Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Winter Visit to Kew

We decided to take a well deserved break from our usual routines with a visit to Kew Gardens this afternoon. Although a reasonably mild winters day we kept to the inside spaces.

First off was the iconic Palm House,  which was designed by architect Decimus Burton and iron-maker Richard Turner in the 1840's. We were fortunate that it was not a popular day to visit Kew, and had most of the glasshouses almost to ourselves.
All through the Palm House, the wrought iron work is visible.
Bright Croton, amongst the various shades of green. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Wishing all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Frost, De-Frost

It was a frosty and a little bit snowy start to the weekend that's just gone past, with thick frost covering the roofs, ground, and plants greeting us as we went out into the garden last Saturday morning. There was a bit of snow the day before too, although most of it has melted by the evening, a little bit was left to freeze again overnight, adding to the icy scape of the morning.

And it was a cold weekend indeed, with temperatures rising only a couple of degrees above zero but fortunately didn't dip down beyond minus one celsius overnight. Still though, most of the morning frosts were gone by midday despite the relatively low temperatures, melted away with some light drizzle in between bouts of glorious full sun.

Cold, but not that cold to stop us doing a few more bits in the garden including doing a bit more towards finishing our pond/garden project.

But before I carry on, one other activity I had to do last Saturday was to de-frost our fridge freezer. It's a trivial matter but it amused me thinking that, there I was de-frosting the inside as the outside de-frosts too. Somehow these 'frost free' fridge freezers still manages to accumulate some thick ice in time, although probably not as quick as non frost free ones do, and it had to be defrosted soon to free up more space for the coming Christmas food shopping. We've tried to use up as much of the remaining stock in the past few days, with the remaining ones swiftly relocated to Gaz's parents freezer while the chilled items were bunged in a large plastic container, lid closed and placed....outside!

Outside but in a shady spot. Cold days have its uses too and with temperatures outside just as cold as the inside of the chilled section of a refrigerator then I might as well utilise the chill. Rest assured the few items I took out didn't stay out too long, fortunately defrosting was quick and they were back in by the afternoon. And yes, lots more space now for more festive food!

Frost free under the jungle hut!
Okay, enough of the trivia and back to the garden! After spending a few moments checking out the plants in the greenhouses and the outbuilding, making sure they are cosy, snug, and not dried out, we carried on building the filtration house. Most of the activities we've done to the filtration house over the past two weekends were finishing up the roof and putting up the wooden cladding of the building. These can be done even if the temperatures are low as long as it was comfortable for us to carry on working. And by the end of last weekend all of the reclaimed roof tiles have been laid, lots more wooden cladding have been hammered on, and the guttering is already half way done.

We were hoping to finish putting all of the ridge tiles on last weekend, as the weekend before it was 'warm' enough so that were were able to cement in place most of them, albeit still using some quick setting cement (which sets even when its damp and with low temperature). But last weekend felt just too cold to mix up some mortar to fasten the remaining ridge tiles in place, not worth the risk of it not setting properly and just needing to be redone if it didn't.

And speaking of ridge tiles, we couldn't find weather worn, reclaimed ones to match the roof tiles we've used. Well at least we couldn't find the small amount we needed to finish off our project, the ones available near us seems to be sold in huge quantities only (and you can't just buy a few). So we had to use brand new ones, with the only drawback being looking so new and bright red. At the moment its 'newness' stands out in contrast to the old ones beside it. It will also weather in time, blending in with the rest but I might give nature a helping hand with a bit of my cookies and cream preparation painted on to it. Should work a treat!

Hopefully next Saturday will be mild enough so that we can cement on the last few remaining ridge tiles and the roofing to be completely finished. And that Saturday is Christmas Eve already! It'll take us only an hour to do this remaining bit and then hopefully spend the rest of the day  indoors, preparing for Christmas Day and soaking in on the festive atmosphere.

And eating lots of food too! I didn't de-frost that fridge to make space for lots more food for no good reason after all ;-)


Thursday, December 08, 2011

My First David Austin Rose

I had a little thrill this morning when I saw that my first David Austin rose has finally arrived. I bought it for myself of course, and it's not a bunch of cut flowers that will only last for a few days but rather a bare root plant that can be planted out as soon as possible.

One extra thing that I liked about this new arrival is the packaging. I'm so used to receiving packages of plants on a regular basis, but instead of the usual functional brown cardboard box or jiffy bags unceremoniously wrapped with tons of tape and packing material, what arrived is a recyclable brown bag printed with intricate patterns and sealed with stitches. It looked more like I just bought a plant from a fancy flower shop down Marylebone Road rather than a muddy nursery somewhere in the countryside. So civilised!

Okay, I'm milking it now. There's some light humour going on behind this particular order and I'm basking on such a twee delight.

For those not in the know, there's a little bit of banter going on amongst exotic gardening enthusiasts that, if you want to quit exotic gardening or embody the complete antithesis of it then you must start buying roses and have a quintessential English Rose garden.

I must confess I do like roses, and just because we don't grow several in our garden (we only have one prior to this purchase) doesn't mean that I don't appreciate them, nor a style of garden that consists mostly of them. (And if you at least appreciate them like I do check out Holley's lovely blog here ).

My first impulse whenever I walk in a rose garden and/or see a rose flower is to smell it and bask in it's beautiful scent (and feel a little disappointment when a rose I just sniffed turns out to be unscented). And the experience of being in a well kept rose garden in the middle of summer, surrounded by thousands of blooms is magical and unforgettable (A rose garden in Warwickshire we visited a few years ago springs to mind).

'A rose in an exotic garden I hear you say?'

'Yes and well, why not?' I'd say! Roses have been cultivated in England for hundreds of years  to the point that it is already well ingrained into its culture and history (The English Rose, The War of the Roses, etc) and is synonymous to being English. Not to mention that all 'classically English' styles of gardening and gardens (Cottage, Rose, Knot, Formal, etc.) have roses as an essential, if not the main ingredient to the planting scheme. Hence, a rose is considered to be 'not so exotic'.

In reality though, most of these roses we see now are not exactly 'natives'. They have been introduced here through the years from various different locations around the world, cultivated, and adapted to the local conditions and tastes of local gardeners. So in essence, most of these roses are actually 'exotics' too.

Rosa sericea subsp. omeiensis f. pteracantha (photo from
But before I get carried away waffling on, I must go back to this particular rose I just bought from David Austin. I first saw the plant Rosa sericea subsp. omeiensis f. pteracantha (or rather bought to my conscious attention) when it was featured on Loree's fabulous blog a few weeks ago. Photos of those  gorgeous, bright red thorns glistening under the sunlight with it's dainty, ferny foliage was too much to resist and I had to add it to my 'wishlist'. Upon further research I found out that this particular rose is originally from China (so yes, it is technically an 'exotic' plant), introduced in the UK during the Victorian era and has been in cultivation here ever since. How could I miss it after all this time?

Photo from
The answer is, maybe because it is a rose after all. I tend not to wander around the rose section of various garden centres we've visited in the past, hence the most plausible reason why I've missed it until recently. One of the many lessons I've learned with this exotic gardening lark is to not bypass nor dismiss a plant just because they belong to a group that is generally regarded as 'non exotic', like Cornus, Aesculus, Impatiens, etc., when these genus' are so diverse that you can find species and cultivars of it introduced from all over the world. I just need to make a conscious thought to include the genus Rosa in this group from now on.

Photo from
And funny how some plants get to capture your attention if they are highlighted by somebody else, and photographed in a setting that is not normally associated with such plants. That's what exactly happened, Loree blogged about it, shown a photo of it planted beside traditionally 'exotic' plants, and presto, it's bagged a fan in me!

Now, as I've found out that this particular rose can be bought readily from most garden centres, I've opted to buy the named variety Rosa sericea subsp. omeiensis f. pteracantha 'Red Wing' (whew! what a name!) instead, also available at David Austin. Why pay the p&p for the usual type if I can pick it up from somewhere nearby? At least it gives me an onus to visit our nearest garden centre and browse at their rose section

Rosa sericea 'Red Wing' (Photo from
This particular variety is supposed to have more thorns and are brighter red in colour compared to the usual form. All I need to do now is to acquire the other one and compare them myself in the spring. And I'm so looking forward to finding out!

And so, back to David Austin, will this be my first and last rose from them? I'm keeping an open mind so probably not :-)


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Garden House and the Mystery Schefflera

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.....

It seems a strange introduction but there is a definite nip in the air recently, with thick frost on all of the cars and the road feeling a bit slippery with ice for the first time on my way to work this morning. I don't normally get into the Christmas spirit until about a couple of weeks before the actual day but with the recent chill in the air it looks like I will be lulled into an early Christmas feeling this time. 

Saying that, around this time last year we were covered in blankets of snow and have had several subzero temperatures already, so the mild autumn we've just experienced was a wonderful bonus. But all of us got used to the milder temperatures and with the sudden feel of chill in the air, everyone seems to have been suddenly reminded that it is winter after all (based on the amount of weather reports I received from all of our clients I spoke to today!).