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Garden Newsletter: May

The weed explosion has started- you’ve only got to look at your own gardens to realise this. Go away for a week and your garden becomes unrecognisable! Certainly the Wakes garden has been transformed, up to now in a pretty good way, but increasingly in a bad way because of the growth of unwanted plants, or at least, plants growing in the wrong place! This is employing the usual definition of a weed and understanding that many of these wild plants are fine as long as they are in an appropriate place like a designated spot in the pond garden or in the paddocks or park. Not in the six quarters, beds near the house, vegetable garden or cutting plots!

And how does the garden grow? Rapidly, exuberantly, wildly, very quickly, out of control, are a few words that immediately come to mind! The Dining Room Shrubbery is a mass of Rose Bay Willow-Herb shoots, but there are two good groups of cowslips in flower, and some Martagons budding for bloom. The campanulas are growing very quickly and the sweet rocket is in bud. The single flowered sweet rocket (which has a gentle, pleasant smell, especially in the evening) tends to be regarded by many as a weed- it’s certainly a naturalised plant of

‘waste places, banks, grassland, hedges and verges’

to quote one wild flower book. The Flora of Hampshire refers to Gilbert White’s mention of it in his Flora Selborniensis (25th May, 1766) as a first record for Hampshire of the plant growing wild: but as his Flora contains many garden plants I don’t think this is necessarily true: it doesn’t seem to have been recognised as such by Philip miller in his Gardeners Dictionary, where he merely mentions that it

‘grows wild in Italy.’

Its naturalization may have occurred rather later, although Aiton in Hortus Kewensis (1814) regarded it as native. Harvey gives its date of introduction as 1300. Whatever its status then and now, it makes a very good garden plant with us, and flowers in May and June, being a very valuable border plant for us to brighten up the late Spring/early summer borders. The double form used to be highly prized rather than the single form, but Miller regarded this as belonging to a separate species. Today a double white and purple form are available, but it is expensive and doesn’t seem to persist. Many regard the single form as biennial, but with us it is a short lived perennial. If cut hard back after flowering it will flower again (with any luck!) later in the year. A double white form called ‘Ambleside’ was planted in the basons the other year- hopefully it will survive- out of flower it looks a little like the common weed nipplewort and in the past it has been weeded out in error!

To return to the garden, the Catmint by the house is now rather too big for cuttings, but it certainly growing well! The yellow corydalis is in full flower near the old back door, a dainty plant with a very long flowering season that is a favourite of mine. Nearby, the Ranunculus which Sarah planted have come up extremely well and we look forward to a gaudy display in a few weeks. Gilbert white planted them in his bulb border in October, but I find we get better results with this ‘Asiatic buttercup’ if we planted in early spring: but a frost beckons this weekend so we will have to make sure we give protection with straw or hay. Under the Banksian rose, a little further along, Honesty is in full flower: our sort is often remarked upon as being a darker purple than many: it makes a bright display at this time of the year. There are also hollyhocks growing here, about 2ft tall at the moment. Under Bell’s library windows the Dragons (Dracunculus vulgaris) are now about three feet tall and preparing for flower: their spotted stems, variegated or striped leaves and their unpleasant smelling deep red and black flowers are certainly dramatic: as an experiment I have bought in and potted on ten tubers, although only eight survived: most of these seem to have sold, one to the Queens Hotel opposite, where I saw it perched on the bar. It might not stay there once the flowers, which smell of rotting meat, open! A clump of this plant was found behind the queens many years ago- perhaps descendents of the original clump (you know how plants can get passed around a village!) which Gilbert white recorded as growing in the vicarage garden back in his Grandfathers time. The deep red wallflowers under the second Banksian rose are now almost bushes, and flowering well: the yellow Banksian roses are just opening their flowers. A lot of weeding work has been done in these high profile borders: thanks to all of you who helped!

In the pond garden the new special cornfield mixture, and a meadow mixture for loamy soils with added specific annuals & perennials (those mentioned by Gilbert White), sown last month, has germinated well- at least certain species have, we shall see as time progresses how well the full range of species perform. I’m hoping for a mass of red poppies, blue cornflowers, purple corn cockle, white corn chamomile & yellow corn marigold which will then die back (act as a nurse crop for) a meadow mixture of perennials and grasses: but more as the plants progress!

The laburnums are starting to shoot in the new arch, although they seem rather slow. Bluebells are colourful, as are primroses amongst the cow parsley. The greenish yellow flowers of Alexanders (Symrnium olusatrum) catch the eye at the base of the upper yew hedge. The pond has now a pretty clear central area: sadly the concrete now shows at the edges but hopefully it won’t take long for this to silt over. The clearance is a very great improvement, we now have some good open water. We also have a third dipping platform for children (& adults!) to explore the pond life.

The orchard walk has luxuriant growth of most things: the honeysuckle leaves are turning from purple to green, and the yellow scorpionsenna flowers persist. The newly planted spruce fir quincunx is growing well- at least four of the five are good, the fifth, nearest the house, is more questionable- but we shall see. In the kitchen garden we have sown lettuce, endive and carrot, which have all germinated, and planted new crowns of asparagus exactly according to the instructions given in Millers Garden Dictionary- a double dug and manured trench with crowns stood against one side of it- topped with a sowing of onions!

Growth has exploded everywhere, so we desperately need your help this month- otherwise we will be heading into crisis! So see you all this month.

So here is this month’s selection of the hundreds of jobs to be done in the garden  

  • Tackle Dining Room Shrubbery weeds!!
  • Grass edging throughout!
  • Weed wall border in six quarters
  • Clear annual garden of bulbs
  • Remove ivy from wall on corner by house/six quarters
  • Continue to collect/ process and packet seeds
  • Continue Hoeing & Weeding veg garden
  • Bindweed patrol throughout six quarters
  • Couch grass patrol in six quarters
  • Weed out burdock in pond garden
  • Plant new shrubs in Dining Room Shrubbery
  • Weed & protect Ranunculus by house with straw
  • Remove brambles under yew tree
  • Continue to re-organise Compost heaps
  • Weed pits in Orchard walk
  • Continue to make illustrated labels for plant stand
  • Purchase new gate to replace broken one of six field gates
  • Continue planting/design work in pond garden
  • Make next hot bed
  • Continue to clear cutting beds & plant marigolds, etc
  • Pricking out plants for sale!
  • Plant new herb garden arch
  • Train new laburnums as they grow…

And much, much more!