Wednesday 31 August 2011

Colour champions

There are many many plants that we grow mainly for the beauty of their flowers, but I think we should occasionally stop to consider those whose attraction is NOT in their flowers, but in their foliage.

Whilst the bright white flowers of this Oxalis ("Burgundy Wine") are lovely, they pale into insignificance beside the glowing purple leaves:

The leaves are very "dynamic" - they open and close according to the light conditions. When it is hot they fold up like little umbrellas, but when it is cold they spread out to maximise the opportunities for absorbing sunlight.

I am also currently very keen on ferns - especially the one called "Dryopteris Erythrosora" of which I bought a specimen earlier this year. The plant has produced a succession of really beautiful bronze-coloured fronds, which gradually fade to green, so that at any given moment the plant has leaves of several different colours:

This plant is Cotinus (aka Smoke Bush) "Royal Purple". Its foliage is at its most intense in the late Summer, just before it begins to fade into various shades of orange and brown.

Here is another of my favourites: Cornus (Dogwood): It is one of those plants that has something to offer at every time of the year. This one is "Cornus Alba Aurea" - it has bright yellow leaves at present, and little berries beginning to form. In the Winter its bare stems are a bright red colour.

If you are also a Dogwood enthusiast, you might want to look at this blogpost I published last November: Dogwood Gallery

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Back Home

Hello readers! I have been away for a few days, relying on the dreaded Blogger to publish my pre-prepared posts (always a risky thing to do, in my opinion!), but I'm back home now. This is why I have not been commenting on any blogs for a bit. We went over to France to visit our daughter Fiona and her husband. I will write more about this when I have time, but for now all I can offer is a very brief update on the state of Mark's Veg Plot...

When you arrive home after having been away for a while, a look round the garden is always an early priority, and that normally means an opportunity to see what's ready for picking. Today I was able to pick quite a decent harvest. In my bowl this time are loads more beans and tomatoes, a few raspberries and a few finger carrots.

They say that one way of ensuring you get a good balance of nutrients is to eat veggies of many different colours. I should be healthy enough with this lot!

One of the things I picked was a couple of the Rainbow Beefsteak tomatoes. Before I went away I thought the fruits on one of the plants were turning orange. Today, I found that their colour had not changed radically, but they just looked ripe. Feeling them, I found they were quite soft. So I picked one and cut it open to see what it was like. It confirmed my suspicion: this is a green Beefsteak tomato plant.

I have to say that from the outside the fruits didn't look too promising. They had a rather brown tinge, and the stem end had a few imperfections. From the inside though, the position was very different. The fruits have very little in the way of pips and they tasted great.

I have to confess to a slight tinge of disappointment though. I really had hoped the fruit would turn out to be orange, or pink or 'black'. And also, I feel as if they have stolen the thunder of the long-awaited "Green Zebra", which I know is going to have green fruit, and which was going to have been my first-ever ripe green tomato.

Elsewhere in the garden there is good news and bad: the brassicas are looking a lot better. Even the plants that were attacked by the Cabbage Root Fly now look as if they will survive after all. The climbing beans are going strong, and some of the pods are beginning to dry out, with plenty of plump beans inside. The recently planted-out peas are already producing flowers, despite being only about 30cm tall - presumably they sense that Autumn is not far away. On the other hand, many of the Endives have bolted before maturing, and the Swiss Chard and Perpetual Spinach are full of disfiguring leaf-miners which will render many of the leaves unuseable, and some of the golden beetroot are beginning to bolt. You can't win 'em all, can you?

Back to work tomorrow, so not much opportunity for gardening or photography until next weekend...

Monday 29 August 2011

Monster bug!

Who knows what this monster bug is? It is the first one I have ever seen. It looks like a combination between a bee, a hoverfly and a cicada!  It is much bigger than a hoverfly; about the size of a small Bumble Bee.

This is a different sort of bug - but equally unknown to me. A fly of some sort, judging by those huge eyes.

Sunday 28 August 2011

These are a few of my favourite things

Here are some photos which hopefully demonstrate my current love of form, texture, light and shade. I've always been more inclined towards the arts than the sciences (I was rubbish at Maths when I was at school, and my Physics teacher was a heartless martinet who never managed to inspire in me anything but fear, whereas my History teacher was a REAL person...)

Ancient wooden door at Stokesay Castle

Lichens on a wall at Stokesay Castle

Cow Parsley seed-head - Pembridge

Bark of an Oak tree at Shobdon Arches

Stonework at Shobdon Arches

Stonework at Shobdon Arches

Thistle at Lawton Herbs

Magpie statue in Weobley, symbolising the "Black and White" villages

Gargoyle at the Water Gardens, Lyonshall

Bridge over the River Arrow at Pembridge

River Arrow at Pembridge

Lion - symbolising England - at Croft Castle

Dragon - symbolising Wales - at Croft Castle

Saturday 27 August 2011

End of August update

Summer is just about over here :-(  It hardly seems as if we have had ANY Summer this year. After a very warm dry Spring, we have had week after week of grey windy weather with precious little sunshine, and only occasional (though usually very heavy) rain.

Some mornings over the last few days it has seemed definitely Autumn-ey. Look at this photo of my Asparagus in the morning sunshine, covered in heavy dew:

The Asparagus is actually still continuing to produce new spears. The temptation to cut them for eating is very strong...

The Celeriac is now about the same size as a tennis-ball. Here's the evidence:

Unfortunately, my latest batch of Endives is all bolting.

When they go like this you can't eat them - they are tough, stringy and excessively bitter. I find it very hard to grow nice Endives, because my soil is too dry and sandy for them, even though some of those I have grown this year were from seeds given to me by my daughter Fiona, who lives in France, and are allegedly “Très résistante à la châleur...”

The Summer Savory is in full flower now. The herb is probably past the stage of being useable in the kitchen, but it looks very pretty though. It is covered in little mauve flowers, a bit like Thyme.

The Sprouting Broccoli that was attacked by the Cabbage Root Fly is going to pull through, I think. Of the six plants I have, two were unaffected and are big and healthy, two are just hanging on to life, and two are recovering, like this one:

This photo shows one of the "just surviving" plants (in the background) framed by the two good ones:

The Cavolo Nero is in much the same position. One was unaffected and is looking quite respectable:

Whereas the others are not so good, but at least beginning to develop a few new leaves:

My Plan 'B' seedlings may not be required after all.

Friday 26 August 2011

Hergest Croft

WARNING: This post has a huge number of photos in it. If you haven't the patience to view them all, I'll fully understand! Sympathy to those of you with a slow internet connection... :-(

Hergest Croft is a garden property open to the public, situated in the village of Kington, near Hereford. It couldn't really be described as a stately home, but it is a big house with huge grounds, including a very well-stocked arboretum, and a fabulous kitchen garden. This is the house:

The terrace of the house is now part of a tea-room. This is what it looks out onto:

Near the main house is a formal "knot-garden" made with various types of low hedging, mostly box. The centrepiece is a sort of "fir cone" edifice, constructed of very precisely-positioned pieces of slate. Lovely!

Adjoining the main house is a greenhouse absolutely packed with stunning plants, mainly Fuchsias and Pelargoniums. I was too overwhelmed by the plants' beauty to think of noting their names though!



Pelargonium "Black Prince"



Datura Candida, or Angel's Trumpet


Don't know: is it a type of African Violet?

Don't know: plant was very like a Passion Flower


After looking at the flowers, we headed off to the walled garden. It was HUGE! I should think it was about 100 metres square. About half of the space was devoted to veggies:

There were some very striking purple-podded peas:

Some very picturesque Globe Artichokes:

And some enormous Marrows, ready for picking:

This is Seakale, a member of the Brassica family that you don't see very often these days. Its young shoots are blanched under clay pots like Rhubarb. This plant has run to seed most exuberantly!

In their greenhouse there was a fine crop of onions set out to dry:

There were huge quantities of fruit:- apples, plums, greengages, crab apples, walnuts, and pears like these:

And these delightful Crab Apples:

Also in the walled garden, right alongside the veggies, was an area given over to ornamentals. In times gone by this would have been a place to grow flowers for cutting, to keep the big house supplied, but these days the flowers are mainly perennials that remain in their growing positions for visitors like me to admire:

The flowers in this area were too numerous for me to show you without boring you to death, but here are just few examples:

A deep bronzy-golden Sunflower

Huge swathes of Rudbeckia

Echinops, or Globe Thistle

Kniphofia, or Red Hot Poker

Chocolate Cosmos

Eryngium, or Sea Holly

What about this for an "avenue" of Lavender? It's probably 50 metres long. The whole thing was absolutely humming with bees!

Here's the final thing I want to show you today: the guardian of the walled garden - it's a tough job, but someone has to do it...

If you ever get a chance to visit Hergest Croft, sieze it. You won't be disappointed.