The changing face of the gardener’s toolshed

Blogging challenges, Gardening, Gardens

One of the pleasures of the garden is that it changes – every single day. Walk there daily, and you hardly notice as one plant quietly ends its moment in the sun, while another comes into vigorous life.

Visiting a garden less often, you notice those changes. Back in June at Harlow Carr, we walked among banks and beds crowded like this…..

A month later, they were gone. Instead, we meandered among beds thronged with these……

But I escaped the sights of the garden for a few moments in the Victorian potting shed. Looks at how these tools have changed over the years! Once sparkling and sturdy, now they’re dulled by rust and years of use. And yet ….. if I set out to buy a set of garden tools today, I’d be choosing ones that look very much like these. You can’t beat a functional design that’s stood the test of time. My plant labels might not look half so elegant though, nor my pots so characterful.

 

My contribution to today’s Ragtag Challenge: change.

Click on any image to view full size.

Revisiting our Lizards

Ariège, Gardening, Wildlife

It’s that time of the month: the time when I reblog a post from our years in France.  This time, I’m celebrating our much-missed garden friends the lizards. I do wish they’d consider a move to North Yorkshire, if only because back in 2012, I had nowhere near mastered the art of getting a decent photo of them.

June 27th 2012

‘I am the lizard king. I can do anything.’ *

Summer’s arrived: well, this week anyway.  So from before breakfast until long after the evening meal we’re spending as much time as we can out in the garden.  And we have plenty of company.  Lizards.  Common wall lizards, podarcis muralis.  They are indeed spectacularly common here.  We have no idea exactly where they live, but there are plenty who call our garden ‘home’.  We’re beginning to get to know a few.

Easily the most identifiable is Ms. Forktail, she of the two tails.  She’s the only one we’ve been able to sex conclusively as well, because we caught her ‘in flagrante’ with Mr. Big behind the gas bottles recently.  And then the next day she was making eyes at a younger, lither specimen, and the day after that it was someone else.  She’s lowering the moral tone of our back yard.

Then there’s Longstump, who’s lost a tiny portion of tail, and Mr. Stumpy, who hasn’t got one at all, though it seems not to bother him.  Redthroat has a patch of crimson under her chin.  There are several youngsters who zip around with enthusiasm and incredible speed.

Longstump

In fact they all divide their time between sitting motionless for many minutes on end, and suddenly accelerating, at top speed and usually for no apparent reason, from one end of the garden to the other, or vertically up the wall that supports our young wisteria. On hot days like this  (36 degrees and counting) they’ll seem to be waving at us.  Really they’re just cooling a foot, sizzled on the hot wood or concrete.  Sometimes you’ll see them chomping their way through some insect they’ve hunted, but often they’ll step carelessly and without interest over an ant or other miniature creepy-crawly in their path.

Mainly they ignore one another, but sometimes there are tussles.  These may end with an uneasy standoff, or with the two concerned knotted briefly together in what could scarcely be described as an act of love.

Happy hour for Longstump

We could spend hours watching them, and sometimes we do.  But there is still a bathroom to build, a workroom to fit out, and a pergola to design.  The kings and queens of the yard have no such worries.  They can do anything: they choose not to.

‘Our’ lizards on their personal sunloungers.

*Jim Morrison, 2008

The water gardens at Studley Royal: the make-over continues

Gardening, Gardens, John Aislabie, National Trust
The woodland surrounding Studley Royal.

The woodland surrounding Studley Royal.

If you’d found yourself in the Studley Royal estate in the early 1700s,  just along from the ruined Fountains Abbey, you’d have had a rather wild and rugged country walk along the valley of the River Skell, surrounded by woodlands.  You might have been able to glimpse the abbey in the distance.

This was John Aislabie‘s estate.  He’d inherited it in 1693, but was at that point in his life busy realising his  political ambitions – in 1718 he became Chancellor of the Exchequer.  Only two years later he was mired in the financial scandal of the South Sea Bubble, which ruined so many and shook the national economy.  He was disgraced and expelled from parliament.

He returned to Yorkshire, and devoted his considerable energy and wealth to creating the first water garden of its kind seen in England.  It owed a lot to formal French gardens of the time, and balances formal design with wonderful vistas set in an apparently natural landscape.

The canal at the centre of the water garden.

If you visit these days you’ll see a proper 18th century garden: the formal lakes, the temples and other follies, the carefully orchestrated views. Work continues year by year to rein the garden back to the detail of what those eighteenth century visitors would have seen.  After all, trees grow taller and spawn saplings which grow in their turn. The river silts up. Land slips.  Shrubs spread in an ungainly fashion.  Unwanted invading plants make the place their home

On Saturday, we went on a little tour to look at some recent work. The classical statues – wrestling gladiators and the like which have ornamented the gardens since the 18th century – are lead.  Marble would have been nice, but lead’s cheaper, so when they were new, those statues would have been painted in marble-look-alike white.

Wrestling gladiators in front of the Moon Ponds

Wrestling gladiators in front of the Moon Ponds

Now they’re white again.  It wasn’t a question of slapping on the Dulux though.  No, conservators hunted for evidence of the actual paints used by grubbing about in hidden groins and armpits for contemporary paint fragments, and experimented on discarded lead till they got the right shade, the right paint.

Wrestling gladiators newly painted white.

Wrestling gladiators newly painted white.

The formal ponds were once surrounded by planters and benches as well as statuary – contemporary paintings tell us that.  These will be replaced, as well as a couple of statues sold in the 19th century when the estate fell on hard times.

Ungainly shrubberies will be knocked into shape and brought down to size.  An informal garden will be planted with sweetly scented plants – roses, lavender and so on.  Just the place to sit and view the Temple of Piety and the Moon ponds.

Tent Hill will live up to its name once more.  The dense copse which covers it will be thinned out to make room for a tent something like an 18th century military campaign tent.  Not for military campaigns of course, but to house entertainments of various kinds, just as it would have done back in the eighteenth century.

So much to do.  But every piece of work brings Studley Royal even nearer to the intentions of John Aislabie, who first created this special place more than two ands a half centuries ago.

The Temple of Piety, Moon Ponds, and freshly painted statuary.

The Temple of Piety, Moon Ponds, and freshly painted statuary.

A stroll, a garden at Old Sleningford, a sunny day……

Gardening, Gardens, North Yorkshire

… at last.  I wrote about the Open Gardens day at Old Sleningford this time last year.  But if an open day’s worth visiting twice, it’s worth blogging about twice too.

Let’s just have a picture story this time.  It was an utterly gorgeous, sunny and hot day, and about time too.  I chose to walk there, Malcolm favoured his bike.  Here’s the walk, here’s the garden.  And as last year, I neglected to take pictures of the tea and cakes.  Next year?

The walk to Sleningford. Shadows on the road.

The walk to Old Sleningford. Shadows on the road.

 

Still on the road to Sleningford.

Still on the road to Old Sleningford.

 

Nearly there.

Nearly there….

And finally …. there.

This pig is called Dennis Healey. Hands up if you understand the allusion.

This pig is called Dennis Healey. Hands up if you understand the allusion.

And here, as last year, are a few shots of the edible forest garden.

 

And finally …. Old Sleningford Hall

OpenGardensJune2015 061

 

 

Planning my planting for 2017

Gardening, North Yorkshire

AllotmentsBoroughbridgeMarch2016 013

I love allotments.  I love those productive shanty towns that you often see at the side of housing estates, edging railway lines, or just beyond the local sewage works.  I relish the make-do-and-mend of gardeners’ huts fashioned from lengths-of-wood-and-bits-and-bobs, set alongside neat little cabins bought from B&Q.  I enjoy contrasting planting styles.  Here – neat meticulous rows of cabbages, beets, carrots and potatoes: there – less organised plots with discarded tyres serving as planters for courgettes and beans set among a hotchpotch of gooseberry and redcurrant bushes.  I love the camaraderie of the allotment community – the willingness to share hard-earned knowledge, tips, seeds, cuttings, and even muscle-power.  So much more fun that a solitary afternoon battling with weeds.

In Harrogate, I had an allotment.  I was the disorganised type, always running from behind, because work and family life got in the way.  In France, our vegetable garden was too far away to get the attention it deserved.  Here in North Stainley, there are no allotments …..

….. until now.

A few years ago, some villagers decided to initiate an allotment project.  They worked hard, but progress was slow.  Surrounded by countryside, even identifying a suitable site proved difficult.

I heard about the plans and asked to become involved just as the group reached a turning point.  The local landowner has offered to rent out a plot large enough for ten full-sized allotments.  An allotment is ten poles (or rods or perches) large.  That’s the size of a doubles tennis court.  We reckon most people will be happy with a half plot.  Twenty allotments then.

Our allotments-to-be.

Our allotments-to-be.

So last Saturday we went to look at the land.  It’s a large chunk at the end of a productive field, and it’s currently rather wet, like just about every other field in England.  Promising though.

AllotmentsBoroughbridgeMarch2016 011

Then we went along to neighbouring Boroughbridge, where they’ve had an Allotments Society for the last 6 years or so.  They were friendly and generous with their time.  So much to think about though.  Paying for water to be piped to the site.  Thinking about car-parking and access to individual plots.  Keeping pesky rabbits at bay.  What to do with allotment tenants who grow only weeds.  Establishing a fair rent and knowing what that rent has to pay for.  We’ll be lucky to be up and running for next winter.  There’ll certainly be no planting before 2017…

Six years ago, this was a field as unpromising as ours. There's hope, then.

Six years ago, this was a field as unpromising as ours. There’s hope, then.

 

 

An edible forest garden

Gardening, Gardens

If you’re English, of rather mature years, and of a rural disposition, you won’t turn down the chance to snoop round somebody else’s garden.  That’s what Open Gardens is all about.  And early summer is open season for Open Gardens.

The other day we chose to go to Old Sleningford Farm, only just down the road from here.  We knew we’d get the chance to stroll round a country house garden, with informal parkland and rather more formal borders and flowerbeds.  We knew there would be a productive kitchen garden.  We knew we’d be offered afternoon tea, with far too many delicious home-made cakes to choose from.

What really interested us, though, was the Forest Garden.  A what?

Here’s what they say on their website:

‘A Forest Garden is a planting which mimics an immature woodland, in which everything is edible or useful. Plants are grown using every available space – under the ground, on the ground, as bushes, trees and climbers. It requires minimal maintenance once established as all the plants are perennials or self seed easily and the ground is permanently covered.’

As you approach it, it seems you’re just going to enter a patch of woodland, albeit well-gated against pesky rabbits.  Simple paths mown through the undergrowth send you on a winding route that meanders through the two acre site.  Gradually we realised that there were things to eat here: fruit trees, certainly – apples, plums, gages, pears and so on – but also fruit bushes growing hither and yon.  Raspberries; currants red, white, pink and black; gooseberries.  Strawberries extended their runners along the ground.  Then we noticed herbs, and then some vegetables: chard, kale, leeks, onions…..

This is a garden that has required hours of work from everyone at Old Sleningford, from volunteers who come one Sunday every month and from wwoofers.  But over time, the garden will to an extent manage itself, as the desirable, productive plants take proper hold and leave no room for any plant not prepared to earn its keep.

We didn’t have long enough to explore as much as we’d have liked.  But we found a moment or two to relax in the summer-house at the forest garden’s centre.  Here was a simple wooden structure, with a roof of sempervivum  –  house leeks – equipped with a chair or two, a book or two.  Here, with only bird song for company, surrounded by productive woodland, was the perfect place to spend a summer’s afternoon.

Forest Gardens, via Graham Burnett, Wikimedia Commons.

Forest Gardens, via Graham Burnett, Wikimedia Commons.

The death of a copper beech

Gardening, Gardens

I took these photos of the garden last spring and summer.  Centre-stage is the magnificent copper beech, which has dominated the spot for years and years, providing homes and recreation for generations of garden birds and squirrels. It’s the very first thing we see as we glance out of the kitchen window, a statuesque barometer to the changing seasons: from bare winter branches, though to tightly furled budding springtime leaves, to the vibrant coppery russet leaves of high summer, and the burnished and tawny tones of those same leaves as they dry and fall in the Autumn .

I took this photo yesterday morning.

The ruined copper beech with our house just behind.

The ruined copper beech with our house just behind.

Our copper beech has gone.

On Friday night, the house became surrounded by an eerie moaning, and then a rushing sound that became ever louder as the wind, gathering speed, surged helter-skelter alongside the house.  Thin wiry branches of wisteria and ivy scrabbled urgently at the window panes.  The wind clattered down the chimney, coughing clods of oily soot from a long-extinguished fire into the hearth.  It was a noisy night.  So noisy that despite all the disturbance, none of us heard the moment when the mighty copper beech lost a battle and fell to the ground.

In the morning, the kitchen was unaccountably light for such a gloomy day.  We could see the sky where once our copper beech had stood.  I rushed down into the garden.  The tree could have lunged towards the house, at best breaking several windows.  It could have tumbled into the walled garden, taking with it the lovely brick wall up which clematis and old-fashioned roses scramble throughout the summer.  It could have crashed into the pond, shattering the ornamental statue in its centre, and unsettling rather a lot of fish and toads.  It did none of those.  Instead, it fell gracefully to the back of the lawn, avoiding other trees, and several flower beds.  It stacked itself up neatly, just waiting for the next stage in its long career.  Once it’s seasoned, our landlords, and their son and family will have enough fuel to keep their wood-burning stoves burning brightly for several winters to come.  Is that a fitting end to its long life?  I don’t know.  But it certainly means that it will  go on being appreciated for many years.

An English Country Garden – in France

Gardening

Peek through the chain link fence.  There – an expanse of grass.  Perhaps two or three trees, organised in a line or some geometric shape.  Over in the corner, a vegetable patch.  If you’re lucky, there may be a bed of flowers near the house or down at the end there.  That’s the standard garden in our corner of France, even though you’ll find plenty of gorgeous gardens too, in hidden corners.

A garden down the road

A garden down the road

So different from its typical English cousin.  Herbaceous borders in the gardens of stately homes and the average garden of the average semi all owe something to the informal planting and glorious mixed colours of the traditional cottage garden.

Gill and Ken, English friends of ours, have created a wonderful outdoor area around their French home, full of year-round interest with an always-changing canvas of flowers and shrubs . Last Saturday they invited the members of the French gardening group they belong to, Graines des Jardiniers, to look around.  Gill (whose garden this really is – Ken is her labourer and gopher) was to have her Chelsea Flower Show moment.

It was one of those grim days we’ve become accustomed to this year: moments of driving rain and whirling gusty winds alternated with sunny intervals.  Chilly too, and their guests turned up in winter coats with fur-trimmed hoods.  But enthusiasm for the pleasure of sauntering round the garden soon took over.  Winding gravelled paths encouraged exploration.  Flowers everywhere filled irregular-sized beds and scrambled up hilly banks and round convenient tree trunks.  There were seats under pergolas and arbours, on which you could rest whilst admiring the garden itself and the hilly countryside beyond: a pond to discover too.

And for her French guests, Gill had laid on a proper English afternoon tea.  Scones with butter and jam (no clotted cream though), rock cakes, ginger cakes, drenched lemon cake and date loaf, all washed down with a ‘nice cup of tea’.

The group, whose members must have gardens very different from the French stereotype,  had come with plants to swap and ideas to share.  They were keen on Gill’s garden.  We were keen on them.  We think , like Gill and Ken, that this is a group we’d like to join.

‘I am the lizard king. I can do anything.’ *

Ariège, Gardening, Wildlife

Summer’s arrived: well, this week anyway.  So from before breakfast until long after the evening meal we’re spending as much time as we can out in the garden.  And we have plenty of company.  Lizards.  Common wall lizards, podarcis muralis.  They are indeed spectacularly common here.  We have no idea exactly where they live, but there are plenty who call our garden ‘home’.  We’re beginning to get to know a few.

Easily the most identifiable is Ms. Forktail, she of the two tails.  She’s the only one we’ve been able to sex conclusively as well, because we caught her ‘in flagrante’ with Mr. Big behind the gas bottles recently.  And then the next day she was making eyes at a younger, lither specimen, and the day after that it was someone else.  She’s lowering the moral tone of our back yard.

Longstump

Then there’s Longstump, who’s lost a tiny portion of tail, and Mr. Stumpy, who hasn’t got one at all, though it seems not to bother him.  Redthroat has a patch of crimson under her chin.  There are several youngsters who zip around with enthusiasm and incredible speed.

In fact they all divide their time between sitting motionless for many minutes on end, and suddenly accelerating, at top speed and usually for no apparent reason, from one end of the garden to the other, or vertically up the wall that supports our young wisteria. On hot days like this  (36 degrees and counting) they’ll seem to be waving at us.  Really they’re just cooling a foot, sizzled on the hot wood or concrete.  Sometimes you’ll see them chomping their way through some insect they’ve hunted, but often they’ll step carelessly and without interest over an ant or other miniature creepy-crawly in their path.

Happy hour for Longstump

Mainly they ignore one another, but sometimes there are tussles.  These may end with an uneasy standoff, or with the two concerned knotted briefly together in what could scarcely be described as an act of love.

We could spend hours watching them, and sometimes we do.  But there is still a bathroom to build, a workroom to fit out, and a pergola to design.  The kings and queens of the yard have no such worries.  They can do anything: they choose not to.

‘Our’ lizards on their personal sun-loungers

*Jim Morrison, 2008