Camassia, May 2005

Above: Blue Camassia, May 2005

Garden diary: April

31 May 2005

Garden birds

I hoped that I'd be able to report that a whole brood of young blue tits were occupying the nest box, or sitting in the tree branches in the garden. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to have worked out this time. Not sure what went wrong, but please see Blue tits nesting for a summary.

It's perhaps me over-sentimentalising things, but I find that the garden seems a bit flat and uninspiring for a day or two after this kind of thing. There have been a lot of failed nesting attempts over the years, but it's always a bit sad nonetheless. Perhaps because of the symbolism we attach to birds, and their flight, which seems like freedom.

The swifts symbolise this freedom, and they're still above the garden, in screaming flight over this and nearby streets. The day the nest box went quiet they were also absent, and I realised later in the day that the strangeness I was aware of was the silence. You get so used to the background sounds from birds in the vicinity, and take it for granted sometimes. When it's absent though you notice. The swifts returned to the area in the evening, screeching over the rooftops as enthusiastically as ever, and it felt like everything had gone back into its normal place.

Garden plants

This is the time when the garden goes into its predominantly mauve phase, or possibly a purple patch. There are though delphiniums just opening, and some are blue, and I guess that some of the alliums are more pinkish, but still there's this general tendency towards mauve/lilac/purple.

The most impressive plant just now is Geranium 'Johnson's Blue' - which does seem to be more blue than purple/lilac/mauve, as its name suggests. My plant tends to flop about rather, possibly because it's trying to find more space in my overplanted garden, but as it lolls about on the slate chippings of the path it looks particularly handsome.

New plants

A trip to the Harlow Carr gardens last week also involved a quick trip through its range of plants for sale, and I was pleased to discover two plants on my wish-list - an Itea ilicifolia (long coveted) and a Skimmia x confusa 'Kew Green' (recently coveted).

No pictures as yet as they're mainly leaves, and just planted/potted up. I realise though that both have green flowers. I'm also now coveting Daphne pontica and Daphne laureola, which also have green flowers. Good job I've got some bright red dahlias growing too, or it could all get a bit muted and monotone out there.

23 May 2005

In the last couple of days the blue tits have hatched in the nest box on the wall. I can hear a faint cheeping coming from inside the box, and the parents visit frequently, and dash about the garden examining rose stems, or looking into crevices in the brick walls, searching for suitable food. For the first time this year I'm really hoping for a good outbreak of aphids on the roses, so that the blue tits have available food for their young.

The garden is looking lush and full of buds above an ever-spreading tapestry of green. Woodland Corner is now full of burgeoning growth, with dicentras and pulmonaria hanging their leaves luxuriantly over the edges of the fast-disappearing path. The apple tree above is now full of leaf, increasing the shade below it.

The silvered leaves of the pulmonaria light up the increasing gloom, alongside the tiny white starry flowers of sweet woodruff. On the wall behind them more white flowers are provided by the choisya, full of flower this year, apparently very happy on the west-facing, rather shaded wall.

There's not a lot of bright colour yet, but the two brightest patches, provided by tulips, are enough. I lost a lot of tulips last year to some nasty disease, and ended up throwing away many bulbs I was doubtful about, so this year had only a few varieties, all in pots. A bright red variety which flowered in April was followed by 'Mariette' - which I've grown before.

Mysterious tulip

The star of the tulips this year though was an orange lily-flowered tulip. I wanted the variety 'Ballerina', which I grew last year, but I was rather too late in organising my bulb buying, and couldn't find it at the garden centre.

I bought another variety called 'Marjolein' that, on the photo on the box, looked very similar. It's proved to be a splendid thing, though I did have my doubts. I've had difficulties confirming it as what it's supposed to be, on my Google search just now. The 'Marjolein' I've found in photos on the web looks very different. My tulip looks actually very similar to 'Ballerina', which I'm very happy about. As well as being an elegant shape and a brilliant colour, it is very strongly scented.


Major pruning took place last year, and on areas of the boundary wall this spring, so there are obvious gaps where previously there was a wild tangle of growth. Most plants are in leaf now, but the Parthenocissus quinquefolia and the jasmine are much later into leaf than the other climbers, and I'm hoping that they'll catch up soon, and fill the empty areas with green.

I'm beginning to realise that more careful and thoughtful pruning is necessary, to keep the garden in the right kind of balance. So many things are well-established now, with large rootstocks, and they increase in girth each year.

18 May 2005

After eight and a half years I've finally worked out what to do with the far corner of the garden, and a solid - though small - brick circle was constructed this weekend.

When I refer to the 'far corner' I realise that it sounds like I've got a huge garden, but in fact the far corner is easily visible from the kitchen window, and I call it the far corner only because it's the furthest from the house, and referring to it as such distinguishes it from Woodland Corner and Kitchen Corner. (There should be a fourth corner, I realise, but the buildings - the kitchen, then the outhouse, then Millennium Shed - encroach in a kind of staggered way, leaving several corners so small that they've never accrued a theme or a name.)

The Far Corner is the sunniest corner late in the afternoon. It faces south-west, and during the part of the year when the sun is highest - now, as we move towards the longest day in June - it gets some sunlight in the evening over the house roof and around the side of the house. It's been difficult to soak up this sunlight because there was never a proper surface for a chair, in exactly the right place. But there is now. Hurrah.

It was though an arduous and tedious job, and I fretted that my circle would be mathematically incorrect, and look more like an egg. Thankfully it is circular, and despite my distinctly amateur bricklaying, it's even level enough to stand a chair on.

New brick circle, May 2005


3 May 2005

It's still raining a fair bit, but inbetween there are times when the sun shines and you can see how much everything is growing. The earth feels warm, even if it's too wet to plant in. When I'm passing other gardens in the neighbourhood I'm amazed by the brightness of the green in the newly-unfurled beech hedges. If I had a big enough garden I'd have hedges of beech and hawthorn, but within the walls here other plants are brilliant green too, and they're creeping up the walls and expanding in the flowerbeds. Above, the swifts fly in screaming flight, having arrived on Friday above our neighbourhood. This evening they were coming down low, near the rooftops.

Below them, I took advantage of a break in the rain showers to wander around the garden this evening. Choisya ternata and Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' were gleaming white in Woodland Corner. Tulips are flowering in pots and in the flowerbeds. Geranium tuberosum makes its brief and beautiful appearance too. The fast-expanding Acer palmatum dissectum 'Garnet' seems redder than I've ever seen it, and the golden mock orange seems more golden than I've ever seen it, and the green seems brighter than I've ever seen it. But I think that every year, about this time. There is probably nothing better in the garden than newly-unfurled leaves in May.

In a quiet moment I heard the familiar soft and reassuring sound of a collared dove's wings, as it landed in the apple tree, looking to see if there was anything left on the bird table. A female blackbird sat on the edge of the raised bed, preening her feathers after bathing. A dunnock, which seems to be looking for a nesting site in the garden, was close by, on top of the ivy on the garden wall. Dove, dunnock, blackbird and me. And a moment of almost silence. And a blue tit in the nest box there on the wall, sitting on eggs. And a rain-soaked garden, with the almond scent of choisya blossom.

1 May 2005

We've had a lot of rain since I last reported, so the plants purchased this week haven't yet been planted, as the ground is too wet. Today, a morning of sunshine and warm temperatures meant the ground was beginning to dry a little, but in the window of opportunity available, in mid-afternoon, I didn't get much done before a torrential downpour sent me back inside.

What I had to tackle was far less interesting than planting, involving trying to dig out roots of the golden hop plant, which have spread rather further than I wanted them to. Near to where the hop is planted we made a raised bed, over where our cats Leaps and Spike were buried. This area, in front of the ivy, had rather poor and dry soil, and always looked a bit empty and forlorn. A Clematis armandii we planted there when Leaps was buried died off mysteriously a couple of years later. It seemed best to raise the level with a raised bed, filled with a better quality soil/compost mixture to give plants more of a chance to get their roots established, so one was constructed with timber gravel boards. Last year it contained only temporary plants, but this year it would be good to have something more long-lasting. I've noticed though that the golden hop seems to have spread into this area, and I've already had one go at removing the long runners that seem to be creeping up the back. I love the luxuriance of the golden hop, but last year it was a little too exuberant. Further investigation revealed that it had well-established roots right underneath our raised bed, and I realised that I'd have to dig them out.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and I could hear my neighbours in the garden, planting things and chatting. I was digging an enormous amount of soil from the raised bed, and dumping it all in a heap nearby, all hot and bad-tempered. I kept finding bits of golden hop root, and trying to trace them back to their source, and finding that they didn't just go horizontally, but appeared well-entrenched deep in the bowels of the earth. I excavated more and more soil, and the heap next to me got bigger, and I ran out of space, and ended up shovelling it into bags, and still couldn't get deep enough to get the golden hop root out without breaking it off. The thing has roots like ropes, and they were so deep I thought I'd meet Australia at any moment.

After much struggling and swearing and puffing and panting I managed to extract the villainous roots and haul them free of the raised bed. This involved at least one moment that reminded me of a children's story I read when I was small, about an enormous turnip or something that had to be pulled from the ground. I was pulling with great force, and at one point did fall over backwards into a heap of soil.

I then had to shovel back in all the soil I'd dug out. The sun went in and I felt a change in the air as if rain was on its way. This isn't because of some mystical awareness like pine cones have, just because I expected that it would rain, as I had a huge heap of soil in the middle of a flowerbed. As I started to shovel the soil back in, my arms aching from the previous efforts, a few warning drops landed.

If there was such a thing as a contest for soil-shovelling, I would have won it. In the following few minutes I had to get the enormous heap of soil back into the raised bed, before it turned into mud and collapsed into the plants in the flowerbed around it. Just as I finished the rain began, and I retreated to the house. Well, actually the shed, thinking it was only a light shower. I was then stranded in the shed as the 'shower' turned into one of those torrential downpours where it bounces back up off the pavements. I ran inside, taking a trail of soil with me. I realised, as soil crumbs were deposited, that you should never wear trousers with baggy turn-ups when you're standing digging in the middle of a large heap of soil.

Back to May highlights and diaries


Clematis - The President, May 

Above: Clematis "The President", May 2002

Garden diary: June