Saturday 30 June 2012

My Four Gardens

I don’t own all four gardens, I’m just responsible for their creation and maintenance.

You may know about Bolton Percy churchyard, which has had a lot of media coverage over previous years. Anna Pavord wrote a beautiful article that describes the churchyard much more eloquently than I ever could. Please read it here.

Fifteen years ago, I took on another cemetery in Worsbrough Village near Barnsley.

Three views of Worsbrough Cemetery

There is also an acre of land in Seaton Ross, dubbed  ‘the village plot’ and my services were ‘volunteered’ six years ago to eliminate the healthiest ground elder you can imagine! I have looked after it ever since.

The Seaton Ross Village Plot

The feature common to all these gardens is that, with the use of glyphosate weedkiller and by repeated spraying, I eliminated all perennial weeds before doing any serious planting. Another day I will explain the advantages of not digging such areas, but cannot resist remarking that not digging is a very good idea in a cemetery!

I will concentrate today on Boundary Cottage. Brenda and I have lived here for more than ten years. The garden was originally a forest of Leyland cypress, overgrown hedges and 20ft sycamores.

Boundary Cottage with no boundaries!

The garden was never designed and the features were gradually introduced as we made it up as we went along.

You will see it is the opposite of the enclosed small spaces that are much beloved of garden designers, and there are views across the garden from every aspect. Boundary Cottage has no boundaries! There are inevitably the fashionable ‘nice surprises’ as you walk round. The shapes of the borders have simple outlines and no wavy margins to make you seasick.

The boggy area at the bottom of Boundary Cottage

The key aspect of how I manage my gardens is paying close attention to weed control. ‘Take care of the weeds and the plants look after themselves’ is my motto.  Keep on top by tackling the weeds little and often. It is easy that way because if you kill the weeds while they are still small, they do not need to be removed.

I rely greatly on selective spraying with glyphosate, using my knapsack sprayer, especially so at Worsbrough and Bolton Percy.  Plant Health Warning! Do not try this at home folks, unless you are already expert with a spray nozzle! I have learnt how to use glyphosate the hard way. In my own garden I spray, hoe and hand-weed. (Non-diggers tend to hoe very shallowly and only hoe the weeds, undercutting them with minimum soil disturbance.)

I like gravel, it looks good and the plants love it. As a mulch, it conserves water which filters into the soil even after light rain. Hardly relevant this year!  I liken gravel to a one-way water valve into the soil. Organic mulches, although hugely beneficial, tend to intercept light rain. I used to mischievously suggest to students that the main benefit of mulches is that they stopped the gardener from ruining his soil!

Friday 29 June 2012

The National Dicentra Collection

I hope you like the Bleeding Heart wallpaper on my site. It reflects the fact that I hold the national dicentra collection. This is not as grand as it sounds. Thirty years ago when the new National Society of Garden Plants, as it was then called, looked for volunteers, they were not as fussy as they are now. I protested to a colleague that I knew nothing about dicentras. He replied, ‘If you get the collection you will’.

It's not dicentra time now, for the most popular varieties, but I would like to whet your appetite with a few favourites.

Dicentra formosa oregona ‘Pearl Drops’

Dicentra formosa oregona ‘Pearl Drops’ has a long flowering season and lovely glaucus foliage. It is sometimes sold as 'Langtrees’ - frankly, I cannot tell the difference and believe there is none.

Dicentra formosa alba

Dicentra formosa alba comes true from seed (of course white varieties with cultivar names do not). In practice if you sow it's seed, you will normally get some that come up coloured - throw them away.

This white variety is frequently offered in the trade as Dicentra eximia alba. This is wrong. I know no one who has it in the UK.  Dicentra eximia (not alba) is offered by seedsmen such as Chilterns and comes true. If any U.S. follower can let me have spare seed of the true eximia alba, I would be very grateful.

Dicentra formosa

Dicentra formosa is very promiscuous and many of my seedlings have no name. 

You might like these future dicentra posts
Dicentra formosa
Dicentra scandens
An important botanical principle

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Why the no-dig Gardener?

Except in a few exceptional circumstances I have not dug for forty years. ‘Minimum cultivation’ best describes what I do. It may surprise you then, that a small stainless steel border spade is my favourite garden tool! Spades have many uses other than digging, not least making planting slits and holes, edging the lawn and lifting potatoes.

Many gardeners imagine the more they cultivate the soil, the better it will be. My philosophy is the opposite, the more you avoid disturbing the soil, the more the plants will be healthy, and the better the soil structure will be. I am quite evangelical about the benefits of not digging.

Plants of the Week - Astrantia and Alstromeria

 (left) Astrantia 'Sunningdale Variegated’, (right) Alstromeria

An easy basic herbaceous perennial, When, as in the picture on the left (above), it starts to look a little tired and lose its variegation, it can be cut to the ground and will quickly rejuvenate with lovely new variegated growth.

(above right) The Alstromeria survived both winters of 2010! Will flower all summer. Some gardeners don’t like this genus because it ‘runs’ and spreads out. It can run as much as it likes for me! It propagates well by division in April as long as you insert your spade very deep.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

A Declaration Of Intent!

My passion is gardening and I like to sound off and promote my unconventional horticultural ideals.  As a former horticultural lecturer at Askham Bryan College, I do, however, firmly believe that gardening should have a sound base of technical knowledge. In my opinion, much gardening in the media is shallow, pseudo-scientific and sometimes just plain wrong!

I take every opportunity in my gardening lectures to clubs and societies to be provocative, and to challenge gardeners to question their methods. I intend to do the same here.

Long before the computer age, I had my own ‘blog’. It was a monthly gardening article in Bolton Percy church magazine. The articles continued for twenty years and only ceased when we left the village 12 years ago.  I have to say, I initially invited gardening queries and, over those years, received absolutely none. Not much hope for this blog then! The articles were sometimes serious, sometimes frivolous. Not liking to waste anything I kept the magazines and, when challenged to start this project, looked them out. They still seem fresh and relevant. I always used to joke that if my horticultural lectures stayed out of date a little longer I would be at the forefront of gardening technology. Things go round. I will include reprints of some of those articles. It will save me a lot of thinking and enable me to concentrate on new material.

(Above) The cemetery at Bolton Percy, where I return every month to maintain the planting.

Some of you will know me through Bolton Percy churchyard garden. It has been suggested I was one of the first to make such a naturalistic garden (nothing in gardening is really new). Over a twenty-year period, nine separate TV programmes were made and just about every national newspaper beat a path to Bolton Percy. Not any more. The garden is no longer fashionable and it does not fit into the public image of naturalistic gardens as I completely rely on herbicides. I am not green enough for environmentalists and too untidy for gardeners. Nevertheless, many visitors still come, and the acre of churchyard garden is always open (and free) across the road from the fine pre-reformation church. If you do have a ride out, be sure to see the church’s fine millenium window. I now go back to Bolton Percy each month to maintain the garden.

Someone put an interesting video of the churchyard garden on YouTube a few years ago.

Why do a blog?

For years I’ve been told that I should write a book, as my unorthodox approach should have a wider platform. I have always refused, but now I have joined the over-seventy club, the idea suddenly appeals. I am going to give it a go.

Cathi next door is a publisher and she has kindly set this up for me. I have had a crash course in taking digital photographs, shifting them around the computer, and generally understanding what a blog is and how it works. I am ready to go.

I hope what I write will interest both new and experienced gardeners. I may be a little controversial, as I will, almost certainly, be suggesting breaking many of the old rules. Like many things in life though, you learn the basics only to discard or modify them as you gain greater expertise. I remember as a young boy the joy of working the soil and rooting my first cutting. I do not dig anymore!

My acre garden at Boundary Cottage, Seaton Ross is open to the public on Yellow Book open days and we also take visiting parties by appointment. My partner, Brenda, is acclaimed for her cakes.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...