Friday, 29 July 2011

Songs for summer

Good Day Sunshine
We have at last had more than a couple of days of sunshine in one week and - Ta Dah! the sunflowers are out. This is Helianthus 'Pacino'. I think you can work out why it has that name.
Agastache foeniculum 'Liquorice Blue' and Helianthus 'Pacino' blooming in the Whichford stockyard

I am a very disobedient gardener for allowing the plants to hide the pots but I do love to see them thrive and I'm sure all the keen gardeners who visit the pottery feel the same. Regular readers will see from this picture that most of the Nemesia 'Masquerade' has finished flowering and been removed, but the other plants have done so well that there are no noticeable gaps.

Lynne's home-made bunting being put up you'd better get this party started
It has been a very busy week at the pottery, with lots of visitors, including an unexpected coachload from Cologne (but we didn't mind because they were very enthusiastic and keen to shop as well as look!). We welcome coach trips but ask them to book in because we have such limited space. Luckily they didn't clash with any other groups but they had to put up with us all running about and sprucing the place up for the Garden Party this weekend - if you are reading this before the evening of Sunday 31st it isn't too late to join us.

There will be lots going on at the garden party and the flowers have been very co-operative about opening in time for it. If you arrive in the morning you will be greeted by the vivid blues of Commelina tuberosa and Anagallis monelli 'Skylover' but by the late afternoon these will have closed their flowers.
The bright blues of Anagallis monelli 'Skylover'
and Commelina tuberosa at the entrance to
Whichford Pottery's garden
Hordeum jubatum glowing in the Eclipse pots in
the courtyard garden
...and Hordeum jubatum glowing and swishing about on the entrance path to the pottery
The wind that shakes the barley
I try to position certain plants so that they will be backlit by the morning and/or late afternoon sunshine; Hordeum jubatum is a case in point: this decorative barley really glows in slanting light, it comes to life in a breeze and is looking its best at the moment. In the second picture it is in two of our medium sized Swag and Acanthus pots and brushes softly against you as you pass. I love it when the plants in a garden reach out to touch you as you walk along a path.

It has become a bit of a tradition to show you some of the smaller visitors to the pottery, so here's a little gallery:

Holly Blue butterfly on a petunia

I have just reported my latest butterfly count to the Big Butterfly Count, which has been extended to August 7th because of the cold and wet weather at the start of July. The air has been alive with peacock butterflies and their clattery (yes, honestly!) wings.
Just two of the peacock butterflies which make such a racket in the garden

Some day I'll fly away
My absolute favourites this week were the fledgling wrens hopping about in the hedges and then among the pots, I loved their shiny new feathers and their lack of caution. It was easy to follow them as they cheeped and flittered about, luckily Puss-Puss wasn't around.
Baby wren on Rose bowls this Thursday

Brand-new shiny plumage

Show me a garden that's bursting into life
I'll finish with one more picture of the abundance which is late summer in the Whichford Garden, here you can see (amongst others) white giant busy-lizzie Impatiens sodenii, pink Dahlia 'Art Nouveau', pink petunias and pastel mix Laurentia axillaris
Pinks and pastels in the stockyard, including Impatiens sodenii, Dahlia 'Art Nouveau' and Laurentia axillaris

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Pottery and Poetry?

A bit chilly this week, but lots of visitors. Many of them tell me what a lovely job I have - well yes... in the summer at any rate! I haven't finished planting out all the late-flowerers but the dahlias are definitely making their presence felt. My favourite at the moment is 'Swing' from the Melody series.

Dahlia Melody 'Swing' has swung into action. The bright foliage is Amaranthus 'Illumination'
Oi! I was saving that!
Mrs B is on at least her third brood - we can hear them chirping in the hedge. She comes to pick up crumbs at break and lunch time and I'm quite happy to share my lunch. We nearly had a falling-out, however, when I caught her in the act of swallowing the last ripe blueberry from the pot by the greenhouse door. Still, I suppose her need is greater than mine.

Got any more blueberries?
From bad to verse.
I woke up on Wednesday with rhyming couplets in my head, so grabbed a notebook and wrote this down to amuse the rest of the team at our staff meeting. I'm quite proud of it really, so I'll inflict it on you now. It is best read aloud at a brisk pace - but you may get some funny looks if you do so...

Whichford Pots - naturally the best!
Whichford Pottery - with love to the whole crazy, creative team.

Lily Pot with Lilium 'El Grado'

We make:
Big pots, small pots,
Tall pots and wall pots.
Pots for bulbs and pots for lilies,
Some are straight and some are frillies.
Pots with squirrels, pots with bees,
Pots for orchids and for trees,
Pots with swags italianate,
All stamped with our name and date.
Pots for Hidcote, pots for Kew -
We can make them just for you!
Pots adorned with basket weave,
More pots than you can believe.
Jars and barrels, bowls and urns,
Pots for hostas, lemons, ferns,
Square or oval, slim or squat,
Spinning Jenny, Pastry Pot;
Massive pots by Mr Keeling,
New designs we're just revealing.
Glazed pots for your indoor plants,
Inscribed pots for aged aunts,
Pots which mark a special date
Inscribed pot
Or pot games for your village fete.
Elephants and Green Man faces,
Pots for grand and modest places,
Big black pots with gilded crests -
Just the job to impress guests.
Strawberry pots and rhubarb forcers,
Cane tops, pot feet, snail traps, saucers...
Whether big or whether tiny,
Whether matt or whether shiny,
Each unique and all hand-made
In courtyard garden all displayed
At Whichford - such a pretty spot -
You will find your perfect pot!

It is the start of the silly season, after all.

The opening of the restored Plant Shelter at Hidcote Manor Garden last year,
with pots made specially by Whichford. You may have seen it on the television recently.

Part of our display at Chelsea Flower Show in 2008, showing off some of our ENORMOUS pots.
The gold is real gold leaf, applied by hand. Hilary has been trained to do this and the effect is stunning.

Two of Lynda's elephants, fresh from the kiln and ready to be packed by John and Dave
for delivery to their new home. Each one is different.

Tiny basket pot with handles and Echeveria.
 See for yourselves
Don't worry, I'm not going to make a habit of blogging in verse, I just thought it was about time someone celebrated the diversity of the Whichford product. The range mentioned in this little ditty is only the tip of the iceberg - you really do have to visit to appreciate the creativity that goes on here - our makers are an amazingly skilled (and noisy) bunch. If you visit during the working week you can meet them and see them at work.
Some of the makers will also be working next weekend at our Summer Garden Party. I won't be there because I shall be at a 90th birthday party (no, not mine) but I shall endeavour to have the Pottery garden and stockyard stuffed to the gunnels with planting ideas for you.

Right, no more waxing lyrical, because I want my blog to be an inspiration, not an advert. Next week normal service will be resumed, meanwhile I leave you with moth of the week:
Silver Y moth on a Zinnia in the Whichford garden

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Taking the rough with the smooth

I have been waiting for rain, so that I don't have to waste productive gardening time writing the blog, but the phrase "Be careful what you wish for" springs to mind. As I write rain is hammering on the roof and my elder son is on his way to the Isle of Skye for his Duke of Edinburgh Gold expedition - with rain, rain and more rain forecast for north-west Scotland. Sorry lads!

I must look on the bright side - at least the outdoor plants probably won't need watering this weekend.

Hostas, ivy, hydrangeas and box - shades of green in a selection of Whichford pots
Ever vigilant
Rain can lull you into a false sense of security: pots close to buildings (such as those above, which are on the northern side of the Octagon) may not receive much water, so we will still have to check them carefully even if it carries on raining.

The last week or so has been mainly warm and quite sunny, so flowers and growth have been plentiful, the plantings are developing nicely. The alpines are fighting it out between themselves, growing far too lushly and crowdedly for a purist no doubt, but delightful nevertheless.
A happy jumble of alpines in a Whichford Orange Pot
Contentment in containers
Succulents in the Kew Gardens pots
The succulents I planted last week are already looking happier - they always respond surprisingly quickly to fresh compost and lighter conditions than those found in our rather grubby and shaded greenhouse.

Along the entrance path the flowers of salmon pink pelargoniums, blue lobelia, white begonia and bacopa are at last beginning to show in noticeable numbers.
One of a pair of Pastry Pots by the entrance path
planted with a box ball surrounded by zonal
pelargoniums, Lobelia 'Monsoon' and
Begonia 'Non-stop White'

By the entrance arch on the path I was glad to see that one of my all-time favourite flowers, Anagallis monelli 'Skylover' has begun to produce its intense blue blooms

Anagallis monelli 'Skylover' begins to flower by the entrance to Whichford Pottery
 Inconsiderate parking
Agapanthus add impact
I have parked rich blue Agapanthus (happiest by themselves rather than in mixed plantings) in this group - there is only just room for them either side of the path but they look so gorgeous and enjoy the open position so much that even though they encroach on the walkway I am keen to keep them there while they flower. I'll replace them with pots of salvias, fuchsias and dahlias when they have finished.

Mixed plantings flourish in large Italianate pots, accompanied by
Agapanthus in Icicle Pots
Striving for effect
In our changeable and changing climate I try not to rely purely on fleeting flower colour for visual satisfaction. Foliage colour is much more long-lasting and reliable. In the large italianate pots which flank the entrance arch maroon Ricinus 'New Zealand Purple'  and blue-grey Nicotiana glauca are sprouting upwards and contrasting dramatically with each other.

So consideration of colour, height and spread are all vital in plant choice.
Texture is also important. It's a funny thing, you aren't always conscious of it but if you analyse a plant combination that you find pleasing you will find that texture plays a major part.

Crinkly Salvia corrugata contrasts with smooth Nicotiana glauca
Crunchy vs fluffy vs smooth
I know I haven't photographed this brilliantly but if you bear with me and look closely at this photograph you will see that the creamy-smooth leaves of Nicotiana glauca and Salvia corrugata (there are clues in the names) have a similar colour but sharply contrasting texture. Salvia corrugata is a miserly producer of dark blue flowers and I grow it mainly for its crinkly foliage which has a tawny indumentum (covering of fine hairs) on the underside.

The textural effect can be in individual leaves or it can be the character of a whole plant. There are plants I think of as smooth (eg Nicotiana glauca), fluffy (Kochia trichophylla), crunchy (Pelargonium sidoides), furry (Cineraria maritima), shiny/metallic (Convolvulus cneorum) or spiky (Cordyline, Phormium).

It may seem eccentric to give these plants texture personalities - but it all helps in effective plant choice. That's my excuse anyway.

Fluffy Kochia trichophylla and Nemesia 'St George'
anchored by smooth Eucomis bicolor foliage
(with the added bonus of crunchy Eucomis flowers)
 Hands on
The visual effect usually tallies with the tactile sensation, but not always so. Keen gardeners are often to be seen feeling the foliage like a dressmaker assessing fabric - something I encourage but with the proviso that you wash your hands afterwards! It is worth encouraging children to do the same with plants you know to be safe - and even then it is worth teaching them not to put their hands in their mouths afterwards and to develop the habit of washing hands after playing in the garden. A surprising number of common garden plants can cause allergic reactions, especially in strong sunshine.
Metallic Convolvulus cneorum with soft, furry
Cineraria maritima 'Cirrus'. Both feel soft and velvety.

Pelargonium sidoides - definitely a crunchy plant.
Many succulents have a distinctly rubbery look about them - this fat smoothness contrasts well with the roughness of terracotta, which is why succulents look so much better in real terracotta than in terracotta-coloured plastic.

Echeveria secunda var. glauca - shown off so much better in Whichford terracotta!
 And finally, if the rain lets up I hope all my British readers are going to take part in The Big Butterfly Count, which starts today (July 16th) and carries on until the end of the month. Butterflies are an important indicator of the state of health of our ecosystems so the more data that can be compiled the better. What could be better than taking a few minutes sitting in the sunshine and watching the butterflies flutter by?
Male Gatekeeper basking on the long grass in the walnut field at Whichford Pottery on Monday this week

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Don't panic, prioritise!

New flowers are emerging all the time. Here is the chocolate-scented Cosmos atrosanguineus, its dark flowers are easily overlooked but so neat and beautiful when you do notice them - and such an odd fragrance!

Cosmos atrosanguineus - can you smell chocolate?
And here is Ipomoea purpurea 'Grandpa Ott'; he has taken a while to get going in this cool and generally dull summer but at last he is beginning to show his true colours, along with the good old petunias which aren't quite so pernickety.
Ipomoea purpurea Grandpa Ott with Petunia 'Easy Wave' and Fuchsia 'Climbing Lady Boothby'

Social Climbers
Time will tell whether I have been foolish to allow Grandpa to climb up Aeonium arboreum 'Zwartkop'. Fuchsia 'Climbing Lady Boothby' is in the same pot. She isn't flowering yet, I think she is spending all her energy competing for height with Grandpa. We'll soon see whether Grandpa and Her Ladyship manage to come to an amicable arrangement.

The picture on the right gives an idea of just how much the plantings in front of the Octagon are filling out - compare them to the posts on 8 June or even 1 June (planting in filthy weather). I shall be told off for letting the plants hide the pots, so there's another angle on the same collection below. The large pot is a relatively new design, the Shakespeare Planter. I have to say that this is a really useful pot, sturdy, capacious and with a chunky rim and banding which contrast nicely with frothy plants.

Shakespeare Planter in front of the Octagon

Circus skills
It's at this time of year that I really feel like I am spinning plates. I have planted or re-planted about 250-odd pots this summer and still I have more to go. But while I plant out the new stuff I have to maintain the recently planted, and at the moment just dead-heading the displays takes at least half a day a week, especially in sunny and showery weather. Meanwhile plants in the greenhouse, polytunnel and standing-out area are pleading with me to get their feet into new compost. I must keep calm and carry on! I really want the displays to be burgeoning by the time of the Summer Garden Party at the end of this month.

Fleshing out
Talking of looking succulent, yesterday I planted a whole display of succulents in the Kew Collection of pots. This eminently practical collection of mostly quite small pots shows off part of my extensive but for the most part unnamed collection of succulents rather well, I think.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Collection, filled with succulents

These plants will take a LOT of neglect but they were looking a bit sad in last year's pots in the greenhouse so I was glad to have the chance to pot them on. They will soon start to flesh out, and until they do I have used pebbles and grit in toning or contrasting colours to dress the compost. This has the added advantage of keeping the drainage sharp around the necks of the succulents.

A mulch of pebbles complements Aeonium decorum 'Sunburst' and what I think is Sedum pachyphytum

Pest of the Week
No, I'm not talking about the pesky throwers who heckle me from the pottery windows when I'm gardening. This week the prize for most entertaining pest goes to the Large Rose Sawfly caterpillars. Babs spotted them on the rose by the pottery wall which I featured last week. They look like little formation dancers as they munch their way through the rose leaves. I was pruning that rose this week as it needs to be kept fairly tight against the wall so that the customers don't get spiked while selecting their pots, so most of the caterpillars have gone to the bonfire. I shall keep an eye on the survivors and remove more if the damage threatens to become extensive. I expect the birds will pick off most of them.

Large Rose Sawfly on Francis E Lester

By the way, a Japanese friend (and expert on many gardening matters) thinks the rose is 'Francis E. Lester' and after looking it up in several places I'm inclined to agree with her.

Feathered Friend
On Monday I pulled out a large patch of Phuopsis stylosa which was marching across the path, much to the delight of one of our resident dunnocks. This neat little brown and grey bird scuttled about in its usual mouse-like way, gathering up the tiny insects which had been exposed. I am very fond of our dunnocks: like the blackbirds and robins, they follow our activities very closely but much more discreetly, and are very happy when John gets a new delivery of straw for the packing shed. They usually nest somewhere in the garden, sometimes in the box topiary, and have a surprisingly sweet song.

Scuttling dunnock plus weeds - notice that some of them are cowslips, I scatter their seed deliberately every year.

In the stockyard this week - note the self-seeded Euphorbia.
The pot on the left is a Jekyll pot from the RHS Collection.

Tolerance - or knowing when you're beaten...
You will notice from this picture and others that we tolerate many weeds and self-seeders in the cracks of the path. This is partly because we would have to spray on a regular basis to keep the paths "clean" and I prefer to avoid using weedkillers and pesticides. It is also because we like the informal look of the greenery on the paths. I try to pull out as many dandelions, thistles and plantains as possible but even this is a losing battle as we are almost surrounded by fields and rough grassland and verges from which seed is brought by wind and feet. Besides, if you don't fuss too much about obliterating weeds you get the bonus of self-seeded scabious, Erigeron karvinskianus, Welsh poppies and many other delights.

I'm leaving you for now because I need a decent night's sleep before another day of planting (but not weeding). Back with more ramblings next week...