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Dear All,

Like the bulb swelling underground, silence does not mean inactivity.

It has been a very busy, challenging and rewarding summer at Shadowlands. I feel I am making progress, though there are days when doubt creeps in.
Actually, I’ve just got back from a research trip to the UK where, among other places, I was welcomed as a guest to a lecture on the historic Rivers Orchard by the Rivers Nursery Group, (Sawbridgeworth). The work that this volunteer group does to preserve what is left of the historic orchard is both fascinating and vital. I also had the very great privilege of assisting in the Great Dixter Nursery and Gardens for a couple of days in August. It was a great thrill to participate (albeit fleetingly) in the re-potting up of echinacea and the cutting of the famous wild flower meadows. For those of you who are not familiar with Great Dixter, home of the famous gardener and writer Christopher ‘Çristo’ Lloyd, it is well worth a visit. A beautiful place tucked away in East Sussex. I was especially lucky to have a good chat with Nursery head Michael about loam-based potting compost mixes, and have already experimented at Shadowlands! Among other places I was also lucky enough to visit were Borde Hill and High Beeches Gardens – all in my native Sussex. The stress of being away from my garden for upwards of three weeks was therefore greatly assuaged by the opportunity to learn from some of the best gardens (and gardeners) in the UK.

So now I am back in Japan, and ought to bring you up to date on the health of the garden. I had in mind a sort of ‘State of the Garden’ address, but what I will do is, in no particular order, tell you of my current preoccupations.

I’ve been emptying the leaf bay and using the beautiful rich leaf mould (two years old) to mulch a fledging beech hedge and other shrubs and trees that I thought would benefit from the winter protection. This was something I was going to do anyway, but I need an empty leaf bay for the thousands of leaves that are descending from the tree tops as I speak (helped by a recent typhoon). Last time I did nothing to them: its damp here and there are millions of insects – even more forms of bacteria and nematodes, and so the decomposition process is much faster than in the UK. However, this time I may shred or mow the leaves first as a ‘Monty Don-type experiment’. It should reduce the volume anyway, so I can get more in the bay. The mould I have over I will be sieving to incorporate in a general potting mix.

I spent an enjoyable Sunday afternoon with my two sons (aged 5 and 3) locating and potting up strawberry runners. The eldest is something of an expert already, getting the crown the right height, pressing firmly but not too firmly – with fingers not thumbs. I might as well have left it to him. So we have about 50 well-rooted runners potted. Last year I stored them in a dark place, gave them an occasional sprinkle and lost only 3 of 30 to the harsh winter (but in all likelihood dehydration). The youngest assisted admirably (though perhaps not as intentionally) by ‘whacking down’ one of the large native Miscanthus we have (left rather ragged after he typhoon) with a broom handle (which he wielded with concerning accuracy).

The lawn suffered greatly while I was away: basically it fried, despite almost constant dampness. An unusually hot summer saw temperatures in Hakone top 32 degrees (amazing given we are so high up – 38 in Tokyo). But the grass will bounce back, not manicured, but it ‘holds the space’ as Gardener’s World’s Joe Swift would say. It also holds a few other things, like a foot and a half of topsoil. The apple trees continue to suffer from some form of necrotic leaf drop, but the two pear trees seem to be much more resistant and even threaten a few flower buds! All the other fruit trees, still only young are rooting well, the peaches, the fruiting cherry, the pomegranate, etc. The Fig is alive but not happy. I may lift it, pot it, and greenhouse it. Enough said.

I continue to have a succession of delightful wild and species plants cropping up everywhere, from the aquilegia flabellate to all manner of hostas and gentians which are slowly raising their vibrant blue crowns. The inch high plant that I found wild in the back woods has (three years on) proved to be a hydrangea (it was hit and miss there for a while), and flowered for the first time – a beautiful lace-like blue which as the season progresses melts into a plums and pinks. It is now a substantial bush.

I have had, to my great delight, my first success ever with taking box cuttings (sempevirens). Around late May or early June I trimmed back the box hedges and put 60 or so cuttings in pots of kanuma soil. These I placed in an unheated propagator (mainly for moisture retention) and to my very great and lasting credit I waited until last week to see if they had rooted. Almost without a failure they have thick white roots and great vitality. It is of course not even noteworthy to those of you who propagate with a vengeance, but I was delighted to find that just kanuma (a pumice-based soil used in bonsai), could root these cuttings so well. I have since potted them on into individual pots and will over winter them in a cold frame (still to be constructed) so that they can get a way well in spring.

I attach some random recent photos and have added some more to my photos. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I’m winning.

Regards, ptarotuos

ps. I might modestly add that the final photo should surely win ‘IPhone snap of the year award’ :)!

More blog posts by ptarotuos

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Interesting as ever Ptaro, the swallowtail butterfly is delightful

26 Sep, 2013


Sounds like a good trip to the UK. I thought the butterfly was a metal one at first - what a brilliant photo! How are you getting on with your book?

26 Sep, 2013


Glad you enjoyed your trip to the UK, that butterfly is amazing!

26 Sep, 2013


Yes, I think the swallowtail had just emerged and was resting there. The book is progressing quite well thanks. Most of the outline is there and I'll be fleshing it out by the fire during the cold winter months. UK was as ever lovely. ptarotuos

26 Sep, 2013


Interesting blog,Pt. I wish we had butterflies like that in wishes for your ongoing work.

27 Sep, 2013


Hi Ptaro............sorry I missed this blog but when I did it made a great read, my, you do sound so busy but it is nice busy!! Your leaf mould sounds wonderful stuff and surely worth it's weight in gold. I was lucky enough to go to a talk about Great Dixter recently and I really enjoyed it so can imagine 'working' there would have been so exciting, lucky you. Winter is on it's way now and they have promised snow here soon !! Cannot bear the thought but those little bulbs in the ground (as you say) will enjoy the cold snap and we then will look forward to their appearance. Take care now, it's lovely to hear from you.

17 Nov, 2013

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