My garden diary in 2018

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In autumn 2017 my aunt gave me a little notebook as a belated birthday present, and I decided I would use it to start keeping an ‘analogue’ garden diary. After all, my online ‘Edinburgh Garden Diary’ had been going for four years, and I had been inspired by various other garden bloggers who keep written diaries (such as Green Bench Ramblings) to keep a written record. To my surprise, writing in my notebook about the garden became a habit as effortless and enjoyable as making a cup of tea. I treasure the delicous moments when I pick up pen and notebook, settle into my seat on the garden bench, or pull a chair up to the window, and lose myself in thoughts about the garden. There’s always something to say, and the words flow easily. Now a year of my diary has passed and I enjoyed reading back through so much that I thought I would share some of my writing with you. I have edited it for brevity, though not for style. I hope you enjoy this little review of mine of a year in a small Scottish garden.

January

2.1.18 A good 90 minutes in the garden today. Very pleased to get my last bulbs in: Woodstock hyacinths in narrow terracotta pots with ‘Peppermint’ muscari, and the rest of the muscari in the maze. Rainy and a slow dusk. I was able to carry on until after 4pm. Buckets of ferns, primulas and hostas drowning in water, but the first day back at work tomorrow so nothing I can do.

7.1.18 Another severe frost of -4 last night, and today a bright blue, clear, freezing day. The clay pots of violas are troopers, blooming away regardless. Incredible things. Old dried flowers on the ‘Tess’ rose by the back door. I should have deadheaded them and pruned this rose in November, but I declined to… Each square brick in the path is rimmed with frost. I have topped up the bird feeder, and the birds are waiting for me to go indoors. The city is quiet. Birds sing in distant back greens.

27.1.18 I have managed a Saturday morning wander and noticed the purple tips of the iris ‘George’ spear, which may flower this week, new tips of returning tulips, and plenty of snowdrops. The snowdrops in my window boxes are in various stages, but the oldest had their petals open beautifully today.

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Old flowers on ‘Tess Of The D’Urbevilles’
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Snowdrops under a hedge at Humbie Kirk Woods, a few miles south of Edinburgh

February

11.2.18 A sparkling early spring weekend. Snowdrops in the hedgerows at Humbie Kirk Woods where L and I went for a deliciously squelchy walk today. Snow on the high ground, and bright blue skies, and sun slanting through the beech woods. I was surprised and gratified that my Clematis montana ‘Miss Christine’  has survived an undignified winter in an old compost bag. She is now planted under the arch and will no doubt make it look most pretty in the summer. To my horror, I found two New Zealand flatworms underneath an old sack near the compost heap. I have often wondered if we had them. Bulbs (including repeating tulips) popping up all over. Gave the roses and Hydrangea petiolaris a good mulch. Hope they will do wonders this summer in their new positions (the roses, that is).

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Brick tiles of the garden path rimmed with frost
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Birds in the snow

March

3.3.18 We are snowed under. I don’t have a garden anymore, just a white blanket with some twigs sticking out of it, and a few hungry, desperate birds sitting in trees, tweeting weakly. I have been feeding the poor birds, first with bird seed, and then when I ran out of that, muesli with the larger nuts taken out, and sesame seeds. They liked the muesli very much, but many sesame seeds were remaining on the path this morning when I had a look (pyjamas, snow boots, bobble hat). I also realised that besides having nothing to eat they would have nothing to drink, so put out two containers of water for them.

It has been light enough to step outside into the garden before work this week therapy. My ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ irises , a whole two clumps, a lovely surprise, are looking tip-top by the arch. [Drumstick] primulas are starting to form their rosettes, rising from deep down in the earth like slowly emerging sea monsters. The snowdrops in the front garden have been a most cheering sight, especially when all else looks bare, and a mess.

17.3.18 Another icy weather front moves in from the East. Will this winter last forever? Occasionally a flash of sun intercepts the snow, which has been falling languidly for most of the morning. Not serious snow, and there is no settling. I rushed out during one sunny spell to rescue some quince blossom, but couldn’t stay out for long, and there is little to stay outside for anyway. This time last year we already had forget-me-nots, but not a sign today. But I was happy to see that my Helleborus ‘Winter Bells’ is out of its sulk and producing new flowers…

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Erythronium ‘Joanna’
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Primula denticulata in the front garden
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Narcissus ‘Thalia’ in the front garden

April

22.4.18 The weather has been suddenly so wonderful for the past weeks that I have done immense things in the garden and it’s hard to keep up or remember everything that has happened. I’ll start by describing the wonderful things that are to be seen as I look out of the window.

Firstly the front garden: The snowdrops are well and truly over, and now we have Narcissus ‘Thalia’ in three generous clumps (a fourth less generous clump towards the back). The bigger clumps contain perhaps ten bulbs each, demonstrating how well ‘Thalia’ bulks up, and the effect is of course doubled as each head contains two flowers. . Complementing these in a perfect match are the lilac pompoms of Primular denticulata, another plant I could never get tired of. Towards the front, Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is looking exceptionally pretty, and Erythronium ‘Joanna’ is underneath the cherry tree (‘Morello’) which is about to burst into blossom. (I was afraid it would have none given its maltreatment in December but I have seen the buds I do not deserve them!). My little Sorbus cashmiriana has come charmingly into fresh green leaf and flower buds are visible. The habit of the upturned branches is so uplifting … it is such a pretty tree that R noticed it and remarked upon it.

Not looking good: the Iris foetidissima… no fresh new leaves at all yet just sulking. I wonder if a feed would kill it or cure it. Also not looking good: the piles of topsoil, the piles bricks lying around, the big white sack of sub-base. The camellia needs moving … it is in the wrong place, but has two white buds that are promising to burst. Again, a dowsing with feed and water may help it decide to go ahead with this seemingly onerous task (everyone else’s camellias are almost over).

Now for the back garden. It is hard to see through the window for the enormous window box before my eyes, containing Primula vulgaris, Primula ‘Wanda’, and tall fat blue muscari. It has been my most successful w.b. yet, especially along with the snowdrops that started out in there. Such a scene it is! Anyway, the garden beyond, which had a big tidy-up, is looking pretty nice too as it springs into life. The most noticeable thing is the cerise P. denticulata. I also have some Tulipa ‘Purissima’ … Clematis ‘Miss Christine’ is coming cautiously to life by the arch. Under the roses, tulips, and all around are forget-me-nots, which I allow to spread at will because they are so useful and delightful. The Icelandic poppies I bought at Chatsworth have fat buds on them, and so does the geum at the front of the garden, but not the back geum. The delphs are looking bushy and fabulous, as are the foxgloves. The best thing is that the [white] peony has many buds on it. When I say many, I mean two so far, but that is many for me my first peonies! In four years!

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First peony!
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The back garden in spring

May

10.5.18 The tulips are in full bloom. Some ‘Belle Epoch’ popped up in the cutting patch along with numerous ‘Purissima’. Combined with Narcissus ‘Cheerfulness’ (or is it ‘Winston Churchill’?) and forget-me-nots it makes a very pretty jug for the dining room table. I have been ordering my perennials for the front garden. I am very excited to be getting such gorgeous plants for the front garden. The Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ is a real risk  I fear it may be too red rather than dusky purple. Time will tell. R and I have been enjoying a lot of rainbow chard, which is just beginning to bolt. The sweetpeas are in and the courgettes are germinating. Seeds need pricking out and plants potted on. Nematodes all watered in last week. I wonder if the positive effects on the plants have as much to do with the watering as the nematodes themselves, as I used litres.

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Icelandic poppy

July

5.7.18 The RHS exams and my college application took all my time and energy for most of May and June. It has been the hottest, driest summer we’ve had so far in Scotland. Beautiful days of no wind and temps in the mid-twenties for weeks. The garden is not looking too parched; it is Scotland after all. But things are worse down south. Now, thinking back to May, once the tulips finished there was a gap, and suddenly the geraniums sprang into being, as did the geums. The foxgloves emerged, and the roses (‘Tess of the D’Urbevilles’ always first). Then my delphiniums, all mixed in with the white and pink foxgloves, oh, and the best poppies, Icelandic bright orange with big creamy yellow centres, just keeping on and on all summer, and the perennial wallflower ‘Winter Orchid’. No bearded irises for me this year. I wonder what has got their goat? Two flowers on my peony ‘Avalanche’. The buds took weeks and weeks to develop and open up. It really was quite painful to watch. I am not sure I would plant peonies again. I don’t go crazy for them like other people seem to. My lovely Geranium pratense now there’s a plant that gives good value. Covered in bees, wafting elegantly in the breeze, it is gorgeous every year. I am thrilled to have masses of dill. Broad beans are doing marvellously and have been the easiest vegetable I have grown by far. Just stick ’em in the ground and stand back.

The front garden is so dry that nothing is settling in properly, and some things are looking quite sad. But I cannot water them very frequently it seems wrong when we are so short of rain to use tap water on the ground. One plant I am terribly pleased with is Luzula nivea such a lovely, soft white flower that complemented Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ quite brilliantly.

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Foxgloves in June

August

12.8.18 At last, the Scottish summer we are used to has arrived. Rain, temperatures in the low teens, a cold wind… all in time for the Festival as usual. But I don’t care. The weather can do what it likes we’ve had our hot summer and it was wonderful. Most of the plants survived pretty well regardless. I shall forever remember the summer days of 2018 spent on the terrace with a cup of tea, just looking at the tall, green plants. Now many of my favourites have gone over the foxgloves, delphiniums, roses, geums, wall flowers all stopped, and the far back corner is a green mess of not terribly attractive foliage. It is a corner that does very well in spring and summer, but not very pretty at all after July.  I spent a lot of time on that corner last autumn, but I think some more work is needed.

Looking really lovely at this time of the season are the following:

Echinops: covered in bees, beautiful purple-blue drumsticks.

Crocosmia: I always dismiss it rather, but it does perform superbly in late summer and it is so reliable

Persicaria: so reliable

Thalictrum: high clouds of purple dots love them!

Calendula and cerinthe

Cosmos ‘Purity’ hooray!

21.8.18 The signs of autumn are everywhere: dew on the grass, the first cotinus leaves turning that incredible burnished fiery copper colour, the whitening berries on the Sorbus cashmiriana. That tiny sorbus is just about my favourite thing in the garden at the moment. So small, neat and pert, its branches heavily laden with huge clusters of pale green, soon to be white, berries. They hang down like too-heavy earrings. I just adore this little tree. It has been a pleasure every day of the year so far. The ‘Limelight’ hydrangea is looking good in the far corner by the house. In full bloom with its green flowers, it is most elegant. In other people’s gardens these flowers turn white in the sun, but I prefer the subtle colours of mine, which stay green, then pinkish. The Luzula has turned brown, though I forgive it because it was the loveliest plant in June.

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The back garden in July
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Cosmos ‘Purity’

September

3.9.18 I am sitting by the back door, which is open, and looking on the wet garden, hearing the splatter of rain and feeling the cold breeze on my ankles and it is lifting my page as I write … I see the pale pink Japanese anemone I planted last week, along with Lizzie’s Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ and behind the crocosmia (so I can’t see it but know it’s there) a small Ceratostigma plumbaginoides that is flowering a very pretty blue and will bring much needed colour to that far corner. The poor sunflowers are waving violently in the breeze, so heavy are they with their large, wet flowers on stalks that are too tall and dare I say, too spindly. I think I shall go and rescue those sunflowers. There, I have just brought in two perfect, large sunflower heads. They are a yellow merging with dark bronze and just the sort of colour I should hate but I love them they are so cheerful. High on my list of annuals I should continue to grow, along with Cosmos ‘Purity’, calendula, nasturtiums and this gorgeous, cloudy gypsophila.

30.9.18 Today a bright blue day, for the most part, and I seized upon the whim to move some plants around that had been annoying me. ‘You need to move plants a dozen times before you get the position right’, said Christopher Lloyd, and he’s right.  By the way, if ever there was an argument for cryogenic preservation, he would have been it. I’m most delighted to have got that camellia into the ground. And that the scrappy bases of the echinops will be hidden henceforth behind geranium, acanthus and peony. A good sweep of the patio and all is well with the world.

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Planting my bulbs in autumn
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My little Sorbus cashmiriana and its white berries. Next to it is a potted Cotinus ‘Dusky Maiden’, its leaves turning to a burnished copper

October

7.10.18 Some plants in the back garden feel as though they are winding down, while others are still soldiering on despite the lack of sun and the cold temperatures. The roses are doing fantastically, beautifully. Moving them was most certainly the right thing to do. I would love to attend a class on pruning my climbing roses correctly. When? How? (Those questions apply both to the task of pruning and to my ability to attend a class as I’ve failed to find one nearby and have no money anyway). My dahlias are suffering from a lack of light and water and probably nutrition too. I am seriously considering buying in a big sack of organic horse manure and mulching the entire garden front and back.

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Those Cotinus leaves again…

November

27.11.18 Multiple unavailable weekends have kept me from the garden, but at this time of year it hardly matters. The weeds don’t grow; nothing grows, except the mounds of leaves. At this time of year, every year, I ask myself, to leave the leaves on the ground (the beds, I mean) or to collect them? Collecting them would be neater, and I could make leaf mould. But they are protecting the soil in the absence of any mulch. Today I took the veg waste out to the compost in the darkening afternoon. I pulled out the cosmos, now just stalks, and the hollyhocks, which were quite annoying this year. A few weeds too. I cut some roses for the house as many buds were there, and put them in a jug with some nasturtium plants, leaves and roots but no flowers. This looks pretty good. The acanthus is back with a vengeance, all glossy-leaved and boisterous, too much for November. All the window boxes need sorting out, and my snowdrops and muscari need to be dealt with. The afternoons are so short that it is hard to do anything that takes more than half an hour, or jobs that lead on to other jobs.

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Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) in the front garden in December. Sadly enjoyed by slugs, so better viewed from afar.
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Old hydrangea flower catching the pale winter light of December

December

2.12.18 Everything is damp and rotting, except Geranium ‘Rozanne’, which flowers on and on. I like the damp, rotting part of the year. You feel in control. I like putting the rotting stuff on the compost heap, although I am treading the line between clearing and leaving habitats. There has been a lot of wildlife in the garden this year and I want it to keep increasing. Mulched ‘Shropshire’ and ‘Tess’ but the other roses still to mulch with the horse manure I brought back last week. First I have to tackle what’s beneath them dead leaves, far too many wallflowers etc. Need to tackle the delphs area and sort that clematis out. I have a frame for it, if I can get it fixed to that impossible wall. First bulbs already showing their tips under the cherry tree. Best sight in the world.

9.12.18 More bright blue winter skies, temps in the low single figures, and it is most definitely winter now. I shifted some pots around, which I hadn’t touched since last year’s bulbs. Miraculously the bulbs are reappearing already. I wonder if they will be any good this year. I think a judicious feed could save the day. I have ordered my mulch … I have learned my lesson from previous years. [The mulching] needs doing before the snowdrops make their appearance. I aim to apply it this week.

27.12.18 Mulch done! I would have chosen it to be less whiffy. It should really have no smell at all, but it is only being used as a mulch so I expect no harm will come (I will scream if all my snowdrops come up with nitrogen burns!). I am in Derbyshire now, but I am hoping for sightings on snowdrops when I come back. There was already a good clump of Iris ‘George’ visible before I left. My planting design needs a total overhaul in that front garden this is a place-marker for that intention.

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28 thoughts on “My garden diary in 2018

  1. Lovely post -I did it the other way round- started with handwritten diaries then moved to blogs. My handwritten one has fallen off a bit in the process but you’ve inspired me to try and keep it going too. Happy gardening year!

    1. I think I find the handwritten diary easier because it is more spontaneous, and unlike something written for the web (and public viewing) I feel more free to make mistakes, write nonsense, not be so careful as to sentence structure etc. There’s a great deal I didn’t include here because it was boring, repetitive, or personal. That’s the joy of a private diary. Other diarists go to the trouble of printing out their photos and pasting them in, but I like to keep mine effortless, and with no pressure to write anything at all if I don’t feel like it. The blog takes much more effort as it requires lots of clicking, scrolling and editing.

    1. Very occasionally … I am more of a writer than an artist and find I can say what I need to say far better than I can draw. That said, I am about to start art classes to revive a lost muse so perhaps sketches may be in the offing!

  2. Love it! I use my blog to record my garden, but I also make copious hand-written notes about plants that are flowering throughout the year, plants I like, plants other people have praised etc. etc. In fact I have so many hand written notes I have been thinking about typing them up as I am sure I duplicate things. Happy new gardening year Joanna xx

      1. I have only had my current garden for almost three years and during the first year I simply watched to see what grew. I have enjoyed looking back to see what was growing in each month. I now think I should have bought a bigger garden as the list of plants I desire is far too long for the size I have!

  3. Loved this post and your diary! I know what you mean about the blog taking up so much time! I may start a garden diary as well, it would make a great remembrance for my grandchildren.

    1. Thank you! I gather that one of my aunts holds all my great-grandfather’s garden diaries… There is something about a handwritten ‘voice’ from years ago that has endless appeal to generations on and on. Lovely to consider that you are writing a gardening narrative for future people who perhaps have not even been born yet.

  4. A most enjoyable post Joanna and no doubt you will get much pleasure reading through your diary again over the years. I hoped that my blog would be an online diary but my good intentions didn’t materialise. Two questions 🙂 Were the snowdrops out when you got home and will you be keeping a a garden diary in 2019?

    1. Thank you … I am sure you are right. I wanted this blog to be a diary (as you might guess from its name!) but it is so much harder to open a computer and just write in the same way as you can a notebook. In answer to your questions, almost, and YES!

    1. I wrote its story somewhere or other, either here or in my Instagram. It’s quite a rare one that my mother has by fluke. I found some recently for sale from John Anand for £14 a pop, so I feel rather rich every time my two little clumps pop up in spring.

  5. I so enjoyed this post, Joanna, for two reasons – reading aout your day to day do-ings in the garden but also because as soon as I saw it I decided that now was the time for me to keep a handwritten journal as well. I keep intending to note down when certain things flower or what time of year I dd certain jobs (which are not always mentioned on my blog), but it always seems to be part way during the year and not quite the right time to start. As long as I can get myself the Right Notebook quick enough I can get started before the impetus goes – and once I am started I shall be on a roll and stick at it. So THANK YOU!! 🙂

    1. Brilliant Cathy – I am so pleased to have inspired you! I have found no trouble at all in sticking to my diary. So easy to pull a chair up to the window and start writing, and you can go on for as long as you please (or have time for) – a minute or half an hour – it all adds up to a wonderful book to read back over.

      1. Having kept diaries in the past for many years I know I can write at length in a journal kept in a notebook or online, and lack of time is what brought the more recent one to a halt – so that’s why I am keeping it to brief notes. I am so glad to have had the trigger to get started though, so thanks for that

  6. I like the idea of a notebook but actually I think I would still rather use my iPad. I’ve never used it for a long document but I’m sure there’s a suitable app I’m just not aware of. It would also make it easy to transfer some of it to the blog, if I thought something would be interesting to others.

    1. If it helps, I find the workaday minutiae and potterings of other gardeners just as interesting (if not more interesting) to read about as the big items such as visits to gardens. I find it relaxing to read about simple gardening, such as how someone swept up their leaves or sowed some seeds.

  7. The last 25 years I have kept a written diary. I have almost always kept a written diary of the garden actually but have written more the last 25 years. I guess you could say I am a diary keeper. I also keep a diary that is a 10 year. It has the dates and 4 lines for each day. It is like an index for the more lengthy writing I do in the journal. Ha… I am sure it is too much for most people. While in the throes of spring cleaning of the garden or big projects the 10 year gets lots of short yet meaningful details. Then when time is not so constricted the regular journal is fill with a lot of thought and detail. I also have a blog. For some reason I can’t open up wide with the blog but I enjoy communicating with other gardeners which is why I started my blog. It has been going for some 10 years or so. I really forget when I started it. ha… Another reason why I keep 2 diaries. I forget a lot if I don’t write it down.
    You write so well. I am so pleased that I have come across your blog. Best wishes for a good gardening year.

    1. Thank you Lisa – goodness, that is an impressive amount of journalling, I am in awe! It sounds as though you have a brilliant system in place. Blogs are harder to open up on because we make ourselves somewhat vulnerable to outside opinion, which can be uncomfortable. Having said that, I don’t think I have received a single unpleasant or unhelpful comment from any reader in the whole five years of blogging. People here are invariably helpful and kind. Still, there are some things that are more comfortably kept private. There was an interesting discussion about this on Me & Orla’s podcast the other day (the podcast is called Hashtag Authentic – it’s the episode with Anna Newton). I can’t seem to insert links into comments very easily, although if I work it out I’ll come back and put one in.

  8. Your writing is so evocative that I realize how often I am just using my garden journal to record information. Your entries give you useful facts but you’ve framed them in stories and given them context. I enjoyed the photos where more of your garden is showing. I think we all often concentrate on the plants and its nice to see them in situ.

    1. Thank you Linda for your kind words … I felt the same as I was reading back over my diary, that I enjoyed the parts where I described the weather and scenery far more than my lists of jobs achieved. I’m intending to keep up with the descriptive text this year because of that. It’s also more enjoyable to write this kind of stuff rather than just ‘Today I planted 3 bags of tulips’ or whatever!
      I would take more of my plants in situ with a wider frame, but there is invariably a sack of compost or pile of leaves in the background that is ruining the view! Good motivation to keep the place a bit tidier …

  9. I kept a written diary, with photos, diagrams and sletches for the 15 years I was in my last garden, from the moment we bought the plot, built a house and I created my garden, to the moment I shut the gate for the last time. I haven’t done anything written for the nursery, it’s all been blog, facebook and insta. Perhaps once I have my own personal garden again, I might do another written diary.

    1. That diary sounds like such a wonderful keepsake, Rona. You must have loved that garden … it would be very hard to part with such a place. However, I have no doubt that you will start again when the right time comes, and that is a very exciting prospect to look forward to. I had no idea you had built your previous house and garden from scratch. One day I would love to hear all about it!

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