Saturday, 6 September 2014

Yet another great garden!

Since my last entry, I have said farewell to Great Dixter and have returned to the USA, where I am spending the final month of my scholarship at Chanticleer, in Pennsylvania. 

Chanticleer, the former home of the Rosengarten family, is a 35 acre garden and estate located about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Similar to Great Dixter, Chanticleer takes pride in it's bold and experimental plantings, which often stop one in their tracks. There are 7 full-time horticulturalists, all responsible for designated areas within the garden. Each garden space has it's own character and style, providing a range of designs and plants. Despite the variety,however, the garden still maintains rhythm and cohesion, an often underestimated aspect of the garden experience. Fortunately, during my time here I will work with all of the horticulturalist in their different areas, allowing me to get the broadest experience possible. 

One of my favorite (bold) plantings at Chanticleer

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Solar Garden

Last week was a busy and productive week! I started the week in the Solar Garden, where a group of us lifted the existing mixed bedding, which had run its course, and we continued with the normal procedure of forking over the bed and adding mushroom compost.  In addition to prepping the soil, we also extended the bed edge out about a foot.  We did save some of the persisting cornflowers,  which we cut and bunched for sale on the front porch. 

Lifting existing bedding

We thought through some different planting schemes, but we (Fergus) decided on Canna indica 'Purpurea', Cosmos (white), Tagetes cinnabar, Zinnia Benary's Giant Salmon, Salvia  bonfire, and Zinnia Zowie Yellow Flame.  I'm excited to see how it works! 

New planting done

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Northiam Horticulture Society Judging

Recently our local horticulture society had a summer social event with a flower show that Ed and I were asked to judge. As it was my first time judging such an event, I was a bit nervous. It's a smaller show than their spring show, with only two categories. The first category was one flowering specimen and the other a mixed foliage display.  It wasn't as bad as I anticipated, and was actually fun and a good experience. 

The evening also included a rather challenging plant identification and garden photography competition. It's great that these sort of groups still exist and that they continue such a rich tradition, while encouraging a younger generation to become involved. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

June jobs

Despite a dry month, the garden is really looking good right now. We've been running around the garden (literally at times) setting up sprinklers and trying to keep things watered. We have also been replanting bedding areas which have gone over. The challenge is to do this in such a way that it doesn't create massive holes throughout the garden.  Therefore we prioritize which areas need to be redone first, and stagger the timing of our removal and replanting of different areas. This approach is more subtle and allows for new plantings to fill in before we tackle another area. 

Planting Salvia 'Amistad' in the Peacock Garden

Newly planted Canna 'Wyoming' in the Peacock Garden

Part of this process is making sure we have the necessary stock to select from. So all the while we continue to sow seed, prick out, and pot on seasonal bedding material. It's all intertwined, and requires a good deal of multi-tasking.

A fresh batch of seedlings

This is another facet of succession gardening, which is a lot of work, but worthwhile for us to provide a continuous show in the garden throughout the season. 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Exotic Garden

Taking Tradescantia cuttings

This week we have begun sorting through plants in the hot house, getting some things (i.e. Begonias) moved out into cold frames, where they will still have protection, while freeing up necessary space in the greenhouse. This has allowed us to move plants that have spent the winter under the bench, up on top of the bench, where they will get proper light as they begin to emerge. One such plant that is beginning to emerge quickly is Colocasia. These were repotted into fresh soil, and some into larger pots, and were placed on the heat bench to encourage growth. These are important pieces to the Exotic Garden composition. 

Repotted Colocasias on the heat bench

We are hoping to plant up the Exotic Garden in the next two weeks. "Exciting, isn't it?" (as Fergus would say) We have spent a couple of days now carefully unwrapping the Bananas (Musa basjoo) and the Tree Fern (Dicksonia antarctica), as well as weeding, tidying, and forking the soil. This is usually done around the 2nd week of June, as we're out of frost threat and the plants are far enough along to use. 

Banana after straw removed

Unwrapping the Tree Fern

Monday, 19 May 2014

Turkey Trip

I just had the privilege of spending a week in Turkey as part of my scholarship. Being my first trip to Turkey, I didn't really know what to expect, but it ended up being one of the best travel experiences. 

Old Istanbul

Part of the trip was spent in Istanbul and part in the eastern town of Erzincan--what a contrast! In Istanbul I experienced a bit of sensory overload with so much going on. This was a horticulture-based trip, but it was also very much a cultural experience. We worked in the botanic garden one day, laying out and planting part of a border.  It's always fun to meet other horticulturalists and see the work that they're doing and share plants and ideas. 

Border before

Border after

I also enjoyed seeing the city. Situated on the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara, the city slopes up away from the water, creating a wonderful tiered effect. I especially appreciated all the old architecture and the traditional markets. 

Istanbul is a beautiful city

It was nice to leave the hustle and bustle of Istanbul and head east for a few days. We stayed in the town of Erzincan. It felt small after being in Istanbul, but it still had lot going on in its own right. There was a busy main street with numerous shops and restaurants, and then, as if you had pulled back the curtain to a different scene, one block over in the shadows of the main street there was a fabulous old market. Everyday they had farmers selling fresh fruit and veg and seeds, as well as the permanent shops of the local artisans-- it was great. 

Probably wouldn't see this in Istanbul! 

Old mountain village

From Erzincan, we were able to do day trips out into the surrounding mountains and countryside looking at plants in the wild. Turkey has a wonderful range of endemic plants, and although we were a little early for some things, we still saw quite a bit.  It's great to see these plants growing in their natural habitats.  We become so accustomed to the plants we buy in our local garden centers and nurseries, that we often forget where they come from.  By seeing them growing naturally, it not only gives me a greater appreciation for the plant in a cultivated setting, but it gives greater insight into the specific requirements of that plant. 

 Pelargonium endlicherianum
Ferula orientalis

Tchihatchewia isatidea

This was a special trip and a wonderful experience, from the people, to the food, and obviously the plants--I hope to be back one day! 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Cannas & Dahlias

Basal growth on Dahlias in the hot house

A couple of weeks ago we started pulling select Dahlias out of the cellar and putting them in the hot house to force growth for cuttings. With the recent wave of warm weather, we have already had significant basal growth, allowing us to take quite a few cuttings. These cuttings are important because overtime Dahlia tubers may dry out or rot or be eaten or simply tire out. It's important, therefore, to increase inventory by propagating. 

Our beautifully constructed potting bench

This week we have been taking select Cannas and additional Dahlias out of the Cellar and potting them up. These plants are being divided and potted into different sized pots,  depending on the tuber size or the required number of plants for both the garden and the nursery. After they're potted up they're placed under glass in a cold frame, where they will begin to put on growth but still have necessary protection. We won't be needing the plants for a while yet, but by getting this done now, we'll have stronger plants when the time comes for planting. Also, by doing it now, we get it out of the way and give ourselves time for other important projects around the garden, such as weeding, staking, and sorting the next phase of seedlings in the nursery. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Bedding...Before & After

It's been really exciting to watch as the bedding sections I helped plant fill out and flower. One of the first bits I planted was the circular steps by the orchard. We planted Forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica) in combination with Tulipa 'Combat'. Over the last week it has really come into its own, and turned out quite nicely I think. 

Before: Original planting in November

After: The combination turned out well

Friday, 18 April 2014

Plant of Interest

Clematis alpina 'Frances Rivis'

Origin: Europe

Size: 1-3m (3-9ft) 

Cultivation: Moist, well-drained soil in sun-part shade. As is the case with most Clematis, the roots should be kept cool and protected. Pruning Group 1- no regular pruning required, but if necessary prune directly after flowering. HARDY (USDA 6b/7a)

Observations: This early light blue-purple flowering Clematis produces wonderful bell-shaped, nodding flowers.  Here it hangs effortlessly from supporting branches of Euonymus europaeus near the kitchen drive, and looks stellar against the bright yellow flower heads of Euphorbia robbiae. It also has an Award of Garden Merit (AGM). 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

What better way to start of the season...?

Come on out for our SPRING PLANT FAIR this Saturday and Sunday. This is a great opportunity to see what some of the top nurseries in the UK and Europe are growing, and it's all in one place! Not only that, but our garden is looking quite nice right now, so why not come and see it all??

Monday, 31 March 2014

Spring Show

The Northiam Horticulture Society's spring flower show was this past weekend. Fergus, who is the society's President, asked if any of us wanted to enter, so three of us did (plus Fergus). Having attended the autumn show without entering, I wanted to participate this time around. 

The society was founded in 1897, and has around 300 members (I didn't know 300 people lived in Northiam!...yes, I'm joking). From what I've seen and been told, it's a very keen and active group. I was impressed by the enthusiasm and the high quality of work. I'm not aware of anything quite like it back home. It's a great tradition and one that I hope continues for many years to come. 

Entries grouped in specific categories 

We had to drop off our entries between 9-10:30, and then return for the award ceremony at 4 pm. There are 20-30 categories in which you can enter. You could even enter homemade breads, biscuits, marmalade or chutney. Although I've enjoyed making bread lately, I did stick to the flowers. I entered two categories (for the grand price of 40 pence), and was pleasantly surprised to get a first prize for one!  It was for "One variety tree/shrub (up to 3 stems)," for which I entered a Corylopsis pauciflora (which is looking stellar in the garden right now by the circular steps, under the mulberry). I was happy just to be a part of the tradition, but winning a prize made it all the more memorable. I am proud to say that Maria and Yuko both won a prize as well- it was a notable representation from Dixter! 

The winning specimen! 

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Student Work Weekend

Last weekend we hosted a student work weekend. Fifteen student-gardeners from around the UK showed up to take part. There were students from 
Aberglasney, Audley End, Chelsea Physic, Fulham Palace, Gravetye, Kew, 
and Wisley.  

Most of the students arrived on Saturday morning. We had a coffee and intro to the garden, led by Rachael. 

Rachael leading the group through the Barn Garden

Rachael and Ed did most of the planning and organizing for the weekend, and Maria, Yuko, Yuichi and I also coordinated group tasks that Fergus delegated. Tasks included: digging over and composting the Exotic Garden, weeding and tidying the Barn Garden and the Upper Terrace, potting up plants in the nursery, and gathering pea sticks from Dixter Wood. Fergus was very generous to give up most of his weekend to oversee the different garden jobs and spend time with the students. 

Thankfully the weather was perfect all weekend! We were able to get quite a bit accomplished, while enjoying the garden and each other's company. 

Aaron kindly prepared wonderful meals (including the largest loaf of bread I've ever seen!) for the group and made sure we didn't wreck the house, which we ate and slept in. After work Saturday, Fergus gave a short talk with slides. Then we all gathered for dinner in the Great Hall, and spent the evening talking, with a nice fire going in the fireplace. 

Sunday was a bit slower and more relaxed, which was nice, but we still took the tractor down to Dixter Wood to collect pea sticks. We hauled up two trailer loads, some of which were bundled for sale and others were piled up for our own use in the garden this year. Students were also given a brief demonstration on wood work outside the barn, including how to split and shave coppiced lengths.  Then we had lunch on the front lawn since the weather was so nice. After lunch students did a bit of shopping in the nursery before heading off. 

I think I can speak for most of (if not all) the people who attended the weekend when I say it was a special and exciting time. Yes, we were all tired after working a long week, but I think we were all energized by the exchange of experiences and ideas. I think it's so important to form these sorts of gatherings. We're often too busy competing and hoarding our ideas, but we have so much to learn from each other, and that's what this weekend was about. I hope all of us will continue to provide and promote these sorts of get-togethers in the future, wherever we are- I'm excited to see where this talented next generation of horticulturalists ends up! 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Spring is in the air

Rain or (sometimes) shine...Despite an onslaught of rain the last 3 months, we've managed to stay afloat thus far. This week is actually the nicest weather we've had in about 3 months! 

First bulb pot display in front of the house

It's beginning to feel and look more and more like spring at Great Dixter! I know, I know, it's only the start of March- there's still plenty of time for cold weather to make an appearance, but the very thought seems out of place when you stroll up the front walk, or down through the orchard, amongst a sea of Crocus, Snowdrops and early Daffodils. 

Crocus and Narcissus in the front meadow

A tapestry of bulbs in the orchard 

I love this time of year; everyday there seems to be something new flowering or budding up in the garden. The sense of anticipation, like that of a little kid leading up to Christmas, stirs inside of me.  I make a point of walking around the whole garden sometime during the day with my journal and a camera- you never know what new surprise might be waiting for you! 
Rhododendron 'Seta' blooming in the High Garden

Luzula sylvatica ‘Aurea’ with Pulmonaria saccharata ‘Fruhlingshimmel’ 

Cardamine quinquefolia, Helleborus x hybridus and Cynara cardunculus

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Nursery Duty

Recently I had weekend nursery duty. We have a rotation which the nursery staff and gardeners are part of. Although the garden isn't open to the public until April, the nursery is open year round. The hours do change during the winter; we're only open for half a day on Saturday, and we're closed on Sunday. We don't have that many customers in the winter, but it's still nice to provide this opportunity to the public. Anyway, customers or no customers, there's always work to be done! 

Coldframes and greenhouses in the nursery

First of all, the greenhouses and cold frames should be watered and ventilated as necessary. Then we check the rain gauge and record any precipitation.  We also take a quick walk around the garden to make sure things are in order.  Then we open up the sales shed and do any final preparations (which usually involves making a fire in the wood stove and a cup of tea!). 

The necessities!

Aside from assisting customers and answering the phone, we have a list of chores specific to that week. This list usually involves a series of plants that need to be potted up for the nursery, which is enough work to last when we don't have customers. 

Potting benches in the sales shed

I really enjoyed working in the nursery. Not only is it good work experience, but it's also a great opportunity to familiarize myself with our plant inventory, since we spend most of our time in the garden during the week.

And I still hit my head! 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Symposium Week

This past week we hosted one of our week-long symposia. We had a nice group of folks, many of whom were returning participants, from North America, Europe, and the UK. This symposium specifically addressed pruning. Although we have other ongoing garden tasks, I also participated in and assisted with the symposium. 

Fergus demonstrates pruning Cotinus coggygria

Fergus had us pruning trees and shrubs around the garden, which acted as examples for the symposium group. Then they were split into groups and did quite a bit of pruning themselves. I think it's very helpful to have that practical experience offered so as to make the learning more tangible. 

Pruning is such an important job in the garden. Not only does it help keep plants aesthetically pleasing, but it's important for functionality, health and vigor of a plant. Although I've been in horticulture for years now, and pruned numerous plants, this was the best, most commonsense approach to pruning I've heard.

It was a fun week and a fun group of people. The weather was mostly windy and rainy, but they were real troopers to stick it out and make the most of it. Most of them were already experienced gardeners, but I think they still learned a lot and enjoyed their time. 

I've never seen this many Hamamelis together--wow! 

At the end of the week, I was able to join the group on a visit to Witch Hazel Nursery. The nursery, owned by Chris Lane, specializes in, and is a National Collection of Hamamelis. It was a wonderful time to visit as the Witch Hazels were in full flower. Chris was very kind to show us around and talk about the different varieties. The rows of yellows, golds, reds and oranges were nicely backlit by the setting sun and produced a sweet honey-like fragrance. It really was something to behold. 

Chris Lane talking about H. 'Frederic' (R) and H. 'Gingerbread' (L)

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Plant of Interest

Astelia chathamica

Origin: New Zealand

Size: 1-2m(3-6ft) x 1-2m(3-6ft) 

Cultivation: Prefers moist soil, in sun-pt shade. Not fully hardy, may require winter protection. Hardy to about -5/-10ÂșC (15-20°F

Observations: This plant first caught my attention when I walked by it one day, stopping to see why it was covered in white paint? I then discovered that it wasn't paint at all, but the natural coloration of the foliage! This beautiful architectural plant has long sword-shaped leaves which are light green with a silvery-white sheen. It can easily hold its own, but also makes a fantastic companion plant. In colder climates it could make a nice container plant. 

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Building Hurdles

I have to admit, when I came to Great Dixter I had no idea I would be doing woodwork in the barn as part of the scholarship. However, it has been so much fun to learn some of the traditional skills of a dying art.  I was specifically helping make hurdles that will be used for gates and corrals for our sheep. 

Our work station in the barn

Using the chestnut (Castanea sativa) that we harvested from Dixter Wood in the fall, we cut the required lengths and spit them to get the most out of every length. 

Fergus demonstrates how to split the wood by hand

Using a range of traditional tools, we shave the wood, cut out notches and assemble the hurdles. The whole process is very efficient and sustainable, beginning with harvesting from our own woods, and using as much as possible from each length of wood, to using leftover scraps as fire kindling. 

This frame is where we assemble the hurdles

The finished product

New hurdles keep sheep in the grass carpark to graze