Outside the Backdoor

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


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As the backdoor closes on another year …

In this Betwixtmas world between Christmas and New Year, what is there to do outside the backdoor?  It’s either frozen solid or sodden, or worse still, both!  We’ve had several mornings where heavy rain has fallen on icy ground, leaving me wondering why people all round the country are paying for the pleasure of ice-skating when they could just take a slide outside!

It is a time, however, for reflection and for planning.  In January Outside the Backdoor celebrates two years as a blog and I’m delighted to say that my WordPress statistics suggest that in 2017 I more than doubled both the views and visitors to the site, which is very rewarding, making it seem all worthwhile. So thank you to everyone who has shown interest and please do keep reading!

So as we look back over 2017, what have been the highlights of the year from Outside the Backdoor?  Well I can’t resist starting with an update on my yucca situation.  Back in October I wrote about Yuccas and me and, at that time the original stalk from which we had taken this year’s cutting, had been unceremoniously dumped behind the garden shed.  It wasn’t our intention to leave it there for long but you know how it is.  Imagine our astonishment when in the depths of November we were having a general tidy around the garden and John spotted that the stem was sprouting!  We brought the pot back indoors and now we have a very healthy set of leaves emerging.

Unexpected yucca sprouting 1 (c) John Malone

And the yucca story doesn’t stop there.  When we took the previous cutting, possibly in 2014, we used the old stem as part of the fill in under our fence to prevent the foxes tunnelling their way through.  On a foray to the far end of the garden to inspect holly in the hopes of a berry or two for Christmas, John spotted that this stem is also shooting!  What is going on?!  These yuccas are obviously a good deal tougher than one might think!

Unexpected yucca sprouting 2 (c) John Malone

 Another highlight of 2017 was definitely crab apple Laura who regaled us with spectacular blossom and a very generous crop of fruit in the autumn, resulting in many jars of jelly and a good contribution to church sales!

Crab apple jelly 2017 (c) Elizabeth Malone

Top of my local highlights list comes my new hot border.  Dug and planted up in the Spring, it provided us with a stunning array of golden yellows, burnt oranges and fiery reds through into the autumn.  In fact, the final flowers of the last rudbedkia only gave into the frosts in early December.  This border was really rewarding and I am only left wondering why we didn’t create it sooner.

New hot border ‘outside the backdoor’ (c) Elizabeth Malone

In this period of looking backwards and forwards, there are two things I’d highlight from 2017 that I hope will come to pass in 2018.  The first is a definite as it is already sitting outside the backdoor now waiting to be planted properly.  We have acquired two new roses, one of which was inspired by our trip to Denmark earlier in the year and in particular to the spectacular gardens of Egeskov Castle.  The Garden of Life, with its journey through time was exceptionally beautiful and we spent a disproportionate amount of our visit here admiring its planting.  The White Garden was also stunning and both had a rose in common – a creamy white rambler with a gorgeous scent which we had seen flourishing elsewhere in Scandinavia.  Courtesy of Peter Beales’ website, Rosa Helenae has since appeared in my Christmas ‘stocking’ – well, heeled into the veg plot as a temporary measure, to be more precise!

The White Garden, Egeskov Castle, Denmark (c) John Malone

What hasn’t arrived yet, and it is probably only a ‘yet’, is a pot or two of Stipa Gigantea.  A week away in early autumn was spent with a view of this golden grass greeting us every morning.  We saw it in rain, wind and occasionally sunshine and left with a strong sense of ‘must have’.  It is on the new year shopping list!

Stipa Gigantea at the Fishing Lodge, Netton (c) Elizabeth Malone

What better way to end 2017 than devising a shopping list for 2018!  And I’ve not even started browsing the seed catalogues that have dropped onto the door mat over the Christmas break – how timely!  So as we say farewell to 2017, let’s look forward to the garden flourishing in 2018.

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Dotty about dahlias

Long gone is the era when dahlias were distinctly passé.  For the last ten years or more, dahlias have undergone a huge resurgence in popularity, mostly attributed to the incredibly successful ‘Bishop’ series with their dense dark red foliage.  The most popular of these is Bishop of Llandaff but, due to a number of mishaps, we don’t have any of these outside the back door.  We do, however, have some fellow Bishops – notably Oxford and Canterbury, the result of a newspaper offer on Bishop dahlias that we sent off for some years ago.

Initially we kept our dahlias in pots.  This was based on our bad experiences with the Bishop of Llandaff, one of which drowned on the patio in a very wet spring, and another of which was eaten to death in the border.  Pots seemed a safer option, added to which we could enjoy the flowers close to the house.  We also didn’t really have the right sort of space in the border for planting them out.  However, with the advent of my new hot / late summer border, that has all changed.

Much of the appeal of dahlias is their ability to extend the season.  For the first years that we lived here, I joined the ranks of frustrated gardeners who despair in August as the beautiful flower border of May and June is transformed into a rather desolate flower-less sight.  I know that there’s nothing wrong with green and I relish our evergreens in view in the depths of winter, but in July, August and September, I want something a bit more vibrant!  So, with the new border in place, our Bishops were released from the confinement of their pots and, goodness me, have they taken advantage!  At one point in the middle of August I counted no less than 19 flowers in full bloom on our Oxfords.

Having got into dahlias via the dark-leaved varieties, we have gradually become more adventurous in our choices, realising that it’s not so much about the leaf colour as the flower shape and that there are many, many different flower shapes, some of which will appeal more than others.  I cannot, for example, imagine us suddenly developing a liking for pom-pom dahlias!  They are just not our cup of tea.  Star-shaped dahlias, however, we love and are particularly pleased with ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’ which produces extremely dark red flowers that are almost black and which beautifully complement the orange of the Oxfords.  The star-shaped flowers have much sharper, linear petals whereas the Bishops tend to have much smaller, rounded petals but both are very much single flowers with wide open centres which are a magnet for bees.

Verrone's Obsidian

Into this mix come our Honkas!  Another star dahlia, we have both red and yellow varieties.  The yellows are just such a happy flower, shining like sunrays even on the gloomiest summer day.  The reds are incredibly rich in colour.

I really felt that I had achieved what I set out to do when, on the August bank holiday weekend, a friend remarked on the amount of colour we had in the garden.  Although the main part of the border still had some pretty pink, purples and whites, it was the new hot border with the dahlias that was positively zinging and affirming that it wasn’t autumn just yet.  I am now keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t have an early frost as it would be incredibly sad to see this display reduced to a heap of blackened leaves just yet.

Meanwhile we face the dilemma – to lift, or not to lift?  I would say that we live in a mild area and the gardening books and websites suggest that a thick layer of mulch is therefore all we need to keep our dahlias cosy until next Spring.  But we’ve not done that before and have preferred to lift them, dust down and dry off and we have still lost some tubers.  So it’s going to be a difficult decision but, one thing is for certain, I don’t intend to be without dahlias next summer!