Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mottisfont Abbey Garden

Mottisfont Abbey Garden in Hampshire, UK
Roses and columbine grow inside the walled garden at Mottisfont Abbey (June 2003)

Aware of my penchant for live flowers, dear friends living in England took me to visit National Trust (UK) property Mottisfont Abbey where we wandered through the walled garden in June of 2003

Located near Romsey in Hampshire, Mottisfont became home to Augustinians after the founding of the Priory in 1201, but passed to a friend of Henry VIII after he abolished all monasteries. 

In the 1970s, renowned horticulturist and rosarian Graham Stuart Thomas oversaw the restoration of Mottisfont's walled garden where roses and perennials grow side by side.

Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire, UK
Pathway in Mottisfont's walled garden
My friends thought I spent way too much time photographing flowers and not enough time simply enjoying the beauty of the garden. What they didn't realize is that I process experience through the creation of art - a photograph, a poem, a story. 

Almost ten years later I'm still grateful for the introduction to Mottisfont. 

Mottisfont Abbey
Perennials in the garden

Yellow roses at Mottisfont Abbey
Yellow roses growing inside the walled garden

For more information about the history of the gardens at Mottisfont Abbey visit the National Trust's website: 

Friday, February 15, 2013

April Showers in February

Hellebore with green blossoms
The hellebore I planted last year blooms again. Note the green flowers on the left.
Rain began to fall just as I dug up the last of the visible Florida betony growing beneath the larger of my two plum trees. Hurriedly, I transplanted alyssum seedlings that had sprouted too close together and sprinkled bone meal around tired daffodils. 

In the autumn, before scattering the alyssum seeds, I had dug Florida betony out of this bed and thought I had done a good job of it. Afterwards I put down a layer of clean topsoil.

When I bought my home twenty-one years ago, the only Florida betony on the property grew at the very back of the lot, having crept in from a neighbor's yard. Just two years earlier Hurricane Hugo had blown down hundreds, perhaps thousands, of trees in this mid-century subdivision. Many homeowners brought in truckloads of topsoil to fill in holes created by the removal of uprooted or broken trees. My guess is that the invasive Florida betony arrived hidden in topsoil. Who would have guessed that we'd still be fighting it all these years later. And losing the battle, I might add.

But this blogpost is not meant to be about Florida betony. It's supposed to be about rain. Over the past week we've had a few days of much needed precipitation. While friends in the Northeast shoveled snow, we avoided streets prone to flooding.

In just one day near the end of last week, rain filled my rain barrel. Subsequent rain pouring off the roof was wasted. Even with all this rain, I've found that dirt in the sandier areas of my yard remains dry. Mulched areas retain moisture. One of the projects I've worked on these past months, albeit slowly, has been to add more mulch, compost, and clean topsoil. 

I know how effective mulch can be, so why haven't I gotten more of the stuff down? It's the usual culprits: time, energy, financial resources.

Last year I mulched several shrubs with recycled cedar I'd bought in bags from a big box home improvement store. I know the cedar was recycled because occasionally I'd find cedar chips still bearing blue paint. This year I've used pine bark chips to mulch blueberries and most of the azaleas. Why didn't I think to do this years ago?

For many years, I mulched with pine needles or didn't mulch at all (other than to allow leaf litter to remain, shredded or not). Our local Lowe's no longer delivers bales of pine needles and I tired of buying two or three bales at a time to pack into the relatively small trunk of my car. I also tired of finding pine needles in the trunk for months after transporting even a single bale. Now I think about how much money I wasted buying pine needles when I could have been buying pine bark. But then I remember why I avoided pine bark early on. 

Only four pine trees remained on the property when I bought this place. Previously, there had been many. The prior owner told me he lost forty trees to Hurricane Hugo and the pine bark beetle infestation that followed. Fear of the beetle, I believe, explains my previous hesitancy to mulch with pine bark. 

Now I have no pines. Two died, perhaps from the lingering effects of infestation. Hurricane Floyd snapped another in half. Lightning struck the fourth and last of the tall pines. Afterwards, the arborist told me I was lucky the tree hadn't collapsed on the house - the bottom of the tree had not been solid.

Do I want more tall pines? No. No one who lived in this area when Hurricane Hugo struck wants tall pines within falling distance of a house.

Yes. I'm off topic again.

Rain. Rain on a tin roof - one of the most soothing sounds on earth. As a child I loved being inside my grandparents' house during heavy rain or even during light rain with just the occasional gentle tap on the roof.

Rain falling on a windstorm-damaged roof evokes quite different feelings. Even after repairs have been made to the roof, one finds oneself placing pots and bowls in the attic, along with stretched out plastic shower curtains, to catch the rain and prevent dripping into rooms lying beneath the leaky areas. 

How lovely to have a sound roof!

And how lovely to have a solid front door, made of something other than wood. (Even though I love wood.) The way my house is built, a valley in the roof pours water directly onto the front stoop. Over time gallons of rain splash against the front door. And within a few short years of my moving here the wooden front door rotted. During boom times I had difficulty finding someone to come replace it. Allow me to spare you the details of how in desperation I inadvertently hired a bonafide crook to replace the door.

One night earlier this week after taking a long soak in the bathtub, while reading a good book and listening to the patter of rain outside, I went a little crazy. In a good way. I fired up my laptop and selected items from three different plant nurseries on-line. Ultimately, I restrained myself and ordered from only one. A month from now I expect to receive lily of the valley, red coral bells, bear's breeches, Purple Sunset pomegranate, Pistachio Reblooming hydrangea, Royal Red hydrangea, Incrediball hydrangea, a hardy hibiscus collection (Blue Bird, Aphrodite, Helene, and Freedom), a grab bag of sun-loving perennials and a bag of shade-loving ones.

After these arrive and settle into my front garden, I'll be looking for April showers in April.

What are your favorite rain related songs? In no particular order, here's a list of mine:

Bus Stop - The Hollies
Why Does It Always Rain on Me? - Travis
Have You Ever Seen the Rain - Creedence Clearwater Revival
The Rain, the Park & Other Things - The Cowsills
Rainy Days and Mondays - Carpenters
You and Me and Rain on the Roof - The Loving Spoonful
Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head - B.J. Thomas

Your comments about rain and gardening are welcome.