Friends in the Garden

Sometimes, because of life’s changes, work, poor health, family or whatever, you miss out on what you love. I have friends in the garden, and sometimes I ignore them. Well, actually, all the plants in the garden are my friends. I don’t care what they are, how common or exotic, I love them all the same.

And yes, I talk to them! Sometimes my best conversations are with plants, you see they always agree with me and we share a point of view. So you will understand that – apart from being quite mad, sometimes, when there are some old friends I simply have missed out on, I get rather melancholic.

Gone but not forgotten, the white bluebells now bearing fruit - see you next year old pal!

Gone but not forgotten, the white bluebells now bearing fruit – see you next year old pal!

I have found it difficult to physically walk to the end of the garden these past months. Down there in the hedge are to be found some white bluebells that make an appearance each year, and this year I only managed to see them once they had finished flowering and were literally past their best. A short walk away there is a wood, full of bluebells, and what a sight they are! But these little whites are solitary and special.

Now having plants as friends can cause you some problems. I have to confess loving weeds, and always feel a little guilty pulling them up. So Ii try and keep a space for them when I can. This year, so far, has been the year of the buttercup, and aren’t they beautiful?

Don't turn your nose up at buttercups, they are one of the most elegant plants in the garden.

Don’t turn your nose up at buttercups, they are one of the most elegant plants in the garden.

So the edge of my lawn is punctuated with a stand of field buttercups, and if I lift my head, across the valley, I can see a whole field of them, and on a warm Sunday I can imagine myself in a huge hundred acre field of yellow.

There are times when old friends have mishaps. when we moved here there was a clematis in a pot, growing up a trellis. The pot was about 6 inch diameter, and the plant went up about 20 feet!

Clematis - you can't kill them, they just keep coming back - thankfully!

Clematis – you can’t kill them, they just keep coming back – thankfully!

During our first summer the trellis fell off and I had to remove the plant. The roots had gone through the bottom of the pot and disappeared under the paving of the patio.

We get lots of questions about clematis. You will find, on the internet, all kinds of methods about pruning them, none of which are actually correct. The truth is there are two groups for pruning this brilliant climber.

If it flowers in the Spring, such as C. montana, then don’t bother at all, just keep it trim as you need. All the rest cut back as short as you like on Valentine’s Day – call it a massacre if you will.

Yellow Flag: irises make a great display and in the autumn you can divide them and make more

Yellow Flag: irises make a great display and in the autumn you can divide them and make more

Anyway, back to the old friend. I took a spade and cut the root at ground level and thought no more about it, until a few weeks ago when a hot day snooze found me waking to the sight of the old pal climbing the wall again.

I never have a better time than when talking to the iris. We have a strong bond, we two. I sometimes think I get more sense from them than anyone else in the household.

But this year they have a problem that needs fixing. It is the invasion of nettles. Nettles are hungry plants, beautiful in their own right – I love the geometry of the leaves, and the stings are so elegant when you look at them through a microscope.

But their heavy profusion means only one thing: the septic tank needs emptying, because there is a leakage. Nettles grow where there is a lot of nitrogen in the soil, you often see them in fields where cattle or sheep have gathered.

If it's archetecture you want, you would go a long way to better a nettle, but these ones spell trouble in the garden!

If it’s archetecture you want, you would go a long way to better a nettle, but these ones spell trouble in the garden!

It has come at an opportune time, the iris need dividing and replanting and this I will do in the autumn, so that next year there will be even more of them for a summertime chat!

Now, I am blessed with an ancient hawthorne in the garden. I wish everyone would grow them just because of the aroma of the flowers. In case you are somewhat bemused by my having plants as ‘friends’ then spend a little time thinking about hawthorne.

It is said to be terrible bad luck to burn the wood, or cut the plant without asking permission and when in flower you are not supposed to sleep under its branches, or you will be pulled down into the underworld to meet Bottom and his pals. I can well believe it!

Can't wait for these white roses to burst into flower.

Can’t wait for these white roses to burst into flower.

During my recent poor health I have fallen asleep, when the rain has left me a warmer blanket, under the hawthorne many times, and never have I had a more relaxing, deeper sleep. Thankfully the underworld left me alone, I didn’t grow donkey ears nor thought myself enamored of an ass.

My last pal for now, though there are hundreds more, is about to make an appearance. A lovely white climbing rose makes an appearance for a few weeks, rain permitting. Growing within it is a honeysuckle and a rowan, which I think is forming the basis for the whole structure, and I keep it trim to the top of the hedge.

When the flowers appear you cannot but want to sit beside it watching the bumblebees buzz heavily around. And a hot day, when the nectar is more fermented than normal, they sit lazily on the flowers and you can stroke them.

You know, regardless of its size, the garden is about the best friend we humans have. Perhaps that’s why all of the creation stories set our origins in one.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.


50 Shades of Pink

Seduction. The art of the garden centre. There seems to be a certain magic that unleashes itself as soon as I reach the car park, regardless of whether I am in the market for anything or not – and my bank balance usually suggests that ‘not’ should be my default position.

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Blossoming Flowers and Planting Veg

Pink Bleeding Heart Flowers

After nearly 2 weeks of blistering heat, the garden looks much more fresh and vibrant, the latest downpour bringing my recently sown grass seed to life looking so lush that I’m tempted to take the cutter out to it – but as yet it remains untouched.
White Clematis Flower
The sunshine brought out some hidden gems, a clematis montana long thought dead has emerged gracing my archway with one lovely white flower… Yes that’s right just ONE, although more buds are forming as I type so fingers crossed; I’m looking forward to seeing more soon!
Pink Bleeding Heart Flowers Dicentra
A dicentra planted out about one month ago has burst into flower, the beautiful pink hearts brightening up my latest attempt at a flower bed.
Nicole's Pond
My boys (aged 4 and 6) are ever helpful (adamant they can garden better than me) and have been enjoying eating some of their own home-grown veg — Little Gem lettuces and radishes (Cherry Belle/French Breakfast), planted out in little willow planters. These been thoroughly enjoyed, inspiring us to try something else, so, splashing out on no more than a fiver we’ve got: Carrot seeds parceba (a small fast growing variety suitable for containers), runner beans, and two varieties of dwarf French beans: one having purple pods that turn green once cooked, which will no doubt fascinate my boys and hopefully nurture their interest to garden even more.


Blooming Marvelous!

Red Clematis Blooms

What a difference a week makes. This week definitely brought the sun and the flowers where there used to be rain! In fact, my little garden is currently being slow cooked at Gas Mark 2 due to the open south-facing nature of the site. Being on an incline doesn’t help either as there is very little shade. Even our pergola which hasn’t yet celebrated its first birthday doesn’t currently provide much respite.
Red Clematis Blooms
Having at least a third of the garden grown in pots and planters doesn’t help either. Thank goodness the hosepipe ban has been lifted for now. (We are still struggling to find somewhere to fit a waterbutt due to a complete dearth of drainpipes).

At least there are upsides to this weather, the most obvious being that it’s not raining! However, I’m not an exotic creature and struggle almost as much as my garden in this heat. My priority is not lying out in the sun either – I’ve never liked lobster in any form. No, the reason I’m most excited about this weather is because so many flowers have suddenly and gloriously come into bloom!
Purple Clematis on Trellis
In particular, my spring flowering clematis have suddenly gone mad and after several patient years in some cases, I have flowers where no flower has bloomed before. Admittedly, in some cases, blink (or work all week) and you miss them, so this year I’m capturing as much as I can on camera.

For a small garden we probably have more clematis per square metre than the corresponding section of the garden centre and counting… It’s amazing what you can pack into a small space (and yes, my talents do extend to shoes and suitcases, much to my husband’s exasperation). However, this does mean that each morning this week I have been greeted by another surprise – a large nodding head of another clematis greeting me.
Pink Clematis Flowers
In some cases they have been slightly nibbled, in others they are holier than the Bible due to our slug infestation but some of them, to my delight, are perfect! I can’t be sure that my neighbours have taken as much delight in my finds or my squeals of excitement at silly o’clock each morning (I can’t resist just popping out to check before I head off to the rat race each day). I would try and restrain myself for the sake of being a better neighbour but it really is like Christmas at the moment … and long may it last. Ho ho ho!

Lou C

Painting in a Thunderstorm

Lucy's trellis with montana clematis

Lou C is back with more adventures in her garden renovation from last month…

I don’t care what the weatherman says…
Lou C's trellis
It’s spring! Well, according to the calendar anyway. Normally by now we would be experiencing an abnormally early heatwave, at least a quarter of the population would be grilled a painful shade of pink by the sun and gardeners everywhere would be out in full force. After a promising false start in March, sadly this year we seem to be playing a game of cat and mouse with rain showers and I am losing my patience. I’m desperate to paint the fence and plant the hanging baskets amongst other things. Lulled into a false sense of security by abnormally hot weather just before the start of April, we re-turfed our little patch of lawn, jetwashed the patio and wielded a paintbrush on the shed. The shed now makes the fence stand out as shabby in stark contrast and my tulips really have seen better days. Our pots are begging for fresh bedding plants. My sweet pea seeds are fighting for alpha status in the comfort of the garden room which is having to double as a greenhouse as I make my first foray into the world of seeds. But even more importantly than that, after a great deal of hard work, I have finally convinced my husband to erect a trellis screen in front of our patio. The time to act is now, not least before he changes his mind, but sadly Mother Nature has other ideas. Or so she thinks anyway. Not one to be beaten, I am throwing down the gauntlet. Yes, I will be taking on the weather; after all, I’m not made of sherbet.

Now, the neighbours overlooking us are not enthusiastic gardeners. Large expanses of patio, decking and paving sit empty, punctuated only by the odd lonely pot here and there. Each to their own but this does mean our garden stands out, just a little. Our tiny wilderness is crammed to the fence tops with plants and garden features. Our garden is like Marmite; you either love it or hate it. My point? Well they already think we’re slightly mad. Therefore the sight of a somewhat possessed woman wielding a paintbrush and garden timbercare (and in a pale pink hue too!) as storm clouds gather overhead make amusing yet unsurprising viewing for our neighbours.

Lou C's trellis with montana clematis
My chosen afternoon began promisingly as it looked as if the cloud would blow over. It wasn’t long however, before it became a race against time. Could I finish painting the new trellis we had bought for our screen before the heavens opened? Now I’m not a betting woman but even I began to realise that the odds weren’t in my favour!

Undeterred, I forged ahead. Half time and I had to dive inside, trellis and all. One hour later and I could resume. Two thirds of the way through and in the distance I could hear thunder approaching. The rain however was still some way away. For the next half hour the thunder rumbled as I painted. Closer and closer, louder and louder it came. My transition to insanity was complete in the eyes of the neighbours; painting in a thunderstorm? Really?
Downing tools, the job was finally complete. The thunder applauded me as the first raindrops started to fall. The trellis and I dived inside one last time for cover. I’m sure my victory dance didn’t help my certifiable status in the eyes of the neighbourhood.

Two days later and dodging further rain showers we finally erected our new screen. It is now perfectly placed to break the view into our garden, giving us a certain amount of privacy on our patio whilst still letting in the light. We’ve just started to encourage our Montana to weave its magic through the gaps. This time next year it should be a well established part of the garden. The weather might be better too.

Lou C