Front gardens – snooper’s paradise

In the days before social media took over our lives and allowed us to share every waking moment online, I favoured a more traditional approach to record my interest in gardens and interior design – I had a scrapbook.

I kept it up faithfully from around 2000 to 03, with pictures cut out of glossy magazines and the Evening Standard property supplement, and lists of design ideas I liked and plants I wanted to grow one day.

It was another five years before I had a garden of my own, and by then I had a digital camera and iPhone, so I was able to start taking photos of plants here and there and keeping those as inspiration for my garden planning.

I do yearn for the days of my scrapbook, though, (and I haven’t yet been tempted to try Pinterest) so am going to use the blog to keep track of plants and design ideas I’ve spotted around the place. (My interior design preference seems to be ‘paint everything white and fill house with clutter’, so that I think is less interesting to anyone else and certainly not particularly inspirational…)

I was hoping to visit some of my favourite gardens in Dulwich this weekend, as part of a series of open weekends (and all for charity), which would have provided a golden opportunity for taking some photos, but the rain kept us away, so instead, I’ve fallen back on a faithful standby – the front garden.

Front gardens provide wonderful inspiration to a confirmed snooper like me, and are a source of much envy, as my own front yard has room for little more than a wheelie bin and hanging basket.

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White Alliums

First up, I saw these white alliums in a garden in Herne Hill. I’d not seen white ones before, only purple ones, and I thought these were rather striking (especially in such numbers – if only I could afford to plant so many!)

The alliums were paired with some red flowers I didn’t recognise, but looked a bit like runner bean flowers – the impact of a two-tone colour scheme (and the additional interest provided by the spiky foliage) was very attractive, although with my eclectic tastes I don’t think I could ever settle for two colours only.

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Rambling roses

These gorgeous scarlet roses were spotted yesterday in Gipsy Hill – in fact my friend took me on a detour from our afternoon walk especially to see them, as she knows I have a thing about roses. Red roses still aren’t my favourite shade, but these beauties might be the ones to make me change my mind…

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Wild geranium bliss

Today in West Dulwich – gorgeous wild geraniums with a border of alchemilla – I do have both these in my garden already, but thought the colour contrast of the two together was worth a picture.

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Pastel heaven

Also seen today – pink and yellow roses together. It shouldn’t work, and yet somehow it does. Lovely.

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2012’s Books So Far

This is not really a blog post, just a list. My new year’s resolution was to properly keep track of the books I have read, as I found myself forgetting what I have read over the last few years and regretting not keeping better tabs on it.

Also, hopefully, it might inspire me to read more, or read better, although my progress this year was heavily skewed by the fact I was in the last trimester of pregnancy and finding I couldn’t concentrate on much beyond whodunnits and page turners. (And post-baby, things are, unsurprisingly, even worse).

So here goes – what I can remember of the year so far, anyway –

Dune by Frank Herbert (I read this as a challenge to myself, to see if I could read and enjoy sci-fi. It was, erm, OK).

A Question of Blood/Fleshmarket Close/The Hanging Garden, by Ian Rankin. When working at Oxfam Books in Herne Hill, pre-baby, the Rebus stories were my book of choice whilst on till duty. I worked my way through several others last year, too, but was half way through The Hanging Garden, (which was shaping up very nicely) when someone went and bought it, dammit!

So after that I decided not to read any books I actually cared about in the shop, as it was so frustrating not being able to find out what happened next, and mostly read trashy celeb biographies, I’m afraid, or Asterix books. I am now longing to read more Ian Rankin, so am either going to need to raid the library or my dad’s collection.

Riders by Jilly Cooper. Don’t ask.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. I’d not read any Wharton since the Age of Innocence, years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed this – sped through it in the last weeks of pregnancy, it was a very easy read, which confirmed my suspicion that Wharton is the Henry James you can actually read.

Archangel by Robert Harris. Definitely not as good as Enigma – it set up a brilliant and terrifying scenario but then seemed to let it dwindle away with rather too much of the book spent with characters sat on a train or stuck in a snowdrift in northern Russia. The ending in particular was a massive anti-climax.

Bones and Ashes by Kathy Reichs. I’d read another of her whodunnits a few years ago and enjoyed it, but this was rather pedestrian and repetitive – however, as the first book I read post-baby, it was just what I needed at that point.

Bossypants by Tina Fey – picked this up at the library on a whim and whilst it was hardly a taxing read, it was good fun, and like Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’, has the appealing but probably deceptively difficult-to-achieve sensation that the real person is actually talking to you as you read (and of course making you wish they were Your Best Mate).

Ophelia in Pieces by Claire Jacob – a local author I saw give a book reading at Dulwich Books, the book being about a lawyer going through a marital breakdown whilst defending several rather unpleasant individuals. Reading this at the same time as watching ‘Silk’ on TV was somewhat confusing, as I kept mixing up the plots of the two.

Currently reading – Therese Raquin by Emile Zola. Have been wanting to read this for years, and managed about 2 pages last night before falling asleep. Still, it’s a start.

I’m hoping one day to tackle more of the Rougon-Macquart series (of which I’ve read 2 so far), as I suspect I’m never going to bother with Proust or A Dance to the Music of Time, or Anna Karenina, but I don’t want to give up entirely on ‘serious’ books, and Zola is, well, pretty serious.

Those we have loved and lost…

Well. After complaining about the drought, I got my wish, as we’ve now had a good dose of rain. Sadly, not confined to the evening as I’d been hoping, and even more unwelcome was the wind which has made a wreck of my poor roses (petals scattered everywhere), made the remains of my daffodil leaves flop over looking very messy, and worst of all, one of my precious alliums snapped off (those bulbs cost £7 apiece, you know!) – at least that I could rescue and it’s looking very nice in a vase on the kitchen table.

Seeing the garden struggling in the heat, followed by rain and wind, has reminded me of some of the plants that have failed me over the years – some that didn’t take off full stop, and some that showed promise but for whatever reason, perished.

I am a dogged and stubborn gardener by nature (and in the rest of my life too, I suspect), so when something dies on me, I have often stuck my heels in and planted the same thing over again, determined to make it grow come hell or high water – but sometimes you have to know when to quit, if a plant just isn’t working out for you.

Here, then, is the roll call of those I have loved and lost.

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Late lamented jasmine

Who doesn’t love jasmine? The smell is heavenly, and the white starry flowers against the dark leaves are beautiful – just perfect, I thought, for the shady corner at the bottom of my garden, imagining the white petals would glow out from the shadows to pleasing effect.

It was one of the first things I planted and it grew profusely that summer – beginning to cover a dead tree stump and trellis – but at the first sign of winter it turned up its toes and died. I had always assumed jasmine was hardy, but evidently not, and I decided not to replant it, as it would be so frustrating to start training a new plant up the trellis only to lose it again the next winter – so in its place, a honeysuckle AND a clematis are thriving.

Lily of the valley – don’t even have a photo of this, it grew so briefly. I’ve tried it a couple of times, picking out shady damp spaces you would think would be perfect for it, and the first time it did flower once, but it never reappeared and I’m not sure why, as it’s a perennial. The second time, slugs did for it, so I admitted defeat and have not tried to grow it again. One to try in my next garden, perhaps…

Sweet pea – honestly, I thought any idiot can grow sweet peas, surely? Not me. The first time I planted them from seed too late, and they never really got going. Second summer I bought established plants from the garden centre (cheating!), built a wigwam and got a fairly good result, although the flowers were nearly all burgundy when I was hoping for pale pinks, purples and whites.

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Burgundy is boring!

Last year I decided to be organised and planted sweet peas from seed indoors, watered faithfully and planted them out – but the tray I’d cultivated them in was shallow and the roots weren’t deep enough, so they struggled to climb the wigwam and I eventually waved the white flag. This year, I haven’t bothered planting them at all. Bah, humbug!

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Mexican daisies RIP

Now this one I am really angry about. I discovered Mexican daisies growing in a posh Dulwich garden on an open gardens day, and immediately decided I must have them in my garden – how adorable are those pink and white flowers, and how funky compared to an ordinary daisy? (not that I don’t love those too).

So I planted one at the end of my garden where it grew at the bottom of the wall in a cranny that was almost perfectly designed to take it – then I got the garden wall rebuilt. I gave the builders strict instructions that the plant was to be retained, and came home to find it had been dug up and thrown away. I was most displeased and had a good old whinge about it – but it was gone for good.

I finally replanted it last autumn as close to the original spot as I could, but it doesn’t appear to have survived the winter. Perhaps it’ll be third time lucky, but maybe I’ll save this one for my next garden.

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Pinks before they got ragged looking

Pinks (dianthus) are rather garish – I think this variety above was called Raspberry Ripple – but we grew them in my parents garden and I’ve always thought they were a cheap and cheerful way of injecting some lively colour into a garden, often with attractive silvery foliage too.

This one looked perfect when newly planted, as did the pale peach one with pink edges to the flowers, and the white one – but within a matter of months they started to look ragged and messy. The foliage turns brown, and the buds go rotten and wither without even opening. Was I over-watering or under-watering? Too much sun or not enough?

It didn’t seem to matter whether they were planted in shade or sun, in pots or in beds, they looked ugly and straggly, and yet didn’t actually stop growing, just kept limping on and producing buds that never flowered. I ought to give up on them, and yet I have just planted a new pink. Triumph of hope over experience – either I am too stubborn or too easily swayed by a bargain (they are so cheap!) to resist. Let’s see whether this one finally works for me.