Every year, for the weeks and months before the garden opening, I am focused on getting the garden ready to meet its public.  The opening is a wonderful opportunity to make sure that everything in the garden is looking as good as it possibly can be on that weekend.  The downside of this is that a lot of other things in life are put on hold.  So, when the opening is over, my thoughts tend to move on to other important things that have been neglected.  This means that the garden tends to get on with things on its own in June.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t avoid the garden.  I mow the grass, water plants and dead-head and prune where necessary, I just don’t have the garden at the fore front of my mind.  Now, that period is over for this year and I am back to thinking about the garden again.

NGS visitors 2013

NGS visitors 2013

Before I move on though, I thought you might like a quick update on the opening.  It was a lovely sunny weekend and we made over £200 for the NGS Charities.  I had been concerned that despite the dismal, cold weather we had this Spring, some visitors might have expected us to magically avoid all of it and have a garden with the plants that would normally be in flower in the first weekend of June.  Thankfully I was totally wrong.  People really appreciated the chance to see the Wisteria in all its glory :).

Certainly, over the years, I have come to learn that a different group of plants are in flower each time.  This highlights how it is impossible to plan one’s flowering for a particular time of year.  Yes, you can think that certain plants will be at their best, but you certainly can’t rely on that.  Particularly in a small garden, it is best to plan for a succession of flowering.In larger gardens, it may be practical to walk past areas not at their best, but in the size of garden that many of us have these days, every inch of space has to work hard!

We had a number of visitors making return visits, which was particularly gratifying.  This year, we had three canine visitors, but they were not necessarily as interested in the garden as their humans.  However, Anya was overjoyed to meet even more canine friends.

As soon as the opening was over, I did some major pruning in the hope that it wasn’t too late and that there would be some regrowth before next year.  We will just have to wait and see………………

Like us, plants need water to live so when water restrictions are imposed, then all gardeners are worried for their plants.  This situation is made even worse when you know that you are going to open your garden to the public.  Whilst people will understand that the restrictions have been imposed, they will still want to see a pristine garden with beautiful plants when they have handed over their hard cash – be it for charity or not.

Luckily Hampshire escaped the ban on hosepipes introduced on 1 April 2012 in much of Southern England.  But, given the lack of rain this winter alone, it cannot be long before one is imposed here too.

Many of us find it hard to remember what exactly the weather was like last week, but I have two ways of gauging how much rain there has been this year.  Firstly, the stats  for my new solar panels show how sunny it has been and secondly I am very aware that we have rarely had to put our new puppy, Anya, outside in the rain.

It is at times like these that I feel eternally grateful that

  1. I have no grass – It is hard to justify watering established grass.  It will bounce back when we eventually get some rain.  Still, yellowing grass does not set a garden off well.  With a bit of luck, my shrubs with their deep roots will survive the lack of rain and continue to provide a green backdrop to my garden.
  2. I garden on a clay soil –  Over the years, a great deal of compost and grit has been added  to improve the soil structure.  Clay tends to hold onto water and the improvements mean that it is still workable even in periods of less rain.
  3. My garden is (relatively) small – Whilst my garden is very well stocked, I have less plants that someone with sprawling acres and I also have shorter distances to carry my watering can.

Just because you cannot use a hose in the garden, it does not mean that you cannot use water.  Watering cans are perfectly acceptable for keeping plants watered.  The key thing is to concentrate on young plants and those that are showing obvious signs of distress.  Please remember, full watering cans are very heavy, so look after your back and don’t fill it to the top.  A few more journeys around the garden are worth it to avoid back pain.

Whilst the hosepipe ban is very restrictive, there are a few legitimate reasons for using a hosepipe.  One of these is that you can (and in fact the Southern Water website says “should”) keep your pond topped up to a minimum level to safeguard the fish.  Believe it or not, I have already heard of people acquiring fish just so that they can keep their pond filled up.

Another allowable usage of a hosepipe is that cleaning of paths and patios for health or safety reasons, so I will be able to pressure wash my paths so that my NGS visitors will be able to wander around the garden with confidence.

Wouldn’t it be ideal if we could have rain regularly at night and then nice sunny days, that way every one would be happy.  We will just have to see what the vaguries of the British weather has to throw at us – what ever it is, we will have to work with it!

Helper keeping busy while waiting for visitors
This year’s opening under the NGS was on 4 and 5 June.  We had some wonderful visitors, both human and canine.  There were a lot of lovely comments about the garden and our dogs.

Visitors enjoying the shade of the pergola

Saturday was sunny and we had a steady stream of visitors.  Toward the end of the day, we met two of Oliver’s daughters and their owners.  They were very well behaved and it was a pleasure to see them.

Tia and Lady

Sunday was our first wet day of opening (in five years, so not too bad) and you could almost hear the garden breathing a huge sigh of relief to have some rain after two months of virtually no rain.  We finally got to use the gazebos that we bought four years ago.  One provided shelter for people arriving and it was so good, we have decided that we will use it every year as it will protect from both rain and sun.  The other was over the patio.  It gave people a dry space to stand and chat as well as to look at the garden.

Rosa Falstaff from David Austin Roses

Our open days may be over, but we already have two appointments booked by people who couldn’t make it this weekend.  If you would like to make an appointment, please email fbarnes@barhi.net

This weekend is our opening under the National Gardens Scheme.  The garden is looking great and almost ready for our visitors.  There are just a few last minute things left to be done.

I’ve filled in the holes in the planting and cleared the paths of most of the plants that have billowed out of the beds.  Obviously there will be dead heading and sweeping of the paths to do again a good few times before the gate is opened to visitors. 

Fortunatly visitors realise that they are coming into a real garden, and to be honest that is the reason that most people seem to come.  This is not a show garden a la Chelsea.  We can’t force or hold back plants to make sure that they are looking perfect on the day.  I don’t plant only for the day, I choose plants that I want to grow – which is a very good thing as each year the weather means that some plants are at their best at different times.  This year, most of the plants are about three to four weeks ahead of last year. 

While there are some flowers in the garden, this year I would have to agree with our NGS County Organiser’s comment when she visited this morning – the garden is a “Symphony in Green”.

As usual, the dogs will be in attendance to welcome our visitors over the weekend.  We will even have a few more as some of our helpers are bringing theirs.

For some time now I have felt that Spring was early this year – I suppose it makes sense as we had our snow two months earlier than we would normally expect, and there was much more of it this year, so the plants really believe that they have had a winter.

Amelanchier - Apr 2011

I now have my confirmation that Spring is earlier this time around.  Last year the Amelanchier (Snowy Mespilus) was in flower in May – over a month later than in 2011.  It only flowers very fleetingly – within a week, those beautiful snowy white flowers drop to the ground to allow the wonderful bronzy leaves to take over the show.

Magnolia - Apr 2011

The Magnolia isn’t quite into full flower yet, but the Garden Introductory video taken almost exactly the same day a year ago showed absolutely no sign of flower then, and just look at it now.  In fact the whole garden is so much further ahead than it was when I made that video. 

The interesting thing will be what is in flower when we open under the NGS in early June.  Luckily the garden is designed to have a succession of plants in flower rather than peaking at one particular moment, so there is bound to be loads looking really wonderful when the weekend arrives.

The gardening catalogues are coming through the door thick and fast and leaving me in a quandary. I buy very few annuals as I have so many perennials in the garden, but I do like to have some cosmos to fill in any gaps that might show, these are particularly important for my NGS opening day. They are certainly cheaper bought from the catalogues, but if the delivery is delayed by the weather, as it was last year, then they have virtually no time to establish before the big day.   Last year, I was so worried that they might not arrive in time that I went out and bought some from a garden centre. The plants there were much bigger than those that eventually arrived in the post, and when I went to buy, I knew how many I needed to fill gaps. Buying now, I have absolutely no idea what I might need, and usually end up giving quite a few away.  Still there is a certainty that the plants will arrive at some point when you have bought them by mail order and that is much better than not having them at all, so on balance I think I will end up doing what I usually do and buy them now via mail order and supplement from the garden centre if necessary.

Home grown tomatoes taste spectacular straight from the vine

The other thing that struck me when looking at the catalogues is how main stream vegetables have become.  There may be plenty of reasons for this from the economic conditions to people wanting to reduce food miles or maybe even that more and more people are realising how much better vegetables taste when prepared minutes after they have been picked.  No longer does one find just page after page of seeds (but they are still there and loads of new varieties).  More and more it is possible for those of us who do not have the best of luck germinating seeds to buy plug or garden ready plants.  Garden centres are just starting to get into this market, but it is here that the catalogues really excel.  The choice is not as wide as for seeds, but they have chosen those varieties that easiest for novices to grow.   I am really happy growing my tomatoes and since I grow in pots due to the dogs, don’t have a lot more space available, but I am really tempted to give peas a try.

What ever you decide to buy for your garden this year – I wish you the best of growing weather and pleasure from your endeavours.

For most people, the Chelsea chop is done at the same time as the Chelsea Flower Show, from where it got its name.  It is the cutting pack of perennials which are getting a little untidy to keep them looking good for the rest of the year. 

Before the Chelsea chop


I am usually a little late doing the chop since my garden opening is only a couple of weeks after Chelsea and there really isn’t enough time for the plants to grow back and look good.  So, usually I do a chop just after the opening.  However this year everything is so late that only the pratense geraniums had flowered by the time of the garden opening, so I decide to wait a little longer.  

Now, a month later, it is time for the chop.  I had finally got fed up with the untidiness.  My main concern is that the current dry weather will mean that the plants will take a while to recover – still the geraniums were looking so untidy, there really was no option. 

Ruby found her kong


When I started clearing, I found one of our kongs under the geraniums.  They are usually confined to the house, but obviously this time one had managed to get left outside.   Ruby was over the moon to have her kong back.  We had a few retrieves and then I managed to persuade her that it should stay indoors for a while at least. 

Just as an indication of how late things are this year, I noticed today that a dierama is just coming into bud.  These lovely blooms have often been out for the NGS opening and this year it looks as if we will have to wait at least another week to enjoy the beauty of these pendulous flowers. 

After the chop - compost added


As a direct result of the chop, I decided that I really should get on and empty my compost bin.  It was a long, hard job as I had to sift the contents to remove the larger woody bits that had not yet composted down sufficiently.  However I managed to get a huge amount of compost out of it and just four buckets of woody material.  The compost went straight onto my beds.  The extra mulch will help retain moisture as and when we actually get some rain and it will give the worms some more material to drag down into the soil and continue to improve it.  

Cylindrical compost bin


The buckets of woody material are now back in the bin along with the result of my chop.  Given the amount of heat that was coming out of my storage bags after just one day, I should soon have another lot of compost to return to the soil – just so long as I remember to turn it daily as the instructions say.