Friday, 1 June 2012

Chelsea Flower Show - Gardens

This year was the second that we have been to Chelsea. Like any experience, the second time around doesn't have the same visceral eye popping thrill of your first time, and perhaps because last year's show was so great this year didn't quite do as much for me.

Having said that, like watching a Wallace and Grommit film, a second visit makes you notice lots of different aspects that weren't as obvious initially. For a start, either we have got a wide screen TV since last year, or the BBC have really stepped up their camera skills as the gardens, much like the Queen, look so much smaller in real life.

Cleve West's gates on his Brewin Dolphin garden, below, were beautiful but were not nearly the grand country house gates that they appeared to be on screen. My only assumption is that BBC presenters are chosen for their short stature.

Getting around the gardens early allowed us to see the planting in different lights rather than the sunshine which always pervades the BBC coverage. This really brought out the interest. I thought Cleve West's planting was superb. Interestingly, for me, was the difference in varieties of plants between last year and this year, which while partly down to design was also heavily influenced by the cold April weather. So, last year's gardens were filled with salvias and peonies whereas this year there was a heavy preponderance of aquiligias. 

Gardens were also a lot more green this year. Not so much in the environmental sense, but in the grass sense. Many of the gardens felt almost like walking through an English woodland in May, so naturalistic were they. The judges and many others loved this. To me, it was a bit too much. I can appreciate the skill which has gone into making them look this settled in just three weeks but it's all just a bit too 'unkempt'. Maybe I'm just an old fashioned Gertrude Jekyll 'Colour in the garden' stick in the mud.

The area of Jo Swift's 'Teenage Cancer Trust' garden below perhaps epitomises what I mean. Whilst the trees were beautiful, the underplanting did just look a little like it hadn't been strimmed this year.

In lots of gardens though there were real ideas you could take home. The Laurent Perrier garden with the Rosa 'Louise Odier' trained through hazel frames and smelling divine, below, was one such.
I really wanted to like Sarah Price's Telegraph garden but it didn't wow me, perhaps just too subtle for the likes of me. Like other bloggers I didn't quite understand the need for the cut stone in the centre, the natural boulders around the edge looked much more in keeping with the planting.

Favourite new flower seen in a garden this year were definitely the Turk's Cap lilies in the RBC Blue Water Garden, both the yellow and white forms. Really interesting shapes, and, given that they work in dry soil, I reckon they might be making an appearance in my garden next year.

As mentioned above, there seemed to be aquiligias everywhere, particularly large flowered versions. These Aquiligia 'White Barlow' were particularly lovely in Jo Thompson's 'Celebration of Caravanning' garden.
Fresh gardens
There were some great ideas in this category, and some lovely small gardens. In particular I liked the Rainbow's Children's Hospice garden, and good luck to all the guys who were rebuilding the garden at Rainbows this week in time for Blue Peter to film it this afternoon. However, it seemed to me that for too many of the designers simply sticking some orange flowers into the planting scheme was seen as 'thinking outside the box'

What I did like about the Fresh Gardens was that mostly they weren't full of too many fads. Except for the QR garden! QR codes are a bit of a flash in the pan and having been used for a couple of years are already on their way out, being replaced by new ways of scanning info onto smartphones. One of the big issues about QR codes though is their lazy use by marketers, so for instance putting them onto posters in the Tube where no one can get a 3G signal to connect to the website or by a road so you could only scan them from a moving car. In fact there is a whole website devoted to these bloopers. Knowing this, why would you build a QR code garden with the main QR code too big to be scanned by anyone standing on the path in front of it....

In the Great Pavilion there were, as always, some fantastic exhibits. I was drawn to the Headley Court and Gardening Leave garden. Horticultural therapy is a big part of recovery from both physical and mental injuries and these guys do a fantastic job. What the picture below shows is that the garden at Headley court is not adapted to make simple for the guys, some who are triple amputees, to get around. Rather, by combining the therapy with steps and different surfaces it means that the guys recovering need to learn to cope with all these different aspects in a controlled environment before they have to face them in the outside world.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Who said gardening was boring?!

Veg plots

With a little bit of time on my hands, and inspired by all the veg in small plots at Chelsea I went a bit mad on my corner of the garden which I keep for veg. I also went a bit mad online at Harrod Horticultural and spent far too much. As always, home grown tomatoes will be the most costly tomatoes in the world! I have also discovered Wilkos, recently opened in our old M&S (and we moved here because we thought Tooting was going up in the world!), where they do some good cheap gardening stuff such as veg planting bags, cheap seeds and pots and some nice edging for far cheaper than the garden centres.

With my newly purchased watering system I now have a fully functioning veg patch. At the centre is a bay tree which I grew from a sucker taken from a standard bay we were given as an engagement present many, many years ago.  Around this I have placed two growbags. Beneath these runs my dripfeed watering system (entirely legal in these hosepipe ban days). I've made some slices in the bottom of the bags for the roots to go down and the water to go up. I've also invested in some plant halos, the bright green items in the photos. These enable you to water into a collar around the tomatoes and aubergines. My hope is that between the water from the watering system, the depth of soil of the halos and growbags and my occasionally remembering to water and feed from the top I should get some decent veg.

I have also planted up a load of pots that sit on the patio,.

So, what am I planning on harvesting this year? I've been slightly disappointed in the past - after all, what is the point in putting all this effort into veg gardening just to get a bog standard red tomato, so this year I've gone for a few slightly more 'unusual' shaped veg. To this end I bought a range from Franchi seeds.

As you can see, we have aubergines that actually look like eggs - truly an egg plant! We also have a rather odd looking courgette and two different types of tomatoes. I tried not to get carried away by the look of things and went for veg that came from northern Italy so hopefully slightly closer to the climate of Southern London!

I also have the heritage variety of dwarf bean Ernie Big Eye and Stanley dwarf beans together with some cheap salad mixes and rocket. Yet to come out onto the patio are the chillies.

Everything is now out and growing away quite happily - heres hoping the slugs stay away!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Meanwhile back on the ranch

For a gardening blog, there's very little gardening being done online. I'm currently pretty pleased with the way everything is looking in my little oasis. The verbena bonariensis is coming out now, replacing the alliums earlier in the year and mingling well with the Gaura lindheimeri along the edge of the path. I've also diluted the purple with a penstemon purple bedder and a knautia macedonia to provide a bit of interest.

On the other side of the path, the crocosmia Lucifer is putting on a good show. Down below, the astrantia major provides some softness and magenta of the lychnis smacks you in the eye if you look at it too closely.

Hampton Court

Another month, another flower show. After having been to Chelsea, I was keen to see the difference between 'the largest flower show in the world' (c)RHS, and the 'poshest flowershow in the world' (c) Tootingchap.

If I have to sum it up in a personal, non-professional reviewer kinda way, I'd say the gardens were much better at Chelsea and the overall feel was much more expansive and relaxed at Hampton court. I'd definitely do both next year, if I can. The great thing about Hampton Court is that we could take the boy and he rode in the baby backpack the whole way, making friends with passerbys, and squealing whenever he saw anything exciting - which was quite often.
The boy shows his appreciation

The Conceptual Gardens:
*Spolier alert. I am conservative, boring and traditionalist, and therefore prefer my gardens unmessed about by concepts, but can see why they provide a useful starting point for thinking about different ways of looking at outside space.




I thought that the 'Picturesque' garden was pretty good. This 'aims to evoke the works of specific artists or genres through planting'. I thought this got a hard time on the BBC where they complained that the 'pictures' didnt look exactly like their inspirations. To me, if you step back and take them in from a distance, just as you do in a gallery, they really did 'evoke' the spirit of the original works.

Enduring Freedom?
Great concept. Unfortunately failing in its execution in my view. This was supposed to be an 'allegory of the dilemma of diversity rooted in the conflict of Aghanistan'. I was really hoping that this would speak to me. However, the 'western' side's planting looked pretty much like the 'Afghan side' and neither looked much like Afghanistan's reality. The track looked fairly authentic but then again, a dirt track isnt that hard to create.   They could have done so much more to fully bring this concept to life. How about, for instance, making the Afghan side of the wall Hesco Bastion (or mud brick) and the western side plastered. How about mixing papaver rhoeas with papaver somniflorum to show the differing meanings of the poppy to western and Afghan eyes - memorial and livelihood. I would very much have liked the designer to run their design past someone who had been to Afghanistan. Unfortunately I dont think they had.

Small Gardens

A bit like Chelsea, these were my favourite. There were a lot that included a mixture of vegetables and ornamentals. This is a concept that has been kicking around for a year or two but the new look seems to be a real intermingling, rather than a couple of rows of red lettuce in the middle of a border. How well this works, both in terms of the veg getting enough light, and the gaps that are left after a harvest, I remain to be convinced of, but I think the message is - watch this space.

The potential feast - a slick urban take on the whole 'veg as ornamental' look with nastutiums and tumbling tomatoes on top of the wall and salads growing in the frames on the wall. In my garden, I think the cats would destroy the wall top plants!

The 'Five a day garden' - demonstrating how the longer root runs afforded by containers allow a higher yield

Wild in the city - the only garden swarming with bees at 10am. Very pretty. I especially like the green roofs on the bug houses.

Things loved by the boy:


A bronze Cheshire Cat - part of the Alice in Wonderland display

Flowery dogs!

Other things I liked

Agapanthus White Heaven - in loads of gardens and huge!

A garlic roofed house - very tasty!

Monday, 20 June 2011

The veg is on the go

My garden is mostly flowers. I'm particularly excited about the dahlia Twinings After Eight which seems to be doing very well, and hopefully will feature later in the year when in flower.

However, one has to ride the zeitgeist and at the moment it's all about growing your own. Or at least it is if you listen to Monty. So there are pockets of the vast expanse of the garden that are devoted to the edible.

In the fruit corner, we have raspberries (polka). I'm hoping that these should fruit this year. They are in a nice sunny spot and the only check to their growth so far this year has been that a local cat decided that it was the perfect place to sunbathe for a couple of weeks when I wasnt looking, so a couple are a little the worse for wear. Having visited Wisley at the weekend and seen their Polka canes, all 6 foot tall, I'm feeling a little miffed, but am keeping my fingers crossed that the recent rain we've had will bring mine along to rival them.

There are also three strawberry plants, just coming into fruit. These are a mixture of runners from old plants and one of the ones from a pot last year. I'm a bit concerned that they might be a bit old to fruit well, strawberries only last a couple of years, but we shall see.

On the veg front, we've got the tomatoes (I know they are a fruit really, but you know what I mean), a couple of gardener's delight and my usual hanging basket of cherry tomatoes. I've got no idea what type they are as they are grown from seed collected from the basket two years ago. Too be honest, I could have tomatoes by the dozen as I'm finding seedlings popping up everywhere - probably a byproduct of my homemade compost that I mulched the beds with!

Providing some serious sustanance are the courgettes. One, parthenon, is in the ground whilst I have two young black forest plants in pots which I think are climbers, so could be interesting.

A couple of types of chillies provide me with the wherwithall for my curries and bringing up the rear are the herbs: rosemary, thyme, bay and mint which go on for year after year and this year I've got basil, parsley and lemon balm ready to plant out. All of these are grown from seed apart from the bay tree (a present) and the parsley, which I can never get to germinate. There's also a couple of sage plants. I use sage about twice a year so thats just enough for me. By the time I want to use them again theyve grown back!

Next time, I promise less workaday photography!