Outside the Backdoor

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


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Definitely NOT outside the back door!

Over the past couple of weekends I have made a fascinating study of front gardens.  This isn’t a new passion of mine and I’m not about to re-title this blog anytime soon.  I have been leafleting and, I will put my hand up now, to admit that I am about to make a shameless plug for a amateur show that I’m involved with – Hounslow Light Opera’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors‘ (tickets still available – and there is a horticultural connection!!)

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We do many things to promote a show and door-to-door leafleting is one of them.  I’ll readily admit that it’s not my favourite task but it does provide a fascinating opportunity to see what other people living locally have done with their front gardens.

May be it’s just a South-West London thing but to me front gardens are definitely the poor relation.  How often has anyone said to you that you must come round as their front garden is looking stunning at the moment?  Living where we do, front gardens are either for car parking or skip parking as yet another house extends up, sideways or even down!

I will confess that local front gardens have sprung a few surprises on me recently.  For example, I have been surprised at the prevalence of plastic trees … yes, really!  Plastic box in tubs and hanging plastic box balls, which have a tendency to fade to blue, seemed surprisingly popular in one local street.  (Hampton friends reading this, it’s OK, it’s not you!)

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Another striking thing has been the multitude of different hues of gravel, from the humble grey beach pebble through to the designer purple slate chips.  I confess I quite liked the slate grey and white gravel in front the house with a matching slate grey door with white surrounds.  We have gravel in our front garden but it’s a fairly boring shade of brown (or gold as the packet claims).  Another neighbour recently gravelled her front garden as a quick option (they intend to extend in a few years and so don’t want to create a lovely garden and then plonk scaffolding in it) but she’s quickly discovered one big disadvantage – the foxes absolutely love playing in it at night!

Our own front garden has had a rather chequered history.  When we moved here, it was dominated by a monkey puzzle tree which was certainly a talking point.  Then all of a sudden, twelve years ago now, it died.  It was incredibly sad to see this and the speed with which it happened was truly shocking.  This picture shows it at the start of 2005 when it was still vividly green.

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But by the end of 2005, the branches were brown and crisp from top to toe and even more vicious than when it had been alive!  (Although they did look great in the frost and covered in cobwebs.

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Once the tree had been taken down, we really didn’t know what to do to fill the gap.  Pots, including one with a eucalyptus that became far too big, filled the space and continue to do so today.

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We never knew why the monkey puzzle died and that has always deterred us from committing again to something distinctive in the front garden.  So enjoy our spring hellebores, our potted hollies by the door and the blast of golden forsythia in the front and middle hedge every spring but, beyond that I realise we are just like everyone else and most of our focus is outside the back door!

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Still, I’m not going to complain.  At least these plants don’t demand blood!

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Hellebore heaven

Have I talked to you about hellebores?  Well even if I have, I think they’re worth mentioning again, particularly right now when the garden is positively brimming with them!

31773987601_cdb90c80a5_zI find it intriguing that hellebores are so closely linked to the Christian year.  At Christmas 2015 I was given a beautiful white ‘Christmas rose’.  My previous experience of this particular type of hellebore was that they are somewhat challenging.  The only one I’d owned before had flatly refused to flower at Christmas and, in fact, one year produced one single brilliant flower in August!  After a few years of limping along with the occasional odd flower, it vanished!  So having been given a rather splendid specimen, I treated it very gingerly throughout last summer and was thrilled to see it come back into flower just before Christmas.  It has been flowering constantly ever since and has just recently produced a further two pure white blooms.

However, it is the ‘Lenten rose’ that is dominating the garden right now.  By the way, I should add that neither are actually ‘roses’ apparently!  It could be as much as fifteen years since we purchased our first helleborus niger.  We had been inspired by a Spring pot being planted up on Gardeners’ World and went out to search for a dark purple plant.  A year or so on and we began to realise just how many tiny seedlings were being produced from this plant each year.  We potted some up carefully and weeded others out.  We eventually began to plant up the far end of the garden with the ones that had matured into flowering.  Of course these then went on to self-seed too … what more do I need to say?!

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Spurred on by our success, we purchased a larger plant of the more traditional cream with 33245189795_4d04b25ed1_zburgundy freckles variety.  This eventually outgrew its pot and, along with its offspring, it to moved to the far end of the garden.  Now we occasionally refer to this as the ‘woodland garden’ which is a rather grandiose title for the triangle beyond the cat fence which is extremely shady as it is dominated by our cherry plum tree, a large holly beyond the fence and a self-set sycamore which Network Rail refuses to chop down.  Of course this makes the perfect conditions for hellebores which perform the classic woodland cycle of coming into flower and doing their stuff before the leaf canopy fills in above.  Consequently they have multiplied in their thousands!  Every year we pull out hundreds and hundreds of tiny seedlings, sifting through to see which ones look strong enough to leave or are placed co33203518586_00a6477a19_znveniently to fill a gap.

About five years ago, we bought a tray of pale pink hellebores and these have now started crossing with the others.  So we are seeing some intriguing hybrids combing various shades of pink, purple and cream.  Whilst they are very beautiful, they are also very frustrating in the way that they hang their heads so that you have to bend over and lift the flower to see their full glory … which is exactly what I did last weekend to collect the photos on this page!  It was a true delight to discover what lay beneath.