The gardens at Le Grys Farm are a haven for wildlife and a beautiful place to relax and enjoy the view. An owl swoops low over the fields, hares race across the farm track and on a clear night, the vast Norfolk sky shimmers with stars. Painted by artists; studied by historians; and loved by anyone who treasures wildlife, Le Grys Farm is a very special place indeed.

Monday, 14 April 2014

GBBD - When Plants Get Muddled

There is no denying that spring has arrived at Le Grys Farm. Bulbs planted last autumn are strutting their stuff with Tulipa 'Cream Perfection' and Muscari armeniacum punching through swathes of Narcissus 'Ice Wings' under the young medlar in the farmhouse garden.

In the barn garden, Clematis 'Early Sensation' is laden with flowers.

Some plants are all at sixes and sevens though. Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens', which normally comes into flower during June has been flowering since March.

Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum' is already blooming;

and Tiarella cordifolia is putting on a wonderful early show.

Meanwhile, Lathyrus vernus is clinging on. Its reluctance to bow out is a joy to me as I love this plant.

At least some flowers know what time of year it is. Centaurea montana 'Alba' has made a timely arrival.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' is flowering its socks off.

Bergenia 'Silberlicht' is reminding us that it is not just a fabulous ground cover foliage plant,

while Bergenia 'Overture' shouts its status as a flowering plant.

My favourite tulip this spring is Tulipa 'Peppermintstick'. It grows in the barn garden and has been such a star that I plan to introduce it to the Garden Cottage garden in the autumn.

Pulsatilla vulgaris has many common names including Easter Flower and April Fools. With so many flowers blooming outside their usual season, it is reassuring to see one plant which knows that Easter is just around the corner. 

I am joining with May Dreams Gardens' Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and will now pop over there to see what is flowering in the borders elsewhere on the globe.

Wishing you a Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and a wonderful Easter. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

On The Menu This Week... Butternut Squash

The butternut glut has kept us fed all through winter and we are now enjoying the pleasure of homegrown squash on the menu in spring.

Last year I grew ‘Sweetmax’ and since it performed superbly yield-wise and tastes delicious and sweet, I am growing it again this year. ‘Sweetmax’ is surprisingly easy to grow. It has been bred to set fruits early and to make the most of any sun our capricious British weather cares to allow us. Simply pop a seed on its side in a 3” pot between March and May, cover with 1.5cm (0.5”) of compost and keep it warm (I use a heated propagator). Harden plants off during May and plant out after the last frost in May or June. 

Squash hate wind, but they love sun. They need soil which is rich in organic matter, so add well-rotted manure or compost and once they are watered-in, mulch with compost. This helps to retain moisture in the soil, but plants will still need to be watered during any hot, dry spells. I give them an organic high-potash feed every couple of weeks too.  

The downside of ‘Sweetmax’ is that it needs space, so plants should be placed 90cm apart. The upside is that you don’t need many of them since one plant should produce 2-3 socking great fruits. Apart from enjoying the harvest, I like growing squash because their leaves suppress weeds in the kitchen garden which cuts the workload for me and should a weed make it through the soil I have to look very hard to spot it (yes, there is at least one in the photo above).

I lift the fruits onto old tiles to keep them from rotting on the damp soil and harvest them before the first frost in autumn. Once they are removed from the vine, I place them in a bright, cool place to continue to ripen for 10 days or so, after which they will keep for months.  Butternut squash offer great value for little cost and effort. They may take up precious space in the kitchen garden, but in return give us so many hearty meals over the colder months that I wouldn’t want to be without them. 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Designing with Bulbs

Along the roadside by Le Grys Farm, primroses nestle in grassy banks and quietly proclaim the arrival of spring. They seed themselves freely along the lanes and have made a home in the Farmhouse Garden. 

Narcissus 'Bestseller' in Le Grys Farmhouse Garden

I love to see lawns studded with flowers, especially in spring. Every year I add a few more bulbs to the collection. Last autumn it was the turn of Fritillaria meleagris, which I planted in the orchard. The flowers are now beginning to emerge through the grass under the apple trees, compelling me to amble down to the orchard to drink coffee and drool over their daintiness instead of getting on with all the things I am supposed to be doing.

Fritillaria meleagris

The lawn bulb display starts with snowdrops and Crocus tomassinianus and continues through until late spring when English bluebells flower in the grass under the trees in the Barn Garden. 

Crocus tommasinianus in the Farmhouse Garden

Snowdrops and bluebells spread at will, but elsewhere spring flowers are used to create a more choreographed effect. I am a massive fan of using bulbs to create a temporary structural element in a lawn. It seems to redesign the garden for a few weeks before the grass returns to its day job as a foil to vibrant planting in the borders and a sound base for a game of football, cricket or rounders. In the Farmhouse Garden, Narcissus 'Bestseller' is arranged to emphasise the curve of one lawn, whereas elsewhere it is used to lead the eye to the gate and out across the field to the horse chestnut tree.

Le Grys Farmhouse Garden

Of course, the downside of bulbs is that we should leave their foliage to die back naturally. I prefer to see bulb leaves in grass rather than the borders. I keep some areas of lawn free from bulbs and mow these as I enjoy the contrast between mown and uncut areas. This effect is heightened as there is sufficient space to pass a lawnmower between groups of bulbs, allowing me to mow a temporary path between them. 

Primroses on the roadside

Using early flowering bulbs means that the lawn reverts to normal long before I have grown tired of the bulb foliage; and placing spring bulbs in a small area rather than dotted across the grass gives the flowers greater impact and reduces the space required for the leaves once the flowers have faded. But why focus on the end of the spring bulb season now, when the best is yet to come? I had better grab a coffee and get on with the urgent business of fritillary-gazing.