Outside the Backdoor

Observing what can happen in your own garden even in suburbia!

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Another good year for the roses?

I am sitting out in the garden surrounded by roses, a somewhat calming experience after all the tension surrounding the EU Referendum, and rewarding given the stormy weather of the past week.  This year seems to be an exceptionally good year for them.  If I turn to Facebook, several of my friends have been posting photographs of stunning roses from their own gardens.  In fact one friend caused a great cross-purposes conversation by posting dozens of photos of ‘Graham’ and ‘Gertrude’ which caused J to remark that she was even posting photos of other people’s roses now until I gently pointed out that she was referring to her roses ‘Graham Thomas’, a lovely deep yellow/gold, and ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, a dense cabbage shaped pink!

Without doubt June is the month for roses and both of my gardening magazines arrived sporting photographs of beautiful blooms on the covers this month – in June roses sell!  The trouble with magazines arriving featuring roses is that you are always tempted to acquire some more!  I used to think that I wasn’t a rose person but I think I now need to put my hand up and admit that this is no longer the case.


This morning I started by taking photographs of two of my roses that are just starting to come into bloom.  My Shropshire Lad (above), a David Austin rose, had the most perfect pinky / peach bloom opening and adjacent to it the Rosa Mutabilis (below) had the perfect set – tight buds, slightly open buds plus a full bloom, all displaying closely together.  Of all our roses I think it’s fair to say that Rosa Mutabilis is the hard worker, the one that starts flowering in May and will still be performing its socks off come September.  The flowers are single, so attract bees, and are relatively small.  They start each day crisp and peachy and then gradually they darken into a deep cerise.

 On the opposite side of our garden we have had a huge surprise this spring.  The red climbing rose (Etoile de Hollande) that we despaired of, has sprung into action and produced the most blooms in its life!  We first planted it to grow up the pergola some 15 years’ ago but it was reluctant to either grow or flower.  Each year we had two or three flowers that were so dark in colour that they just disappeared into the green background.  No amount of careful pruning, feeding or training could seem to coax it to produce the sort of display we had in mind.  Whilst the blooms were stunningly scented as promised, we had to be quick to catch a whiff of them, being sure to cross the wet grass at just the right moment.  After seven or eight years of this we gave up!  We bought a white climber (Iceberg) that was known to be more prolific and which would show up better at a distance.  Out came Etoile and it was somewhat unceremoniously planted on the opposite side of the garden, near the greenhouse, and in an area that we don’t really know what to do with as it is very overshadowed by next door’s huge Magnolia.  However, last year our neighbour decided that said Magnolia really was getting far too big for its boots and so the tree surgeons were employed to do some radical but careful pruning.  Presumably as a result of having more light and air, the rose has leapt into action!  It has been flowering for a couple of weeks already and, as I look across now, I can see at least a dozen flowers open.  Being next to the greenhouse, it is much nearer the house and easier to take a sniff at its magnificent scent each time we pass.  I am hoping that, now it has finally found its feet, this is the start of something new and we’ll have many fragrant Springs to come.

Fortunately, after all that swapping around, I’m pleased to say that the Iceberg climber has grown well and is set to be a stunner this summer.  The first buds are just beginning to unfurl but the plant is covered in them.  In terms of shape, this rose is doing just what we hoped for and has grown up one column of the pergola and then along the top so that you can sit beneath an arch of rose.  The only snag is that the rose now appears to be pushing the pergola over and everything has a distinct lean!  In the autumn / winter we will be faced with the challenge of replacing the pergola but without disturbing the plants too much.

The other rose I wanted to comment on is both the biggest and the smallest.  It’s a tiny white flowered wild rose that forms a long bank beneath our cherry tree and was here when we arrived.  I have to credit J with giving this a great deal of TLC which means that it is now a shapely bank of green dotted with little white stars that really bring light to an otherwise dark area of the garden.  Rather strangely, just as it flowers it also throws out long branches of new growth which can sometimes hide the flowers.  Each year we remove these but we have wondered whether these would flower in the autumn?  I guess that there’s only one way to find out!

Roses consistently top the polls in voting for the nation’s favourite flower which led me to wonder whether any of you have a favourite flower that you would like to share here?  Or perhaps even a favourite rose?


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Chelsea – does it really inspire outside the backdoor?

I will admit that it’s a tenuous link between Outside the Backdoor and the Chelsea Flower Show but, a week after the gates closed on the world’s most prestigious horticultural event for another year, the gardening blogs, magazines and emails are all focused on what inspiration you can get for your own small patch.

Chelsea is often criticised for being elitist and unrealistic but to counteract this impression the Royal Horticultural Society has published a book called “Take Chelsea home”.  So can you really bring anything back into your own space?

9033546784_92bf5a5f4b_nI’ve only been to Chelsea once (so far!) and that was three years’ ago.  Interestingly from planning our visit with a focus on plants, I recall that our first bit of real inspiration came from a hard landscaping idea, and not a very exciting one at that – a drain cover!  Around the edge of our patio we have several metres of boring metal Acco drain but at Chelsea we discovered we could replace this with more stylish and attractive patterned steel drain covers!  We particularly liked the wave pattern and, whilst this seemed a rather silly indulgence, we could see that these drain covers could also have the practical advantage of being less prone to filling up with fallen leaves.  Of course we then costed up this idea and, perhaps not surprisingly, three years later we still have our rather boring Acco drains!

9033532846_107706de6e_nI didn’t really need to be inspired by some of the planting as many gardens featured plants that I already knew I liked, namely anything that’s purple!  I really liked Nigel Dunnett’s Blue Water Roof garden which featured a striking bank of deep purple verbascum.  This year it was another roof garden that caught my eye whilst flicking through the RHS website – the Sir Simon Milton Foundation ‘fresh’ garden which was a closely planted contemporary space with lots of classic Chelsea alliums.

I remember finding the Great Floral Pavilion rather overwhelming.  As first timers at Chelsea I think we got a bit lost and certainly missed some things out judging by the TV programming.  Whilst you can’t buy plants at Chelsea, many of the Floral Pavilion exhibitors had provided the next best thing – online catalogues, which could have made it far too easy to order a great deal that just simply couldn’t be fitted in once it arrived on your doorstep!

So last week I looked on enviously as a friend started posting her photographs from the show.  Feeling all inspired, I have now booked tickets to attend the Hampton Court Flower Show in July.  I’ve been to Hampton Court twice before but not for a long time and it’s changed considerably in recent years with many more show gardens to view.  I dug out my Chelsea notes and discovered that we had wandered around for over seven hours!  A timely reminder that flower shows require excellent footwear, not to mention regular stops for refreshment!  And of course at Hampton Court you can purchase plants … need I say any more?