Outside the Backdoor

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


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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!

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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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New border, new blooms

I have a new flower border!  It had existed in my head for ages but finally, in April, we took spade to turf and dug away,  It was quite a plunge to take but I’m glad we decided to dive in as I’m now beginning to see the effect I was hoping for.

I know many garden designers would criticise us for ‘gardening around the edges’ and not dividing the garden into ‘rooms’ or creating weaving pathways, but we are in a densely packed part of south west London so we have always appreciated the sense of openness that we get in our garden.  What we have done on this occasion is to deepen the border on the left-hand side in front of a bank of shrubs, some of which are evergreen (Choisya) but most of which is deciduous Lilac.  Both the Lilac and Choisya are wonderful in Spring when in flower but the rest of the year they can be a bit dull.  So, by removing a swathe of grass from in front of these to shape a new planting area, and by a careful selection of plants, we have attempted to create an area which will be colourful from early to late Summer.  The border is also directly in line of view from the house so having some bright colour to look out onto was also part of our intention.

Having removed the turf (and re-used some of this to patch dead areas of lawn) and then edged it, we set about digging over the rather dry soil and enriching it with our own leaf mould, before deciding exactly what was to be planted there.

In preparation – is it deep enough?


Shopping for high / later summer perennials in early spring is, as we discovered, surprisingly cost effective as smaller versions of the plants are just coming into garden centres and often on deals such as 3 or 4 for £10.00.  Having agreed that this was going to be a hot colour scheme, on one such trip we acquired some golden Heleniums, scarlet Monardas and orange Penstemon.  Before planting out, the plants spent a few days on the patio in the shelter of the house during which time the Heleniums grew and grew!  However, this was nothing compared to the Monardas once planted!  It was like a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk as these plants appeared to put on an inch a day!  I have never grown Monardas before and you may not be that familiar with them but they are the cultivated form of Bergamot which is used to flavour Earl Grey tea.  Their leaves are incredibly aromatic if you rub them between your fingers.  Another common name for Monardas is ‘bee balm’ as they are a very nectar rich, bee friendly plant, so we are looking forward to them contributing to our efforts to ensure that our garden is as bee-friendly as possible.  The Penstemons have proved interesting.  These are Penstemon ‘pinus’ and, as the name suggests, they look just like little pine trees!  They are so unlike the other penstemons we have around the garden.  It felt like their tiny flowers appeared from nowhere but they are providing a glowing orange edge to the border.
A trip to a previously unexplored garden centre with a gardening enthusiast friend led to the acquisition of a deep yellow, repeat flowering rose to provide some central structure to the border.  To our surprise, the Togmeister has already produced a clutch of blooms and more are appearing.  It is a relatively low growing rose which has meant getting down on our knees to check out the scent.

Togmeister by Peter Beatles


To provide some cooler contrast, I have also planted two Eryngiums.  I do love these spiky plants even if they can be quite prickly to plant!  One of them is the smooth leaved variety whilst the other of the more vicious spikey leaved type.  This latter plant has also shot up to about a metre high in a matter of weeks and is covered in pale flower stars that have deepened and deepened through mid-blue to an intense purple.

Eryngium – early flowers


And then it was purple!

Eryngium – by mid June


It’s not all been about adding to the coffers of the garden centres!  The new border has provided a home for some bright and dark dahlias which spent previous summers in pots to protect them from slug attack.  We have decided to brave planting them out for a better show of flower.  The dry spring combined with a very small, judicious use of so-called ‘environmentally friendly’ slug pellets has helped to protect them so far.  A couple of these dahlias were grown from cuttings that I managed to propagate last autumn and to keep alive!  Cuttings are never my strong point and I’m always amazed when occasionally they work.  We have also dotted about a few of our self-seeded Stipa Tenuissima grasses which grow like weeds in our garden.  This particular grass provides a wonderful sense of movement.

Inevitably I am now wondering whether we should have dug the border wider and deeper.  This is partly due to a rather sad occurrence which is going to change the shape of that side of the garden.  It seems that our ornamental flowering Cherry tree is no more.  It produced a few buds in Spring but no real blossom to speak of and is entirely bereft of leaves.  I will probably write more about this at a future date but, the impact of this in relation to our new border, is that we avoided continuing the border under this tree as it would have been too shady.  People often talk about gardening as ‘shaping nature’ but just occasionally nature takes its own course and forces you to have a bit of a rethink.

For now, however, I am very pleased with my view down onto the mix of green and red foliage, illuminated here and there with bright spots of yellow, orange and purple and I am looking forward to a riot of hot colours as July and August approach.

Early June


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Another good year for the roses?

I am sitting out in the garden surrounded by roses, a somewhat calming experience after all the tension surrounding the EU Referendum, and rewarding given the stormy weather of the past week.  This year seems to be an exceptionally good year for them.  If I turn to Facebook, several of my friends have been posting photographs of stunning roses from their own gardens.  In fact one friend caused a great cross-purposes conversation by posting dozens of photos of ‘Graham’ and ‘Gertrude’ which caused J to remark that she was even posting photos of other people’s roses now until I gently pointed out that she was referring to her roses ‘Graham Thomas’, a lovely deep yellow/gold, and ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, a dense cabbage shaped pink!

Without doubt June is the month for roses and both of my gardening magazines arrived sporting photographs of beautiful blooms on the covers this month – in June roses sell!  The trouble with magazines arriving featuring roses is that you are always tempted to acquire some more!  I used to think that I wasn’t a rose person but I think I now need to put my hand up and admit that this is no longer the case.

 

This morning I started by taking photographs of two of my roses that are just starting to come into bloom.  My Shropshire Lad (above), a David Austin rose, had the most perfect pinky / peach bloom opening and adjacent to it the Rosa Mutabilis (below) had the perfect set – tight buds, slightly open buds plus a full bloom, all displaying closely together.  Of all our roses I think it’s fair to say that Rosa Mutabilis is the hard worker, the one that starts flowering in May and will still be performing its socks off come September.  The flowers are single, so attract bees, and are relatively small.  They start each day crisp and peachy and then gradually they darken into a deep cerise.

 On the opposite side of our garden we have had a huge surprise this spring.  The red climbing rose (Etoile de Hollande) that we despaired of, has sprung into action and produced the most blooms in its life!  We first planted it to grow up the pergola some 15 years’ ago but it was reluctant to either grow or flower.  Each year we had two or three flowers that were so dark in colour that they just disappeared into the green background.  No amount of careful pruning, feeding or training could seem to coax it to produce the sort of display we had in mind.  Whilst the blooms were stunningly scented as promised, we had to be quick to catch a whiff of them, being sure to cross the wet grass at just the right moment.  After seven or eight years of this we gave up!  We bought a white climber (Iceberg) that was known to be more prolific and which would show up better at a distance.  Out came Etoile and it was somewhat unceremoniously planted on the opposite side of the garden, near the greenhouse, and in an area that we don’t really know what to do with as it is very overshadowed by next door’s huge Magnolia.  However, last year our neighbour decided that said Magnolia really was getting far too big for its boots and so the tree surgeons were employed to do some radical but careful pruning.  Presumably as a result of having more light and air, the rose has leapt into action!  It has been flowering for a couple of weeks already and, as I look across now, I can see at least a dozen flowers open.  Being next to the greenhouse, it is much nearer the house and easier to take a sniff at its magnificent scent each time we pass.  I am hoping that, now it has finally found its feet, this is the start of something new and we’ll have many fragrant Springs to come.

Fortunately, after all that swapping around, I’m pleased to say that the Iceberg climber has grown well and is set to be a stunner this summer.  The first buds are just beginning to unfurl but the plant is covered in them.  In terms of shape, this rose is doing just what we hoped for and has grown up one column of the pergola and then along the top so that you can sit beneath an arch of rose.  The only snag is that the rose now appears to be pushing the pergola over and everything has a distinct lean!  In the autumn / winter we will be faced with the challenge of replacing the pergola but without disturbing the plants too much.

The other rose I wanted to comment on is both the biggest and the smallest.  It’s a tiny white flowered wild rose that forms a long bank beneath our cherry tree and was here when we arrived.  I have to credit J with giving this a great deal of TLC which means that it is now a shapely bank of green dotted with little white stars that really bring light to an otherwise dark area of the garden.  Rather strangely, just as it flowers it also throws out long branches of new growth which can sometimes hide the flowers.  Each year we remove these but we have wondered whether these would flower in the autumn?  I guess that there’s only one way to find out!

Roses consistently top the polls in voting for the nation’s favourite flower which led me to wonder whether any of you have a favourite flower that you would like to share here?  Or perhaps even a favourite rose?