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Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Somerset Gardens at Hestercombe

While Eric and I were visiting family and friends in England in September, we were lucky enough to be able to visit the Somerset Gardens at Hestercombe, outside of Taunton.

Hestercombe features three gardens spanning three centuries of garden design: Coplestone Warre Bampfylde's Georgian landscape garden, the Victorian terrace and shrubbery and the stunning Edwardian garden design by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll which I am going to show you in my blog post today. 

The gardens had fallen into disrepair but today, after a mammoth, ongoing restoration project, the gardens have been returned to their former glory.  The gardens were reopened to the public in 1997, for the first time in 125 years.

In my gardening endeavours in Houston, I have often read about Gertrude Jekyll and Sir Edwin Lutyens.  To finally see one of their acclaimed gardens in person was a magical experience.

The formal gardens, known as the Grand Plat, are laid out below the house with grass pathways edged in stone, leading to a central fountain. 

Even in the soft misty light of a late September day, the gardens had plenty of color, with marigolds, gladioli, sedum, and more in bloom.

Here's another view of the formal gardens.


On either side of the garden is a water feature, such as this fountain in a beautiful stone niche. The vines were just getting their fall colours which made it seem even more peaceful and magical.

The stonework in the gardens was spectacular, from walkways, to columns, to walls.  It's very easy to imagine young ladies in Edwardian dress strolling the gardens, their delicate skin shaded from the sun by dainty parasols, being entertained by their beau, under the watchful eye of a chaperone.

Narrow water channels leads down either side of the garden to small lily ponds. 

 Along the bottom of the garden is a spectacular vine-covered pergola.  Again, I could picture young Edwardian ladies being escorted by their young men.

I was pleased to see many familiar plants in the garden, like this Sedum, and even some I have in my own garden such as Gaura and Cleome, below. 

This final walled garden featured many plants with silver leaves.  After the soft greens and colours of the rest of the garden, it was quite striking to see this garden.  It included Lambs Ears, Dusty Miller, Lavender and a lot of plants I didn't recognize. Some height was added in the form of large terracotta urns filled with blooms.

The Somerset Gardens at Hestercombe have a lot more to offer than what I have shown you here.  

In addition to the formal gardens, there are 50 acres of Georgian landscape gardens with streams, waterfalls and lakes, as well as unique little garden houses, or "follies" such as this one, known as the Mausoleum.

Hestercombe is definitely on my list of places to visit again when we can.  I'm glad they went to the trouble and expense of restoring it.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Notcutts Garden Centre - Helping Gardeners Since 1897

My husband and I recently spent a wonderful two weeks in England.  The main purpose of the trip was to visit family, but we also did some tourist-y stuff like taking a trip up to London and spending a few days enjoying the lovely countryside of Somerset.

Closer to home though (my parents' home, that is) is a wonderful garden center ( sorry, garden centre) called Notcutts, that I always enjoy visiting when I'm there.

Their website is at and I just noticed they have a banner on the front page saying "Delivery just £2.50 or FREE on all online orders over £75!"  (Wonder if they deliver to the U.S.?

Notcutts has a wide variety of plants of all sorts, as well as garden tools, garden buildings, patio furniture,  ponds and fountains, hardscaping materials, bird feeders and bird seed.

I love these platform bird feeders - they call them bird tables.  So English!

There's also a gift section filled with unique gifts and a restaurant where you can sit and have anything from a cup of tea (this is in England, remember) or a full lunch.

They had all their autumn plants in when we visited, and were having a sale.  It was frustrating seeing all those wonderful plants and not being able to buy anything.

Check out the size of this eggplant (they call them Aubergines in England) growing in a container!

I particularly enjoyed seeing the roses, such as this David Austin English Rose called "Carolyn Knight".

I think I have seen other Texas garden bloggers mention David Austin roses, so I will have to do some research and see if one would survive here.

As we were browsing around this poster caught my eye.  Could that be... is that a... Monarch butterfly in the illustration? While I understood what they were getting at, with their little vignette of a butterfly-attracting garden, I didn't quite understand why they would illustrate it with a photo of a Monarch.  After all, Monarchs only exist on this continent, right?

So I was even more amazed when I rounded the corner and found these familiar looking plants.

That's right - it's Asclepias -- Milkweed.  And grown in the UK too!

I did a bit more research and discovered that the Monarch is considered a rare migrant to the UK, possibly migrating from Spain, Portugal or the Canary Islands where they are known to exist.  There has even been speculation that some may have come across the Atlantic from the US, possibly aided by the jet-stream and apparently there was a "Monarch Invasion" in 1995 with 170 occurrences, mostly in the southern counties.

So I suppose it's a bit of a long shot, but it would be nice to think that if Monarchs did find their way to England on a regular basis, there would be some fresh Milkweed there for them to lay their eggs.

Speaking of which, since we've been back from our vacation, I've seen several Monarchs in the garden, fueling up for the "Great Migration" and just today, Eric noticed a newly hatched female drying her wings in the sun.  I hope she makes it safely to Mexico.

It's getting late now, so I'm heading to bed.  I apologize that I haven't been commenting on your blogs recently.  Obviously, I was gone for two weeks, but even since I got back I haven't been commenting.  My day job is really draining me at the moment (Memo to Self: Never take two weeks vacation and return right at month's end, when all the month end closing stuff is due) I'm almost caught up now, having put in an hour or two of OT each day since getting back so I'll plan to visit some blogs and get caught up on commenting at the weekend.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The End of Summer

Well it may be Labor Day weekend, and officially that signals the end of summer, but don't tell the garden that!

This really is my favorite time of year in the garden. We're beginning to get increasing number of butterflies visiting and, of course, the hummingbirds are out in full force, emptying the feeders and building up their energy reserves for the migration ahead.

I know I've shown you this view before -- forgive me, but I just love sitting on the patio and looking across the island bed and waterfall. 

As always, you can click on each photo for a larger image.

The sound of the waterfall lends a gentle ambiance to the garden that makes it the perfect place to sit and relax (provided I'm in the shade!!)

The Profusion zinnias in this bed were all transplanted seedlings that had self-seeded in the other island bed.   It certainly lives up to its name - "Profusion".

Butterflies just love it, including this Buckeye - the first I have managed to photograph this year.

This Swallowtail was enjoying the zinnia too.  You can't see too clearly in this photo, but the photo below, you can see it had quite a significant rip in its left wing.

The butterfly didn't seem to notice anything amiss and fluttered from bloom to bloom quite happily.

At first glance, I assumed this was a Monarch nectaring on the Tropical Milkweed, but looking closer at the photo I realized it's a Queen. (Still regal, though :-)

While the zinnias are still blooming full strength, the daylilies seem to be winding down now, after blooming profusely through the heat of the summer.  This one is still going though. I don't think I've shown photos of it before. Of course, I have no idea what it's called as usual!

And finally, a couple of photos of our wonderful feathered friends, the hummingbirds.  We've seen six or seven in the garden at one time this week.  This female thinks the Crepe Myrtle makes a good lookout post.


We've got five feeders scattered around the garden, two hanging above the patio and three out in the beds.

The red dome over the feeder attracts hummingbirds and also helps keep them cool at the same time. It's all red color attracts nearby hummingbirds and the 12" diameter baffle blocks out sunlight which keeps the feeder underneath cooler. It's made by Songbird Essentials.  I have two of them, but would like to get one of each feeder eventually.  Perhaps next year...

What's happening in your garden this Labor Day weekend?

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hummingbirds Staking Their Claims

This summer, our back garden seems to have been claimed by not one, but two male Ruby throated hummingbirds.  Not that I'm complaining, you understand.  I was simply stating the facts :-)

After all, I've spent the past five years catering to them and making sure our garden offers what they need - shelter and food sources.

Hummingbird A has staked his claim on the Crepe Myrtle, and the feeders on the western side of the garden.  He can be seen sitting on a branch, keeping a beady eye out for intruders, or lady callers as the case may be.

Hummingbird B seems to favor the Vitex or Chaste tree, which is in dire need to pruning and tidying up but still offers some blooms.  He also lays claim to the feeder in one of the island beds.

I look forward to the next few weeks of watching their antics, and those of the other hummingbirds who stop by, and getting lots more photos!

You have been warned!

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wildlife Wednesday - Butterflies and Bees

I'm struggling to get over an upper respiratory infection that has had me wheezing all day and coughing all night for the past few days :-(  I finally managed to get in to see the doctor and am now hoping the medications kick in soon and I can get back to feeling normal again.

So today's post is just a quickie.  

If you saw my post last week, you may remember I showed you two Monarch chrysalises - one on the back of a chair on the patio and one on the eave of the house. You can see the post here, if you'd like.

I'm happy to report that both chrysalises hatched during the week. Although we didn't actually manage to catch the hatching in progress, as I was able to do last year,  we did get photos of the newly emerged butterflies drying out their wings.

 My car was in the shop last week and my husband had to drive me to the Park and Ride bus one day in the week.  When he got home, he saw this newly emerged Monarch on the eave of the house and, since he knew I probably would complain if he didn't, he ran in and got the camera!!

The following day I went out to check on the other chrysalis on the back patio and, sure enough, it has emerged too :-)

I took a bunch of photos, but I was battling with the humidity which caused the lens, which had been inside the nice cool house, to fog up almost quicker than I could clear it.  This was about the clearest I could get. 

Continuing the Wildlife Wednesday theme, the bumble bees certainly like this Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) that I planted in one of the containers by the birdbath not long ago. This is the first time I have planted these.  I love the color and think I'm definitely going to plant more in the future.  That should make the bees happy :-)


Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Monarchs are Back!

Earlier this year I read disheartening reports about the numbers of Monarch butterflies being dramatically down in their wintering grounds in Mexico. Did it signal the beginning of the end for the Monarch?

So I had been getting a little depressed that, after five years of seeing lots of Monarchs and caterpillars here in our garden, and being certified as a Monarch Waystation, so far this year I had seen... nothing.

Well that was until this week.  I was pulling nutsedge out of the new island bed and happened to notice two very healthy caterpillers on the Tropical Milkweed that I grew from seed.

So apparently we had been visited by at least one female Monarch - I had just missed her.  Inspecting the rest of the plants in the garden, I was pleased to find a few more caterpillars, contentedly munching.

This one decided to move to pastures green.  I thought he was moving to a neighboring plant, but when I looked the next day I couldn't find him.

When I got home from work, my husband showed me what he had found on the patio...

... look closer...

I'm not sure of course, but I like to think that this is the one I took a photo of, heading across the mulch of our island bed in a determined way.  Eric said when he first saw it, it was still a caterpillar, attaching itself to the chair and beginning to curl up.  When he looked later, it had fully pupated. Isn't nature amazing?

We also have milkweed in the front garden.  It's tucked in behind the shrubs, which is good because it's looking very ragged already.  I haven't seen caterpillars on it, but there must have been at least one, because I spotted this chrysalis on the eave of the house.

And then, as Eric and I were out in the garden on Friday evening, pulling weeds, harvesting cucumbers etc., we were finally visited by a Monarch butterfly.  It stayed around the garden for quite a while, nectaring on several plants, giving me lots of photo ops.

It wasn't until I saw this photo on my computer that I realized there was a caterpillar on the underside of the leaf, in addition to the butterfly.

For some reason, the Paul Simon song, Mother and Child Reunion started going through my head!

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

On Nest Watch

In 2010 and 2011 we had Carolina Wrens nesting in one of the container plants on our patio.  I was even lucky enough to be sitting out on the patio drinking my morning coffee at the exact moment when the fledglings left the nest.  You can read my post about it, and see my photos at The Empty Nest.

That was an experience I will never forget!

However, with all the construction around us, and the loss of habitat on either side of us, it's been a long time since I heard the glorious song of a Carolina Wren.

Imagine my surprise when, a few weeks ago, I started hearing that unmistakable song.  Could there be a Carolina Wren around again?

I was thrilled to see movement out on the patio and after watching for a while, I snuck outside with the camera.

This time, they chose to nest in the decorative watering can, seen on the right of the photo.

They spent the day come and going with mouthfuls of pine needles to make their nest.

This photo was taken early in the process.  They kept going until the nest was nice and deep.

I know that wrens typically make two or more nests and then select the one they want to raise their family in and unfortunately, we haven't seen them in a couple of weeks.  

The nest, although now complete, is empty.  This could have to do with the fact that I, in my clumsy efforts to get a peek and a photo, disturbed momma twice and flushed her from the nest, or the fact that the metal watering can might get too warm when the setting sun hits it.

While they have been gone, I rearranged the shelf a little bit and moved the watering can back, so I could set a decorative (empty) bird feeder in front of it to block the sun. Hopefully that will prevent it from getting too hot.

I was woken up by the familiar song of a wren this morning, after two weeks of nothing.  I can only hope that means they are back, or perhaps another pair.  

I will resist the urge to go take a peek, and possibly disturb them again.  Wish us luck!!

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Happy Belated Pollinator Week

OK, so I'm a few weeks late in officially recognizing National Pollinator Week, which this year was celebrated from June 16th - 22nd.  But I saw a post of Facebook yesterday asking, "Where are the bees?"   The poster lamented the fact that they had no bees in their garden and they were worried about the consequences.

My iPhoto library helps me keep a record of when I see things in the garden and last year, I seemed to have a lot of carpenter bees and bumble bees in the garden at the end of August and into September.  Not so much in July.

So as I was taking a stroll around the garden this morning, I was pleased to see there were a few bees out there. 

The cucumber vines are covered in flowers and we've already harvested some good sized cukes. This little honey bee seems to be making sure that we get some more cucumbers later in the summer.

 This is better than last year, when we had lots of flowers and not one single cucumber.

Further along on my garden stroll, I noticed some bumble bees on the zinnia - nothing like the numbers we had last August, but it's early days yet :-)  

After a five minute stroll with my camera, the sweat was pouring off me. and that was the end of my foray into the garden for today! I'm glad I was able to find some bees, and hopefully our garden is suiting them and they stick around for the rest of the season.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Garden in June

We've seen some extremes of weather so far this June.  We've had plenty of blisteringly hot and humid days -- those days I neglect my garden chores and take refuge in the air conditioned comfort of my office/studio -- and we've seen plenty of torrential rain. 

Take yesterday, for example.  The sprinklers had run in the morning as they always do, so naturally we had a downpour in the afternoon.  Not a long downpour, but heavy enough that water couldn't get down the downspout fast enough and was overflowing the gutters.

 But it didn't last long and before we knew it, it was hot and steamy outside again.

I'm not saying I haven't done any work in the garden recently.  I have, but I've had to be choosy about when I do it. Evenings would seem to be ideal, as the garden cools off as the sun goes down.  But for some reason, (could be all that aforementioned rain) the mosquitoes have been BRUTAL this year.  I made the mistake of staying out last week and was covered in itchy mosquito bites.

So I've been getting up early on the weekends to get my gardening in.

One of my recent tasks was to replant a volunteer Rose of Sharon. The original shrub was one that I brought cuttings of from my previous house. It's doing great here up against the wall, but the Southern Wax Myrtle is crowding it out a bit.

Just in front of it (see the black arrow in the center of the photo) is a seedling about a foot tall.  I realized it couldn't stay there so I looked around to find somewhere for it to go.

Further along the garden wall is the perfect spot.  It will have room to grow and as an added bonus, it will hide the ugly cinder block wall (see below)

I also planted some summer color in the new island bed, in the form of pink Pentas, white vinca and purple Angelonia augustifolia "Serena" series. The bed still looks bare, compared to the happy chaos of blooms in the other one, but I hope it does well this summer. 

For next year, I'm planning to divide the daylilies I have in the other island bed and move them to this one, so I'll have a happy chaos of blooms in both of them next year :-)

I've never planted sunflower seeds - not because I don't like them, but because it appears I don't have to!  I feed the birds by putting seed along the supporting rail at the top of the fence.  That allows more birds access, and also keeps the seed out of the range of the sprinklers (I noticed when I moved in that hanging feeders always seemed to get soaked by the sprinklers). 

 One unexpected bonus is that I get volunteer sunflowers where I don't expect them.  Isn't this a beauty?

That's all from me today, but keep a lookout for an update later in the week.  I'm on a nest watch at the moment. It appears we have a pair of Carolina wrens building a nest in a decorative watering can on the shelf on the patio.  I'll try and get some photos to share in my next blog post

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.