Garden diary

August at Allt y bela

 

When I think of August in the garden I envisage long hot days, parched lawns and burnt out flower beds. In these long hot days I will be cutting yew topiary safe in the knowledge the the heat will generally deter further growth. In this vision of August I will be mowing the meadows, the ground baked hard as iron, the grass already dried out. I'm sure that this vision of August has, at least some basis in reality, but in more recent years it seems that August is always a bit of a disappointment. The really joyful late summer weather won't begin until the children, clad for autumn in new jumpers and blazers head back to school, then the sun will shine and the temperatures recover!

Despite a burst of sunshine over the late bank holiday weekend, this August has been particularly disappointing. I heard that the start of the month was the coldest since 1993, I'm not sure it's improved much since! Now, at the end of the month there is a distinct chill in the mornings, early mists linger longer and there's a hint of changing colour in the hedgerows which funnel you down the narrow lane to Allt y bela.

The upside to this cool, damp weather has been that the garden has stayed green, not only that but it's been growing in the same spirit as if it had been May. That has been something of a challenge to me as my August tasks are to mow the meadows and to cut the topiary. The abundant growth has led to some impressive weed growth and lawns which just won't stop growing!

All in all though I'm pretty grateful that the weather hasn't been too scorching (to say the least!) The cottage garden has continued to produce a mass of flowers for cutting, while in the kitchen garden the profusion of produce has been a little overwhelming. As the month draws to a close and the apples begin to colour it feels more like each sunny day we get is a little more precious than the last, and if September was to prove to be a beautiful sunny warm month, well I'll have no complaints!

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt y bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request.

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A late midsummer play in the garden

 

Last weekend saw the gardens come to life as well over 150 people came to enjoy some Shakespeare in the garden. We usually host a play in the garden theatre around mid summer when the garden is at a natural high point; the roses are in full bloom and the cottage garden is reaching that first peak of the year as the fresh young growth begins to harden and flowers are abundant. This year the weekend closest to mid summer was just about perfect, with warm sunshine long into the evening, which got me a little worried. Would the weather be as kind to us in late July?

For the last few years the night of the play has always been a blessed moment, where long warm summer evenings and rose fragrance compliment the performance and show off the garden in its best light. That's not always been the case though as one year's Romeo and Juliet performance was met with tempest!

Last week, as a busied myself in the garden, the omens did not look promising; torrential rain was forecast for the day before the play and as the weekend drew nearer rain was forecast for Saturday as well. The garden of course was very grateful for the inch and a half of rain that fell but I must confess to being rather worried about what it would all mean for the grass!

When Saturday came and I was woken to the sound of heavy rain my heart sank and as the day wore on and showers persisted I wondered if anyone would brave the weather at all. But then something rather unexpected and amazing happened; the clouds broke and the sun suddenly shone through, this was about six o clock, an hour before the play was due to begin!

When I arrived the garden was full of cheerful faces, picnic hampers and folding chairs. The HandleBards, our performers for the evening, so named because they travel from show to show on bikes, were set up and ready to go. A Midsummer Night's Dream has rather more parts than the four HandleBards could play, yet through some very clever, and frankly hilarious, devices they put on a performance that will stay with me for a very long time. I had heard good things about their productions but I was not prepared for just how entertaining they would be. The energy, the camaraderie and the physicality of their performance created a show that seemed to defy reason. It was brilliant and I dearly hope that they will be back next year.

The earlier rain meant that when the setting sun shone through the damp garden the effect was so much more dramatic and beautiful than it would have been had the day have been clear. Somehow everything came together beautifully, perhaps with the exception of a brief appearance on stage by a rather scruffy looking man who was plucked from the audience to deliver a few lines. (I had hoped that no photographs were taken, but alas…..you should be able to spot me - alongside a few other AMGD team members - if you look closely enough.)

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener, Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Holly Fleming & Jennie Spears

 

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Bathed in sunshine

 

The sun is as strong at this time of year as it is in late August the radio warned me this morning, barely five minutes after I had scraped the ice from my windscreen. Sure enough by 11 o'clock this morning the sun was warm. This time of year brings the first really warm days of the year and the warmest days we have experienced in five or six months. It is heavenly. Somewhere in the trees above the common a woodpecker is busy drumming away as birds sing all around me.

This morning Hudson the cat was excitedly pursuing a stoat around the kitchen garden. Everywhere the garden is waking up but the contrasts at this time of year can make being outside uncomfortable. I was basking in hot sunshine one day last week and the next I was searching out extra coats as I shivered my way through a bitterly cold and breezy day. It feels to me almost like the growing pains of summer, the change is coming and it's inevitable; it's a great feeling.

The pots of tulips are just beginning to flower and I always find it an anxious time. You really want to know that those combinations, which seemed so exiting in November, really live up to their billing. The light in spring can make a huge difference to the success of a combination. Early indications look promising. We've really tried to improve the pot display this year planting maybe three times as many pots as we did the first year I was here. I was making willow support rings for the pots a couple of weeks ago and it seemed to take me forever, despite the fact that most of the pots already had supports. At the end of the day I counted up the rings I had made and reached 36, which is a fair amount of extras!

The Osmanthus topiary we planted a couple of weeks ago is in full flower now and is looking rather fine. Flowering topiary is something new to me but it looks very at home in the garden here. The Osmanthus outside my toolshed is looking (and smelling) particularly good.

Summer might not be here yet but we've had a sneak preview of it over the last week here at Allt-y-bela and it's been rather lovely.

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request.

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The first day of Spring

 

Spring is coming now, you can feel it in the warmth of the sun and hear it in the birdsong. I'm never really conscious as to how and when the change begins every year and yet you feel it, you sense the change.

Everywhere in the garden that change is taking place, seeming to gather pace every day, sycamore seeds are germinating in the rich fertile ground of the kitchen garden and also in the thin grass of the amphitheatre. The first leaves are beginning to break on the hazels on the drove, delicate windflower on the lane, and everywhere there are fresh green and purple shoots emerging from the earth.

It's a hopeful time of year and every warm day leaves you more convinced that winter and the cold are finally banished for a few short months at least. Yet, the weather can change very quickly, and the warmth disappears momentarily reminding you that it is still only March after all.

The garden at Allt-y-bela is cleverly designed; at first the floral focus of the garden is kept very close to the house, the bulb meadow and courtyard are the initial focus with the snowdrops on the drove and blossom acting more as an eye catcher, drawing the view out. Now however, with the narcissus blooming, the focus is drawn out further and it will stay this way until the tulips and then the cottage garden bring you back into the garden's core.

Today I went out to gather flowers for the house. The Narcissus lobularis are just reaching their peak before they inevitably begin to fall away and with the fresh green of the new hazel leaves and the acid green of the Euphorbia, I soon had a jug of flowers that felt like spring. Oxslips, a single stem of hellebore and water marigolds completed the arrangement. In a way though I felt I was missing an important part of the garden, the first few snake's head fritillaries are in flower  and whilst it felt a very hard decision to sacrifice any for a small arrangement it also felt remiss of me to not include this beautiful spring wonder of a flower. In the end it felt right to arrange it simply with some anemone and narcissus as a simple bedside jar.

I've found the practice of picking flowers really very helpful in understanding the changes which take place on an almost daily basis at Allt-y-bela. When you are looking for the best flowers to pick you notice how the quality and quantity changes over the weeks. Actively looking for flowers has connected me with the garden in a slightly different way to that which I am used to.

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request. 

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February in the making

 

I'm generally not a big fan of February. Although it is the month the garden really begins to come back to life, February is usually cold and dark. This last month has certainly been dark (and gloomy and damp) but by and large it has lacked those beautiful cold crisp clear winter days when the snowdrops shine and the aconites glisten like gold amongst the grass.

Yet last Friday I arrived to a very different scene indeed, the sun was out and although it was chilly there was definitely more than just a hint of warmth in the sunshine. Straight away I had one thing on my mind: mowing! It might sound a little bit silly but opportunities to mow early in the season can be few and far between and if my short time in Cumbria taught me nothing else then it was to mow whenever you can! The alternating temperatures of late winter can encourage grass growth while not particularly allowing you time to mow, the garden then was looking a little ragged. Grinning like a lunatic I set about mowing and strimming the garden into shape once more.

Then this week wind, rain, heavy frost, sleet, sun, leaden skies and drizzle have all featured, it's been a proper British spring mixture. Sniffling and sneezing through a very unwelcome cold (maybe it was still a little too cold to go mowing in a t-shirt!) I set out on Monday to ready the garden for our plant supports course the next day. Through heavy rain and squally winds we arranged materials and wove the finishing touches to the structures and generally got everything together. I'm a bit of perfectionist when I'm preparing for courses or tours, I like to feel that the only wild card on the day is likely to be me!

Luckily the weather wasn't as bad as forecast on Tuesday despite one of those trademark spring showers, where the water droplets seem to be larger than physics should allow, hitting just after lunch. I really enjoy meeting people who come on the courses and sharing the garden with them.

Our plant structures course started with me giving a little background talk about the garden and the house and explaining how these influence our structures. I'm hugely enthusiastic about Arne's approach and about the way we garden at Allt-y-bela, I could talk all day about it and so I have to try and be strict with myself so that we leave plenty of time for making.

I love seeing the range of items produced on this course. We aim to teach some basic skills, provide materials and then support people to make the kind of structures that they really want to make. It makes for a really dynamic, fun environment. It was a real highlight for me come the end of the day to see happy faces loading a whole range of items into their cars. One of the great joys of working in horticulture is how prevalent the sharing ideas and skills is. Whatever it is you want to know or to learn there will be people out there who are almost literally bursting with enthusiasm over it and will be only too willing to share it with you.

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request.

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