Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Pool Garden

The swimming pool in the garden at Orchards was always very rustic. As a child I remember a large hole in which all the large garden rubbish was dumped and occasionally set alight. Rumour had it, that it was a crater from a bomb off-loaded by German bomber on his way home. By about 1954 the pool had been dug, shuttered and concreted, with a concrete rim around the top. On the south side was a narrow border retained by a short sandstone wall. Grass surrounded three sides with a wider border on the north side of the pool.

Over the years it became neglected and leaked. Now with the garden open to the public we knew that we had to do something with this disgraceful eyesore. I had redeveloped the border on the northern side, (more about that in another post). We had backed that with a copper beech hedge, now this improvement added to the neglected appearance of the pool.

We talked about it for months, our biggest challenge, where to find enough soil to fill such a large space. Old garden rubbish began to fill the space. Anything that might normally have been burnt was deposited, this caused some amusement to our visitors, many keen to return when the project was finished.

We had decided, with the growing popularity of the nursery and garden visitors that we would construct a drive against the lower boundary of the bungalow. One weekend a guy called Vic came with a digger and a dumper, Philip drove the dumper and they worked almost non-stop, slowly filling the pool with clay soil. More soil was needed, so a ditch was dug further down the garden. (That too will be another post.) With the pool filled Philip redeveloped the edges, capping the old edge of the pool with paving slabs on three sides. On the southern side the slabs were deeper, the border made narrower.

On the outer edge of three of the capped edges Philip built railway sleeper walls, creating narrow borders to take bearded iris which had been gifted to me. It was an ideal situation for them to sit and bake in the summer sun. This area became known as the Pool Garden. It was a very special place to sit on our Cartwheel seat and enjoy the late evening sun. The garden was enclosed with copper beech and yew hedges. The soil was planted with wild flower seed in the first year but the birds thought the seeds were for them!  The following year I planted Cosmos, the plants loved it. They grew much taller than dictated, and the birds loved it. (No picture for that I'm afraid.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Love of Grasses

My love for grasses grew as my gardening years progressed. Several clumps of Pampas grass were in the garden when I was a child, along with Phalaris arundinacea var. picta (Gardeners' Garters) and a single clump of Helictotrichon sempervirens - the Blue oat grass. The Blue oat grass grew at the end of the narrow border on the south side of the swimming pool, its long flowering stems, waved elegantly in the summer breeze, above the grey the basal foliage. It was a grass that I particularly loved. I went on to buy dozens of different species. Initially I potted them up into terracotta pots and lined the steps behind the back patio so I could observe them more closely.

The picture below was taken after an early morning shower, leaving the Panicum stems dripping with tiny diamonds.

Extracts from The Haphazard Gardener -

'Minute diamonds dripped from open panicles of Panicum and Miscanthus ...'

' panicles of Panicum swayed gently in the wind, tiny rubies hung from their stems.'

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Native Hedge

During our time at Orchards we planted many hedges, but by far our most favourite hedge was the one we planted to surround the bungalow where Arthur lived. Whilst he was alive there were no boundaries but once Arthur had died and my brother decided to put the bungalow on the market a boundary was essential. We put a post and net fence in first and then planted boundary on two sides: the third side being Rosa rugosa and the fourth native woodland.

We loved this hedge for several reasons - one all of the plants that went to make the native hedge were sourced in our woodland. Oak, yew, beech, hawthorn, buckthorn and birch. Dog roses were also planted. Randomly planted and growing extremely fast in our well prepared soil. Numerous birds nested very soon after planting.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Hellyer's Garden Plants

Hellyer's Garden Plants was not the original name for my nursery: but when my first order of plastic plant pots disappeared to a nursery of a similar name ten miles from me I made the decision to alter the name. Our first choice was Orchards Nursery, after the garden. It was laid out near the garden gate in 1992 and opened that August when I had enough stock to fill the 'beds' that Philip had constructed from old railway sleepers. In the heat of the summer sun, the tar exuded from the sleeper as a dark, sticky liquid. Very quickly these were replaced. Rabbits and deer enjoyed this feast laid out ready for their consumption, and the deer carried their most prized morsels up the orchard and left them littered like confetti. Then Arthur became ill and needed constant care, so the nursery was closed until further notice.

Rowan our Sussex Spaniel
We re-opened the following March, having lost Arthur at the end of January 1993. Philip worked hard on a new layout, fencing the surround with chicken wire and building larch posts to keep out the deer, and constructing a wooden garden gate. He laid one path of paving slabs, the rest of the pathways separating the 'beds' were laid with fresh wood chipping.  These were not ideal in the summer months when customers wore sandals, so it was soon replaced with pea shingle.

The Nursery 2004

Philip's trugs

During the winter of 2002/3, Philip transformed the nursery once more. More staging was introduced
to save me bending or lifting from the ground. A network of wood covered the area, which could if the sun was too strong have taken shading. A bench was built outside the nursery area for customers to place their purchases and Philip made small wooden 'trugs' for customers to place the smaller plants.  

Frequent treks were made to two nurseries in particular, to purchase stock plants, both of which are now closed. Axletree run by David Hibberd and Washfields by Elizabeth Strangman. Both very knowledgeable and reliable proprietors. Any purchases made could be safely propagated and sold on, safe in the knowledge that the labelling was correct. David in particular was very helpful with my purchases of Hardy Geraniums, a genre in which he was an expert. The late Rosemary Verey had advised me to specialise in Hardy Geraniums; but I think I might have done anyway because they - for the most part - were ideal for a garden like Orchards.  Their nurseries were exactly the kind of nursery that I wanted to run too. Small but stocked with a multitude of different varieties. David had a delightful (small) garden attached to his nursery, which you were free to walk around. 

Hellyer's Garden Plants continued to trade until 2004, they were in many ways the most rewarding years of my life. And a way of life I still miss.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Colony of Cryptomeria japonica Elegans Group

My favourite conifer was Cryptomeria japonica Elegans Group; a reddish dark green colour for most of the year, the tone deepens in intensity to rich mahogany hues throughout autumn and winter. I had thought this was due to the cold, but milder winters showed that this was not what initiated the change; maybe it was the shortening days. Whatever the reason, the contrast between the Cryptomeria and the huge unnamed pampas in late autumn and winter was breathtaking. The added joy of this tree was the number of years it had given me pleasure.

The old black and white photograph below shows Arthur mowing near this tree as a small specimen. Several decades later, as mature branches swept the grass and layered naturally it made itself into a little colony of delicate foliage of varying heights and shades of green and red: depending on how much light each section received.

©Penelope Hellyer

Cryptomeria japonica Elegans Group

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Letting in the Light

A saner man might have run a mile or more. Not only by the size of the garden, but also the level of neglect when I first met him. Maybe he liked a challenge? On his first visit to Orchards, an ancient  double butler sink leant against the dry sandstone wall on the north side of the house, as if to hold back the sandstone that was popping out at awkward angles. What Philip thought I never asked. The hard work was obvious! Signs of neglect were all around. The top long border behind the sandstone wall was full of grass. A solitary Mahonia flowered bravely at the edge of the sandstone steps. Kolkwitzia amabilis - the Beauty Bush - stood naked in the middle of the long back border, slowly peeling last years' bark. Variegated Vinca smothered the wall. Saxifraga urbinum - London Pride - dripped in and out of the undulating crevices of sandstone. The crazy-paved area at the top of the steps was awash with weeds and grass.

This was the first major project that Philip undertook. 

Not content with rebuilding the wall, we set-to with digger and dumper and removed lorry loads of soil to make a rear paved area. The excavations were taken back as far as the Kolkwitzia (the pale twiggy shrub). The narrow central steps were removed and new wider curved steps were built.

The above photograph shows the first stage of the project. You can see the shallow level of topsoil above the yellow clay.

The Haphazard Gardener -

Friday, February 22, 2013

Woodland Glade

I loved this part of the garden, as much as any other. I especially loved all the verdant hues. Like all parts of the garden it changed throughout the seasons. On either side, encroaching over the grass were two deep fuchsia-pink rhododendrons, possibly Cynthia. In the distance on the right hand side was a white rose, similar in many ways to Rosa 'Kiftsgate', multi-headed, creamy-white,  fragrant. It was a seedling from a rose that scrambled up a common oak on the left hand side of the walk and cascaded down, filling this area with the sweetest scent in June. The story was that the rose in the oak was a seedling given to Arthur many years previously but was NOT Rosa 'Kiftsgate' or 'Rambling Rector', yet no one could give it a name. Frankly we didn't mind what it's name was. Despite giving us a lot of work to keep it as contained as possible, we loved it.

On the left hand side, Cornus mas gave early spring blossom, Viburnum tinus seedlings, light purple flowered rhododendrons and a Cunninghamia - a straggly specimen it has to be said - but one we were nevertheless proud of.  The right hand side held yet more treasures,  Halesia monticola - the snowdrop tree, Cercis siliquastrum, a Davidia involucrata, that was by the time it matured best viewed from the farm lane several metres away. Mahonia x media 'Charity', along with a magnificent specimen of Fraxinus angustifolia 'Raywood' - the Claret ash - the name speaks for itself, dark green leaves turned a reddish-purple in autumn. This names but a few of the delights to be found in this area and somehow the wavy lines that the encroaching plants gave, added more interest as you wandered up the grassy glade, wondering just what might be around the corner.

We called this area the wild garden. It was the last area to be tackled by us after fourteen years working in the garden. By now we had an professional sized shredder which saved us a lot of work in the long-term.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Shack

The Shack

This shack stood on the same concrete base that the original wooden shack used; except the first had a small 'house' either side where the goats were kept. It was in the original shack that Arthur and Gay stayed when they were building their house.  It sat at the near the end of the lower boundary, well out of sight of the house once it was built and the conifers had gained some maturity. Nearby Gay planted  Philadelphus and other shrubs, and a rash of lily of the valley, some of which came to Italy with me when we moved.  

As the nearby trees matured, none of which apart from Prunus padus 'Watereri' were very special, the corrugated roof filled with debris. A colony of Claytonia sibirica filled the sheets with delightful pale pink flowers. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rosa rugosa Hedge

Rosa rugosa - ©Penelope Hellyer

The first hedge that Arthur planted when he bought the land adjacent to the farm lane was of Rosa rugosa. Mixed colours of white, pale pink and deeper fuchsia pink planted randomly along the boundary, to keep out the cattle which were driven twice daily along the farm lane. The hedge extended almost all the way along the eight acre length.

Gay used the hips for  making rose hip syrup when we were children, but in later years they were left for the birds to enjoy.

The heady fragrance from the hedge always made you stop and examine the delicate petals on the single flowers. Pruning it however was another story. The stems are covered in a multitude of tiny little thorns that are much more difficult to extract. But you could forgive it for all the pleasure it gave through the year.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Forty Year Transformation

This photograph may actually be older than I have labelled it. But the border is as I remember it from when I was a child; and I often wonder if my own love of 'jungle' gardening emanated from then. Arthur's planting was equally chaotic. The great master gave excellent advice in his books which he didn't have the time to implement himself.  The untidy mass on the right hand side of the house wall is Clematis montana 'Elizabeth' which can be seen almost covering one of the bedroom windows. 

Philip and I worked in the garden together from 1989. You can see that the Clematis has been cut down, as have most of the wall growth. The Clematis survived and went on to grow back up but was managed and rarely allowed to climb higher than the bedroom window. The larch poles were the first structure that Philip erected to take Rosa 'Excelsa', which had previously tumbled over the sandstone wall and along the garden. Interestingly they never did grow as well and for the most part didn't make good use of the rope.

I love this planting of Salix intergra 'Hakuro-nishiki', its mottled white and pale pink foliage irregularly blotched and patchy. I bought twelve half-standard trees, each grafted on to a straight stem of another willow. They travelled home stuffed in the back of my Nissan Prairie, along with a colleague in the front seat, who had to endure their twiggy growth poking in her ears! The stems are rather weak and lax, exposing coral red stems in autumn when the foliage has fallen. The spring and summer foliage illuminated the newly named Salix Walk, the grafted canopies resembling sparklers. They didn't survive for many years; I think the exuberance of my underplanting proved too much competition for the little tress, plus the shade from the front border became deeper as those shrubs matured.

After the Salix had been removed Nectaroscordum siculum subsp. bulgaricum gave height to the borders; though not on the same scale. This was one of my favourite plants with multiple interest, from the pointed, papery calyx in which were encased lots of flower buds held high above the twisted leaves. As the swelling buds pushed open the calyx they dropped down, opening their pendent bell-shaped thimble-sized cream flowers. they were marked with burgundy and flushed green at the base on the outside, a deeper shade on the inside. when flowering ended the seed heads pointed themselves upwards again.