Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter

Happy Easter everyone from Mark and Gaz :)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Bloggers Meet at Great Dixter

Yesterday we went along to a bloggers meet at Great Dixter. Well known as the garden of the much loved garden writer and personality Christopher Lloyd, Great Dixter is however so much more than just the garden. A fantastic manor house at the centre, education and training rooms, a nursery, and wood crafts are additional strings to Dixter's bow.

The garden itself opens to the public tomorrow on Good Friday, so there was a flurry of activity from the many gardeners and estate staff organising the finishing touches wherever we looked.

Organised by Naomi from Out of My Shed the day kicked off with a talk by the effervescent Fergus Garrett, the current Head Gardener of Great Dixter and long time friend of Christopher Lloyd. We had not previously had the pleasure in attending a talk by Fergus, but what a fantastic speaker he is. Exuding the joys of experimenting with plants, Fergus focused in particular on how Great Dixter plans its succession planting, as well as highlighting some of the more unusual planting experiments. The photos of the gardens using cow parsley last year gave a truly ethereal feel.

With the enthusiasm rubbing off on us all, the timings for the day quickly were forgotten and the talk lasted an extra half an hour or so over Fergus' time slot. However from there we were on to the delightful nursery, and a meeting with Mike, the nursery manager.

Great Dixter's nursery is genuinely one of the most tidy and well presented nursery I can think of. The plants are grown hard, with very limited space under glass and no polytunnels to be seen. Clearly we couldn't wander round a nursery without selecting a few plants, and came home with an Oropanax, an Angelica, and also a Rodgersia. The nursery buildings, as many on the estate have a fantastic ancient quality. I assume many of them predate the 1910 Luytens designed extension to the original medieval hall, although they may well be of a similar era.

Although bright and sunny the day was cold, so a welcome retreat for hot home made soup prepared us for the afternoons garden tour with the deputy head gardener Siew Lee. This was a real treat, being shown round the garden in a small group without any other visitors, seeing just how full and colourful the garden is even now at the start of the season. 

Siew Lee
The garden wraps round the main house and the house provides a fantastic backdrop and focal point. It is hard to spot where the medieval section ends and the 1910 extension starts, however to help show the history we were given a guided tour of the house by the Great Dixter Curator. As well as the tour itself Roy had selected a number of documents from the archives including original plans and sketches by Edwin Lutyens for the restoration and extension to the hall, as well as personal Lloyd family albums.

To conclude the day we finished up in the 500 year old barn where we met Simon, who gave us a demonstration on working with green wood.

We will feature the garden and house in more detail in a dedicated post soon.

Great Dixter is open from 29 March to 27 October this year and more information can be found on their website.

Gaz :)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spring, Where Art Thou?

Last Sunday morning I was about to write a blog about a certain a plant and I needed to take some photos of it. But as I went out to photograph it I was greeted by this:

and this

and this

and the plant that was supposed to be featured was this

Nevermind, perhaps some other time once all of the snow has melted and I could photograph this beautiful plant without all that white stuff covering it.

And for those who follow our blog regularly, do you remember when we featured the Koi Grow and Show competition organised by our local koi club Kangei at Avenue Fisheries last autumn? Well, last Sunday was the results day to which all the koi entered were measured again to see how much they have grown and the best performers will win a prize. It was also the day when you take them home to enjoy in your own pond.....

Supposed to be anyway but then again when the date was set we weren't expecting that late March here would look like this...

A very pretty drive towards Avenue Fisheries
Almost unbelievable. The autumn event turned out to be significantly warmer than the spring one!

We were all pleased and surprised how much all of the koi have grown in just a space of a few months and what were all relatively small fish then are much bigger now. The fish I entered grew 6cm whilst the one Gaz did grew an impressive 9.5 cm and was also shortlisted as one of the best developed koi in the bunch. He didn't win the top prize but both of us were pleased nevertheless for his koi to look so good and so well after a few months.

My my they have all grown so well!
The six koi considered to be the prettiest of the lot. Gaz's fish is the one on the top left side.
Alas, as much as how excited we were to take them home we had to leave them both behind. With the cold spell and blanket of snow all over, our pond temperature has dipped down in figures too and would be too cold for them to be transferred in to especially as they are in a much warmer pond now. The big difference in temperature would just shock them hence it was best to leave them behind, to be collected once the weather has warmed up, certainly much more than it is now.

But the question is, when will it warm up here?? Such a prolonged winter this one is, temperature lows may haven't been that bad but this season has dragged on, and on this time.

Spring, where art thou??

And so many spring events this week yet so little spring! Last weekend and this week would have been a very busy period for us, with several spring gardening events happening that we were intending of going to. Looks like we'll have to trim the list down. Oh well, when these events were organised none of us anticipated that the weather will be this cold here.

Even in Central London last Saturday, it was so snowy and cold. Yet looking at the bright (and white) side at least it was very pretty. In Camden Market they were even playing some Christmas songs and a stall was selling mulled wine. A little humour never did harm, and it certainly was appropriate!

Ho, ho ho!

Mark :-)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

First Day of Spring...

Well it was the Spring Equinox yesterday, which means that the days will be longer than the nights for the next six months.

Usually you can associate this time of year with new growth, of the spring bulbs and flowers, lambs prancing in the fields and all that sort of stuff....

And yet this was the view out of the window this morning!

Welcome to Spring from Alternative Eden!! :)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Small Water Feature

Next to our new pond we have built a small water feature. Some of you will have seen one or two photos of this during construction, but now that it is up and running I thought it would be a good time to pull together the various stages of its construction.

The idea behind this pool was simple, to create some extra interest by the main pond, and also to create some watery sound. The new koi pond is a silent pond, with the water returns all under water. This reduces any cooling effects of cold weather on the returning water and also allows for a still surface through which it will be easier to admire the koi.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Treetop Walkway

Supertrees, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
After our initial view of the Supertrees in Singapore (see the night photos here) we had a second visit to the Gardens by the Bay, and included the treetop walkway. We had intended to do this the first day, but as there was a public holiday for Chinese New Year the queues were enormous, so much so that the lady in the ticket office advised against it.
However on our return, the crowds were less and it was only a ten minute queue to go up, there was a choice of lift or stairs.... we were on holiday after all so the lift won out!

Supertrees, Gardens by the Bay, SingaporeThe view was well worth going up for, with the gardens stretching out in all directions and the skyscrapers of Singapore in the background. From this height you can really see just how new these gardens are. I hope we get to go back in a few years time when things will have started to mature.

Supertrees, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Supertrees, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Supertrees, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
The walkway is suspended by steel rope, and does wobble a bit with people walking about or the wind. 

Supertrees, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Singapore is famous for its signs, and the walkway had several, don't forget you can't jump off and please no kites :)

However all the signs didn't stop this boy from climbing up and swinging about, initially to his mothers horror as he was lifting himself up and above the barrier, but she then decided this was cute and got the camera out. We didn't get a photo of him up high although you could hear the gasps of quite a few of the other visitors. Mums sudden change of heart from horror to awww, was rather amusing to see.

Supertrees, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

On the trip down at the far end we opted for the stairs, so we could see the inside of the Supertrees. They all have this construction with planting panels suspended from a rail system and water sprinklers covering the tree. Again the planting still looks very new and I'm sure as the plants grow and knit together the overall look will get even better.

Supertrees, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Back on the ground and the planting is not quite so new looking. They have brought in hundreds of large trees, palms and shrubs to create this garden, which are starting to fill out and produce that lush look one would expect in Singapore. We will move on to this area around the garden in a future blog.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Spring Planning

It's the time of year again to think about preparing the garden for the year ahead. The repair of the red pergola is now underway and I have plenty of ideas on the other possible next projects for the garden. 

However it's also a good time to start planning for spring in the garden, and refreshing the plants after their winter break. As we look to create that jungle look the plants are often packed in and have to jostle for space, water and nutrients. 

We have been planning to put in an irrigation system at the jungle end of the garden where the moisture loving tree ferns are. The kit for putting this in has been in the shed for a couple of years so we must try and get these in this year. Having said that, the summers in the last couple of years have not really been dry enough to have had to worry about irrigation. Hopefully this summer won't be such a wash out as the ones before! 

We give the whole garden a boost of fertilizer each spring, usually adding chicken manure pellets by the bucket load or sack. We bought several sacks in bulk last year when a local store had a sale, and have some left for this year but only enough for one section of the garden so we'll have to buy more.
Pelleted Chicken Manure (photo from Compost Direct)
We do like using chicken manure in the garden, it's easy to distribute and is not too obvious from a visual point of view, but it is still a manure and the neighbours are probably not that keen when we first place it in the garden. However the smell does seem to go fairly quickly. 

Whilst pelleted chicken manure is a handy fertilizer to use on most of the garden it is not appropriate on the various potted plants we have - especially those with a gravel mulch on top! We tend to use liquid fertilizer or a powdered one such as 'blood, fish, and bone'  on the potted plants and always stock up on them in the autumn sales. Mark has a  'Stash in the Attic' and looks like we will be further reducing that in the coming months!

With the weather warming up (hopefully!!) not only do the plants start to grow again but the pests start to make a return. Slugs and snails try and eat the new shoots on plants like hostas, and the dreaded -vine weevils and their nasty little grubs re-appear. We tend to go for a double hit against the vine weevils, by use of chemical control and then also by introducing organic control in the form of nematodes. We do this twice a year, in both spring and autumn, Mark blogged about this last autumn.

Preparing the Nematodes
The final key part of preparing for spring is in mulching the garden, we like to refresh the way the jungle areas look by spreading a fresh mulch of bark chips over the ground. Helping to maintain ground moisture and suppressing weeds, ideally the mulch should be spread before many of the dormant perennials get going. Last year we ordered a jumbo bag of mulch rather than by purchasing it in smaller bags, saves on having to shift bags in the car and it was great having a large supply available for the garden. We will probably do the same again this year, ordering them once the weather warms a little more.

Spring is full of little jobs to do and I love it, rather than see them as chores I see them all as welcoming signs that the garden is waking up!


Monday, March 11, 2013

Something Old, Something New....

Well as one project comes to an end another one starts. This one isn't planned to take quite so long however - well I hope not anyway.

I'm sure many of you have seen the red pergola in photos before. It was one of the original structures in the garden when we moved in, although had to be cleansed of many years of ivy growth first. It was build sometime before 1999 as that was when the owner of the property who built the pergola sold it to the people before us. Based on various other clues I think it was probably built about 1994-95.

Nearly 20 years of weather and several years under a blanket of ivy have taken their toll on this softwood structure, and with rot taking a hold in the roof joists and the trellis we decided that it was a good a time as any to get stuck in and make a start on repairing it.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

After Three Days, Almost Three Years

The Pond is finished....

It took the equivalent of three whole days to fill (spread over five if it includes the interruptions) and after almost three years of work there it was, the pond is finished.

37,010 liters or 8,140 imperial gallons it clocked on the water meter after the pond was filled. We made it past the 8,000 gallon mark, another reason for us to be pleased about.

The window has been installed prior to filling it with water and afterwards all the filtration has been tested and are now up and running, ready to start receiving new fish residents in the following days to come.

All we need now is warmer and drier weather to finish off the few remaining cosmetic jobs that need to be done to tidy up the area. Otherwise all essential and major works in the new garden, not just the pond itself have been completed.

The feeling is surreal, it hasn't sunk in yet. Earlier today we spent some time tidying up some of the tools and materials that we used during the build for we don't need them on this project anymore...

But that's it, we don't need them anymore. Perhaps some of them we will again on a new, future project but for now they can be stored away for the pond is now finished.

It will take some time but we'll get used to it. The feeling is surreal, in a very happy sort of way...

Mark :-)

Friday, March 08, 2013

Escape in the Jungle at Singapore Botanic Gardens

In previous blog posts we have featured the Ginger Garden and Bromeliads at Singapore Botanic Gardens, this time we explore the lush jungle planting. These photos are from within the Orchid Garden section, although there was a lot more than just orchids. In due course we shall share the orchids but today it's another turn for the lush, tropical planting.

The Orchid Garden was an absolute delight, and the planting and landscaping exceeded what we had anticipated. Not just orchids, but ferns, tree ferns, palms and a whole host of leafy tropical planting.

Whilst in Singapore we generally had some rain most days, which typically fell in the middle of the day. So whilst in the Orchid Garden the rain did once again make an appearance. Fortunately it didn't detract from enjoying a beautiful garden.

Water droplets on a Colocasia leaf
In many respects the rain enhanced the garden, making it more atmospheric, there were also not many visitors at the same time as us which always helps make a visit more enjoyable.

With the warmth, moisture and lack of winter everything looks so lush, the Cyatheas thrusting up from the undergrowth is a fabulous way to line a pathway. 

Large Aspleniums were everywhere, on the ground, on the trees, clinging to walls and rock faces.
I must look for more hardy forms for us to grow.

Blechnums are another group of ferns I really like!

Delightful forest pathways, and just us to enjoy. This lushness is something I'd like to work on in our
own garden this year.

Twisted roots as a feature, simply delightful. Whether it remains bare from plant life in the ideal
conditions of Singapore will remain to be seen.

We spotted this chap in the middle of things. He reminded me of the metal animals we have seen at
places such as Akamba here in the UK.

Gradually the epiphytes seem to take over all available branch or log.

Given a little time the log above will presumably look like these trees, with the branches covered in wonderful epiphytic life.

How's that for total immersion into plant life!

Singapore has a reputation for having signs forbidding almost everything, however we did not really notice too many. These signs above made me smile as they just seem so sweet and simple, although it doesn't say perhaps you are OK to walk on the garden as long as you have your safety boots on, only bare feet are banned! Or maybe not :)

Around every corner was another beautiful view. We are fans of water features and falls (I'm sure you may have guessed from our pond project!), this one works so well. With the water cascading down into a small pool. 

Philodendron in front of the waterfall
Looking back at our photos when composing this, it feels like our trip was such a long time ago already. However it gives me so many ideas and thoughts for our own garden; working out how to recreate some of the feel and atmosphere of the Singapore Gardens, and thinking through the plants that will give the look and be hardy.