Outside the Backdoor

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


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Tulip temptation

Another dry spring appears to have produced an especially vibrant performance of early tulips.  However, a recent visit to RHS Wisley reminded me that my offerings on the tulip front are a little mediocre!

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I have often been frustrated by tulips and their rather temporary nature – here one year, gone the next.  I dislike fishing them out of a pot after flowering only to discover that they have split into several bulblets and it’s hard to know what is worth keeping for the following year.  I guess that’s partly my own fault for only planting them in pots as, once they are over, I’m ready to move on to the next season’s planting.

That said, over the past couple of autumns, I have deliberately planted more tulips to bridge the gap from the daffodils going over and the summer border coming to life and this year I have been more than pleased with the results.  Having seen it recommended in many a gardening magazine, programme and blog, I planted up two bulb lasagnes – tulips deep do33125101583_d93754c8d7_mwn, miniature daffodils in the middle, and iris reticulata for the top early layer.
One of these pots I kept simple and only planted the bulbs, covering the top with an old upside down hanging basket in an attempt to stop the squirrels re-planting the bulbs elsewhere!  As I glance outside the backdoor, this particular pot is just coming to its end with the final flourish of fiery orange and red tulips glowing in the sunlight.

I was more ambitious with the second ‘lasagne’ as it was going into a particularly large, deep pot which meant I felt that I could get away with an additional winter layer comprised of wintering flowering violas and some variegated trailing ivies.  Having read the recommendation to plant variegated ivy to brighten dark areas, I delibe33245472505_36b083b149_mrately chose a variety with white / silvery edges which shone through the winter and which I intend to plant out at some point down the far end of the garden where it is incredibly shady and ivy is one of the few things that grows successfully.  My thought is that I can at least brighten up this area with the paler leaves.  The bulb leaves are now starting to die back and I am wondering whether I can carefully over-plant something for the summer without disturbing the bulbs beneath?

I have never really planted tulips in the border as I’ve always read that they don’t really come back and you need to replant every year.  However, I’ve noticed that my neighbour’s red tulips return to his border faithfully every year; and next-door-but-one threw in loads of red and orange tulips about three years ago and they have come back successfully.  So last year I decided to ignore th33746156701_86d7f26e95_m.jpge advice and attempt to naturalise some tulips in the border and, in particular, some rather stunning purple tulips which had  flowered at the same time as the bluebells.  I could see that they would make a fantastic combination so, instead of leaving them in the pot or lifting them to dry and then be lost at the back of the shed, I decided to transplant them to an area of border directly behind a huge clump of bluebells.  To my amazement they have returned this year with some vigour but, guess what?  They have flowered at a different time to the bluebells!  I guess you can’t win them all!

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All of a flutter

This month I am simply spoilt for choice in terms of topics to write about, such is the fullness and speed at which the garden develops in April and May, and especially this year in the amazing weather we have been experiencing.  Even as I type, the aroma of the first barbecues of the season is just reaching me and it is only April!

Since last month, we have been really busy.  The pergola is complete but I could move on to tell you about the new border which began to emerge during our week off work at the end of March, equally I could eulogise about the tulips that have been really spectacular this year, or I could tell you about the wonderful butterflies that have been entertaining us over the past sunny weeks.
I have decided to plump for the butterflies.  Last weekend, in less than an hour, we observed no less than seven different species fluttering around the garden.  It began with a Comma, a r33133577124_c0dea7542d_zegular visitor that appears early each Spring and loves to sun itself on the pergola.  The change in pergola has made no difference, the Comma butterflies (and there were at least two of them) still love the flat wood surface for taking a rest.  Having said that, they seem to be the butterfly less intimidated by human beings as I have often been landed on!

33592175560_38c3dbe2ec_zThis end of the garden seems equally popular with Red Admirals and at one point last weekend we had two Commas and two Red Admirals performing an elaborate quadrille in the sky.  The Red Admirals also seem particularly drawn to the pond and frequently rest on the marsh marigolds, I assume to sun themselves but may be to take nectar?

33125055743_5347f32300_mMost of our butterflies arrive in pairs or more but the Speckled Wood seems to be rather a loner.  Almost always to be found on the Choisya or occasionally on Lilac leaves, I have only ever seen one at a time and they also seem quite shy, never staying still long enough for a photograph.

The Holly Blues are probably the most numerous but also the smallest of the butterflies we see each year.  They have also got the year off to a prolific start as we saw at least four.  As their name suggests, they are drawn to the holly bushes but they do seem to spread their territory right across the garden and are as likely to be seen up near the house as they are in the depths of the border.

I will confess to finding white butterflies hard to identify.  Unless they are side by side, how do you tell a small white apart from a large white?  However, last weekend I definitely saw a Small White – it was really small and delicate!  In fact, I’m not sure that we actually saw a Large White, the wonderfully named Pieris Brassicae – brassicas equal members of the cabbage family – yes, this is the Cabbage White!

Another white butterfly that we saw and which is absolutely delightful is the Orange Tip.  Easy to identify as its name suggests, a couple very obligingly stayed still on a leaf long enough for us to observe the dark spot within each orange patch on the wing tips.

So that’s six species, or potentially seven, and that’s without mentioning the Brimstone that has been a regular visitor since the first sunny days of Spring.  Rather confusingly, there is a Brimstone moth as well as a Brimstone butterfly and, according to my trusty butterfly book, they look awfully similar!  However, I am pretty convinced we are seeing the butterfly as it has a fresher, pale yellowy green colour.

All of this might sound like I know what I’m talking about when it comes to identifying butterflies but, to be honest, I don’t and I find it really difficult!  I signed up for a butterfly count a few years ago and spent a silly amount of time trying to navigate the Collins Wild Guide to Butterflies and Moths – it was incredibly difficult.  I concluded that the bee count was much easier!  Apart from the Peacock butterfly, I think it would be true to say that we have seen every butterfly that I am actually capable of recognising and naming over the past week!  So if you see any more butterflies around the area, please don’t ask me any difficult questions about them.

Seeing so many species of butterfly in the garden has been very rewarding.  Apart from the occasional very careful limited sprinkling of so-called environmentally friendly slug pellets, we have not put any chemicals on our garden for at least fifteen years.  I can’t help thinking that this may be one of the reasons we are now such a butterfly-friendly garden.  We have also made a conscious effort to purchase plants that are either bee and/or butterfly friendly – the two often go together.  However, I tend to assume this is more related to summer flowering plants than the Spring bulbs but clearly nature thinks differently.  Either way, they are all a very welcome sight on a warm, sunny afternoon.


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Spring – a time of renewal

Throughout 2016 we kept promising ourselves that we must do x or y – decorate the hall and stairs and spare bedroom and replace the carpet, decorate the lounge / dining room, replace the leaning garden pergola, renew the fence down the far end and dig a new flower border.  I can’t explain it, but none of this got done – 2016 just seemed to fly by in a flash!  So we approached 2017 with a very long list of things to do both indoors and outside the backdoor and, so far, I’m pleased to say that we are really motoring through that list and, now that Spring is here, the tasks outside the backdoor are either being or are about to be tackled.

The pergola was erected in our garden by the previous owners who were keen to tell us that it was positioned to catch the last of the evening sun which they clearly thought was a major selli9013535219_f07946fce7_mng point.  The fact that this was on a cold, dark February evening meant that it didn’t really mean much to us at the time.  We may never have thought to build a pergola ourselves but it is an attractive feature and we have consequently planned things around it.  For example, the pond was deliberately sited adjacent to it so that you can sit and look over the water, watching the various insects darting around.  We have also planted a selection of things to scramble over it – a rather lovely white climbing rose and a pink clematis alpina.  The hard lines of the wood have been softened over the years by the lilac growing around it and the ivy entwining itself.

This all sounds 31937101185_5b9443dd71_mvery idyllic but about two years ago the pergola began to lean.  Almost unperceptively at first, but by last autumn it was probably a good thirty-degree angle!  The horizontal wooden struts were also rotten.  The cats love climbing up the pergola but we were beginning to fear for their safety.  Norwegian Forest cats are not lightweights and 6.5 kilos of Bryggen or Roly was beginning to look rather precarious!  So what to do?

As with any project ‘do nothing’ was an option but we quickly ruled that out.  Do away with the pergola altogether was another possibility but that would have left us with a well-established rose with nowhere to climb.  We also quite liked the fact that the cats could climb up it to get a better view or to sunbathe in the corner.  So early in the new year we started exploring the options available to us.

As with so many things these days, you can have just about any size, shape or material you want if you’re prepared to pay for someone to design it for you.  However, once you start looking for relatively simple and cost-effective solutions, the options quickly narrow down.  Whilst there might be hundreds of suppliers of garden pergolas on the internet, many of them offer exactly the same products and, after about an hour of searching, you begin to realise that you are seeing the same thing over and over again.  In the end we decided to be extremely boring and to order exactly the same pergola kit as before.  We agreed that if the new one lasted as long as the old one, we would be perfectly happy and 32976296360_3c3f6b8996_mslotting this in would mean relatively little disturbance as far as the plants were concerned.  The only thing we really wanted to change was underfoot – to banish the decking!  Not only was the wooden decking now rotting away but in the winter it can become very slippery.  So we’ve asked the builder to supply some stones to match our other garden paving.  As I write, these are on order so the pergola is sitting there looking very new but not quite finished.

33358831385_93db446288_mHaving got the ball rolling, we’ve also had the fence at the far end replaced.  This separates us from railway land and goodness knows what in the way of wildlife!  We have chosen concrete gravel boards as means of trying to prevent fox damage but we are already taking bets on how long it will be before a fox takes a chunk out of the fence!

From our long ‘to do’ list, this leaves us with ‘dig a new border’ yet to be tackled.  At present we cram all our flowering planting into one section of the garden and beyond that we have a bank of greenery for most of the year.  The choisya flowers in the spring and that sits next to an acuba which provides some bright lime green variation in leaf colour and then a lot of green lilac.  My plan is to dig out in front of this and use it as a backdrop to some late summer colour.  The area is very sunny and I think the hot colours will work here.  It is also in direct view from the house so will have visual impact.  I already have a few plants stashed away in pots ready to plant out here so all we have to do now is start digging before the ground begins to harden. You know how we’ll be spending our Easter bank holiday weekend!