Wednesday, 21 September 2011

High times

The hedge cutting season is well underway here at Hidcote, with us going on strong for about six weeks now. There is actually around four and a half miles of hedging to get through, so we have a jolly hard time of it at this time of year I can tell you! This massive undertaking deserves a post in itself, and I’ll come to that shortly. For now here are some aerial shots taken from the cherry-picker, a noisy mechanised beast we have to wheel out when we’re cutting all of the tall and awkward hedges about the place. Not too long ago they used to use ladders, but of course those treacherous dogs in health & safety soon put pay to this practicality! So here we are from the cherry-picker, in position to cut the Hornbeam Stilts, overlooking the Red Borders.

The yew hedge between the Theatre Lawn and Red Borders, looking toward the manor and the ancient Cedrus libani

Red Border gazebo view

Gazebo Long Walk view

The cherry-picker in action at Heaven’s Gate

Sinacalia tangutica

 This is a delightful yellow number flowering now down by the Wilderness. When this comes into flower it is completely covered in honeybees, they seem to love it! It is positioned a matter of metres (as the bee flies) from the hives, on the opposite side of the Long Walk. Until recently this gem was classed as Senecio,but the boffins have been up to their usual jiggery-pokery, changing the name no sooner than you’ve got it lodged in the old grey matter (cf. Datura). It seems most plants in that genus are enjoyed by bees and other insects, which may explain the popularity of this chap amongst the honeybee community. Mrs Chatto describes it as such; “Invasive, but where space permits, one of the pleasures of autumn.”

One of my ladies at the nosebag

Sunday, 18 September 2011

September Sunset

 That time of year again! We’re temporarily hosting various bits of art around the garden as part of a sculpture trail taking place for the first time this year. A large piece, Close Encounter by Donald Foxley, takes pride of place in the Stilt Garden and has gegged in beautifully on the autumn sunset through Heaven’s Gate. We’ve been terribly unlucky this year as on the clearest nights, thick cloud has dominated the horizon and blocked the actual moment the sun dips away. Including on the very evening we hosted the sunset walk for visitors! So it goes.

 The sculpture trail continues this week, with all pieces up for sale! More information can be found here.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Pine Circle

One of the highlights of Hidcote at this time of year is the Pine Circle. This area of the garden contains the Pine Circle itself, the Lily Pond and also my old favourite the Plant House! Above you can see the border adjacent to the pond, with the bold orange of Cosmos sulphureus ‘Sunset’ and the violet mounds of Sea Lavender, Limonium latifolium. V. bon gets its neck in there naturally, and a strong contrast is provided by Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’. The comma butterfly image posted recently, see here, was taken at this very spot.

Inula hookeri

Verbena rigida

Nigella hispanica, honeybees are very fond of this

Eucomis bicolour

The wider view! (click to enlarge)

The pond harbours all sorts; dragonfly, toads, rare newts and the occasional heron

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Malope trifida ‘Vulcan’

An annual mallow, seen flowering in the Pillar Garden. This began flowering long ago on those hazy days back in July, and is still giving a jolly old show of it even now as autumn creeps in from stage left with a piece of lead piping! It will reduce to mush as the temperatures fall away, but will self-seed gently and re-appear next year for more delight. The colour is striking, and does combine well with those bright orange lilies such as the majestic L. henryi, a clump of which is drifted nearby.

These delightful petals are actually edible, although not as tasty as Hemerocallis

Monday, 12 September 2011

Early morning Bee Inspection

Beekeeping is a truly splendid pastime, and taking on the bees at Hidcote has been one of the highlights of my time here! This is now my second season keeping bees and although I certainly haven’t mastered this delicate art form just yet, both years have been incredibly educational with highs and lows along the way. Similar to gardening it takes time to build up a knowledge base and get a handle on the subject matter, only here you have bees crawling over your head while you’re trying to work and think! I genuinely believe this is something I will do for the rest of my life, not only is it so rewarding to deal with these fascinating insects but it coincides so neatly with the career choice I’ve made.

An inspection starts by lighting the smoker, which is used to blast smoke into the hive just prior to opening it up! The bees, silly sausages, think a forest fire has erupted and the message goes around to abandon ship! They immediately dash off and have a long drink of honey, filling themselves up ahead of the emergency escape they expect to make. This inadvertently makes them unable to sting, as they’re so full they cannot bend their bodies to direct an attack! And mellow bees are extremely desirable as you are about to start poking about inside their home.

This grill is the queen excluder, which prevents her majesty from moving about the hive. She has a much larger body due to all the eggs she is carrying, so is unable to fit through these gaps! The much slimmer worker bees (her children) can squeeze through and move about their home at will. If you imagine the hive has two storeys, the ground floor is the brood chamber where the queen is free to roam and lay her eggs. The excluder prevents her going upstairs to the honey supers, and laying eggs where the workers are diligently storing precious honey. This honey can then be removed by the beekeeper, in the safe knowledge that the product is pure and free from eggs or baby bees.

Inspecting the frames! Each frame is made up of cells, into which either honey is stored or eggs are laid. Throughout the season you have to keep an eye on this, checking the queen is laying well and enough supplies of honey are being built up.

The white capped cells on the right is stored honey, the darker capped cells on the left contain eggs.

Unfortunately the bees come under attack from wasps and hornets throughout the summer months, who turn up and attempt to steal honey and young bees! Entire hives can be destroyed during these sieges, so wasp traps must be placed out by the hives in a bid to give the bees a sporting chance! Here I’m successfully utilising an old jar containing some jam diluted in water; the thieves clamber in through the small hole in the lid but then are unable to find their way back out.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Lobelia excelsa

The champagne is on ice for this poor blighter, who recently has been flowering its socks off! Unfortunately all of this colourful drama has been taking place in the Glasshouse, our propagation site, and far away from the limelight and admiring glances of our visitors! Here it is being grown on ahead of planting out next year when, rest assured, Lobelia excelsa will be given a chance to shine and the Red Border pot displays will echo to the sound of popping corks!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Justicia carnea

Flowering now in the Plant House. This gem stormed onto stage last week after being planted this year, and it is certainly one of the most fascinating blooms I have ever stumbled upon! The foliage is pleasing but the real interest is provided by its flowers, with these majestic candelabras of beauty bearing pink flames in the most dramatic fashion! I long to see it outside in a border combining with some other late-season colour, but unfortunately these blighters are tender hence their positioning in the Plant House. Interestingly however, the growth can get leggy in time so the plant is best pruned back each year after flowering. Also, the plants have an average sized root-ball, so these two characteristics make it an ideal candidate for lifting and bringing into the glasshouse over winter. Dreams of planting this out are alive and well!

The undersides of the leaves have this wonderful beetroot colour

Monday, 5 September 2011

Red Border steps

The Red Border ends with steps leading up to the gazebos, and on to the pleached Hornbeams of the Stilt Garden with Heaven’s Gate framing the view over the Vale of Evesham

Clematis viticella ‘Rubra’ having a good old scramble about the place

This gazebo leads out to the Long Walk

Cuphea cyanea which is excellent for displaying in pots

Cosmos atrosanguineus, the Chocolate Cosmos that smells of cocoa! Bombus and honeybees are particularly partial to these blooms

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Hummingbird Hawk-moth

By some distance, one of the most exhilarating and exotic sights in the garden this year has been the delightful Hummingbird hawk-moth! Hailing from warm places such as North Africa, they are a surprisingly hardy bunch and will be active on cool mornings when others (my blasted honeybees for example!) are still on their backs snoring loudly! Some weeks ago we had several of these beautiful blighters mooching about, feeding mostly on V. bon, the hardy Salvia microphylla and the splendid thistle Berkheya purpurea. That was in July, but then things took a turn for the un-exotic as the hummers disappeared! Where to, who knows, but I’m cheered to report that as of this week they’re back on the scene and now feeding mostly on Ceratostigma willmottianum, a bona fide border classic for late-summer colour. Unfortunately, my camera is really not up to scratch when it comes to capturing this humming beauty, as you see these things move at such incredible speeds! Thankfully a camera with assorted ‘bells & whistles’ is available for garden staff to use on the property, so after loaning this I now at least have some suitable images to justify this wittering on. Behold; the Hummingbird hawk-moth!

Our exotic friend in action

Here you can clearly see why the amateur photographer is so up against it. Slow down a moment please old boy!

You really must click on this one to enlarge it (eye eye captain)!

Romneya coulteri

The Tree Poppy, seen here flowering in the Pillar Garden. The propagation of this plant requires the burning of pine needles on top of the compost, after seed sowing! This is not some sort of voodoo hokum, but in actual fact a minor recreation of the wildfires that trigger germination of the dormant seed!

An early-evening view of the Pillar Garden

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