Polly and I have been feeling very dispirited at the conditions that we are facing this summer, which I have never known so difficult. I feel so sorry for the plants who are struggling to get on top of things, and not always succeeding, I can hardly bear to look at the veronicastrums, the phloxes, the thalictrums, and as for the lawn which is appalling. Still we have had the odd downpour, and the next day was drizzly which helped, and at least the weather has dropped 20 degrees which has been a big help. I felt very depressed when Clive came round and was obviously appalled I could tell by his face, but things are now picking up. The best bit by far is down the bottom of the garden, the par terre and the autumn border. I think we have underground springs there, and we have had to coax the dahlias into growing and flowering. That means individual watering and mounding the earth up for each plant as it is all running down hill, and to make sure that we did not waste the water it was essential. I am pleased with the decisions that we made for the par terre as I think it looks much better. Hopefully it will be even better next year. Last year I went with James to Cottesbrooke and discoved the Honka dahlias, that was a huge discovery. It is a very good garden. This year for the first time in ages the snails were on the warpath, and goodness how they decimate things.
We have just had Penny Govett and Mick Kerr staying and the Bonsors to lunch. I loved having them to stay, they are both such fun, and James took them to see Wardington Manor as it has been bought by a great friend of theirs, and I think the garden is going to be done by a top garden designer! I am going to tell you a few plants which I think have coped very well with this year. Amsonia, Grasses, Limonia, we have looked up Limonia and I think you can divide it, we are certainly going to try, Roses, Cotinus, Asters, not too bad, Salix. I have decided next year to have another pot along the bottom line of the par terre, but not on the far right as it would block the two chunky chairs which were a present from Rob, James brother. There is a point to my taking photographs as it shows up things like that.
The three days that we had of 40 degrees.I have never known anything like it and I was incapable of even going outside at all. My younger son Thomas rang up last night to say that their airplane was grounded on the runway at Luton a week ago as the tarmac was melting. Him and Georgia, his new bride, went to try and get a strong drink, but found that everyone had had the same idea. Anyway he is settled in the middle of Corfu town which is a world heritage site and Venetian, and his young son Nicholas is about to go and join them aged 8. Today it is much cooler, but several things have got scorched and we have had to cut them down to the ground. Because the garden is north facing it could have been worse, and at the moment it is having the long grass down the bottom cut, where all the fritillaries have seeded. Also the camassias, white and blue need cutting down, and then raking up, it is one of the hardest jobs in the garden. It looks so much better now that it has been done because you now see the par terre cleanly, and the autumn border, Rupert Goldby came for a drink with us, famous laid back garden designer, and told us to water our yew balls at the front, and Magnolia lilliflora nigra, by water I mean put the sprinkler on for an hour. Things are beginning to look less woeful. I am seriously beginning to wonder how to change the garden to cope better with drought. Needless to say my grassses, and prairie plantings are blooming. All my trees seem, alright at the moment and the par terre has never been so pretty, with a haze of blue from the eryngiums and several different agapanthus, also everyone is noticing the new Honka dahlias, Honka fragile, and Honka obsidian verrone, The other thing that everyone is noticing is my strong growing Buxus handsworthensis,
What everyone is saying is how healthy it is looking, as several people have had trouble with box blight. The star of the garden at the moment is Buddleja crispa, soft grey felted leaves, and pale mauve flowers, The Itea illicifolia looks stunning, huge, with long golden tassels. Two recommendations from Dianey Binney of Kiftsgate, sadly passed away, Rather amazing how I can grow two huge plants from a garden like Kiftsgate, the third idea was Cornus alternifolia, and Cornus controversa pictured by Carolyn Mullet on her instogram page. I am lucky that James has taken on the job of tending the wisteria out the front, as that is a big job and needs constant attention. Rupert has given me a novel idea of controlling the Staphylea Colchica, leaving it a kind of skirt and taking the top six feet out, It is.very ungainly at the moment and is blocking the autumn border and general view of the bottom garden. Still I am fond of it and have had it for a long time, my friend Victoria Wakefield gave it to me. I am particularly pleased with the par terre as we made a lot of changes there, and you never quite know if they are going to work out.
Dahlia Murdoch, with white Headbourne Hybrid agapanthus
We are in the middle of a heatwave, which is unusual for England, it is 40 at the moment. On thursday we have a fashion shoot, the first ever here! We have just been to Mostyn, my family home, and the 2 acre wall garden looked so romantic filled with annuals, which people come to pick for themselves. Phil looks after the walled garden, and he is a policeman from Bala, James family home, which is called Rhiwlas. Kevin is the main gardener there and works harder than anyone I know. It was lovely just being there. Polly has kept this garden looking wonderful, I cant think how when we have had so many visitors. We have had a lot of garden clubs this year which is not so usual, and several Dutch and American groups. James has climbed up with the help of a ladder the tree trunk Quercus Cerris Variegata, as there was a huge piece of green variegation at the top. This takes over if you dont watch it. I felt a bit worried about this as if he had fallen down no-one would have heard him for a very long time.
One clematis has died, we are not just a success story! No reason for this, and it was called Polish Spirit, though clematis like water, and the rest of them seem alright. The lawn looks pretty terrible, but the plants seem to be standing up to the pressure, probably because it is a north facing garden. The Autumn border looks very lush and beautiful partly because we have very good soil down there. I am looking forward to it becoming a bit cooler. The Eryngium is Picos blue, which I think is the best mainly because of the deep blue stems, and the Kniphofia is Timothy.
We have made several major changes in the par terre, We have discovered a useful evergreen called Pittisporum Golf Ball which is a delightful shade of green and is quick growing, If we had a bad winter we would lose it I think. We have put three in and they are already making a statement. Polly has already clipped them, the chimneys, and the Phillyreas. It makes all the difference in the world to have them well clipped. We have changed around the position of some of the dahlias, and have made a new block of Dahlia Honka fragile, and Dahlia obsidian verrone, They are like a white star, and the latter like a dark maroon colour. I saw them both at Cottesbrooke last year, and was very taken. James is smitten by Honka obsidian verrone. We have also removed four David Austin roses, and now have three Rosa morning mist, two of which are huge and it is a single rose which is a peachy red. The third has only just gone in. This is a David Austin rose.
We returned from three weeks in Corfu, and I could hardly believe my eyes as to the growth throughout the garden, mainly because there had similar conditions to Irish rain while we were away. Everything that I had become accustomed to.growing half the size seemed to have doubled. The Thalictrums, expecially Elin were huge, but I did not like the fact that Thalictrum flavum illuminator, magical early on as it is a lime green colour which shows off beautifully the various tulips that are against them, now are a mass of tall waving yellow, far too much of it. It does not look good if you dead head the yellow. Polly is going to dig various of these thalictrums out. We went to Avondale nursery the other day and bought several rather good plants. About five Achilleas which I have been growing for years and do not always come through the winter, but it is difficult to find any plants that glow with better colours. We bought one called The Beacon which I have often grown before, a kind of glowing red. I remember telling people who come round that we try and change the foliage, and there are Monardas right next to similar foliage. I have rather gone off Monardas anyway and they are very difficult to dig out, and they have self seeded in two places.
On Sunday we opened for UKRAINE, In the morning were our friends and family, quite a lot luckily. We had a lovely day and all the Malus were in full …11 MAY, 2022, OPENING FOR UKRAINE
Tuesday 17th May
We did really well for Ukraine and made £3,450 and were pretty thrilled ybthrilled by that. Everyone was very generous and it was a beautioful day, it was totally memorable. Polly worked so hard, we all did.
On Sunday we opened for UKRAINE, In the morning were our friends and family, quite a lot luckily. We had a lovely day and all the Malus were in full blossom. Malus Hupehensis on the left and Malus Transitoria in the paddock also flowering. Malus hupehensis is very tall and very white, and Malus transitoria is spreading, both equally beautiful. Personally I prefer Malus transitoria as it is a better shape and the ones at the back were still flowering. Because of the time of year the colours are very intense and the star of the show were 150 new tulips that we had planted in the main border, called Bleu Aimable. They are a kind of pink mauve, with if you look inside, a blue centre. New ones in the par terre are called Marmalade, and live up to their name. The tulips that flowered for the longest time are named Sanne, the first to flower and the last to go. We planted several species tulips but they will take a year or two to make a splash.
The two Magnolias in the paddock that got badly frosted have come back, but there goes another year. The doorbell went yesterday and I thought it was a neighbour who I had had a minor tiff with, but it was Bert who is the head of a.Dutch company that brings people to us. We had not seen him for two years due to Covid, He was coming to see what it looked like with his wife! No wonder he was having a look as gardens do not stand still. At the moment it is raining which we badly need as it does not seem to have rained for ages. Nicholas, my grandson came too, and he had got Paddington Bear and Mr Fox out on the bed. `I am rather pleased that he has not outgrown them already. My friend Jake came, and it is the second time that she has come to help and I feel very indebted to her. A couple of people came with their dogs, and I felt cross with James as Temba is quite mad and goes for dogs that are twice his size. He would not stand a chance, he is a mad little thing. Once we had a shitzu who lost the sight of his eye in a dog fight. I dont like other dogs in the garden for this main reason. Anyway it was a lovely day and a huge success and well worth all the hard work, that had particularly come from Polly.
The clocks have changed and light is flooding out, and everything seems to grow 2 inches each time it emerges from the ground. I find that exciting. We have made big changes in the apricot border, for instance have taken out the Colutea Media, it took Polly a whole day to dig it out. In its place we have planted Cotinus Grace and at the back a gift from Rupert Goldby, which was Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill. This is normally columnar but we are going to top it to make it bush. The Colutea looked an awful mess in the winter, and as this is a small garden, relatively, I mind this. At the moment the fritillaries look amazing and have seeded everywhere. Probably because we cut them down in July and they have been in a long time. The tulips have come up in all the beds, particularly in the par terre where we have Slawa, Paul Scherer, and Amber Glow. We have planted a new one called Marmalade which I have high hopes for. I have just ordered some plants from Avon Bulbs, everything is special there. This morning I got up at 5 to take some photographs, and I had gone to bed very early, I took three very good photos, and Clive is right that the whole thing is in the light. My magnolias have been a disaster this year, both Athene and Aurora were completely frosted and I feel like taking them out as both flower earlier and this is the second time this has happened. Magnolia sieboldi and Gold Star are much later and as a result safer.
A week ago we went to stay in Cornwall with two friends called Nick and Vanessa Courtney. The stars of the house party were Lord and Lady Clinton, both 89 and totally charming. He had the most amazing eyebrows I had ever seen. She was a sweetie and as keen on gardening as I am. We went to the Cornish flower show, and Glendurgan which had a wonderful maze on a steep slope. It was made by one of the Fox brothers. Basically we never stopped laughing which is always good for you. They had a very comfortable bungalow with a special view of the sea, and one day of very good weather. Polly is very excited as after three years Lathraea Clandestina has emerged, It is a purple toothwort, a parasite mainly of willow, hazel and alder, rarely seeming to cause any harm to its host. The slightly orchid like flowers are all one sees above ground. Needless to say my friend Mark Griffiths told me to buy it.
The bottom two were this morning when I got up early!
I wonder if it is because it is a lovely warm day, bees and butterflies abound, and partly as this puts me in a good mood I have had some new ideas for the apricot border. For some time I have been fed up with the large untidy Colutea Media, so Polly has taken it out, not quite. It proved to be a real struggle with a large root going off at a tangent. She is determined not to give up, and says she is getting there! We are going to put in Cotinus Grace, against which everything peach in that border will look good. My friend Rupert Goldby has given me a Daphne Jacqueline Postill, which we will put at the back. The smell when it is flowering is idyllic. I am excited at what we are doing as it is going to look quite different.
The miniature species tulips are beginning to emerge, these increase with rhizomes under the ground, and are well worth growing as they flower when not much else is. All my chaenomeles are flowering, nivalis looks very Japanese, and Moerloosi is down by the circles in the paddock. The circles in the paddock are a blaze of colour at the moment with all the peonies showing off their red shoots. There are so many little beautiful treasures in them you hardly know where to look. I remember Bob Brown saying to me ‘you dont really need this’
And I replied ‘You dont live here’. What is fun all the anemone blanda have seeded into the slate chippings where the chairs are, and so have the little white cyclamen so I have about five of them. If I put my cyclamen into a bed I am nothing like so successful with them. Polly has just succeeded with that terrible root. We have added three new peonies this year from Binny Plants, all red, and with the gift of a little shortbread biscuit, such a nice touch.