Now that your rose is in bloom…

Please forgive the entirely gratuitous 90s-tastic title, but I couldn’t resist – great excitement in the garden as the Wren has bloomed and here is how she looks:

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I am delighted with her – the petals slightly more pink than apricot than I was expecting, but when the flowers are in bud they have a lovely orangey tinge, and the shape of the bloom is very pleasing.

(Although I’ve now discovered that I’ve made a wildlife faux pas – roses with double petals like this are not recommended as good pollinators, presumably as the plant is bred to expend more of its energy to produce purely decorative, unnecessary petals, which would be better used producing more separate blossoms, therefore increasing its pollination potential. Oops. Sorry, the bees).

The scent is rather slight as far as I can tell so far, but is very pleasant, and the dark foliage is lovely.

My mystery yellow rose is also beautifully, abundantly in bloom – a good 2 weeks later than it’s flowered in previous years, to give you an indication of how late the spring is this year – and Albertine is about to bloom too.

I may not quite have the Misselthwaite Manor walled rose garden of my childhood dreams (just give me time…) but with 3 stunning roses in flower or about too, I’m not doing too badly for a pocket-handkerchief sized urban cottage garden, I think.

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Apart from the roses, the garden is looking rather parched after a couple of weeks of heat and drought, my water butt which overflowed continually in April is getting low, and 2 muggy days of cloud have produced thunder and rain seemingly everywhere in the south-east except my postcode, it would appear.

Of course all you non-gardeners out there want the dry weather to stay, and I’m no spoilsport, I like my rain in the early hours of the morning, not mid-afternoon, purely to aid the garden, clear the pollen-ridden air – and if only to prove the old wives’ tale, ‘Rain before Seven, Fine before Eleven’ (it really does work that way more often than not, honestly).

Anyway, it’s bound to rain soon – Wimbledon’s coming up.

Living due east of the All-England Club as I do, Wimbledon telly coverage is a great weather aid for me. If the covers go on and rain stops play, I know I should be taking my washing in and expecting the garden to get a good soaking about 20 minutes hence. A very useful service (hah!) provided, serendipitously, by the BBC and worth an extra penny or two on my licence fee, I’m sure.

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Heat, Dust and Totes from Harrods

For the armchair gardener, it’s been one of the big weeks of the year – the Chelsea Flower Show. I don’t usually count myself an armchair gardener as I do have an actual, real garden, but being trapped underneath a baby for much of the day is rather limiting my gardening time, so I have to take my  pleasures where I can get them.

I have only been watching the Chelsea TV coverage for the last couple of years – I was barely aware that it existed at all before I owned a garden – but now the annual jollification with Titchmarsh, de Thame, celebrity guests et al has become a fixture of my summer, and yet I regard it with both fascination and horror.

I am not sure I could ever face going there in person; the thought of negotiating the crowds, the heat, the bustling Chelsea ladies with their Harrods shoppers, and of course the fact you can only admire the plants and buy nothing (apart from on the last day) is enough to deter me.

As I begin to understand more about the art of bringing a garden to fruition, and knowing there will be periods when certain spaces lie empty and bare (and some patches that never seem to grow anything, no matter what I try!), Chelsea’s show gardens where everything is perfectly in bloom at exactly the right time look ever more artificial.

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Scabious…too scruffy for Chelsea?

The watchword at Chelsea this year seems to be wildlife-friendly planting – the more pollinating plants, the better, as supporting insect life sustains our declining songbird population, and planting for bee pollination in particular could be an essential tool to reverse the collapse in bee numbers.

Many gardens at Chelsea have adopted this ethos to beautiful effect, but transferring this to small city gardens is always going to be a challenge, especially if you only have one pair of hands for watering, weeding and thinning, rather than an army of gardeners.

When I first started gardening, I wanted to plant insect-friendly flowers, but many of the wild flowers I loved as a child turned out to be highly unsuitable for an urban garden. I have a field scabious and a red campion which have turned into triffids, flop over and completely swamp my flower bed every summer – whereas in a meadow they would presumably grow straight upright, supported by grasses.

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Red campion…or triffid?

Foxgloves also grow to monstrous sizes and only flower every other year, so I don’t get the pleasure of the flowers on their fallow years – and neither do the bees. I suppose I ought to dig up the scabious and campion, and plant something more suitable – but I love them too much to throw them away.

Foxgloves at least spread nicely and can be thinned out (and have even self-seeded themselves into the garden wall, to charming effect), so I can keep a few in selected places, but when it comes to insect-friendly planting, I will have to learn a little restraint in future, and pick out flowers which I know will fit into my beds without overwhelming them.

Now to settle down and watch the last hour of Chelsea coverage, and dream of a garden with enough space for a whole army of alliums, a gazebo, or some box-based topiary…and maybe one year I’ll be there, beating a path through the grannies with their Harrods totes. Maybe.

A Walk around The Rookery

From where I live, you can walk for 10 or 20 or 30 minutes and reach some of the nicest parks in South London. It’s one of the reasons I like it here so much and a reason why I chose to move here.

There is one particular green space, though, that has a special place in my heart, because I saw it first the same day I viewed my house for the first time. It was January 2008, and my house-hunting mission in South London had rather haphazardly landed me with two viewings a couple of streets apart, but also several hours apart.

I had the prospect of nothing to do for those hours except sit in a cafe, but with my A to Z to hand, I determined to explore the local area more and headed for the nearest open space on the map. My curiosity paid off and I found myself on a green slope overlooking south-west London and beyond to the Downs.

It was Streatham Common I had been fortunate enough to spot on the map, and when a flock of parakeets flew over my head I pretty much decided then and there that a house 10 minutes walk from such a lovely place had to be worth buying.

I didn’t even discover the best bit of the Common on that first visit – right in the heart of it is a walled garden, The Rookery, formerly the grounds of a long-gone mansion, which has been a favourite spot of mine ever since, and a big influence on my own garden planning.

It’s the kind of garden you might dream of in your best ever dream – stately trees in every imaginable shade of green march down a lawn, beyond that is a formal flower garden with bowers, trellises, a covered walk and wishing well, and even further beyond is a white garden inspired by the famous one at Sissinghurst, complete with cute white wooden benches.

Taking advantage of a brief sunny interlude on Saturday, we went down to the Rookery for a morning stroll, and I was pleased to see the April downpours had left it looking rather splendid. In the formal planted area, wedge-shaped beds were full of the brightest blue forget-me-nots I’ve ever seen (the ones in my garden are anaemic compared to this electric shade of blue) – and to contrast, a couple of beds were planted with pink forget-me-nots instead. I normally sneer at the pink strain as inferior to the classic native blue shade, but here the effect of the block colours en masse was striking.

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Apart from the gorgeous forget-me-not display, I was thrilled to find one of my favourite flowers hidden in a corner – London Pride. A variety of saxifrage, I grew it in my first flowerbed at my parents’ house, and have been looking for it ever since (I have a couple of other saxifrage in my garden now, but would still love to have this too).

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The flower came by its common name supposedly because it grew easily on Blitz bomb sites during the war – a charming story, but I’ve never yet seen London Pride growing on waste ground in London – usually it’s the rampant buddleia, bindweed or rosebay willowherb which sprawls everywhere given the chance. Either way, I was glad to see London Pride had found a foothold somewhere in the city which gave it its name.

That only gives you a tiny flavour of all the delights of Streatham Common – I haven’t even mentioned the Kite Day, the time I saw a fox cub in the woods, the cafe, or the gardens of Norwood Grove. It just goes to show, buying a house on a whim because you like the fact there is a common nearby can sometimes, whatever sensible estate agents may advise you, be a good idea.

Days of Wine and Roses

I can’t quite remember when I first decided I loved roses…they did not feature in my childhood garden after my mum decided she wasn’t very good at growing them, and dug up the rose bed to make a patio instead.

There was still a wild (dog) rose growing in the hedge at the bottom of the garden (rosa canina) and perhaps dog roses are the only real roses – and indeed, if I lived in a country cottage I’d have a hedge full of hawthorn, honeysuckle and dog rose, but it’s not really the right thing for a city garden.

What really inspired me was coming across a book listing rose varieties. Until then I’d only thought of roses as things that grew in flower beds in parks, but now I realised there were ramblers and climbers, hybrid teas and floribundas – and the rather more prosaic patio roses.

Then there were the individual names, which sounded like poems – New Dawn, Felicite Perpetue, Mme Alfred Carriere, The Fairy, Queen of Denmark – names that stayed with me down the years, and made me dream of my own version of the Secret Garden, full of romantic old roses climbing over arches and trellises, and around statues and fountains.

One rose in particular stuck with me, as it was described as ‘unsuitable to be grown in a children’s garden, because it’s so thorny’ although it was ‘otherwise lovely’ with distinctive red stems and buds, and coral-coloured petals. This was Albertine, and I decided, thorns or no thorns, when I had my first garden it would be the first rose I planted.

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Albertine

Albertine is planted on a west-facing trellis at the end of my garden and has been thriving there – she flowers in June, and I must say my only disappointment is that I quite often miss the best of her flowering season when I’ve been away on a certain farm in Somerset. Still, when she IS out, it really is worth it, however brief the season.

Albertine may have been the first rose I planted, but she wasn’t the first rose in the garden – as I mentioned before, the only plant growing in the garden when I moved in was a yellow rose bush, marooned in a sea of concrete. When I viewed the house in January, the bush looked rather dismal but I did at least register there was something growing there.

When I moved in the following May, the rose was in full flower and was beautiful – with so much work to be done on the house and garden, it comforted me that there was at least one lovely thing growing in the garden.

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Unnamed mystery yellow rose

About a month after I moved in, there was a rather unseasonal stormy summer night with heavy rain, and I came downstairs to see that every blossom on the rose bush had been blown off, along with a lot of leaves. The poor rose looked in a very dismal state and I was so disappointed – but I needn’t have worried.

The yellow rose kept on blooming all through the summer and autumn, unlike the feckless Albertine who has such a short season, and has even had blossoms on its branches in December. Added to its abundance, the yellow rose also won my heart with its gorgeous scent – truly one of the loveliest smelling roses I’ve encountered.

The one mystery I’ve never been able to solve with my yellow rose is – what variety is it? The most famous yellow rose is ‘Peace’, which visually matches the description of mine – primrose yellow with pink edging – but my rose handbook says Peace is not strongly scented and my rose definitely is. Perhaps the handbook is wrong…or perhaps it’s some other yellow variety similar to Peace…or perhaps I will never know.

With soft pink Albertine and the yellow rose in place, I’d covered two of my favourite rose colours in the garden, but I also wanted a buff or apricot colour to add to my collection. (Funnily enough I’m not too keen on your classic Valentine’s Day red rose – bit boring, really).

I had once seen a gorgeous apricot coloured double rose with the most amazing smell called Gloire de Dijon, but had heard that it was a very old variety and quite disease-prone – and was a rambler, and I didn’t really have space to fit another rambling rose in the garden. So I needed to find a bush rose that would give me the same colour and shape, and ideally a good scent too.

A trip to the garden centre provided me with the rose I wanted: the Wren, named to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (as opposed to after the bird, although that would have pleased me just as much).

Even better, the Wren was on special offer, so she was duly purchased and planted, and I wait with excitement to see what she looks like when she finally flowers.

I would say I don’t have room for any more roses in the garden now…but I don’t have a white one, or a bright pink, and I would still love to plant The Fairy, which is a minature pale pink. One day…when I’m on to my next garden…perhaps…