Outside the Backdoor

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

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Malvern making its mark

The Malvern Flower Show seems like old news now.  Since early May, we’ve had the RHS shows at Chelsea and Chatsworth and Hampton Court and Tatton are just around the corner.  However, I didn’t want to forget our day or what we’ve bought so here’s a round up of how Malvern has left its mark outside the back door.

Spoils of Malvern!

The beauty of the Malvern Show is that it is held in spring when the soil is just warming up nicely and planting conditions are perfect.  At Hampton Court you can also buy plants but it’s in the middle of July and quite often the soil is sufficiently baked that you require a pick axe to create a suitable planting hole!  Selling plants is, of course, somewhat beneath the dignity of Chelsea apart, that is, for the grand sell-off on the final afternoon when you always get those wonderful pictures of people staggering onto buses with plants the size of triffids!

You may recall that earlier in the spring John took the secateurs big-time to the Escallonia bush.  In the course of a Sunday morning, this eight foot by six foot evergreen giant had been reduced to approximately a foot square, thereby revealing a large swathe of hitherto unplanted soil.  Hurrah, new plants, we said!

Malvern provided the perfect opportunity to fill this gap and herbaceous perennials, it turned out, were a bit of a bargain!  Malvern is also an excellent opportunity to buy from smaller nurseries and suppliers.  Quite a few of our ‘souvenirs’ came from A&J Plants, who had an incredibly popular stall – clearly well known to regulars!

And so it was that we ended up packing eleven new plants into the back of our car.  Compared to some people, this was positively restrained but then we did have to transport them around the Midlands safely whilst we visited friends over the weekend!

So what did we buy?  We succumbed to what I am naming my ‘plant of the year’ as it seems to have popped up in every garden we have visited, in the show gardens at Malvern and was later spotted at Chelsea.  It’s a black leaved domesticated version of cow parsley known as Anthriscus Sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’.  It looks very elegant with its light frothy, slightly pink flowers and pairs very nicely with the black Elder that we have nearby.

Anthriscus Sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’

Also light and floaty is the creamy flowered Orlaya.  Sadly this is only an annual but I’m told it’s easy to grow from seed so, if we like it enough, I might give that a go another year.


Keeping to the light and airy theme, we added a new grass. ‘Oryzopsis’ is not a name I was familiar with but I did recognise their common name, ‘rice-grass’.

With a lot of purple in the border, we’ve been trying to add more pinks and whites.  Centaurea ‘Amethyst in Snow’ seemed a good addition as it is both white and purple.

We also purchased a little trio of bright plants to join the hot border.  Two miniature Geums and a Euphorbia Martinii which has acid green bracts with red eyes.  I love Geums but haven’t had much luck with them.  These are in a different place and of a different variety so I’m hoping to have more luck this time around, although Roly (my flower-eating monster feline) has already devoured several flowers.  We added one further grass to this border – the wonderfully named ‘Bunny tails’!  Short in comparison to most grasses, this one forms little mounds of soft, fluffy seed heads.

Orange Geum

Finally, I confess that there was already one plant in the boot of the car by the time we arrived at the Malvern Show.  The previous day we had called into an RHS partner garden, the Picton Garden, just over the other side of the Malvern ridge.  This garden has an associated nursery which specialises in autumn flowering asters – Old Court Nursery.  The garden was very attractive with zingy tulips and vibrant new foliage on both red and green leaved acers.  If you are in the Malvern area, do go and pay it a visit and, obviously if you are in to asters, this would be heaven for you!

Gate to the Picton Garden

However, when it came to choosing an aster as a souvenir of our visit, it was almost impossible as, being autumn flowering, we were faced with a mass of small green plants still emerging from their pots!  Labels indicated size and colour but it was still difficult to know what to choose and so we sought the expertise of the nursery owner who quizzed us over location and what else we already had in the border.  Her recommendation was the very aptly named ‘Cotswold Gem’ which should be a pinky/purple and medium in size.  It seems to have settle in well and so we await with interest to find out later this summer what it really looks like!

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Relishing the roses

Back in March I wrote that you can never have too many roses! Some friends literally took me at my word and on our Silver Wedding anniversary we received not one, but two Silver Anniversary roses! I’m pleased to report that they are doing well and we’ve had our first bloom.

It was the emergence of this first bud that prompted me into thinking that it was time to do a quick round up of how our roses have been doing so far this Spring / early Summer. For those of you who normally read these blog posts in our church magazine, you’ll realise why this one won’t make it to print there – black and white would be such a waste!

Ahead of the game we started the rose season with the first bud of Rosa Mutabilis, the China rose. This amazing plant produces these beautiful, open yellow / flushed pink flowers which gradually darken to a deep cerise. The openness of the flowers means that they are attractive to wildlife, they smell beautiful and the bush will continue to flower well into the autumn. Described like that, it really is the perfect plant!

So perfect that John decided that we would have the yellow variety as well. Sadly this doesn’t have the same scent. However, it looks like being a do-er again as, whilst newly planted this year, it has leapt into flower!

Another do-er is our Shropshire Lad. Bought in memory of my father, who was a Shropshire Lad, it started life in my mother’s garden and I still remember the day when, with a friend’s help, I wrestled it from the ground to bring it here. That was the day that I learnt just how long a tap-root a rose can have! Despite all our careful planning, digging a broad circle around the plant and following all the advice you see on television, we ended up pulling and cursing and eventually cutting some roots. Thankfully it didn’t hold it back and it soon settled in and rewards us with blooms for most of the summer

Shropshire Lad has been causing a bit of debate on another garden blog so I hope this picture will add evidence to Ali, the Mindful Gardener‘s, conclusion that she doesn’t own a Shropshire Lad!

Which just goes to show how difficult it is to identify a rose if you don’t know what it is. Here’s a good example. This next rose had a difficult start in life. Planted in a pot on my mother’s patio, she hadn’t bargained for the builders next door dropping cement all over it! Fortunately roses are tough at heart and since moving it here it has gradually found its feet but sadly I don’t know what it is. I am open to suggestions!

Last year when planning our new hot border, we decided that a rose would be a good addition as it would add longer flowering interest than many of the perennials often associated with hot border planting such as dahlias. I spent a long time looking at different yellow and orange roses before finally settling on Togmeister. I didn’t twig immediately that it was named after Terry Wogan but, with its irrepressible flow of golden blooms, it is perhaps aptly named.

Last year Togmeister flowered and flowered and is giving every indication of doing exactly that again this year. In a way this is good as the blooms don’t actually last very long. The rosebuds are a perfect shape and deep buttery yellow but, once fully open, the flowers fade quite quickly to pale yellow and then fall. It also has a delicious scent, slightly on the lemony side, what you might call a very ‘clean’ smelling rose rather than dense and cloying.

Finally I just want to mention our climbing Iceberg. John had trained this so beautifully on the pergola this year, carefully pruning to encourage upward flowering shoots only to discover that this meant that the buds were perfectly placed for marauding squirrels to devour! Courtesy of the cats we are now one squirrel less but there’s still at least three around which has prompted us to deploy hot chilli powder to the tops of the pergola in the hopes that it really is a deterrent! Meanwhile, we were thrilled this week to see that a small cluster of blooms had defied the cheeky wildlife and was managing to flower. What a sight this rose would have been if all the flowers had been able to bloom ….

Photography – Credit this time around to John Malone for the pictures of ‘Silver Anniversary” and ‘Shropshire Lad’. The rest are down to the author!