Archive for March, 2011



Sempervivum means “ever-living”, and I can’t help hearing the chorus of Forever Young by Alphaville…

I’ve been a fan of this modest plant for years; my mother has them at the edge between the front terrace and the gravel of their drive, and the little plants seem to thrive int hat rather rough position.

Yesterday on my way to my mother-in-law’s for dinner I passed a supermarket to pick up some flowers for her (small yellow roses, very pretty and apparently welcome) and my eye was caught by a stand of sempervivums of different sorts and kinds. I wanted to get one of each!

I want to grow them in a pot/tray in the courtyard, though, so I limited myself to two small pots. Sempervivum Hey Hey and sempervivum Feldmaier both have that classic houseleek shape, and the former has a tendency to turn red. They will look cute together, and this is definitely a genus of plants that you have to work really hard to kill!

Looking forward to planting them out on Sunday, come rain come shine. (Forecast is sketchy and changing, so we shall see…)

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>Alistair of Aberdeen Gardening is a dangerous man! He recently mentioned Lavatera Mont Blanc in an entry, which prompted me to go online and buy enough seeds to sow several square meters of the beauty.

And as if that’s not enough, he then goes on to write an entry about the clematis viticella family! My husband has one – Ville de Lyon – on his balcony in Aberdeen, and since he loves it I couldn’t help also buying one after reading Alistair’s entry.

Clematis viticella “Ville de Lyon” on my husband’s balcony

Buying one plant, though, seems a bit silly, so I also got another clematis just because. A Jackmanii hybrid, Hagley’s hybrid, which is a mauvish shade of pink and not really all that gorgeous compared to so many of the other shades that clematis come in, but they were both cheap and I figure they will be a nice floral boost to the garden in late summer.

And this is just a gratuitous picture of one of the jackmanii clematis that we already have in the garden, taken last year towards the end of summer. You’ve GOT to love that dark, deep purple up against the white posts of the patio!

I do love clematis. They are so forgiving and will readily cover up any flaws in the garden or on the house. Give them some sun, and then just let them take care of the rest!

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>All right, the title might be lost on any non-anglophile readers…

Never the less, I have a secret. And no, I won’t post it here, because the husband DOES read what I’m up to in the garden, so suffice to say that tonight’s shopping included something he might hate and might love. (And the same sort of goes for me, really…)

Anyway, I also bought some seeds. Lavatera Mont Blac (because it was recommended by Alistair and because I generally like the malvaceae/mallow family of flowers), calendula (because the insects love them and they belong in any vegetable garden), globe thistles (because they are so very beautiful and provide interest through the winter) and then the joker; two tubers of red hot poker. No idea what to do with those, but I find them fascinating and I suspect my husband will appreciate their outlandish appearance.

Oh, but I do look forward to receiving the “surprise” part of the order. It’s two-part, with one being hopefully utilitarian and the other one a piece of pure folly. And sometimes folly is horrible, sometimes it’s wonderful. I will post more about this once the husband has seen the surprises some time in April, but until then I shall have to hold my tongue.

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>Annual suggestions?

>We will be creating a few quite large borders this year, and one of the challenges is to ensure that everything fills out nicely from this first summer, meaning that at least for this year we will be growing more than a few annuals.

Eventually I’d like to move towards a more self-reliant plant profile in the beds and borders. I don’t mind doing a bit of weeding but if we grow mainly plants that last from year to year, the garden will be less reliant on me spending time planting and sowing each spring.

Sure, some annuals are just too good not to have, and I fully expect that this season’s foray into annual sowing will leave me with a few new favourites, and that’s fine as long as the garden will still look lush and full if one year no annuals are sown.

I can already see that cosmos get great reviews and it looks like a large-impact annual that will be able to beef up the borders and provide long-lasting bloom, but what other annuals, I wonder, are easily grown outdoors from seed, provide large impact either through bloom or foliage and can manage more or less on their own from the moment the soil hits the ground?

Tough criteria to live up to, I guess, but I already have some great candidates purchased, like cosmos, malope and sweat peas.

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>On Saturday night I managed to sprain my knee, so my grand plans of digging up turf Sunday and Monday to get started on the turf wall didn’t happen at all. Instead I could enjoy the warmest day this spring so far, and the fact that the spring equinox means that daylight hours have passed the 12-hour mark and the days are now 5 hours and 18 minutes longer than in the bleak midwinter.

This is one of the crocuses that came along as a blind passenger when I got a load of perennials from my parents’ garden. I love how the light lends a rather luminous quality to the simple flower, and the contrast between the pale lilac petals and the bright orange stamens is just to striking for words.

And who does not love snowdrops? Ours are finally in full bloom, and it turns out there are a lot more of them than I thought; perhaps well over a hundred little white flowers are gracing the woodland patch, interspersed with brown leaves and the odd aconite. Classic spring beauty!

What else did I do? Very little, as my knee objects to any kind of bending. I did, though take stock of the seeds and bulbs and tubers and corms and plants that will go in the Ambitious Border once it has been created, and I really think we have a great chance of making a nice mixed border. Also, on my way up there I stopped by a shop and bought some more seeds and bulbs.

We must have cosmos, of course; we want to create a full, lush garden from this summer, so a tall summer annual like that it clearly a must-have. And then they had 60 mixed iris bulbs at a ridiculously low price, so even if they don’t all shoot it will still be a good buy. And some lily bulbs for the pots in the courtyard. And some glads that I feel utterly ambivalent about, but they will give tall flowers so they went in the shopping basket, too. And then a bit more of this and that…

 The alium bulbs that I set in pots two weeks ago have started shooting nicely, and as there are 50 of them I think they will look striking once they get out in the beds.

And I couldn’t help take a picture of these shoots from the arum italicum; I love that colour, but they do look a bit like an alien is sticking its tentacles up through the ground in an alarming manner.

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>I keep pondering and googling methods for building turf walls. It really is extraordinarily fascinating once you start reading up on the various techniques and styles, and I have to constantly remind myself that I will NOT be building a farmhouse; merely a 15-foot retaining wall for a raised shrubbery.

It seems so tempting to try making patterns and structure in the wall, but a) the wall will not be seen, as the only surface of it will be towards the road, hidden behind a low row of hawthorn and b) the simplest and most durable way to build such a small wall will just be to cut long strips of sod and stack them in staggered courses, using wooden stakes to anchor it into the ground and bamboo sticks to interlink the courses. I might also add some horizontal bamboo sticks between courses to give the wall – or should that be a “wall-ette”? – greater initial rigidity.

I’ll be cutting strips like this by making parallel cuts (with a spade… No fancy high-tech gear for this job!) into the lawn with 10 inches (or however wide the blade of our spade is) between them and then undercutting them about 2 inches down. Ideally I want to create long strips so the turf will bring its own integrity to the wall, but as long as each strip is minimum 20 inches long I’m pretty sure I will get a good building material. (And shorter strips are not so heavy…) The shorter strips would require more bamboo pegs, but I think I should be able to produce a straight, vertical wall all the same as the wall will only be about 16 inches high, i.e. 8-10 courses.

For lateral strength – I’m really putting a lot of thought into this tiny wallette – I’ll let the ends of the wall bend and twist a bit, and for the central part of the longest stretch I’ll be adding a “buttress” that will be covered by the top soil. The front of the raised shrubbery will slope down towards the lawn and end in a herbaceous border of sorts around the young plum tree.

Layering the turf will be as simple as anything, so the challenge is in the cutting; creating strips of uniform thickness that will behave like flat building blocks that can be stacked without leaning to one side or the other. The turf needs to be able to hold itself, and stakes and pegs are only a temporary measure to help me keep the wall straight as it sets and partially dries out.

I confess: I’m a geek! I can geek out over Excel macros or sexual conventions in the Tudor age, so why not geek out over a turf wall? I love the history of using an ancient technique, I love the sustainability and I love the unobtrusive look it will hopefully result in. (And I also love that it’s not only cheap, but free!) Also, I do love how much pleasure I’m getting just from plotting and planning this; that alone makes it a project worth undertaking, regardless of the result!

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>Image dump

>After my last trip to the summer house a week and a half ago I forgot one of the entries I wanted to post, so this will be a hurried edition of it.

The asters are shooting:

The aconites are now in bloom

The crocus among the goldenrods are definitely showing signs that they want to do something, but they weren’t quite there. Maybe the coming weekend they will have more to show for their efforts:

The snowdrops were looking very pretty though they, too, were not quite in bloom yet:

I guess the plant that is growing best in the garden right now seems to be the moss in the lawn, Lush, verdant and quite, quite pretty. Not welcome, at least not in the lawn, but it IS pretty.

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>Today was a gray, wet day, with intermittent showers of rain and sleet. Really; this didn’t feel like spring, but rather like autumn.

After work, though, I’d arranged to meet a friend for a few beers at a traditional Copenhagen basement bar, but as I had an hour to kill I decided to walk there slowly. Well… Oops…

Yes, I bought 3 more pots of muscari bulbs. They were dirt cheap, though; less than 4 US$ for the three pots packed with bulbs, and I must confess I was slightly inspired by the fact that some other garden blogger (I forget who) wrote in the not-so-distant past about how muscari bulbs had been one of her first and best garden purchases, and I really loved that sense of sheer envy she made me feel. Also, I’ve always loved muscaris; their look, their scent, their subtleness.

Also, after buying the 3 pots of muscaris I ended up accidentally buying two pairs of shoes, but that is of no importance.

Also-also, I had a lovely couple of hours with my friend and she’s agreed to help me with the curtains for the summer house if I help her mend her sewing machine, so it was a perfect after-work session.

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>À mon seul désir



As far as art depicting the garden goes, the La Dame à la licorne tapestry series is truly outstanding, I think. I last saw the tapestries a couple of years ago, and they still remain ingrained on my retina.

However, I did not mean to write about art; this entry is a follow-up on yesterday’s entry when I confessed to a desire to create a turf wall as a retaining wall towards the road to create a raised slope for the hedgerow that will replace the Ugly Fence. I did some googling (okay, a LOT of googling) on turf walls and found loads of sites that describe how to build a viking longhouse from scratch, but very few (okay, none) that describe this technique for garden use. Still, if it will hold a house, perhaps it will also hold a raised hedgerow, right?

That search, though, lead me to some unintended sites as well; sites describing the turf benches of medieval gardens, hence the inspiration for the entry title and the first illustration. (I know, there is no turf bench in that picture, but I love it and the mille fleur motif backdrop is a clear parallel to the flowering turf benches in garden depictions of the time. (See this link for more details.)

A turf bench? It could be done… Some of the medieval turf benches were just that; a simple bench. Some, though, had trellises in lieu of back rests, with climbers growing up the back and at times even over a canopy. I’m not in any way imagining to do a full-scale setting for a Madonna portrait, but rather something much simpler and – perhaps – contemporary. 

Perhaps circular turf bench with a central circular bed for some specimen plant or other? Perhaps just a simple rectangular bench in front of the rhododendron to have a quiet tête-à-tête at a slight distance from the patio? Perhaps an organically shaped mound along these lines?

Anyway, this is all just “extravagant” dreams. They would cost nothing to create, but the question is whether there will be time and energy for any of them after all the other projects this spring… The raw materials are simple to source; the Ambitious Border doesn’t HAVE to have the turf skimmed off, but it wouldn’t hurt to do that before the excess soil from the drainage project is heaped there, and that should give enough for the retaining wall as well as whatever else I imagine (and can get past the sanity check involved in talking one’s better half into something). 

It probably won’t happen this year. At least it’s very unlikely. But perhaps next year, or the year after that when we’re establishing more beds – perhaps.

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>This is what the garden looked like when the snow disappeared in January. Down by the white birches you see the Ugly Fence; brown, ramshackle and really not very attractive, but on the other hand providing a great coverage from the road outside.

And this is what it looked like when I arrived up there a fortnight ago, one week after perhaps the most severe storm this winter:

The fence posts at either side of the fallen section had come completely loose as well, rocking back and forth in their expanded holes, and the section itself had been twisted enough for the frame to crack in two places. It could be fixed, but I’d probably rather do it with another set of hands, so I removed the section entirely.

Then when I came up there Friday, this is what I saw. You see one section leaning at a perilous angle, another propping itself up against a birch tree and the third has opened up like a large gate, ajar into the garden.

The picture below shows the status quo. Only the two end sections of the fence remains, their posts still standing firmly in the frozen ground, and they will go, too. The posts may or may not be left there as the bases of two trellises on either side of what will become our hedgerow.

You can see the road in the photo above, only sheltered by a low row of thorny bushes. Clearly we need more, much more, to guarantee our privacy. Below is one of the tricks in my bag; poplar shoots that have been allowed to grow in a part of the lawn since June.

In that short time they’ve reached just about one meter in height, proving that poplars are indeed fast-growing trees. There is a total of 20 of these small poplar shoots, and they will form the back-bone of the hedgerow. They will grow tall enough within a reasonable time frame, and though they are quite transparent they will be beefed up by climbers like sweet peas and maybe even hops. (The poplar is one of the few plants whose vigorous growth would probably be able to keep it from being strangled by the hop.)

To get a head start on the height we plan to use some of the surplus soil from the drainage digging in the lawn to create a “rampart”; a raised bed for the hedgerow so it can get perhaps an additional 30-40 centimeters before even growing a new leaf. And… This is something I’m really excited about; we obviously want to have the planting higher towards the road, slowly decreasing towards the garden and merging into a bed of tall perennials, so I’m thinking I might cut loose some of the grass from the lawn where we want to make beds and use this turf to build a retaining wall towards the road but on the inside of the thorny bushes.

Cutting the turf one spade wide and 4-5cm deep should give me a sturdy building material for the wall, enforced by stakes that bind the layers together and anchors them into the ground. By the time these stakes have rotted away, hopefully the turf will have settled and formed a solid wall that will have no trouble in holding back the soil, especially as we’re not talking about a very high retaining wall.

Also, turf walls? People built houses out of turf walls, and part of Hadrian’s wall was built from turf. I love this. I love the idea of trying my hand at a building method that has been used for thousands of years. Even at this early stage of planning/dreaming I feel a sort of connection, not dissimilar to what I feel when I start a fire to keep warm or when I pile stones on top of each other on a fell-top to say – in an old-school language – The Flâneur was here.

God, I love dreaming! Especially when the dreams are simple and obtainable, like building a turf wall.

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