Helen's Garden Renovation Project

Sunday 25 March 2007


Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 2:39 pm

Today I looked at the advertisements in ‘The Garden’, which is the Royal Horticultural Society’s magazine, and found Buckingham Nurseries, who had pot-grown Thuja Plicata for sale at £1.99 each for 12-18 inch plants. I estimate that I need 12 altogether, so I bought 14 to include two spares. I will just have to make sure that I water them. I wonder how long it is going to take me to water all my pots every day this summer. Clustering them together will probably help against water loss, although this can be bad for the spread of disease. Having said that, given their number, I probably have no choice but to cluster them together. The patio is big, but not infinite.


Saturday 24 March 2007

Plant shopping

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 6:09 pm

Today my patient boyfriend Dave took me to Whitewater Nursery in Hound Green, Mattingley or Heckfield (I have never been quite sure which, but I always manage to find it). I took my shopping list written by Yvonne and managed to buy five plants that were on it. They were:

  • Trachlospermum jasminiodes – a semi-evergreen climber with very fragrant flowers.
  • Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ – a shrub with striking orange stems in winter.
  • Ajuga reptans Multicolour (rainbow)
  • Ajuga reptans Chocolate Chip
  • Pulmonaria Rubra Redstart

So that was good. I also bought two oriental poppies, one a deep pink colour and one a pale pink to go with my lovely orange-red one. My list said I should buy Cornus alba Sibirica, but I couldn’t find that one, so I bought Cornus alba Kessleringii instead. It has dark purple stems, which should provide a good contrast to Midwinter Fire.

Yvonne recommended getting pulmonaria for ground cover. I already have a lovely deep blue pulmonaria, and since it seems to be so happy in my dark garden (at least, it was until I dug it up and split it into seven pieces. I can’t vouch for its state of mind at the moment) I decided to buy a red one to go with it. It is in quite a big pot so I will split that up soon. She also recommended Ajuga, but didn’t specify a variety. The Ajuga reptans multicolour was still half-asleep, but the ‘Chocolate Chip’ variety was fully awake, so I thought that was worth buying as it is nice to have some perennials getting going earlier in the season.

I was supposed to buy a geranium sanguineum and a geranium cinereum, but couldn’t find them, so I bought a geranium Phaeum Samobor, which has purple flowers.

I failed to locate a Waldsteinia, which is semi-evergreen with yellow flowers. The first person I asked at Whitewater had never heard of it, but she radioed her colleague who confirmed that it did exist, but they hadn’t got it. I don’t think it is an easy plant to get, but that just makes me even more determined to get one. Of course, if I just wanted ground cover and yellow flowers, I could leave off poisoning the celandines.

I had a look for Thuja Plicata, which I plan to use to replace my Leylandii on the grounds that it has glossier foliage and will regenerate if it is cut right back, unlike Leylandii, which stays bare. They had some and it looked very nice, but they only had large expensive pots, so I will have a look on the Internet to see if I can get little trees cheaply. When I bought my Leylandii, it arrived through my letterbox in two packs of ten. It didn’t take long to get 12 feet high. I plan to grow the Thuja in pots and replace the Leylandii a few at a time, so I am not left with a bare fence. At the moment I think I can dig up the Leylandii myself if I get the people who trim it to cut it back a bit shorter than usual.

It was bitterly cold. I was glad to be able to leave the plants outside with the rest of the menagerie and come in for a cup of tea.


Friday 23 March 2007

The downside of magnolia ownership

Filed under: Magnolia,Progress — Helen @ 4:12 pm

Yesterday we had snow. It didn’t settle except on car roofs, but it was pretty cold. Sadly, my rhododendron is now definitely bovvered. The effect on my magnolia was not good either.

My brown magnolia

Today I dug up some more of the bulbs (you can see them behind the path, in the right hand side of the picture). I decided that they were probably all bluebells and that I didn’t want to keep them. They can’t be grape hyacinths or they would be in flower (see underneath the magnolia). I am pleased to see that the celandines are looking sickly on their weekly dose of glyphosate, and none of them has flowered. I don’t suppose I will eradicate them this year, because I have never succeeded before, but now is a good time to try, since there is nothing in that area that I want to keep, and therefore it doesn’t matter if some of the spray misses the celandines.

In my annual border, there are a few very tiny seedlings poking up out of the earth. My seeds may have germinated. On the other hand, they could equally well be bittercress. I shall have to wait and see.


Saturday 17 March 2007


Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 1:36 pm

On Thursday, to celebrate the day after No Smoking Day, I went along with my colleagues to the Fire Station. This was for a photo shoot of firemen wearing breathing apparatus next to someone dressed as a big cigarette, to emphasise how dangerous cigarette smoke is. My role in this event was cancelled, so I got very bored, but I had the camera with me, so I took some photographs of the lovely heathers they had in the grounds of the fire station.

Firestation heathers

Heathers can be very beautiful plants. Unfortunately you have to remember to trim them after flowering. This, sadly, is what happens if you don’t.

My heathers

I want to have heathers in either my front or back garden, but I will have to dig up these remains and buy some new ones.


Friday 16 March 2007


Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 1:25 pm

Today my Outlook reminders told me it was time to renovate my overgrown honeysuckle by pruning it to within 2 ft of the ground, as instructed in my RHS Encyclopaedia of gardening. But first, take a look at my rhododendron, which I dug up and put in a pot in the winter.


Is it bovvered?

Back to the honeysuckle. This is what it looked like before I started pruning it:


Note the classic signs of a neglected honeysuckle: lots of growth at the top and bottom and virtually none in the middle. Note also, if you like, the amazing vinca minor which does purple flowers in the dark, and the reflection of the camellia in the window.

This is what the honeysuckle looked like when I had finished pruning it.


Now it has no apparent growth at all. But it looks much tidier.


Tuesday 13 March 2007


Filed under: Magnolia,Progress — Helen @ 3:12 pm

My magnolia

I felt some regret when my garden designer told me there would be no room for the magnolia in my new garden. The reason was that it would eventually outgrow its space. She said I could prune it – apparently the Dutch prune their magnolias into a lollipop shape and the trees don’t seem to mind. However, I am not sure I want to do that. This week I have been looking out for magnolias along the local roads, and it seems to me that the impact of a magnolia is in its size. For example:

Big Magnolia 1


Big Magnolia 2

Comparing these two mature and magnificent specimens with mine, I see that mine is still beautiful, but it’s never going to look as good unless it is allowed to grow a lot more.

For now, I am going to dig the magnolia up and put it in a pot, because I might as well, but I am not sure whether I am going to keep it if I can’t let it grow to its full size. There may be room in the front garden when I renovate that, so we shall see.


Monday 12 March 2007

Brimstone butterfly

Filed under: Brimstone butterfly,Progress — Helen @ 12:33 pm

Today is definitely spring, because I just saw my first brimstone butterfly of the year. It is a big lime-green job, and I had forgotten its name, but I remembered it is usually the first butterfly to appear in spring. I typed “first butterfly” into Google, and found the name.

My pulmonaria is in full flower. It has lovely deep blue flowers, and it is right up there with vinca minor for ability to grow in the dark, so I want lots of it in my garden. I dug it up and divided it into seven pieces. I hope they all survive.

I gave the lesser celandines another dose of glyphosate. So far, none of them has flowered, so they are obviously taking some notice. I also dug up some more bulbs. I cannot believe how many of them I have in my garden. I don’t even know what they all are, but I definitely have too many of them. I think most of them are probably bluebells.


Friday 9 March 2007

Annual sowing

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 5:40 pm

This week has been a bad week for both gardening and blogging, firstly because it keeps raining, and secondly because my laptop screen blew a gasket and I found I could only read it if I shone a torch on it. (Yes, I did check the battery and the power management settings). But today has been lovely and sunny, and in the morning I sowed my annual border. I decided to put some stepping stones in it. This is not in any of the books, but I can’t see how you are meant to weed it without stepping on something, and I would rather step on a stone than on my flowers.

Annual sowing 2007 03 09

As you can see, my stepping stones are all different and not necessarily beautiful. They are just what I happened to have lying around the garden. I didn’t want to buy any specially because this is only a temporary border. I am hoping that when the plants get going, I won’t be able to see the stones. You can also see that I have marked out the different areas with sharp sand. It was quite difficult to follow my plan to put tall plants at the back and short ones at the front because they were all quite tall except the alyssum and the night scented stocks. Looking left to right, I put larkspur, blue cornflower, poppy and black cornflower along the back, and lavatera, alyssum, blue cornflower and stocks along the front. I put the stocks nearest to the house so I have the greatest chance of being able to smell them through the kitchen window. I sowed the seeds in straight lines, dragging a trowel through the earth to mark the drills, but the lines are all going at different angles so it shouldn’t look too regimented. I can’t imagine my garden ever looking regimented anyway. Perhaps it would be a refreshing change if it did.

And then my new computer arrived, and although I haven’t got it going properly yet because Microsoft Vista doesn’t like my BT Voyager 105 modem, I was able to plug the laptop into the new monitor, so I can see what I am doing enough to write a blog entry.

I didn’t use up all my seeds. I used up all the alyssum (900 seeds) and peony black poppy (750 seeds). I have a small amount of lavatera, some cornflowers and some stocks left over. I have a lot of larkspur left. I may sow some of the leftovers in the front garden.


Friday 2 March 2007


Filed under: Front garden,Progress — Helen @ 4:33 pm

Today, after all the recent rain, we had a brilliantly sunny and even slightly warm morning. I eagerly got out my spade and trowel, but after digging up the winter jasmine, I found myself wondering what to do. I am waiting for a week or two before sowing my annuals, and in the far end of the right hand border, I am waiting for the many bulbs in there to flower before I decide which ones to keep when I dig them up, and I am also waiting for the lesser celandines to die after squirting them with glyphosate. (I have almost run out of it – must go to Wilkinson’s for some more). I am waiting for the side path to be laid before I work out where I want the toolstores and how big I want them to be, and in the front, along the side of the path that was laid last year, I am waiting for the soil to dry out a bit so I can continue digging over the soil and removing rubble in preparation for planting some climbers.

So I decided to cut back the osteospermum in the front garden, and dig up any layered shoots for propagation. One of the plants has done a bud. It’s not really supposed to flower yet, but this winter some people’s osteospermums never stopped flowering. I also removed as much of my neighbour’s ivy as I could from my fence. In future I am going to keep on top of ivy removal and am not going to let it get out of control again.

The front garden could do with some redesign and renovation, but I can’t take that on at the same time as the back garden. Also there are some problems that need sorting out, the main one being that I don’t own all the land that makes up the patch of land that I see as my front garden. The builders planted some not very good shrubs there ten years ago, and also a cherry tree that may not be in the best of health. I am going to watch it carefully this year and see if it is still alive. I am planning to dig up the shrubs that are definitely on my land and sow grass seed over the area. This will make maintenance easy – no pruning and no weeding, just mowing – until I have finished renovating the back garden and can start on the front.