Rhododendrons where they belong – in 450 acres

OK, so I’ll eat some of my words….

Last weekend we went to a wedding at Gregynog Hall in Powys, Wales. We walked around the gardens and I have to say that they were very impressive  with lots of woodland, ancient oaks and beech trees and some of the acres were huge (for acers), the largest Monkey Puzzle tree I’ve seen and the rhododendrons were also wonderful – see pictures below.  

It seemed we were there at just the right time, virtually every flower out and a great selection of colours.

Of course, they have 450 acres to play with, so they have the space for a huge and impressive display and boy, did they have one.  So, congratulations to everyone for the gardens and if you’ve got 450 acres too then plant some rhododendrons (and wait for 100 years for them to spread like these have.Image

(Though I’m still not convinced if you have a small garden, tbh).



Finally: Lawn dry enough to mow, pond deeper!

We’ve had a few years of relative drought in the South-East of the UK, followed by the wettest April since records began (1910).

My heavy clay soil keeps the water and for the last few weeks (even though it hasn’t rained much), my feet have squelched through the lawn (as it would in previous years around january and February).

For that reason, it has been impossible to mow near to the pond (as the mower created tracks in the soil and could have got bogged down altogether) until this weekend.

Meanwhile, the pond keeps getting deeper as the level rises – showing how the water takes a few days or even a couple of weeks to drain into the pond itself. Here’s a photo of the pond level at the moment, you can compare it to the previous photo, showing the depth increasing over the last two months.

Pond - finally deeper

Pond – finally deeper

Planting out in the fern garden / petrified forest

My little corner fern garden is improving as the ferns grow larger each year.  The trunks of the trees are whitening with age, though like most beds, it could always do with more.

Last September I bought some leptinella Platt’s Black, you may remember that my blog entry from January showed the quick and easy way I propagated some more from the roots that simply fell off as I took them out of their pots and split them in half.  

Well, this is the photo from a couple of weeks ago and now I have planted them out between the ferns to increase the ground cover in my petrified forest.  I think the photos speak for themselves, the terms will continue to grow all summer, of course, and the fronds spread out and downwards, meanwhile if you look hard at the photo you can see the petrinella itself,

it is at ground level and some of them are already spreading, I hope over time they will create large mats of cover, matching in with the ferns.

By the way; if you are wondering where I got the trunks from, they are mainly cut branches from a few trees that had grown into interesting shapes along with a couple of trunks from the trees that were in this area of the garden when we moved in that Dave G and I chopped down around two years ago – thanks Dave,


Petrinella Platt’s Black


Petrified forest – March


Petrified Forest – May



Petrified trunks

Please welcome Bernadette

You wander around the garden centres and see a lovely pot or a great sculpture, take a look at the price tags, whistle through your teeth and wish it was half, or perhaps a quarter of the price.

Well, bargains can be had, try reclamation yards as they often have interesting bits and pieces. As many of their customers are looking for pieces for building, looking around with a gardener’s eye can get you interesting items to place in the garden at a low price – even what looks like a pile of bricks could be made into a small folly, just enough for a corner that looks like aged building can add to a flower bed that needs something different to liven it up.

And you don’t necessarily have to throw out old pots either. We had a greg pot on the patio that fell and the top was chipped, it now sites in a bed, half buried at an angle and the chip in the top goes along with its placement and looks fine to me.

So, to Bernadette. She was on eBay – I often look on eBay but the skill is not to get bidding for those items that everyone else is going for – be patient and you can grab a bargain. I saw Bernadette and sadly for the seller, no-one had bid for her – so in the last 30 seconds I put in a bid at the starting price (£30) and snapped her up. She’s over a metre high (3 feet) and though she probably won’t live in the grass forever, that’s where she is now. I took out part of the turf to be able to place a paving slab where the top is just under the height of the surrounding grass and there she sits.

One great thing about her is that she is already weathered, no doubt she was a bit bright when first bought, but now she’s older like all of us.  OK, so she’s lost a bit of an arm, well that no doubt put other people off buying her, but we’re none of us perfect.  One friend said “all she needs is a bit of a scrub up”, I’m not sure if that was meant as a joke, but “Nooooooo” – she’s better as she is, the dark patches of lichen etc all add to her beauty, emphasise her shape and show her age like an old wine bottle – “you’re paying for that dust, don’t clean it off!”  Let her mellow further and be careful not to destroy her beauty by over-zealous cleaning.

I have been asked “Why Bernadette?” – I’ve no idea really, it came to me as I drove her home – and I wasn’t listening to the Four Tops at the time, she just whispered in my ear “Call me Bernadette”, so I do.


The lesson from moving a tree

All the books say it; “think how large your tree/bush will grow before you plant it” and “remember the ultimate height of the tree as you don’t want to move it”, and, of course, “think how fast your tree will grow”, but do we???

Hands up the one perfect person that has always considered the ultimate height, the ultimate spread, the speed of growth and how it will look in five years time amongst its neighbours.  Right, so all of you without trees can put your hands down and I’ll admit I’m not perfect either, but I love trees.

I’ve got an Indian Bean Tree Catalpa bignonioides that I bought after seeing an amazing specimen near an old castle near Brussels that is now a conference centre.  It was astonishing with its huge leaves and the beans dropping down, it completely covered the ground with shade but it was pretty awe-inspiring and I WANTED ONE!

So, I bought one, even though it says the trunk can grow as much as 2M (6 feet) in a year, I thought “not in my garden, nothing grows that fast”. Well, one of the other things about the Indian Bean Tree is that as it grows, you can easily see a year’s growth as the trunk seems to change direction slightly each year – so let’s see what happened.   I think it was about three years old when I first got it and I could see that in each of those years it grew around 10-20cm (4 – 8inches) a year, so I didn’t worry it was going to outgrow anything.  So I planted it in the middle of a bed with other plants as I thought it would make a good focal point.

Well, if you look at the photo, I have put yellow and purple markings showing the end of a year’s growth and the figures are as follows:

Year four (first in the ground): It added 26cm (11inches).  I was really pleased.

Year five: Another 34cm (13inches). Ecstatic, this is going to be really impressive.

Year six: An additional 46cm (18 inches).  Yes, great, shows above everything else.  Though someone did say “do you think this is growing a bit fast?”

Year seven: It added another 110cm (more than 3′ 6″ – in a year!)

Hum… Now I love it, but it doesn’t look like a focal point any longer, it looks like a strange beast or a mobile phone aerial sticking out between a housing estate.  And if it is going to grow another metre or more each year, there’s no doubt it is going to be in the wrong place, so there’s nothing for it, but to move it somewhere else.  So, in the winter I dug around it as much as possible, but, of course, you can’t get up all the roots from a tree that is now above 2M in overall height by hand, but I got as much as possible, breaking through the others as far below-ground as I could, dug a great hole for it in its new home, put in masses of compost and food and talked to it nicely, apologised for the inconvenience and moved it hoping that I hadn’t killed it in the process.  (as a backup, I took a few cuttings – they all took, so I gave some away at the village show and kept one, so now I have two … anyway, where was I?)

So, the Indian Bean Tree is about last in the Spring to put its new leaves on and I was biting my nails (sorry Mum) wondering if I had killed it, well the good news is that no, I hadn’t.

But that was five years ago and perhaps it is sulking with me, but more likely it is still regrowing its roots, putting its efforts into replacing the parts of it I had amputated as each of the last five years its growth has never been above around 15cm, so my hope for a broad set of leaves rising to the sky has taken a knock-back and, honestly, its all my fault.  I should have thought ahead and planted it where it is now first time around.  OK, it would have looked frankly ridiculous for the first few years, but by now it would have been larger and probably happier.

Sorry tree, I promise to do better in the future.

As an aside, I knock off new growths down the trunk each year to ensure that just the three branches near the top and the leader grow, sadly the leader keeps angling itself in the same way each year, but hopefully it will right itself over time.  Today it is just putting on its buds for the year, so it has made it through another winter (unlike the arbutus / strawberry tree which sadly is looking worse), so now I just hope it will go back to growing 50cm or more each year; come on baby, reach for the skies!

Bean Tree showing yearly growth

Bean Tree showing yearly growth


Variegated ground cover – purple and white

A few folks came around the garden yesterday and pointed out these as lovely, so not much to say but to show you a picture.

They are Ajuga Reptans, and have been showing purple and white spikes all winter – a relatively slow-growing ground cover that happily fills out a little space between flagstones and spreads around.  I think it cost me something like 50p last year, and this year I’ll split it around and place it repeatedly along the side of the path and grass.  A lovely little plant, no bother, in full sun.

Ajuga Reptans

Ajuga Reptans

New Peach Tree – One for my cold garden

I love peach tree blossom, though I probably love almond blossom even more, I had an almond once, but let it die one winter – hopefully the peach will be happy, I will try harder to keep it alive.

As I am sure you know, the peach and almond are from the same family (prunus) as the cherry (also plums and apricots) – what an amazing family to belong to – lovely and pretty, produce great fruit and nuts and small enough to have one in every garden.

So, when I saw some apricots in the garden centre, I knew I had to have one.  But instead of picking the ones most in flower, I decided to choose the one that was actually the last – its got lots of buds and if it flowers later than the others, I am less likely to lose the blossoms in frost – well that’s the plan, anyway.

So, it is a dwarf peach, “Terrace Diamond” and it will live in this pot for a couple of years and in the winter I will bring it inside (either garage or unheated greenhouse) and wrap it up all nice and cosy – you never know, I might sneak it inside if it is going to be really cold.

I love trees!

Peach tree Terrace Diamond

Peach tree Terrace Diamond