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
I love containers within a garden. For the factory garden, the trick was finding something that matched the factory’s industry look. My mum always grew plants in dolly tubs but these vintage old dears now command a high price. In a corner of the factory garden when I arrived were two dustbins full of rotten corn. I emptied and washed them, then stood back and admired them – suddenly there was something solid amongst the vastness of the gravel. I realised that these would be the containers for the garden here, and they are now one of its most asked-about aspects. This blog is about how I plant them up seasonally.
The bins arrive shiny and fresh looking but within a year, they weather up nicely. Before filling each bin, I turn them upside down and then drill several holes into the base. The holes are essential, so that water doesn’t sit in the bin’s base. Soggy water leads to the rotting of bulbs over the winter. I fill the base of the bins with a deep layer (about 15 inches) of crocks to further aid the drainage of water. Broken bowls are in no short supply here but broken terracotta, roof tiles, gravel and even polystyrene all make good materials to use as drainage, in containers.
After the crocks, in goes the compost, by the bagful. The bins eat compost up and each takes a full 70 litre bag of multipurpose, then another few extra spadefuls. If I have it, I’ll mix well-rotted manure into the compost too as I’m filling the bins, so that the compost has an immediate, extra additive of nutrients. The plantswoman Carol Klein once said a very good thing that every gardener should give thought to: “I never feed my plants, I feed my soil”. This will show in the growth of your plants – feed the soil and you’re feeding the foliage and flowers, so try to add muck and mulches during the whole year when planting things both in pots and the open ground.
Right now the dahlias and cosmos within the bins are reaching their peak. Both of these plants, one being a half hardy perennial (dahlia), and the other being a half hardy annual (cosmos), like to be allowed to grow a large root ball and be fed often throughout the growing season to maximise their flowering. The growth size of the plants gives the needed scale from these containers – I don’t tend to like dinky, small plants, but lush towering scale.
I feed the dahlias every 2 weeks with a mushed up soup of smelly organic chicken manure pellets. These are solid when you buy them in pelleted form, but I soak them and then once they have turned to a soup, I’ll add more water to the bucket and pour the brown liquid full of goodness into the watering can to then water the dahlias with. In November, when the frosts blacken the dahlia foliage, I’ll lift all the tubers and over winter in the greenhouse in crates of dry compost to reawaken in March. Each bin will then be planted with about 30 tulip bulbs, which are over planted with wallflowers. Once the tulips have finished flowering, the bulbs are lifted with their foliage intact and dried off – some of which will be replanted, if they are still chunky enough – while the bins are replanted for summer with dahlias and other summer annuals. Each time the bins are replanted, I add manure and blood and bone feed to the soil, which in turn feeds the plants and the resulting flora display.
The dahlias in the bins this summer are a lovely bee-friendly, anemone type dahlia called ‘Totally Tangerine’. They have supporting foliage in the forms of trailing plectrathus, a tender perennial, and an annual grass called Panicum ‘Frosted Explosion’ that has beautiful firework-like, airy seed heads.
9th August 2016
The most beautiful picture of motherhood and devotion in the natural world is the site of mother hen and her chicks.
This summer Deborah, my Silver Partridge Pekin Bantam, decided at turning one-year-old in April that it was time she sat on her first clutch of eggs. Deborah was one of the first chicks that I hatched in my incubator at the Emma Bridgewater factory, so I’m especially fond of her.
Her breed, the Pekin Bantam, are renowned for their friendly, docile characters and indeed making very good broody hens. They are a true Bantam, meaning that they only exist in one petite size of chicken. Originally they came from China and the first birds to arrive into Britain were said to have been part of the loot taken from the Emperors palace, where the birds puddled about upon the palace stairs. Their foot feathers mean they are a good breed of chicken for the garden – but they need to be kept out of mud, their profusion of fluffy feathers must be checked often for lice and their feet smeared with Vaseline seasonally so their scales do not become deformed.
Pekin Bantams have been bred into a huge number of colours. The most popular seem to be the lavender and buff, but all are beautiful in their own way. A trio of them pecking around the back door looks like a bunch of feathered, fluffy-bottomed cup and saucers!
I allowed Deborah to sit her own eggs. The chicks’ father is a booted cross gold cuckoo Pekin named Charlie, and some of the chicks may not be Deborah's at all as both the Wyandotte hens, Juliet and Victoria all share the same nesting box! After 21 days of tight sitting, 6 eggs hatched. Once the chicks had dried off and fluffed up underneath their mother’s feathers, it was time to gently move the young family from the main hen house to their own cosy and more protected nursery coop.
I commissioned my dad to make me an ark for the garden in the spring. When you’re hatching your own eggs, it's vital to have several coops to contain delicate, growing birds while they are young, because chickens of different ages can’t be mixed safely together. Young birds get pecked and bullied – sometimes quite shockingly by adults – due to the pecking order hierarchy that hens strictly live within.
At this time of year, it's really important to give your hens dry soil or sand to dust bath in, so that they can keep clean and cool. Ensure that the hen houses are kept free of the nocturnal, blood sucking red mite by dusting diatomaceous Earth under the perches and in the nesting boxes. Hens often moult at this time of year too, losing their feathers and growing a new set. Growing new feathers takes a lot of energy for hens, so mix into their layers pellets and corn, spoonfuls of cod liver oil and feed them, as a treat, dried cat biscuits. This extra protein will help keep their energy levels up and their combs nice and red.
Happy hen keeping and thanks for reading – Arthur
29th July 2016
Oriental poppies are one of my favourite, must- have plants. These are perennials that are native to Turkey, and unlike other poppies – almost all of which are annuals – they can be relied upon to reappear each spring with their hairy, green leaves that are soon overtaken in height by tall stems holding their famous swelling flower buds atop.
When these buds burst open, they reveal one of the blowsiest of all blooms: like silk crossed with tissue paper, large and sumptuous yet still seemingly elegant and delicate. I'd have a garden packed with these, and they certain look best when grown en mass. They will tolerate most soils, but do appreciate full sun as well as a feed of well- rotted muck each spring.
Last year I took root cuttings to create more plants, and now it is the time to repeat the job – the oriental poppies have finished flowering, and their yellowing foliage can be chopped to the ground and their clumps carefully lifted up with a garden fork.
You may want to save their seed heads, as they look impressive when dried and sprayed golden as Christmas decor.
Once you've lifted the root ball, look for a few of the fleshly white roots. Cut a few of them off with a pair of scissors, trying to remember the correct way up of the root – attach some ribbon to the upwards end before you cut it off, as once it has been cut from the root ball, one end looks identical to the other!
With the cut roots, take them onto the potting bench or kitchen table and chop them up so you end up with several bits of root that are 2-3 inches long. Take a terracotta pot filled with a gritty, sandy compost mixture and push each bit of root into it, around the pots edge. Water the pot little and often and in 3 weeks you should start to see little leaves appearing from the pushed in bits of root.
Once they have grown a small rosette of leaves, each new poppy can then be potted up individually so you'll have lots of these fabulous perennials for free! These can be either over wintered in a cold frame or planted out into the garden in September.
Replant the parent poppy back in its spot - as it’s died back, you can plant cosmos or dahlias around it so that you don't have gaps in the border for the rest of the summer. The clumps will grow fresh leaves normally once cut back though and sometimes, if the summer is long and warm, they will give a second flush of blooms (but this will be far sparser than the guaranteed late spring show).
There are lots of varieties of oriental poppy – Goliath is the largest, with flowers of Beefeater-jacket red, but my favourite is the smaller 'Patty's Plum'. The strain I have in the garden at Stoke is especially dark like a blackcurrant sorbet!
Happy gardening and thanks for reading - Arthur
4th July 2016
People are often surprised to be told that the allium is, in fact, an onion! The game is easily given away, however, if you accidently dig a bulb up from damp earth or slice one in half with a spade – easily done, you’ll soon smell a strong odour more familiar to the frying pan than the flower border. While the tulip gets all the major attention in the autumn bulb catalogues and garden centre displays, the allium proves its worth in several ways, most notably in its perennial habit and its flowering time, filling the lull of the dreaded May time gap. Alliums are also a favourite bloom of the bumble bee.
The alliums begin to bloom most years with the late flowering tulips such as the silky, princess ball- gown-like ‘Blue Parrot’. If your garden is to be filled with tulips, then it’s a good idea to place 1 allium bulb for every 5 tulip bulbs when planting them in the autumn, so that you don’t just have a seemingly decaying mass of gone over tulips – an especially important factor to give consideration to when planting a small garden.
To do well, alliums require a soil of good drainage like most bulbs, and they do like sun too. If your soil is heavy with a large amount of clay, add handfuls of sharp grit mixed with spent compost to their planting hole so that they don’t become soggy and rot during the winter.
The strappy, smooth, leaves of alliums will appear early in the year. They become a bit shabby by the time the flowering stems have risen up from their centres but at this stage you can cut the leaves off without harming next year’s display. Given the mentioned conditions, alliums will last in the garden for decades, with the display getting better each year, while the blowsiest and most luscious of tulips will do well to come back with a decent flower in their third season. You can cut alliums for the vase inside, but their water must have a teaspoon of bleach added to prevent the stems sap fowling the water within hours.
I am very thankful for the alliums at the factory this spring, having picked up the flower baton as soon as the tulips began to shed their petals. The variety we have the most of is the old favourite ‘Purple Sensation’.
The days are getting warmer but the nights are still quite nippy here, so the summer bedding has yet to begin its journey down from the factory’s rooftop greenhouses to the courtyard beds and planters. Hopefully next week, planting can commence with earnest – although the wallflowers look far too good currently to be dug up!
The crested ducklings are eating non- stop and growing at full pelt. They are being allowed total liberty of the garden, as ducks are not as destructive to the plants as the bantam hens. Each day, they get to swim in a beautiful, old tin bath that I have brought here from my mother’s garden in Nottingham. They have yet to be given any names as I am yet to know for sure if they are ducks or drakes!
With best wishes,
24th May 2016
Ducklings are arguably cuter than baby chickens, staying at the cuddly stage for much longer – so this spring at the factory, I wanted to incubate some duck eggs. I chose bantam ducks eggs of a breed known as the crested Appleyard duck. This old breed of duck comes in both large fowl and bantam form. The crested varieties of domestic ducks, all whose ancestor is the cheerful, wild mallard, was bred in the 17th century, as seen in the oil paintings from this era. Matthew and Emma had a beautiful duck of this breed at their farm but alas last summer, she was late going back to the hen house and Mr Fox had his wicked way with her. Ducks can be quite poor at putting themselves to bed!
The eggs came through the post from a breeder, selling eggs on eBay. They were a mixture of duck egg blue (naturally) and stained white – duck eggs rarely stay clean for very long in the hustle and bustle of a duck house floor!
When incubating duck eggs, the humidity in the incubator has be fairly high to imitate a mother ducks wet feathers while she sits upon her eggs. 28 days later, the incubator was alive with cheeping movement. 3 eggs had successfully hatched! Within half an hour, a duckling can stand, walk and feed itself, so the 3 little crested bundles were swiftly moved from their incubator to the brooder in the decorating studio.
This wooden box was made for me by my dad as a present several years ago, and it has been a trustworthy, silent and still mother hen to countless broods of chicks now over the years. The heat lamp has a dimmer which helps slowly ease chicks off needing the heat as they begin to grow their own feathers which will keep them warm. The ducklings snuggled down, tired from hatching, next to their very own pot hen on nest!
The next day I carried them around in my cardigan pockets while cutting tulips and tidying the garden, they were very snug! Ducklings are easily imprinted and anything that moves in front of them, is viewed as possible parental figure!
While very small, they cannot be allowed much access to water to swim in, surprisingly. This is because without a mother duck (whom would instinctively preen her ducklings feathers with oil from her own preen gland) the ducklings are not waterproof, and as a result could easily and fatally chill.
They are allowed little swims in a trifle bowl each morning for now. Ducklings make quite a mess, so after their bath, they wait in a bucket while they are given a good clean out!
Once adult, the ducks (or indeed drakes, as I’m not sure of their genders yet) will hopefully live in the courtyard garden and have the liberty of bathing in an old galvanised, tin bath. The gravel of the gardens paths will hopefully stop the mud! In small gardens ducks are best kept separately from hens, as hens dislike the mess ducks create; a duck pen is best designed to be one of a hard surface which can be swilled down easily. Ducks are great eaters of slugs! I’m looking forward to seeing the ducklings among the fox gloves in the coming month like a scene from Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck!
Do visit the courtyard garden as the tulips just keep getting better and better, and you may see me playing mother duck to the ducklings too!
Thanks for reading - Arthur
13th May 2016
Suddenly, seemingly overnight, the winter battered, bare earth surface of the garden's soil has erupted with the pointed beaks of bulbs and the ever expanding, fresh green rosette of awakening perennials.
The wallflowers and sweet Williams who have been stood like half dead sticks all winter long against the wind and rain, have undressed their battered attire and changed into their fresh, spring wardrobes in preparation for their flowering graduations.
The courtyard garden has taken on a green carpet very quickly this spring, due to me planting it last summer with many herbaceous perennials and hundreds of bulbs. The blossom buds on the outstretched arms of the espaliered pears on the garden walls grow fatter as the daylight hours become ever longer.
In the courtyard, the planted cattle troughs are splatted with a rich, lemon yellow, given off by the now in flower Narcissi ‘Vip Van Winkle’, which is like an eccentric star made up from tissue paper. The roses that I planted last autumn are coming into bud now, and are surrounded by emerging tulips called ‘Gentle Giants’.
In the greenhouse the potting benches are suddenly groaning with the weight of dozens of seed trays upon them, and the floor is covered in pots of awakening dahlias. I’m really looking forward to growing several new varieties of dahlias this year. Many of them I saw in Sarah Raven’s trial garden last summer.
The Buff Orpington chicks, who hatched on the 1st of March, are often to be found under the rosemary bushes exploring and dustbathing. Six adult hens, several of which I hatched at the factory last year, have returned to the hen house this spring too. It is lovely to have the company of hens once again while gardening.
Jobs in Garden for this month –
Plant oriental lily bulbs now, either in deep pots or in the ground. These bulbs need good drainage so add grit to their planting holes.
Sow seeds of Cosmos now. ‘Purity’ is a delicate white while ‘Rubenza’ is a deep cherry liquor red. Cosmos are the best and easiest annual cut flowers to grow! Sow sunflowers at the end of April, so that they flower right into October and can be planted out quickly into the garden – My favourite is ‘Valentine’ which is the best cut flower.
Gather silver birch and hazel before it comes into leaf now, so that you can create beautiful and natural looking plant stakes for free!
Check the hen house each week from now until the autumn for red mite. This is a nocturnal parasite that hides under the hen’s perches and sucks their blood while they sleep! Dust the perches and nesting boxes Diatomaceous earth to prevent them affecting your hens.
Please do come and see the garden over the coming weeks as the colours will only intensify as spring progresses, and why not make a full day of garden visits - by visiting the garden here then driving onto the nearby Trentham gardens, about a 15- minute drive from the factory for a true tulip extravaganza!
Happy Gardening and thanks for reading – Arthur
11th April 2016