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!

Sunday, 12 June 2011


During the Easter break we visted Hestercombe in Somerset for the first time. As the only time when two of my favourite designers, Gertrude Jekyll and Lutyens collaberated solely on the garden I was expecting great things.

What Hestercombe made me realise is that good garden design is all about taking the time to 'stop and stare'. You could walk through the formal garden in no time, not noticing much around you, but take a moment to look back at the way a fountain is framed, or the interplay of light, plants and structure and you realise what perfection in an English spring garden can be.

The hard landscaping, built of local stone felt part of the countryside in which it sat. The garden was broken up into a number of areas, some quite intimate, some quite expansive, with different levels allowing a number of views of each area.

A quiet seating area in the garden, with, what else, but a Lutyens bench.

In particular I liked the two 'arms' down each side of the garden through the middle of each of which ran a deep rill leading from a small fountain and paralleled by deep herbacious borders.

In this view the rill runs down the left hand side of the photo with orange shirley poppies in the foreground.

Wisteria and Clematis Montana frame an arch under a blue westcountry sky.

The planting in the main garden wasn't quite in full flourish when we visited , it being only April but this is definitely a garden worth a visit in the summer.

The garden is very much one of two halves. The formal gardens by the house, as described above and the 18th century landscape garden wending its way up the river valley behind the house, which is laid out as walk past various buildings such as a doric temple and a witches' house and with a mix of vistas and tableaux set out for visitors to admire.

Each view at Hestercombe is beautifully thought out. This is taken from beside the temple looking down over two small lakes to the gate at the bottom which leads into the formal garden. It would be a 'nice view' but the way the trees are felled as a frame, the curve of the path off behind the woods and the placement of the urn to stop your eye from moving too quickly through it all makes this a very restful vista.

The view looking back up the valley from the garden gate.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Chelsea - brilliant!

That's a deeply thought out, intellectual and insightful post title, I hear you cry. Yes, I admit it, my critical faculties have been slightly blown asunder by my first visit to Chelsea Flower Show today. Which also coincided with the first torrential downpour accompanied by giant hailstones of the summer.

BBC coverage guaranteed to have started with 'Heavy showers today at Chelsea didn't put off the thousands of people visiting...'

I was wowed by the show gardens, intrigued by some of the artisans' gardens, came away with some ideas for plants that I would never have thought of using, and taken aback by the sheer plantsmanship that it must take to produce so many perfect blooms so precisely for one week in a year. In a year like this one particularly, how on earth do you get to see narcissi and dahlias flowering in the same tent?

One of my favourite gardens, and one which I hardly got any photos of was the 'literary garden'. I chatted to Bonnie Davies who designed the planting. Her use of the flowering cornus kousa 'China girl' really set the garden off, and the restful tones of blue and cream using campanulas with Digitalis 'Camelot cream' seemingly fading into the wood behind the garden made an incredibly restful setting.

I didn't expect to like 'Emptying one's mind' - after all, an outside loo is an outside loo, but it was really the fact that it seemed to be a completely settled garden, again, incredibly restful, that did it for me. The mossy logs reminded me of Cornish woodlands and the intertwined groundcover planting gave it a calming, eternal look.

In the show and urban gardens sage seemed to be ubiquitous:

which is fine with me as I think they blend well with pretty much everything.

The 'winds of change' garden was full of interesting plant combinations. As someone who normally shuns all yellow from my garden I was surprised to find myself drawn to a combination of trollius x cultorum 'Alabaster' and silene fimbriata. A quick web search tells me that this silene is white - but it looked pretty yellow to me in the garden.
By the way, the cooling fans in this garden, which incidentally won 'best urban garden' are much smaller than they look on this photo or on the TV - the magic of modern media, hey kids!

Overall my favourite planting combination was in the RNIB garden.

More salvias as you can see but also alliums, a peony I hadnt seen before (white wings?) and some foxtail lilies which I am determined to get into my garden next year, despite their rather large cost and single flowerspike per plant. I did have a chat with the guy at the Devine nurseries stand in the Grand Pavilion, a rather dour yorkshireman, and understand that you can fit 5 or so into a square metre , laying the roots on the ground rather than burying them, so definitely going to give it a go.

One of the many vast statues I wasn't allowed to buy for my garden

And finally - I loved the retro feel of the National Chrysanthemum Society stand.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Hang on a sec - where did Spring just go?

What a fair weather gardener this blog makes me look. I honestly have been doing some gardening but just havent had time to write about it so - just in case any of you feel that you've missed out on the last few months, here goes a quick summary, month by month


Primroses welcoming in the New Year




Well, you're all caught up now. More soon!