Wallflowers and tulips go hand in hand in the traditional English garden. This relationship is one of mutual adoration with the two flowers complementing each other rather than competing, regardless of what colours they may be.
The tulips provide statements like exclamation marks of full impact in the display, while the wallflowers whirl around them. These give colour in a totally different, more delicate form and pump out clouds of rich, exotic fragrance.
Both are demanding, in their own ways. The wallflowers are the most diva-like. I grow my wallflowers from seed. These biennials are best sown in July so that by early October, when they need to be planted into the ground or in containers, they have formed strong plants that will cope with the coming winter weather. Tulip bulbs are planted later, underneath but deeply around the wallflowers, using a very thin and long trowel in November.
Pot grown wallflowers, provided they have been potted on in good time and kept well-fed with a liquid manure feed while in their pots, should be green and healthy looking all through the winter. Bare root wallflowers in comparison, often die over the winter having failed, in the cold soil they have been planted into to develop a good root structure. For them to stand a chance they must be planted as soon as possible – ideally in September.
A new robust series of wallflowers have come onto the market, known as the sunset series. I have grown several of these new ones and they are proving to be very robust and of beautiful shades. I didn’t actually know, however, that I was growing yellow-flowering wallflowers until now. The mistake has been a happy one though, due to the launch of our Yellow Wallflower pattern this spring – so we have both on display in the gift shop this Easter!
The gentle giant Darwin hybrid tulips have come back with as much vigour as they did in their first spring, looking beautiful in all manner of pink to apricot, cream shades. I’d really recommend these tulips if you see them for sale as bulbs this autumn – they are good value, of huge flower heads but look fabulous. I have mixed them with the peony flowering, early tulip called ‘Chato’. It has been a good spring so far for these double, heavy-headed tulips with the rain falling softly – rather than in hard spring storms which batter such varieties, leaving them looking very beaten up with the stains of hard raindrops on their silk petals. With so much pink in full bloom, the courtyard looks like the flamingo parade scene from David Attenborough’s Planet Earth!
Do come and see our tulips on full parade while they are in bloom this Easter – the courtyard is the most colourful place to take tea in for miles around!
Places to visit to see tulips at large this spring include -
- Chatsworth House, Derbyshire – open daily – Tulips are to be seen at large in the kitchen and cutting garden.
- Pashley Manor, Wadhurst, East Sussex – 21ST April – 6th May – A mature, English country garden festooned with tulips at large.
- Easton Walled Gardens, Grantham – open daily – A beautiful cut flower garden and meadows of roses (to be seen, later in the year).
- Perch Hill, East Sussex – Open days on the 28th and 29th of April – see Sarah Raven's garden at peak tulip time, especially good for ideas of creating beautiful container displays.
- The Avenue Gardens, Regents Park, London – open daily – My favourite London Park with bedding displays that are second to none, provided the squirrels haven’t eaten the bulbs!
- Worton Organic Garden, northwest Oxford – open daily – Inspiring, delicious farm shop and garden.
- Please see their individual websites for precise information on entry times and entrance fees, as some mentioned are private homes not public gardens.
Happy gardening and thanks for reading, Arthur Parkinson
10th April 2017
This spring is my third as gardener at the factory. The past few years have seen huge changes to the site as a visitor attraction, with growing visitor numbers each season – most notably for me, the garden has greatly changed too.
It has begun to develop its own identity, now being a mix of a traditional cottage garden scheme jazzed up with the annual growing and planting of tulips and wallflowers for its spring display, who then give way to a summer carnival of dahlias, cosmos, gladioli, tropical foliage and salvias. The sweet pea tunnel and other silver birch staking adds a further vertical element too and much structure. Galvanised bins and old cattle troughs now dominate areas where gravel and concrete once reigned supreme.
The huge Buff Cochins and Millefleur Booted Bantams, whose feather pattern means a thousand flowers, have just been put into their proper garden hen house for the spring and summer season.
They have spent the long winter in one of the warm roof top greenhouses. They have left its very dry beds in a far more fertile state! Now that the whole inside of it has been scrubbed and hosed down, the plan this year is for lots of jewel-coloured chrysanthemums and shaggy, sea-urchin-type flower heads to be grown in here as these will come into flower around Christmas, when the garden is absent of flowers to pick from. Big varieties of flowering zinnias will be planted into the flower beds here too as these don't do very well when put out into the garden, being more of a southern annual than a northern one.
Both these flowers have a very good vase life, lasting for at least a full week once they have been cut.
Over 150 dahlias are being grown from tubers this year, with all of them having been successfully overwintered from last year’s display.
The sweet peas that were sown in December last year are preparing to be planted out in the garden, now growing into strong bushy plants thanks to having such an early start.
The walled garden opens properly this April; visit us in towards the end of the month for the tulips to be on full parade. In the meantime, muscari and narcissi 'Geranium' have started to flower, with the beds becoming greener and more alive as each day passes.
Here are some jobs to be getting on with this month –
Gather silver birch and hazel while the trees are still dormant. In Stoke, this grows as a weed on wasteland so it is easy to find. It's the best material for staking dahlias and delphiniums, and won't root down as willow does either. If you can't cut it down yourself, visit coppice-products.co.uk.
Begin to feed seedling sweet peas now with a liquid feed of comfrey pellets – the more they are fed, the healthier and more flower productive they will be. You should plant them out in the garden by the middle of April.
Order dahlias, gladioli and half hardy annuals – my new favourite from Sarah Raven is the Hollywood gladioli collection.
Weed your flower beds – an arduous task but one that is very worthwhile, before the weeds grow big and then begin to flower.
Order the biological slug and snail control Nemaslug. This is a very effective treatment if you have slug and snail issues, but above all, it is organic and won't harm other good garden insects and garden wildlife. In a small garden it is incredibly effective and well worth its cost.
Happy gardening – Arthur Parkinson
27th March 2017
It’s good to have frost. It wipes out fungal diseases and keeps aphids in check, so I hope that we have lots of crisp, sharp days of winter to come – but no snow! This autumn and early winter has been beautiful gardening weather with the soil only now feeling clammy and cold.
The walled garden has its winter clothes on, with everything being bare and planted up now ready for spring. The big bench has been put under cover and the hens are in the greenhouses keeping warm and enjoying the winter sun.
Now is a time of organising, tidying, rose-pruning, gravel-raking and thinking about what annuals to grow in the spring from seed. The soil is best left alone as it will only cause mud and compaction.
Earlier in the year in August, I was interviewed by the Guardian about the factory’s walled garden. You can read the interview here.
I have been busy with wreath making, and had a great time last weekend teaching lots of lovely attendees how to make wreaths at the first ever Emma Bridgewater wreath workshops at the factory. Peacock feathers are very much in vogue now!
The week of Christmas traditionally sees me going to the flower market to buy a bunch of amaryllis as a treat. These huge flowers are in fact native to the high Andean mountains. I like to mix them with the stems of gathered silver birch in a big vase – the best arrangements are big and often simple.
Wishing all readers, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New year
With best wishes Arthur Parkinson
– the garden will reopen in March when I will begin writing garden blogs for 2017!
A packet of sweet pea seeds in a nice greeting card makes a great Christmas present. The main reason being is because that these seeds can then be sown by the recipient on Boxing Day! Sweet peas are vibrant and full of scent. A bunch of them is a beautiful thing to behold to the senses, but they are one of the most demanding cut flowers to grow – so if you’re going to try growing them, it’s good to know the easiest ways of how to get the very best from them.
I've just sown next year’s sweet peas for the factory garden in the greenhouse here. Three seeds go into a deep rather than square pot – the sort that you buy rose plants in that holds two litres of soil. This is because sweet peas like a long root run from the start of their germination. Traditionally, sweet peas are sown into cardboard tubes. The cardboard however, once wet, often becomes mouldy and rots away within a few weeks so I find that plastic works better. Each seed goes into the pot at about an inch deep, to the first knuckle on your finger.
You can also use root trainers that copy the idea of a bunch of cardboard tubes. Whatever you choose, it’s good to sow these hardy, climbing annuals now, ideally before March so that they can form strong root structures.
If you don't have a greenhouse, plant the seeds on a cool windowsill. I don’t soak the seeds in water beforehand. Without being soaked overnight (which does speed up germination) they will normally take a good two weeks to germinate. If you have a greenhouse, then it’s vital to make sure that it is free from mice, as they will treat the seeds like their Christmas Ferrero Rochers!
Once the seedlings are an inch tall, move them to somewhere sheltered, frost free but cold and light, such as a porch or a slug-proof glass garden cloche. With all seeds, and especially sweet peas, you want bulky, chubby little plants not long, thin whips.
When the little seedlings have four pairs of leaves each, pinch their tips out. This well-known treatment will encourage the plants to form side shoots, resulting in more flowers.
A mature root system will help the young seedlings to get going with gusto when they are planted out in the garden. This happens normally here in late April. Strong sweet peas are less likely to succumb to mildew. They will happily climb up twiggy silver birch and hazel stems; otherwise, you can use canes wrapped strung through tightly with brown twine.
They are hungry plants, so feed them from the outset of planting them in their final positions with well-rotted chicken manure, dug well into the soil before planting them out. If you don't have this, then organic chicken manure pellets are a good alternative. Once they are flowering, you must pick them and continue to do so as much as you can. The tendrils are best removed weekly as blooming starts. This is a long job, but if left, the tendrils will take a lot of the plants’ energy and will trap emerging flowers. Regular watering in the summer is also vital.
Winter sown sweet peas will out do spring sown plants by miles. Once you’ve sown them in the winter and seen or rather picked the difference, you’ll never sow them in the spring again!
The sweet pea tunnel in the garden this year was a huge success and was well worth all the above mentioned efforts. I'm repeating it next year but using other climbing annuals more, such as black eyed Susan's to ensure that the tunnel looks colourful deep into late summer. When the sweet peas eventually go to seed and become brown, these later flowering annual climbers, will keep the vertical display looking vibrant into October.
Arthur's favourite sweet peas all have a good stem length and a good, strong scent - 'Lord Nelson' 'Barry Dare' 'Almost Black' - available from sarahraven.com.
Chickens are a huge part of the garden at the factory. Until now, we have had a mixed flock of pure breed Bantams, consisting of tea-cosy-like Pekin Bantams, sleek feathered Wyandottes and Polands with feathered hats. I take a great pleasure in hatching the eggs, in incubators or under broody hens. Over the summer, the garden has seen various broods of chicks and ducklings grow up within it.
The problem with a mixed flock, however, is that the resulting eggs do not hatch pure breed chicks. They grow up to be a totally mixed bag of appearances, some of which result in very pretty hens, but I feel it’s important to help preserve the rare pure breeds.
To ensure this, the cocks and hens must be of the same breed and match the required standards that are set out by individual breed clubs. Most chicken breeds have their own club, with a dedicated following of fanciers. Some fanciers breed to show, exhibiting their finest birds up and down the country. The pursuit of breeding the finest bird often takes a lifetime to achieve; others stay loyal just for the love they have of a breed, due to a hen’s looks and personality (which do differ greatly).
The largest poultry show is the National, held in Telford. Here, over 7000 birds of almost every recognised pure breed in existence are prepped with shampooed hot baths, Vaseline-d legs and are stroked over with silk handkerchiefs in the run up to them being placed in their judging cages.
The birds will have been taught to relax in such surroundings from being weeks old, and judges will deem a bird that is not standing with grace as a poor entry. Eggs are also shown, with hours being spent over selecting a clutch with exact similarities.
Birds are sold, and money changes hands that would baffle those not involved in buying exhibition birds. The best bloodlines in the country are all under one roof, and competition for birds from lines of the winners is fierce. Every feather is looked at by a judge; the comb, the eye colour, the ear lobe and leg colour. All these aspects add up to a bird gaining a rosette on their cage – or for a large number, sadly nothing.
Regardless of if chickens are kept as pets, for eggs, for meat or in my case for the enjoyment of simply having them around for comfort and movement, they are for many people a huge part of life and a true tonic to it.
My birthday was last month; it was marked by the traditional trip to Chatsworth. I bought a pair of young Buff Cochin chickens from the farmyard there. The farmyard has a number of pure breeds at large, but the most famous and most photographed are the Buff Cochins. The hens lay little more than 80 eggs in a season, so to get these two young birds is a real privilege. I’m sure their huge size and character will be a hit with visitors to the factory when they are on show next year.
They came back on the train with me from the farmyard in a box and the next day were lifted out and into their new winter home, the greenhouse on the factory roof – here they will be warm and sheltered from the winter wind and rain. After being reared in a stable with lots of other pure breed chickens, they at first seemed confused as to what to make of their new glass-walled, marigold-strewn hen house…
Now, about a month on, they have settled down and are relishing the dry soil in which they dust bathe. I’ve since bought other new Bantams, and these also will spend the winter in the greenhouse and go down to the garden in the spring. A pair of Belgian Booted Millefleur Bantam hens arrived last week, with a cockerel of unrelated origin due to join them in due course. I am also looking to find a pair of cuckoo Pekin Bantams. The Bantams will live in arks and be let out in turn on alternate days into the walled garden, while the Cochins will reside in the large hen house and run that backs against the wall. Its solid roof and concrete floor will keep them dry. The Booted Millefleur Bantams will be kept in a hen ark that will be placed in the middle of the new courtyard flower bed as well as an ark in the main garden, a thousand flowers indeed among a thousand flowers!
Due to their comical bathing activities during the Literary Festival this year, I’ll hatch ducklings again in May – probably some Cayugas, as Matthew used to keep them in Norfolk but doesn’t have any at Bampton. They are known for laying almost black shelled eggs and have beautiful emerald green feathers, almost oil-dipped-like, and the ducklings hatch with black fluffy down.
21st November 2016
I set tons of tulips in the factory garden, in all the containers and in the raised beds. There are few other flowers which combine lush colours and forms to deliver such a climax of colour, beauty and perfection as tulips do.
Tulips can be planted much later than other bulbs, from now until Boxing Day, so they can even be given as Christmas presents! A late planting is better for ensuring a successful display as the frosts help reduce fungal spores being present in the soil – although if you’re using fresh compost in containers, this isn't so much of a concern. Because I over plant my tulips in pots with wallflower and other hardy annual plants, most of these combinations have been planted already, so that the plants have time to root before the weather turns really cold. Plant your tulips deep in the ground – at least 15 inches. Ensure that pots have lots of crocks or grit in their bases so that they drain well over the winter. If the spring is dry then you will have to water your pots of bulbs, but otherwise they won’t need watering until the start of March.
These are my favourite varieties that I'm planting this autumn:
I love orange, from light apricot to deep blood orange juice shades: it's a colour that flowers can pull off with huge beauty and elegance. In most of the galvanised dust bins, I've planted a mix of the following orange tulips – almost all of which are scented, which I hope will be a huge noticeable bonus!
- • Ballerina: the classiest stalwart of the lily flowering group, proving to be perennial too. In my first spring in the factory garden two years ago, this was the only tulip in the garden to flower, with Matthew having planted them several years previously. It can be seen in his summertime tulip design too.
- • Brown Sugar: a huge new kid on the block, that I'm sure will soon find itself in the must-plant tulip list of many suppliers. I first grew this tulip three years ago at home in Nottinghamshire in a huge glazed, copper-coloured pot. I didn't plant any in the factory garden last year and greatly regretted not doing so, so it will be at large next year! Its huge flowers are held atop tough, tall stems of a toffee complexion.
- • Cairo: a short tulip, and therefore ideal for pots. I like it due to its name – it reminds me of the beautiful documentary series Joanna Lumley's Nile, where Joanna sits on a train holding a vast map of the African continent and declares, 'and our first stop is Cairo!'
- • Whittallii: I fell for this little tulip species last year at Perch Hill, where it had been planted in terracotta Long Tom pots in Sarah's Oast garden. Small but zesty and exotic, this is one of the tulips that I'm most looking forward to seeing again in the spring of 2017!
Purple, Scarlet and Blue
To have just orange tulips would be too much for the eyes, and for me too tame of a colour scheme – the largely orange-flowering party will be intercepted slightly by deeper, richer colours, given off by my other favourite stalwart varieties, that I plant year in year out.
- • Black Hero: a conker tulip of the deepest blackcurrant jam – almost black satin in the sun, being totally double it flowers for ages and is brilliant for a vase. Similar in form, being another of the peony flowering group, is 'Antraciet' – of silk scarlet, this will be mistaken for an early peony by visitors!
- • Blue Parrot: One of the latest to flower and of thick, curvy, blue wax-like petals. I like to plant it with alliums so that it clashes with their glitterball flowers.
Arthur's Factory Tulip Bulb List
- • Brown Sugar – triumph – buff brown
- • Ballerina – lily flowered – orange
- • Cairo – triumph – orange
- • Whittallii – species – orange/yellow
- • Sarah Raven – lily flowered – velvet burgundy
- • Black Hero – double late – almost black
- • Antraciet – double late – raspberry satin red
- • Blue Parrot – parrot – wax baby blue/lilac
- • Chato – double early – deep pink
- • Bruine whimpel – single late – plum purple and buff
- • La Belle Époque – double late – coffee froth with a hint of smoky pink
- • Ronaldo – triumph – deep plum purple
- • Black Parrot – parrot – deep coffee grain, sultry purple
- • Flaming Parrot – parrot – red and yellow bright
- • Jan Reus – triumph – a deep claret almost purple
- • Van Elk hybrids – Darwin hybrids – pink touched white, peach to deep pink tones
All these tulips can be bought via mail order from sarahraven.com.
Happy gardening and thanks for reading,
14th November 2016
These are my must-have bulbs that I’m planting in the garden over the coming weeks until Christmas. Don’t just plant tulips – combine them with some of the bulbs below for an even more beautiful spring to early summer display.
I like alliums more and more every year. They are cheap to buy as bulbs and if they are planted in well-draining soil, where they don’t get soggy over the winter, they’ll prove to be surprisingly perennial assets to your garden’s late spring and early summer look. If you garden on heavy clay soil (which they won’t like), then add spent compost or grit to their planting hole – this acts as a filter below the bulbs so that they don’t rot. Alliums look best when planted in groups of at least seven. Their leaves can look tatty and brown at their ends, but you can remove these after a few weeks without causing harm to the mother bulb. Alliums are onions, so if you’re using them as cut flowers, it’s vital to add a little bleach to their vase so that the water doesn’t become smelly.
I’ve saved all the allium flower heads from this year – they have now all dried, and I will be spraying them gold and silver to use as Christmas decorations and in dried winter flower arrangements in the shop and café. Alliums are also very good for bees and butterflies. I plant alliums with my tulips, so that containers in the garden beds are overtaken by the alliums, or I plant late tulips so both the flowers clash together – ‘Blue Parrot’ is very good for this. Plant one allium for every three tulip bulbs.
- Purple Sensation: the classic allium, with dense purple flower heads.
- Violet Beauty: the only allium with a noticeable sweet scent of beautiful washed violet.
- Nectaroscordum siculum: a towering, candelabra-like mass of flowers that the bees dance under all day long.
- Sphaerocephalon: the drumstick allium and the very last to flower. Because it’s so late to bloom, I plant it as a bulb now in pots and then plant them out into the garden in May with the summer bedding.
Hyacinths are expensive bulbs, but three to five in a pot near to the back door are worth indulging in, due to their unbeatable scent.
The pot can be brought inside during the day, but put them back outside at night time as they will fade alarmingly fast when faced with indoor heat. When planted outside, they do need to be planted under the soil (not half way out of the soil) as if a hard frost touches them, the bulbs will rot if not totally protected by compost.
My favourite is a variety called ‘Woodstock’: it’s a deep, cut-beetroot dark purple.
Cheaper are the grape hyacinths. I plant these into tiny terracotta pots that fit into a metal auricular stand. Their blue flowers last for weeks. In the garden border, grape hyacinths will form natural blue rivers as they multiply naturally.
Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus
A delicate, perennial species gladioli, found as naturalised as a wildflower in Cornwall and the Scilly isles. Unlike its larger summer flowering cousins, it is hardy, flowers in May and is set as autumn bulb. It is a beautiful pink, almost like an exotic orchid in its flower form. It looks arguably at its best in long grass, so plant it around the edge of your lawn or in the middle and allow the grass to become a meadow.
I never used to like narcissi that much, and I’ll never like them in the traditional rubber-duck-yellow form. They take a long time to die down in the garden, and you have to leave them to go yellow before cutting them back – I don’t like fading things in the garden having to be left, so I have resisted them for a long time. Two, however, have won me over due to their scent and look once cut for the vase. Certain narcissi look beautiful and natural in grass; they become more elegant and ethereal here. The species Poeticus “Pheasant’s Eye”, with its ring neck, pheasant-breast-orange centre and the multi-headed Yazetta type “Geranium” both flower late, and have a beautiful rich fragrance. The Pheasant’s Eye is a must-have bulb to plant in a meadow area of the lawn, where it will naturalize.
All the mentioned bulbs are available to buy via mail order from Sarahraven.com
The next blog will be about the tulips that I’m excited about planting this winter.
24th October 2016
Autumn is arguably as busy as the spring, if not busier. At this time of year, the garden is being stripped back bit-by-bit to its bare earth. The raised bed bones are revealed as annuals are ripped out and wheelbarrowed away. Tender perennials, the salvias and dahlias, are dug up, labelled and then potted up in the greenhouse.
The salvias, such as the hummingbird purple Amistad and the huge, towering Macrophylla, will all be taken onto the roof to stay cosy and protected from the frost in the greenhouses, watered sparingly. Lots of cuttings from these parent plants are already in residence here, ready for next year’s summer display.
I’m also lifting the dahlias in the traditional manner. The modern scheme of thought, which is largely and successfully proven, is to leave the dahlias in the ground and mulch them with spent or mushroom compost. This acts as a blanket for the tubers below ground and protects them from frost. I’ve found that dahlias bloom sooner in the year if given a start under glass; here they are also more protected from slugs as they shoot into growth. It’s a big job to lift and sort through a large number of dahlias, but it will be worth the effort. The tubers look identical once the foliage is cut down, so while I can identify them through their last flowers it’s important to put white labels on the stems, then I know who is who.
Dahlias are originally from Mexico. While they can cope with the cold, a wet winter can result in many being lost. They will rot if they the soil becomes waterlogged. Once each tuber has been dug up and labelled, they are put into a plastic tray and covered with spent compost so they don’t dry out. In late March they will all be potted up into large pots and awoken into growth to be planted out again in mid-May, all being well.
The cosmos and rudbeckias would flower until the first hard frost, but they need to make way now for the foxgloves and wallflowers that need to be planted while the soil is still warm. This will let them root a little bit before the ground becomes cold and clammy. If they are planted too late many will sulk and they may even die, resulting in a poor spring display, so you have to be quite ruthless with things that still have flower buds on.
Bees are still visiting the cosmos and scabious when the sun is out. These are all young queen bumble bees who are building up their reserves ready for the long winter sleep that they have ahead of them. They will have mated with the short lived male bumblebee princes who will have died by now after their brief female encounters. Each pregnant queen will lay her fertile eggs in the spring after her sleep, to start their own hives.
The fox gloves and wallflowers have all been grown from seed, sown in July. Wallflowers are a relic of my childhood as Mum always planted them, as she still does, buying them as bare root plants. Bare root wallflowers are fine if you can get fresh bunches of them and are able to plant them straight away – otherwise if you leave them in a bucket and forget about them, they’ll become very sorry, limp yellow sticks! Around 400 wallflowers will be planted in the coming week and 200 foxgloves; alas, I wish I had many more of the latter, but I’m looking forward to a Beatrix-Potter-like display of them, naturally with broods of ducklings among their towering bee-cladded flowering spires!
The courtyard now has a new flower bed that runs along the Seconds shop windows. It’s really exciting to see it finished, thanks to much help from the maintenance team. Each sleeper has been painted with a black tar-like paint, and several pairs of my jeans bear the scars of this long job. It’s well worth painting the sleepers, as with protection they should last for many years. The new raised bed took 15 tons of top soil to fill! It will copy the planting theme of the other bed which was built opposite it last year, with lots of old English roses, nepeta and grasses, complemented with summer bedding and spring/summer bulbs. It’s a wide raised bed so I’ve put through its middle a narrow, gravel path then I can get into the heart of it come the summer, to tackle and cut flowers from its lush growth.
The hens have been helping me clear the beds as I go – now they must be kept shut in, as they find the wallflowers very tasty!
Thanks for reading - Arthur Parkinson
19th October 2016
I’ve always loved peafowl, and I used to keep them before I moved to Stoke-on-Trent. In celebration of the launch of the new Peacock pattern, this blog is all about them.
Sadly, we can’t have peacocks or peahens at the factory due to the busy road. We could build a huge aviary to keep some in, but I think that such beautiful birds lose their magnificence when kept like other inferior, domestic poultry behind chicken wire!
Peafowl (the plural for both sexes of these birds) are pheasants – the largest of their kind in the world. The most common species is the Indian blue. These are hardy birds who have been bred into a number of feather variations including white, black shoulder and pied.
They originate from India, where they are the national bird. Wild populations often live around villages and are sometimes welcomed, as they are able to kill snakes! Peafowl fly well, roosting in trees at night. Their legs are powerful and when transporting them, a black sock is best placed over their heads so that they keep calm.
In Tudor times, the peacock was seen as the ultimate roasting bird of the royal court. Birds would be skinned rather than plucked, and once cooked, their entire coat of plumage – still attached to the fragile skin – would be draped back over the carcass. The neck and head would then be supported with a cane, while the tail feathers were fanned out to give the impression of a bird in full display on the dining table.
The courtship display itself is what makes the male peacock so distinctive within the animal kingdom. He is always judged in a seemingly ignorant fashion by the peahen. What a peahen actually looks for the most, as studies have recently proven, is the foot work of the male bird whilst he’s displaying. Only the males with the largest and best set of tail feathers get to mate with the females. After hours of wing beating and tail shimmering, the intercourse is a very quick, petrol-pump-sounding pounce that is over within seconds. In the spring, a peacock’s hooting cries will begin in earnest from around 4am and often into the night. After all this effort, the peacock plays no part in incubation or the rearing of the chicks.
The eggs of a peahen are large, about the size of 3 hen eggs, with an oatmeal shell complexion. If the peahen is wise, she will nest off the ground or in a quiet stable. Often if they are at liberty, they will vanish between May and July to sit their eggs. If she is lucky, the fox will not find her during her 28 days of sitting, and she will reappear with several brown and very demanding chicks. Some peahens make good attentive mothers, but others lead their little ones on a tiresome midsummer dance as soon as they leave their nest, resulting in the chicks getting lost and fatally chilled. For this reason, a lot of people hatch peahen eggs under large, trustworthy broody hens. The chicks can flutter within a week but the males take 4 years to grow their first true set of tail feathers. Once the peacock is fully mature, his tail feathers are moulted out each summer and a new set is grown over the winter.
Young male birds are often chased off by their fathers, and as a result young peacocks appear within villages and housing estates each year. Peacocks adore their reflections and many stately homes sadly no longer keep them due to many visitor cars being damaged by peacocks during the breeding season. The male birds see their reflections upon the car doors as another male within their territory, so the paint work often gets a bad tempered sparing from their sharp talons!
In a world where mess, noise and too much flamboyance seems not to be largely tolerated, the peacock is a true living relic of a bygone Downton Abbey age – and now your dressers can be filled with them, albeit in a sponged form. In absence of keeping any here, I’m placing tail feathers gathered from my peacocks in Nottingham in a vase in the Stoke factory shop!
Thanks for reading – Arthur
14th September 2016
When the bulk of a garden’s summer show comes from annuals that die in the first frosts of winter, reliable perennial flowering plants are the best props. These perennials will die down visually but stay alive under the earth, ready to reawaken come the spring and give a better show as each year passes.
One such perennial plant that I'm filling the garden at the factory with is Crocosmia. Crocosmia is also known to many as montbretia. These are cormous perennials, native to the grasslands of southern and eastern Africa. Despite their savannah heritage, they are hardy plants that can cope with the winter cold, and are tolerant of many soil types and being planted in dry places.
The corms are hard bulbous lumps – when you buy one in flower and tip it out of its pot, you'll see the roots coming from these corms. In the spring, many varieties can be bought more cheaply from garden centres as dormant corms. These can then be potted up in the greenhouse in plastic pots and planted out in their permanent spots once they are growing well in late spring.
Below are two of my favourite varieties. Other Crocosmia can be a little thuggish and rampant but if you have a garden that needs ground cover, orange flowering varieties such as ‘Carmin Brilliant’ are very helpful and will normally spread happily all over the garden.
Crocosmia ‘George Davidson’ - I first saw this new variety at the Great Dixter plant fair last year and liked it immediately. It gets to about 40cm tall and will spread well. It’s a beautiful, organic egg-yolk-yellow that I’ve combined in the garden with the equally golden yellow, perennial flowering rudbeckia, ‘Goldstrum’, and my favourite gladioli which is the sultry, cherry-liqueur-flowering ‘Plum Tart’. The flower buds start off as a golden orange opening to the yellow, so buy it in full flower to ensure you’re getting the right variety.
Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ – I love to see this in flower at Paradise Park, a bird garden in Cornwall, St Ives, where great clumps of it grow in the flower beds as supporting acts to a flock of orange- and pink-plumed Caribbean flamingos. This is the tallest and most dramatic of the Crocosmia, sending up its flaming red, funnel shaped flowers from lush green, sword-like foliage.
It looks best when allowed to form a large, statuesque clump in the garden. In windy places, the whole clump is best staked with fan-shaped branches of silver birch or hazel, that are pushed into the clump’s heart in the spring before the leaves get too tall. Combine it with lime green euphorbias and purple smoke bush for a reliable year-on-year hardy display, or for a more intense summer show, plant tender dahlias, gladioli and annual sunflowers around a clump of it. It also makes a very good cut flower filler to a summer arrangement, and lasts well out of the water – making a good buttonhole choice for an exotic summer wedding!
In Sarah Raven’s garden at Perch Hill it has been combined with the hard flowering, scented perennial phlox ‘Blue Paradise’, which is another of my favourite perennial plants.
Thanks for reading – Arthur
12th September 2016
The butterfly bush, or Buddleja davidii, is a plant often faced with a reputation as a thug and a wasteland weed. It sows itself and spreads like wildfire, upon derelict land and along railway tracks up and down the country. People are fearful of its ability to grow from seemingly nothing, up from cracks in paving and from the mortar around brick work. Despite its ability to conquer vast areas, the buddleia is not native – it was introduced from China in the 1890s.
Left unmanaged, it grows quickly into a towering woody monster; why then should I proclaim its worthy qualities? I’ve always liked it, imagining how dull train journeys would be in summer without its purple flowering haze. Like most plants, if given attention, the buddleia can be garden-worthy and a beautiful addition to the border.
The key factor is that it needs seasonal winter pruning, which can be carried out from November to February. This pruning is some of the harshest to be carried out upon anything ornamental, and while some gardeners will be less rash with a hand held saw, I am not. A mature buddleia can take being cut right back each year, leaving 10 inches of the main woody stem from the ground. As soon as spring takes over from winter, the stump will sprout many shoots that will quickly become tall and arching.
If it is a young plant then the pruning should not be as brutal – but it should still be carried out, taking back the previous summer’s flowering growth by half. The reason for this pruning is because they flower best on fresh growth, so the long tassel flowers will be bigger and better. It is the flowers that are the main – and perhaps only true – draw of the plant.
On the wastelands around Stoke, the buddleias are all mongrels. Reigning supreme is the normal lilac, which is pretty enough, but some cross-pollinated jewels of royal blue and magenta are to be found too – while white ones in full bloom remind me of white peacocks displaying with their tail feathers fanned out, swaying in mid-air.
I pick the flowers for events at this time of year, including our Collectors Club days. They only look good for three days at a push, but for a one-day event or party, they are brilliant crammed together en masse in a vase. Strip all the leaves from the stems as these flop, making the arrangement look ugly. Last winter, I pruned a few of the largest bushes growing across the road from the factory and along the canal to get larger flowers to pick this summer. The plants have skyrocketed with great profusion, with huge flowers dangling like bunches of grapes.
At Chatsworth, the gardeners have planted a buddleia avenue that looks especially beautiful, with plants planted in unmown grass and a path mown between them. While walking amongst these here and picking their flowers on a hot day, their honey scent fills the air. Its common name of “butterfly bush” is due to it being rich in nectar and attracting in late summer clouds of butterflies. Sadly, this year – possibly due to it being so cold at night – I am yet to see clouds of any red admirals, painted ladies or peacocks around the factory, with all these pollinators facing declines.
In the courtyard garden, I have planted the buddleia cultivar ‘Black Knight’. This one has the deepest purple flowers like a hummingbird’s breast. I’ll be keeping them in trim but am glad to have them among the cosmos for this summer and for many more to come.
23rd August 2016
What I could write about Chatsworth, the aptly named Palace of the Peaks, could easily take up all the blogs of this year, and possibly beyond - so to condense my thoughts down is a very hard thing! I have grown up visiting and coming to love Chatsworth very deeply, having holidayed in Derbyshire with my grandparents during my childhood. To me, Chatsworth is the ultimate mix of grandeur, beauty and chickens(!) The Pride and Prejudice director Jo Wright summed Chatsworth up best, in saying that 'What's impressive about Chatsworth is that it's beautiful, rather than just grand'. This blog takes stock of my most recent visit, and my two favourite aspects - the garden and the farmyard, both of which have a huge influence in my gardening and chicken-keeping flair.
Becky Crowley is the head of the cutting garden at Chatsworth. I met her when she attended the Stoke-on-Trent Literary festival at the factory, after following her on Instagram where her flair and hard gardening work, photographed during the seasons, has gained her an admiring mass of followers.
Becky has ingeniously combined attractive hardy shrubs in her cutting garden. These are not only perennially useful in arrangements but also help to give her a back bone from which the high-maintenance annual flowers can be grown around. The famous delphiniums are, in fact, ten years old! These, along with the earlier flowering rows of peonies, are two staple flowers used for the house which are in Becky's charge. At this time of year, the chicken-ark-like, white-framed greenhouses are full of Chrysanthemums, that Becky is growing to ensure home-grown blooms can be supplied to the house into the winter. The winds are bad in Stoke, but even more merciless in the peaks.
Leaving Becky staking her charges as defence from the gusts, I headed to my other favourite part of the garden known as the Conservatory garden. Here once stood a great glass conservatory, designed by Joseph Paxton; today, its flat centre is home to a great mint-green yew maze. It is quite haunting on a dull day as you enter its grip of uncertain pathways. Greeting you before it, like a scene from Alice in Wonderland, are masses of lupins. On the other side of the maze are beds of dahlias, and the jungle foliage of bananas and phoriums reigns supreme.
Facing the Orangery Shop and house exit are great borders of annual cornflowers, echium and larkspur, creating seas of lilac and blue – and resultantly, a buzz of visiting bees of seemingly every known bumble! When I was little, these were once herbaceous borders known as the orange borders, so it's quite a contrast to its former scheme.
Near to here stands Flora’s Temple. Sculpted by Caius Gabriel Cibber, Flora spent 180 years away from her original temple in the Rose Garden, moved there by the 6th Duke. She is now firmly back in her original home, where she looks her happiest.
The present 12th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, their Graces Stoker and Amanda Cavendish, have added much modern sculpture to the grounds, most of which changes seasonally with new exhibitions. The horse trials in the summer are world famous, and in 2017 Chatsworth will hold its first flower and garden show in partnership with the RHS. This event is already being heralded as the Chelsea Flower Show of the Midlands!
In opening the doors of Chatsworth to the public, their Graces Deborah Devonshire and Andrew Cavendish – the 11th Duchess and Duke of Devonshire – began the developmental changes that would see it become one of the United Kingdom’s best-loved stately homes.
Her Grace Deborah Devonshire created not only the kitchen garden but also the farmyard, after realising the shocking lack of awareness that both visiting teachers and school children had with farming from both rural and urban backgrounds.
The Duchess was known for her lifelong passion for keeping chickens, and kept many breeds in the garden. The most famous were the feather-legged buff Cochins. Today a trio of them is to be found still, in a grassy pen beneath the adventure playground, while smaller bantams now have the free-ranging rights of the farmyard, pecking about visitors’ legs for picnic crumbs. Chicks from the various pure breed pens of chickens, hatch out every few weeks.
Hybrid Heinz 99 brown, laying hens have a hen house that visitors can walk into. The nesting boxes are on view so that as a hen lifts herself from the shavings in a flurry, the creation of the perfect piece of work that is the egg is duly revealed to all!
From the farmyard, I returned to Stoke inspired as always with a dozen bantam hatching eggs: these are being sat on by one of the Wyandotte hens. The eggs are due to hatch next week so there will be a bit of Chatsworth origin within the hen pen here at the factory – how fabulous!
Emma and Matthew will be giving a talk at the upcoming Chatsworth art and literary festival Art Out Loud on the 23rd of September, titled “Why I own a factory instead of editing novels” - for more information and tickets visit www.chatsworth.org.
22nd August 2016