The Orange Tip

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Tag: nature

Hortus: Gardening in Winter

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I was recently asked to contribute to the theme of ‘Winter Gardening’ for an issue of the quarterly gardening journal, Hortus. Lovely subject, of course, but particularly as it gave reason to reflect back on the Garden at Richmond, which now only exists in memory. I included the following extract, taken from the notebooks written while head gardener there, which were compiled for the publication ‘Ivy Cities’, some years ago:

‘I’m up on the shed roof again, sat beside the chimney I fitted two autumns ago. There’s warmth in the pipe from the last smouldering of this morning’s fire. I haven’t been up here to sit in quite a while, only climbing up on occasion to clean the flue of soot. The sun is low over the golf course to my right and the stark winter shine, at 11am, has only just reached across the roofline, casting a shadow of my figure right across to other side of the log pile. The logs are disintegrating a little more each day. Teeming underneath must be a great wealth of creatures, all working at the slow demise of the pile, chewing wood to mulch. Nettles and alkanet have rooted inside the composted crevices of the logs then spread on across the wild garden floor. A pair of squirrels chase through the sycamore above where long-tailed tits dart between branches and feed among the leafless twigs. A blue tit has already begun work on one of the nest boxes in an adjacent tree, excavating the remains of last year’s nest. In time each of the remaining boxes will be claimed, cleaned and renovated, ready for the spring clutch and the exhausting demands of incubation and parenthood.

Beyond the sycamores the pond is layered with a thin sheet of ice. Yellow iris and browned reedmace have begun to fold and collapse into the water, the latter’s seed long since carried up on the wind. Outside the wild garden, along the fence line, bare stems of ash, lilac and snowberry all merge in hue; a soft grey brown, dark at the tips, green in bud. Berries hang from the tops of last year’s shoots – bulging puVs of white, like little ping- pong balls. The beech tree at the back of the house stands in a pool of its own nut-brown leaves, a thick mulch returning to the soil. From here I can see the terrace beds, each cut to the ground, bare and simple. Rosettes of perennials remain however; the structural backbone of the long border still marked out by aconitum, echinops, knautia and veronicastrum. A nuthatch bobs its swooping flight over the top meadow and a blackbird flutters with less grace in the opposite direction. There are hips on the roses, hung like chandeliers from vertical stems that reach out from the tangled leaders tied flat to the house. I’ve worked hard at the climber beside the kitchen window, however it will soon require a second prune and some careful consideration. Mahonia is in flower along the walkway, less in number this winter following decimation under the fallen beech limb a couple of months ago. At the garden wall bordering the park, the walnut tree bark shines silver in the bright sunshine.’

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Hortus is a fantastic gardening journal, which I have written for on occasion over the last few years. More info here: HORTUS.

Central Oregon

Verbascum

My preoccupation with the landscape of western America has grown steadily over the years, beginning in 2014 with a pivotal road trip through the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana and Oregon. Articulating the West’s magnetism for naturalists – why it remains a draw for environmentalists and gardeners alike – is a task better left to professionals: Jonathan Raban (journalist and Englishman moved to Seattle) summarises it perfectly, writing in Granta Journal back in 2008;

“In the dry and lightly populated West, for all the ranching, farming, logging, mining, damming and city-building that have gone on for the last century and a bit, (…) Americans have altered the land less immutably than the Romans, Saxons and Normans altered the face of England. Most of what has been done here still looks like a recent project, a work in early progress, that could yet be stopped..

(…) here, where the lust for the antique is no less keen than in Britain, the true antiquity is wilderness. Old mining towns, chasing tourist dollars, deck themselves out with false storefronts, wooden boardwalks, faux shoot-’em-up saloons, but nobody’s fooled. The real thing – the pricelessly antique antique – is deep forest, the river running wild, the open prairie. There is no second nature here to fall back on, only an either/or choice between nature as it was before we came and the dreck we’ve piled on it in the recent past..”

The concept of ‘Second Nature’ explains it all for the European, whose natural world appears wild, yet reflects centuries of human alteration. In the West, however, primal Nature remains visible just under the surface.

I have passed through central Oregon three times now, each time more enthralling than the last. Here are a few photos I took, with my dad’s old Canon 35mm, during the last, all-too-short visit.

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Oregon Diary

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Toast Travels

I’ve started writing monthly articles on plants and Nature for the lifestyle and fashion brand, Toast. The first piece looks at the wildflowers and wildlife of Caldey Island in Pembrokeshire, South Wales: Island Growing

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Caught By The River

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The good people at Caught By The River wrote a lovely review of my journal, Ivy Cities. You can read it here: Review: Ivy Cities

The journal has had a limited print-run, and copies are available for purchase here.

Caught By The River is a wonderful blog that chronicles the many wonders, challenges and surprises of the natural world.

Suburban Hawk

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Every now and then one spots something in the corner of the eye when walking; something taken to be immobile, inanimate. Only, in that same moment the mind registers life, and it sends a bizarre kind of shock down the spine – this object is a living thing, despite what your eyes are telling you.

I’m fond of these moments, however unnerving the surprise and infrequently they occur. The shock is a thrill, like plunging into cold water. Spotting a lime hawk moth sat motionless in the road in front of me today brought the same chilling excitement as that which accompanied the stag beetle on my desk, the eagle in the acacia, the grass snake in the pond.

Caldey Island

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Three nights on Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire, West Wales. More information and images on the ‘Away’ page: away

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Soft light

Wild Columbine

Aquilegia

Pond’s Eye View

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Hornet

Hornet
I found a hornet, crawled into the letter box for its final days on earth. Five pence for scale..

The Rising Wilderness

We’re now entering the period which, last year, as a head gardener I found terrifying. The bulbs die back to a yellowish pond-weed green, the safety netting of once-forceful blue forget-me-nots dries to a scraggly grey, and seedlings of all forms blanket every inch of soil. Cow parsley and Alkanet tower over each other competing for sunlight in every shady spot and the lawn is quickly filling up with clumps of plantain and ranunculus. The pots must all be changed over too and I’m completely dependant on whatever has managed to successfully grow on enough in the greenhouse to take up the spaces. It’s a disastrous frenzy. Or at least, that’s how it seemed to me last year.

This year however, I’ve decided to calm down, breathe, and enjoy the beautiful elements I previously passed off as irritants. Replacing worry with  statergy, I’m moving through the garden more sensibly in a slower and more appreciative manner. This began by getting to the pots early and removing the bulbs just at the point of going over, rather than after a month of steady decline. Even if this meant simply getting the lilies in, and getting to the under planting later, it’s most of the job taken care of. I’ve been applying the same principle to the cutting beds; removing bulbs before they look ill and sowing the replacement cut-flower annuals directly. Plants sown last Autumn in the greenhouse that have made it through the winter are only a few in species, but include; cornflowers, oriental poppies, euphorbias, sweet williams, brizas, nigellas, and scabiosas. I’ve lined these out already (ignoring talk of more frost) and slowly the gaps are filling up. The real lift will be when the dahlias are ready to come out. But this won’t be for some time.

For the rest of the borders it’s now a case of steadily going through and pulling up the forget-me-nots, removing spent tulip foliage, weeding out unwanted seedlings and re-homing self-sown plants into more desirable locations. I’ve found that the rogue scabious, Knautia macedonica, is a particularly prolific self-distributor, delivering many new clumps each Spring. The temptation last year was really to leave everything to flower right until the last possible moment which, at such a critical transitional period in the flowering year, was ultimately my mid-season undoing. Although, conversely, it is a good principle for the later Summer flowerers. Half the benefit of plants like the verbenas, sedums and echinops’ is in their formation of architectural and wildlife-encouraging seed heads.

As for the wilder fringes of the garden, my attitude this year has been just to leave it all be. Save for a few paths strimmed in through the mass in order to get in close to the wilderness, it’s much nicer to, for now, simply let nature get on with things and watch as the colours change.