Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

And we're in

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Ryan and I have (finally!) moved into our new house! And, whilst we had the use of a van, we collected all of the tall plants from the allotment. So the first refugees from my old garden have arrived in their new home. As well as my Christmas tree, there’s two cobnuts, a crab apple, a golden bamboo, a rosemary and a lavender, the medlar and one that remains unidentified until I can have a good look at it.

I also brought back two scented pelargoniums that I uncovered from amongst the weeds on the allotment – one is Attar of Roses :) They were part of an order of four; all that remains of one is an empty pot. One seems to have been eaten to the ground by snails. Frankly, I am surprised any survived!

And I found, but didn’t bring back for the moment, my horseradish.

There’s a lot more work to do, rescuing plants from the allotment and bringing them home, but that can be done over the next few weeks. In the meantime, we have plenty to keep us occupied unpacking indoors, and I have some nice big pots ready to be planted up with winter veg.

Did I mention that I now live just a stone’s throw from a garden centre?


Posted in Blog on Oct 17, 2014 ·

Tags: gardens & allotment.

Garden visit: Roman Fishbourne Palace & Gardens

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It was raining last weekend when Ryan and I went to visit Fishbourne Roman Palace & Gardens, the remains of what was one a high-status Roman building by the sea. It doesn’t make a difference to viewing the ruins, which are housed in a lovely, open-plan building with specially-constructed walkways that allow you to get reasonably close to the mosaic floors without any risk of damage to them. Which is important, as subsidence and algae (they were built without foundations, and water rising up is a problem) are both doing their bit to reclaim them already. There’s a museum, with some of artifacts archaeologists have found on the site, and a short film to watch if you are so inclined, as well as activities for budding archaeologists.

Roman mosaic
A famous Roman mosaic, showing Cupid riding a dolphin!

A particularly lovely mosaic. Some of the mosaics here are as old as any you’ll find in Britain. The Palace was repurposed several times over its lifetime, before being abandoned when it burned to the ground. One of the last ‘upgrades’ was still in progress – the installation of a hypocaust heating system:

Roman-style central heating, unfinished

I was more interested in the gardens, so it was a little disappointing to have to see them in the drizzle. The gardens at Fishbourne were immense – around half have since been covered by modern housing, but you can still get an idea of the scale. The formal gardens were… extremely dull. A large expanse of lawn surrounded by box hedging. The original kitchen garden is no longer present, but there an area has been designed to showcase some of the plants that would have been grown in Roman gardens. There’s even a gardener, in his potting shed:

Roman gardener
A Roman gardener, in his potting shed

I wouldn’t recommend listening to him for too long, though. He’s a bit of a whinge bag!

Far better to step outside and have a look at the Triclinium:

The Roman concept of outdoor furniture – for lounging and dining

In terms of plants, there was (of course) a big fig:

Big Fig
Lots of leaves, but no figs, at this time of year

and an arbor covered in grape vines:

Autumn grapes
Grape vines showing their autumn colours

An old bay tree had been pruned, was was sprouting new leaves from its sizeable trunk:

Big bay
When bay becomes a real tree

Branched asphodel

According to the label, the bulbs of Asphodelus ramosus were roasted and eaten, but as yet I haven’t found any modern references to the plant being edible, so do your homework before you tuck in!

It’s a lovely place to have a wander, and I’m looking forward to going back earlier in the growing season (hopefully on a more pleasant day!). There’s a good gift shop to peruse before you leave, which (pleasingly) is stocked more with things adults might like than plastic tat aimed at children (although they have not been forgotten). Ryan bought himself a leather pouch, which he is using to protect one of his camera lenses. As I already have a copy of the book ‘Roman Gardens and their Plants’ by Claire Riley, I bought myself a little kit to try making lip balm and a clean t-shirt (over-stressed brain having forgotten to bring any!). If you’re a long way from Sussex then you can order a copy of the book from Seeds of Italy; mine is in a box waiting to be unpacked once we’ve moved.

If you’re intrigued by Roman gardens, here are some more blog posts you will enjoy:

Have you been to Fishbourne, or another Roman garden?

Posted in Blog on Oct 12, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

Moving forward

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Ryan and I have been away for the weekend, a last minute break booked on Thursday evening when it looked – again – like the purchase of our new house* was going to fall through. We have been to Hayling Island, and seen the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, Fishbourne Roman Palace and Gardens, and West Dean Gardens. More on those last two later in the week.

It was gone 5pm on Friday when we finally heard that the contracts had all been exchanged, and that we will be moving in the next couple of weeks! Very exciting news, or it would be if we weren’t more than two months behind schedule. I had envisaged having summer in the garden; instead we’ll be settling in as winter approaches. But that doesn’t matter, as we will be free to move forward with our plans once more.

So… it’s time to unveil a few more details of the new garden :)

This is the front of the house, showing the strip of front garden:

There’s a clause in the deeds that says trees can’t be planted in the front garden, but that’s not something I would wish to do anyway. The house looks out onto trees and a tall hedge, and there’s a gate into the ‘back’ garden (which is actually off the side of the house) where the fence begins. From memory, that’s a west aspect for the front of the house. I am pondering putting some herb planters in the front garden.

From the kitchen window, you would get this view of the back garden:

According to the estate agent’s details, this is 11.2 metres by 7.3 metres (36’8 × 23’11), but we haven’t had a chance to check the measurements. The wall facing the house is the end of the garages; it looks like a lovely surface to cover with a climbing plant, but as the garages are a communal space, we won’t be able to fix anything to that wall – we are pondering alternatives.

And there’s a third stretch of garden, for which I don’t yet have a photograph. To the left of the garage block, along the road at the front of the house, there’s another strip of garden that (I think) is of a similar size to the front garden. It cannot be entirely fenced off, because it contains a utility box to which access it needed. But it is mine to plant…. Currently it has low-maintenance plants and weed fabric. It’s tidy, but (as with the rest of the garden) neither inspiring nor remotely edible. So I’m thinking of the whole thing as a blank canvas. There are no definite plans until we’ve moved in and can measure properly and ponder.

I have been driving around with large planters in the back of my car, collected from my parent’s garden a couple of weeks ago. Once I move in I can get my hands dirty and plant up some winter veggies. There are also plants to rescue from the allotment. So that’s the immediate plans for the garden… the rest will have to be unveiled as we move forward :)

What do you think?

*We have been trying to sell Ryan’s flat and buy our new house since the end of May. It was a complicated and seemingly unending process, and it was the flat and not the house that made the last couple of weeks so nail-bitingly tense.

The house images were taken by Thomas Merrifield, Didcot.

Posted in Blog on Oct 5, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

Photo blog: Hampton Court Palace

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Kitchen garden

The kitchen garden at Hampton Court Palace (which is in a part of the grounds that is free to visit, if you don’t want to see the Palace itself) is an impressive beast, growing some old-fashioned and unusual plants amongst the more familiar crops. These photos were taken on August 24th, which turned out to be a very hot and sunny day….

Tomato support
A novel way to support tomatoes

Good King Henry
Good King Henry, Chenopodium bonus-henricus

Salad burnett
Salad burnett, Sanguisorba minor

Costmary, Tanacetum balsamita, with a flowerpot label.

“Rampion, the Wonder Horse…” Couldn’t resist ;) Campanula rapunculus

Trick-madame, Sedum reflexum

Labelled ‘Hartshorn’, this is probably buckshorn plantain, Plantago coronopus

Scurvy grass
Scurvy grass, Cochlearia officinalis

Skirret 2
Skirret, Sium sisarum

Posted in Blog on Sep 30, 2014 ·

Tags: gardens & unusual.

Autumn at Kew

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Underneath the spreading chestnut tree...

Autumn crocus patch

Sorgum grains


Posted in Blog on Sep 29, 2014 ·

Tags: gardens & grains.

Photo blog: Newington Nurseries

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Whilst we’re waiting for the next Write Club offering, I’ll catch up with some recent photo blogging. This set was taken at Newington Nurseries in Oxfordshire last weekend. A independent specialist in mature plants and orchids, it’s a quirky place that also serves (I hear) a decent lunch. And if you’re over that way, the Crazy Bear farm shop is worth a visit as well, as they have an olive bar and giant sausage rolls, and there are animals to see (including reindeer, and often piglets).

Imposing door

Wire lanterns

Turtle crossing


Dragon mobile

Small lanterns

Posted in Blog on Sep 21, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

An edible archway

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Edible archway

An archway into a pergola at the Cotswold Wildlife Park

Ryan and I went to the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens last weekend, which is a nice day out if you’re in the area. (If you book online you save a little bit of money, and some time at the ticket kiosk – tickets are valid for one month from purchase.)

The animals are great; there’s always a crowd around the meerkat enclosures, and there’s plenty of cute things on show. There was a man doing a falconry display as well, but since his falcon had basically flown off and was showing no sign of coming back, it was more like a man swinging a piece of dead meat on a string with a running commentary ;)

The planting is always interesting as well. My favourite part on this occasion was in the walled garden. A large pergola has been planted up with climbing edibles. At first it simply looked like a grape vine (there are several around the walled garden), which was fruiting merriily. But on closer inspection I found…

Hanging kiwi

Kiwis hanging from the pergola

…at least one very happy kiwi plant, fruiting away merrily in the shade under the pergola. And it got even more exciting, as there was something else climbing up the poles….

Bottle gourd flower

A bottle gourd flower

They had several bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria), which were flowering and fruiting on the sunnier edges of the pergola. The flowers are quite distinctive, as are the immature fruits:

Baby bottlegourd

Baby bottle gourd fruit

It was a lovely feature, I could have spent hours there! Whilst I might not have room for an extensive pergola in my new Middle Easten garden, I do have my arbor, so I can recreate the scene on a smaller scale. Vines, fruit and climbing squashes will fit in with the theme perfectly :)

Posted in Blog on Aug 24, 2014 ·

Tags: gardens & fruit.

A Middle Eastern garden

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Kitab al Felaba

Al-Andalus display at the Eden Project, 2010

I was talking recently about having Palestinian plants in my new garden (and there’s still no news on when we will be moving in!), and yesterday morning it occurred to me that it might be nice to go a lot further than that, and design a garden with Middle Eastern influences.

The main part of the garden is almost square, with fences on two sides and a wall on the third, so it could pass as a courtyard garden. I’m thinking tiles and mosaics, mirrors and wrought iron, copper and lamps, cushions and throws, dusky pinks and deep blues, dark wood, lots of white and stars. A water feature of some kind.

In terms of the planting, it seems there isn’t that much that wouldn’t be at home in a Mediterranean/ Middle Eastern inspired garden. A lot of the plants with which we are familiar came to us via that route. There will be lots of herbs, of course, including mint, coriander and parsley, lemon verbena, oregano and thyme, sage, rosemary and saffron.

Fruits could include grape vines and figs, peaches and apricots, pomegranates and citrus. The lemon tree I grew from seed will finally feel at home! At least in the summer, it will have to come inside in the winter…. The garden is probably too small to include a walnut, but an almond might be manageable. I have at least one olive that will fit in nicely.

Flowers wouldn’t be missing, with the scents of honeysuckle and jasmine filling the air. Calendula would fit in with the colour scheme, and there would have to be roses – preferably at least one Damascus rose.

Moroccan garden

Moroccan Garden, by Pieter De Decker

Lots of leafy green vegetables (spinach, chard and leaf beet, mallow, purslane and rocket), plus asparagus. Garlic and onions, pale courgettes and other squashes, peppers and okra, carrots and cucumbers.

It’s an idea still in its infancy, and a proper design will have to wait until we’ve moved in and I can measure up. But it has promise… Eastern promise ;)

Have you got any Middle Eastern features in your garden? Or have you been to see a garden that might inspire me? What would you add to your garden, if you wanted to enjoy your own Arabian nights?

Posted in Blog on Aug 22, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

Time-travelling Clanger

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Time-travelling Clanger

Taken in the Evolution Garden at Bristol University Botanic Garden on Easter Monday.

Posted in Blog on Apr 26, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

Saturday: Eden Project

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On Saturday we took a trip to the Eden Project, and met up with Radix and Choclette. This is the view from the new aerial walkway in the tropical biome. They have only completed phase 1 of the walkway, so there’s plenty more to come. The treetop lookout was closed, it was too humid to go up that high.

Oh, and I can thoroughly recommend the paella served in the Mediterranean biome, if you’re there for lunch.

Posted in Blog on Nov 20, 2013 ·

Last modified on Nov 20, 2013

Tag: gardens

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