Tuesday 29 March 2011

Courtyard Musings 3 - 'Firing the Imagination'

Have spent this glorious weekend 'pimping' my courtyard fired up after my recent trip to Morocco. If you want to learn about Courtyard Gardens then Morocco  is definitely the place to go.

I was blown away by it and returned senses on fire, keen to take up where I began with my own humble courtyard rennovation even at the expense of all the other chores that need doing at this time of year.

 Apart from being thoroughly exciting, stimulating and at times a little bit mad this recent trip has helped me to refine my thinking by learning from the lessons of  the relaxed beach style at Surf Maroc.

Hot reds and pinks with low carved tables, natural stools and table lanterns

Surf Maroc is fun, colourful and relaxed.  A chill-out zone after a hard days surfing.  I am now considering low couchette seats rather than high dining style.  It will suit my large, noisy surfy family and inject a sense of fun whilst also reflecting our bohemian recycling tendencies!  However, because of our damp climate we will create blanket box style seats so that throws and cushions can be stored at night and in wet weather. 

Deep blue is one of the signature colours of Morocco

I have already amassed a colourful collection of rugs, blankets, throws, cushions from other wanderings.  Now I feel emboldened again to use fabric to inject colour and texture into what will be 'an outdoor room' in the true sense. Brick red, orange, rust, ochre will be my colours of choice as the warm end of the colour spectrum will suit the duller, greyer skies of our northern hemisphere climate.

Riad Dar Krystal was the exact contrast of Surf Maroc.  A truly calm interior, a sanctuary away from the bustling streets of the ancient Marrakech Medina.  All was exquisite good taste; carefully positioned plants, lamps, tables, low seating areas with the all important water feature invitingly tucked into a private corner.

What most impressed me though was the use of lighting.

To gaze from your room on the first floor down into the twinkling lamps of the courtyard below was very reassuring.  Subtly positioned uplighters illuminated the beautiful palms and olives and created intricate patterns on both the floors and walls. Beautifully ornate lamps stood sentinel with just a tee light within. Eau de Nil paintwork, railings and window guards throughout helped to create that cool, shadey ambience, much needed in a city that can reach 40 O c in high summer.

My courtyard will also be viewed from the sitting room so re-positioning our external lighting arrangements needs to be done post haste.  I would like to re-create that magical scene. Fortunately, I already have two Moroccan wall lamps and will re-arrange the plants with up-lighters.  These can also mark the way to the rear entrance without that awful 'security light colditz' feel that is my present arrangement.

Plants and planting are normally my first priority when beginning a new project but I think I have finally learnt the meaning of the term 'restraint' from this trip.  All  the courtyards I visited had a restrained but well chosen number of exquisite specimen plants that were carefully placed.  Choice plant specimens would often be symbolic like the Olive, Palm or Citrus grown in classic Maroc pots.

On the coast, succulents, cactus and sedums were used as these are much better able to withstand the bright sunshine and coastal conditions .

 Fragrance is an essential ingredient and will come from Rosa Mme Alfred Carriere which will twine around the newly installed wall fountain. Evergreen Trachelospermum jasminoides plus my own sowings of Nicotiana sylvestris, Lilium regale and Gladiolus acidanthera will inject further fragrance by day and night. Their white flowers will work superbly in the shadey corners.

With new carefully placed embellishments and invigorated planting I hope to transform my old tired courtyard into a truly inspirational magical space influenced by my travels but also mindful of my own character and location.

Fortunately  I have to plan a courtyard design for a new client soon so will have even more opportunities there.......

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Just one of those rainy days....

Early start.  Meeting a big plant delivery from mainland at Clients Walled Garden.  New nervous driver first time to Isle of Wight.  Misty murking morning, first rain in ages.  He is late! So squidged round the garden in the damp with client planning 'the next stage'. Also discussed forthcoming newspaper article.

Delightful new driver eventually arrives.  Usual jokes about no passport, sea-sick pills etc., Finally stowed plants safely, retrieved the dozen or so new additions for next garden, plus my own new' Rosa Mme Alfred Carriere'  for the Courtyard. Hastily stuff them in the back of the car.

Rain worsening, puddles now in road with soil-filled run-off from fields. Muttering under breath about farmers and contour ploughing as I swing into the drive to see a gloomy Mr. S. , the reluctant under-gardener sheltering in the porch.  No  cheery Mrs. S. ? Some problem with a grandchild apparently!  Haven't visited since the worse of the season's weather so am anxious....

The young, newly planted Winter garden has taken a bashing - from the winter weather funnily enough!  Ouch!  Had to reassure then run..."It will revive, " I shout out of the window whilst nearly reversing into one of those giant tractors out on the lane.  All windows now misted up.

Then on into town.  Traffic horrendous by island standards.  Miraculously find a parking spot and sprint into fave coffee shop for loo and caffeine. Running late, but just a  quick pop in to Red Cross Shop next door, looking for lamps for moroccan courtyard still.  Nothing, but there was a rather nice tourquoise scarf...

Deposited parcel of moroccan goodies to go to son in Plymouth with his gorgeous girlfriend who works in a tempting Interior Design shop round the corner.  She gleefully points out .....their new Moroccan lamps!  Frustratingly, no time left on parking ticket so defer for another day....

Pistolling down now so find phone to cancel 3rd appointment.  Client thrilled - way too wet we agree. Clean rain off  misted-up glasses with new tourquoise scarf as I text newspaper re article. Then set off back to the office.

As I turn the final bend, there is a loud clump from the rear of the car.  Realise it is my new rose rolling around loose.  Once home, discover soil all over the car from my obviously very newly potted rose.  Duck when husband appears as he hates the mess I make in the car and hurriedly shut the boot, concealing all as I sprint into the office. 

Turn on computer.  Amongst the usual dross I spot a long-awaited reply from Amanda, at Bab Ourika in Morocco.  She has news of snow, and seedlings and all sorts of interesting stuff but I drag myself away from a lengthy reply to focus on business stuff. The pictures for the newspaper article!

Some time later, all mail sent I head off to Village to stock up on provisions for family as I'm away for the weekend.  As I open the boot to throw in the shopping bags I see soil everywhere still and abandoned rose.  Snatch rose out, then shut boot again and throw bags onto the back seat instead.

Rain appears to be easing as I pull into the Co-op Car park.  Amazingly everything on list in stock and there is even a bottle of my favourite dry white in the chiller cabinet.  Things are looking up!  Head home again as the sun begins to appear.  Looks like the weekend weather forecast is proving correct.  Feel that familiar pang of frustration mounting at the thought of a whole weekend spring gardening to be missed.  Ah well at least the gardens have had a drenching.

Unload the shopping then drag myself back to the car to clean up the bloody soil and re-pot the rose...

Much later after a  friendly spat with spouse over our choice of Friday night TV viewing, "What?  You want to watch Red Nose Day and Gardeners World?" I subside into 2nd glass of dry white feebly explaining the need to check out how the 'Lord of the Cord' is doing back on the box again.Tear myself away from the strangely compelling red nose viewing to hastily pack for the weekend .

Return from bedroom to shut computer down to see a new email.  Hesitate, but then open it to find a delightful message from a Harriet in Bere Island,  Cork in Ireland. Open her St Patricks Day message:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.

and for some reason come over all misty eyed.....

Friday 11 March 2011

The Libertines

This cold winter may have dampened or even chilled our willingness to try growing tender or border-line tender plants in our gardens.  So maybe now is the time to take stock of those that have stood this winter's hardship test and sing their praises.
Top of my list is the plant I reckon I could have made my fortune with when I had my own specialist plant nursery - Libertia peregrinans  'Gold Stripe', commonly known as the New Zealand Iris or 'Mikoikoi'. There are 15 species within the family Iridaceae.

Some 12 years ago I acquired a few small pieces of this golden bronze strappy leaved grass-like plant. It was in my acquisitive grasses collection days when my hoarding instincts were high. I just knew that its unique colouration and persistent evergreen habit would make it a really useful addition to my nursery plant list.

It also became one of the key components of a large gravel garden I had built and only slowly did it reveal its potential.  I say slowly because it seemed to take ages to spread into anything like a reasonable clump.  Meanwhile I was hovering, keen to propagate from this 'mother plant' and bulk it up, both to use further in the garden but also to provide plants for sale in the nursery. From those early tentative planting experiments I now use it in containers, as an en-masse ground cover, amongst grasses and in architectural plantings.

"What is that bronze-coloured grass in your gravel garden. Do you have any for sale?" Each time I was asked this question the frustration mounted.  But whilst this Libertia was taking its time another larger species was revealing itself as made of sterner stuff.

Libertia grandiflora is an altogether more robust character. It is grown widely here on the Isle of Wight.  Introduced from the Ventnor Botanic Garden seed list it has become a popular tough coastal evergreen, good in naturalistic, herbaceous and gravel garden plantings.  I have even seen it growing out of a stone wall in Kinsale, Western Ireland.

A myridad of tall stems appear in June bursting through the coarser iris-like leaves with tight little buds radiating around the stem which soon open into a mass of small clear white blooms.  L. grandiflora has the largest of the flowers while L. ixiodes is a smaller flowered version, finer in all aspects. As the blooms fade the seedheads turn into attractive dark mahogany tight clusters.  Just like Phlomis russeliana they are tough reliable plants with good evergreen foliage for all year round interest with attractive flowers and enduring seedheads and like the Phlomis those seedheads can produce masses of babies.  I have now learnt to thin the stalks of both to reduce the self-seeding.

Fortunately for us gardeners the world of micro-propagation has speeded things up and my once hard to come by Libertia is now being offered widely.  With the additional bonus of other coloured variants of Libertia ixiodes,  L. 'Taupo Gold', L.'Taupo Sunset' or L.'Taupo Blaze'.  These can be sourced from one of my favourite cornish nurseries, Burncoose Nursery. But for those of you with patience and a love of growing from seed I notice that Ray Brown of, 'Plant World Seeds' also has the original in his current catalogue.

I appreciate the colour contrast of the newer Libertias but my heart will always remain true to Libertia peregrinans 'Gold stripe' - it didn't make me a fortune but it enrichens my life still.