The novelty of it all.
Standing under an umbrella. Listening to, and smelling, the rain.I’d made a second trip down to the stream to photograph this event.
Revived by barely 10 mm of overnight rain, it was still low, but running with the sort of cloudiness normally associated with winter spates, yet more greyish than that type of muddy brown. Weeks of dried detritus and dislodged soil being moved on quickly downstream towards the sea trapped, brooding migratory salmonids, eager to spawn. Do they sense, smell, or taste it?
The smell of wet bonfire ash from the previous days’ 35 piles of twice burned rushes hung in the air, and certainly filled my nostrils.
Even the sheep seemed to sense a novelty.
Who was this booted stranger?
The sounds, shorts, coat and probably smell were familiar, but the black, ribbed dome sprouting from his head rendered him unfamiliar and threatening. No nuzzling up for a head rub today. Scatter and skidaddle quickly, with the sense of panic that can quickly seize a group of sheep, and run through them all with telepathic rapidity.
But having returned with my picture, I twirled the umbrella in the gateway as the steady but benign rain fell. Enough to lift the garden after one of the driest couple of months we’ve ever experienced here. And indeed, to lift this gardener.
The ferns and aubrieta will soon rehydrate.The mossy mushrooms and paths will green up.And some of the shrubs which have wilted for the first time ever, should revive. Even our beloved Saxifrage fortunei rubrifolia which were some of the few plants we’ve kept going with occasional buckets of dirty bath water, will probably still delight us in the autumn with their frothy white flowers. Just 41.5 mm of rain fell in June, and 54.1 mm in July – already 40 mm has arrived in the first two days of August.
But just as importantly, we get a chance to enjoy the simple restorative pleasure of standing still and enjoying the garden.
Do any other gardening readers find this a difficult thing to achieve?
Standing still and enjoying. Are we gardeners all addicted doers, movers and fiddlers?
There always seem so many jobs that need doing, particularly in dry weather. This year we often seem to have reached a rare diary-clear day, only to have garden visitors descend. The delightful couple below arrived unannounced in the yard one mid-July Sunday lunchtime. Possessing a brilliant sense of humour helped them defuse the stand-off with this blogger, who seems to have become the Basil Fawlty of the NGS this summer. Having kept them in their vehicle in the yard, two-pronged weeding fork at the ready, whilst discussing through the open window of their camper van the joys of opening a garden for charity, all year round, (by appointment only), eventually Fiona appeared and rescued them.
Maps were produced, tickets bought, cakes baked, tea served, and a lovely afternoon was enjoyed by all.
Over the few years we’ve opened the garden for charity, we’ve had a huge amount of fun, met some wonderful folk, had plenty of fascinating conversations and gleaned some brilliant tips from some of our visitors, including:
Planting malvas as lovely, attractive, mid season insect friendly flowers.
Using salt and washing powder or detergent, as a weed suppressant for paths and yards. I’m still experimenting with this, but it looks extremely promising on areas where there is no significant risk of run off. (Addendum from 2020 – It has indeed 6 years later, become our default system on all hard surfaces, to suppress weeds, liverworts, mosses, slime moulds and slippery stone coating algae).
The cut plastic feed sack over the chicken coop entrance to prevent magpies stealing eggs seems to be working well, (and for making sure that the chickens remember what they’re here for).But increasing numbers of livestock and general maintenance demands from our 11 acres and its buildings mean that next year we shall be restricting our garden opening times, to help preserve our sanity, (and possibly our guests’ welfare!), probably to just the early spring months. Perhaps larger groups might be able to twist our arm to open on a one off basis later in the year. So, if you’re thinking of visiting us next year, do please check on our garden visiting page for opening times before coming. And do please contact us first.
The lack of rain has brought many early roses to a speedier than normal end to their flowering periods, but to quote Elvis Costello’s lyrics, it has indeed been “a good year for the roses, and many blooms do still linger there”, particularly on roses ‘Grouse’, ‘American Pillar’, ‘High Hopes’, and our own Gelli rose which we’ve nicknamed ‘Height of Elegance’, since its French parents were ‘High Hopes’ and ‘Elegance’.I wondered whether Costello had any interest in gardening in view of the lyrics, and as a result of a google search discovered that by coincidence, he’s just played a concert at Kew Gardens on July 16th 2014 – mainly an unaccompanied performance on guitars and keyboard.
But he sang this special song with his support act The Mcmanus (half) Brothers – he was born Declan Patrick MacManus. And apparently this song was actually written by Jerry Chestnut, and not Costello, who lists watching Liverpool play football, and not gardening as a significant interest. Ah well.
Nevertheless, it was a big hit for him back in 1981.
Our Gelli seedling rose, no scent, but still – ‘Height of Elegance’?
The follow on gardening lines from the chorus of the song also seem strangely apt this year.
‘Lawn could stand another mowin’
Funny I don’t even care‘.
Actually, this has always been a dilemma at this time of the year with garden visitors – do you leave the flowers of white clover and Selfheal of our self-sown mossy lawns, which are valued nectar sources, and risk accusations of poor garden maintenance, or cut them off to give a more manicured appearance?
We usually compromise and hang on for as long as possible, particularly if no rain is around. It’s surprising a mown-very-short Selfheal, Prunella vulgaris, will still flower at a very short height, with regular training.
We’re now in full gorgeous flowering flow with the Hydrangeas, throughout the garden, though some have suffered with the hot, dry conditions. I was intrigued to learn that the Hydrangea genus derives its name from the shape of the small seed containing fruit, resembling an antique water vessel – it has nothing to do with the water requirements of the shrubs themselves. The above cuttings in a tyre, have received no additional water, in this desiccating summer, and yet have still survived. Most of the 70 or so species originate in SE Asia, though a few are from the Americas. China, Japan and Korea are the main areas of indigenous species, and it was therefore fairly late in the 1700’s, that plants started to find their way into European gardens, as exploration of the flora of these exotic regions by Western plant hunters really took off.
Carl Peter Thunberg acquired a few plants from Japan in the late 1770’s, and Sir Joseph Banks sent a specimen back to Kew gardens in 1788.
Philipp Franz von Siebold, brought back a greater variety to Holland and Belgium in the 1820’s, and then Russian botanist Carl Johann Maximowicz in the 1860’s sent some to his Czar employer, whilst the Englishman Charles Maries, sent out by Veitch’s nursery in the late 1870’s, sourced yet more species. From this raw material, numerous hybrids have been produced, with some notable recent breeders being based in France and Belgium.
Click here for more on the gardens of French Hydrangea collectors and breeders Robert and Corinne Mallet, who have developed a fabulous garden on the North French coast near Dieppe, as well as the Belgium breeders and collectors Robert and Jelena de Belder, who as well as several Hydrangeas, have introduced many of the most popular forms of Witch hazels, Hamamelis, at the nursery and gardens at Kalmthout, which they acquired in the 1950’s. Including Hamamelis ‘Robert’ and ‘Jelena’, which I notice we grow at Gelli. Click here for more on the arboretum. The stunning Hydrangea ‘Preziosa’, featured below, was bred in Germany in 1961 by G. Ahrends, and is thought to be a genuine hybrid between H. macrophylla subspecies macrophylla and H. macrophylla subspecies serrata – few contemporary Hydrangeas seem to be real hybrids of these two subsets of H. macrophylla. For anyone interested, there is an in depth discussion of DNA analysis of Hydrangeas in a paper by Reed and Rinehart (Simple Sequence Repeat Marker Analysis of Genetic Relationships within Hydrangea macrophylla). Probably of more interest is the huge variation in flower colourings, below, which you can find on a single plant of the ‘Preziosa’ cultivar, and how these change as the flowers age. Even in our garden where stunning blue Hydrangeas abound, what a fabulous rich ruby in some of the ageing flower heads.
Some stay palest pink, and others purple blushed white. Why? What’s going on with aluminium uptake here? The two shrubs featured above and below were my second attempt at cuttings from an original ‘Preziosa’, which isn’t thriving due to poor placement. 5 years on, and its progeny light up a small space in the garden, and always catch visitors’ attention, though it has yet to prove to be a performer of such class with us every year. And unlike many H. serrata and H. aspera forms, it has almost no interest as a pollen or nectar source. Maybe like many things in life, nothing is perfect?
Our final session of serious hay making finished in late July, and I’m devoting a lot of images to capture the hugely impressive manual hay baler that was knocked up by our neighbour and fellow hay labourer for this year, Dave Bevan. Dave is shown below with us using the baler. Two people can knock out a bale which is a very passable alternative to old style small bales in just a few minutes. Dave’s bales are just the right size to fit 6 into my small ATV trailer, and about 8 on the base of a trailer he also knocked up from an old caravan chassis – what a clever chap he is!
Using 2 pre-cut lengths of polypropylene baler twine, with a simple loop on one end, and designed to be tied so that they are re-usable next year.
The twines are fixed on 2 hooks to the rear of the machine, with careful supervision from the designer/maker.
Then the twine is threaded over the top of the rear frame, and then internally to the bottom, where it’s held in place by the split hose and eye screws at the base of the machine. The long ends are then fed through the front door, which is closed and latched.
Hay is added manually.And when pretty tightly filled.Compressed with a pressure plate and block.
More hay is added.And pressed again.
More hay is added, then the twine is unhooked, and this pre-looped end is fed over the top of the compressed hay, and out through the gaps at the top of the front door. At this stage, you can’t get the bottom bit of twine to reach the loop, so the hay is pressed again, and the pressing lever held firmly down and in place, by the blue rope fixed above the front door.The 2 twines can now easily be tied with a slip loop knot.The rope released.The door catch opened, and hey presto, with a push from the back of the bale.And with a pull on the twines, the bale emerges.
The above are time lapse images…there is a simple hilarity in watching the actual process, speeded up – perhaps I can get it uploaded to You Tube sometime.
There’s a real satisfaction in seeing each bale emerge, the time old satisfaction in making something pleasing, and with a real value to the maker. The above images show us processing hay which had been previously collected from the filed in big bags, though the machine can be used on a slope in a field, as Dave, Graham and Theresa demonstrate.
For all the cynics, it is indeed labour intensive, but for managing a small acreage of hay, where terrain precludes big machinery access, and for just in time weather dependent processing, its a really brilliant little near zero cost baler.
The Bevan Brilliant Baby Baler.
Thanks indeed to Dave for this inspired design, and for Dave, Avril, Theresa and Graham’s help this summer. I’m sure all our sheep will approve the finished material this winter.
Next year we plan to build our own, so that with 4 people working the 2 balers, 2 others can keep them fed with loose hay. Or rather the balers.
Finally a few more photos from the garden.
Wonderful photographs of all your activities and all the flora and fauna in your amazing garden. I delighted in the rain too as indeed it made me stop and for once enjoy looking at the garden as a whole and not as a series of jobs to be done! I know you said that if a hydrangea doesn’t flower give it a good talking too or it’s out….well…. my hydrangea in a large pot has never flowered until this year and I’ve waited 5 years! Can’t wait for it to be as beautiful as all yours!
Thanks for the comment. Glad your hydrangea has responded to a talking to …there’s no point having them unless they flower, and we’ve ditched some this year after never flowering again after taking them out of the pot – it’s a plant where looking at the RHS awards/trials is worthwhile for reliable varieties. Having said that we were at a lovely garden today just a few miles away, where they reckon they can’t grow any. But if you can succeed, what a delight at this time of the year, and they do seem to get better year on year.
The garden is looking marvellous and I was really with you when you were describing your pleasure when the long-awaited rain arrived. You have such a lot of land and just thinking of baling the hay made me need a cup of coffee and I’m only reading about it! I love Hydrangeas, perhaps I could add some more here, I had perhaps wrongly assumed they needed a lot of water. Amelia
Thanks for the kind comment, and definitely squeeze in some more Hydrangeas if you can …they’re a great shrub for the tail end of the year, and early spring bulbs seem to do very well underneath them as a bonus,
Beautiful pictures as always, Julian. I especially enjoyed the bale maker and the hydrangeas. We’ve had a drier than usual summer, and the rain we had last week was most welcome. Summer rain is the sweetest when it’s much needed precipitation.
Blessings ~ Wendy ❀
Thanks for the comment, and its interesting you’ve had a drier than usual summer too – even August here is turning out to be drier than usual too … I wonder when normality will return?