Gardens. A palace and a celebration. 

Autumn weekends can be so lovely. This weekend was one of them. As a birthday – not just a big birthday – a massive birthday  treat I was taken to Oxford for the weekend by two of my closest friends. 

Celebration

Lunch at a mighty fine hotel, a day at Blenheim Palace and then supper with more friends in Woodstock. 

Yes.  Woodstock. And yes. The friends I went with soon got feed up with my childish comment ‘ you do know ‘ I’d say ‘ by the time we get to Woodstock there will be half a million strong’ …. it wore thin after a while. Unlike me. 

Lunch was amazing. Glorious food. Plenty of wine. Too much cheese. Can you have too much? Yes. Definetly. The need for a walk around the garden  after lunch at Le Manoir. 


It’s interesting to see how the gardens at hotels with restaurants work. Here there is a glorious kitchen garden – an amazing array of veg which is used in the kitchens. Together with flower beds and lavender paths. I’m glad to say that my lavender paths in Spain could compete. They have trimmed theirs back which I will do when I am back in Spain in two weeks time. 

Veg beds.

The greenhouses are open where you can  wander in and look around.  What I loved as well is that most things are labelled clearly so you know what you are looking at. A bonus for a novice gardener like me. 

Indian Borage
 
There were some pretty interesting things around. I had never seen snake gourds before. These ones hanging down from the greenhouse roof like well. Snakes. I hate snakes. Though at first I thought they were cucumbers. But. They were clearly labelled! 

Snake gourds

There was a great display of gourds and chillis in the garden teaching space. Amazing colours. Great shapes. 


Amazing selection of chilli’s

The flower beds were interesting too. We had missed the best as you’d expect as Autumn falls. But there were still some intersting plants and grasses flowering. We didn’t fully explore the gardens to be fair but what we saw was great. An excuse to go back? A long wait until my next significant birthday. 

Flower beds
Grasses and flowers
It was a great contrast of a weekend. Lunch at a 2 Michelin star restaurant and breakfast at a Premier Inn. 


A short drive after breakfast to Blenheim Palace. An imposing palace – birthplace of Winston Churchill and where he proposed to his wife. At this time of year the rooms on view of the palace are limited – in summer you can also view the private space. I will be back. I’m nosey. But the rooms are glorious. The artwork amazing. But I wouldn’t want their heating bills. 


The estate is huge – great trees, huge massive trunks that look like feet, a rose garden, the Churchill memorial garden. A massive lake. 

I imagine the rose garden in full bloom is awesome. Planted with just a few varieties. Iceberg. Peace. Royal William. A pink I didn’t get the name of. The first two grown in my parents garden in the 70s. Not these roses obviously. But they grew these varieties. I suspect that the ones here weren’t bought at Woolworths gardening section though.  


 My mother would have had a field day. I’ve mentioned before. She was an avid deadheader. She would have been in her element. I know it’s the end of the season but there were a lot of buds still there and if the frost stays away … at some point I guess they will need to refresh the beds. A lot of dead wood. Hopefully the pruning will cut it all back. 


It was a glorious walk around the Estate. A massive Estate. Amazing vistas.  Awesome trees. Water. Wildlife. Tourists! 



The feeling of a great TV blockbuster drama unfolding as you walked around. The boat house. The lake. But I wasn’t about to do a Mr Darcy and emerge from the lake all moody.  And wet. I don’t do wet. I’m someone who has to change his swimming trunks as soon as I get out of  the pool. I can be moody. But not in a Mr Darcy way. I guess more Grumoy than D’Arcy. 


These were great big pots. Filled with black grass. As a friend on Instagram said ‘ I’m not sure about these. Look a bit like toupees’ – looking at them again. She’s right! But they did look great and I guess are pretty easy to manage. 


Autumn is here. The leaves are turning. The colours are fab on the trees.  Leaves are on the ground. For now. Crisp. Dry.  Gorgeous. 

By the time we got to Woodstock – I didn’t say it again. Honest. I won’t say it now. 

Have I told you I’m retired. 

Have I told you I’m retired. Oh. Yes I guess I have.  A lot. It’s approaching two years now. Two whole years. I am still getting asked. Aren’t you bored yet?  I always give the same answer. Bored. Bored? Only with being asked that question.

I have lists to get through. Lists given to me by Ian. Some things I have ticked off. Some still remain after two years. Like the loft. My theory is if it’s waited 15 years what’s another two. I have gardens to see. Workshops to do. Galleries to peruse. Oh. And add in a few trips to Andalucia. New plants and bulbs to purchase. 

I agreed, with myself admittedly, that I would have one day off a week. One day where it was all about me. Ian would say what’s different to the other 6. But I wanted a day where I could do what I liked. No home duties. No shopping. Just a me day. Admittedly some weeks I have two. This week was one of those weeks. Ok some weeks I have seven. Especially when I’m in the garden in Spain. 

I have had a a busy one. Involving gardens. A museum. A theatre visit. Making the most of a bit of late sun. In London. 

Yesterday was a good day. Starting in Blackheath with a pretty good bacon sarnie, a bus ride across the heath and down into Greenwich. It’s pretty surprising what you find when you have a bit of a wander. Aimlessly with you camera. And no sense of purpose. 

Having left Ian at the station I wandered along to the river. I used to cycle to Greenwich on my way to the office. Admittedly it was in a previous decade or two. I know that as at that stage I could and did wear Lycra.  So in some ways I was retracing old steps. This time not in Lycra. It wasn’t a pretty sight then. It would be shocking now. 

I used to go through the foot tunnel which is adjacent to the river. I was surprised yet delighted to find a small patch of planting close to the entrance to the tunnel. Even more surprised that it was not your usual planting , not the odd geranium here and there and bedding plants. Now. There’s nothing wrong with that combination. Planting is important. Of all kinds. But it’s great to find something different. 

Canary Wharf in the distance

The lovely planting adjacent to the Greenwich foot tunnel entrance

Having the  Piet Oudolf  garden near us in Somerset has made me a fan of this style of planting. But for me it’s great in summer and Autumn. I’m not a Winter or spring fan of prairie. Give me lots of Spring bulbs. Daffs. Bluebells. Tulips. 

 I love the effect of the planting against the harsh concrete and glass in the distance of Canary Wharf. Continuing colour into Autumn. With the drying seed heads. Canary Wharf.  The destination of my cycle rides. My work destination for 28 years. Now tthe  cycle rides are qin the dim and distant past. In later years I drove. Not through this tunnel of course. But through a different  one. 

The entrance to the foot tunnel at Greenwich

My destination of the day was the  Sky Garden at the Walkie Talkie building Fenchurch  street. But before my allocated slot I had  a bit of time to kill  so I had a wander. It’s easy to walk around London when you live here with your eyes closed and miss the things that are around you. To take things for granted.  Like the phone box and post box combination. Typically British. Very nostalgic. Since retiring I have had the opportunity to wander. Aimlessly and often. Here and there. There and here. Wherever here or there is at any given time! 

A George V postbox and the original immobile phone
I had wanted to go the Sky Garden for a long time. But for whatever reason I hadn’t managed to get a ticket. It’s free but you have to book a time and they only come in two week booking slots. I had booked for last Friday but somehow failed to get into town in time. Luckily you can change the time and day online and I was determined to get there. So I took the boat. From Greenwich to Tower Hill. The brilliant Thames Clipper. When I first started work in Canary Wharf decades ago I used to travel from  Embankment  to Canary Wharf on the original river taxis. It was the old days and traffic was light. There was a large boat. And a 12 seater which sometimes we were allowed to board. Things are different these days. A fabulous service where you can get a drink on board too! A great way to see the river frontage enroute  up the Thames. 

I digress. Which I do a lot. So to the Sky Garden. Situated on the 35th floor of 20 Fenchurch Street. 



Yes there is a queue for the timed entries. Yes there is airport security as you enter. But boy it’s worth it. 

View to the outdoor viewing platform

The views from the viewing platform and from inside the building are stunning.  London sights. St Paul’s. The Tower. London Bridge station. The London eye. 

There is a great cafe with some awesome cakes.  Hot coffee. Suitable for all the gardening fraternity who seem to like a bit of cake. Me included. 

Awesome cakes. Fit for a gardener

The planting is interesting. People know I am a bit of a fan of tree ferns. Of Agaves. Succulents. There are plenty here amongst a lot of good planting. 

I loved seeing a couple of pearly / foxtail agaves which we have in our garden  in Andalucia. 

Foxtail agave

The tree ferns were pretty spectacular too and there were a lot. 

Ooh. How I love a tree fern or two

I had been to the Crossrail roof garden the week before ( yep on another day off). I love that garden. The major difference to me is that there you walk through the garden. At the Sky  garden you walk around the periphary.  The planting hangs down two sides and you walk around it. And look up to it. Does that make sense?  It somehow feels that you are part of the planting at Crossrail and they have some cool information boards on the planting. 

The Sky Garden is a great space and I wonder how  the garden will evolve. It’s an oasis  in the city and worth a visit for sure. For me the views take over from the garden as they are spectacular. I found the garden secondary to the views. 

Roof top gardens in the City of London

It’s amazing what you can see from 35 floors up. These are two fabulous looking roof gardens on city of London rooftops. I have no idea of whose buildings they are but it’s great to see the diversity and greenery in the city. You would and do walk past these buildings with no idea what’s above you. 

St Paul’s. City Hall Tower of London London Bridge station

You often don’t realise how green the city is. Greenery splashed wherever you look. 

So. It was last week but I’ll include some pics of Crossrail place roof garden. It’s an amazing quiet space in the hustle and bustle of Canary Wharf. Canary Wharf is an amazing place. Yes. Concrete. Glass. But tee are some wonderful,diversions. Green spaces. Art. Sculpture. They do a great guide to Art on the Estate  

Crossrail place Roof garden Canary Wharf

There are a lot of green spaces around the Canary  Wharf estate beautifully maintained and an oasis. It’s definetly worth a visit. Despite having worked on the Wharf for 28 years I am still a huge fan! 

Green spaces and a piano at Canary Wharf
Earlier in the week I had wandered into the Wallace Collection A free entry museum in Marylebone. An excellent collection and a fabulous gallery. As usual I found a flowery picture to send to My friend Georgie Newberry


A nice autumnal painting by a Dutch artist. 

Next weeks another week. And another garden. We are off to Blenheim  Palace. With my camera of course…..

Highs and lows of Summer ‘17 

So I’m back in London. You can tell I’m in London. I am wearing long trousers. And socks.  The garden here is looking tired. It needs a bit of a haircut. A bit like me. The lavender in the window boxes want s great whilst it lasted but is failing fast but the red of the geraniums and the blue of the lavender was a striking combination this year. The geraniums are still blooming despite the voice in my head telling me I should have been deadheading.  

The geraniums still going strong in London
I have left behind in Spain a  garden that is still dry. Is pretty green in parts with some glorious seedheads dripping future plants across the garden. Agapanthus and jacaranda being the two biggest culprits. There is a lack of colour. Yes the plumbago is still blooming. There is the odd flower on the oleander. The white oleander, the pink has none. The yucca is flowering, but is about to go over, jasmine has some flowers dotted here and there but its more a spring and early summer garden. When we wee viewing in March the scent of freesias was noticeable as you passed by, Needles to say my bulb order will include freesias.  

Agapanthus seed heads in Spain

This summer has had both highs and lows for me. The biggest high finally finding and deciding in a heartbeat that the garden and the house – see what came first- in Andalucia was right for us.  Seen and bought In a matter of 8 weeks.  Any regrets? Four months in – not one.  A huge learning curve, well really  more like a steep ascent up the highest mountain, on foot with a huge backpack,  but great fun to see what has appeared so far and what will appear in early spring. Add the challenge of watering and you get the picture.

Casa Verano Eterno – House of Eternal Summer

The low – the acceptance that something had to give and after 23 years it was the Cottage in Somerset. The cottage is on the market and we will be sad to be moving on. But for one last season I was able to garden in all three gardens. All very different. All challenging in their own way. The wet West Country. The dry villages of Andalucia. The space restraints of London.  Different environments. Different plants. Different requirements. 

In Somerset I had to forgo  some of my favourite plants this season. Dahlias. I have only grown to love them in recent years and now I am deserting them. I will not be able to grow them in Spain and the garden in London will need some rearranging to accommodate. But having seen  Jack Wallington & Christopher Anderson’s  garden open for NGS I think I may be able to do it. Not quite as spectacularly as Jack thats for sure, his Dahlias are huge and gorgeous. 

Somerset Dahlias

I have loved the new Mediterranean garden as those who know me have been inundated with pictures, words a bit of a blog  and stories of our trips there. Getting to grips with new plants. With new soil. The constant heat – I don’t know about the plants but at times I have wilted. In the shade! The joy of seeing what was in the garden. The excitement of being away for two weeks and finding new plants when I returned. New colours. New  Scemts. The range of plants is excellent and the previous owner had an eye for detail.  Some will need to change to take in the fact that we are not there peramanemtly. Some additions,  More agapanthus more succulents. Some Mediterranean wildflower seed for the banks. A chop for the prickly pears to see if we can rid them of disease, a lesson in citrus. 

Then coming back to London to my window boxes. My small patio garden at the back of the house. So very different to Spain. Tree ferns. A black bamboo. Salvia, Monarda. A bit of lavender. Oh. And more agapanthus. Delighted to find that the agapanthus in Spain self seeds as easily as have the London ones. 

The ‘expensive ‘ book Ian commented on when I bought it has  proved invaluable to identifying a lot of the plants. It also helps that the author Lorraine Kavannagh has a  Garden centre – Competa  just outside town. Something I didn’t know when I bought the book.  Needless to say we have visited. On more than once occasion.  I have also bought another book. Wildflowers of Southern Spain. That’s my reading material for my next flight. In 3 weeks time and will prove invaluable for the Spring months. 

 


Back in London I have ordered the tulips for this years window boxes and pots. I like to change the colours but cannot move  away totally from the lovely Brown Sugar. First seen at RHS Malvern and grown for the first time last year. I have ordered a delivery of Alliums, freesia and Chionodoxa for Spain. All from Karen at Peter Nyssen  who is so generous with her time and help. Especially with those of us who know a bit and need some guidance.  I always say that I garden. I am not a gardener per se and Karen is so helpful with suggestions of what to plant whenI need some help,  So my orders are in and no doubt I will add to them as I remember things I’d like. I’m hoping that by the time the Alliums arrive in Spain the ground will be easier to plant. Fingers crossed  there will have been some rain. Otherwise it’s hi ho hi ho it’s off  to work  I go – with a pickaxe. Which in fact I have in the garage full of tools we bought with the house. I now realise why there is a pickaxe there. 

The planting of the bulbs in London will be a more sedate and easier affair! There is no major worry of frost in Spain ( he says glibly) but I must collect some straw from the local farmer in Somerset to put in the crowns of the tree ferns in London.  I didn’t last year and was lucky. We seem to have a micro climate in the garden here which they seem to like as does the little olives and the banana.  We had geraniums still blooming one a first floor window in January. 

  The back garden London
Our Cottage in Somerset is to be sold. I have loved having a typical Cottage garden – foxgloves,roses,clematis,poppies,honeysuckle fruit trees and a bit of veg. But all good things, like plants, has a life cycle and our time in Somerset has been wonderful. I have made so many gardening friends there and have had the opportunity to see some amazing gardens. But the new adventure is exciting. Hard work but fun. When I know what I am doing it will be even more fun, There will be mistakes. I have already made one or two planting errors. But thats part of the fun. Isn’t it

The garden in Somerset

So I head into Autumn with an air of excitement. New bulbs new choices for London. New bulbs and a wonderment of what’s to come for the Spring in Andalucia. 
Who said that retirement would be boring.

Our Andalucían Garden – succulents & stephanotis

I can’t believe I’m sat in the garden, its still summer here in Spain. It’s 27 degrees on the terrace and I have a cold. Yes a summer cold. It can’t be because I’ve gone out without a vest. My mother always said that if you went out without a vest you’d catch a cold. I haven’t needed a vest and I haven’t worn one for over 40 years. So I’m just unlucky then.

I have managed to do a bit of gardening since we got back on Wednesday evening. The ground is still like iron where not even a pick axe will make a dent. We had some pretty spectacular rain and a storm before we left last week but it had little effect. I do think that the mountains driving up the wiggly road look a little greener though. In parts. Maybe that’s rose tinted glasses. Oh wouldn’t that be making it pink? The road is so wiggly I could be seeing things – I just stare at the road and hope for the best.

We are getting a second flush of Oleander, particularly the white one. It seems to come in stages, the double pink was out in August but has largely died back. And yes I know. It’s poisonous but it seems to me that most of these Mediterranean plants are 

What I didn’t realise, but then why should I – its not like i have grown these plants before, is that there are some pretty spectacular seed heads too. Live and learn! 


  

Oleander seed heads

But there are pretty spectacular seeds heads on a lot of things, and I have posted some of the pictures previously. The jacaranda for one – its seed heads are amazing. 

The seed heads of the Agapanthus are in mixed stages of drying and I am about to collect some of the seeds to sow on the bank behind the house. . There are a lot of them in the garden dotted  around and I suspect a lot are self seeded, Again I am looking forward to next year  when some of them may be mature enough and ready to flower. I am sure I will tell you when they do.

Agapanthus seed heads

The garden has a lot of bird of paradise planted in the ground but the one doing the best at the moment is one in a large pot on the terrace, I suspect that the ones in the ground are younger and I haven’t seen them flower. But we have the second flower of the season on the potted one, its smaller than the one earlier in the season and there is flower no 3 coming quickly behind it.

There is no sign of the blue and white bird of paradise flowering again which is a shame as its pretty spectacular.I have just realised that we have a second plant next to the garage. I mistakenly thought it was a banana. As in plant. Not the fruit. Hopefully It will flower next year. I need to look up how to feed it. But that goes for most of the plants here. What and when to feed. In london I poo my plants. That is using Lou Archer Alpaca poo. Has worked wonders in london. Oh. And a picture of my agapanthus is on the agapanthus poo mix labels. 

 Unlike  the tender plants in the London garden I won’t have to wrap any here. Last year I didn’t wrap anything in London. I didn’t put straw in the crowns of the tree ferns and they survived. But we are sheltered and the winter wasn’t harsh. 

The pineapple guava has fruit on it which I understand is delicious but I am not sure that they will be big enough to eat this year. It’s been spectacularly  hot and I am not sure that they have grown fat or big enough. The previous owners said last week that they are tasty. Oh well another for next year.

Pineapple guava fruit

I have checked the Quince following a mention on twitter of the fruit. I have five on the tree – they aren’t pretty are they! Now I need to see if i have enough for Quince jelly.

Big fat Quince

I find it fascinating  to watch the flowers. As we are here roughly every few weeks some are out as we leave and some as we arrive. This little purple/blue flower has been flowering all summer long and is really pretty. It looks as if the flowering period is coming  to an end with this one too.

Duranta Ripens _Brazilian Sky flower

I’ve said it before but I haven’t really liked Lantana. But to be honest it is  growing on me. It works hard and comes in some lovely colours. Even after the potted one is neglected it bounces back with colour.

Lantana


We have a number of jasmine varieties in the garden, tracheospernum, azoricum, a what I call common jasmine and one unidentified. Oh and that stephanotis I keep bleating on about. After a slow start its been a corker. In a pot by the door the scent is delicious. Oh I’ve said that before. Move on.  

What i didn’t know and I am sure i have witttered  on about previously is that they can fruit in very hot summers. Well its been hot and there is a new fruit forming and one from last year that has ripened and opened. You can plant the seeds but as I am not here all the time that’s not for me.

Jasmine
Stephanotis
 
This years stephanotis seed pod
Last years seed head
I managed an afternoon tidying at the rear of the house where there is a gentle slope up to a steeper one. At the lower end are succulents and at the top some sad prickly pears and some pine which i have now found out are protected. No chopping these down but I wouldn’t want to anyway. 

Cochineal fly takes its toll

I have said that the plants here are new to me. I am used to either our  London garden  which is more of a yard with tree ferns, agapanthus some perennials and annuals. All in pots. Our Somerset garden which is a true cottage garden full of traditional and lovely perennials, Roses and a bit of lawn. succulents have never featured big but they do here as you would expect in a mediteranaean garden where water is at a premium and the heat  is on. 

The lower part of the slope

I’m in love with the Agave. – the pearly agave or foxtail agave. It’s shape and form is gorgeous. I have two, one in a pot and one in the ground. One is upright the other is hanging over the pot. Both are fabulous. I like that word. Like the agaves  A lot. 

Agave – foxtail or pearly

I need to name the rest of the succulents. Not with actual names that would be silly. Not Boris or Doris but identify their plant names. That’s for a cooler autumn day sat at the kitchen table. In spain or london. 

To add to the Swiss cheese plant we have growing outdoors there’s another ‘indoor’ house plant from my youth doing really well outside. There are a number of them in the garden at various stages of growth – the money tree  we called them as I was growing up. 


Aliens in the garden
 

Money tree

Next on my list is to read up on pruning. I had a great day last year with.  Sara Venn pruning our  Somerset garden. We worked on the fruit trees and the roses and they have been great this year. I may be doing a light prune this Autum but the cottage is now on the market.

I will need to read up on the Jacaranda, the oleander the hedge with no name because I don’t know it. But it’s has been here and growing well for over 30 years. The pomegranate which has never fruited and which I have been told to go out with a paint brush when it flowers, the olive trees, the almonds and the citrus.

The citrus is flowering again, two lemons I thought were on their way out and a lime I had moved because it needed a second chance.


So I have plenty of reading ahead of me.  Identifying. Pruning. Planning oh and planting. The tulips are ordered. I’ve said I want alliums. More agapanthus. But I have to wait for rain or hire a JCB to plant them! 

 I am sure you will hear all about it.

I don’t mind if I do. A trip to the Alhambra Palace & gardens 

We had our first visitor to the new house this weekend. Which was exciting. You know that feeling where you love something and hope others do too. Well that. 
The joy of being here in Spain is the opportunity to look at new and different gardens.  To look out for new ideas and new plants to weave into our new Mediterranean garden. It’s a huge learning curve and one where after only theee months I have lost a few plants on the way. The ground is hard. The climate harsh this summer. Hot. Dry. My visits here scattered. 

So with our first visitor we headed off to the Alhambra We had been 18 months ago in April 2016 but it’s a stunning visit and one I will not tire of. Not yet anyway. An easy 1.5 hour drive away.  The Alhambra is a series of buildings with the Nasrid  palace the glittering jewel  in the crown. One where you have an allotted time to visit. 

The gardens when we were there in April were nice. I hate that word. Nice. It kind of means bland. Nice.  So I was interested to see the summer planting. The colours. The smells, but slightly worried with this years extreme heat we may have missed it. 

Tickets for the Alhambra are always sold out. There is no point deciding on the day to  go visit. You need to plan. Your tickets. The entry time to the Nasrid  Palace. Plan your trip. Thankfully we had. Tickets booked in May.  The route planned with the assistance of  my good friend  Sally. Sally sat nag. We are rubbish as map readers so are happy to be dominated by the Tom Tom. 

Water is a bit of a luxury here in Spain especially during the summer months. So I was surprised to see the gardens being heavily watered. At 10am. By watered. I mean Watered. Heavily. But when you walk around the vast and varied garden you can tell I’m not watering enough in mine. Even for drought tolerant plants.  This years heat has been brutal. 

But I have to say the planting is simply gorgeous. Stunning in parts. Colourful. Interesting. Plants I knew. Ones I haven’t seen in years. Simple. Interesting. A few I have to revert to Twitter for help in identifying.  The planting so colourful that it reminds me of my parents front borders of the 1970’s.  

There is structure. Carefully cut and structured hedging. Labelled. Please do not touch  the plants. It’s yew. It’s poisonous. Something I’ve found a lot of the plants here are. 

I was surprised to see roses. I don’t really know why – but I’ve been Surprised  to see many things in the gardens here. Hollyhocks for one. 

 There has been an absolute stunner of a rose growing over the gates of the house opposite us. A gorgeous red. So full of bloom I had to go and check it was real.  It was.  This yellow rose in the formal structured beds was a stunner. I thought too yellow for Graham Thomas. But a beautiful rose dotted about over the gardens. There were a lot of standards. Giving height.  Structure.  Colour at eye level. 


I haven’t seen Alyssum since it was planted down my parents front path  in the 1970’s.  Like lobelia a staple  in gardens years ago – , which I have in window Boxes for the first time in years this year and has grown  and looks well ,but like Alyssum seems to have fallen out of fashion for more blousy plan more unusual plants for the borders and window boxes. It was the standard bedding plant back in “the old days” along with lobelia, tagetes ,petunias, godetia,  busy lizzies and begonias.  Oh and red bedding salvias . Most of which were to be found in beds across the Alhambra. To be honest – it was a delight to see old friends. 

Purple & white Alyssum
Begonias at the Nasrid Palace
Red Bedding Salvia amongst the bedding

The line for the Nasrid palace queues alongside some lovely beds. I love the orange colours in the garden but hate the smell of tagetes when you handle them. In a mass planting the orange of these are uplifting. Dotted under standard roses. 

We came across this gorgeous plant. Planted as a mass in some beds whilst in others there were splashes of colour and in some more a riot of colour. An explosion. After a shout of ‘help’ on twitter it was identified as an euphorbia- euphoebia marginata  Kilimanjaro. Thank you twitter folk. 

Eurphobia Marginata Kilimanjaro


They certainly know how to do colourful with their planting. More an explosion than planting. But it’s stunning.  There were also beds of dahlias, statice and all manner of things.  Salvias a plenty. What looked like a form of knautia. 



 

Someone has been kept busy. The shape size and scale of some of the  topiary was awesome. I have trouble trimming our hedges and I know if I tried to shape them I’d end up with such ugly shapes. Yep. I know. A bit like me! 

Alone again – naturally

It wasn’t all colour. The agapanthus in huge drifts at the entrance were going over. Flower heads turning into big fat seed heads. I think I’ve taken enough photos of aggies this year. There were some tall architectural trees. But an abcence of succulents  unless I was too mesmerised with the colours that I. Issued them. 

How’s that for a bit of topiary
Magnificent cypress
The Joshua Tree

You can’t help but be in awe of the buildings here. The intricate craftsmanship of the decoration in the marble the woodwork and the history. 


But the gardens are a surprise. A welcome place to wander and reflect  the majesty of the palaces. 

A reminder to me of the blaze of colour I grew up with in my parents borders – the planting of annuals where the concept of less is more was rarely understood. But it set me up for the  love of colour. Of gardens and gardenning. 

1970’s borders – my parents style
I can’t wait to go back again in the spring and to see what the bedding has been replaced with. I hope bulbs. Lots of them. 

Weeds. Weeds. And more weeds. 

No it wasnt funny the first time said Ian. A grown man standing in the garden. Squeaking. Weed. Weed. I guess he’s too young to remember watch with mother. Bill and Ben the flowerpot men. With Weed .  Behind the potting shed. Which looks nothing like the lovely potting shed of Karen Gimson. She knows I have potting shed envy. That I’m going to move into hers. 

Anyway. As usual I thought it was funny. Obviously not. But I was here to weed. 

Having bought our new Spanish house and having a new garden to manage and with spending more time there the garden in Somerset has been a bit neglected.  Ooh. A lot of ands there. 

It hasn’t helped that we have had sun. Rain. Sun. Sun. Rain. So the garden has grown. You can watch it grow. From the dryness of inside the kitchen window. Plants are taller. The weeds stronger. I maintain I have the national collection of bindweed. Hideous weed. The plant. Not the Bill and Ben  character. 

 I’ve tried for weeks to get to the cottage. But every time I have a day or two it rains. It pours. Horizontal rain. Wind.Great British Summer.   I’m a wimp. I’m a fair weather gardener. Don’t judge me. You know who I mean! 


It’s sad to see that the garden isn’t as pristine as I usually have it.  Pristine is the wrong word. It’s not a show garden. I’m not a gardener. I garden for me. I grow what I like. Where I like. But I usually have more time. The grass had been cut but there was work to be done. But yes. There were some lovely plants in bud. In flower. Seedheads. New beginnings. 


The roses I pruned with Sara Venn earlier in the year were budding like crazy. The second flush of flowers coming through now. I had a great day with Sara and she taught me a lot about pruning fruit  trees. Maybe I can persuade her to come to spain! 

The apple tree we pruned is loaded with fruit. The best I’ve seen  in years.  We were a bit ( I say we – Sara ) worried about the tree with the red apples. But it’s done amazingly well.  Some have been picked and brought home. The tree was supposed to be a Laxton  superb. My mothers favourite apple. You can’t beat a laxtons  she used to say. Well someone has beaten me. This ain’t laxtons superb. 

Apples

Everyone knows I like a dahlia or two and I planted a couple of new ones this year – well more than a couple to be fair. 

Bought and planted. Before I knew we would hopefully be on the move. Two have flowered beautifully. But. Hello. Cafe au lait where are you hiding? Not under the bindweed. Surely not.  I first saw cafe au lait at Georgie Newberry’s Common Farm Flowers  And fell in love with it.  I have had so many suggestions over the last year for new dahlias I can’t keep up. 

Dahlia shooting star
Dahlia peach delight

The dahlia bed was doing ok. The tubers  I had left in had come through. Beaten  off the slugs  – and a couple were blooming lovely. Black Jack. Rip city. A couple of bishops.  


There’s a couple of things I’m rubbish at.  – gardening things. Staking is one. Always on my list. Rarely crossed off.  Remembering when the plants get straggly. Or there is wind. The other. Labelling. I have had the intention of a plan. Labelling the plants. Putting them down on paper. A proper plan. So I don’t forget the names. It was a plan. But 23 years later it’s still a plan. I’m trying not to make the same mistake in Spain.  I’ll tell you how I get on. In 23 years time 

But thankfully I have the invoice still from Withypitts so have identified Peach Delight and Shooting Star.  


The bees havent deserted me. The Echinops all a buzz. Two for the price of one. 

The weeds are bad. So bad that I have a helper. Quite how Ian  has decided to help I don’t know.  Obviously there is no tennis on the TV  But he has. I might have to turn a blind eye at his technique and the odd pull of a plant that is not a weed. Today he’s keen.  Carry on regardless. 

It’s amazing. Often there are plants which run away with themselves. This is one. I swear that this year it’s two foot taller than usual. I like them. Great for cutting  but boy are they invasive or what! 

The monbretia. Yes I know it’s all crocisima now. But my parents called it Monbretia and old habits die hard. This clump has never previously  flowered. I mentioned it last year and moaned about it. Someone said that they always flower. This year the clump is flowering. Like crazy. Have indeed me anything different. No. Not that I can think of. 

I planted an Emily McKenzie and it’s in bud. I’ll miss the flowers this year as I am away again. 

The garden photographs well. Looks good. Even if I say so myself. But please don’t look too closely. Bindweed and groundelder are everywhere. 

We have a grape vine at the back of the house. It catches the sun. But I thought that this year we had no grapes. They aren’t sweet and last year for the first year I picked them. Ate one. Even sourer  than me.  So I made grape and  Rosemary jelly. Went down a bomb. So I started to hack the growth back – full of horticultural technique me – and lo and behold hiding under the growth were bunch after bunch of grapes. Larger than last year and hopefully with some Aug sun ( please ) they will get fatter and juicier. Chateau Pitcombe if wont be. But good old grape  and Rosemary jelly again. And again. 


Rhubarb. Not picked for ages. So I have. No need to force this rhubarb. Looks like I’d need to force it to stop. There will be rhubarb gin and rhubarb and star anise cordial. Some for  next door for a crumble.  The gin to add to the sloe gin supply  gently brewing in the kitchen cupboard. 


The poppies are over for another year. The seed heads are drying ready to explode and sow themselves for another year. 


So now I ache. My back. My arms. I’m weeded out. But do you know what. Give it another three weeks and on my next trip and I’ll be doing it all over again. Whether I want to or not. 

Hello again hello. 

It’s the last week of July and after  a trip to Italy and a quick whizz around two NGS London open gardens I’m back in Spain. The open gardens were fab –  two very different London gardens. 

Jack Wallington garden was a revelation in what you can do in a small London garden. Great planting. Huge varieties and all plants labelled! Oh dear. Please don’t judge me Jack. I always forget what names. Let alone plants.  But jacks echiums are  giving us ideas for our new Mediterranean garden in Spain.  Other plants Ideas for our small London garden. Oh. And it’s open again on 10 September. 

Jack & Chris garden in Clapham

So after an abscence of three week what would the Spanish garden have in store.?  Well. Certainly drier than in London. I’d been panicking a bit about the heat. The temperatures are high. Even for summer. In the Andalusian hills. There is an irrigation system. And someone to go in and water. But…….

At the back of the house we have a slope. I’ve mentioned it before. The last time I went up there I itched for days. Was worried I’d encounter a snake. And we had an Italian experience. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that. 


 Was worried about fires so we arranged for it to be strimmed. I was asked. Why don’t you do it yourself – you’ve got the time. “Excuse me” I said. “Strimming an extremely dry slope in 30* heat dressed from head to toe in overalls.” Thanks. Maybe next year. So it was done. Not by me and looks so much better. The almond trees look better and there is a good crop. Quite what I’ll do with them is another question. . The figs are ripening and hopefully will be ready to pick when we have friends staying in the next two months. 

the almond trees
Almonds
Lovely figs. Waiting to ripen and turn black

The other side of the bank doesn’t look as great and needs some more planting. The prickly pears look like they are going down with a disease again this year. I know they were all cut to the ground last year and a skip filled between two houses. I’m hoping to have a mix of nespera, olives and some succulents dotted about. But the ground is as hard as iron. We need to wait for the rain. 

Down in the main  garden most of the plants were looking ok. Some are struggling in the heat. Even those that are drought tolerant.  There are three areas to the garden. The main area at the front of the house. Three beds. A lavender path. Some citrus. Some pots. To the side of the house and ro the back two sloping beds. Cactus. Succulents. Stuff.  The mandarin and lime that Ian wanted and are in pots are looking good. Plenty of mandarins. No limes this year. There will be next. 

The pearly agave in a pot is looking fab. Particularly  if you catch it in the right light. I’ve found another at the back of the house – I’m hoping they will flower. 

Pearly agave
When I left three weeks ago I thought the Stephanotis would flower and be over by the time I got back. Its in a large pot and has struggled a bit but there were still beautiful waxy blooms. As I tidied the plant up I found one single solitary fruit. I never knew that they could fruit – mind you I have only really seen them as pot plants. Indoors. Used in bridal bouquets apparently. Not mine. 

They smell lovely. 

Waxy stephanotis

I forgot to take a picture before I left  – the fruit has changed a lot in a week. Apparently the black silky seeds can be easily propagated. Not by me I fear. 

The fruit of the stephanotis

This border and the circle under the old olive tree is doing well. There are loads of olives. The strawberry mint I planted and which I thought had died is growing again. I didn’t think that even I would be able to kill mint. 

The lavender likes me being away. I tend to overwater. So it does better when I’m not there. 

The very mixed and confused border
I cleared a bit of the oleander next to the garage. And found a lovely plumbago. Struggling behind the oleander but the blue is lovely against the white of the garage. Now I know it’s there I’ll make sure it does well. ( right – as if ) 

Plumbago
The wall planting has one solitary red geranium flower – we are in between blooms. The scented pelargoniums are doing really well. I find them a bit boring. Insignificant flowers. But boy. As you brush past the scent is delicious. And they are pretty hardy in the dry. 


I also found that there are six quinces on the quince tree. Well what else would you expect? But I was surprised. Now to see what I can do with them. 

Quince

I’ve mentioned before that my mother was the queen of deadheading. Something she instilled in me. I’m not as bad as her – I don’t walk up anyone’s path and deadhead as I go. She did. But these little flowers drive me insane. I’m forever taking off the dead ones. I mean forever. 

The agapanthus have finished and are setting seed. I’m going to let a lot self seed this year. There are a lot of plants. I have space for more. Don’t I? But I have been making a note of some really dark ones. There have been some great suggestions of new agapanthus for me to look at on twitter this last month. 

The shade of the olive tree

It’s not all been gardening. I managed a day wandering around town taking some photographs. But the heat defeated me.  I had to sit in the square people watching. That was so hard to do. For hours. 

The sunsets are awesome and are something I don’t think I will tire of. Glorious from our terrace.  The sun was so red and bright in the sky as it went down behind the mountains. 

The town of Competa. A 10 min drive from the house. A glorious white washed Andalusian town. Nestling on the hillside. 

The hanging houses of Competa

So I’m home for just over a week and then back to Spain for three. It was supposed to be only a week in August but we have visitors coming for another week – and we can’t not be there with them. Not when it’s our two favourite boys arriving with their parents. Wouldn’t be right would it.

 Ian will be there for a week as planned.  Largely to drink wine. On 15 August the town celebrates its wine festival – NOCHE DEL VINO: – which starts with the wine treading  on the Plaza de la Vendimia. Then goes on all night.  Not that we will. We also have. A friend staying for that. But we are also heading to the Alhambra. In August. In the heat. But it will be worth it. It’s such a stunning place. 

I also found some gardens that open near to Granada. Though we may not have time this time. 

But. As I left the forecast for the end of this week is 41*. With night time temperatures of 24. Who know what I will find next week!! I’m sure I’ll tell you though.