This week I finished pruning the crown-like willow arbour that nestles behind the Octagon. I could only do little bursts of work on it last week because even with two pairs of gloves on I had to keep dashing back into the pottery to warm my fingers by the kilns. But this week I could make much faster progress and was down to shirtsleeves for the first time this year.
|Before - work just started in the foreground
The arbour was made by Richard Kerwood of Windrush Willow about five or six years ago and is so solid and well established that it throws up 12 foot shoots every year. Cutting it back is a major exercise but does provide me with plenty of material for making plant supports. Many of you will have seen Windrush Willow and their lovely sculptures, plant supports (much more elegant than my efforts) and baskets at events here; they will be back for the Summer Garden Party this year.
|After - all neat and tidy
Chop-chop with Puss-Puss
It is such a satisfying job, lopping most of last year's growth off, leaving shoots that are well placed to repair breakages or reinforce weak points and weaving them in. Puss-Puss turns up without fail because willow shoots are his favourite toy.
|Here he comes.
|Mini landscape for Steeple Aston.
On Tuesday I went to do a spring planting demonstration for Steeple Aston Garden Club.
I don't actually plant many pots at this time of year, the vast majority are either planted in the autumn or in May/June but if I do a new planting one of my favourite ways is to make a little alpine landscape in a pot, using stones, crocks or whole pots to make crags, cracks and crevices for alpines to fill.
So I raided the seconds pile for a few odds and ends to embed and picked a beautiful 15 year-old Orange Pot (621C
) to put everything in. I always like to take a weathered pot with me to demonstrations because often people look at the new, bright pots and find it hard to imagine them mellowed with age. And our pots do age beautifully, especially if you don't keep them too clean!
|Just after watering in.
My turn to do the washing up.
As I started putting my concoction together in front of this friendly group of gardeners I became aware of a few puzzled looks - and had to admit that my arrangement looked rather like a bowl of washing up. To my relief as soon as the plants started to go in it looked better and by the time I added the mulch of gravel and grit the whole thing was meeting with approval.
Most alpines enjoy having cool places under "rocks" to send their roots and like to have their heads in sunny, airy conditions, so raised in a large-ish pot in a sunny area is an ideal location for them. Plants that like cooler conditions, such as most saxifrages, can be sited on the shadier side of the crocks or sheltered behind larger plants - there are different microclimates even within one potful.
|Alchemilla erythropoda's pinkish stems pick up the pinkish red in the bud of Pulsatilla vulgaris 'Pinwheel'
Don't just buy plants in flower.
You can also inspect the detail more easily than you can on the ground. This is already quite a pleasing arrangement even though there are no flowers yet! Plants establish best when they are concentrating their energy on root growth rather than flowers, and if you plant them before they flower then you have the pleasure of seeing their whole flowering season, not just the part of it which occurs after you have taken them home from the garden centre. It is also worth looking carefully at foliage colour and form - if you have effective combinations of these the pot will look good all year.
I have planted this fairly densely for instant effect, so I will have to observe it carefully, especially as some of the plants are new to me: if some spread too rampantly I may have to remove or reduce them in order to avoid suffocating their neighbours. Some will creep, some will sprawl and I am hoping a few will start to overflow from the pot.
Here's the plant recipe - but you don't need to use exactly the same things, have a look and see what's available locally and don't forget to see if you already have something you can split and replant.
Main pot, clockwise from front left:
Crassula milfordiae sedifolia
2 Pulsatilla vulgaris 'Pinwheel Dark Red Shades'
Hebe (it's a scruffy cutting of a low-growing one, and I'm sorry I've forgotten the name - will add it as soon as I find it!)
Saxifraga 'White Pixie'
Chamaecyparis 'Rubicon' (a slow-growing maroon-tinted conifer - if it gets too big it can simply be moved)
Sempervivum (I have used 3 clumps in total, all split from the same overcrowded potful)
About 5 Crocus 'Blue Pearl' (from a spent potful - these will hopefully come up again next spring...)
Embedded Frilly Lily pot:
2 Sedum spurium 'Coccineum'
Embedded Rose bowl:
2 clumps Sempervivum
Sedum spathulifolium 'Cape Blanco'
Embedded small Round pot:
Phlox subulata (a pink one - name lost, but there are lots of good ones)