Back to the Mat

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 ©CR

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Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve been here! I thought I’d drop by and post a few updates.

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Ta daa! Antirrhinum majus “Madame Butterfly”

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I finally finished my horticulture diploma exams, a serious relief after many twists and turns along the way.  I decided that this year should be about exploring; learning about different flower varieties, trying out a few different growing techniques, and practicing ways of displaying flowers once they leave the ground.

I’ve found the garden creeping heavily into my artwork too! I pressed a few flowers several weeks ago and was so excited at how well they worked, I’ll most definitely be doing more. I’m aware that the colours may fade quickly so I’m working on ways to scan them and present them. Collaging with real materials is such a lovely thing to do. I found myself working more methodically and peacefully handling these tiny pieces, a contrast to my usual cat-running-about-chasin’-a-mouse way of working.

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There’s something about floating towards middle age and starting to like flower arranging that seems so cliche that I’ve hardly dared admit it to myself, let alone my friends, who already tease me a little, but, once I started to think of it as “Painting with Flowers”, I now feel a little bit cooler and have been letting rip. Let them laugh, I think, I’m enjoying myself. I’ve been trying out different combinations of flowers – here are my favourite Madame Butterfly with light coloured Lavender, and on the right Phlox “Creme Brulee” with Alchemilla, Sedum, Antirrhinum “Royal Bride” and some Sweet Peas, “Jilly” and “Charlie’s Angel”.

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I grew my sweet peas up a frame this year and they’re doing really well! I slightly regretted so many muted colours, they are beautiful pastel shades but next year I’ll add a few more bold ones. They have lovely long stems and such a good scent – walking around here with the lilies and everything else makes me swoon a little like a 1950’s movie star..the hunting for and picking off of rogue seedheads though is less swoon more swear.

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Sweet Pea “Jilly”, “Mollie Rilstone”, “Charlie’s Angel”, and “Valerie Harrod” and a small bouquet of Hydrangea, Sweet Peas and Lavender

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With all the hurry of exams and general life I forgot to add my netting through this bed, and so it rambled a bit, but I’m still getting good stems from them and the combinations looked so lovely in the fading light.. Allium Sphaerocephalon, Phlox “Creme Brulee”, mixed Antirrhinum and Sweet William.

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Well, that’s my update, I’m hoping to post another very soon, now it’s back to the cutting mat and the cutting patch! Happy August to you wherever you are!!

 

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Snow, Rain, Sun, Snow again, Sun, and… Tulips!!

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TULIPS!

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Despite wierd weather for the past few months, my tulips are out now and they’re a truly welcome sight! Double Tulip “Sunlover” (1+3) was the first to come out, it’s big, blowsy and cheerful and I love it. The heads are heavy  so if you don’t want the droopy look you’re best to tie in the stems on picking. I actually quite like that romantic look though so I just added a few grasses and they’ve been blooming beautifully for almost a week now. I also cut a few as shorter stems and they look lovely with anemones and lavender. These look as if they would smell deliciously tangerine-like, but, though they look almost like a rose, they sadly carry no scent..they are making up for this with colour though – as the days go by they are deepening to the most lovely reddish orange. The others in the hand held photograph are a mix of Belle Epoque, Apricot Parrot and Angelique.

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This mystery tulip above came in with the Angelique bulbs, and it was a nice surprise! Angelique below is delicate and lovely, almost like a wild rose. My quick iphone shot isn’t really doing the colour justice. (I’m planning better ways to photograph these this year). It’s just the most lovely, blossom-like pink and white, I’ve planted lots for my Mum’s birthday this year. She used to be a dancer, and these remind me of tutu’s somehow..

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Looking at the fantastic varied forms of tulips I came across these illustrations from long ago. We have loved tulips for a long time..!

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Besler, Basilius 1613

A. Botanical watercolours from the late 17th century, Swann Galleries

B. Tulipa Versicolor Magdalena Bouchard, 1772–1796 

C. Besler, Basilius. Pair of hand-colored engraved plates of tulips, extracted from Besler’s “Hortus Eystettensis”, 1613, Swann Galleries

From Snow to Sleet to Spring!

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We had a short break in Cornwall about a month ago, and though it was cold we had some blissfully welcome sunshine. Right at the end of our trip however, the snow began to fall in soft, light flakes over our holiday house…

 

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(Our borrowed dream home…!)

The snow was a pretty romantic way to end our trip, but also slightly worrying as we had to drive home and pick up our cats from their own rather rural “holiday” house, plus return them to a place in chaos as our landlord had been installing a new bathroom while we were away, and had been held up by the snow, so our house was not a home for them inside, and the garden and fields that they love outside were covered in white..

I wish I had taken a picture of their braveness – the snow reached their bellies, and yet they were still determined to get outside, and went leaping cautiously out into the night time as soon as they arrived home.

I had sown quite a few seeds a few weeks before we left, plus had a few anemones coming along in the cold frame which I had put in under cover, and I’m glad I did. Many of the young seedlings stopped growing completely for a while, but all seem now back on track. It’s incredible to me how plants survive a blanket of snow. Many of my crocuses were still lying open once the thaw had passed, and my camellia buds stayed firm and strong.

Time and time again I am reminded of the way plants reflect our experience as humans during life. We can surprise ourselves at our resilience, our ability to experience a “second spring”. Sometimes coldness can bring unexpected beauty, sometimes it can chill and frighten us back into our bud. With love and tender care, we can become our best and most brilliant selves.

Nature shows us that change is always inevitable. When we are in the company of a person or being or plant giving out its best, and expressing a joy for living, it uplifts the air around us.

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Images above:

  1. Four of our allotment in snow
  2. Heather and gorse on the cliffs at Sennen, Cornwall – blackened, freezing, windswept, and alive.
  3. Reaching the point of the cliffs, Sennen.
  4. Falling petals, bursting buds at Trengwainton Garden, Penzance.
  5. Cornish daffodils just before the snow, Porthleven
  6. Another great view, so alive for March!  Trengwainton Gardens, Penzance.

The Learning Curve

 

 

 

 

I’m coming to the end of my diploma this year, and I’ll be taking my last two exams in June. It’s been a really great experience in all, I’ve learned so much, and feel like a very different gardener from the beginning, where I had lots of enthusiasm but really no idea what I didn’t know. It’s true that the more that you learn, the more stupid you feel – as the time’s gone on I’ve developed an even greater respect for professional gardeners!

I’m reaching the end of my excitement for the kind of rote learning necessary for exam taking, and I can’t wait until I’m just out there doing it all! I’ve tried to come up with new and inventive ways of cramming all the information into my head. One way I’ve found is to draw the ideas down on paper. I can recall the details so much more easily, and my anxiety about remembering doesn’t get so badly in the way, I slow down and see the picture in my mind. I’ve recently created a series of worksheets for myself to remember the basic facts of pest life cycles. I have them on my wall for revision and even though they are pests, I quite enjoy looking at them in my breaks! Here are a few I’ve completed so far:

Lifecycle of the Cabbage White Butterfly

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Lifecycle of the Black Bean Aphid black bean aphid

Lifecycle of the Potato Cyst Eelwormpotato cyst eelworm lifecycle

Lifecycle of the Vine Weevil

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New Year, New Flowers!

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In an attempt to fight off the January blues, I got myself going this week and have been busy organising and planning. It seems odd to be thinking of sowing seeds in this weather, but Sarah Raven told me on YouTube that it was a great time to sow Sweet Peas, so I ordered some root trainers and got going! Apparently Sweet Peas like a little tough love, so they’ll be the first occupants of my new cold frame which arrived at the weekend! It needs a little upgrading in a few areas – you can’t adjust the height of the opening at the moment so I’m going to fix that, and some of the glazing needs pinning down a little – but as it was a third of the price of a full bells and whistles cold frame I’m pretty happy!

I’m planning on growing five varieties this year, all with hopefully long stems and a good scent. My plan is to construct a trellis rather than a wigwam as last year. I realised with the wigwam that though it looked lovely, it’s much harder to get at any rogue seedpods or flowers creeping along inside, and also difficult to extract, or replant any plants that aren’t working.

 

This years Sweet Peas, from Top L clockwise, Sweet Pea “Charlie’s Angel”, “Jilly”, “Mollie Rilstone”, “Valerie Harrod” and “Beaujolais”

I also got an amazing surprise present for Christmas – five dahlia tubers, which will be delivered to me soon! I’m hoping to replant my Burlesca Dahlia too, so I’m going to have a fair few this year to choose from!

 

Clockwise from Top L: Dahlia “Arabian Night”, “Art Deco”, “Cabellero”, “Golden Sceptre”, “Night Butterfly”, and “Burlesca”

I’m always overwhelmed by what to grow as I have a small space but a big excitement. As a way to help me choose this year, I decided to think about making a different bouquet or two for each season. I’ve learned a little about bouquet making last year, and I also found the advice on Floret’s website really useful. She suggests choosing plants from five categories to mix together – Focal, Spikes, Disks, Filler and Air. To make sure I had a few of each of these per season I chose a few specifically in these categories (and also what I’d be excited growing, no point forgetting about that!!) Here’s my plan for Spring:

 

SPRING FOCALS – Tulips, Alliums and Peonies

 

SPRING SPIKESStocks and Antirrhinum

 

SPRING DISKS – Anemone Coronaria, Sweet William and Allium

 

SPRING FILLER –  Sweet Rocket ,Buddleja Mint, Queen Anne’s Lace, Alchemilla Mollis

 

SPRING AIR – Love-In-A-Mist, Aquilegia, Cornflower, Forget-Me-Not, Cress.

So, from my January blues, thanks again to flowers and the thought of growing things to cheer me up and make me feel full of hope and colour again!

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The crocus’ from my bulb lasagne experiment have arrived!

Happy New Year!

 

Whirling Butterflies + Seasoned Squash

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It’s been an oddly warm week, very un-Autumny! But there have been hints of it in the air, and the winding down jobs outdoors keep the feel of the seasons. I was really grateful to be outside this week, as my work indoors has been quite intense and I’ve been in need of some settling!

I started gardening more seriously when I wasn’t well for a time. Then as now, it balances my tendency to scatter all over the place, and it teaches me to take care, to notice, to go at a more natural pace. I was thinking this morning how there seems to be a direct correlation between how I am towards my garden and how I am towards myself. There were times in the past when the routines of caring and tending have seemed almost like a burden. As I cared more however, and allowed myself the luxury of time, time to do a job properly, to actually enjoy the feeling of sinking into the process, and experiencing it more deeply, this has become more natural. Learning to care for plants has helped me to learn to care for myself, and often when I arrive up on my plot feeling stressed and like everything is going too fast, I take a trowel and begin to weed, or I take my secateurs and deadhead flowers, and my aches and pains of heart and mind seem to begin to soften. I feel care blossom inside myself, and everything benefits from that.

So, it was great to be back up on the plot this past week, in between other things, and there’s been quite a few changes! I was hoping that I might be able to move to a larger plot, so I’d been holding off doing too much just in case, but there isn’t yet one available so I’ve now fully committed myself to another year on this one. I’ve moved around the beds to make better use of the space, and I’m going to have separate sections for flowers and veg. This means lots of digging and soil preparation as much of it was grassy pathways, but it’s feeling so much better organised and I think I’m really going to enjoy working on it this year. I’m trying to think of this patch as a mini experiment area, practicing all the things I want to try on a larger scale in following years.

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I’ve harvested all of the butternut now, from my two plants. I lost a few small fruits  when I was clearing as the stems were very fragile by the end, but I’m quite happy with what’s left! I only fed them with liquid seaweed and a good mix of garden compost, and they also took a lot of watering. They even survived the moles that kept insisting on burying underneath them several times! It was quite warm and sunny this week so I cleaned them and left them in the sun to ripen the skins, and they’ll soon be inside. I’ve heard that they get sweeter the longer they are stored, so I will do a taste test and find out! I’m not planning anything much for over winter now as I want to carry on setting up the new beds, get a shed up, and plan for spring. There are some leeks still in the ground though, and a few onions, and rocket. I’ve also planted garlic as I’d like to think of something still growing..! It still amazes me how you plant a clove, and it makes a whole bulb. And you sow a cosmos seed, and you get hundreds of beautiful Cosmos flowers on a huge plant. A bit like the goldfish is delighted by every new corner, things like this, digging up garlic, witnessing whole huge bean plants growing from just ONE BEAN seems like a brilliant new miracle to me every time.

 This year, from getting the plot in March to now, has been a bit of a haphazard adventure while I worked it all out. But I’ve learned so much! I’ve definitely learned the value of planning ahead, so that when each new stage arrives you feel prepared.

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I’ve let this little patch of flowers to do their own thing now as they still send out last little shoots of colour – in fact the more delicate single shoots of Sweet William are very lovely. They’ve been flowering now since late spring, which I think is pretty amazing plant value! The Gaura Lindheimeri took ages to grow from seed, and didn’t start to flower until about August, instead of May as promised! But when left to roam in this way I can really see how it gets its name, “Whirling Butterflies”, and I love it. It doesn’t really work for me as a cut flower though so I will stick to using it in the garden, where it can do its butterfly thing. I have two plants in pots in the garden and they’ve also done a great job of filling in gaps in the border. Gaura is a perennial, and so I’m hoping that it will flower earlier next year as the plant is more established.

 

Dahlia “Burlesca” is coming to an end now, but Dahlia “Bright Eyes” is still sending out masses of flowers. I slightly wish it was the other way round as the Burlesca colours got more rich and beautiful as the season turned. But the “Bright Eyes” flowers are cheerful and fun, plus the bees love them as much as I do, so I’m happy!

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I wasn’t supposed to be buying plants for the garden this year as I’m saving my budget for the allotment, but I saw this Gentiana “The Caley” several times and couldn’t quite resist it! Some of the petals have been damaged by (I’m guessing) rain, and slugs, but the colour still shines out so beautifully, whether the flowers are closed or open!

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Another plant in the garden I’ve been so pleased with is this Saxifrage “Blackberry and Apple Pie”. It’s in the shady area of the garden and the flowers light up there. The flowers are really interesting, with one longer petal than the others..the leaves also have a really appealing richness to them. It’s quite a spring-like flower, but really welcome in late summer/autumn time, I love it!

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Out walking this week, definitely a mix of the last of summer still hanging about on the fringes of autumn…

Thanks for reading – see you next week!

C.

 

Bulbs, Corms, and Beautiful Days..

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My Dahlia “Burlesca”, the colours deepening now it’s Autumn..

When Autumn comes, I go cosy and activated all at the same time. I still want to be outside, but I also feel tired of the summer growing routines, and I just want to put things to bed a little. I like pulling down bean canes, composting my old, tired flowers, and mulching around the remaining ones. I leave a few flowers for the bees, who are moving a little more slowly now through the beds. I want to look at the mist moving over the water, kick autumn leaves like my five year old self, and write songs and words in the early nights..I get philosophical and creative at this time of year, and that doesn’t go well with trying to be organised thinking about bulbs for next year. (In fact, the book I was reading recently suggests thinking about spring bulb ordering in August, which I will do next year.)

I usually fall in love with about 80% of the plants/bulbs that I see, and so something like a bulb catalogue can often lead me into an existential crisis. Having thoughts of growing for cutting has helped focus my mind this year. I’ve tried to choose bulbs that have something a little special about them, either in terms of foliage, flower, colour or scent. I’ve chosen ones that have been recommended as a good size for cutting (over 30cm) and that should last well in the vase.

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Bundles of mixed parrot tulips including: Professor Roentgen, Salmon Parrot and Apricot Parrot, from Floret . (Their site is dangerously inspirational and made me want to leap up right away and order one million and a half tulips.)

I’ve seen so many images of parrot, double and peony-flowered tulips this year, I thought I’d give some a try. I feel like you get so much from one flower, and I like their general exuberance..! So I chose:

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Tulip “Apricot Parrot”

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Tulip “Angelique”

 

 

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Tulip “Sun Lover”

 

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Tulip “La Belle Epoque”

My favourite here is “La Belle Epoque”, ad I can’t wait to see it! Next year I plan to get about and look at different varieties in person too. I realised when ordering how little I know about tulips beyond the basic, and I can’t wait to see how these look. I’ve also bought some Allium Sphaerocephalon to plant in between my Sweet Williams, and I’m going to experiment growing Anemone “The Bride” in a cold frame – it’s so mild down here now most winters I have hope..!

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I’ve also tried my hand at making a couple of “bulb lasagnes” this year, using tulips, narcissi and crocus..little mysteries hidden under the gravel..!

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Bulb lasagnes waiting to grow, and my last flower/veg pickings, including an ENORMOUS courgette..!

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There were still a few last few flowers remaining at the beginning of the month, in particular the Cosmos! As the nights got colder they’ve all started to fade, and this week I’ve picked the last few flowers and cleared the beds to make room for Spring bulbs. I added a few bits from the last of the garden flowers to bring indoors:

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Still a surprising amount of colour for Autumn!

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Out walking, the leaves are turning quite late this year, but there’s an unmistakable Autumn feeling..I can’t wait..