What’s new for gardeners- what I’ve spotted at Glee

I am always on the look out for the latest gadget to make life easier in the garden. So I was really pleased to be invited to the garden industry event called Glee. Sadly there’s no singing and dancing – like the American tv show my daughters love to watch. Honestly, I didn’t think there would be….but I was hoping! Instead, there’s an array of new products you’ll get to see in garden centres, high street stores and supermarkets over the next 12 months.

Here’s what caught my eye at the sneak preview -held at the NEC in Birmingham this week.

Top of my list at Number 1 is a new nematode product from Neudorff. It controls chafer grubs, leatherjackets and vine weevils- but doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge. Neudorff is the first company to develop a nematode product that has a long shelf life- up to six months. This will make life so much easier. Currently, we have to order on line, or buy a voucher in a shop or garden centre, then wait for the nematodes to arrive in the post. Nematodes normally have to be stored in the fridge and used within a few weeks. I had an expensive failure when they were delivered by mistake to a neighbour, who was on holiday. By the time they arrived home, the nematodes were dead. Nematodes are a safe, natural biological control of pests and we are all trying to use them in preference to chemicals. Neudorff won the award for the best new garden care product at Glee.

No. 2 on my top list is this self-watering fruit and vegetable tower. I’m always on the look out for space-saving ideas, and this would be great for people with small gardens or patios. I’m going to grow strawberries, herbs and salads in mine. There’s a new compact blackberry that I might grow in there, called Little Black Prince, from the Lubera breeding programme. The self-watering tower was a runner up in the growing accessories awards category.

No. 3 on my list: Also from Haxnicks is this water saucer with a wick. You stand your container on top, feed the wick through the bottom of the pot – and off you go on holiday. No coming home to dead or wilting plants. Such a simple idea – and it works.

No. 4 on my list is this cream plastic container from elho. It has a see-through lid which makes it great for starting off seedlings in the spring. But the selling point for me is the integral hooks. The container will balance on a fence, or balcony rail. I’m going to use these at a school where they will brighten up a playground fence. The Green Basics Growhouse Flowerbridge won first place in the growing accessories category at Glee.

No. 5 on my list is this new weeding tool from Burgon and Ball. I never use chemicals on my lawn, and I don’t mind the primroses and self heal that flourish there. But I need to keep an eye on dandelions and thistles. So I’ve ordered one of these to keep a balance between weeds and grass. I’m hoping it will be better for my back, as less bending will be needed. The Wonder Weed Puller won first place in the new tools and machinery category.

No. 6 is this pretty and practical pin board, also from Burgon and Ball. Regular readers will know that I have a little potting shed at home. You might also have noticed a lack of photos recently from said potting shed. It is a complete mess in there. After a very busy summer, all my tools and equipment are in a heap and I can’t find the string. I’m determined to restore order and a pin board for keys, flower snips, string and my “jobs to-do” list would be just the thing.

N0. 7 on my list is this snazzy apron with lots of pockets- also from, you’ve guessed it- Burgon and Ball. To be honest, I could have just brought home the whole stand from Burgon and Ball. I loved everything from their new range at the show. The apron would be useful for me because I am always losing things. Tonight I’ve got to go outdoors and upturn five green recycling bins in search of the secateurs- last seen balancing on a wheelbarrow full of weeds. Sigh.

Also on show, and winning the home, gifts and clothing section, were some super comfy new gardening gloves from a company called Gold Leaf. The RHS Collection poppy, rose and Iris decorated gloves would be perfect for Christmas or birthday presents. I’ve made strong hints to my family. Several, in fact. No photos here I’m afraid, as the stand was so busy, I couldn’t get near it. Which is a good sign indeed for the company.

No. 8 are these new ceramic planters from……Burgon and Ball. I said I liked that company, didn’t I. I think it’s just become my new favourite. I was impressed B&B knew the plant names too. This one apparently is a rhipsalis – or mistletoe cactus. Isn’t it gorgeous. I hope they send me a cutting – and the pot! Fingers crossed.

Yes, I could really see these swinging from the potting shed roof. It would certainly draw attention away from the messy compost-strewn floor.

No. 9 Now, I can really picture this little oven outside my potting shed door. It would be great for impromptu snacks for visitors to my shack. Isn’t it adorable. It’s a fire pod- from the company with the same name called The Fire Pod. It won best new product in the outdoor entertaining category. I am not at all surprised. I love it.

Not on my list -but to give you a taste of what else is in store for autumn 2017/18 – I spotted these. Not at all sure where I would put them to be honest. I would love to know which gardens they are destined for. There seems to be a bit of a giraffe theme going on here.

However, at no. 10 on my must-buy list is this. Well, it really made me laugh. And who doesn’t need a baby dragon in their garden. It would be quite happy next to the fire pod, no doubt.

What do you think of my selection from Glee? Which are your favourites from the new product line-up. I’m just heartened to see money being invested in innovation. It’s good news for gardeners and also for the gardening industry.

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Taking Mum to the Dahlia Show

Regular readers will know that Mum and I spend every Sunday visiting gardens -especially NGS gardens raising money for charity. But this week – we had a change in our routine, we visited a dahlia show.

We marvelled over the blousy, dinner plate- size flowers. None were nibbled by slugs or dashed by the weather, like mine have been.

We loved these huge white flowers, Kenora Challenger. They won the prize for best exhibit in show. They were literally perfect.

Here’s a slide show of our favourites. I loved this coral pink cactus dahlia.

Mum loved this single ruby collarette-type dahlia called Mills Purple Velvet.

My favourite was this small cactus dahlia with needle-like petals. Such a pretty delicate pink.

The show by Leicestershire Dahlia Society was held at Palmers Plant Nursery in Enderby. Mum and I have signed up for more information and will go along to talks and events to find out more. And in November there’s an event where members sell off their spare tubers. I’ve earmarked a few for my cut flower patch.

Best of all- at the end of the show, the flowers were sold off in an auction. I came home with armfuls for my MIL Joan. All her window ledges are now bursting with colour. Happy memories of when my dear Father-in-law had an allotment full of cut flowers- dahlias and chrysanthemums – and regularly came home with an array of first prize awards.

Have you attended -or entered any produce or flowers in any shows this year? I’d love to know how you got on.

#wordlesswednesday: Update on hedgehogs in the garden…..

Just a quick update on my baby hedgehogs. I wrote about them last week Here. I can report back that the Hogilo hedgehog house is a huge success. Three of the babies are in there this evening, and the roof is keeping them nice and dry.

I got in touch with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society to find out more about them. My babies need to weigh 600 grams before they can successfully hibernate. I will be weighing them tomorrow. Meanwhile I am feeding them up. Here’s a list of what we can give them.

Meat-based dog or cat food

Dried mealworms- not too many

Unsalted chopped or crushed peanuts

Sunflower hearts

Specially made hedgehog dried food- bought from pet shops and supermarkets.

Most importantly- they need a dish of fresh water. Not milk, which gives them stomach problems.

In the wild, my hedgehogs are eating the following:

Worms, beetles, earwigs, caterpillars, leatherjackets, millipedes, frogs, slugs, and fallen fruit. I know for a fact, they absolutely love windfall apples and plums.

Here are two of them with their dinner. They soon tucked in when I retreated to the house.

I was shocked to learn we have lost one third of our hedgehog population since the Millennium. The severe decline has been caused by the following:

Use of pesticides, reducing the number of invertebrates that make up the hedgehogs’ diet

Larger field sizes, making it difficult for them to move about

Mechanical hedge trimming which leaves gappy hedge bottoms and leads to poor nesting opportunities

Permanent pasture being lost to crops

Impenetrable fencing, limiting the area of connected land available for foraging

Gardens being lost to car parking, decking, etc, reducing the land available for foraging

Busy roads

Increased development

Over managed / tidied gardens reducing hibernation opportunities

Pesticide and slug pellet use, poisons invertebrates

Ponds. Hedgehogs are excellent swimmers, but they can’t get out of straight-sided ponds.

What we can do to help:

Leave untidy corners in our gardens with piles of logs and twigs.

Leave some fallen leaves, dry fern foliage, straw which can be used as nesting material.

Make or buy hedgehog shelters. Old wine crates can be converted, with the addition of a 30cm long tunnel entrance, to keep out predators, and a waterproof roof. Put the nesting material alongside as hedgehogs will carry it in themselves.

Create a safe, dry feeding area out of a clear plastic storage box with 13cm entrance hole.

Cut holes in fences so that hedgehogs can forage over a large area. The hole needs to be 13cm wide and 13cm high.

Use organic methods to protect plants. The Slug Gone wool pellets are really effective deterrents.

Make sure all ponds have a shallow beach made of stones at one end, or a plank wrapped in chicken wire, so that hedgehogs can escape.

I hope you’ve found this quick mini-guide useful. Certainly our hedgehogs need all the help they can get. It’s a sad fact that some children have never even seen a hedgehog- they were a very common sight when we were growing up.

I love this photo of a ceramic hedgehog 3,800 years old, found in an Egyptian tomb. It would be sad if they became extinct on our watch.

Photo credit : Brooklyn Museum and Big Hedgehog Map project where you can log sightings of hedgehogs in your area and find out more about them.

#mygardenrightnow: the autumn edition

If you ever visited my garden, you wouldn’t describe it as “lovely.” You’d probably shake your head and walk round muttering “what a flipping mess!” Waist-high stinging nettles and thickets of brambles are definitely an acquired taste. But despite its terrible weedy bits and uncontrollable corners- I love my garden and like nothing better than to ramble about picking a few flowers here and there and munching on blackberries (there are plenty).

So I’m joining Michelle at Veg Plotting again for #mygardenrightnow meme. Enjoy the view, but remember, I only show you the flowery bits. Behind the scenes- there is chaos!

Flowers from the veg plot are still going strong. New Calendula Snow Princess is a firm favourite. So prolific and pretty.

Jam jar flowers include annual chrysanthemums, white dahlias,verbascum and grasses from the hedgerow bottom. Here’s a posy I took into BBC Radio Leicester recently. I’m sitting in the reception area- waiting to join Ben Jackson for the gardeners’ phone-in programme. You can have a listen in at http://bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05btvd7 whiz past the news to 2.08.10 on the timeline. I’ll never get used to wearing headphones. They never seem to fit me. But Ben and the production team are very kind and let me mess about with the height of the chair and plug and unplug the headphones until I’m comfortable. Then the only thing to worry about is the fact that it’s live….and we never know the questions in advance. It’s an awful long time since I attended horticultural college. I might need a refresher course to be honest!

The sweet peas have been amazing this year. I used some new Plant Grow fertiliser which seems to have kept them going for months. Plus they are still healthy. Usually by now they are getting brown and mildewy. I’ll definitely be using Plant Grow again next spring.

In between the sweet peas I’m growing some white and pale blue gladioli. To save the trouble of staking them, I just tie them up with the sweet peas and grow them down the middle of my hazel rod wigwam. It doesn’t matter what the weather throws at them, they still grow upright. Much less trouble.

I love the way the flowers open from the bottom of the stems and work their way up. They last for two weeks in a vase.

My £1 cactus dahlia Chat Noir from Wilkos has been such a bargain. It’s 6ft tall and full of glorious flowers. I do love a bargain.

Mum grew trays of pansies to pop in amongst the vegetables. They are perfect under tall brassicas such as kale and Brussels. We both love these jet black ones. They remind us of velvet.

It’s not just us appreciating the cut flower patch. This has to be the fluffiest bee ever to visit the garden.

In compensation for all these overgrown weeds and brambles, we had five baby hedgehogs born in the garden this summer. They are currently living under the rose pergola by the back door, and I’m trying to feed them up in time for their winter hibernation. Of all the things I’ve ever grown in my garden, I am the most overjoyed with these beautiful hedgehogs.

The hedgehog house was half price too. I’m sure it will keep them warm and dry over the winter. Do feel free to join in with Michelle’s meme and share your news on what your garden looks like this weekend. It’s fun to see what we are all getting up to in our gardens all over the country- and also abroad!

#wordlesswednesday- Mum’s garden -grown from seed

A gallery from Mum’s garden today, to show how a plot can be filled -just by growing seeds. Most of the seed packets came free from garden magazines. Our favourites are Amateur Gardening and Garden News. All we needed was some compost and seed trays, and both our gardens are currently overflowing with colour. Everyone knows I am a thrifty gardener. Do you have any money saving tips?

Dahlias grown from seed last year have overwintered in the ground. These are supposed to be annuals, but the mild winters mean we get two years out of the plants.

I love this deep red dahlia, part of a mixed colour packet of seed.

This double white dahlia shines out in a semi-shady spot under some trees.

Morning Glory climbs up through the standard roses and mini fruit trees in Mum’s garden. Great for attracting beneficial pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

We have pale blue and white varieties flowering this year, as well as the usual deep blue ipomoea.

Rudbeckia. We think this is Marmalade. Grown from a mixed variety pack. Bees absolutely love this plant and it flowers until first frosts.

New to us this year, this is Osteospermum Limpopo or African Daisy. This is a lovely mixed white, yellow and apricot pack from Mr Fothergill’s Seeds – free in Amateur Gardening Magazine.

Another Mr Fothergill’s seed, Chrysanthemum Eastern Star, in a range of colours – yellow, white with a yellow centre ring, and lemon. So beautiful, and lasts two weeks in a vase. Our new favourite cut flower and one we will grow again next year.

Mum’s garden looks so sunny with these annual chrysanthemums, sown in the spring and planted out in early summer. We think they will flower until October at least.

Our Thompson and Morgan Zinnia Candy Cane Mixed have been delighting us all summer. Such a fabulous range of colours and sizes. We love the mini flowers in the centre of each bloom. Truly beautiful. This packet came free from Garden News.

Cosmos Seashells make good cutting flowers. We love the intricate petals on these flowers.

More Chrysanths. We’ve never grown such a lovely range of colours before.

Rudbeckias mixed varieties. These often over-winter if the weather is not too severe.

Love this delicate cosmos Seashells. Such a pretty petal shape.

Have you grown any flowers from seed this year? What are your favourites? I hope there’s not too many photos in my gallery. I got rather over excited because Mum has a good internet connection and photos only take seconds to load. Sadly at my house it takes about 15 minutes per photo, and even then it sometimes all disappears before I get the chance to post my news. Sigh.

Peaches and Plums – Crumble and jam

It’s been a brilliant year for stone fruits. We’ve had a record number of plums and peaches at home. They are the easiest fruit to grow- just plant them and harvest delicious home-grown organic produce.

Here’s my favourite recipe for fruit crumble cake. You can use any fruit – peaches, plums apricots, apples. Takes only minutes to make, and can be frozen. The mini crumbles look fantastic for a party- or even a picnic.

FRUIT CRUMBLE CAKE

350g self-raising flour

2 level teaspoons mixed spice

175g butter

150g golden caster sugar

8 tablespoons milk (buttermilk if you have it)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 peaches or a handful of plums

Icing sugar for dusting

A 12 hole pan, or 18 x 28cm tin lined with baking paper, or any 7″ pie dish

20 mins at 190c /gas mark 5

Using only 3 tablespoons of the milk – Put all the ingredients – apart from fruit- in a food processor and whizz to form crumbs.

Tip out into a bowl, and put two thirds of the mixture- and the rest of the milk- back in the machine. Blend to create a smooth cake-consistency.

Spoon the cake mixture into the pans and arrange chopped fruit over the top. Add the reserved crumble mixture on top, leaving some of the fruit uncovered.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cut into chunky squares, if using the tin. Dust with icing sugar.

Note: You can used canned or frozen fruit, if fresh isn’t available

PLUM JAM

900g fruit

900g sugar

150ml water

Put all ingredients in a jam pan and cook gently until all the sugar is absorbed and the plums are soft. Gradually bring to a rolling boil. Check carefully to see that the jam isn’t burning on the bottom of the pan. After about 10 minutes put a tablespoon of the mixture onto a cold plate from the fridge. Leave to cool slightly and press with your finger or a spoon to see if the jam ripples. If it ripples it will set. If it stays soft and liquid it needs more boiling. This will fill about 4 or 5 jars which have been very thoroughly washed and warmed in the oven before filling. There are recipes with larger amounts of fruit, but this one works for me and is a manageable amount to cope with in one go.

Enjoy! Have you had a good year for fruit in your garden? And don’t forget to share your favourite recipes in the comments below.

#wordlesswednesday – Garden Table Flowers

I love a jam jar of flowers on the garden table- as much as indoors. I am trying to have breakfast, lunch and tea outdoors every day- while the sunshine lasts. So I set our old wooden bench with a red checked table cloth and sling cheap bed quilts over the rickety old chairs. Instant transformation! I hope you are all enjoying your summer and getting to spend time in the garden.

Have you got any favourite places you like to sit in the garden? Mine is under this stately beech tree, in the middle of our back garden lawn. It’s always a nice shady spot. A good place to sit and read. Or just survey the garden.

Words and Pictures

SECRET GARDENS OF EAST ANGLIA

 

Barbara Segall. Photography by Marcus Harpur

Frances Lincoln £20. Hardback.  Published 7th September 2017.

It’s impossible to resist dipping into the pages of any book with the words “secret” and “garden” in the title.

We all love peering over the garden gate  to get a glimpse of other people’s property.

And in Secret Gardens of East Anglia, Barbara Segall is our excellent guide, taking us straight down the drive and through the front gates of 22 privately owned gardens.

It is quite a revelation. We see sumptuous planting, grand sculpture, rose parterres, moated gardens,  and wildflower meadows galore! A real  treat – in words and pictures.

Here is just a flavour of some of the glorious gardens featured.

Wyken Hall, Stanton, Suffolk

Wyken Hall - Suffolk 1.jpg

Photo credit Marcus Harpur. Perfectly co-ordinated, one of Wyken Hall’s peacocks is poised beneath a blue wooden pergola covered in climbing Rosa Blairii Number Two. The pergola is reminiscent of one at Bodnant in Wales. Owners Kenneth and Carla Carlisle have created a sumptuous rose garden, favouring highly-scented old rose varieties with soft coloured perennials such as delphiniums, astrantia and artemisia. The sound of water and the scent of roses always draws  me in. I could picture myself sitting in this beautiful garden on a hot, sunny summer’s day. Yes, I would be quite happy here!

Columbine Hall, Stowupland, Suffolk

Col Hall.jpg

Photo credit Marcus Harpur. In my opinion, the most romantic of the gardens featured.  I’ve long been entranced by the walled kitchen garden which I first spotted on twitter. Head gardener and estate manager Kate Elliott ( @columbinehall) has worked here for 20 years and rightly describes the garden as her “pride and joy.”  Blue-grey paintwork used for gates, bridges and obelisks caught my eye, along with the planting scheme of silver and blue-mauve through to pink. Purple kales such as Cavolo Nero, Redbor and Rouge de Russie are set amongst  the silver leaves of globe artichokes.  I wasn’t surprised to read the owners’ comments :”We pick from the Kitchen Garden only with Kate’s permission, so as not to upset the colour co-ordinations or symmetry.”  A rare glimpse behind the scenes into the work and dedication that goes into creating a garden such as this.

 

Elton Hall, Elton, Cambridgeshire

Elton Hall - Cambridgeshire 1.jpg

Photo credit Marcus Harpur. Home to Sir William and Lady Proby who chose to make a modern garden, rather than recreate the past.  The stately house has been in the Proby family for more than 300 years. It’s  fascinating to see how the contemporary design of the fountain and the pyramid topiary is set against a Gothic style house with turrets and castellations.  Proof that a modern style can work in a setting that’s steeped in history.

Wood Farm, Gipping, Suffolk

Wood Farm 2 b.jpg

Photo credit Marcus Harpur.    The photograph shows irises, cornflowers, mounds of lavender and box. On the other side of the property, the house appears to drift on a sea of white ox-eye daisies. The golden centres of the daisies are an exact match with the colour of the 500 year old Suffolk farmhouse. A very pretty house and garden and I would love to have the chance to ramble along that  garden path.

I must mention Ulting Wick, Ulting, Essex. Long on my  special-places-to-visit list, the owners Bryan and Philippa Burrough  have planted 10,000 tulips in the Old Farmyard garden. A particular feature of the garden is the bold and jewel-like colours set against the black paintwork of three listed barns. In spring, the bulbs take centre stage, but in late summer, it is the dahlias and bronze-leaved Ensete that turn up the heat. The garden has opened to the public for the past 14 years in aid of the National Gardens Scheme. After reading Barbara’s book you will want to follow  Philippa’s garden tweets @UltingWick. The sheer amount of work that goes into creating a garden such as this is highlighted in the stunning photos in the book.

Secret Gardens of East Anglia cover.jpg

Barbara is a most entertaining “host” on what feels like the best holiday road trip /garden visit tour- ever.  Reading this beautiful book is like walking alongside Barbara. She expertly points out the secret areas and the special treasures in each garden.  The history and the background information is fascinating. And it feels such a treat to be “let in”  to these treasured, private spaces.

It’s a joy to read the stories behind the gardens and  to “meet” the people who own them.  And if the book has whetted your appetite- all but one of the 22 gardens are open to visit – on selected days of the year or by appointment only.

BARBARA SEGALL is a well-known horticulturist and garden writer. I’ve always looked out for her writing in the English Garden Magazine and also on the Richard Jackson’s Garden website. She is editor of The Horticulturist,  the journal of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture, also editor of Herbs magazine for the Herb Society. Barbara lives in Suffolk and her first book for Frances Lincoln was Gardens by the Sea with photos by Marcus Harpur’s father, Jerry.  Barbara’s blog is http://www.thegardenpost.com.

MARCUS HARPUR . I’ve know Marcus since about 1992 when he left book publishing to join his father to form the Harpur Garden Library.  Sadly , Marcus died on August 6th this year after 18 months of illness. He saw finished copies of the book, but poignantly didn’t live to see it go on sale. When I spoke to him last, he described working on the book as “A joyful and satisfying project.”  He was a much loved and well respected photographer whose  skill in capturing the light and beauty in a garden is plain for all to see in this his final book.

Pre-order on Amazon at  amzn.to/2oqHgM2

Thank you to Frances Lincoln/ Quarto Group Books for supplying this advance copy for review.

 

 

 

 

 

Art in the garden- a visit to Cathy’s glorious plot.

When Cathy Lyon-Green wanted a garden room – she set to and built it herself. "Building really is as simple as laying one brick on top of another- and checking the levels regularly." And the result is stunning- a pink painted summerhouse with grey windows and pretty pantile roof. It's the perfect place to sit and survey Cathy's extraordinary garden.

Readers might recognise Cathy's name from the popular meme In a Vase on Monday and Rambling in the Garden blog. I've enjoyed joining in with the meme for about a year, so when I saw Cathy's garden would be open for the National Garden Scheme for the first time, I couldn't resist a visit. Mum and I were in for a real treat. Everything about Cathy's garden is out of the ordinary. There's a surprise around every corner. Quite honestly, I got out my notebook and started writing down ideas for my own plot. We loved these photo canvasses which brighten up the garden walls.

We spotted these pretty metal plant supports with jewel-like flowers.

Simple ideas are often best, and we loved finding little painted stones around the garden. Some said, empathy – peace, and love. Mum and I pondered what our stones might say. Mum said "giving," and "caring." Mine would say "sharing," and "loyalty." Doesn't it make you think.

You never know what you are going to find next in Cathy's garden. Nestled against the shed wall we found this character. Mum and I had an argument as to whether it was a male or a female of the species. We both agreed it was friendly though.

We thought this beautiful metal sculpture reminded us of wild flowers and cow parsley in particular.

These two birds on top of the garden wall made us laugh. Are they pigeons or crows? We couldn't decide. Just about everything in the garden sparks a debate. It's all a talking point.

I am always looking for new ideas- especially if they save money. So I loved this idea for a cane- topper. It's a painted wooden cube. So simple, but is a brilliant way to protect eyes, and make a statement. The cubes were in bright fuchsia pink and purple shades. They looked gorgeous contrasting with the lime green leaves, and popping up through the cottage garden flowers.

I might copy this idea on my cut flower and veg plot. The plant supports would also be a good idea to hold up the netting over the cabbages etc.

For once, Mum and I were in total agreement on something. This message.

It's always lovely to see items saved and re-purposed in the garden. We loved this little stained glass window set into one of the garden walls.

We found plenty of places to sit and relax in the garden. This cosy seat is enveloped in a pink planting scheme of astrantia, geranium and alliums. We loved the little green checked cushions which were a feature on all benches and seats throughout the garden.

And finally, after much backtracking and going round the garden several times to make sure we hadn't missed anything, we found the terrace in front of the garden room that Cathy describes as her sitooterie.

"I have always 'made' things, and if something is needed, I will want to make it if at all possible. I built my first low brick wall about 40 years ago, but my great interest in bricklaying was well and truly kick-started when we were constructing the extension in 1998 and I have created many more opportunities to continue bricklaying since then. The opportunity for the sitooterie came about when we dismantled the original greenhouse that was on the site. "

I asked Cathy how long it had taken her to create the garden. "We didn't really do anything in the garden except cut the grass until about 2000, then gradually we began reducing the grass by creating beds over the next few years, before coming to a standstill when work well and truly got in the way. Listening to my heart instead of my head and retiring in 2011 was when I was able to focus on the garden as a whole and consolidate or improve on what had been done up until then. There was still no overall plan, and many of the best ideas were created as a response to something that just wasn't working, or something that would otherwise have been a waste- such as the shrub border which came about because our neighbour was filling a skip with topsoil!"

We can report back that the home-made cakes were all delicious and Cathy's helpers Janet and Chris made us feel very welcome. We sat for quite a long time, making mental notes of all the planting combinations we loved and all the little touches that made this such an inspirational garden. Driving home, we kept saying to each other "and did you notice that……," and "what about that……." But neither of us could say how big the garden was because it was so deceptive. The little paths twist and turn through shady fern- filled corners and out into a stream- filled glade. We looked on the NGS website when we got home and it stated- one third of an acre. The blurb also says 'Plant-lovers garden, full of surprises." Mum and I nodded our heads in agreement!

Cathy's garden, East View Cottages, Tamworth, Warwickshire, will be open again for the Yellow Book NGS towards end of June next summer. Cathy had a good turn out for her first ever open gardens. 155 people in total over two days. Click on the highlighted words for more information.

#wordlesswednesday At Pensthorpe, Norfolk

I'm still trying to identify this fluffy bee. Spotted in the glorious wildlife garden at Pensthorpe.

The plant is a purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. Recommended on the RHS Perfect for Pollinators list.

Echinacea fact file:

Common name: hedgehog plant, coneflower

Family: Asteraceae

Genus: Echinacea. Clump forming, rhizomatous perennials with simple, pinnately-lobed leaves. Long-stemmed daisy-like flowers with prominent conical centre.

Height: 0.5-1.5m with a spread of 0.1-0.5m There are some low-growing varieties such as Kim's Knee High (60cm). See RHS info link here.

Grows in: Full sun, tolerates some shade.

Aspect: Prefers south facing. Can cope with sheltered or exposed conditions. Any really well-drained soil.

Propagate: From seed. Available from Chiltern Seeds. Or divisions in spring.

Recommended: Elton Knight, Magnus, Ruby Giant, Pallida (drooping petals), White Swan, Green Envy and Green Jewel (lime). I haven't found the orange, yellow and apricot-coloured hybrids to be very long-lived.

Tips: Avoid damp spots for planting and don't heavily mulch over the crown in the winter. Add plenty of grit when planting to improve drainage. The cold weather doesn't seem to bother them, it's the mild, prolonged wet spells that kills them.

Anyone know the name of my bee?