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Archive for May, 2012


I didn’t mean to. I swear!

I was visiting my parents from Saturday to Monday this Whitsun weekend, and on Sunday a guy from down the road stopped by for a cold beer in the sun and to offer my Mum to get some shrubs from an area of his garden that he needs to clear.

I went over there with my Mum to see what she might find room for, and she will be getting my younger brother to dig her up some rather large, white spirea shrubs (he’s a contractor and has the heavy machinery to dig up large shrubs…), and of course I couldn’t help falling in love with this:

– So I borrowed a spade and a garden fork and began digging up saplings! I got 5-6 good saplings (1-2ft high) which where then stored in a bucked of water before I put them in a plastic carrier bag this afternoon and brought them as hand luggage on the coach across the country.

I think they will end up in The Hedgerow, but I might change my mind. I think I will keep them in a holding pattern until I can get the Flâneur Husband’s input on the matter when he moved back to Denmark – permanently – on Friday.

My Mum also promised she’d get my brother to dig up a medium-sized spirea for me and plant it temporarily until she comes to visit by car later this summer, as and when my Dad’s illness will allow it. She’s now on care leave from her job so she can be there for him to the end, and to be quite frank there isn’t much reason to hope – or fear? – that it will last too much longer. We all know what’s coming, and that it will come sooner, rather than later. When it does happen, I think it will be good to drag my Mum away from the house for a long weekend shortly after the funeral, just to mark that it’s not the end of anything, really; it’s just a fact of Life, and Life goes on.

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Anyway, the aquatic plants were delivered to my office on Friday, so I stopped by on Saturday and picked them up on my way home from the garden and before going to my parents’. The water lily and the frogbits are currently licing in a bucket in the bathroom and doing much better – I’m so glad I didn’t wait until tomorrow to bring them home, since the water lily in particular was in a bit of a state after the trip with the postal service. The frogbit had fared better, as it is a floating plant and just got a bit entangled with itself, but the water lily is planted in aquatic clay, and the clay had sort of squashed the plant and needed some rearranging before I could see the actual plant properly.

Left in the bucket for a few days, though, it seems to have gotten back on its feet quite nicely, and it’s now looking quite cheerful, three leaves floating on the surface amongst the smaller frogbit leaves.

I think the plants are happy to be in my care. At least, I hope so. And I hope they will enjoy their new home once they see it.

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It’s so tempting to just post a pretty picture of blooming rhododendrons or bearded iris, but instead I bring you a small discourse on that fabled thing whose existence I sometimes doubt: A fine tilth.

I’ve heard rumours about it, of course, and seen it on gardening TV shows, though I’m sure it’s all done with mirrors, or possibly computer animation. For all I know, there IS no such thing as “a fine tilth”.

When I put my spade in the ground, this is what I contend with:

A 10″ layer of dense, compacted soil that will NEVER become “a fine tilth” – or even a mediocre tilth…And then comes the pure clay.

Now, don’t get me wrong; when I don’t have to dig holes in it I really appreciate my soil; even the top soil is packed with clay particles, so it has excellent water retention properties and I will never ever have to water a flower bed or a vegetable garden! (But god, it’s heavy stuff to shift around…)

Then comes another layer – perhaps another 10″ – of pure clay mixed with sediments from when this area was seabed, though in some areas these two layers are separated by an inch of sand. That’s the only real issue I have with my soil; it prevents rain water from seeping into the ground, so the top soil gets rather soggy after heavy rain. However, the drain we had installed last year more or less takes care of this, so at the end of the day I suspect I couldn’t ask for a better place for my plants.

They will never dry out and wilt, and the soil feels rich and nutritious, so I’m quite sure there is also very little risk of them going “hungry”.

The two pictures above are the Rhododendrons that used to grow on the Flâneur Husband’s deck in Aberdeen and that I carried home in a sports bag as checked-in luggage on the flight… I’m amazed how well they came through that ordeal, and they seem to be really happy in their new country.

This is a rhododendron that was in the garden when we bought the summer house, but it’s putting on the best display I’ve seen from it so far, and I’m completely in love with it. The buds have a striking blue colour, though the flowers turn out much more purple – which is also pretty!

And here’s a shot from the day after:

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Okay, so water in the garden is great. Or will be, I’m sure. But small – 2½ft x 1½ft – tubs of water in direct sunshine is a potential for disaster, or so the internet tells me, so in order for The Puddles not to turn into the prime algae breeding ground of the local neighbourhood I took a drastic step and ordered some plants… I know; that’s SO unlike me, right?

Initially I wanted some yellow floating-heart (nymphoides peltata), since the leaves of this aquatic is supposedly the source of the 9 hearts in the national Danish coat of arms. However, the nursery I really wanted to buy from – great reputation for quality AND service – was out of this plant so instead I went for this:

Frogbit – hydrocharis morsus ranea

In many ways I think this is a better choice. It does have a rather vigorous growth habit, but in the small puddles it will be easy to manage. Like the yellow floating-heart it’s a floating plant, fully hardy and native to Denmark, but I think it’s perhaps safer to go for a white flower than a yellow, since white goes with anything. And of course the floating foliage is just as pretty – VERY important!

Nymphaea ‘Perrys Baby Red’

I also ordered a nymphaea ‘Walter Pagels’ (a dwarf variety), mainly because of it’s hardiness credentials but also because water lilies are just gorgeous. The ‘Walter Pagels’ is a lovely pale cream – bordering on white – but for this reason I guess I’m happy that the nursery e-mailed me yesterday to say that it had gone out of stock and they would not be able to deliver it for at least 3 weeks. However, when I wrote them to ask them to either come up with suggestions for substitutes of similar growth habits or to just add one more frogbit they came back with several options.

I went for the ‘Perrys baby red’ water lily. In the dug-down tubs of The Puddles it should be fully hardy unless we have a really severe winter, and if I make a lid for its puddle for the coldest months I can be completely sure it can overwinter outside.

So there will be one puddle with a red water lily and two puddles with white frogbits. I’m thinking the red water lily needs to be the furthest from the ‘rhapsody in blue’ roses that will stand between The Puddles and the rest of The Ambitious Border so it can shine on its own, surrounded only by green foliage and subtle white flower umbels.

I want the puddles to be wildlife friendly, of course, and the aquatics are clearly bound to help. However, I also want them to be vignettes of the rivers and lakes I’ve passed through many holidays in kayak; there’s something very elegant about slicing through a patch of blooming water lilies in a racing kayak.

Nuphar lutea

Nuphar lutea

(Mind you, I haven’t bought that one, since it needs far deeper waters than The Puddles can provide…)

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So I spent the weekend digging – again… Seems like it’s becoming one of my regular activities in the garden, carving away at the lawn inch by inch to make room for more plants.

This weekend I was hoping to complete The Puddles – the new name for the miniature pond – and surroundings, but a sore back and too much sun – I got slightly red on Friday, so on Saturday and Sunday I tried to stay out of the sun as much as possible, digging in short intervals with long breaks in the shade, and of course covered in SPF 30.

Anyway, I didn’t finish it this weekend, but I did manage to clear a 3 x 4 meter stretch of lawn and dig out most of the puddle holes. It will just be a couple of 90-litre plastic tubs, so not the biggest holes in the world, but with heavy soil on top and pure clay further down it’s plenty big for one person to dig on his own and maintain momentum. I’ve sited them at the end of the Ambitious Border (or what will BE the end of it; right now there’s still a stretch of grass between the part that’s been completed and planted and the site of The Puddles, but over the summer it will be joined together, I promise.) so they will be visible from the covered terrace and from the hammock.

So I could show you pictures of bare soil with holes in it, but instead I thought I’d show you what I’ll stick around The Puddles:

Astrantia major

There’s an white astrantia major from the Flâneur Husband’s grandparents’ allotment sitting in the lawn in front of the large rhododendrons, and you sort of have to know it’s an inherited and treasured plant in order to notice it at all, so it will be relocated to the pond area to become more prominent. It’s one of those perennials that will stand up for almost anything, so apart from the nostalgic origins of the plant it’s also a favourite because it is so low-maintenance.

Hosta

And of course it doesn’t get much more low-maintenance than hostas. These are from my mother’s garden and have overwintered in a bucket in the courtyard (now that’s hardy!). This clump will be divided into three or four smaller sections so they can cover a larger area, and of course they’ll spread out and just do their thing. I think the lushness of the hosta leaves will fit in nicely with a spot of water, and they will also provide a nice cover for small wildlife – hopefully not just slugs!

Asters

The site of the sand box that was removed from the garden when we bought it has functioned as a “holding pen” ever since, and I must say it’s rather over-crowded – and also somewhat unmotivated, sitting in the middle of the lawn and looking a bit out-of place. It holds a clump of very pretty purple asters from my mother’s garden that can go at the back of the Puddles up against the hedge to the neighbour.

Iris

The “holding pen” also contains two types of iris. A large purple bearded iris (or rather lots of separate rhizomes) that was salvaged from the re-vamping of the area around my old block of apartments, and some slightly smaller iris that I haven’t seen in bloom yet as they were transplanted from the Flâneur Husband’s grandparents’ allotment last summer.

I also have some tiny iris sibirica that I have grown from seeds in small pots, and they really need to move out into the garden and get some more space very soon, having lived in 4″ pots since they were sown last spring.

I’ll dot the irises around The Puddles in clusters, and I think it’s possibly a safe bet to say that iris and water will look great together.

Unknown lawn weed

This is a plant that grows in a very clearly defined area of the lawn, leading me to suspect it might be the remnants of a flower bed that had been left to become infested with grass over many years. (Like so many other beds in the garden.) I love the foliage – which grows 1½ foot high – and later in summer it will have umbels of small white flowers up to 2-3 foot high.

Obviously I won’t mow the area where these are clustered, but I’ve also lifted some and stored in a bucket in the courtyard to be planted around The Puddles; I have no idea what this plant is, but it’s hardy and pretty, and that warrants a space in my garden any day!

Perennial Sweet Pea

The picture above are the perennial sweet peas at the back of The Sunny Border, but we also have them growing in various places at the edges of the lawn, so I will move at least one plant to the back of The Puddles. Just in front of the hedge is a small beech tree that is bare up to the top of the hedge (but has healthy foliage above that, perhaps because it gets more sun up there), and it will provide a good enough natural climbing post for the sweet peas to add some height and flowers to the area.

 

So there… I think I will be able to fill out the area nicely from the beginning, and if I do end up with a blank spot or two I have several other contenders that can be brought in, though I think the above is really about as many different types of plants as I need to make the area diverse and interesting, but not messy and confused-looking.

I’m going up to the garden again next weekend for a quick visit (before travelling on to Jutland to visit my parents) and I hope that will allow me to get The Puddles in place, and maybe at least some of the planting.

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Well, on a smaller – MUCH smaller – scale…

The Flâneur Husband asked me for a wish list for the garden when he was here last weekend, and of course the wish list included a new spade (the old one is coming apart at the rivets), a new hoe (I don’t know the English name for this type of hoe, but we only have on kind of hoe at present and that’s clearly not enough), a compost grinder (taking branches up to 40mm), some other tid-bits and this:

Why, yes! It’s a black plastic tub! It’s about a foot deep, 1½ft wide and 2½ft long! In other words it’s a miniature pond in the making… One end will need to be filled up with stones and tiles so animals that fall into it will have a place to crawl out out the water, of course, and I’m hoping that if I dig the hole deep enough I can have the soil sloping down to the tub’s edge, making it more easily disguise-able by plants.

I’m as thrilled as, well… As a gardener with a black plastic tub! Time will tell whether I manage to turn this into a miniature pond or whether it will turn into a slimy green bog of algae, but I feel confident that if I start with a visit to the local aquarium shop and get some oxygenating plants going from the start, the problems can be kept at a minimum.

It will go somewhere in the corner down by the hedgerow where it can be seen from the house but also gets some shade and provides easy escape routes for animals. After all, animals are the main reason I want a small miniature pond/puddle; I especially hope that over time it will increase the number of frogs and toads in our garden, but of course the birds will be welcome as well.

I’m terribly excited about this. project, but of course – inevitably – it involves more digging…  So I need to site the mini pond far enough from the trees that at least I won’t have to get tangled up in tree roots, and also it needs to somehow fit into the overall scheme for the Ambitious Border, since it will be at the very end of the stretch of the border that has not yet been created.

I also have 5 Blue Rhapsody roses that are in a “holding pen” in the courtyard and need to be moved out into the garden, so it’s a good thing I have a long weekend coming; Ascension Day (Thursday) is a day off here in Denmark, and financial institutions (such as the place I go to when I take time off gardening, i.e. my job) are also closed on Friday. Good thing the forecast looks promising! (Degrees in Celsius)

Weather forecast 16-21 May

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Sometimes it seems like I get nothing done in the garden and it’s all pretty much as when we bought the summer house two years ago, so I think it’s sometimes important to go back and see what has happened:

We got the drainage installed in 2011 after a late summer in 2010 that saw the above scenario repeated again and again. A drain pipe was dug down in a large circle around the house, two strings that converged in a shallow cleaning well near where this picture was taken and in a deeper pumping well at the back of the house.

The pump, though, has proven more or less unnecessary; the mere fact of the digging having pierced the thick layer of pure clay that lies 8″ under the soil level seems to have made it possible for the water to soak into the ground without us needing to pump it into the small stream at the back of the house.

The Ambitious Border is still very much a work in progress; I nearly finished weeding it this weekend, though I took a break on Sunday because my back was aching, my shoulders were sore and I was generally tired. Still, it is now possible to see the perennials that I planted over the past two years, and there is the promise that they will fill out the border and turn it into the lushness of the dreams I harbour…

Still, it so far houses plants from my parents’ garden, the Flâneur Husband’s grandparents’ allotment, my grandparents’ garden as well as plants from the courtyard by my old apartment. It’s not really meant to be a “heritage border”, but these recycled plants are just so lovely as well as being proven performers in the Danish climate.


Apart from The Ambitious Border, the Sunny Border (newly carved from the lawn) is perhaps the most ambitious bed in the garden; whereas The Ambitious Border was sort of just thrown together more or less on top of the lawn, the Sunny Border is dug down into the lawn, the soil fluffed and mixed with compost to create perhaps the best soil in the garden so far.

The main part of it is dedicated to dahlias this year, though of course that might change next year, but the bed is marked at either end by perennials; Japanese anemone (or is it Chinese? I can never remember… I actually have an easier time remembering that it’s anemone hypehensis!) at one end, and blood iris (oddly enough also known as Japanese iris… I sense an accidental Asian theme!) backed by red L.D. Braithwaite roses. The honeysuckle, perennial sweet peas and a single clematis bring up the rear of the border.

The Sunny Border is on the South-Western side of the covered terrace, and on the North-Western side is the Evening Border, which is a narrow border that had been so unattended that it ended up looking like part of the lawn. I noticed some struggling perennials along the terrace and did some exploratory digging which revealed an edging of concrete paving stones an inch under the lawn, so the bed has been restored and – unfortunately – planted with rudbeckia and alium, both of which need much more sunshine than they get in this shaded border.

It might be a good spot to stick the hostas from my parents’ old garden; they will get lots of light but very little direct sunshine.

The vegetable garden is currently just two narrow raised beds made from the planks that formed the frame around a delivery of firewood, but I rather like that rustic look. Last year I had beans and peas, and I plan to grow the same crops this year, though with the addition of 2-4 inches of compost to the soil so it will be rich enough to sustain the same crop for another year. Mind you, this year I will sow the pulses in rows near the edges of the beds and then a row of brassicas in the middle, so at I’m trying not to wear out the soil.

There’s also a concrete circle which is used for rhubarb and horseradish; I might move the rhubarb up on the bank by the small stream to give the horseradish more space, and I think the rhubarb crowns could benefit from getting more space.

There’s also the area that used to be a large, flat-ish yew, but it was so ugly that I cut away half of it, though perhaps some “cloud pruning” might have been a better option. Mind you, it gave room for the three rhododendrons that the Flâneur Husband had on his deck in Aberdeen and which I brought home in a suitcase on a plane. They survived with not even a broken twig!

And of course I – WE – have shared the garden with other people. The above picture is from last year at pentecoste when my parents and my grandmother visited me in the summer house. My dad mowed the entire lawn and together we sawed loads of firewood. It is perhaps the last time my dad ever did anything practical for me; he really enjoyed being useful, and I hate to think about how he feels these days when his cancer has returned and reached the point of no return. He will never see our garden again, because he’s simply too tired to take the three-hour trip across the country to visit us here.

My mother is hoping to make it over some time in late May or June, just so she can get away from being the dutiful wife and nurse. She loves gardens and plants, and she seems thrilled that I share that passion with her and her mother. The mere concept of loving plants and gardens seems to be almost an heirloom, passed down through generations.

Also, my mother doesn’t have a great theoretical knowledge of plants and soil types, but she has a very basic – almost gung-ho – knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. “These plants prefer this, but they will be just fine here anyway” and so on. And she’s a mean weeder!

Anyway, this post has gone on for long enough. For one thing I’ve got other things to get done, so must run off, and also this post has fulfilled its purpose of making me feel that I have done at least somethingin the garden over the past two years.

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No, I’m not branching out into religious garden ornaments.

A plant that thrills me is the one above, Angelica Archangelica or kvan as it has been called in Scandinavia and the North-Atlantic islands for over a thousand years. I sowed some seeds in pots in the courtyard last spring and this year I decided they deserved to be released into the wild, so they have been transplanted to the bank by the stream where they will blend in nicely with the rather wild area of grasses, reeds, irises and a single rhubarb that was relocated there when I needed to make room for the horse radish in the cement circle that still houses another two rhubarb crowns.

I first saw kvan in Nuuk, Greenland, where it grows in the wild as well as in the few gardens that exist in the old colonial part of the town. It is a beautifully light and airy plant, growing up to 2 meters here in Denmark, though in Greenland it only reached half that height due to the much shorter growing season and of course the shallow layer of soil on top of the bedrock. And it’s tasty as anything; at one of the top restaurants in Nuuk I had it served as a compote with some local reindeer venison (as part of a rather extravagant 10-course dinner made primarily from locally grown/raised/caught ingredients…) so I really hope for some nice big plants so I can enjoy both the flowers and the flavour!

(I imagine a kvan and rhubarb jam would be rather nice with a home-baked roll and a cuppa! Or perhaps the candied orange peal in my grandmother’s Christmas cookie recipe could be replaced with candied angelica? Oh, the options!)

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