Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nest-building with bamboo

Bamboo has its uses, I'm happy to report. It's not my idea of a comfortable bed, but it sheds its leaves all the time so offers an unlimited supply of nesting material.

Oops, sometimes one can be a little too ambitious.

That's better. So where's the nest? Inside the phormium. Naturally - where else?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Kings, palms and temptation

I visited the Palm Centre in Ham, on the fringe of south-west London, today. I'm ashamed to say I've never been before, having always assumed that the journey would involve hours of traffic jams and roadworks along the South Circular. However, I've now found an alternative route and got there in a fairly relaxed frame of mind in about 30 minutes.
Ham is a very, very pretty London "village". It's part of Richmond, but has its own common and is bounded on one side by Richmond Park, the hunting ground of kings, with its ancient oaks and red deer.
I'm giving you all the guidebook stuff for the benefit of those who don't know London very well. If it's any consolation, even we blase Londoners, who take all our history for granted as we zoom past it, are sometimes brought up short by the notion that we might be driving where the doomed Charles I might have ridden with his courtiers.
Ham dates back to the 11th century, but it's famous today for its Georgian houses, and for Ham House - built in 1610, and one of the best surviving examples of a 17th century mansion. Next door to Ham House is the Palm Centre. As you can imagine, it's a very pleasant place to spend a nice Sunday afternoon.

I had a list of things I wanted (having researched the website beforehand), but promptly found myself deviating from it the minute I entered the nursery. I wanted a hardy palm with exaggerated fan-shaped leaves, such as this Trachycarpus martianus, above, to replace a Washingtonia robusta that had been finally defeated by two appalling winters.
Instead, I found myself drifting towards these miniature coconut palms, Lytocaryum weddelianum, below, which were clearly marked as not hardy at all. They were the most delightful plants, though, with delicate feathery fronds.

The Palm Centre doesn't just sell palms of course, but also specialises in bamboo, tree ferns, and other exotica such as agaves. These cycads below made me giggle.

I bought a fern - Dryopteris wallichiana, which is fairly tolerant of dry shade and whose new leaves are a wonderful yellowy green. And instead of a T martianus, the price and weight of which made me wince, I purchased a "waggie" - Trachycarpus wagnerianus, or the miniature Chusan palm. It's not the palm that's miniature but the leaves, which are smaller and firmer than T fortunei and give a very formal, ruffled effect.
Naturally, the moment I got it home I decided not to put it in any of the places I'd had in mind for it, but somewhere different altogether. Oh, dear, I'll have to go back and get a T martianus after all...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sunshine and an afternoon in the garden

The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long, the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow till he reached the hedge on the further side The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

A sunny day today. And not just any day, but a sunny Saturday. Hurray!
I felt like Mole in The Wind in the Willows, when he smells spring in the air. Instead of getting on with the cleaning, or the shopping, or the laundry, or the cooking, I cast my supermarket list and my dishcloth to one side, grabbed whatever was in the freezer to defrost for supper, and rushed out into the garden.
I've always thought of March as a rather tedious month from a gardening point of view. It's the time of year when you remember what you should have done six months ago. It's a time of chores and preparation rather than a time of celebration and exhilaration.
Today, however, was perfect. There were no really back-breaking jobs to do. There was nothing pressing (not that I could think of, anyway). It was just the sort of day for pottering - a bit of light pruning here, a bit of planting there, a bit of tweaking here, there and everywhere.
So I mowed the lawn. I planted some polyanthus. I continued the marathon task of tidying the phormiums - a job that is much easier if you do it a bit at a time.

The polyanthus are called 'Castillian' and I got them at RHS Wisley. I usually go for white flowers in early spring, but I thought these were not only gorgeous but gave a hint as to the colours to come later in the year.

Of course, there are major jobs to be done. This border here is about to have the tweak of its life. Originally, the yucca on the left was in the middle - I'm not quite sure why. Putting it on the left has opened up the whole bed for who knows what planting opportunities. I feel cannas may figure fairly prominently. There are things in there already - agapanthus, crocosmia, euphorbia - and my cannas are snugly tucked up in the garage. I don't really need any more plants - but that won't stop me going to have a look...

Then there are other bits of the garden that are just getting on with things, so I don't really have to do anything. The blossom in the foreground is Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai' - Patientgardener is also a fan.

There's nothing like sitting back and admiring a newly mown lawn. Oops, I've just noticed the bird feeders need filling up. Gotta go!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The case of the missing loppers and other tool tales

I have a terrible habit of losing tools. Don't ask me how it is possible to lose tools that are either brightly coloured or quite big, in a town garden that is fenced all the way round. Just take my word for it - it happens all the time.
So far, I have lost:
Two trowels
A pair of scissors
A pair of Felco secateurs (whimper)
Goodness knows how many pairs of cheap secateurs
Two pairs of loppers
It mostly happens this time of year or later in the summer, when I'm pruning or cutting back. I fight my way into the undergrowth armed to the teeth with secateurs, scissors, string, wire, loppers, whatever, and commence work. At some point I have to put down the secateurs, scissors, string, wire, loppers, whatever, in order to tie something in or pull something out. Then, of course, I totally forget about the thing that I've put down.
Of course, at some point I realise that I have mislaid a particular tool. I go back and have a look for it, but there is no sign of the blasted thing. My theory is: they hide.
Even more mysterious, the minute I buy a replacement, the missing tool will reappear.
I'll return with my new purchase and there it will be, in full view, lying on the grass or reclining on a chair.
The latest version of this involved my second pair of loppers. These are dark green, so admittedly difficult to see. However, they are also quite big - at least 2ft long - and have a nasty habit of making their presence felt by falling on to your foot, so they are not easy to lose.
They are the sort that have telescopic handles, which means they are totally reliable. What I mean is, you can totally rely on them to collapse the minute you have the blades nicely positioned to take off an awkwardly placed branch.
Anyway, I went to the shed yesterday - no loppers. A cursory look round the back garden proved fruitless. In any case, I couldn't remember using them in the back garden. I could remember taking out a couple of bamboo canes in the front, but no, they weren't out there either.
I felt very grumpy about having to go and buy a new pair (you can't survive for very long in my garden without a pair of loppers), so I decided to play the loppers at their own game. I pretended to go to the garden centre, but then snuck back into the garden. Sure enough, there they were, leaning nonchalantly against the fence by a newly planted honeysuckle.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A day in the life: My Day Off

Day off today. It dawns very grey and very blustery - and I know how it dawns because I am up and dressed by 7am in time for the double-glazing surveyor to come and measure up for my new windows at 7.30am.
7.45am. Make double-glazing surveyor a cup of tea, then doorbell rings.
It is the oven cleaning man, who I get to come round and give my oven an industrial-style clean once a year. I usually do this just before my stepmother comes to stay, otherwise she spends the weekend cleaning it, bless her.
8am. Make oven cleaning man a cup of tea, then telephone goes. It is my mother, asking me when my daughter's school show is on. (My daughter is playing Maria in The Sound of Music.) I say end of March. My mother says she has booked to go to Spain that week, and could I double-check dates to see if there are any she could manage.
8.30am. Check dates, and realise that I have told my father and my stepmother the wrong date for the Saturday matinee performance.
8.34am. Ring stepmother. They have already bought their train tickets and have booked to do something the following weekend.
9am. Feeling stressed.
9.30am. Man arrives to fit new blinds in daughter's bedroom. (My daughter, as well as being talented musician and performer, has superhuman ability to destroy any kind of window treatment. I swear she can break a blind or pull down a curtain rail with one glance.)
9.31am. National Gardens Scheme organiser arrives to deliver posters and leaflets for garden opening. Residents-only parking hour is about to start. NGS organiser decides probably cheaper not risk parking ticket while stopping for cup of tea, so after a lightning tour of the garden, departs. Blinds man drives off in search of legal parking place.
9.45am. Blinds man returns. I make him cup of tea.
10am. Computer man emails to say that he will not be able to make 1.30pm appointment as the stuff he has ordered to ram up our Macs has not arrived. Grrrr.
10.01am. Feeling more stressed. Daughter told me the other day that her computer is so slow, she feels like throwing it out of the window. I fear for new blinds.
10.30am. Oven cleaning man finishes up. In an effort to relax and lighten up, I tell him about amusing spoof of The King's Speech a friend has forwarded to me. He has not seen The King's Speech. Completely bemused by my description of spoof.
11.04am. Ring mother and give her dates of Sound of Music performances. She says she has already booked flights to Spain and will not be back in time.
11.30am. Blinds man finishes. Says he has to go and get car and can he leave his tools here and come back for them. I say yes, but can I borrow his electric screwdriver to finish putting together an Ikea chair? I have cut my hand gardening and cannot grip screwdriver.
11.32am. Blinds man heads upstairs with electric screwdriver and sorts out chair. Result!!!
11.44am. Blinds man heads off with tools and my voluble thanks ringing in his ears.
11.52am. Mother rings to say she has changed flight to Spain and will be able to see the hills come alive after all.
12 noon. Feeling bit more relaxed. Now, what on earth am I going to do with the rest of the day? Oh, I know. Supermarket.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Brrrr, it's spring

It's very cold here in London - so cold, that I think my brain has frozen. I have managed to keep pace with the garden chores, but in a very slow, sluggish sort of way.
I need to be in the garden in order to think creatively about it. My favourite method of thinking up new ideas involves standing in the middle of the lawn, staring into space. It's difficult to do that when it is -2C outside.
Things are happening - daffodils are budding, and blossom is blooming - but the atmosphere is one of suspended animation. It's as if the garden is holding its breath, waiting for the first warm rays of sun before it exhales and starts getting on with normal life.
In the meantime, there's very little I can do apart from pop out to fill up bird feeders and pop back in again pdq. It's still too early to think about replacing anything I lost in the winter, and it will be another six weeks before it's safe to think about summer pots and containers.
You can never tell with English weather, though. My son's birthday is at the end of March, and very often it coincides with an early heatwave. One minute, you're huddled in cashmere and fleece, and the next, you're frantically unearthing T-shirts and shorts from the back of the wardrobe. Fingers crossed!

The picture shows the garden at 6.30am this morning, just before I went to work. For once, the thought of being in a nice warm office all day quite appealed.