Monday, 22 April 2013

A Year In The Life Of A Lady Gardener - April

Today being Earth Day it is perhaps suitable to bring my gardening year diary up to date. The late spring has caused delays of up to four weeks in everything that grows and only now have gardener and I started to get down to serious work. 

Here he is weeding between shrubs in the mixed border.
Hardly any of the herbaceous perennials filling the gaps between the shrubs 
are up more than a few inches, but weeds grow fast. 
The idea of growing lanky perennials among shrubs is so that the latter
can provide a framework for the former and I won’t have to stake them.

This was one of my work patches.
Gardener is a lot quicker than I am but I am the more thorough of the two of us.
I get down on my knees and weed carefully between smaller plants.

Gardener uses his mid-sized fork to weed and ‘tickle’ the soil, while I mainly use 
a narrow hand trowel and fork to ensure that I don’t damage roots of small plants.

Allium ursinum – 
known as ramsons, buckrams, wild garlic, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek or bear's garlic – is a wild relative of chives native to Europe and Asia.
The leaves can be used in all sorts of ways, in soups, salads, as a spice, pickled and preserved.
They are at their best now, the flavour is fresh and green and less strong than 
allium sativum, the ordinary garlic.
Flowers, which come later, can also be eaten.

If you find the plant in dampish woodland or in your garden, make sure
you have allium and not lily-of-the-valley, colchicum or arum, which all have similar leaves
but are poisonous, possibly deadly.
Rub a leaf between finger and thumb,
if you get a pronounced smell of garlic, you are safe to use it.

Anemone or Windflower
There should be a place for these darling little plants in every garden,
from large drifts in the shrubberies of country estates
to tiny patches in front gardens.
I am fortunate in that mine were here when we took over,
and little clumps have since settled here and there all over the garden.
Most don’t mind lightly shaded places, 
although A. blanda will close its petals on a dull day.
This daisy-flowered type has many narrow leaves
surrounding a golden disc.
If your climate is mild, A. blanda might flower as early as February.

I am not very fond of Bergenias,
the large-leaved saxifrage,
because the large leathery leaves never quite do what they are meant to do.
Meant to be bright green  turning to red in autumn, they can often suffer from brown splodges,
becoming unsightly. They also spread when growing conditions are favourable.
I am for ever on my knees cutting out shrivelled leaves.
But in spring they repay the hard labour of the rest the year;
hyacinths-like spikes bearing red, white, pink or purple bell-shaped flowers
rise above the leaves.
Bergenias will grow in many types of soil.

I’ve mentioned Chaenomeles before,
often known as cydonia, japonica or ornamental quince.
It’s a popular shrub, because it will grow practically anywhere.
Mine is wall-trained and covering a large section of the red brick wall
separating the courtyard from the drive.
The shrub that keeps on giving,
it looks rather spectacular at the moment. It’ll loose none of its attraction
when the yellow fruits, which can be turned into jelly, form in late summer.
Easy to grow, quite a stunner.

Only the baby tulips are flowering,
the full-sized ones will take quite a while yet.
Tulips require a whole post, if not a book, all to themselves.
I like them, moderately so, but
the mice in my garden adore the bulbs and I’ve lost a large 
clump of splendid, tall, yellow and red tulips over the winter. 
to their rapacious appetite.
You are meant to take them up once they have finished flowering, and the leaves turn yellow.
 Keep the dry bulbs in a frost-free place;
I haven’t done so and paid the price.

I’ve also mentioned Euphorbias, or spurge, before.
They really are amongst my favourite garden perennials.
No trouble, happy to grow in poor soil in a sunny spot, always reliable,
always noticeable. I grow many different varieties.

Last, but not least, the humble Primula,  or primrose.
I grow a few of the showier kind, but my favourites are primula vulgaris,
the bog-standard, cheap little things you can pick up in any nursery.
Year after year they return, brightening shady spots under shrubs or trees, 
requiring only to be divided and replanted when the plants get too dense.
If you divide after flowering, you end up with a handful of new plants, 
happy to be replanted instantly and guaranteed to flower during the next season.
Primulas thrive in rich soil, but, as you can see here, they work hard even in a stoney patch.

I thought I might mention that this is an English garden, where plants are nurtured from one year to the next. I have very few annuals. When I read posts by American gardeners I always have the impression that they go out and buy trays of seedlings (flats?) every spring, which last for one summer and are then discarded. I may be wrong and would love to learn how my American blog friends tend their plots.


  1. ja er komt heel wat voor kijken maar dan heb je er ook lang plezier van.

  2. Some Americans do that with flats of annuals. Others depend mostly on perennials. We are a diverse group, but our climate is not moderate...cold in winter and very hot in summer and it is hard for us to do a true English garden. I am part of a small movement to get others to plant bay safe and non-invasive. We try to encourage others to plant natives or cultivars of natives.

  3. Your garden is looking good already - I despairing of mine. I think this year I'm running short on energy, but one of these days - when the sun shines .........

  4. Your garden is looking wonderful, given the winter we've had. I agree about primulas, so dependable and cheery. They are brightening our drab wilderness rather well.

  5. I love this post -- Oh, spring IS coming to your world after all that snow! We, too, are finally experiencing a little bit of sun and a little bit of warmth and if I'm lucky, I can get my lettuce in today before I have to go off this evening.

    Good question about gardens. I have bad dirt. Period. So my perennials are what will grow -- tulips and daffodils for flowers, some coneflower, black-eyed Susan and seedum. Also in the ground lots of hostas and herbs -- mint (or the damn mint as it is often known), oregano, thyme, chives. The annuals tend to go in pots -- some potted flowers and lots of potted herbs. Those tend to be annuals. Farmer Rick is making quite the potager in his front yard -- pretty much all of those will be annuals, although I bought him strawberry plants for Easter and they should continue to return.

    I'm just glad it is finally time to call it spring and mean it! Maybe.

  6. My husband weeds in the same way as gardener....I use your method.
    Is the soil warming up yet?

  7. Most people are looking exactly for: easy to grow, quite a stunner.

    I always did my weeding as you do, taught by my dad. Though we had a much smaller area to weed, so perhaps I would have gone more the gardener's route had I more to do.

  8. I am so impressed with you Friko. You are a fabulous gardener. I know very few ornamental gardeners. Most everyone I know who gardens grows vegetables. A proper English garden is a beautiful sight to see.

  9. I have always preferred perennial plants, even when I lived in California and tried to garden in hard, dry soil. Annuals are showy, but never gave me much satisfaction. I did want a garden that matured every year and improved in fullness every season. Your garden looks lovely and you have a lot of knowledge of the plants that grow there. I hope you get to enjoy it in all its splendor this summer and spoil us with the photos of it.

  10. I love the color of flowering quince.

    I was just posting on gardening. This American gardener prefers perennials. But I do fill in with some annuals because I just love impatiens too much not to have them. I often also put in a few pansies as well for their winter color. But otherwise it's all bulbs, flowering ground cover and various perennials like candytuft, dianthus, and phlox.

  11. My spring gardens are 99% perennials. They are my favorite and I always look forward to seeing what has survived the winter and how much everything has spread. It is always a surprise. My summer garden is full of annuals, and many grow , from the seeds dropped from last years plants. Summer annuals bloom four to five months, where as perennials are usually less than a month. My fall gardens are some left over summer plants (until frost in late October) cabbages, and pansies. I have some type of garden growing about 10 months a year.

    Your plants are a beautiful announcement of spring. I so enjoyed your post.

  12. Your beds are looking good! I love the anemones and share your lack of enthusiasm for bergenias. Perennials are the backbone of my garden but I find myself using more annuals for fillers, pansies and stock in spring, zinnias and cleome in summer.

  13. Bärlauch! We love it! My Dad went to collect it from his favourite spot in the woods the week before last, and my Mum made several jars of Bärlauch-Pesto, which is my favourite. I now have a jar sitting in my fridge. It is so delicious I am very much tempted to eat it with a spoon straight from the jar, but I'll be good and use it on pasta or bruschetta instead.
    Interesting to see your working patch. Your garden looks beautiful, and I am sure it will be a pleasure for all visitors when the "Tag der offenen Tür" comes round.

  14. Oh, Friko! Your snow is finally gone! I am doing a happy dance for you. :-)

  15. Well it's a beautiful day here today, and your lovely and informative post has spurred me on to get out in my garden and clear some weeds, I will be employing both techniques you have mentioned, probably about 5 minutes of careful thoughtful weeding and 3 hours of tweaking, which will turn into guerrilla tactics within 20mins of slash and b..u..r..n, I will start with good intentions.

  16. Thank you for the wonderful tour of your garden, Friko! I'm sure it'll get more and more gorgeous as the weather improves. To happy days!

  17. Where we are now, a proper garden is out of reach (not that we ever had one that's a patch on yours). The soil is so rocky here that it's a trial to dig even the smallest hole, so defeats our attempts. All of which is to say it's wonderful to see pictures of your garden here springing to life. As for American gardens, they come in all sorts. Some do go in for annuals, but the finest gardens I have seen use perennials, with an annual here or there, sometimes, to fill a problem spot until a better solution can be found. When we did have a big garden, largely a vegetable garden with flower borders around, we quickly moved from annuals to perennials and tubers, particularly day lilies, upon realizing one didn't have to start all over each year. Perennials & day lilies, in any event, are much more satisfying plants.

  18. I love reading about gardens, although my efforts are modest. We have the climate here for the English Garden and that's my goal. I do grow a few annuals, starting them from seed indoors if I think far enough ahead, or buying a flat if not. My perennial collection is growing and I'll be dividing some up to fill in other places. Like you, I'm not terribly fond of bergenia, but it grows well, and keeps to itself under a photina so I'll leave it for the time being. The vegetable garden is where I put most of my effort in the summertime, but these days I'm weeding the flower/shrub beds. Your garden will be beautiful for the June tour.

  19. What a lovely stroll . I love the tiny tulips, too bad the mice do too !

  20. I never think to blog about the garden, but I really enjoyed seeing yours. I love this time of year when everything emerges from nothing (my garden is over-run with wild primroses (paler than the primulas) and now... gawd help us... the bluebells are coming tra la, tra la!

  21. All lovely, the quince and their jelly are favorites. Dianne

  22. A very interesting post. We are still a long way off from garden tending, with all the snow we still have, but I can dream... My garden is more of an English garden in that it's almost entirely perennials, with only a few pots of annuals for added color in the rock gardens and some added zinnias for late blooms in a nice variety of colors. Oh, I am champing at the bit... :)


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