Outside the Backdoor

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


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You can never have too many roses!

“You can never have too many roses!”  So said Monty Don recently in his book Nigel – My family and other dogs which, incidentally, is a delightful read being as much about his garden at Longmeadow as it is about his canine companions.  I’ve said this before but I didn’t used to think I was a rose person.  I always left roses to my Mum who seemed to have the knack of pruning them to produce some spectacular blooms.  However, more and more I have come to appreciate roses in the garden, not just for their beauty but also for their scent, their long flowering period and their attractiveness to wildlife.  The number of roses in our garden has crept up steadily on us and, until just before Christmas, numbered nine.  However, with our two recent acquisitions, which John is preparing a bed for, we are now up to eleven.

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Rose – A Shropshire Lad (c) Elizabeth Malone

The new acquisitions are going to be planted with a backdrop of roses themselves.  We have extended the flower bed in front of the cherry tree trunk which itself is backed by the small white flowering shrubby climber or rambler.  It’s a rose that we inherited with the garden and we have no idea what it is!  All we know is that it grows vigorously and produces charming little star-like white flowers which attract a multitude of hoverflies.

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Our mystery rose (c) John Malone

One of the newcomers is a yellow Rosa Mutabilis.  We already own the pink variety which has turned out to be a real performer.  It will start flowering sometime during May and will continue right into the autumn.  The flowers emerge a rich peach colour and then deepen to pink.  It is a single flower with a lovely scent which all contributes to it attracting the bees.  We are now planting the yellow variety to complement the hot border that I created last year.  The flowers should emerge a deep buttery yellow and then fade to cream.  It is also due to be a repeat flowerer but sadly this one says it lacks scent.  It does, however, have the advantage of having relatively few thorns – unlike its pink relative!

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Rosa mutabilis (c) John Malone

The other newcomer is Rosa Helenae which, if the write up is to be believed, will make up for the lack of scent in Mutabilis.  It is described as being very wildlife friendly, producing lots of orange hips for the birds in the autumn and also having good autumn colour.  Helenae is a creamy white with a yellow centre and produces its flowers in large clusters.  It should flower profusely throughout the summer.  It’s going to be planted at an angle so as to scramble up the trunk of the cherry.

Of course what this means is that, come every future February, we will now have considerably more pruning and feeding to do!  Although due to the poor weather, it was March this year before I worked my way around the garden clutching my trusty box of organic rose fertiliser.  I try to remember to feed all the roses in February and again in June to either keep them flowering or boost a potential second flush.  We also mulch them each Spring with stable manure.  We must be doing something right as the plants do seem to be flourishing.

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Rose – Togmeister (c) John Malone

At the far end of our garden we have some shrubby roses that don’t flower terribly well but do smell beautiful when they do.  They are Rosa Canina – the dog rose.  I do hope Monty Don has some planted somewhere at Longmeadow – it would seem appropriate!

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Rain, rain go away!

I wrote this post a few weeks ago for the church magazine.  Little did I know but rain was about to be the least of problems for us gardeners this “Spring”!  Note the inverted commas, as Spring has really started in a somewhat unusual fashion this week!  When I wrote this back in February, even then I was thinking that I would probably regret this title in July/August when it’s hot, dry and the garden is looking burnt to a crisp!  But right now I have virtually nothing I can write about being outside the backdoor as, so far, the story of 2018 has been rain, or more recently snow, has well and truly stopped play!

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Outside the Backdoor – 2 March 2018 (c) Elizabeth Malone

At least now it is getting lighter!  And by the end of the month, the clocks will have ‘sprung forward’.  No longer do the streetlights turn off as I walk to the station in the morning.  This happens to me for about two or three weeks in the winter when my departure coincides precisely with the timing of the lights and always reminds me of the first Harry Potter film when Dumbledore extinguishes the streetlights so that the wizards delivering the baby Harry to his Aunt and Uncle aren’t spotted by the ‘muggles’.  The evenings are lighter too.  If I leave work on time, it is now light and I’ve even taken a photograph of our emerging new building glowing rosy in a sunset.

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New Town House under Construction, Kingston University, Feb 2018  (c) Elizabeth Malone

However, for most of January and February, whenever I have been available to go out into the garden, the weather has been vile.  I was so optimistic on the second weekend in January when it was dry, not particularly warm but frost free.  We headed outside and soon I was tugging at a horrible dead, slimy mulch of crocosmia leaves, removing them from the border and exposing the bright green shoots of bulbs as well as making the patio look cleaner and neater.  I cleared more dead perennial leaves and shoots from the border and soon filled up our green bin whilst John tackled tidying up the sprawling Clematis tangutica, capturing as many of its silky seedpod heads before they spread too widely and produced a multitude of offspring.

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Clematis tangutica, Bill Mackenzie (c) John Malone

The following weekend it was wet – very wet, and so it has continued.  John has been marginally more successful in getting outside than me.  He often works from home a couple of days a week and seizes the opportunity of a bit of garden tidying in his lunch hour.  Having said that, we seemed to hit several weeks when the sunny days were the ones in the office and vice-versa.  This also led to three slightly tetchy mini-tigers as the cats prowled indoors, expressing their frustration at not being able to get out much.  Still, the other day I returned home to the declaration that the apple trees had now been pruned with a view to encouraging their fruiting spurs and on another occasion I returned from church to find the last prickly twigs of the raspberries being consigned to the rubbish heap.  All it takes is one fine day.  A couple of Sundays back, I returned from church to a sunny but blustery garden to discover that John has acted on my decision to remove much of our Escallonia.  If ever there was a shrub that had become too big for its own good!  Twiggy, dark and misshapen, something had to happen.  From ten feet tall to under two feet tall in a morning!  The light it has created is fantastic and now we can see the lovely Camelia beyond coming into bloom.

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Camelia – February 2018 – (c) Elizabeth Malone

Ironically perhaps, but one of the jobs we need to get done is to repair our water butt connections.  One of the water butts sprung a leak last year and in the early autumn we were able to empty it and John crawled inside to mend it.  Unfortunately this only solved part of the problem as it transpired that the connecting pipe also needed replacing.  We have the components but now we need a dry day to fix them.  It’s particularly annoying as we know we are losing water and, despite the wet weather now, you can be sure that this will all suddenly change and we will soon be needing watering cans.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however.  Looking on the bright side, February has treated us to a charming display of miniature Iris reticulata.  These perfectly formed flowers are real jewels at this time of year.  I have already spotted daffodils in flower up the road (before they got covered in snow!) and I can see giant green spikes in the border so ours are starting to emerge.  What I cannot see, which is somewhat frustrating, are the tulips I planted in the autumn and I strongly suspect that the energetic squirrel chases taking place in the garden are tulip fuelled!

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Iris reticulata – February 2018 – (c) Elizabeth Malone