3rd January 2020 - A new year full of promise. Last year I took some time off from garden design to focus on other things. Like many others I have had increasing concerns about climate change, the environment and the huge declines in wildlife of all types. In the midst of all the chaos and the bad news I have come across one thing in particular that gives me some hope..,. and let’s face it hope is what we are really short of at the moment.
In 2018 I read ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree. You can get a flavour by listening to her on R4 Desert Island Discs 24th Nov 2019. That set me down the path of finding out as much as I could about rewilding. It’s about restoring land to a more natural state - and allowing nature to lead the way with minimal human involvement. The results are astounding in terms of storing carbon, flood prevention, soil quality, massively increased bio-diversity, not to mention mental welfare from creating a better environment to be in. It is also a low cost solution. And, to some degree, it can be done on any scale... in my opinion from a window box all the way up to the scale of Yellowstone National Park. Watch this space
8th June 2018 - Fame at last! I made the front page of the Ilkley Gazette this week with an article about my Lost Words Project for Wharfedale. With funding from the Wharfedale Naturalists Society I have been providing every primary school in the Wharfe valley with a copy of this wonderful book about nature.
If you would like to support a similar initiative there is a Lost Words for Bradford project that is fundraising - see: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/lostwordsbradford
I grew up in inner city Leeds but I was always aware of nature in my surroundings. I remember doing school projects on the birds in our garden and I kept tadpoles and cabbage white caterpillars and watched them develop. I am hoping the newspaper article helps to raise the profile of the book and the initiatives to get it out there into schools. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if children were inspired to take a closer look at the natural world for themselves? What pleasures it can bring!
21st January 2018 - With the news locally about a planning application to build 500 new houses in Burley-in-Wharfedale it was with interest that I read the Wildlife Trusts ‘A Vision for Housing and Nature’. I quote: ‘Housing developments designed with environmental sensitivity and green infrastructure at their heart can deliver multiple social, environmental and economic benefits. Nature rich housing can provide benefits for everyone - from developers to homeowners.’ Access to natural green spaces has been shown to improve health and well being. As farmland has become less hospitable to wildlife due to intensive agriculture and development gardens and green spaces in towns and cities have an increased importance. The Wildlife Trusts across the UK do a lot of work with developers and this isn’t just fantasy - there are some great examples on their website where such thoughtful and sensitive developments have been built. If only all developers and planners worked this way!
For more information see: the Wildlife Trust website. I think I shall be sending this link to some local developers too!
27th December 2017 - With Christmas out of the way I am free to think a bit more about the garden - and specifically about apple trees. December & January is the time to select suitable shoots for grafting. This is the technique used for propagating fruit trees and whilst I covered it at college I haven’t had much practice. This year some horticultural friends and I are going to have a go. It involves taking a shoot from the existing tree (the scion) and a host plant (the rootstock) and interlocking the cut surfaces so that the shoot begins to grow afresh from the new rootstock. It is a great way to bring new life to an old favourite tree and that is what I’m hoping to do. Indeed it is the only way to ensure exactly the same apple variety is propagated as apples don’t come true from seed and you could end up with something entirely different!
27th November 2017 - Had a great visit to Cambridge this weekend. Friends took us to the Cambridge Botanic Gardens. It was a sunny, frosty day and the winter garden there looked terrific. I think many people would be amazed at just how good a garden can be in winter with careful selection of the right plants. Worth a visit. Oh and the cafe is excellent too!
3rd July 2017 - I visited the Yorkshire Sculpture park this weekend (venue for our annual family summer picnic). Lots to see and in a lovely landscape. Whether you like some of the sculpure or not it is certain to provoke discussion. Always useful to see how pieces are displayed and, although it might be on a different scale, there are often ideas that can be taken away - note the kind of setting, enclosed or open, the backdrop - an old wall or a yew hedge and so on. Sculpture is a nice way of reflecting your personality in a garden and making it quirky.
4th January 2017 - Happy New Year! This year I’m taking note of plants that are providing food for the birds. One of the best garden plants for berries is the cotoneaster family. My neighbour has a row of cotoneaster lacteus which grow to around 4m high and are always covered in bright red berries. The birds go mad for them and, as the shrubs are tall, every year I have a good view from first floor level of blackbirds, redwings, fieldfares and, occasionally, even waxwings feasting. Curiously I noticed this year that the berries are not eaten all at once, in fact they seem to be taken from the north facing side and higher levels first so that now, in the first week of January, the remaining berrries are on the south side about 2m up. I have read that berries lose some of their toxicity when subjected to frost so it seems to be that pattern that the more exposed fruits become more palatable sooner. It’s a way nature has of making the resources last a long time too.
10th November 2016 - Well, with the first fall of snow this winter, I can’t really deny summer is over - although it has, up to this last week, been a lovely and unseasonably warm autumn and the late flowers have been hanging on. With less time spent in the garden I am doing more reading and, because I spend so much time in and thinking about the outdoors, I am interested in wider environmental subjects. One book that has my attention at the moment is ‘Grass-fed nation - getting back the food we deserve’ by Graham Harvey (who also happens to be the agricultural advisor on Radio 4’s The Archers). I saw Mr Harvey at the Ilkley Literature Festival in October and found his talk linking food production, soil fertility, health and the environment compelling. At last I heard about a possible solution to so many of the issues that concern me - most particularly the damage to the environment and the impact on our natural diversity of modern farming methods. If you want to find out more try the website Pasture for Life http://www.pastureforlife.org/ or read Mr Harvey’s book. I, for one, will be finding out more about exactly where my food comes from and how it is produced.
14th October 2016 - Okay, I admit it: I’m in denial. I don’t want to believe that summer is at an end: I can’t bring myself to cut back the sweet peas - overblown and bedraggled by the rain - in the hope a dry spell might coax a few more flowers. I pick the an occasional rosebud to open in the warmth of the kitchen and try to ignore the rotting windfalls which are such a constant chore to clear up. Outside the window on the patio I have a hosta in a pot, unlike it’s beribboned fellows in the border it has survived intact and has been a thing of beauty but, every morning this week over breakfast, I have noticed more of the leaves have turned from green to butter yellow.... I am not crazy about autumn, I think it’s the smell of decay, the moisture laden air that hangs heavy with the mustiness of dying vegetation so, even though I know it’s inevitable, I try to pretend we are not quite there yet and turn the heating on.
15th August 2016 - I have just read that 18-24th August is National Allotment week. If you have ever thought about taking on a plot to have more space to grow your own fruit and vegetables then you might like to pop over to Burley in Wharfedale next weekend. On Saturday 27th August, as part of the Burley summer festival, the allotments there are having an open morning 11.00-12.30 which would be a good opportunity to find out what’s really involved.
30th May 2016 - I didn’t make it down to the RHS Chelsea Flower show this year but there has been plenty of media coverage. The Sunday Times gardening section helpfully summed up the key trends. What’s IN: Arid landscapes, boulders, curving paths, wooden buildings, angelica, orange and purple, outdoor kitchens and fire pits. What’s OUT: Lawns, formal town gardens, big water features, cow parsley, vegetables, pastel colours, bling. Just so you know.
I’d like to reassure all my future clients that I will, as ever, listen and observe carefully and create a unique garden that reflects what they’d like to have... whether or not that’s considered ‘trendy’! Mind you we can do ‘boulders’ alright here in Ilkley, if you count the Cow and Calf!
29th April 2016 - Despite the chilly week we are having (it’s sleeting as I write and the hill tops are white over) it has, overall, been a mild winter. A report in the news today warns that this has resulted in the gardener’s nemesis, the slug, never having really gone into hibernation but remaining active and breeding throughout the winter and it could be a bumper year for them. Eek! Before you reach for your slug pellets and turn the ground blue I would ask you to think about the other creatures in your garden that just LOVE slugs - toads, hedgehogs, thrushes, blackbirds - and, if you must use slug pellets, use organically certified ones and spread them thinly - one every 30cm or so will be quite sufficient as they contain an attractant. And remember it’s an ill wind that blows no good - this could be a boost for our struggling hedgehog populations.
21st March 2016 - A bit later than usual I think but finally we have some frog spawn in the pond. Lots of daffodils showing, it seems like all the different varieties are out at once even though I plan it for a succession of blooms. It just goes to show how much the weather influences plants and you can’t always go by the book.
26th January 2016 - Just a reminder that this coming weekend is when the Big Garden Birdwatch 2016 takes place. If you want to take part - and it only takes an hour - take a look at the RSPB website for all the details and how to submit your sightings.
12th December 2015 - Stuck for a Christmas present for your garden-loving friend or partner? Perhaps a voucher for a garden design consultation in 2016 would be just the thing! Get in touch with me and I can arrange a voucher for New Leaf Design which allows the recipient to arrange the meeting on a date to suit them (but if they ring on Christmas day I might just be preoccupied with all my presents...!).
27th October 2015 - This week is Wild About Gardens week. The RHS and the Wildliffe Trusts have teamed up to encourage people to garden with wildlife in mind. There is a particular focus on the hedgehog, such a distinctive creature which is in big trouble with a huge decline in numbers since the 1950s and which is continuing. There is lots of information out there and if you care about hedgehogs this is really worth looking into because there are some simple things gardeners can do to help. I can vouch for Ben Rhydding as being a good area for hedgehogs, we see them or their ‘messages’ in our garden a lot. This week I tried to do my bit by dropping some information round to all my neighbours, hopefully together we can help this gardeners friend thrive.
9th October 2015 - I don’t seem to have seen much of my garden recently what with holidays and other work committments. On Tuesday I went along to an event organised by the landscaping industry and had a chance to find out more about various products and what’s ‘out there’. I was particularly interested to learn more about wildflower turf which is an excellent way of getting a flower meadow and much easier than trying to sow seed. Seed mixes can even be grown to order to get your own bespoke mix to suit the situation. Take a look for yourself: http://wildflowerturf.co.uk/Products/wildflower-landscape-turf.aspx
27th July 2015 - Just wanted to say something about lawns. I think any lawn maintenance company who came to take a look at garden would hold their hands up in despair... let’s say they’re not exactly bowling greens. However, I prefer my lawns to be more interesting than plain old green and what a joy they have been to me and the local bee population over the last few weeks as they have been studded with daisies, white clover and purple self heal. It’s a lot cheaper and kinder to the environment too than fighting a losing chemical warfare battle & my lawns still look green and lush (or is that just the moss?!).
21st June 2015 - Some plants have special associations. For me, it’s peonies. Well actually, it’s just one and it seems appropriate to write about this on Father’s Day.
Twelve years ago, after we had just moved to our house in Ilkley my parents visited and brought with them a house warming present: a peony. This plant was from a peony which my father had bought my mother as a 10th wedding anniversary gift almost 40 years before. Although my father died the following year, the plant is thriving both in my garden and in my mothers. Each year I watch as the buds form and the stems lengthen, the process goes on for weeks and weeks and every day I look at them (they are right by the front door) and wonder how long it will be before the flowers come out. Well this year it was today, Father’s day, and the first shell pink and creamy, silken petals are finally opening. They are beautiful and they smell beautiful and I think of my father and the love he had for my mother.
Gardening can be such a pleasure because it’s not only about flowers and green bits, it can be about so many different things.
10th June 2015 - Last weekend a piece on the BBC news caught my attention. It was the launch of a campaign by the charity Plantlife to encourage Councils to manage road side verges to encourage plant and insect life - one of their last havens since 97% of meadows have been lost. This would simply involve leaving the grass long over the summer to allow the plants to flower and seed and then cutting it back in the autumn. It would make our roadsides so much more attractive, great for the environment and save the Councils (and us!) money - seems like a no-brainer to me.
See the link below for more info & go to the bottom of the web page to sign, it’s very simple though you might want to untick the box which would put you on Plantlifes email list....
17th May 2015 - It’s that time of year again, you’ll find it hard to escape... it’s the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. I’m not going down this year but the coverage on the BBC is so comprehensive it’s almost as good. Almost. I find the easiest thing to do is to set the video recorder (or whatever the modern equivalent is) for the whole lot, that way I can view it at my convenience and skip through to the bits I’m most interested in - the show gardens! Although when I go in person I also love the plant stalls, they are so spectacular and so perfect - and you don’t the wonderful smells from the telly!
Incidentally, the tree sparrows have fledged. I read that they have 2-3 broods each year so am keeping my fingers crossed they come back to our little terrace of boxes.
15th April 2015 -This week is National Gardening Week. To celebrate, on Friday 17th more than 50 gardens that are in the National Gardens Scheme are open to the public for free. This also includes the 4 RHS gardens. Nearby gardens include Ripley Castle, Millgate House in Richmond, Scampston Hall and Stillingfleet Lodge near York. For more information see the website:
3rd April 2015 - Easter Weekend. I’m hoping for some fine weather to get out in the garden & I’m sure you and all the garden centre owners are hoping for the same!
If you fancy a trip out the local RHS Harlow Carr Garden at Harrogate have a daily Lindt Gold Bunny Hunt which sounds like a good way of combining a walk round the gardens with an Easter treat. https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/harlow-carr/Articles/Easter-at-Harlow-Carr
Sparrow update: We think we might have interest in our new nest boxes... not from house sparrows but their close cousins tree sparrows. 2 pairs have been spotted round the garden with grass in their beaks on sunny days so we are hopeful. Tree sparrows have been doing well recently, so my ornithologist brother tells me, both male & female look similar to a male house sparrow except they have a chestnut coloured cap rather than a grey cap and are slightly dumpier. I guess we should have put a sign up by the boxes to be more specific!
4th March 2015 - The birds are pairing up and starting to investigate potential nest sites. If you haven’t already done so now is a good time to put up bird boxes. Single nest boxes for blue tit and great tit are the most common but maybe this year think about the humble house sparrow. This chirpy little bird was once extremely common but numbers have dropped dramatically over recent decades. They nest in holes in out buildings and roofs but modern building techniques and renovations leave little scope for that which is not helping. They are communal nesters and you can put up specially designed boxes which have several units not just one - follow the link to see what I mean. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sparrow-Colony-Premium-Nest-Box/dp/B001F3GY0Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425485594&sr=8-1&keywords=sparrow+box We’ve just put up 2 of these boxes so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The chatter of sparrows is a sound from my childhood and I miss it.
14th February 2015 - Walked round the garden yesterday with a cup of tea to inspect the ravages of winter. My garden in Ilkley seems to have got off relatively lightly from severe frosts so far this year (am I speaking too soon?) but the closer I looked the more weeds I saw and plants that need cutting back and tidying up and small branches and bits of debris blown around and stuck in amongst the border plants.... I have resolved, as I do every year (with mixed success it’s true), to get out for an hour on the first dry, mild day to get a head start on the Grand Spring Tidy. I have learned that once spring really gets going it’s almost impossible to keep up!
29th January 2015 - I found this bit of interesting info on Avon Bulbs website:
Why do bulbs flower early? It is not just temperatures.
Bulbs are particularly sensitive to small temperature movements so this will be a major factor. Already one can see this where bulbs planted in the shade are later than their sun warmed brothers and sisters. Latitude and altitude also have a great affect, but another factor which is less measurable will be the conditions in the autumn.
If the autumn is mild and damp bulbs make their roots early and are more 'primed' and ready to grow than they might have been had the autumn been dry and cool. This is much of the reason why bulbs planted under trees struggle harder for moisture in the autumn and are generally later to emerge and flower.
14th January 2015 - We are still enjoying our home grown apples that have been kept in cold storage. The last of the Ellison Orange eaters are in the fruitbowl this week but we still have plenty of cookers in the old fridge & garage. If you want to enjoy home grown top fruit now is the time to plant bare root trees whist they are dormant. There are a huge selection to choose from. For the gardens I design here Up North I often refer to the Northern Fruit Group list which identifies species that don’t mind a bit of cold. Some varieties keep much longer than others so it’s worth checking descriptions. http://www.northernfruitgroup.com/
29th December 2014 - First snowdrops out in our garden!
18th December 2014 - Redwings spotted in the garden for the first time this year - flying into top of the cherry tree to eye up the surrounding shrubs and finally alighting on the cotoneaster. When they later took off again I counted around 20 in the scattered flock. Quite a distinctive member of the thrush family, a similar size to the song thrush only slimmer, as the name suggests there is a flash of russet red under the wing. They migrate to our shores in the winter for berries - so I’ve planted plenty of shrubs in my garden to encourage a visit.
15th July 2014 - Last weekend I went to a wedding. The table decorations were simple but effective - each contained a single, blue agapanthus flower with about 20cm of stem the base of which was wrapped in an evergreen leaf. The flowers were easy to study and, being globular, could be appreciated by everyone at the table no matter what angle they were viewed from which I though was very neat - and an easy idea to copy should you need to decorate your own dining table this summer.
10th April 2014 - What a treat - redpoll and siskin together in our garden! Over breakfast this morning I watched these dainty little birds on our feeders and coming down to the pond to drink. They are members of the finch family, both about the same size a a robin but much slimmer looking. The redpoll have a red cap on their heads and sometimes red mixed with buff on their breasts - it’s the first time we’ve seen them in our garden, siskin look like a more streamlined version of the greenfinch. I just love having birds in the garden and make it as attractive to them as I can - though I think at the moment the main temptation are the hulled sunflower seeds which we buy by the sackful - but it’s worth every penny!
25th March 2014 - I spent a few days down in Portsmouth last week and it’s official, I have Magnolia Envy. This afflicts me every spring. This year it’s started even earlier as they are a good 10 days ahead of us in plant growth farther south. I love magnolias, especially those great creamy goblets on bare stems that are M x Soulangeana. The trouble with magnolias is that they take up so much space, are slow to grow and look pretty nondescript for most of the year. I have toyed with the idea of planting one in my own garden but now settle with enjoying everybody else’s for that one week or so of the year when they really do their Thing. Stop, look and admire - without the downsides!
12th March 2014 - At last the warm sun of Spring! After last year’s slow start to the year the contrast couldn’t be greater: the early bulbs are romping away, snowdrops are already fading, the crocus are fully open, even some daffodils are out. Yesterday I noticed the first bright blue of ‘Glory of the Snow’ chionodoxa luciliae, the leaves are barely above the ground and the flowers are already showing. Last week a frenzy of activity erupted in the pond and resulted in at least 10 batches of frogspawn. Keep your eyes open for signs of life - here we go!
10th January 2014 - What’s your least favourite month of the year? For me it’s November with it’s potential for foggy gloom and most of the plants dying down for the winter. Some people don’t like January in the belief that it’s the middle of winter, however if you pay a little attention the signs of Spring are there: This week the first snowdrop flower appeared in our garden, more are sprouting up under the old Bramley apple tree on the lawn. As I unloaded the groceries from my car the other lunch time a robin was singing beautifully in the tree next to me, I stopped to listen and could hear another answering it’s challenge a few gardens away - for this is how their territorial battle lines are drawn. It takes energy for a bird to sing so listen out for them on milder days and be reminded of the spring to come!
21st November 2013 - For 10 years the sitting room chimney breast has been waiting for a really good picture - one that my husband & I can both agree on - and, Hurrah!, at last we have found it. This years BBC Autumnwatch featured an artist in residence who paints nature in a spectacularly different way & I love it. Take a peep at his website for something a little bit different: http://www.darrenwoodheadartist.co.uk/
14th November 2013 - Who needs pesticides? We have lots of fruit trees in our garden and I never bother to spray anything as we always have more apples than we know what to do with. Today, as I contemplated ‘jobs that need doing in the garden’, my attention was drawn to a mixed flock of around 15 - 20 small birds in the old Bramley apple tree. They were mostly long-tailed tits (one of my favourites) chit-chatting amongst themselves plus a few blue tits and, to my delight, a pair of teeny-tiny goldcrest. I watched for at least 10 minutes, standing only a few metres away, dressed in my bright pink fleece (hardy camouflaged then) and they were systematically scouring the branches for insects. I can’t think of a more rewarding way to garden.
25th October 2013 - Yesterday it was mild and sunny so, as a break from being on the computer, I took a turn around the garden. I was surprised and delighted to see what I think was a hawk moth hovering around, making the most of a few late flowers on the sweet william and astrantia plants. It gladdened my heart and made me feel very pleased that I hadn’t yet tidied the borders and cut back the perennials so that there was still a little nourishment to be had for this late visitor.
17th October 2013 - I arrived back to my garden after a few days away and noticed how much colour there still is even now (I must be doing something right!). The clumps of sedum are putting on a good show, some late roses are still flowering too together with the very last of the sweet peas. In my cut flower border there are dahlias and chrysanthemums which I have been patiently waiting for all year and my reward is an array of glorious pink, orange and red blooms some of which follow me into the house. The star of this week though is a dogwood, cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, near the front door. It’s been a plain green all summer but now the leaves are a brilliant red, dazzling in the long shafts of autumn sunshine, soon they will give way to equally bright red stems which last all winter. With the right planning the colour just goes on and on.
12 August 2013 - If your garden is looking a little tired and lacking in colour this is a good time to visit open gardens to see what others have planted to achieve late summer interest. There are a couple of gardens within reach of Ilkley open as part of the National Gardens Scheme which are worth a visit at this time of year for inspiration: Cold Cotes, Cold Cotes Road, nr Kettlesing, Harrogate open every Saturday until 28th Sept 11-5pm and Dove Cottage Nursery Garden in Hipperholme, near Halifax, a well regarded plant supplier, open every Friday until 27th Sept 11-5pm. The latter has the advantage of being able to sell you the plants you like!
16 July 2013 - I love to pick flowers and bring them into the house. I don’t always find time to spend ages doing a big arrangement but at this time of year I at least pick a few roses or even a single stem. Last year I attended an event for garden designers at David Austin’s Rose nursery and plant centre near Wolverhampton. With 2 acres of rose gardens it was very inspiring and is open to the public. The English roses bred by David Austin give great value for money as they repeat flower all summer, are disease resistant and, best of all, are selected for their scent. My favourite is The Alnwick Rose whose scent is described as ‘good Old Rose fragrance with just a hint of raspberry’ and really is delicious!
20 May 2013 - It’s the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. If you haven’t got a ticket don’t worry, just sit back and enjoy the 12 hours of BBC coverage the show will be given this week. This year the show is celebrating its centenary so my guess is that there will have been some big budgets for the designers to play with. I look for new ideas and good planting combinations when I visit as there are many things that can be adapted for a more modest garden (and budget!).
22 March 2013 - The snow is still falling and the garden is under a cover of white - most dispiriting when we should be enjoying the bright delights of Spring. In order to speed things along (inside at least) yesterday I cut some stems of forsythia. Placed in a vase indoors the flowers will open in a couple of days to give some yellow cheer. In fact, like most spring flowering shrubs, the buds were formed last year and have been biding their time over winter until the conditions are right to open which, thanks to the magic of central heating, in my hallway they are!
7 March 2013 - If you want a visual treat to lift the spirits this Spring and to see a classic garden design principle in practice then visit Harrogate over the next few weeks. I’m thinking of the mass crocus planting on the Stray. Many plants look better in big clumps or drifts so make note that if you plan to add bulbs to your garden in autumn plant lots!
26 Feb 2013 - Spring is surely on it’s way. The snowdrops are properly out now. I cut and bring a few into the house and put them in a wee glass bottle on the windowsill next to the sink where I can admire them, up close you can appreciate their gentle scent too. Visit Burton Agnes Hall in East Yorkshire to enjoy their snowdrop display 9th Feb - 3rd March. http://www.burtonagnes.com/DB/Events/Snowdrop_Spectacular.html