Archive for January, 2011

>Call me Mr. Dalloway…

>Yes, I bought the flowers myself:

The picture doesn’t quite do them justice; the bordeaux/red is deeper in colour, and the white flecks have a creamy warmth to them, but all in all they are perfectly gaudy and wonderful.

I wouldn’t want to ever grow any roses like this in our garden, but when you put 20 of them together in a cut-crystal vase they do have a certain je ne sais quoi to them. In a garden I want something calm, serene, but in a vase I don’t mind flowers that make a spectacle of themselves and somehow point a finger at themselves, saying “I am an artifice“.

They are, though, merely a consolatory gesture to myself to compensate for the lingering winter. When spring comes I shall have no eye for flowers like this; instead I will want budding branches and fresh green leaves.

Mind you, the forsythia might soon be ready for cutting branches to take inside for a bit of pre-seasonal spring bloom. Maybe I shall cut a few branches to bring back to my apartment when I go to the summer house next weekend.

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>There are some rather ugly bricks lying around behind the annex, and I’ve been thinking about what to do with them. Or rather, what to use them for, since I work on a strict budget and would rather put things to good use than throw them out. (And budget aside, throwing out bricks is just not very environmentally friendly, nor very considerate to the trash guys…)

So as I said, I’ve been thinking. And then it dawned on me that I have actually used some of them already, as a hard edge to the flower bed in front of the covered terrace:

They’re not very pretty, but I put them there because a) they make a clear distinction as to how far the lawn is allowed to gro, and b) as they’re sunk into the ground so their top is level with the lawn, they make a practical edge to run the lawn mower’s wheels on to ensure the lawn looks tidy all the way up to the bed.

In the bed in the picture is yellow rudbeckia, so that will easily lean out and cover the bricks while still being sturdy enough to survive a few encounters with the side of the lawn mower, but as I’m not planning on having such dense planting in all the flower beds, perhaps argument b) will be less important when it comes to the edging of the Ambitious Border.  Still, I think it would be practical to have a clear demarcation line between the bed and the lawn, and as the bricks are just lying there unused they might be the first solution. As I said, they’re not pretty but they will work, and if I just plant some low plants in front to cover them I think they will be as good as invisible.

My parents’ neighbours had pretty flower beds with very neat edges because they were constantly walking around with a spade and trimming the edges, but I can’t see myself having that sort of time nor patience, so there will definitely have to be some sort of edging. We shall see if the husband approves of the idea, and otherwise I shall have to think of another solution.

And another use for those bricks…

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>Plans for 2011

>Oh, there are many…

This entry is included in the World Garden Blog Carnival, hosted by My Little Garden in Japan.

My husband and I have bought an apartment from May 1st, so obviously getting that fixed up will take a lot of time away from the garden in the early summer, but we’re not going to neglect the garden entirely.

The main project for the garden is to install a drain under the lawn. The garden is nearly flat, and as it has a very high water table and very poor soil drainage, it’s really quite crucial to install proper drainage, not just for the plants but also so we have a dry lawn to lounge about on or play croquet on.

A friend of ours is looking into drawing up a plan for a drain, and we’re trying to lure my younger brother and his wife into joining us for a week of drain-digging and barbecues; my younger brother is beginning to set himself up as an entrepreneur, so he can provide some know-how to our own enthusiasm. We’re hoping to do this some time during Easter week when my husband will be home on holiday from his expatriation in Scotland.

Now, while the drain is the most important project – and by far the largest – another project is to get my planned beds created and started. They won’t get completely done this year, since I’d rather have the apartment done than the garden, but I plan to establish them and have at least a preliminary planting in place before we take on the apartment.

There is the vegetable garden. 2-3 smallish raised beds (25″*75″*10″ / 60cm*190cm*25cm) that will be used mainly for “luxury” vegetables. There will be no room for staples, but there WILL be room for snap peas, haricots and lettuce; the sort of vegetables you want to be able to go out and pick fresh for a salad or just a quick snack. It seems that my husband and I share the desire to grow things for eating; something practical that will give us joy while we watch it grow and later when we savour the crops that we grew.

And flowers… I’ve mentioned my Ambitious Border (TM),  and that plan is still very close to my heart. With any luck I’ll have the area cleared of grass before we start digging for the drain, and any left-over soil from the digging can then be heaped on the beds to elevate them slightly from the lawn. It will look a bit empty the first year, I guess, since I don’t have enough perennials to plant it fully, but so be it. I will try to sow enough annuals to fill in the blanks, but I suspect I won’t be able to produce enough plants to cover the ground completely. Still, I will give it a jolly good go!

The perennials will be planted according to a “greater scheme”; I have ideas for the colour combinations for various areas of the garden, but the annuals this first year might just be whatever grabs my fancy and whatever I want to try out.

Roses are a must. The husband loves them, so I want to create a rose bed in front of the kitchen window, up against the south gable of the house. When we bought the summer house there was already one white rose growing there, somewhat neglected and suffocated by weeds, and then there’s the rose I rescued from the bulldozers:

It’s the tiny one to the right. Not much to look at, but I literally dragged it out of the ground with my bare hands and stored it in a plastic bag for a week before sticking it in the ground. It’s a rather “standard” red rose, and that’s actually one of my favourite roses. The flowers aren’t very large, but they have a wonderfully deep red colour and velvety petals. How can you go wrong with that? Anyway, it looked healthy up to the frost began, so I hope it has survived the rough treatment it’s had.

There. Those are the most important projects for 2011. Minor projects include getting another pear tree for the area by the drive, finding some climbing perennials or self-sowing annuals for a couple of ugly fences and (dare I say of course?) growing some lovely tomatoes of carious sorts. So a lot of things, in other words…

new year gardening resolutions

Visit New Year Gardening Resolutions Blog Carnival

at my little garden in japan

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>Waiting for Spring…

>These are some of the sights I’m looking forward to…

First, the crocus lawn in the King’s Garden in the middle of Central Copenhagen. It’s a classicist garden that focuses on the old renaissance hunting palace of Rosenborg – Rose Castle.

I love the patterned carpet planting of the bulbs:

But even disregarding the striking pattern, just look at the sheer amount of flowers! The explosion of colour is so striking after a gray Scandinavian winter, and it really brings joy and hope to me whenever it appears at the end of months and months of clouds, rain, sleet and snow.

And then of course there’s the Lakes. All around Copenhagen there is a ring of lakes that used to feed the moats around the city ramparts and walls, and since the city walls and moats were decommissioned in the mid-19th Century the lakes have been turned into a recreational area around the city centre. There’s not much space around the lakes; merely a path that gives room for joggers and prams, but the path is line with horse chestnuts:

Other plants have flowers, spears or clusters, but in Danish the chestnut has lights or candles.

Soft rain candles are burning
But we have hard hands,
And we no longer receive
Chestnut-candles that are burning.
(Morten Nielsen, 1922-1944, coarsely translated by yours truly)

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>Playing in the Snow

>What better way to spend time in a winter garden than to make a snow lantern? There’s a certain childish pleasure in making things out of snow; it’s one of those things – like building dams in a small stream or making sand castles – that I don’t think I will ever completely outgrow.

Snow lantern made the “proper” way, with snowballs piled more or less neatly into a cairn

My only vivid childhood memory of snow lanterns is one Christmas when my grandparents were coming to spend Christmas eve with us and we three kids had studded the lawn outside the sitting room windows with snow lanterns, turning the garden into a magical place where the darkness was broken up by little pools of light around each lantern.

I love these little cairns of light; I find them pretty in themselves, and when correctly position vis-à-vis the sitting room windows they can also help “breaking through”the windows that would otherwise just be a black wall when it’s completely dark outside and there’s a comfortable glow of candles and a warm fire inside. Just having those little splashes of light means that you become aware that there really is something outside other than a non-place of darkness.

Snow lantern made in a more rustic manner with crusts of semi-thawed snow

The difference in colour is because I make them with tea lights and to avoid the tea light melting itself into the snow and drowning itself I tend to put the little tea lights in glass jars.

I love the way the second lantern made of icy snow crusts looks almost like a heap of glowing coals; if it had been colder I might also have thought of making one out of sheets of ice or icicles, but as it was above freezing even during the night there really wasn’t much clear ice to use. I’ve done that as a child, though, and they can look almost like miniature glass castles, with icicle spires and windows of sheer, transparent ice.

This might not be a “real” garden blog post, but at least it’s about something garden-related. And quite frankly, day-time pictures of the garden in the thaw are just depressing to look at; it looks a mess with blotches of snow on a soggy lawn and a few straggly perennials that haven’t been cut down yet. I think you will agree that the lanterns are prettier to look at…

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>Gardens I Grew Up with

>There are several gardens that inspire me and that I wish to emulate in some way in our garden, but there are only two that really stand out as gardens that have been essential in shaping the way I think of a garden.

The first is my parents’ garden. They still live in the same house they have lived in since before I was born, and the garden – though perhaps less tended these days – still has much the same shape, with only a few casualties through the years.

This is their house seen from the street:

The front garden has never been a big deal; there’s a privet hedge, and behind it the main feature is a terrace between the drive and the house. There’s also a small herbaceous border between the house and the hedge, but it’s mainly designed for cutting flowers and for being viewed through the windows.

The back garden, though, is what I think of as a “proper” garden. A large, irregularly shaped sloping lawn, fitting in between trees and bushes and flowerbeds. There’s a wonderfully “long” view from the kitchen window you can just see to the left of the bush, stretching all the way down to the end of the garden, but also more private areas where a discontented teenager could spread a blanket and spend hours reading and listening to his discman.

There used to be more trees on the left side of the garden, but two apple trees and a plum tree have disappeared over the years, making that side of the garden seem perhaps a bit too exposed to my liking. I like mature trees, and of course I’m thrilled that we have so many of them in and around our garden.

As you can see there’s nothing formal about the garden I grew up in; my parents’ created it from a hillside of nettles and whatever plants were suffocating between the weeds, and though there was never a flat area to play football in I guess it must count for something that we could go tobogganing in our back garden when there was snow… And yes, we could also play rounders, though it was pretty tricky with all the trees and bushes in the middle of everything.

This large granite trough comes from my great grandparents’ farm, I believe, and when we were smaller we could actually use it as a paddling pool in summer. Now it’s mainly just an outsized birdbath, but occasionally my parents’ dog will also have some fun with it, especially if – as in this picture – there is an inviting little piece of wood floating in it, just waiting to be fished out.

Anyway, I hope these few pictures give at least some sort of impression of the garden I grew up in, even though the pictures were taken in a season that doesn’t really show off the explosion of flowers that happens every summer.

I grew up thinking my parents had a small garden. As you can see from the pictures above, that wasn’t really the case at all, but my maternal grandparents’ garden sort of set the standard for me, and their garden was a proper country garden, perhaps 4-5 times larger than the one I grew up in. And on top of that came the hazel coppice, the berry shrubs and the kitchen garden which wasn’t dug by hand but by my grandfather harrowing it with a tractor…

This is the farmhouse seen from the garden:

The house is actually larger than it looks, as the scullery and the groom’s bathroom is tacked on to the right end of the house. Above the roof you can see the top of the large chestnut tree in the middle of the 4-winged farm, and on the very right of the picture you see another chestnut that is even larger and older. A 90-year old woman who used to live on that farm as a child once visited my grandparents when I was a kid, and she told about having a tree house in that tree where it branches out into 3 trunks. Exactly the same place my cousins and I had built our tree house.

This is the lawn seen diagonally from the house. Note, as in my parents’ garden, the flagpole, which is a very common feature in Danish gardens, though it is decreasing in popularity these years. In Denmark the flag is not just reserved for public occasions but also used to celebrate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries or other private causes for celebration. I like that very much; that a flag can somehow be something other than just a national emblem. (Though people who know about the political climate in Denmark over the past 10 years might understand that I’m growing ambivalent in my feelings about the flag, since it has largely been claimed by xenophobes and other people I do not particularly wish to be thrown in with. Anyway, this isn’t a political blog.)

My grandparents’ garden doesn’t really exist any more. The pictures are of my aunt and uncle’s garden, since they took over the farm many years ago and just didn’t have the time to keep it as immaculate as during my grandparents’ time at the farm. That’s okay with me. They have taken the house and the garden they took over and managed to make it their own, and for a family with two full-time working parents, that obviously meant less time for weeding and replanting. Still, when I walk in that garden – or indeed in that house – I can’t help seeing a strange sort of double vision. The garden that is and the garden that was melting together in a seamless continuity. It’s quite beautiful, really. I am so grateful that the place is still within the family so I get to see it every once in a while.

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>I’m hibernating quite a lot of different plants and roots in our guest bedroom in the annex, since that is the one room I can keep at a permanent low, yet frost-free, temperature. Some are non-hardy like the dahlias and some are just plants that I got after the frost had set in so I couldn’t get them into the ground.

(And of course there’s a load of rose cuttings merrily awaiting to be planted out in the rose bed when spring arrives and I actually create that bed…)

The trouble is, I think the temperature is too high, and I can’t set the thermostat any lower. Some plants seem to think it’s spring time already and are shooting up green leaves that really ought to wait for another 2 months. There doesn’t seem to be a lot I can do to stop them, so I guess it’s just the way it is.

It does, though, make me really impatient for spring!

(And I’ve forgotten what was in one of the large pots out there, so I’m quite curious to see what on earth that will become. I think it might be a day lily, but I could be wrong.)

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>Winter Days

>One of the things I love about being up in the summer house during winter is all the signs of the creatures that inhabit the garden when we’re not around. Tracks across the snow-covered lawn, nests where deer have laid down for the night.

This is just one example of the tracks on the otherwise immaculate white surface of the lawn:

And here is one of several spots in the garden where the snow has been melted away by a deer that chose to spend the night at our place:

They do tend to make themselves scarce when the house is inhabited, but occasionally I see them early in the morning when I get up and it’s still dark outside. One morning a few weeks ago I almost hit a deer on the head with the front door when I opened it to air the house and got a minor shock when I realised a deer was grazing literally on our doorstep. (That was the same weekend I almost stepped on a pheasant when returning from a trip to the supermarket in the late afternoon after dark.)

The roof is well enough insulated for the snow cover to remain even when the house is heated up for 4 days, but the bottom layer of snow does melt a bit, especially above the wood-burner, and this causes some quite spectacular icicles to form.

And there’s one thing you can only do during winter: Taking a shortcut home from a trip to the supermarket by walking across the frozen fjord… Quite spooky in the afternoon as the light disappears, but also excessively pretty. The ice was easily solid enough to be safe, especially since I stayed close to the shore where the water is only about a foot deep. No reason to tempt fate, after all, but still a great experience, and one that is fairly rare in Denmark. We rarely get cold enough winters for the sea to freeze this much.

And when I got home, this is what awaited me; a bottle of Champagne chilled on home-grown icicles (so at least the garden does yield useful crops even in this weather), accompanied by foie gras and toast. The perfect snack for a game of Yatzy! (And a nice way to celebrate the last evening in the summer house before returning to Copenhagen and New Years celebrations.)

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