“How is it that all these great gardeners are whippet thin?” asked Enid tucking into a large slice of Lemon Drizzle cake (Enid had been rather outspoken all morning and was continuing in this vein…).The slim gardener in question was the very lovely Sue Beesley, owner of Bluebell Cottage Garden and Nursery in Dutton which my class was visiting this morning, the last open day of the year.
The orchard trees were heavy with ripe fruit and the meadows on either side of the mown path were rattling with ripe seedheads and buzzing with insect life.
A good mousing spot…
Sue is a previous winner of BBC’s Gardener of the Year, and it was whilst sourcing plants for her competition garden that she came across Bluebell Nursery, by then in a rather dishevelled state.
“If you win the competition, and this ever comes up for sale, we just might buy it, ” announced her husband casually. Well dear reader, Sue did win the competition and three weeks later Bluebell Cottage came up for sale. The rest is history.
Everywhere we looked there were beautiful grasses waving and shimmering in the soft October light.
Interspersed were tall late summer perennials, none of which were staked. As Sue explained, ” If you don’t feed them at all, and grow them in open positions away from trees and fences, they will stand tall and straight all by themselves.”
“What?!! You never feed your plants?!!!” we all screeched in unison. “No. Only if they’re in pots” came the confident reply. And here before us was the proof that we didn’t need to – everything was tall and healthy.
“How do you manage your borders over winter” we asked.
“I just let the leaves fall naturally as a mulch. I leave the stems alone as the skeletons look wonderful in the winter sun. The only tidying that I do is if the leaves are those that turn to slush or swamp things, like daylilies or Crocosmias. Otherwise, I just leave everything until the stems start to look untidy and then I chop them down and leave them on the soil as a mulch.After three weeks it’s all rotted down nicely.” Brilliant advice that I’m going to try.
I’d visited this garden over 15 years ago when the previous owners were in residence and it had vast swathes of lawn. Sue says it used to take 4 to 5 hours a week to cut but now she’s got rid of a lot of it to cut down on maintenance as there’s only her and a part time helper for the entire garden.I’m always telling clients that it’s the lawns , not the borders, that are the most high maintenance thing in any garden. Proof-45 minutes is all it takes now.
Wildlife thrive in this garden, where ivies are left to mature and flower providing nectar for all manner of insects.
Ponds provide watering holes.
Hens cluck about the garden acting as natural slug pullets (!)
This magnificent ( and doesn’t he know it) cockerel was grown by Sue from an egg.
He followed us around the garden with his harem, knowing that we’d end up with cake….
I can honestly say that I’ve never learnt so much from another gardener in such a short space of time. Here are some of our gleanings from Sue:
Q:”Why do my Echinaceas die out after one season?”
A: “You must never plant them at any time other than Spring as they take such a long season to make a good root system to get them through the winter.”
Q: “My Phlomis russelliana looks raggy so I cut it down. Yours looks great but why?”
A: ” After flowering it goes through a scruffy teenage phase. Be patient, don’t cut it down, and it will start to look smart in a few weeks time and then look good all winter.”
We repaired to the hut for tea and cake and then spent a fortune in the nursery on plants.
I asked Sue for a couple of recommendations of ‘good doers’. ” Geranium ‘Bob’s Blunder’ has purple foliage, pink flowers and makes a large clump flowering from May to November,” she said, and I edged closer to the Geranium section to nab one before anyone else. “And Aster ‘Little Carlow’ is a good long flowering blue daisy that I wouldn’t be without.”Both went in my basket, along with quite a few other little treats.
And then it was back home with my pots of goodies to join the others waiting outside the back door waiting to be planted.Well that’s my weekend sorted.
Plants available from http://www.bluebellcottage.co.uk.