Archive for November, 2010

>Fer over at My Little Garden in Japan is hosting a “blog carnival” today:
Show us the best of your garden, your favorite flower, vegetable, bush, tree, cactus, shrub, herb, moss, algae, fern, fruit, root, creeper, climber, grass, weed, bulb or any other plant you love (or more than one if you prefer).

I’ll give it a go, and will pass on the request to spend a little time ranting about your favorite plants.

Well, as the title indicates I want to tell you a bit about my iris, a family of plants that I really love. I find them so utterly graceful with their shard-like leaves and exotic-looking and exuberant flowers.

Sadly this is the only picture of a flowering iris I have for this post. The yellow iris pseudacorus down by the little stream. Native to Europe, this wetland iris has leave up to a meter in height and the flower stems typically reach 1.5 meters. When we bought the summer house, they were already growing behind the annex, and this does seem to be it’s natural habitat so it will remain there, combining with the tall reeds to make a sort of screen towards the neighbours on the other side of the stream.

Iris Germanica is one of the plants that was rescued from the bulldozers back in September. The rhizomes were put in a temporary bed for the winter, but hopefully they will be moved in early spring once the last frost is off the ground and maybe if I’m lucky it will bloom the first summer. Time will tell.
Like the iris pseudacorus, this is a rather large and perhaps slightly coarse iris, but this one is dark blue and seems to thrive more in regular garden soil, rather than in the somewhat boggy habitat of the pseudacorus.

Iris hollandica, a cultivated bulbous iris, currently only lives in a bag in the workshop in the annex. They should really go into a piece of well-drained soil (which in my garden means a pot), but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.
I’m thinking it might end up in the same pot as the gladiolus callianthus in the courtyard. Both are not completely hardy, so this means I can put out the pot once frost is gone, enjoy the iris hollandica in late spring/early summer and the Abyssinian gladiolus in late summer. As the foliage is quite similar for both plants, it should make for a harmonious cohabitation. 

This is Iris sanguinea in situ in my parents’ garden before I divided it and replanted most, bringing two root clumps with me for our garden. I’m not sure why this species got it’s bloody name, but it’s one of those plants that I grew up with in my parents’ garden, and it forms wonderfully big clumps of intertwined roots that needs to be divided every so often in order to keep it blooming at its maximum.
It has been put in a temporary position until I can plant it out in the yet-nonexistent Ambitious Border, where I hope it will be able to make an impact already next summer.

As a small aside, can I just mention how amazing it is to have dived head-first into an international garden blogging community? It seems that this blog mainly has US readers, but according to Blogspot Stats there are also readers from India, Turkey, Italy, Germany, Australia and many more countries around the world. And now this entry is sparked by an entry in a blog about balcony gardening in Japan… I look forward to continuing this world-tour of gardens via the internet!

(Entry title is borrowed from the poem Iris, Most Beautiful Flower by Edith Buckner Edwards.)

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To the left is a white rose that was already there when we bought the summer house, and to the right is the red rose that I rescued from the bulldozers. The picture doesn’t quite show it clearly, but it has new leaves and generally looks awfully perky. I have every faith in the little plant and intend to give it the best possible chances of survival.

And those roses? Well, they were sheltered under the eaves of the house, so this is what the rest of the house and garden looked like!

Pretty… Peaceful… Lovely…

This is the area that will become the kitchen garden… I knew the weather would be cold and snowy over the weekend, so my gardening plan for the weekend was to construct a couple of frames for raised vegetable beds.

Here is the first one. They’re built from the pallets that our fire-wood was delivered in, so they probably won’t last many years, but since they’re free I guess even 2 years will be an acceptable life-span. (The wood in the corners comes from the stash that was in the workshop when we bought the house, so I just had to saw it to the required lengths and then screw it all together.)

Mind you, with all that snow, there wasn’t really much gardening to do for a full weekend, so I had to fill out the time with other activities, like mulling wine. A nice mug of mulled wine is a sure-fire way to ensure that you will do no more constructive business that day, but some times it’s just worth it.

Every year towards the end of December I make a jar of wine-mulling essence. 4-5 sticks of cinnamon, 10-15 cloves and some cardamom pods, stuck in a jar of vodka and then left for the year. The flavour next year is exquisitely intense and wonderful. You heat up a sauce pan of red wine, add sugar to taste and a generous helping of raisins and chopped almonds, and once the pan is removed from the hob you add a dash of the mulling essence.

(When I was an au pair in Paris and sang in the choir of the Danish Church in Paris, their matron taught me a rather gruesome recipe: for every four bottles of wine you need to add a bottle of schnapps, vodka or similar. That makes for a rather lethal mulled wine that is NOT recommended for a group of teenagers away from their native country.)

Anyway, back to the gardening! This is my work table… With a foot of snow on top. Mind you, it’s not like I needed it for anything this weekend. Most of the pots on the lower shelf are the “disposable” ones; meant to become drainage shards for the bottom of other pots, and the drawers are my place for storing seeds that need frost in order to sprout.

And this? This is the stream behind the house. Loads of snow, very cold but thankfully not yet cold enough to freeze the stream. Next week might see temperatures go down to -15° Celsius, so who knows what will come.

That’s all for now, folks.

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>On Thursday evenings I follow a course as part of my development plan at work, but last week I got on the suburban train to go to the school when I suddenly realised that I didn’t want to get off at the stop by the school but wanted to just continue up to the summer house.

I arrived at the house around 5:45pm, so it was already pitch-black darkness when I got off the bus. Such is winter in Denmark, but after a few minutes my eyes adjusted and I began to walk up the road towards the summer house.

I light a fire in the wood-burner, made myself a hot cup of tea and then I had a stroll around the garden where I could see absolutely nothing. Still, there’s something relaxing about walking around a garden in the darkness of night, even if it’s before supper time.

The cuttings that have been placed in the guest bedroom in the annex look well; they’ve lost their old leaves and have set distinct buds for new growth. The budleiah cuttings have even set a few new leaves, so I’m quite thrilled about that. Also in the guest bedrooms are the non-hardy plants, mainly dahlias and Abbysinian gladioli, but obviously there’s not much to report about those.

I moved the planks for the planned raised beds unto the covered terrace so they will be dry and ready for treatment whenever I get around to it (maybe the coming weekend?). I want to give them an oil treatment before I assemble the frames and put them outside, so right now I’m looking into non-toxic wood treatments that can be used for the frame of a raised vegetable bed. I might go completely hippie and just use rapeseed oil, since this will definitely be safe to use near vegetables and is also something that is produced here in Denmark without any additives.

Most of the evening, though, was spent with a novel in front of the fire, but there was also time to update my house&garden log. I’ve brought a small notebook up there and am using it to log whatever I do when I’m up there. It’s not an elaborate garden diary; merely a few bullet-points about what I’ve done so I can later look back and see what worked and what might be done differently. After all, this gardening malarky is a learning curve for me.

Next weekend I will go up there Saturday morning and stay ’till Sunday evening. The weather forecast for the weekend says overcast but dry, so fine weather (by Danish November standards) for getting things done.

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>I miss our garden…

>I haven’t had a weekend in the garden in ages, it seems.

Well, all right; I did have two days up there a few weeks ago, but still. Winter is approaching, and I’m not getting anything done! (The non-hardy plants have been taken inside and the garden furniture moved unto the covered patio, so nothing will suffer, but still.)

While I sit in my tiny flat I can, though, make plans. Not as much fun as getting stuff done, but perhaps productive in its own way.

The most thrilling this is to plan for the kitchen garden. Not the planting – not yet – but the structure and the soil. Getting ready-made planting soil is not an option for reasons of both budget and transportation, so I’m giving lots of thought to the issue of creating the best possible soil from the means at hand. The base will be the local heavy soil, but if I mix it up with plenty of leaf mulch and however much of the compost heap that might be ready, I reckon I will be able to achieve a decent result.

I’m planning to skim the lawn where the raised beds will stand, putting the turf aside and then dig down a further foot, putting the soil to the side and then disposing of the turf at the bottom of the whole where it will have no chance of growing up through the bed. Then a thick layer of mulch and twigs to create a draining sub-soil for the first year (though it will subside fairly quickly) and then a 1½ foot deep top layer consisting of soil mixed with mulch and sand. When spring comes I might add a top coat of store-bought potting soil for sowing.

God, I look forward to getting up there again. A week and a half from now I’ll have Saturday and Sunday up there, and the kitchen garden will be the main project for that weekend if the weather is decent. If it pours down, plan B is a novel in a comfy chair in front of the fire unless I get around to going to a DIY shop and get some metal paint. Two of our garden chairs are black iron chairs that are in desperate need of a coat of paint, but first they will need to be sanded down so that could be a good project for a wet winter weekend some time. They’re black right now, but I’m thinking they might end up a dark-dark green, and there’s a round table (white and flaking) that might be given the same treatment and thus be made to match enough for them to make a nice intimate set of furniture for two for the courtyard.

Currently there’s a larger table for six in the courtyard, and it just seems like I always have to walk around it to get anywhere, so having a smaller set would give more space and perhaps also add to the sense of intimacy of the space. And there will be more space for the pots of plants to surround the seating area without crowding it.

What else is there? Well, there is the pruning of the apple and pear trees, the continuous project of digging out the Ambitious Border, the interior of the house that could do with a winter clean (in a holiday home you can’t seriously be expected to do a deep clean in spring when it starts being so appealing to be outside) and a heap of other stuff. I have lots of time to get all of this done, though, since March/April and spring is still a long way away. Sadly…

Still, even when I can’t be there, planning and dreaming is such a thrill. And of course, it’s somehow the greatest romantic thrill. (Well, almost… Gardening will never compete with a proposal or being near to your loved one, but working hard to have a personal haven with you beloved is still way up there on the list of romantic activities. I do this for me, yes, but even more for us.)

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>On Friday I flew over to London to meet up with my husband for the weekend. Nothing fancy, just a weekend together in a city that we both know and love.

We didn’t do a great deal. The whole weekend was mainly spent strolling around London, having some lovely food and wine and meeting up with a few people for short intermezzos in a weekend that was really all about us. On Saturday we had lunch with my English ex-boyfriend and watched the fireworks for the Lord Mayor’s Day, and today, Sunday, we had coffee with the husband’s best friend before heading towards Heathrow and saying goodbye for now. We’ll meet up in Aberdeen on Friday, though, so it’s not a terribly long separation this time.

I love London. I lived there for a few years, and it always feels like a sort of home-coming when I step on to an underground train and make my way toward the city. That city will always have a special place in my heart. London (2000-2003) and Paris (1997-1998) will always, no matter where I live, be “home”.


In other news we’ve planned our travel schedule for 2011, and I got a small but important change squeezed into it: My husband suggested going away for Easter, but since he so desperately wants to be a part of our garden and take part in the shaping of it I suggested that the Easter holidays be spent in the summer house. A lot of plants will have to be sown before that, but mid-April should be a good time to plant out seedlings, establish flower beds and generally kick-start the garden for summer. And he will be back in Denmark for a week in late May, so he will have a chance to see how everything is getting along a month after.

I hope this will help give him that connection with the garden that he right now feel is lacking because I do everything on my own. After all, this is our project and our place. Our garden. There’s something wonderful about sharing this adventure. Rome and London might seem more glamorous, but we’ve invested so much more of our relationship in a little plot of land between two fjords. That will never be “home”; it’s Home.

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This is what I would like my Ambitious Border (TM) to look like. (Without the trimmed hedges and the statuary.)

My colour scheme might be more limited (I would prefer keep the colours in blues, pinks and purples, though having browsed innumerable borders I am now considering adding more colours to the mix…

Anyway, the important thing is really the abundance of flowers and plants. And the dense planting! For my mono-cultivarious beds around the terrace I have so far stuck to single types of plants, but in the Ambitious Border (TM) I intend to use much more mixed plants. (As is the tradition for large borders, at least in the North-European gardening tradition.)

Raised bed

Kitchen garden… Raised beds… I want this! I know that raised beds will not rally allow me to grow root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, considering the wet clay soil of the garden, but it should give great growing conditions for plants like peas, beans, lettuce and so on.

I couldn’t find a WikiMedia Commons picture of the sort of container garden that I would love to have in the sun yard, but I’m sure that’s not hard to imagine; plenty of pots with flowers, backed by larger pots of greenery and shrubs.

(Both pictures in this entry are from WikiMedia Commons.)

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>Of plans and planks

>We had firewood delivered a while ago. A couple of cubic meters, delivered in a wooden “cage”.

Now, the cage was a pallet base, with the rest of it being made up of raw planks with the bark still on them.

The shorter, horizontal ones are between 60 and 80cm, which can be used, but the vertical ones were a) wider and b) 180cm long.

What does this mean, you as? Well, since none of the wood is meant to last for long, it hasn’t been treated with anything at all, so I can use it as the edging around a raised vegetable bed. Sure, it may not last forever, but it will be a good quick-fix that will last a few years.

With the planks I have right now (and corner posts from the stash we took over with the house) I can make either two 80*180 beds or one 80*360 bed. That’s a good start, right? And with all the trees in the garden dropping leaves left, right and center I will have plenty of mulch to mix up with the soil and some sand next year to create a perfect place for growing vegetables.

And the best part? IT’S ALL FREE!!!

I want to make the frame (or frames) before New Year. That’s my pre-New-Year’s-resolution. (And obviously the mulch will also be prepared before that. Hopefully I will have everything in place by March so I’m ready to sow stuff when the last frost clears, even if I have to improvise some covering for it the first month. Clear plastic is never pretty, but I’m hoping it can do the trick and turn it into an interim cold-frame.

Can’t wait for spring!!!

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>Presents from Mum


What, you might ask, is that picture all about? Well, I went to Jutland to visit my parents this weekend, and on Saturday morning my mum and I went into their garden and started digging. I ended up with a large suitcase and a sports bag full of perennials from the garden I grew up in. They are not only plants of various sorts that I grew up with, but the actual plants – or descendants of them – that were there when I fell and scraped my knee or when I hid away from the world with a comic book on one of those hot summer days that one’s childhood miraculously seems to brim with.

As proven in Back in Denmark, moving plants is no problem when you’ve got a decent public transport system and plenty of stamina. The suitcase weighed in at around 30kg / 65lb, and the bag that I carried in the sports bag added another 10kg / 22lb to the load that I was schlepping across the country on a train and two separate buses…

This is the loot spread out on the lawn on a crisp November morning. Iris, asters, black-eyed Susan, aquilegia/columbines, autumnal anemones, English blue bells, African lilies, goldenrods, evening primrose and loads of other plants. Lovely!  Except, of course, that I haven’t actually finished clearing anywhere for my planned flower beds.

Mind you, some determination and a spade will get you a long way, so while my ambitious mixed border along the South-Western hedge is still merely a few pockmarks on the face of the lawn, I managed to dig out two beds by the terrace.

Along the North-Eastern side of the terrace I put the autumnal anemones. My mother has them along a North-facing wall, so I figure this is a pretty similar environment to where they came from. I hope they will be happy there… The advantage and disadvantage of planting in late autumn is that it looks so hopelessly forlorn and sad, but I have full confidence that these plants will stand tall and proud in 6 months time and will start blooming in August. And if not August 2011, then August 2012. I have patience.

The bed in front of the terrace was a bit of a challenge. The lawn went all the way up to the terrace, but with the vestiges of a flowerbed struggling along here and there and three clematis climbing up the posts of the terrace. I pretty much gave up saving the plants from the bed that once what here, so I skimmed off the top soil to the depth of the grass roots and threw it in a corner of the garden for future use.

However… The terrace rests on a layer of sand and gravel, so I couldn’t dig down into the soil for fear of disturbing the edge of the paving, and furthermore the skimming revealed that the bed that used to be there was lined with concrete tiles (for lack of better description). This meant I had to add soil on top of the existing compact soil, and this meant I had to get that soil somewhere… So I skimmed the grass of an area of the lawn where the Ambitious Border (as it will henceforth be known) will appear by magic one day, and then I dug up a wheel barrow of soil, mixed it with some sand and some mulch to make it workable and spread it in the bed. It felt right, and I hope the black-eyed Susans will agree, since they are the ones who will have to live with it.

The rest of the plants will mainly go in the Ambitious Border, so since it doesn’t exist they have just been plopped in any which way wherever there was space. (Oh, I forget; the goldenrods actually got their permanent place. There was a small patch of them in the garden already, and since I find that they only really work in great quantities I basically just beefed up that area, doubling the size of it. Also, the single first-year evening primrose was plopped in there, since it will anyway only be around for one year – if I’m correct in remembering it as a biennial plant – and then I can make new plants from the seeds or get seeds from my mum. I forgot to take a picture of this area, but I’m sure you get the general idea.)


My back is aching from all the digging, my left ankle is still sore after I dropped the suitcase on it when leaving the train and my body is generally just tired and in need of rest. My head, though, has really benefited from the exercise and fresh air; it was hard visiting my dad in hospital and seeing him so worn out by the radiation therapy and the struggle to get enough calories through the feeding tube. He had hoped to come home Saturday, but since he keeps loosing weight and he had to have the gastric feeding tube replaced today after he accidentally tore it out (ouch!), so now it looks more likely that he will be coming home after next weekend at the earliest.

Digging in the garden with my mum was great, though. We chatted, worked together and there was something practical in it for me (plants) and for her (all the plants were basically removed as part of weeding the garden). She is a wonderfully strong woman, but this is taking its toll on her. I wish I could do more for her.

At times like this a garden is a great – safe – miniature universe to flee into. The worst that can happen in our garden is that the flower beds are flooded and a few plants die. No big deal. Plants can be replaced. It’s harder with parents.

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>Winter is coming

>And I’ve changed my weekend plans so I won’t be going to Aberdeen to visit my husband with my mother-in-law but instead will visit my parents Friday to Saturday which leaves Sunday free for a day in the garden.

The weather forecast is promising for Sunday, so I’m hoping to put in a fair amount of work in the garden. More digging, more readying the pots for winter and more raking of leaves to add to the compost heap. And most of all Sunday will be a day for both digesting and fleeing the impressions from Friday and Saturday.

The reason for canceling a weekend with my husband is that I really need to see my dad, who is going in for surgery yet again on Friday, and my mum who seems so very much affected by this whole ordeal. And it will not be easy on me, I know, so that’s why I need the Sunday in my little refuge where everything is simple and works according to more or less predictable laws of nature. Seasons change, plants are doing what they are wont to do and to some extent I understand the rules and am in control of everything. And what I don’t control in the garden is really not that important. Whereas in a hospital room I can control nothing, understand little and yet it has such a huge impact.

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
(William Carlos Williams: The Red Wheelbarrow)

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There had to be some sort of flânerie involved, right, so these are just a few snapshots from Rome as a place-filler…

Above is a view over Rome from the Castel Sant’Angelo, which was one of the must-see sights during our week in Rome that ended yesterday. It was where my husband proposed to me the first time we got engaged. (Yes, there was a second time, since the initial wedding was cancelled in 2008 and then I proposed in Berlin on the roof-top terrace of the flat we had rented for a long weekend. And that proposal did end up with a marriage – okay, a civil partnership – in September this year.) Anyway, long asides aside, we had a wonderful week in Rome, and this time we had rented a flat in Testaccio – South Rome – yet again with a roof terrace. It’s a thing we have…

This picture doesn’t really do justice to the view, but it does say something about the size of the terrace, especially considering that it was taken down the narrow part of the terrace. To the right of me when I took the picture is a slightly wider area with a dining table that could seat 6.

Anyway, the terrace brings me to what – in a somewhat round-about way – relates this entry to gardening. Container gardening! Rome is full of potted plants; in the streets, on the multitude of roof terraces, on balconies and on window sills.

That is the souvenir I’m bringing home from Rome; inspiration for the paved sun-yard garden at the summer house. The sun-yard will never – ever – have a Southern European feel to it due to the red wooden buildings and fences that surround it, but there’s nothing wrong with using the inspiration to create something that still chimes in with the surroundings.

I’m thinking terracotta pots and tubs (which also works with the Danish tradition anyway, so it’s not a complete departure from the location), dark green foliage against the walls and fences and then some lower flowers in s lightly subtle colour scheme.

In other words, I want to have English-inspired borders, classic Danish vegetables in the kitchen garden and a Roman-inspired sun-yard. Eclectic? True, but I also think it can melt into a coherent whole.

And to finish (and to prove that I really WAS in Rome just yesterday) here’s a picture of your’s truly on the roof-top terrace of the Hotel Raphaël. And yes, that’s the dome of San Pietro just to the left of my head. (And a perfectly lovely pinot grigio in the wine glass.)

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