Sunday, 1 December 2013

Preparing for Spring 2014

I guess in the gardening world November is the equivalent to a farmers harvest…. Perennials need lifting and dividing, all the years debris needs clearing away and thousands of bulbs need planting…. and to cap it all the days are too short!

But thanks to this great team of volunteers we planted over 5,000 bulbs this autumn, and got the rose garden cleared of weeds.  Martin and I would never have managed this on our own.

For once the weather was fantastic and we all met for a picnic in the sunshine!

The new bluebell wood planned by the Duchess is at last finished.  Initially the woods were cleared of all the self seeded sycamores and holly's, as these were large this was done by machinery and contractors.  Then a team of 20 volunteers cleared all the dead wood and finally another group helped to plant all the English bluebells.  So in Spring 2014 we should see our first carpet of blue.

A big thank you to you all.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Acer Trees at Belvoir Castle in Autumn

Apologies for a delayed blog, but the lake incident has thrown a spanner in the works!

Unfortunately my camera was one of the casualties of the dunking, so all the photos you see are from my phone which doesn't do justice to the beautiful colours of the Acer Trees this autumn.

But they give you a taste….

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Toyota in the Lake!

Why does my garden blog have 'Toyota' in the title?  read on...

October is one of the most productive months of the year in a garden and  Belvoir Castle has many new projects planned for 2014, plus we are opening for the NGS in May and July.  As they say, the clock is ticking...  

And then this happened....

Yes, that is the Truck in the middle of a lake with our tool box floating on the top.  We still have no idea how this happened.

Our own Jacques Cousteau!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Mini Versailles

At the beginning of this year one of our regular clients decided to change his tennis court; it was seldom used and in need of restoration, so he made the big decision to demolish it and enlarge the garden.

Our first challenge was to try and move a 20 year old pleached Lime.  I had great reservations as this was so established and half the roots were underneath the tennis court.  So in January when it was bitterly cold and the tree was dormant we lifted it with a forklift and planted it in its new location. 

In its new home, looking as though nothing has happened.

Next step was to take all the tarmac off the top of the court, whilst keeping some of the hard core in place to make the new paths.  I am never that happy surveying so was delighted we were working on a perfect rectangle and wouldn't need to do any serious measuring!  Never assume....  the levels were wrong, the sides were crooked - no wonder the tennis balls kept getting lost!  Anyway thanks to a clever digger driver we kept on track.

Here you can just see the beds taking shape.
Fingers crossed and watering the tree, even though it is still dormant

The contractors took just under a week to remove the hard core, take away the rubble and then replenish the beds with top soil.  

Not sure about the new statue!

Our client wanted a garden with an Italian influence combined with prairie planting, so the next stage was our exciting delivery from Italy.  Having always hankered after a Cedar of Lebanon, now at last was the perfect place for him to realise his dream.  The Cedar tree is very slow growing so we ordered a rather large specimen and of course this caused a few logistical problems!

Now for the edging.. at least it was getting warmer

This we did with small wooden posts and wooden edging, using metal for the curves.  The hardest part was getting the levels correct, as the original tennis court was 8 inches higher at one end.  Once the edging was secured the levels had to be built up with hard core, more top soil and finally gravel.

And finally...

Some one called it mini Versailles  - I think not, but I cant wait to start planting - this will probably in late Oct early November.  Will  keep you posted.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Wow factor in August

August is always a tricky time in the garden - that exuberant lush green has faded only to be replaced by browning lawns and geraniums past their best.  Well now's the time to rejuvenate.   Alchemilla mollis is probably the best example, by now the flowers will be brown and the leaves looking tatty.  Just cut the whole lot off at the base of the plant - you may already see some new growth and in a few weeks you will be rewarded with a second flush of flowers.

But there are still many plants that can take your breath away at this time of year - Here you can see the roses coming again with Agapanthus starting its summer display below.

One of our great treats at Belvoir though, is the blue hydrangea, which looks quite stunning at this time of year.  We have tried some of the more unusual varieties this spring - but they are being a little slow to perform, sadly I think it went too cold after they were planted  (I must be more patient!) - so next year it will be even more impressive

Hedge cutting time is upon us already and our first task is the box parterre.  This will be its second cut this year and you can see how well it has benefitted from two cuts by really filling out.  

Look at the beautiful black velvet petunia's we tried - they have done really well.  I love mixing annuals with perennials it gives much more substance to large pots.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Why do we struggle to grow 'Wild Flower Meadows'?

.... So as I was saying...

Why do we struggle to grow wild flower meadows?

Our walk in the National Parc de la Vanoise started in the bottom of a gully with steep craggy mountains on our left and a gradual sloping bank on our right.  We were about 3,000m high so already you have climate difference in the growing conditions compared to our lowland English countryside.

We were soon reaching for the water bottle as the sun had a fierce heat to it; another sharp contrast to home.  One of the first things you notice is the constant movement around you of butterflies and other insects, the whole area is a hive of activity. Nature has to work fast up here - with snow still hugging the mountain tops in August - the growing season is short.

The land under foot is a mixture of shale and rock (very little soil) and quite steep in places.  The grass grows only up to your mid calf and is thin and wiry, creating less competition for the wild flowers.  Finally you have summer storms, one of which we experienced the following day; 12 steps to the car and we were drenched!

So all in all it is not difficult to see why we struggle to grow wild flowers in parts of this country as our conditions are so different.  When executing a planting plan one of the first things I was taught, was to put the right plant in the right place according to where that plant originated from and grows in the wild.

Our soil at home is rich in comparison; the sun rarely reaches the heat we experienced, and if it does, it bakes the land hard and dry.  Our meadows can be rich in nitrogen so grassland, thistles and docks soon swamp any struggling wildflowers. So the lesson learnt is, if we want a wildflower garden we need to mimic their natural habitat! 

By the way, for those ornithologists reading this, I hope you spotted the Griffin Vulture!

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Wild in the Alps

For a certain big birthday celebrated earlier this year - we were kindly offered a chalet in the Alps for a few days holiday - as well as a fabulous break it was a bit of a busman's holiday!

The weather was lovely, the sun shinning, and very hot, whilst the air felt crisp and clean - none of the drizzly damp stuff we are used to here.  After a short drive we arrived at the bottom of a valley in the National Parc de la Vanoise.  Rather than me dribbling on, here are some pictures of the things we saw. 

Some beautiful butterflies to start with ....

Yet to identify this one... any suggestions welcome

High Brown Fritillary

The Scarce Copper

Dappled White Butterfly

So many of our clients request wild flower meadows and we both try to explain how difficult that is in our county of rich farmland.  The Olympics showed off beautiful carpets of wild flowers and over recent years The Chelsea Flower Show has offered more examples of the same, so the demand continues.

We have tried several products on the markets, such as wildflower mats and packs of specialist seeds, all with fairly dismal results.  I now understand even better why these products are so limited.  See blog next week for pics and the answer to wild flower meadows!