Friday, 30 April 2010

Proceeding At Speed In All Directions

This week has been outstandingly busy. Went to the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place on Friday, which was deeply satisfying for my inner geek. Monday I went to Cliveden – Italianate balustrades with an unusual snail residing in them, vast parterre, great big house, originally built for somebody’s mistress, apparently. Must have been quite some chick. And some tulips.


Last night went to interview a very nice lady for a garden feature that will be in The English Garden in the Autumn. Really great garden and fantastic eye for colour. Scheduled for September, so look out for it.

Coming up, I am doing a gardening event for children at Waterstones, based on the RHS Garden Explorers Handbook. This promises to be mayhem of the highest order – but in a good way, with mural painting, making insects out of sticks, writing garden poetry and many a good thing. There is also a seed giveaway (thank you T&M) and the chance to win a family ticket to Hampton Court Flower Show (thank you RHS!).

And rather excitingly, I am starting a new blog for Kitchen Garden magazine. It will shortly be up on their website and thoroughly linked in all directions, so tune in for vegetable musings.

What really sets me alight at this time of year is tulips. One of my earliest memories is of looking into a big, red tulip at about nose-height and being fascinated by the incredible depth of colour and the intense suedy blackness of the stamens.

Looking out of my kitchen window is a bit of a tulip-fest right now. There are the great big early white ones, the flaming orangey ones that were here before I moved in, a couple of happy patches of dainty yellow Tulipa turkestanica just going over, and several others. My particular favourite is, however, a glorious combination I dreamed up last year. There is a fantastic tulip (I will try and dig the name out, bear with me) that starts off with deep red-purple buds with a bloom like hot coals. As the buds open they get lighter and brighter, becoming lava-coloured with petal margins of coruscating, flaming gold. I planted them with rich, dark, ‘Queen of Night’ to anchor them and provide visual bass notes and, with a random forget-me-not accent, it is lovely.

NB Interestingly, the ‘Queen of Night’ came up a little later last year, so the effect was not so pronounced, but this time round it works a treat.

The soil here is light and free draining and tulips seem to like it – at least, according to my botanical uncle, more than they like the heavy clay we have in Wales. The only disappointment so far has been the fairy-pink ‘Angelique’ which is beautiful but has only managed to produce one and a half flowers this year. Clearly too girly to live.

Developing a slightly worrying appreciation of Lady Gaga, I think it is the way she snarls at the press. Down, girl.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

A Chelsea Complex and a Young Pretender

The new Mediterranean border is coming on nicely. The trellis is up and painted in my favourite shade of aqua and the neighbours approve – although I did have a heart-in-mouth moment when, having thoughtfully painted both sides I realised that it is quite a full-on colour and they might not like it.


I am now planting up and trying to resist the ‘I want it all and I want it now’ urge (something I am rather prone to at the best of times), which is common to anyone who has ever built a show garden and then has to garden like other ordinary human beings with a timescale of years and a shoestring budget. Simple maths. If you have things that will be 4ft across, plant them 4ft apart because they can be expected to grow 2ft in each direction. Even if they are only 6inches across now. Yes it looks tiny and dotty at first, but if you pack everything in so it looks wonderful you will have a fight on your hands in about a fortnight. This, people, is what annual bedding is for. That is what I keep telling myself, anyway.


Unaccountably, my other half seems suddenly resolved to have some sort of hard landscaping-off with Joe Swift. There we are on Friday night, cheerfully pre-empting the advice on Gardeners World, as we do (the long evenings just fly by), and the boy Swift is making a pond with a pond-liner he has just fortuitously ‘found’. (We believe you Joe, millions wouldn’t). Anyway, he breaks out his spirit level and some sage advice on keeping the thing straight, when I hear a hiss from beside me on the sofa “If he gets out a bag of ready-mix cement I’ll kill him”. Heavens. Saturday dawns, and the spousal element is busy constructing a very tidy strawberry bed from off-cuts of timber, to the merry refrain “Joe Swift, you’re out of a job; Joe Swift, you’re out of a job...”.


I don’t know why the sudden sense of competition. Joe seems an amiable sort of chap. He bought me a drink a couple of GMG Awards ago; he is President of the NGS; he enjoys the puckish witticisms of James Alexander Sinclair with good grace and amusement. Not sure my partner threatening to drop him in a water feature with ready-mix boots on is socially advisable. But were the spouse to follow through (with the construction competition, not the mob-style sticky end), he might well prove rather good at televisual spirit level wrangling. Time, as they say, will tell.

Caught my son giving the sedums a premature Chelsea chop while singing ‘I Gotta Feeling’ by the Black Eyed Peas.


Found myself on the school run looking like I had come off worst in a shootout at a porridge factory. Not far from the truth, as it happens. The glamour is endless.

I am, as always, hugely excited by my heated propagator. You put in seeds, turn it on and two days later, voila! Seedlings. Magic. See picture above, which I particularly like as the sun is shining through the leaf and you can see the veins.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Chasing Spring


As spring continues to unfurl, the garden reveals what is hot, what is not and what is just plain dead. Echinacea ‘Fatal Attraction’ seems to have pulled through (woohoo!) and is pushing up little scarlet sprouts while the Zantedescia has not (boo!) and nor has the Weigela (meh). Interestingly, there seem to be shoots on a lilac branch that I cut last spring and turned into part of a wigwam for a clematis. At about eight feet tall it is the biggest cutting I have ever seen – that is not a willow, obviously – and if it survives the summer I will have to find it a new home, somehow.

Just got back from a few days in Wales and some more full-on gardening. Everything in Berkshire is running 2-3 weeks behind where it was last year, but west Wales is at least 2 weeks further back even than that. The new veg patch is coming on nicely, though, and it is absolute bliss to be able to sow entire packs of new seed rather than feel honour-bound to use up the scrappy packs left over from small sowings in previous years. It is quite disproportionately exciting. Also discovered that nothing brings joy to my mother’s heart like a row of climbing beans, so beans there will be...soon. The picture above is celandines last spring - it does not look like that at the moment though.

Received a couple of Artichokes from Robinson’s seeds (aka The Mammoth Onion) this morning. Pretty impressed: healthy, robust, hardened off and in remarkably good nick; and nicely wrapped too which made it even more like getting a present than usual. Some of the best plants I have had by mail order.

The car was covered in volcanic ash this afternoon. Interesting reminder of a small and interconnected world. Man.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Nascent Botanical Anarchy

Everything is happening at once in the garden. The daffodils and tulips are trying to come out at the same time. The rhubarb is muscling its way out of the ground and the newly cut back Cornus is sprouting little green flames from each red stem.


I have been planting David Austin roses, in my nascent ‘pink, blue and silver, slightly Mediterranean-style border’ as it is snappily known. It was my birthday this weekend so an uncontrolled, but terribly satisfying, garden centre bender was in order. Trophies included a clematis, Magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’ and some rain daisies to go with the existing lavender and Lychnis coronaria – just as soon as I have finished digging out the evil goldenrod. A few suitable grasses and a spot of Verbena bonariensis and the job should be a good ‘un.


We have also been getting a move on with planting veg seeds. Last year the dwarf bean 'Purple Teepee' (T&M) did terribly well, so we will sow some of those again – even though the freezer is still full of them. A visit to Waltham Place last year opened my eyes to the possibilities of no-dig systems and the wonders of groundcover for suppressing weeds as well as mixing up the veg plot, so I am going to experiment a bit this year. To find out more about this exciting and unruly biodynamic garden check out my article in Amateur Gardening, 10th April issue.


And on the subject of eye-openers, I met my first Magnolia campbellii yesterday at Kingston Bagpuize. A full-size tree with huge cerise flowers against a brilliant blue sky, it is just the most amazingly exotic creature. Picture above.


I was sad to hear of the untimely death of garden writer Elspeth Thompson last week. She has been a key part of the scenery for all of the time I have worked in the gardening industry; gently entertaining and enlightening all who paused to read. It is a sad day for gardening – we seem to have lost too many of our own of late. It is, however, an even greater tragedy for the family she leaves behind and my thoughts are with Mary and Frank.