Red Admiral

Week 31 – Red Admiral butterfly, Devon

Scientific name: Vanessa atalanta

It’s the summer holidays and true to form the family Shepherd-Gray has headed to the coast. Walking along the cliff paths of the South Hams (in Devon) it’s hard not to be enchanted by the erratic dance performed by the numerous butterflies swirling around our heads. The Red admiral is probably the most common of all the butterflies in the UK and they are everywhere this year! These delicate creatures seem so fragile yet strangely sturdy at the same time. Apparently in Britain and Ireland the most important and widely available larval foodplant is the common nettle (Urtica dioica). What!? Who would have thought the scourge of both gardener and walker alike actually had a valid use! It’s certainly made me feel (slightly) more fond of the dreaded stinger now I know the role it plays in this super summer dance. Although I’m not sure my kids feel quite the same.

Camaraderie

Week 30 – Camaraderie

Definition: the mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.

Coal miners would work together side by side, underground for hours on end. I imagine this intense experience was often difficult but ultimately (when you had a good friend by your side) hugely rewarding. I like to think that Alan and I have the same camaraderie whilst we work at our living ‘coal face’. Our latest living wall is 10m long and has taken us two weeks to complete.

We set up our kit ready for the day ahead. The village is a quiet place and Alan doesn’t like to disturb his neighbours so we respectfully wait until 9am before we start. We chat and joke. We talk about all manner of things but mostly we talk a lot about the plants we love. We exchange opinions on what we think are ‘definite winners’ in our latest planting scheme. We’re testing out a couple of new ones. The pros and cons of Muehlenbeckia and Persicaria affines ‘Superba’ are discussed at length.

We listen to the radio, often working for long periods without talking. There’s a local airfield nearby and we watch spellbound as a Spitfire roars overhead. This is a magical moment. I feel like an excited child. The conversation sparks up again. I went to see the brilliant new film Dunkirk last week. I talk about the film and how it reminds me to make the most of my life in this time of turmoil. We watch the birds dancing around us. I like to think the bullfinch, wren, woodpecker, occasional buzzard and countless wood pigeons are all watching us, wondering what we’re doing.

Radio 6 is our station of choice. Alan is continually amused by my lack of musical knowledge. Who’s this? I say. It’s Skepta, he won the mercury music prize last year!! Oh, I reply. And who’s this!? It’s brilliant. It’s Kate Tempest and she’s one of this years Mercury Prize nominations. The lyrics are visceral, a bit like the film (Dunkirk) I saw a few days earlier. Kate Tempest is an English poet, spoken-word artist and playwright. (www.katetempest.co.uk) She’s got my vote.

“Kettle on” is the call that goes up when one or the other of us feels it time for tea. We have regular tea breaks. Mug in hand we stand back and look at what has been achieved and how we think the wall is coming on. We break for lunch. Alan picks some tomatoes and courgettes from his poly tunnel and we rustle up some pasta. We pick some blackberries and cut back the encroaching brambles.

It’s sunny and hot. It rains. We take cover. The wind blows through and it’s sunny again. “Four seasons in one day” says Alan like some sort of football pundit. We finish for the day, pack away and walk 200 meters to his local and have a pint. Alan goes out for the evening with Alison whilst I babysit Sidney who’s going to be five on Saturday (Happy Birthday Sid). We carry on like this for days and then, as if by magic the wall is suddenly finished. We agree this is a ‘good wall’. One of our best. We’re both happy. Let me get a photo of you for the blog I say… Alan finds this very amusing. As you can see.

Developments

Week 29 – Developments

I’ve just checked on the three new living walls currently maturing at our nursery and I’m pleased to report that they are all developing beautifully. I’m particularly pleased as this wall features a number of new introductions to my living wall plant palette. The Gaura lindheimeri ‘Cherry Brandy’ (top left) is a big hit, the Viola odorata ‘Alba’ is a useful new ground cover option (or wall cover as I like to think of it) and the Persicaria affines ‘Superba’ which is a shorter more matt forming variety is looking great at the top of the wall. I love the dynamic energetic mix and hope you all do too.

Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’

Week 28 – Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’

This is another first, taking me (rather surprisingly) ten years to include this wonderful plant in my own garden. While most forms of Echinacea have purple-mauve or red ray florets, ‘White Swan’s’ are (as you might have guessed) ivory-white with drooping petals that reveal burnished, orange-brown centres. They are lightly honey scented and very attractive to butterflies and bees, especially bumble bees. Because they are originally prairie plants, they are happiest in a well-drained but humus-rich, moist soil in full sunshine. Removing faded flowers regularly will greatly increase the flowering period, alternatively if you refrain from cutting down the stems until February it will allow birds to feed on the seeds in winter… which personally I think sounds like the right thing to do, as although I love a repeat flower I like the idea of feeding the birds more.

Verbascum olympicum

Week 27 – Verbascum olympicum

I planted this in my garden back in the Spring. In June the flowers are packed into long heads which can tower to 3m. Flowers open randomly up and down the spike-like inflorescence and carry on for a long time. We are now well into July and my Verbascum is still in full flow. Apparently it would be unusual not to have a few flowers as late as November. It’s my new favourite. Until my next new favourite comes along…

Half way through the year

Week 26 – Half way through the year

We’re half way through the year and what a year it is proving to be. I don’t think my little gardening blog is a place for discussing the more significant events that are occurring on what seems like a weekly basis at the moment, but I do want to express my sadness for my fellow Londoners effected by the recent tragic fire at Grenfell tower. Donate here if you so wish.

www.thebiggive.org.uk

Learning by osmosis

Week 25 – Learning by osmosis

Osmosis, a definition: the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.

My business partner Will has obviously been paying attention. With very little input from me he has single handedly put together his rather beautiful new garden. It looks like one of my designs and I’d like to take some credit but it’s all his own work. Unless of course it is in fact an unconscious nod of approval to one of my gardens. Seriously though, it is beautiful. 10/10 for the planting. (I did help him choose the acers). The only downside is that it looks like I’m becoming redundant in my own company.

Planting in Nottingham

Week 24 – Planting in Nottingham

I returned to Nottingham last week to check that the plants were developing as expected… they are. The Euphorbia wulfenii, Digitalis “Helen of Troy’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’, and Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’ are all knitting together nicely under a canopy of pinnate leaves of the multi stemmed Rhus typhina.

Planting living walls ‘off-site’

Week 23 – Planting our latest green wall.

We’re all quite excited at TLA HQ as we start to plant our new batch of living walls ‘off-site’ at our new nursery space. This will allow us to plant our walls in advance of delivery to site which is good for lots of reasons. Most importantly, the planting in advance means a more mature and developed wall at the point of installation so our clients ultimately get an improved product. We also reduce the time we need to spend on site so it becomes far easier to install our living walls as part of wider garden schemes. On a more selfish level, it is also a joy to work in the peace and quiet of the countryside where all we can hear is the birds chirping away and not the sound of builders, scaffolders and traffic!

Norfolk

Week 22 – Half-term holiday in Norfolk

Relaxing with the family is always a time to reflect, let my mind settle and allow my eyes to see the world around me again. The north norfolk coast is an amazing place full of wildlife and wide colourful skies. Slowing down the pace of life is essential for my soul to survive and it’s often when I notice the most simple beautiful things around me.