Accidental

I accidentally visited an open garden the other day. It was a happy accident.

I was staying at Peggy’s, for our monthly Texas Hold’em and spam fritter night, and Welsh Ann tipped me off that her friend CJ was opening his garden the following day. It would have been rude not to make the small effort; it is just up the road from Mum’s and, more especially, he has the plant sales of legends. I cleared it with OH, assuring him that all purchases would be for clients’ benefit only (fingers crossed at the time, obvs).

And I was very glad that I popped by. Apart from the obvious purchasing experience, it was joyful to wander the garden alone, appreciating the many and varied aspects of his plot. And it also reminded me of things I needed reminded of.

Analogy alert: If undue and often tenuous comparisons offend you, you should at this point leave the post by one of the designated safety exits.

I’ve been watching the Athletic World Championships/Commonwealth Games/European championships all summer long. The noble competitors train day in, day out, often with little funding or support, whether they are triumphant record holders or the valiant also-rans. And, to my mind they all deserve their moment centre stage.

The same can be said for the many private gardens that pepper our world, tended by fine folk who work relentlessly when sometimes it all seems a hiding to nowhere. They battle contrary weather and non-compliant wildlife. Months in advance they must provide dates for opening to the public, when they hope their gardens will be tiptop, ever at the mercy of the precariousness of the seasons. Still they share their gardens and expose their very souls for criticism. Have I gone too far again? Perhaps, but there is little as personal as offering up your own kingdom, designed and tended over months and years, only for Joe Public to point out a weed. And all this for charity.

What I needed to be reminded of is that we need to support these Open Gardeners, tell them they are great, buy their plants, listen to what they say and be inspired.

So, here we go. CJ you are great, your garden is amazing, your plants happy and healthy, keep on keeping on! I’ll be back. Unless you ban me for harassment, which is a distinct possibility.

Six on Saturday – The Shock of the New

“Rain, rain come again.” And it has. And everything is a little more plumped and perky. Some stems have fallen from the shock of the new, others have a petticoat of petals as flowers were battered by the onslaught. They will recover from this rough treatment. I am getting slightly obsessive about water capture. Another obsession, just what I needed! I’m a little late on parade today so mustn’t tarry with waffle, pop over to The Prop if you fancy, I’m sure the gang will welcome you. Shall we proceed?

Bidens ‘Hannay’s Lemon Drop’ has begun to flower. It has wilted on and off during the dry weather and now is a little bedraggled. I wonder if I will rue the day I planted it here, as it does have a tendency to wander. Today, I am pleased I took a chance, as it towers above the border along with its fellow tall customers, Verbena bonariensis and multi-coloured sunflowers.

Another with a propensity to travel about a border is the achillea. Again, perhaps desperate for ground cover, I have planted a plant with attitude.

This is the first time I have grown zinnia, strange but true. I don’t know why, except they are little tricky to get going. Not sure I like this colour, but perhaps I do.

I might have forgotten to tell you about this little beauty, Colocasia esculenta. It has been on my wish list for a while and I happened upon one a few weeks ago in the plant sales of a NGS garden. Whoops!

Penstemon ‘Laura’ came to me as a plug plant while I was in North Devon and it has really come into its own this year. There is a very strong possibility that I was inspired by Graeme to get it. We shall blame him anyway. Thank you.

This is another gift from Welsh Ann, Rudbeckia fulgida, I believe. Yes, it may well need a little taming from time to time, but as with all of my exuberant ones, I shall share the love.

That is me done for another week. The rain is heavy outside. No need for watering today. Hope all your water butts are full. Live long and prosper.

Racing

Over the last few weeks our garden has been home to a number of racing pigeons. The reason I am vague as to the exact number is that they all looked pretty much the same. The first was called Racy, he flew in and out throughout the day and would hoover up the grain that I “accidently” spilt when feeding the wild birds. He was a chirpy chap and I was confident he would refuel and head off again. I have some experience with these non-homers. At Cliffe we had several visitors, including Pedro, Peggy and the infamous Pooping Percy. These had the decency to look quite different from each other, no embarrassing mistaken identities.

Alas, one evening I saw a local cat cross the garden with someone looking suspiciously like Racy in her mouth. I guessed that his athletic career had come to a premature finale. We promised that in future we would discourage this cat from our haven.

A week or so later, I was most surprised, nay disturbed, to see Racy wander across the lawn looking for titbits. Racy had either risen from the grave, feigned death until he could escape or it was indeed another caller at the Heavenly Pitstop. I rejoiced, although OH swore blind he was a different bird. And then he disappeared, heading home to where he would get a hero’s welcome. I hoped.

That is until a few days ago when a very similar looking but much thinner pigeon appeared. I gave him food and water and kind words. When the torrential rains started I made him a little shelter from a dustbin lid and an upside down rose pot. Each morning I expected the worst as I rushed out to see if he was in his little corner, but every morning he would be there and peer at me as I asked “how do you feel today?”. I interpreted his beady gaze as “the look of love” but might well have been one of horror. Once or twice a day he would walk the few yards from his base to look into the French windows and then walk back again. We never saw him fly, just waddle.

This morning he seemed a little more adventurous and walked onto the lawn before heading into his corner. At lunch time he settled just outside the back door holding his wing in an odd manner. OH said “what if he is in pain?”. I found a basket to put him in, gathered him up in an old towel and took him to the vets. They took him into a back room and asked me to wait. After a couple of minutes a nurse came out asking “what exactly do you think is wrong with him?”. I explained he was holding his wing in a peculiar manner. She went back to the treatment room. After another few minutes the nurse returned to say they could find nothing wrong with him except he just didn’t want to fly, he was wandering around quite happily. I felt a little red-faced. “So, he was just trying it on, it wasn’t a pidgey plea for help”. “No, he is fine”. They kept him and promised to look after him and would contact the owner.

I miss him already. OH is terrified he will return. Or maybe it will be a different one, one that has heard on the racing pigeon hotline about the soft-touch in South Wales. On the way back in the car he asked in despair “why do they always come to us?”. Because they know we will do our best for them. He sighed.

Later I watched the bees stick their lovely little noses into the monarda flowers. Which helped. I’ll ring on Monday to see how he is getting on. Perhaps he is missing me too.

Six on Saturday – The Bright Side

Shall we get this over and done with? It is hot. Hot for us. Too hot for me. I could have shared six frazzled plants from the garden, or even a frazzled gardener, but I have decided not to. I expect you have some of your own casualties. Here I will be showcasing the bright side. Any crispy leaves which have snuck in looking for sympathy are an aberration, please ignore the attention seekers. If you wish to share in the world’s happy sixes take a look at The Prop’s post where you can share the love. Let us shake a leg, free from haste and gently does it.

First we have Helenium ‘Short and Sassy’ along with some photobombing zinnia. I’ve just spotted a monarda also getting in on the act. The helenium were donated by my sponsor with some mutterings about an appropriate name. No idea what he meant by that.

I wasn’t sure that I liked the flowers of Hydrangea aspera ‘Hot Chocolate’, that it was worth growing for its dusky leaves alone. But I have decided that I do. This shrub has had a couple of heat inflicted swoons but soon perks up with a can of water. Hold on in there my lovely!

I have some dahlia problems, more specifically, labelling problems. There are only three dead certs and the rest have been, or are to be, a surprise. I am guessing this is a honka of some persuasion, not Obsidian as that is elsewhere and one of the few certainties. Nice though.

This is Rudbeckia ‘Irish Eyes’ although the central boss is not as green as I remember from growing it in the past. Perhaps the boss is always greener on the other side. Dreadful, I know.

OH hammerited the iron bands of the dodgy barrel and here it is planted up. It was more a case of what needed a home than a well thought-out design plan, but sometimes that is the best way. Generally I feel “the Force” rather than agonise for too long. It usually works. And if not, there is always the autumn shuffle.

Visiting a well-known posh supermarket the other week, I spotted a man at the check out with a rather lovely dahlia. “Nice dahlia” I said. “Security!” he shouted. Some people just don’t know how to be friendly. On my next visit, a couple of weeks later, another specimen was situated just by the entrance door. “If it is less than £10 I am having it” I thought. It was £9. What is a gal to do? Welcome to Dahlia ‘Souvenir d’Eté’ It is shown here snuggling up to the Gardeners’ Delight whilst I find the perfect spot for it. I must write a label for it.

That is your lot, my lovelies. Stay cool, unless you are somewhere cool and then stay warm. ‘Til next time.

Diamonds are Forever

Yesterday I reached the significant milestone of sixty years on Planet Gill. Strange but true. Generally, I’m not bothered by the passing years. For one, it is wasted energy and for two, I rarely act my age. However, for the preceding couple of days I felt unsettled by the whole idea. It occurred to me that time was running out. That I should have achieved something by now, that my chance of doing anything worthy before I needed substantial support was diminishing. Quite frankly, that I had under-achieved. Up to 11 August 2022 retribution had been a possibility and now it seemed unlikely. Oh dear, how maudlin.

Then it happened. And it was the best day ever. I cried a lot, possibly more than your standard birthday. I was humbled by the kindness of my family and family. I did all the things I love to do: I ate good food and drank champagne, I rummaged for bargains in an antiques market, I wandered through the parched Physic Garden and bought plants, I picked out a lino-cut in an exhibition, all in good company.

Much later, I sat in the garden, G & T in hand and watched the bats flit and flutter. And I realised that I had achieved what a lot of people sadly fail to do. I have surrounded myself with wonderful people, compassionate and considerate and funny. It really couldn’t have been a much better day. Thank you.

ps New diamond studded boots photo courtesy of my very clever younger brother. Not that the older brother isn’t clever too, of course.

Dodgy

Today I bought a dodgy half whisky barrel off the back of a lorry. Off the back of a van, actually, but that didn’t sound quite so impressive. It wasn’t dodgy either, it was one of many used whilst filming a murder mysteries series at the Priory, just up the road from where I was working. I am kicking myself now that I didn’t ask what they were used for, although there was sand in the bottom of this one. A clue …… Anyway, the props guy (van driver) didn’t want to take them home. It definitely, however, is a half whisky barrel. I had a choice of cognac or whisky, I prefer the latter. We jammed the chosen one into the back seat of the Ford Focus. Driving home, even with my limited talents in the olfactory department, I sensed fumes filling the car, a heady fug of oaky booze. If I had been stopped by the police there would have been a lot of explaining to do.

Before I set off for home, I hesitantly called OH to warn him about the impending arrival. He was remarkably calm about the situation and has offered to drill holes in the bottom. Now where to place it and what to put in it? The kind of problems I relish.

Six on Saturday – Single Track

Today is the day after the day I have been waiting for. That was a blatant lie. Truthfully, it is the day I have been waiting for, but to keep up Six on Saturday appearances I am pretending that it is Saturday and not Friday afternoon. It is a bit like the results show of Strictly Come Dancing. At this very moment, there is a rather nice young man in the garden putting up my greenhouse. He is very nice, polite, hardworking and he has only eaten two of the biscuits I pestered Professor Gadget to remind me to buy on the way home from work. Apparently the man will be going home when he has finished the job. What would I want another man for? I have one already. He has bought me my first ever proper grown-up greenhouse for an impending special birthday. It would be difficult to beat that. Don’t forget to pop over and see what The Prop and his gang are up to, I’m sure it will be worth a trip.

I’ve got a new greenhouse. Sorry to repeat myself, but I am very excited. I’ve got a greenhouse that is not made of plastic and kindly donated by my sponsor. I am chuffed. It is not a posh one, there are no finials or decorative edgings, but it is beautiful. I am smitten. It is all I can think about.

The window opens all on its own and then closes again and it has vents at the back. It is just the right size for the garden and I am already planning how to use it. It has been suggested that I keep it tidy. I will take that suggestion on board and file it. I like to think that a greenhouse is like a handbag, it doesn’t matter how big it is it will get filled. When I was at Cliffe, we had an enormous Edwardian, extremely rickety, glasshouse, with three separate sections. I managed to fill that easily enough. It won’t take long.

Here is one of our sophisticated add-ons. At some point we may get proper water catchers, but for now we have a bucket with a brick in it on one side. I’m thinking “industrial chic”.

OH asked if I had a plug. I did my puzzled face until I realised he wanted it for the ceramic sink that he had placed underneath the other downpipe. Then, with an electric light bulb pulsating out of my head, I rushed into the kitchen. For a couple of weeks I have been saving the wax coating from the Babybel’s that we have a liking for in this house. Does that sound weird? I have been using it to top bamboo canes. It occurred to me it would make the perfect sink stopper-upper. What we had in reserve was a little meagre, so we were forced to eat a couple more to make a perfect seal. I did wonder that if it gets very hot again it might melt away!

The first residents have arrived! A chilli pepper and two aubergines are now in situ. Since this photo a few others have shimmied in, including two manky cacti from the house and the shy to flower brugmansia.

Just in case you have forgotten what it looks like, the final picture is of the greenhouse in all its glory. I can’t wait to get using it. And today, the real today, it is raining. Everything worked out well in the end. I am very, very pleased.

Have a good week, my friends. By the way, did I tell you, I’ve got a new greenhouse!

Disappointing

I am ashamed to say, I didn’t have a go on the trampoline. I really wanted to, but after standing staring wistfully at it for a while, I decided that there was just too much jeopardy – embarrassing injury and CCTV to name a couple of potential downfalls.

And now I feel I have missed an opportunity. My inner voice is telling me “You’ve let your family down, your friends down and most of all you’ve let yourself down.”

Mind you, I’m there again next week.

Six on Saturday – Not Cool

This is neither the time nor the place to reprimand the climate change naysayers. For those who do not avidly study the UK weather, it is hot here, unprecedented for this vanilla isle, and scarily so. Record breaking temperatures are forecast. We are not talking about good record breaking. There is no one in a blazer from Guinness holding a stopwatch and a clipboard. It isn’t the same as juggling 63 copper kettles whilst whistling Beethoven’s Ninth or being the first to hop the length of Offa’s Dyke dressed as a kangaroo. This is bad record breaking.

Earlier in the year we had “danger to life” storms, now we have “danger to life” heat. “Told you so’s” offer faint satisfaction, a Pyrrhic victory. Apart from the small matter of our survival on this planet, as gardeners this extended dry and hot period poses “danger to life” for our plants. It is often near impossible to keep everything properly hydrated (including ourselves). We have to pick favourites for special treatment, the vulnerable, the special, the sentimental. Tricky. But we struggle on. Anyone crying yet? Or perhaps screaming “for goodness sake, stop your moaning and get on with it”? As I said, not the time or place, we come to SoS for joy not despair. If you want to share some happy souls’ garden universes, pop over to The Prop (who hopefully has not been out running in the crazy heat) and let your spirits be refreshed. Ok, shall we get this done?

I do love a marigold; calendula, tagetes, French, African, Mexican or common, I love the lot of them. In the past I have struggled to protect tagetes from the demon slimy ones. This year I have succeeded. More luck than judgement, I fear. Come back next year and molluscs might have caught on.

Which leads beautifully onto another marigold, although of a different genera. I must warn the purists out there, I am a little vague on the name front this week. Pure laziness. At the end of my last season on Button Moon I collected some seed that took my fancy, with permission, obviously. I wrote “Westwell Hall Buff Calendula” on the packet. One out of six plants came true, or rather what I remember to be true. Not bad. And the others accentuate its glorious dignity with their brightness.

We have a waterlily! It has caused much excitement Chez Nous (forgive me Fred). This is its fifth leaf, the birth of each is carefully monitored and celebrated. If a flower ever appears there will be fireworks. I can’t remember the name, but it has a red flower and is in the diddy category.

Next we have the glorious Dahlia merckii. Last year, or perhaps the year before, I moaned about not receiving part of a dahlia order. This plant was sent to me by the wonderful Anna in Cumbria. To say I was pleased is an understatement. Now allowed to have a free root run, it has done wonders this year. Here it is propping itself up on Diascia personata, a beautiful thug. Thanks again Anna.

I am wittering on a bit this morning, must speed up, my boiled egg is on!

I have never grown monarda in my own garden. This is Monarda ‘Cobham Beauty’. What was I waiting for?

Finally a sunflower. Can’t remember it’s name. Not sure it is necessary.

That is your six. Keep on doing what you can. Keep cool. Keep the faith.