The Enduring Gardener | Garden Design Ideas, Help & Inspiration
The Enduring Gardener, a friendly community of like-minded garden enthusiasts. This is an organic gardening blog of Stephanie Donaldson.We like to keep up to date on the latest garden trends, plants and products. Enjoy our garden design ideas, inspirational articles and how-to guides.
While I was confined indoors as ‘the beast from the east’ rampaged outdoors, I found myself – more by chance than design – reading three books that centred on plants in one way or another. As someone who finds that life is always better when plants are involved this was a happy state of affairs – if I can’t actually be gardening, then reading about it is the next best thing.
First of the trio was ‘The Orchid Hunter’ by Leif Bersweden. This is a far cry from the usual orchidaceous tales of jeopardy in far-flung corners of the world – more a gentle coming of age story about a young man who spent a summer criss-crossing Britain and Ireland to see all fifty-two of our native orchids. Leif found his first orchid growing near his family home when he was seven years old and developed an obsession that led to him spending his first summer after leaving school in pursuit of these sometimes very elusive flowers. It is a charming book and a very good read for any wildflower enthusiast.
Wild orchids are a favourite find wherever I travel
There is something about orchids that engages our emotions – finding orchids is always a highlight of my plant-hunting holidays and we make an annual pilgrimage to a meadow not too far away that is carpeted with orchids in early June. It is a flower that hates disturbance and modern farming practices have destroyed many old colonies and their habitats, so some species are increasingly rare and precious. Serendipitously, I read elsewhere about a company that grows native orchids for sale. According to Bewdley Orchids www.bewdleyorchids.com once they are established, orchids make good garden plants in the ground, in containers, or in wildflower meadows and will self- seed and spread if conditions are right.
My second read was ‘At the Edge of the Orchard’, a novel by Tracy Chevalier. It weaves a powerful tale about the hard lives of an early American settler family, the Goodenoughs, and the father’s attempts to establish an apple orchard of ‘eaters and spitters’ in a hostile Ohio swamp. Spitters were cider apples, essential at a time when most water was unsafe to drink. There are encounters with real people, including John Chapman, who was better known as Johnny Appleseed and, later in the book, one of the sons works for the plant hunter William Lobb, helping him collect seeds and saplings of Californian redwoods and sequoia to send to England. I’m sure it would be a terrific read even if you weren’t that interested in the horticulture, but I was – and loved every minute of it.
Last, but in no way least, there is Penelope Lively’s ‘Life in the Garden’. This book reminiscences about the different gardens she has owned and family gardens, using these reminiscences as a stepping off point into exploring the history of gardens, great gardeners and great writers who are also gardeners. It is a gentle, discursive journey that takes you from her husband appreciatively referring to their own garden as ‘the garden of earthly delights’, to her musing that he probably wasn’t thinking of Hieronymous Bosch’s painting of the same name where all manner of unspeakable things are happening. She writes about fashionable gardens and the way that the arrival of plants from the rest of the world has shaped our taste since Roman times. It is a book that deserves much more than the quick read I have managed so far and by the time I have thoroughly perused its pages I suspect that it will be liberally scattered with bookmarks. It is a book to return to and digest slowly. It is also a book with one of the loveliest covers I have ever seen.
If, like me, you dig up your dahlias and store them overwinter – or have bought some new tubers – now is the time to get them potted up and growing-on. Stored dahlias should be removed from whatever you have stored them in (I use newspaper lined crates of spent compost) cleaned and tidied, checked for any damage or rot and then potted up into fresh compost. Give them a good soak and stand them in good light in a greenhouse, cold frame or other frost-free place. I’ve mulched my dahlias with Strulch to stop the compost drying out and have put a couple of slug pellets in each pot.
Dahlia tubers overwintered in spent compost Freshly potted up tubers
Mulched with Strulch to stop the compost drying out
Slugs love young dahlia foliage (this is why I’ve stopped leaving them in the ground – I got fed up with them being chewed to extinction) so the pellets are insurance against any lurking slugs in the greenhouse. Once they are growing strongly I will reduce the number of shoots to five and pinch these out when they are 25cm tall. This will produce robust plants that flower well. Liquid feed the dahlias as they grow and plant them out once all danger of frost has passed. They will probably flower before then, which will be no bad thing for me as some of the tubers have become detached from their labels!
There are many greenhouses on the market in the United Kingdom but there are four independent greenhouse manufacturers that stand above the rest in terms of quality. These are Cultivar greenhouses, Alitex, Hartley Botanic and Gabriel Ash. All produce a Victorian Greenhouse and three produce cheaper (or less expensive) models with wider pane centres. In this guide we give you an idea of how much greenhouses cost from each supplier based on one of the most popular sizes of greenhouses in the UK – eight by ten foot. At this level all the greenhouses come with toughened safety glass, aluminium guttering, and reasonable ventilation as standard.
A view inside a cultivar greenhouse.
How Much is a Cultivar Greenhouse ?
Cultivar produce a Modern and Victorian range of greenhouses made from a combination of materials – Accoya wood and aluminium. Both models are 8′ wide by 10’5″ long. The modern greenhouse glazed to the ground has a list price of £6440 including VAT and fitting. During sale periods this price is £5725. The Victorian greenhouse of the same size is around £7400 fitted including VAT and can be as little as £6589 during sale periods. You should also budget around £600 for a side of staging and shelving. Cultivar have an advantage over both Alitex and Hartley Botanic in that their greenhouse do not require the construction costs or complications involved in building a dwarf wall, a simple level base is all that is required. This is the most up to date greenhouse on the market at a competitive price. But perhaps that’s what you might expect since the people behind it are the previous owners of Gabriel Ash and Hartley Botanic.
How much is a Hartley Greenhouse ?
This obviously depends on the specification as well as the size but if we take a popular size, say 8 x 10, they have a traditional model at (8’2″ x 10′ 5″ approx) and you buy this without accessories during the sale the price is in the order of £5000. This sits on a dwarf wall so you will need to factor in the cost of buying the materials for the wall and having it constructed. If you opt for a similar size greenhouse in their Victorian range then the list price of this is somewhere in the region of £10,500 but is reduced during the sale periods to £8000, again you need to factor in the additional cost of building the dwarf wall. This cost does not include accessories. The cheaper model with staging shelving and assembly will likely cost you in the order of £6000 whilst the Victorian model will be closer to £9000.
How much is a Gabriel Ash Greenhouse ?
Working along the same lines as the Hartley Botanic above Gabriel Ash also produce a Victorian model. The width is a little smaller than most being (7′ 6″ approx and 10′ 3″) and has a list price of £8250 but this during sales is reduced to £6875 including fitting but no accessories. The cost for one side of Staging and shelving which is perhaps the most important accessory is £625. So all in you’re looking at around £7500 including VAT. This will require a base building and it is recommended to lift the structure off the ground with a course of brick to lift the cedar away from moisture.
How much is an Alitex Greenhouse ?
If you thought they were expensive then wait until you learn the price of an Alitex. Are you sitting down ? The Hidcote which is part of the National trust range measures 8’5″ x 10’1″ and costs £11,250 including VAT for the basic model without any accessories or construction of the base.
We hope you’ve found this brief guide to greenhouse prices helpful. Obviously prices can go up or down depending on each manufacturer and the offers they might be putting on. These prices are offered in good faith at the time of writing in February 2018. So what are you waiting for ? Spring is around the corner, take a look at these four and make your choice.
Now that I’m getting on with tidying the borders, it makes sense to apply a mulch at the same time. Leave it much longer and it will be far trickier to spread the mulch amongst the growing plants. But what to use?
Bark mulch in the woodland area
Strulch on the borders
A conversation with Tom Brown, the head gardener at Parham House in West Sussex – and Henry Macaulay who works with him – has caused me to have a rethink. I’ve generally spread as much homemade compost as possible over the flowerbeds. However, Tom and Henry’s observations about some recently replanted borders at Parham mean I may not be so liberal with the compost in future. Their borders consist of four quadrants and rather than tackle them all at once, they replanted two one year, followed by two the next. They mulched the first two beds with compost, but not the second two – and found that the unmulched quadrants grew sturdier, more floriferous plants, while the mulched quadrants grew sappier, taller plants with fewer flowers. They are now considering using something less nutrient-rich that will suppress annual weeds without overfeeding the borders.
Tom had an interesting perspective on the use of compost. Now that all gardens, large or small, are encouraged to turn every bit of green waste into compost, we need somewhere to spread it, so everything tends to get a generous layer – but it may be that some plants don’t need such a rich diet. I’m now going to use the majority of my compost on the vegetable plot and take the opportunity to reduce my leafmould mountain by spread a 5cm layer on the borders and in the woodland area. It’s a win/win situation, because then I will have somewhere to put all the leaves collected this winter. Although leafmould is low in nutrients, it is high in organic matter and will improve the soil structure and help moisture retention. If you don’t have a huge heap of leafmould, soil improver is the stuff to buy. For aesthetic reasons (i.e. not essential) I will add a layer of Strulch – the mineralised straw mulch www.strulch.co.uk – to the borders and spread composted bark in the woodland.
Oh the garden is so soggy! We have avoided the worst of the cold and barely seen a snowflake, but getting anything done has proved really difficult. Some of the borders are still covered by a thick layer of tulip tree leaves and I’ve long run out of anywhere to stack them.
Before Border – still covered with leaves
After Border – leaves gone and a top-dressing of bark
I had hoped to have excavated the friable leaf mould from the existing leaf heap by now and spread it on the garden, but we may just have to stack the new stuff on top of it and do lots of jumping up and down. The leaf heap is in danger of taking hill-like proportions. Meanwhile I am mulching with shredded bark.
Mimosa will soon be in full flower
Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’
Clematis urophylla ‘Winter Bells’
Iris reticulata ‘Katherine Hodgkinson’
Hydrangea before pruning
Hydrangea cut back to first pair of fat buds
In a few hours of glorious sunshine, I did get out and prune most of the hydrangeas, cutting each stem to a pair of fat buds – in our sheltered garden they should be fine.
There are reasons to be cheerful despite the rain – the mimosa is colouring up, the daphne ‘Jacqueline Postil’ is in full fragrant flower, reticulata iris have started to flower and the clematis urophylla ‘Winter Beauty’ that I planted last year has romped through the quince tree and is festooning it with its wonderful white waxy bells.
Update: the greenhouse remains rodent-free and the first salad seeds have germinated. Hooray!
Over Christmas I became aware that rats were visiting, or living in the greenhouse. I don’t like rats at the best of times and I certainly didn’t want to share the greenhouse with them. They had been digging holes in amongst the salads and nipping off the tips of the iris reticulata I was growing in pots.
These were inconveniences, but the thing that worried me most was the possibility of them spreading Weil’s disease through their urine. Apparently they are pee-as-you-go animals, so it was possible that the salads had been liberally sprinkled and eating them did not seem like a good idea. I pulled them all up (wearing gloves) – farewell early spring salads – and moved the iris into a coldframe.
While I was working, the cat ambled in, sniffed here and there and then wandered off, indicating that the rats were probably visiting rather than resident – and that he was not inclined to hang around and catch one.
My next step was somewhat lateral – it’s the time of year when I use a garlic bomb to fumigate the greenhouse and it occurred to me that the combination of thick yellow smoke and a very strong garlicky pong might persuade them to go elsewhere. I’ve no idea whether it worked on the rats, but it does mean that other lurking pests will have been dealt with.
As I was now fairly confident that a thorough tidying of the greenhouse would not result in me coming face to face with a rat, I moved as many potted plants as I could into cold frames, cleaned the bench and removed all the seedtrays etc that lurked beneath.
All this work revealed the place where the rats were getting in – they had been digging through from outside where there was a gap in the brickwork foundations.
I’ve now blocked the external hole with wire wool (the one thing they won’t gnaw through) and banged slates into the soil close to their tunnel inside the greenhouse and packed behind the slates with more wire wool.
With any luck this will be the end of the ratastrophe, but to make sure I have put some rat bait down – and so far it has not been touched.
The good news is that the bacteria that causes Weil’s disease does not live for more than an hour away from its host (in dry conditions) so as soon as I’m confident that I have routed the rats I can sow some more salads.
And I’ve got a clean and tidy greenhouse!
For those who don’t follow @theenduringgardener on Instagram (why not?) as well as those that do (thank you), I thought it would be nice to end the year with the posts that attracted the most ‘likes’ – and add some captions and comments. Great Dixter features in four of the photos – hardly surprising, given that I live a mere half an hour away, I am a Friend of Dixter which gives me year round access (£72 a year and includes free entry to The Chelsea Physic Garden) and it is an endless source of inspiration.
Top Left: A beautifully elegant glazed balcony in Seville
Top Middle: Late spring at Dixter in the Peacock Garden looking towards the house through drifts of cow parsley and giant fennel
Top Right: My bargain vintage copper pot bought in Hastings Old Town for a mere £30 – I planted a dahlia in it during the summer and it is now planted with tulips
Centre Left: The Topiary Lawn at Great Dixter at dusk in mid-summer
Centre Middle: a wall of roses on the stand of The Real Flower Company at the Chelsea Flower Show
Centre Right: Amy, one of the students at Great Dixter – a wonderful example of how to look elegant while you garden. Something I seldom achieve!
Bottom Left: Patterns left in the sand by the receding tide on Hastings beach
Bottom Middle: Another view across the planting in the Peacock Garden at Great Dixter
Bottom Right: Spring flowers among the Roman ruins at Paphos in Cyprus.
Happy New Year Everyone – may 2018 be a good year for gardening.
Just occasionally we do take a holiday that doesn’t have plants as the main focus and December in the desert kingdom of Jordan was never going to be a floral bonanza. Nevertheless it was an unforgettable week that more than made up for it being the off-season for most flowering plants. Visitor numbers are low because of nervousness about the region, so we were made very welcome, never felt unsafe and it was wonderful to see some of the wonders of the Old World without the usual crowds.
Jerash & Ajlun
The Graeco-Roman city of Jerash was at its finest two thousand years ago, but thanks to the dry climate and having been hidden beneath layers of sand until the 20th century, it is in an amazing state of preservation (with some restoration) and exists to one side of the modern town. It is a huge site that includes two amphitheatres, a vast temple, hippodrome, forum and colonnaded street – and once we were off the main path there were few people around.
I did manage to spot a flower that was new to me – Hyoscyamus aureus – the golden-flowered henbane. And I also noticed that much of the ground was carpeted with the remains of the eryngiums and asphodels that bloom there in the spring. Aside from that, there was no shortage of finely carved acanthus leaves on the stone capitols and columns.
Nearby Ajlun was very different – a hilltop fortress built by one of Saladin’s commanders in the 12th century to repel the Crusaders. It is forbidding and impressive and like most of the places we visited provided very good information boards, so we got a real sense of how it was used to attack and repel the enemy – huge stone balls fired from catapults and openings for boiling oil featured strongly.
Leaving the military architecture behind we took a stroll off the main path and around the perimeter of the fortress to be rewarded with a slope carpeted in tiny lavender-pink colchicums and then a scattering of the rare white Aleppo crocus. Having identified it, I also discovered that the roasted bulbs are a delicacy amongst the local people which probably accounts for its rarity.
On the way to Petra, we stopped off at Mount Nebo where Moses is said to have first looked upon the ‘Promised Land’. It was a hazy day so we couldn’t see as far as Jericho and Jerusalem, but even so the views were spectacular.
The Franciscan monastery on the summit contains some stunning Byzantine mosaics in fine condition featuring a wonderful array of animals, people and some well-pruned trees!
A modern crucifix stands at the highest point, overlooking the Jordan Valley – I would like to have included the view in the photo, but there was an entire coachload of Chinese tourists queuing to take selfies, so I gave up.
Looking down on the landscape that conceals Petra
This extraordinary place was without doubt the highlight of our visit to Jordan. We watched the weather forecast with concern – it appeared that our visit would coincide with the first rain of the winter – but as luck would have it, it held off until the evening, so although it remained overcast and at times threatening, it actually meant that we walked much further than we might have if it had been hot and sunny. To get ahead of the weather and any crowds, we got there early (our hotel was right next to the entrance) so we were the only people in sight at 6.50am.
It’s a two kilometre walk from the entrance, along a valley and then through the Siq (the narrow gorge that leads to Petra) before you reach Petra itself, built as the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom in the 1st century BC. For seven hundred years, after a major earthquake and a change in trade routes, it was known only to the Bedouins until an explorer (masquerading as an Arab) gained entry in the early 19th century.
As we emerged from the Siq to the most famous view – that of The Treasury – our only companions were the Bedouin traders and their camels and donkeys. And so it remained for the next three hours, after which a few more visitors started to arrive. It was only as we left around 2.30 that large tour parties were in evidence – so if you ever go to Petra get there early.
No one – in either direction
The architecture is what Petra is all about, but I did find some interesting plants. Thymelaea hirsuta (thanks #thephoenixgarden for identifying it) is a small shrub with tiny yellow flowers that has tough roots that will go up to 3.5metres deep in search of water. They were used to make strong ropes and paper. On a grander scale, there is a 450-year old pistachio tree alongside the Colonnaded Street. Presumably it once had companions, because pistachios are either male or female.
450 year old pistachio tree
The most common plant was the sea squill. This large bulb grows its leaves between November and March, so was easy to spot. The leaves then die back before it sends up tall flowering stems bearing white flowers in late summer and early autumn. I noticed some bulbs were being sold by the Bedouin, although I’m not sure why. They are quite toxic (the Bedouin use them to kill mice) and although they have medicinal uses, I’m not sure why anyone would buy them (unless they had a lot of mice!).
Walking away from the main paths, we followed a path down a narrow valley that led to a spring and found an olive grove and orchards still owned by the local tribes. Although the Bedouin were relocated from their cave houses in the 1980s, they still have the right to grow crops, tend their animals and sell trinkets to tourists within Petra. My most unexpected find was a clump of maidenhair fern growing out of the cliff near the spring.
How I felt after the exertions of the day!
My advice to anyone who visits Petra is to go in the cool months, have tough walking boots or shoes and plenty of water. We walked for the entirety of our visit, including the 900 steps up the Monastery and the same back down (the donkey alternative looked very perilous) and by the end of the day my phone told me I had walked 19 kilometres and climbed up and down the equivalent of 104 floors. I slept very well that night!
Wadi Rum is the desert made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. It has a savage beauty and I am told that there are flowers to be found there in spring, but in December there was nothing to be seen apart from a few clumps of sea squill – and lots and lots and lots of sand. And the Seven Pillars of Wisdom – who knew it was a physical place as well as a book? Not me.
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom
After the aridity of Wadi Rum it was wonderful to arrive in Aqaba on the Red Sea, with its abundance of sub-tropical plants – definitely more my sort of habitat! The planting round our hotel was very good with a mix of vibrant flowers and silver-leaved cacti and palms, but what really appealed most to me was the little plots of herbs planted in a strip that ran between the centre of the town and the beach. Usually prime land like this is sold off and developed – I hope it doesn’t happen here.
Floss Silk Trees
Plots of herbs growing next to the beach in Aqaba
Both in Aqaba and Amman we visited the souks, bought herbs and spices and admired the fantastic array of fruit and vegetables – I would love to have brought some of them home too – especially the amazing aubergines – but common sense prevailed. I’ll just have to go back……….
Despite all the surrounding plants in the courtyard looking deciding autumnal, the brugmansia continues to flower prolifically, seemingly undaunted by the drop in temperature. Well the flowers are undaunted, but most of its lower leaves have fallen, creating long bare stems topped by clusters of fragile-looking, exotic flowers. Normally, I steel myself to cut all the stems hard back by this time of year and then wrap the plant up for winter, but this time I’ve only cut back a single stem and have left the others to see how long they will continue to flower.
I’ve taken cuttings from the stem I removed, so if the worst comes to the worst, I should have replacement plants. Each cutting is a 25cm(ish) length of stem, cut below a leaf joint at the base and above a leaf joint at the top. To make sure I planted them the right way up, I made a sloping cut at the top of the cutting and a flat one at the bottom (on reflection I think it would have been better the other way round, but it probably doesn’t matter). They are now in deep pots, in a gritty compost mix, with two thirds of the cutting covered by compost that has been top-dressed with grit. The cuttings are standing on a heated tray in the greenhouse, but they will do equally well on a windowsill. I haven’t taken brugmansia cuttings for years, but I seem to remember that they root quite readily.
After weeks of commenting on how many summer and autumn flowers have continued to flower their socks off, winter is now making itself felt as temperatures have plummeted. In this sheltered coastal garden we seldom have frosts, but there are still plants that will be much happier undercover instead of taking their chances outdoors. So, rather like the alpine farmers taking their animals to lower pastures, this week I’ve been moving plants to places where they can shelter for the winter.
The greenhouse is too small for most of them and will soon be pressed into use for seed sowing, so the plants end up in a variety of places depending on how much attention/warmth they will need in the coming months and – equally importantly – how precious they are to me.
My three citrus trees used to be small enough to all come into the kitchen for the winter, but now that they are substantial shrubs there is only space for one. They take turns indoors and this year it’s the Calamondin Orange that gets to enjoy the limelight. Although the light is good enough to prevent leaf fall, it’s really a bit too warm, so the tree sits in a gravel-filled saucer and is spritzed regularly with water. I keep the soil just damp (with rainwater) and feed once a month with a winter citrus feed. And I check regularly for scale insects –a healthy tree may show no sign of any infestation outdoors, but once indoors they may emerge and need dealing with as soon as possible. I’m not keen on using systemic insecticides and generally wipe the leaves with methylated spirits but the tree is now of a size that this may be far too Herculean a task, especially as the Calamondin has many small leaves, unlike the larger leaves on the other trees. If the tree does need treating, I will move it outdoors on a fine day to do it and leave it outside for as long as possible before bringing it back inside, later the same day.
Meanwhile, the lemon and the lime are spending the winter in front of the window at the end of the garage. It’s the nearest I get to an Orangery! Ideally, the window would be larger, but I turn the plants when I remember and feed and water from time to time. They don’t mind the chill provided they are kept on the dry side. I’ve visited proper orangeries where conditions seem less hospitable with very low light levels and it’s similarly cold but frost-free.
I’ve potted up a chilli to join the orange in the kitchen, partly so I can continue harvesting chillis, but also because it’s an attractive plant – as are the begonias and plectranthus that have also made it to the kitchen windowsill.
Our house is on the left behind the tree – the rest is next door, the conservatories now long gone
Our long thin conservatory. The majority of the other plants overwinter in what is optimistically referred to as the conservatory. A bit of history. Early in the 20th century this house and the one next door was run as a school for young ladies. What is now our sitting room was the gymnasium, at the end of which was a long narrow glazed corridor where I suspect they hung their coats and kept their plimsolls. This is now the conservatory where pelargoniums, aeoniums, begonias, salvias and sundry other plants tick over in a frost-free, but unheated space.
There are several plants that are too large to bring undercover and I deal with these as best I can – a favourite canna takes cover in the log store, the jovellana must take its chances sheltered beneath the mimosa tree and the pot grown agapanthus will be packed with straw around the leaves and covered with fleece. The brugmansia will be cut hard back and given the same treatment as the agapanthus and I will also take some cuttings.
Canna in the log store
Jovellana sheltering beneath the mimosa
Finally, young plants that are still growing on in pots are moved into cold frames where they can grow strong roots during the winter and be in tip top condition for spring planting.
The other vital task at this time of year is to remove all the saucers from beneath the remaining outdoor pots. This will protect both the clay pots and the plants from frost damage caused by saucers filled with cold, or even frozen water.
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