Beginnings and Endings

MrK and I have successfully moved our lives to the Midlands and I have already found a job! On the Friday before we moved house I was interviewed for the Head Gardener position at a private garden. Virtually a zombie from all the moving house malarky, I managed to be late despite three backup route finding methods (always a great time to find the relevant pages are missing from a paper map!) and I’m not sure I could coherently say my own name, let alone latin plant names but somehow they liked me enough to give me the job, which is lucky because I had fallen in love with the place. It’s a historic house and the gardens are just my style with formal outlines and pretty plantings. There’s more topiary than I’m used to and there’s a sizeable veg patch which I’m very enthusiastic about. My colleagues are lovely and the place has a close-knit and friendly atmosphere.

The Parade of Hornbeams

The Parade of Hornbeams

However, as it’s a private house and garden I’m going to refrain from blogging about it. The garden closely surrounds the house and I could take very few pictures without including my employers’ house and so it would be very hard to avoid invading their privacy. So I’m hanging up my garden blogging pen. However, once I get settled in to work and the new house I do intend to polish off Libby Scribbles and try to do more blog reading and commenting than I have done lately so you’ll still find me lurking about on the internet. So ta-ta for now – I’ll see you around and about!

Japanese anenome on the terrace

Japanese anenome on the terrace

Bye bye Layer Marney *sob*

Friday was my last day at the Towers and I’m writing this on Monday with the wierdest feeling because I’m not at work and not on holiday either. Before I left I took a handful of photos of the gardens, trying to capture the sense of the place and its surroundings.

Box knot garden

The box knot and view down towards the Blackwater Estuary

I’va always enjoyed trimming the box knot – it appeals to the tidy bit of my brain. Sometime I’d like to make a knot garden from the herbs the Tudors would have used – hyssop, santolina, lavender, germander etc. There is a lovely example of this over at Cressing Temple near Chelmsford.

Long Gallery border planting

The south facing Long Gallery border

MsV and I rejigged this border about five years ago and it’ll need it again fairly soon but I’m glad to see it looking nice in the sunshine. The Hollyhocks don’t quite fit the theme of hot colours but who can turn down a volunteer hollyhock?

The lower garden

The Lower Garden with a view down to the brook

The little yews are getting along ok despite the struggles I had with them to start off with. All the borders around this lawn are ones I put in – they really improve the look of the bottom half of the garden. These days visitors spend a little longer in the garden as they go down to have a look at them, which is just what I wanted.

Verbena and Layer Marney Tower

Verbena bonariensis in front of the Tower

The loss of the Swamp Cypress has opened up views of the Tower like this one which is the silver lining to that cloud. MsV (who has replaced me) will spend a lot less time raking up needles than I have done over the years!

The top garden at Layer Marney Tower

The top garden basking in the sun

I’ll miss it like hell – I’ve really enjoyed working there. The people at the Towers are a really great bunch, the gardens are interesting, challenging and beautiful and I’ve really had the opportunity to use my own creativity to make an impact and an improvement. I came to the gardens as a trembling newbie, in over my head a bit in all honesty, but I’ve grown into the role and have brought the gardens along with me and that’s been amazing.

Now I need to get busy scouring the Nottingham/Derby area for a new challenge – somewhere I can use my experience and learn new things too. There’s always something new to learn in gardening – that’s the joy of it!

Hampton Court 2014

On Tuesday Mum and I made our annual RHS Flower show trip and 2014 is a Hampton Court year. Pimms, pretty flowers and rain were the standout features, as usual.

The conceptual gardens were based around the seven deadly sins and my favourite was Wrath – Eruption of unhealed anger:

Conceptual garden - Wrath


I also liked Pride and Lust. I always find myself prefering the conceptual gardens that are more garden and less conceptual. I don’t doubt that they can be done well but the curse of the conceptual garden is that they often feature an unpalatable combination of heavy-handed teen-poetry symbolism with gimickry and a sprinkling of pretentious wankery.

There were also turf sculpures. I love the soft green shapes of turf sculpture (though I have to silence the irritatingly practical side of my brain that insists on piping up with ‘well, that’d be a bugger to mow.’)

Turf sculpture

Turf Sculpture by Tony Smith

The ‘Your Garden, Your Budget’ gardens had us saying ‘not my budget, love.’ My previous rant on the subject is here (Got ten grand to spare on a garden?) and applies to this show too as the gardens had similar budgets.

I wouldn’t expect to like the winner from this category if I had read a description; it is pale to the point of iciness, modern looking and clean-edged. However, the designer (Alexandra Froggatt) has succeeded in creating a beautifully calm atmosphere, cool and still.

Peaceful and pale

Peaceful and pale

My favourite show garden was the Jordan’s wildlife garden which only got a silver (one of my conclusions from this show is that  I have no idea how the judges score the gardens). I wanted to walk into it. The textures of wood and straw, the turf which was mostly ‘weeds’ and the colourful beds of flowers to attract the bees and butterflies were very appealing. None of my pics of it are very good though so this will have to do:

Jordan's Wildlife Garden

Jordan’s Wildlife Garden

On the plants front – my next garden will contain this combination seen on the David Austin stand:

Roses 'Summer Song' (orange) and 'LDBraithwaite' (red)

Roses ‘Summer Song’ (orange) and ‘LDBraithwaite’ (red)

This Digitalis featured in several of the gardens and we hunted it out in the floral tent to find out what it is:

Digitalis 'Illumination Pink'

Digitalis ‘Illumination Pink’

And now that I google it I find that it was Plant of the Year at RHS Chelsea. Which goes to show how much attention I’ve been paying to the gardening media over the last few months! Oops.

A Tymperleys Update

The garden at Tymps has been growing like crazy. I’ve got a nifty little battery powered mower for it now (Bosch – can’t remember the exact model) which is pretty good. It feels a little flimsy but it’s light enough to pick up and carry with ease and cuts nicely – I’ll definitely be considering one for my own small garden next time I need to get a mower.

Herb garden at Tymperleys

The back garden at Tymps

The cotton lavender needs to be cut back hard after it’s flowered as it’s a little floppy, but otherwise I’m really happy with how it’s going. The weeds are getting into the fight back now but the soil is light enough to make hoeing easy.

Jacob's Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder

This pic of the Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium caeruleum) illustrates the colour scheme nicely. The blues and yellows make the garden seem cheerful and sunny even on an overcast day.

Geranium 'Silver Queen'

Geranium ‘Silver Queen’

I’ve planted this geranium in the shadier end of the garden and its pale blue flowers are luminous.

Tymperleys front garden

Tymperleys front garden

I haven’t done much in the front garden as the border to the left of this picture will probably disappear under flagstones. Having the tables on the grass isn’t ideal as the grass won’t appreciate quite so much traffic. The bland shrub border to the right can be given a bit of  a revamp once the paving layouts are finished.

You can see that the big lavender bushes along the front of the building seem to have survived having builders around. Phew!

If you’re in Colchester you can go and have a look – the tea room is open now (it’s also available as an events venue) and I have to say the food was lovely when my Mum and I popped in for lunch one day. I’m not just saying that, honest!

All Change Here (this line terminates at this station)

I’ve been ever so quiet for the last few months, haven’t I? The biggest reason is that I’m going to be leaving Layer Marney Tower in July. MrK and I have wanted to move to the Midlands for a long time – almost all of our friends live there and we spend so much time on the A14 and M1 that it’s ridiculous. Well, now MrK has a job in Nottingham that starts in September and we’re in the middle of selling our house and buying one up there. I’ve been keeping an eye on the national horticulture job sites and once we’re up there I’ll be showering the surrounding area with my CV in a great job hunt.

I’m planning on doing a last Tymperleys post (in fact I’ve already taken the pictures) and a farewell to Layer Marney post. After that, we’ll see. I’ll have some exploring to do of nearby gardens, plus a garden to make at the new house and so I’m actually intending to start posting more regularly again. While I’m between jobs I’m going to focus on my non-gardening writing too, to see if I can actually get something published.

So here’s looking to the future whatever it holds. I can be sure there’ll be gardening and writing but in what proportions and where, who knows?

Autumn evening sun

Roots down, leaves up.

Last Friday MsV and I planted up the garden at Tymperleys. At this stage all the plants are small and green and blobby so a picture doesn’t look very impressive:


The central beds are edged with Lavender ‘Hidcote’ and Santolina incana and contain various herbs. Some of these aren’t available from the nursery yet so there will have to be another smaller planting session in the middle of April.

In the corner beds I’ve taken my cue from the existing cardoons and echinops, so we have more of those to give height, plus yellow roses (‘Charlotte’) and hypericum and a variety of pretty perennials including Leucanthemum ‘T.E.Killen’ to provide some cheery daisies. On the wall to the right I’ve planted more yellow roses (‘Maigold’ and ‘Golden Showers’) and a blue Clematis (Perle d’Azur’) with blue Irises along the front of the bed.

Planting them up was done in a jiffy – then we had to contend with the fact that there isn’t an outside tap yet! In the end a long hose and a certain amount of bodging sufficed but it still didn’t quite reach so I hauled watering cans for the furthest plants.

A New Project

It looks like my blog mojo might be flowing again. And what has helped the sap to rise? Spring of course. That and a new project. My employers have bought the lease to Tymperleys, a historic building in Colchester that, until recently, has been a clock museum. They’re opening it as a tea room and functions venue. But who cares about that? The exciting bit is that I’ve got a new garden to play with!

The garden is a town garden and can be split into two areas. The front has a lawn surrounded by borders consisting mostly of shrubs. There are several large and lovely lavender plants along the front of the building (which isn’t pictured because… well I was more interested in the garden and forgot, nevermind – it’s largely covered by scaffolding at the moment anyway).

Tymperley's front garden

Front lawn and stylish blue door

We’ll be making this a bit more interesting in the future but it will stay largely as it is for the time being until the paving for outside dining has been finished and we know exactly what we’re dealing with.

The rear part of the garden has geometric beds, brick paths and several mature trees.


The geometric beds and trees

Those large evergreens at the back are bay trees. I was amazed at the size of them and have to admit that until I took a proper look I was just assuming they were Holm Oaks (oh the shame). The gnarly old crone on the left is a Mulberry tree with a TPO that I fear is not long for this world as there’s a lot of rotting wood right at the base.

Initial plans are for fresh planting in the geometric and corner beds and the trellises on the walls. Later on I will make better use of the shady area under the trees too. I have a colour scheme in mind for this area – I’m aiming for cheerful yellows, whites and blues (which will veer towards purple just because true blue would be a very tough restriction) to give this garden a fresh and sunny feel.

The building is medieval and so I want to give a nod to that in my planting by using a number of ancient herbs but by restricting my colour choices I hope to also give it a modern touch and prevent it from slipping into being twee.

I do love this bit – the anticipating and planning and imagining! I’ll be sure to post an update once there are green things going into the soil (which is beautiful by the way – loose and crumbly and dark, yum.)

The Storm

So, we had a storm. It wasn’t the first (or worst) storm we’ve ever experienced and it won’t be the last. But this one did bring down our big and beautiful Swamp Cypress tree.

This tree:

Swamp Cypress in autumn colour

The Swamp Cypress in a past autumnal glory

The tree that was as tall as the tower and probably two hundred years old.

Swamp cypress brought down by wind

So sad.

So FarmGuy and I began clearing it away after the wind died down. We’ve still got work to do tomorrow. And then we’ll need to remove the remaining trunk for various reasons.

FarmGuy doing the chainsaw work

FarmGuy doing the chainsaw work

I could have cried (but I didn’t because FarmGuy would have taken the piss). This is going to change the entire look and feel of the garden. I have lost a friend.

Anyway. I’m going to inflict my mediocre poetry on you now because no death should go without some form of eulogy, however poor.


Today I Dismembered You, Old Friend.

Today I dismembered you, old friend.

I took your sinewy strips of red bark
and narrow, crackling fingers
and put them on a bonfire.

I sliced your white fibrous limbs
into fat chunks for later.

It is a violation, a betrayal, a chore.
Can it be an honouring?

The incense scent of your sap
and the green grit of your lichens
are smeared across my skin.

I will miss you.


It’s oh so quiet

You may have noticed that I’ve gone a bit quiet lately. There is no crisis or anything – I just seem to be having a slump in my garden blogging mojo. Not only am I not writing this blog but I’m not reading garden blogs either.

What I am writing and reading is fiction. So I’m going to buff up my writing blog (Libby Scribbles) in the near future and have something of a haitus here.

Autumn evening sun

Best wishes to you all and I hope it’ll be no time at all until I’m back here scribbling away about soil, slugs and special plants.

Summer pruning the espallier apples

Earlier in the year I posted a ‘how-to’ on training espallier apple trees and in that post some summer training and pruning is mentioned. I’ve just done it:

Espallier apple in summer

Espallier apple in summer

What I did:

1. I tied in the new laterals to the diagonal canes. These will be lowered to horizontal this winter.

2. I cut side shoots back to a few leaves. These will be shortened further in the winter.

3. I replaced the cane frame because I still haven’t been given the wires I’ve been promised since these trees were first planted! Given each horizontal tier of branches represents a year, and the first year’s efforts were destroyed by hungry goats you can figure out how many years it has been. I can’t do it myself since it’s particularly beloved brickwork. Resigned sigh…