What is the opposite of a show garden?

Today the sun shone and for the first time this year I worked in the garden.  I was moving snowdrops, splitting some of the larger clumps into bunches of seven or eight bulbs.  This year I have tried moving them "in the white", that is while still in flower.  I have split them very successfully and moved them in the green before but the beauty of moving them while still in flower is that I can see the effect that I have in my head beginning to appear on the ground.  They do indeed look good against the red stems of the dogwoods.  The bed which I grandly call the native tree walk is coming along slowly.  I wandered up and down, establishing that, yes, the winter aconites which I put in last year are coming up, and that of course there is scope to put in many more spring bulbs, more snowdrops, more irises and perhaps more daffodils.  I haven't decided yet about the daffodils.  If I do add some they will be tiny daffodils, either Hawera or the native daffodil, narcissus pseudonarcissus.  But I have so many daffodils elsewhere in the field that I might keep this border to snowdrops and irises.

It is good to look back at photos of the garden a few years ago, especially when you are feeling that you have made no difference!  I found this one from early spring 2009.


 We had just planted four young trees as bare root whips in the previous autumn: a native cherry, prunus avium; a silver birch, the second stick you can see here quivering against its support, in front of the silver birch in the boundary; a rowan and at the end, with the green tree guard, a whitebeam. 

These trees just sat there in a sticky kind of way for a year or so.  Late that year I had an inspirational conversation with Zoe which helped me to clarify what I wanted to do and to think about what to plant that would not look out of place.

In late 2010 we took the turf off the length of the bed in a long narrow strip and I planted two hollies and some dogwoods between the trees.  I had an idea in my head of creating something that pulled you down the field to walk between the hedge and the new trees, that gave some point to wandering about on a fine day in late winter or early spring.  I put some snowdrops in too.


In February 2011 it looked like this.  The trees had grown with surprising speed but it was all very scanty and skimpy and bare.

I decided that the whole bed was just too thin and so we doubled the width of the bed and I spent hours thinking about more shrubs which would play to the idea of late winter/spring.   I wanted to include evergreens and spring flowering deciduous shrubs and not worry too much about autumn.  I put in a Viburnum Farreri, Daphne Bholua Jacqueline Postill, Hamamelis mollis Pallida, an evergreen Viburnum whose name I forget and, a total wild card and maybe total mistake, a Magnolia Elizabeth.  It was the Elizabeth that got me.  I think it is probably in the wrong place.

I still struggle to think on this scale.  How can it be that fifty or a hundred snowdrops bulbs just disappear into nothingness.  There are a hundred single snowdrops in here, just the common nirvalis, and fifty doubles.  The doubles are truly lovely.  Why didn't I buy five hundred or even a thousand and get it right first time?

In early summer Karen came and I took her down to show her.  The whole thing was really bugging me.  All that effort to make the bed wider, all that thought in placing the trees so that they would tie in with the land beyond the garden and in choosing shrubs that would bridge the gap between the natural landscape beyond the hedge and still not look out of place in what remains basically a field, and yet the whole thing looked wrong somehow.  It was anchored so strongly to the field boundary by the echoing of the tree planting that it didn't belong to the rest of the field at all.  It was lost, neither natural planting nor intensely gardened like the cutting garden on the higher side of the hedge. 

Talking to someone who understands what you are getting at it a wonderful thing.  My naturalistic, intensely rural, spring focussed and romantic style of planting is not Karen's style at all.  Hers is a painterly eye, using plants to play with colour and texture and shape and to make light dance.  I care about all those things too, although  my effects are much less accomplished, but I care most about how my garden fits into the landscape.  You can't garden here without an eye all the time to the hills and the view across the valley.  I care about how the garden takes its place in all that and about how it makes you feel.  She gets all that and, with her artist's eye, saw what I need to do to connect this space with the other spaces and with her gardener's eye saw how I could take the whole area on into the summer with hardy geraniums.   


This is what it looks like now, not as different as I had hoped considering the amount of work which has gone into doubling it in size!  Plants take a while to settle down here and get their roots down into the stony soil so the new shrubs are barely visible in this photograph.  It is still a work in progress, still far too much bare soil but so much scope now for washing the ground with colour.


There are nowhere near enough tiny irises, not enough snowdrops and I think I might have to bite the very expensive bullet of buying some cyclamen.  I love them but they are not cheap and I need loads.  In here as well I have a lot of hellebores, courtesy of Jane (thank you Jane!), but they are tiny seedlings too and will need much time before they spread and cover the ground.  I have hardy geraniums, but not enough, and euphorbias, but not enough, not enough of anything except dandelion seedlings.  I do however have quite a lot of white foxgloves in the cold frame which I will put out soon.  This picture lets you see the stony, thin soil.  I am determined that what I plant down here will look after itself and will not need constant mulching and feeding.  There is quite enough mulching to do with the cutting garden and the vegetable garden so I want this part of the garden to be filled with plants that thrive without cossetting.  You can see by how much growth the trees have put on that the soil is fine when plants have got their roots down, assuming you have the right plants!

So there you are.  Do you remember Ground Force on the TV a few years ago with its weekend makeover programmes when a team swept in and revamped a garden, covering it with decking and water features?  This is not Ground Force gardening.   This is slow gardening.  I was in Tatton Park this week and found that they have eighty volunteers who work in the garden at various times.  It is not Tatton Park gardening either.  Our garden couldn't be done without the help of David one day a week who cuts grass, trims hedges and prunes fruit trees with great skill but it isn't gardening with a team of helpers either.   Sometimes I think I would love to buy in plants in huge numbers and transform a space like a show garden at Chelsea but although I spend a lot of money on plants you would hardly know it from looking at the place.  This is propagate it yourself or you would be bankrupt gardening.

It is not even slow gardening, it is very slow gardening indeed.


Comments

  1. What a delightful post Elizabeth - I just wanted to let you know this ... as I am going to read it again (a couple of times) before leaving a more thoughtful comment.
    K
    xx

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    1. All thoughtful comments gratefully received! x

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  2. White snowdrops and red dogwoods and a silver birch is one of my favourite combinations in my garden. If you're pruning your dogwoods this spring, you could possibly mass plant the prunings? Your bed reminds me of my front side garden where we 'inherited' 28 dogwoods at the top of the slope. I replanted them all at the bottom, right next to the wooded public land and that works so much better and brightens up winter considerably.

    Just a thought.

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    1. You know those moments when you wonder why you didn't think of that? Mass planting prunings! I am having one of those moments.

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    2. mm hm, and next year you will show us the sleep creep LEAP pictures!

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    3. Leap would be fabulous Diana! It may happen. The trees have leapt a bit!

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  3. But it is a REAL garden.

    You're right, shrubs and trees take a few years before they settle in and get growing... they will and suddenly you'll be cutting the back and splitting up the clumps of snowdrops again.

    Hasn't the sunshine been glorious, I was gardening at lunch time yesterday and today ... and it felt so good!
    Celia

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    1. I think my trees are settling in but the shrubs are still thinking about it! Thanks you, it is a real garden, dandelions and all.

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  4. It's beautiful. It may also be a good moment to learn to love your dandelions.

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    1. I have managed to learn to live with (love would be a bit strong) my dandelions in grass. Loving them in the borders might be a step too far!

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  5. My problem was the opposite. When we first moved here I bought 3 of each plant so that they formed good sized clumps and didn't just look like dots but very quickly they grew to fill the space and more. My tiny garden was swamped within 2 years. A lot of friends and fellow students at college did very well out of me for divisions. I'm sure it won't be long before your plants start to fill out. When I see gardeners on tv creating instant borders I always wonder how much it cost to create. Most people can't afford to do things on that scale. It has been beautiful weather the last couple of days and I've made the most of it but suffering with a sore back and elbow now, off for a long soak in the bath!!! Have a good weekend.

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    1. For quite a few years I had a tiny garden and had just that problem. Now my problem is the reverse and I can never afford enough of things!

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  6. Gardening in Chicago is heart-breaking. Hardly anything makes it through the winter, and even the "hardy" perennials die off sometimes. My small garden is currently just brown sticks. (I should take a photo and do a post.) Every spring I spend a fortune on new annuals and perennials and have to do a sort of weekend blitz to make it look presentable. Since we have very hot and humid summers, there is a limit to what can withstand the climate and you're constantly watering to make sure things don't wither. As a result of all this, everyone's gardens look pretty much the same.

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    1. Every time I have an attack of feeling that I can't possibly make a garden up here I will remember Chicago!

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    2. Seriously. Every spring I promise that I will throw myself into my garden (figuratively speaking) and I get half way through the summer and sort of give up. We can't even plant anything till May because of the possibility of frost. Most of my front and back is actually paved!

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  7. My snowdrops haven't made an appearance yet...maybe this year I will divide them so I have more. I love seeing their surprising white blooms where there was nothing the day before!

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    1. They do respond fabulously well to dividing. It just takes time!

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  8. It's not slow gardening Elizabeth, it's REAL gardening. Ground Force was an infernal programme which fed the trend for 'instant gratification' and people wanting everything now without working or waiting for it.

    I understand and sympathise, four years on I still have a sea of mud in places. Gardening here is definitely slow gardening {smile} and large quantities of plants just disappear. It takes a while to come to terms with gardening on a larger scale and I'm not there yet either.

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    1. I recognise the "large numbers of plants just disappear"! Sometimes they disappear into the space becuase they just weren't enough of them. Sometimes they just disappear and die!

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  9. I envy your lack of snow and mild(-ish) winter climate, Elizabeth. In the middle of New York State we usually have brutal winters with over 100 inches of snow. But this year we've had very little and much milder temperatures. I am seeing snowdrops already, and the top 1/2 inch of daffodils poking up through the dirt. It's a little worrying as they've had no protective snow cover this winter. They are 3 months early!

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    1. Sounds like your mild winter has produced a climate a little like ours for this year Barbara. This winter has been a surprise following two very cold ones.

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  10. I have never tried to garden on anything like the scale you're working with, and I'm just in awe that you can look at an area and see what it should look like and how to make that happen. I can see something that looks good and how it might apply to my own garden (of course I don't have one right now anyway!)but I (sadly) don't have the ability to look at a space and just 'know' what it needs. That's probably why I enjoy this blog so much. Love the snowdrops - they remind me that spring is on the way somewhere!

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    1. I really wish I could look at an area and see what it should look like and make it happen! I think part of the reason I am moving so slowly is that it takes me a very long time to decide what might work and then it is so very much labour to begin to achieve it that it is heartbreaking if you get it wrong! The idea of living without a garden seems quite amazing to me. Maybe I should get out more.

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  11. The opposite of a "show" garden is a "fun" garden. Where things grow pretty much on their own (with the help of an occasional human hand). They grow simply for the joy and glory of growing. That's my kind of garden. (But I'm in an apartment building now, with no garden to be had at all.)

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    1. I sort of have a garden like that in that I try only to grow what loves the conditions I have. I can't say the human hand is occasional though as many of the plants that love me seek world domination!

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  12. You put me to shame! The industry and the ideas - I'm short on both. When you have a vision and put it into planting, expanding, changing - that's gardening.

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    1. Well it comes and goes Pondside. I have had weeks and months over the winter of not connecting to the garden at all and then one day I go outside and feel interested all over again!

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  13. Hello Elizabeth, I loved your post and pictures before and after and your thoughts about it! It shows how similar it is here. How alike many gardeners are: want in all in a very short time. The worst is Aries, they are totally impatient. I am married to such species. And then they come on BBC and show you programs like the one you mentioned and they show Carol Klein's and it looks sooooo easy and sooo quick and then comes the disappointment that it all takes much longer when someone without the routine of those professionals has to undergo that task. Because as you, it means transforming a piece of grass whilst you have the vision of Tatton Park (I have been there and have admired it) or Arley Hall. On the cost side, it is good to tie friendships with other gardeners so that an exchange of small plants or seedlings or seeds can be done. And to multiply dogwood is really so easy ---- if you have a green thumbed husband like me *blush*. I admire how focused you are and can only say what I have often found with other gardening friends: one has never happily finished with its own garden (on our scale) but this is also the joy of it. It is true that cyclamen coum are expensive and therefore, I always buy one or two at a time, same with helleborus. What is great pleasure for us in the spring, are daffodils, there are so many flowering at different moments and they are affordable and resistant and the voles, our biggest enemies here, don't eat them :-). On the other hand, I just got an interesting e-mail with bargain plants - I shall post it on the armchair for you. P.S. why do you think the magnolia has a wrong place? I love magnolias but it takes a while to have them their feet down. P.P.S. I bought C. Klein's book on propagation-bargain price at WHS, so inspiring!

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    1. Ah the magnolia - I have planted it as if it is one of my shrubs because it came as such a small plant. However if it gets its feet down and is happy it will be quite a big tree. I can't decide whether to move it now or to accept that if it is a problem it is likely to be someone else's by the time it gets big enough! And yes to daffodils. We have loads and they give me a lot of pleasure.

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  14. I remember you explaining your thinking to me when I visited but I was too bowled over by the views to really concentrate. I can see what you mean now by the border not being part of the garden and disappearing into the fields behind. Two thoughts occur to me - does it being straight make a difference meaning does it mirror the boundary too much and secondly if you added some more leafy perennials it might appear less like the boundary hedge. I'm thinking of things like Bergenias which had some real substance to the planting and a contrast at this time of the year to the twiggyness of dogwood etc. This would make the border look less like the boundary.

    On my landscape history course I have been reading about Kent and Rousham and how he made the garden fit into the landscape. What was interesting and I think could relate to you was that close to the house he used more formality and as you went out to the boundaries there were more shrubs etc but he also did this with the statues he used so classical ones by the house and more gothick animals etc further away. I'm not suggesting you should have statutes at all but you could translate this into your planting so there is a gradual move outwards if you see what I am trying to say in my confused way. Just a random ill expressed thought

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    1. Bergenia is an interesting idea. It must grow for me because Beth Chatto mentions it and her soil is not unlike mine. What with your bergenia and Michelle's additional dogwoods it was well worth writing about!

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    2. I did very intentionally mirror the boundary as the hedge itself is rather a lovely thing and I wanted to create somewhere to walk that you couldn't see all of from the rest of the garden. I still haven't got it right though!

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  15. Bulbs have a peculiar habit. whe you order them there are too many (money!). When you plant them there are FAR too many. (backbreaking) When they flower there are (suddenly) far too few. How does that happen?!

    I do agree there is a problem here making what seems like a field boundary into a linear garden. But thinking of it like that is interesting. And/but - how can it look after itself with the field grass right up to it? Well,the bulbs might cope, as in a meadow..

    Yep. A challenge! Will be good to see how it develops. XXXXX

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    1. The grass does get mown and there is a border about five feet wide around the trees so I hope everything will survive. The challenge is to make something which works as a walk rather than a border I think. So it needs to be more shrubs and bulbs than herbaceous stuff but without some herbaceous stuff it will look too bare and sad. At the moment my main thoughts are hardy geraniums, hellebores and some really big euphorbias (it sounds a bit odd doesn't it? still thinking about the euphorbias but I love the idea of something with a bit of presence)and lots more bulbs of course. It doesn't really matter if it doesn't do anything much in the autumn as the garden is big enough to say the whole point of it is to be a place to visit in the spring. Maybe...

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  16. I hesitate to suggest it but should you ever want some very fast growing and very early flowering and long lasting (the pink blossom has already started here and the green leaf shoots too) then I can give you any amount of flowering currant. It seems to grow like wild fire here and is always cheering. True, it does smell like cat's pee but in your field above you wouldn't notice that and it does attract every bee within a ten mile radius so that the plant is not only a visual treat but an auditory one too. Other than that I have nothing to add apart from saying that I stand in awe of what you do and how you describe yourself doing it.

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    1. Funnily enough I have been thinking about flowering currant. It is one of those plants that I don't like much for most of the year but when it is in flower I always change my mind and love the fact that it is covered in bees too. I don't even mind the smell. Then it stops flowering and I go off it again and think it is too boring to be true!

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    2. Well if you'd like some rooted shoots (the bottom twigs always root themselves in the leaf mould), just ask. They can be rolled up and sent through the post. (For free - obviously!)

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  17. Real gardening is slow gardening! You can only speed it up with loads of money or loads of labour. I have made my hardy geraniums go a long way by constantly breaking off little pieces and replanting - I don't lift and divide, just use a trowel to chip bits of the growing edge and plant a little way away. It seems to work quite well as they are such tough plants.

    Pomona x

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    1. Must do this with my geraniums too. I have been doing the whole lift and divide thing and only occasional little bits. I think I will move to little bits! so much easier and quicker! Thank you.

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  18. I'm sure that in a few years you will be cursing all the hellebores!
    I still can't get into my garden as it is so wet. Between all the rain and the high water table, I am struggling. But the weather man says sun for the next couple of days. The weeds don't seem to mind the conditions though.

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    1. No no, I will be loving the hellebores. I promise.

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  19. I'm with slow gardening. I just don't like the ide that you can redo a garden like you can paint and carpet a house. It has to evolve, and you have to spend time appreciating how the garden works in itself.

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    1. I do think that a garden which evolves feels different from a garden which is designed and planted at speed. You learn how the light works and what the soil does in different places and so much more. It suits me to take my time most of the time, when I am not giving in to frustration!

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  20. I'm very impressed with the changes (and I am, of course, completely in sympathy with your style of gardening anyway). I'm not sure that your rate of change really does class as slow or very slow - I think it's pretty impressive when compared to the earliest shot. Mine goes in spurts - no change for ages, then loads all together.

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    1. It is so much easier to maintain something that it is to change it. I don't think I really understood that until I came here! I have fits and starts too.

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  21. I LOVED the Ground Force show! Too bad they don't show it any more here in the US...

    I've had similar troubles with my gardens here in New York (ideas in my head vs. what I can actually do) and I've found that putting a nice layer of mulch around the plants I do have masks the amount of bare dirt (and keeps the new plants protected) until I can afford to put in more plants! It will give things a bit of a dressed look, and more like they're supposed to be there. A very fine mulch will allow your snowdrops and other delicate flowers to live unhindered.

    What you've done so far is brilliant, and as things multiply and spread, and as the trees mature and thicken, it's going to be exactly what you wanted.

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    1. I might do a bit more mulching, particularly around the hellebores. It does make a difference to how it looks!

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  22. Not so slow, the then-and-now pictures show remarkable change. Love the contrast of snowdrops and red-stemmed dogwoods against the dark soil. You could continue this with little white viola cornuta alba later in the year; I have just bought seed to sow some myself, they should look after themselves relatively well.
    The winter walk is a splendid idea. I take it that you can walk around the top to return along the other side once the trees and shrubs thicken up? I'm not sure of the scale, but if it is a long run, an arch mid-way along the bed, formed by tree branches, could be rather fun to encourage interaction with the planting, changing perspective from one side to the other, or just framing a glimpse of the rest of the garden...
    (Some glitch on this and other blogger blogs with built-in word verification means that I can no longer comment using my wordpress account. Fortunately I have a google account so I can sign in with that, but it is not ideal. It doesn't appear to be an issue if the word verification/comment submission is in a pop-up box rather than on the same page)

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  23. Love the idea of the white violas. I have some purple already. You could come back down the other side or you could continue up the side of the field past the veg beds and a new mixed native hedge and up to the top corner where you get the best views.

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  24. We planted hundreds of bulbs last autumn - squirrels seem to have had most of them ..grrr.

    Sorry not to be around and commenting for a while. I've been embroiled in in a mixture of personal, work and writing stuff for a couple of weeks. Thought your comment on my last post was interesting.

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  25. Hello,
    Just found your blog and really liked it, having posted a piece on snowdrops, well several really, recently. Seems you have a very similar existence in North Wales to ours in Carmarthenshire. And do take the plunge and buy some Cyclamen .....C.coum are now my favourite flower for beating the Welsh winter blues, and if you hand pollinate, lots of seedlings....I pricked out hundreds yesterday..... if you're ever down this way, drop by and I'll give you a few,
    BW

    Julian

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  26. Must be frustrating looking at other gardens and seeing the exuberance but your style of cultivation suitably tending the landscape with a tweak. All that space to run around in has to feel like vacant lot at times. The border already looks bigger and better so how about treating the planting as you would a quilt, once square foot at a time with mix and match materials? Its a bit like viewing through the telescope the other way around.
    p.s. Groundforce used to make me growl with their instant makeovers. Grrr
    p.p.s just been enjoying reading all your Offa Dyke posts - double the walking I could do in a day so hats off to you. The border is a doddle after that!

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  27. How I envy you! I have so little scope in my tiny town garden (but I love it anyway). Yours looks lovely.

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  28. its really looking lovely - cant believe how much it has grown since I first saw it in 2009. You can grow cyclamen from seed - the cyclamen coum that flowers now is available from here http://search.thompson-morgan.com/search?w=cyclamen+coum you can also grow c. hederfolium which flowers in the autumn as seed too - take a bit longer but the cost savings are massive.

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  29. Oh, yes ! Tiny daffodils and white foxgloves among the dogwood sound perfect , too . Can you get those tiny wild lupins ( very hardy , I think ) that you see on Spanish mountainsides ?
    Meanwhile , it's all looking wonderful already !

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  30. Hiya! How do you personally think, has your writting technique upgraded lately?

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