Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Exciting changes are afoot in the garden. Almost exactly a year after the huge holm oak was toppled by snow, C has linked the ‘Arena’ (as we call the garden created in its wake) to the rest of the garden by a curvaceous sleeper staircase along the foot of the cliff. Funny how hard landscaping projects like this can totally change the feeling a garden... Suddenly a part that was just background blur becomes included in the field of vision, and one’s latent urge to design and plant comes into sharp focus... watch this space...

In the meanwhile I’ve been busy planting other, more readily accessible areas. Two terraces above the old potager which were just flat, empty; strimmed yearly to keep the Smilax and other horrors at bay. Except they weren't all horrors. Wild Cistus and Rhamnus alaternus clung to the edges. In early summer last year I’d planted that trusty South African, Nerine bowdenii along the baked edges of the terrace walls. With autumn rains these bloomed beautifully and reminded us that within these dull empty rectangles there was... potential.

The water bill arrived - incidentally during a huge cloudburst - and it was well, eye-watering, forgive the pun. An intensive day inside drinking tea, watching rain and ruminating gave forth the idea to create two new gardens, unirrigated, on the terraces. The bottom is a Mediterranean Garden using only the most drought-tolerant plants, which must look good in summer (not the natural state of affairs for the native flora round here which peaks in April/May and steadily goes into hibernation until the September rains). Quite an ask.

Nerine bowdenii on the terrace wall
The nature of the soil and site - plus the gaudy pink Saffa Nerine bowdenii blooming on and on till almost Christmas gave us the idea for the next terrace. It’s quite simply the warmest, driest, best-drained part of the garden, and a century or more of leaf litter cascading from the steep woods above has given the sandy soil a deep cap of leafmould.

Gardeners, in common with almost everyone else, always want what they can't have. One of the families in particular which seems to drive us all to distraction, so utterly different from northern hemisphere plants, is the southern hemisphere's precocious Protea family (Proteaceae).

I remember working on a shoot with BBC Gardeners' World at the stunning Tresco Abbey Gardens on the Isles of Scilly, stuffed full of the most weird and wonderful Proteaceae, from tree-like Banksias  with flowers like huge fluffy candles made of yellow fur to Protea susannae with its own equally mad-looking, UFOesque flowers. "Better than sex!" was how one elderly visitor summed them up. I was hooked.

Beauty comes at a price. They're a demanding bunch -  perfect drainage, as little frost as possible and acidic soil are the broad requirements. A challenge for a garden 1200ft up, mostly on clay and backed by limestone cliffs.

Still smarting a year on from the loss that fateful snowy night of our only member of this family, a Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ which had been doing surprisingly well down on the sticky clay at the Guest House, I resolved to grow these treasures again, and to grow them well. This was to be their place. To be continued!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Happy New Year

It’s a nervous start to the year as watch the snow envelop ever closer ranges of mountains, only to retreat, regroup, return. Looking through the garden diary for this time last year it was the same, calm before the storm, bright sunny days, tender flowers blooming on and on, seemingly unaware of their imminent fate...

The prairie garden is putting on an unexpectedly good show: - about half the Miscanthus nepalensis decided to flower again in December, and now the glistening flowerheads are joined in colourful complicity by leaves which have turned every tone from olive green to brightest copper and deepest old gold. It’s a great contrast with the naked chalky-white stems of Perovskia and the ever-faithful Stipa (Nassella) tenuissima.

In the meanwhile I carefully fleece the bougainvilleas and echiums, praying for clement weather...

More recent photos here