The Making of the White Garden ~ 3. Which Plants Where?

Having sorted out the space for the new White Garden (parts 1&2 here) the task of researching appropriate plants was the next step.

However, my priority was to get some bulbs planted in the autumn for a blast of spring colour. So before I got down to doing the homework, I bought about 30 bulbs of 2 varieties of Allium: ‘Mount Everest’ (which can be slightly more difficult to grow than the more common purple varieties) and Allium Karataviense ‘Ivory Cream’ which is lower growing and, despite the name, annoyingly came up slightly pink. For now, it can stay, but I am learning that a few plants which have “ivory” in the name have a tendency to have either a yellow (or even pinkish) blush. How fussy one should be when building a white, green and grey garden is a good question ~ the jury is out. I also planted 2 Camassias (‘Semiplena’) and the (again) alarmingly yellow Wallflower ‘Ivory White’. These all went in at the end of September 2016. A week or so later I added 2 ‘Iceberg’ roses, and started to postcrete in a few timber structures which were left over from an unwanted fence. I am terribly keen on vertical structures in any garden and I wanted to learn how to concrete. The hardest part was keeping 2 curious kittens off the newly laid, wet concrete!

postcreting the first 3 posts

Over the next couple of months I took the risky decision to also plant up some shrubs, most of which survived despite some very sharp frosts (-9C) in our first winter at the property. I wanted a good lot of evergreen structure in both borders and to that end chose the following, mostly in twos or threes:

Sarcococca confusa; Choisya ternata ‘White Dazzler’; Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’; Fatsia Japonica ‘Spider’s Web; Salvia ‘Schneehugel’; Phormium tenax; Skimmia ‘Kew Garden’ and Hellebore ‘White Beauty’ + ‘Molly’s White’; Buddleja ‘White Profusion’ and Ilex Crenata, which I tried to cloud-prune, thereby almost losing them. They held on and are now thriving, but the cloud-pruning mid-winter almost killed them! A couple of Hydrangeas, one of the Fatsias and a Philadelphus sadly didn’t make it through the winter and have now been replaced (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ from cuttings).

My choices were made using a vast array of books in my library as well as seed and plant catalogues and various websites. I made copious lists, noted measurements of the eventual height and width and checked hardiness. The next job was to autumn sow some seeds: Sweet Pea ‘White Ensign’; Nigella ‘Albion Green Pod; Papaver (Poppy) ‘Swansdowne’; Hollyhock ‘Halo White’ and Antirrhinum (Snapdragon) ‘White Giant’. Keeping these alive and thriving over winter in the unheated greenhouse during several lengthy periods of severe frost was quite a task, but with fleece and hope, they mostly thrived. Sowing in the autumn gives you a bit of a head-start in the spring ~ with luck, by the time the last frosts are over, your strong (pinched out and potted on) plants are eager to get their roots down into the warming soil.

These plans show the bare bones of the evergreens, as it looked after the first few plants had gone in.

 

These 3 pics show some of my notes on possible plants, organised by Evergreen Structure, Summer and Anything Goes (not very helpful in the long-run).

 

Of the things I sowed, the Snapdragons, Poppies (below), Hollyhocks and Sweet Peas have all been spectacular. I am letting them all self-seed copiously, as well as spreading their love further afield in the rest of the garden.

Next time I will show where we are with the White Garden now, mid-summer of its first year and how to add grey into the mix.

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Annie Bee x

The Making of the White Garden ~ 2. Farewell Parterre

This post follows the first of my blogs on how the White Garden came into being.

There is that old saying,

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans

Plans: they are all very well, but when you are a novice, fitting a garden plan onto a lovely, fresh, white piece of A3 is asking for trouble. If only life were that simple! It took me months and a visit from my BF to accept just how wonky my back garden is; however long I watched it and however straight I wished it to be, it simply wouldn’t budge. It is as curved as a crescent moon. Or, perhaps more appropriately, a scythe. A parterre simply would not work ~ cheerio symmetry and four Weeping Pears.

A slow rethink and a new sheet of A3 and I arrived at this (below) and even this one doesn’t do the bendy nature of the beast justice:

white garden final plan

What did this new garden have going for it? Well, three lines of hedging (Copper Beech and Photinia) into which could nestle two new large, square borders for starters and a lovely, promising aspect, which is more or less due north/south. A few concerns: it sits fairly high up, so is quite exposed and I had no idea what I might find on removing the vast quantity of turf.

We moved in to the house at the end of April 2016 and it was in August that I finally set about marking out the plot. With the help of my two practically minded and mathematically competent sons, we decided on the dimensions and paced it out. Pegging it out with string made it seem very real and I was sure this was the right answer. Son No.2 came up with the brilliant idea of introducing a curve (now fondly known as “The Bill Curve”). Still more time was spent thinking (an under-rated part of planning) prior to starting the excavation. We toyed with the idea of hiring a digger and some skips (No.1 son and I both fancied the idea of a digger!) but, for various logistical reason, ended up hiring a turf cutter for a weekend. The turves (vast quantities) have all been saved and are slowly rotting down and will be added back onto the garden in 18 months or so.

 

 

The turf-cutting weekend was September 19th 2016, with a view to having the two beds ready for planting some spring-flowering bulbs in mid-autumn. It was a cold and drizzly experience, but we ploughed on, No.1 son and I, with a little help from the kittens. The turf-cutter was a big old beast of a thing to manoeuvre in the damp conditions, and if you weren’t careful, you could easily over-step the pegged lines. However, after a full day’s work the basic outline of the north and south borders were there and the turf-stacking had begun.

And what of the soil? Well, on the whole it is fairly good, apart from the remnants of a kids’ sand-pit and some hefty roots from the old orchard. The critical thing was to get as much of the grass and weeds out early on, otherwise I could see years of remedial weeding ahead of me. And nobody wants that.

The next blog will detail the plant lists and my final choices of bulbs, shrubs, perennials, grasses and annuals.

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Annie Bee xx

The Making of the White Garden ~ 1. The Plan

Since the relocation of Bee HQ to a small village in north Oxfordshire, (is it the Cotswolds? ~ no, not quite but we can see it from here) I have spent a great deal of time on and in my new garden. The last time we moved house, at the turn of the new millennium, we didn’t have the knowledge or the skills to design the garden ourselves, so employed a landscape garden designer. This time round I have just enough know-how, chutzpah and creativity to test myself and boy! am I having fun. I am now spending the majority of my time in the place that gives me the most pleasure: the garden.

The ‘bones’ of this garden (which is just under an acre in total) are exquisite. Clearly somebody with a good eye for structure, dimension and form planted heaps of simple but useful yew, copper beech and box hedging, a few good shrubs (repeated throughout the garden), a handful of hardy perennials, some classic topiary and half a dozen espaliered fruit trees. The lines are clean, the proportions are just right and the borders, such as they are, are small but of reasonable depth. Apart from a bit of tinkering, I have left all that largely alone, other than pruning, trimming and general maintenance. The soil still needs a lot of organic matter adding, but that will happen over the next few years, and beyond.

On first seeing the garden, in January of 2016, I was struck by the opportunity to do something bold with a fairly large expanse of lawn at the back of the house. A sales brochure from 1874 calls the house a “gentleman’s farmhouse”; it was built at the very end of the 1700s. The brochure also talks of “a large piece of highly productive garden ground and lawn”. Neighbours have said that a few decades ago, there was an orchard on the area in question and the village children used it as a playground. Presumably in the mists of time, it may have had farm animals on and around it. Certainly the soil is generally fairly good at the back. Unlike the front of the house, which is quite manicured and designed, we found a rather dull and under-utilised space ~ perfect for a new project; it felt like the owners who made all the design decisions at the front simply ran out of steam.  I must admit now that even before we had exchanged contracts on the house, I was already planning what I grandly referred to as my parterre. I even did some initial drawings.

Below, you can see my (very) rough drawing of how it looked in the January, followed by a photo (looking north-ish) which should give you an idea of the blank canvas. The two lines of fastigiate yews made no sense to me at all and they were removed (and resold and therefore reused) within a week of us moving in. The white A3 plan below that is a very simple sketch of the ‘parterre’ idea and I was bold enough to include a plant list. At that stage, the idea of it being a white (+ green + grey) garden hadn’t occurred to me.

 

White Garden

What did happen when we moved in at the end of April 2016, was that I planted up a cutting garden (look out for a separate blog post to come) and spent several months deciding whether the parterre idea could work. Taking that time to decide ended up being an excellent decision. So how does it look right now, in June of its first year?

Annie Bee\s white garden south border

 

Annie Bee's white garden north border

 

More soon ……..

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Annie Bee x

Making A Cheap, Recycled Compost Bin

My latest homemade project here at Bee HQ is a compost bin. When I googled “compost bin made from recycled wooden pallets” there were 1.7m suggestions, so you might ask, why add one more? Well, I hope you will find this simple and clear.

I have an 8-9 step guide below, and, in case you worry it is difficult and time-consuming, I found it surprisingly easy to make, bearing in mind I am a very amateurish DIY-er. How wrong could it go?

First up, find yourself a kindly local company willing to let you have the pallets. You need four, roughly the same size and shape. Some pallets (which tend to be painted bright red or blue) are not to be recycled; they belong to the company who own them, CHEP, who are very clear on the subject:

CHEP equipment cannot legally be bought, modified, exchanged for non-CHEP equipment, sold, or otherwise disposed of. Unauthorised appropriation, use or disposal of CHEP equipment is strictly prohibited.

However, there are many other pallets around, and I have never been turned away when I have asked for them from companies where I am a customer (thanks Hillier Garden Centre, Wickes and Topps Tiles). Indeed, they seemed happy for me to have them, especially when I explained why I wanted them. Obviously you need to be able to transport them (they fit in the back of our trusty Volvo with the seats down) and, while rather unwieldy, are not too heavy.

I did read a handful of the million or so internet articles and forums, and was slightly concerned that some of the pallets are stamped MB which means they have been treated with methyl bromide, which is a pesticide. One article said to avoid using them if you are going to be then putting the compost you make onto crops (which I won’t). All the other articles I read (The Telegraph, Guardian and Gardeners World) didn’t mention it at all. In the end I made an executive decision to not worry about it. Also, sorting through the pallets searching for the stamps (many not easily visible) made me look pretty damn fussy. I reckon life is a little too short and delaying making the compost bin (and therefore the compost – which is a fairly long process anyway) seemed a bit silly and counter-productive. More to the point, I just wanted to get on with it. Patience is not my middle name….

Four pallets later, I started the project by getting some chicken wire from the shed and pegged it out onto the area I had chosen for the compost bin. This is to prevent vermin from burrowing and tunneling into the compost from the bottom.

Chicken wire at the bottom of the compost bin

Next step is to get the first two, then three, pallets roughly into the right place and tie them together with some wire once you are happy they are about right.

Roughly tie the pallets together

Three pallets in place

Stand back. Admire. Have a cup of tea.

Maine Coon 'helper': Huck

At this point our one-year-old Maine Coon, Huck, decided I needed some ‘help’.

Saw the gate in half

Get a saw and cut the fourth pallet in half.

Screw and nail the pallets together

Get a drill, some screws, a hammer and some nails and secure the entire structure together.

Gate hinges for the final pallet

This is the only part where another pair of hands is welcome, and I luckily had my nephew staying who was able and willing. You want this bit of the compost bin to open so you can fork your waste in from the wheelbarrow. You could have the entire fourth pallet opening in this way of course. Initially I used some small hinges, but realised the weight of the ‘gate’ required more substantial ironmongery.

Attach a cabin-hook

An alternative to a hook would be some farmer’s twine but this looks elegant ….. for a recycled compost bin.

Hook it on

All done. Now the far more difficult business of making good compost begins. And more to the point, one compost bay in isolation is not ideal, so I will need to add at least one other pallet-structure to this first one. However, I can wait for a few months before I need to go scouting for more pallets. This is what I will be aiming for:

Ideal 3 compost bays

Overall cost?  Under ten pounds for the hinges, screws and chicken-wire.

Cheap. Cheerful. Recycled. Fun.

What’s not to like?

Annie Bee x

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Hidcote Manor Garden: Something For Everyone

There are a few significant gardens in the UK which are on any keen gardener’s ‘must-see’ list; Hidcote in Gloucestershire is one of them. Today it is owned by the National Trust and, unlike most NT gardens which seem to open in March or at Easter, Hidcote opens in mid-February, giving visitors the opportunity to discover its winter bones. From our new Bee HQ, Google Maps took me winding through 3 counties and many narrow lanes, and despite being in the very back of beyond, I finally found it after a couple of wrong turns here and there. Just in time to get a take away coffee and start my mooch about, note-book in hand. Being February, it wasn’t too busy, despite it also being half-term. It was peaceful and tranquil. The hover-flies massing on the Mahonias were about as loud and hectic as it got.

Hidcote Manor Garden Gloucestershitre

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Evergreen ‘bones’ to any garden are fascinating I think. This is a garden which was built on the idea of different ‘rooms’, by the famous American plant-hunter and gentleman gardener, Lawrence Johnstone (1871 – 1958). Other gardens are set up in a similar fashion (notably Sissinghurst in Kent) and it is now a technique often employed in modern gardens.  The bones at Hidcote are mainly box hedging, plenty of yew, pleached hornbeam, pergolas and topiary. Gates, pillars, vistas and gazebos abound and there are beautiful views of the Malvern countryside too. I have a particular interest in vertical structures and am always on the look-out for exciting ideas for my own garden. It is often easier to see these in the depths of winter than when they are smothered in luxuriant flowers later in the year.

 

Beech Allee at Hidcote

It was very noticeable just how many actual gardeners (as opposed to visitors) were at Hidcote today. Presumably a mixture of volunteers (the National Trust has thousands of volunteers who help maintain their properties and gardens) and paid staff. None of them seemed at all put out by my many questions (primarily about box blight and pruning times for some shrubs). Indeed the advice was thorough, expert, interesting and willingly given.

Lawrence Johnstone's Tool Shed, Hidcote

Hidcote Facts & Figures

If you have never been, I thoroughly recommend a visit. A cafe, National Trust shop and a plant sale area all add to the delight.

 

Annie Bee x

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It Has Been A Funny Old Year

Greetings ~

2016  (not that it is over yet, but my head is full of Christmas bauble plans already, so it is fast heading that way) has been one to remember. At Bee HQ it has been a weird mixture of very good (moving to a new house/planning a new garden/discovering a new county/the addition of two kittens to the family) and very bad (family illness/Brexit/Trump/the zombie apocalypse – oh! no that hasn’t happened yet, but surely can only be just around the corner).

But as I get older, I am trying not to wish these times away. There is an art to taking the rough with the smooth, and although I am not known for my optimism, I am working on accepting things the way they are and not spending too much time worrying about either the past or the future, but just enjoying BEING.

If change makes you anxious, it can be a tough gig being a human being, and I am talking from my extremely warm and comfy house in rural Oxfordshire. This is hardly Aleppo; I am not a refugee fleeing my country for a better life. I am hugely privileged  and for that I am very grateful and thankful, every single day. Mr Bee and I have found ourselves custodians of a very beautiful old house and we often walk around, wide-eyed in wonder at the beauty and luck at finding ourselves the current owners. So any change in our lives tends to be the sort that many people the world over would jump at dealing with. But change is unsettling for some of us, and 2016 has brought on some big, big changes for many.

So let’s get back to baubles, where my muddy-menopause-mind is on safe ground.

xmas-decs-2

Christmas  has always been very special in my family. We take it pretty seriously. My dear Dad was a fiend at putting decorations everywhere he could get away with. Things dangled from ceilings and curtain rails and tinsel adorned every picture hanging on the wall. The tree often looked like the Christmas Fairy had thrown up on it – no colour co-ordination or ‘theme’ in the 1960s and ’70s. It didn’t matter what it looked like per se as long as all the decorations were up somewhere.

I am rather more fussy, but the same principle applies: Christmas is important and the tree (or trees – is one enough?), the lights, the colours, the food, the family, the warmth, is very special. This year it is going to mark the end of a strange 12 months for us, and many others too. xmas-decs-1

Perhaps the very fact that I am writing about the end of 2016 and it is still November suggests I am not quite there yet with the ‘living in the moment’ ideal I talk about. I prefer to think that maybe I just have a child-like enjoyment of Christmas and am not that good at mindfulness.

~ how soon in Dec can I get away with putting up the tree?

Annie Bee x

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Garden Inspiration (Full of Bees)

When your country has been turned upside down, nobody knows what the future holds, there is enough political infighting on all sides to last several lifetimes, and the summer refuses to arrive, what is a girl to do?

Visit a garden and wallow in the simple beauty of a gloriously planted space of course.

The Cotswolds are absolutely laden with lovely gardens and houses to visit, and I plan to visit each and every one; Asthall Manor, near Burford, seemed a great place to start. There has been a house on that site since 1272 but the core of the house you see today was built in 1620. The reason it is currently open to visitors is the stone sculpture exhibition , “on form 16“, which is organised, curated and hosted by the manor’s current owner, Rosie Pearson. I over-heard one of the gardeners explaining that there are 3 types of visitors to Asthall: those who want to see the garden and admire the house; those who are interested mainly in the sculpture, which is dotted around the extensive grounds, the neighbouring church and churchyard plus a couple of the rooms inside, and then you have people who are interested in the Mitford family, who lived in the manor between 1919 and 1926.

Asthall Manor on form 16

For me, it is always the garden, and this one is utterly gorgeous. Designed in 1998 by Julian and Isabel Bannerman (who also designed the gardens at Highgrove) it is a Grade II listed Historic Garden, and is a wonderful mix of scented, pastel borders, a sloping parterre, wild meadows, woodland and water (including a hidden lake and a glorious natural swimming pond).

swimming pond at Asthall Manor

sempervivum at Asthall

Is it just me or does it seem to be a particularly good year for roses? The roses at Asthall were quite something to behold, draped all over the ancient walls and house, gently scenting the air. I spied a number of gorgeous Astrantia and Achillea which I have noted and will need to try to source for my new garden which will be planted next spring. And the entire 6 acres were a pollinators dream. The place was a-buzz, despite the unseasonal chill in the air.

Astrantia Asthall Manor

roses at Asthall Manor

My photos don’t do it justice ~ if you can, go and visit. There is a nice little pop-up cafe in the walled garden and you get a lovely catalogue for the entry price of £10.

on form 16 catalogue

In the meantime I am having to deal with the possibility that we have Box blight at Bee HQ. A truly horrendous thought. I have also just heard on the weather forecast that there may be a ground frost tonight in parts of the UK. In July.

The world seems to have tilted on its axis. Hold tight and buckle up folks.

Annie Bee x

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