphere so I had not expected anything to germinate after so many roasting summers and freezing winters in the attic. But, like wheat from a Pharaoh’s tomb two seedlings germinated. One was lost during the move to Dolton but the other grows very happily enjoying the cool wet summers in this part of the country, it has grown almost five metres high now, and this year for the first time it is now baring cones of its own.
© AndrewtheGardener 10/10/17
In My Garden, September.
“…and when I am here I spend more time writing at my desk than outside in the garden. But to maintain my sanity I need at least one full day a week in the garden. It works better than any pill, better than any medicine. Earth heals”.
Until the end of the eighteenth century nearly all the roses we grew in Europe only flowered once at mid-summer. There was however a race called the autumn damasks that gave another scat of flower around September time, ‘Rose de Rescht’ is one of these. The blooms are very double and very flat in strong cerise pink with a rich sweet old rose fragrance typical of all the damask roses. In our damp, cool, blackspot prone climate, it is a particularly trouble-free and disease resistant rose to grow. It was discovered apparently in the middle east by the plantswoman Nancy Lindsay. Now, if one was being charitable one would describe Ms Lindsay as “fanciful”, if one was not she would be called a blatant liar. In 1945 she partook on a rather mysterious plant collecting expedition in the area that backalong was still called Persia. Some of the plants she apparently collected never grew in that location, this rose was reportedly found near the city of Rasht by the Caspian Sea, although sceptics have compared it as identical to the old French varieties ‘Bernard’ or ‘Perpetual Pompon’. Compact, healthy, free flowering, what ever its origins are, it is a very undemanding and rewarding rose to grow.
In the hedgerows berries and haws are ripening. There are two very common briars, the field rose and dog rose that right now are festooned with hips. If you look hard and carefully you occasionally find a third species of rose. Rosa dumalis is known as the glaucous rose because of the bluish sheen on the new foliage. The flowers have fuller petals and a much richer pink colour than a dog rose making it look very obvious when in bloom. The hips are also bigger, a lighter orange, and have a leafy frill upon their tips. This is called a calyx; it what remains of the green bud that once protected then supported the petals. In other roses these shrivel away as the hip begins to ripen, but on this rose they persist making it very easy to identify when in fruit. It has the most ferocious prickles! Sickle shaped and razor sharp they will rake a bloody furrow in your skin at the slightest provocation. Randomly scattered; there is a plant on the way to The Beacon, another in Aller Road toward Cheribeer and in Hollocombe and so on sporadically across North Devon. However, any book will tell you that Rosa dumalis is absent in the west only to be found much further north and into Scotland. Even the Reverend W. Keeble Martin, long term resident of Torrington rectory and commemorated with a blue plaque. He wrote and beautifully illustrated the invaluable Concise British Flora, but never described the rose as growing in this location. I was very doubtful myself until it was confirmed as the glaucous rose by experts. Why it is has not been noted in this area before is a mystery.
The feeling of autumn is very strong already after weeks of chilliness with some amount of rain almost every single day; maples and horse chestnuts are already beginning to turn. Autumn can be a melancholy time of year; a lament for the summer just passed and concern for the winter to come, like mourning for lost youth and dreading your impending old age.
© AndrewtheGardener 2/9/17.
In My Garden, August.
Who misses or who wins the prize,
Go, lose or conquer as you can;
But if you fail, or if you rise,
Be each, pray God, a gentleman.
THE VERY REVEREND S. REYNOLDS HOLE.
Several years ago I planted Hydrangeas, taken from hard wood cuttings; they have now made good flowering sized plants. If there is a hard winter, 2010 for example, in my garden, they will be killed right down to the ground. They recover from this however but it will stop them flowering later on that year. The best way to prune them is in March; remove all the previous season’s spent flower heads cutting back to a healthy pair of buds. Otherwise just prune out the older wood, three year growths and older or they will lose vigour and become unproductive and it will encourage newer and stronger growths from down below. To give them the best protection from frosts I grow them in a west facing site between a densely planted group of birches and trees on the boundary. This not only protects them in winter but also gives protection from late spring frosts that will easily burn off any new shoots which they seem all too impatient to want to grow. The foliage of birches will never completely cause total shade. However closely planted they are, my 30 trees are planted 60 cm apart in a crescent shape; no matter how tight they are there is always dappled sunlight shimmering through.
Each year I endeavour to try and name their varieties. Hydranga flowers vary so vastly depending on the age of the blooms or the PH of the soil. My soil is just the acid side of neutral; here pink, white or blue Hydrangeas retain their initial colour. In an alkaline environment the blues all turn to pinks. I once worked in a garden on the edge of Dartmoor, the soil was so acidic it was almost off the scale, every Hydranga no matter what variety soon flowered the most vibrant Oxford blue. I’m trying to find their names; I think one is a large mop headed variety called ‘Vicomtesse Vibraye’. They are the most tediously difficult plants to identify, little wonder their local name is Changeables.
Rosa roxburghii is in fruit now. Called the Chestnut Rose for good reason the rounded hips are covered in masses of tiny prickles. Very unrose-like, the leaves are composed of up to 19 tiny leaflets and very attractive peeling bark, the growth is far more angular and shrubby than any other rose. In fact so unrose-like is it that it is only on the cusp of being a rose, on the borderline of being given its own genus, Platyrhodon. The flat single flowers are pale pink darkening at the edges opening during June and have an ephemeral beauty lasting a day or so. The fruits become yellowish as they ripen and fall off all together often in the space of a day or too. These hips have a pleasant fruity smell, in its native China they are made into a delicious wine.
I’ve got, dahlias, roses, sweet peas or potatoes, onions, beans etc at home as good as that! Maybe you have; comments over heard at the flower show, but, these people have bothered to enter, to prepare and display the flowers or produce they’ve worked so hard to raise. I’m always astonished at the high standards of the Flower Show coming from small villages of around 1,000 people. Not just horticulturally, but the general overall high levels of craft and artistry. It’s something that Dolton and Dowland should be very proud about.
© AndrewtheGardener 13/8/17.