Sunday, 9 September 2012

Interview with Naomi Slade - Punk Garden Designer*

'Never Mind The Hollyhocks' Award Winning punk-themed conceptual garden by Naomi Slade

Why a punk garden?
Why not?! I had never seen one and it seemed like a good idea.

And was it a good idea?
Yes. Very. It turned out looking exactly like the picture in my head. And, (as I believe I have mentioned) I won a Gold Medal and Best Garden In Show.
And people kept going past quoting Sex Pistols lyrics, which amused me enormously.
So much for a decent upbringing!

You describe yourself as a career conceptualist. Will you help me with my career?
I find I have iterated concepts, often quite abstract ones, throughout my own career. In a ‘can’t really help myself’ sort of way. I see no sign of this stopping, although it is fairly under control.

Are you mad?
Quite possibly, but modestly entertaining , I hope.

So why The National Gardening Show?
I designed the garden as a conceptual garden for RHS Hampton Court, but I didn’t submit it for 2012 because I knew I was going to be unavoidably busy in July. So when invited to be one of Jo Thompson’s Bright Green Shoots, showcasing new talent and being generally shiny, I decided to take the opportunity.

Could it not have waited until 2013?
Not really.
The cops took the threat of anarchy seriously and parked
opposite for the whole weekend...

Firstly there is the context – the 35 years since the Queen’s silver jubilee in 1977, the same year that punk exploded in the UK and the Sex Pistols had their version of ‘God Save the Queen’ banned; plus the social and political parallels, striking, unemployment, general unrest, union-flag waving bonanza and so on.
Secondly it is about managing the inside of my head. It would have looked (to me, at least) a bit like I had had a good, zeitgeist-hitting, idea and failed to catch the wave. I also would have got bored and lost interest, yet it would have lurked in the back of my mind for decades going ‘remember me? I’m a great concept and you just didn’t get it together....’
Thirdly it was about capacity testing. I have done lots of shows before and won three RHS Chelsea Silver-Gilt medals for Science and Educational stands, but I had not single-handedly done a show garden. And now I know I can.

Have you learned anything?
Yes. That No More Nails and carpet adhesive are a useful part of a garden designer’s toolkit and that parents and inlaws are invaluable.
Naomi also learned that garden design is incredibly glamorous when it is raining...

Was it expensive?
Depends how you calculate it and where your reference points are. In terms of staging a similar exhibit at RHS Chelsea, or creating the garden as a permanent installation, no.**
In terms of favours called, fuel burned, sleep lost, hours spent and the 2000 miles or so I drove to get everything there and back again, then it was reasonably expensive.

Who was your contractor
My what? I was me and my husband wot done it.

My sister and I created the punk sculpture which clashed
fabulously with penstemon 'Just Jayne' and 'Plum Jerkum'
Where did you get your plants?
Many were supplied by Hillier and Suttons very kindly sent me some too. I must also thank the NGS garden openers Nick Priestland for mega-gunnera and Richard Sandford for organic punk veg and chillies.
Lots and lots of people also thanks to Carol, Pete, Michelle, Sukey, Chris, Chris, Marilyn, Roger, Morwenna, Jenny and show neighbours,  the lovely Common FarmFlowers, for coffee and chat before during and after.

What are you going to do with your ‘Punk Gardeners Rock Forever’ poster?
I am going to put it on the wall in the dining room.

The judges were very complementary; do you want to be a garden designer?
Should the opportunity arise, it would be rather nice to design some gardens.***
What did you get out of it?
An enormous sense of achievement and the confidence and knowledge that if I want to, need to or have to do it again I can. And that particular bright idea laid to rest.
I mean did you win anything?
Oh. I got a couple of lovely certificates – one for winning Gold and one for Best in Show. And a cut glass rose bowl for Best in Show. But untold riches, gold bullion, foreign holidays, or my own bodyweight in spring bulbs, sadly not.
So will you do it again?
This interview is out of time.

For a transatlantic take on these jinks, check out the Studio G blog here.

*Designer of a punk garden (on this occasion) rather than necessarily a designer who is punk, although I admit I dabble from time to time and it has a lot to do with state of mind.  NB please ignore the whole dual personality thing. A girl’s psychopathology is her own business.
**Mostly because I borrowed or already owned most of the stuff I used. Paint is pricy, though.
***If you actually want me to design something you know where I am.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Couch Grass vs Cucurbits - the showdown

Squashes ready for battle

I am annoyed. Annoyed and frustrated. Annoyed frustrated and thoroughly vexed. “By what, Best Beloved?” I hear you ask, concern in your voice, your gentle brow lightly furrowed (and having evidently recently re-read the Just-So stories).

I am sick and tired of the continual battle against couch grass on my veg plot. I pull it up. It comes back. I double dig. It comes back. I cover it up. The sheet blows away in the wind. Like I said. Vexing.

So I have a plan. An ambitious plan. “And what is thy scheme of redoubtable cunning regarding the aforementioned productive location, Best Beloved?” I hear you ask (being possessed of ‘satiable curiosity and having spent a bit too long in the company of a Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake with a scalesome, flailsome tail, I can only presume).

Aha. It is this.

For each squash or courgette I have dumped two thirds of a heaped wheelbarrow of well-rotted horse manure, unceremoniously on top of the offending weed.  In the centre I have created a well and planted the well-grown cucurbit into the ground, with a thick manure mulch spreading at least 30cm in all directions.  So far I have planted about 20 of them, on a grid system, roughly a metre apart. (‘Crown Prince’, ‘Festival’,’Polo’ and ‘Hundredweight’ from Suttons; Courgette* ‘All Green Bush’ from Kings Seeds; Courgette ‘Sunstripe’ and squash ‘Golden Hubbard’ from T&M; ‘Hawk’, ‘Honey Bear’ and ‘Uchiki Kuri’ from DT Brown; and ‘Marina Di Chioggia’ from Franchi...since you asked).
There are three possible outcomes. 1. The squashes scream ‘Argh! No! My roots! The nitrogen, the ammonia, the pain!’ and keel over. 2. The squashes get eaten by slugs (which will then inform my next post). 3. There is a big and satisfying fight and, ideally, a dense mat of squash foliage outcompetes the weed of doom.

In the Just So stories, the eponymous elephant’s child gets roundly spanked by his tall uncle Giraffe with his hard, hard hoof; by his hairy uncle Baboon, with his hairy, hairy paw; by his broad aunt the Hippopotamus with her broad, broad hoof and by the verbally tortuous Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, with his scalesome, flailsome tail – while handing out helpful advice on the subject of the crocodile that is biting his nose** and effecting a rescue (on the banks of the great, grey, green greasy Limpopo River). Which, incidentally, is how the elephant got his trunk.

The question is, will the fabulously well nourished squashes give the couch grass the good hiding it deserves,  or will the couchgrass romp back and smother the young squashes in an orgy of vegetative propagation and nasty, nasty, spiky shoots? Or will they combine into some sort of horrific pestilent chimera of epic proportions*** to try and spank me in a kind of revenge match? Only time will tell.

*My track record for growing courgettes is woeful, but winter squashes generally work rather well.

** Which is the answer to the question ‘What do crocodiles have for lunch?’

***Who you gonna call? Well, Rick Moranis presumably. In a horrific epic chimera of Ghost Busters and Little Shop of Horrors.

Monday, 2 April 2012

A Curious Beauty

Time locked potato, after the sea witch

Here we are. It is early April. The sun is shining spring is sprung and they are forecasting snow for mid week, (surely some mishtake? Ed).
I have gardened myself to a standstill. Sown spinach, calendula, leeks, more leeks, tomatoes, aubergines (they never do for me but I always try), cauliflowers, mangetout, sweet peas and cosmos. I have potted up my rooted rose cuttings (well, some of them) and my penstemon cuttings. I have been to the garden centre and bought lots of compost, and herbs and some borage seed.
Most things are sprouting like mad. I drove down the motorway to Bath the other day in the sunshine. By the time I drove back a couple of hours later the hedges were conspicuously greener. Looking around my own garden I’m always amazed that some plants hang on all through winter, struggling a little but basically ok. The moment the weather warms up they can’t hack it and turn their toes up, little roots not keeping up with the challenge of photosynthesis and transpiration. Or maybe it is just vine weevil.
Which brings me to a sad story.
Last year I tried to grow new potatoes for Christmas – but they got planted too late and then the slugs moved in, so that was a non starter. Then I noticed some shoots coming up in the polytunnel. Genius. Christmas volunteer potatoes (Red Duke of York, if anyone is interested). So one day when it got cold I dug them up, small but perfectly formed. Then I forgot about them. Then I bought them into the kitchen. And left them in the light so they were inedible anyway.
My poor spuds then entered the ‘I really should do something about that’ zone. Sitting on the sideboard. Red (well slightly green). Starting to sprout. I have just noticed one is trying to flower which is the saddest expression of optimism I have seen in a long time. It reminds me of the mermaids that get got by the sea-witch in The Little Mermaid and turn into wizened polyps, yet it is curiously pretty.
Also in the kitchen is a lovely big box of seed potatoes that just arrived from Suttons - including Charlotte, Rocket, more Red Duke of York, Purple Majesty and some others. I fear they are looking at the sad potato-mummies with something akin to derision. Or perhaps it is just terror. Either way, I get a completely different vibe from the David Austin roses that are sitting next to them.
So I am going to put this failed and abandoned experiment out of its misery. Send it off to the great compost heap in the sky. Hope springs eternal, but sometimes even hope is not quite enough. Perhaps it is art.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Tree of Controversy

I also took some pictures of moss and lichen

It looks like I have entered into a diabolical pact over trees and tree planting.
I am designing a new section of the garden and a battle has been raging over a large native willow, which represents an important visual anchor point in the design. Now, I don’t want this particular willow. It is nothing special, there are millions like it and I have a policy of swapping trees I don’t want, eg self-set ash and sycamore, with nice, posh trees that I do*. But I had planned to leave it there for the time being until I had decided on a replacement. This is a source of contention as someone else wants it gone with all speed.

Part of this plan involves using a JCB to improve drainage and create a terraced valley with access to the stream. When it comes to diggers I am very conservative. They can be something of a blunt instrument and, in my experience, ‘people’ get them in and then the entire project starts to suffer from mission creep. And we don’t do diesel-fuelled, red-mist mission creep in my garden. We do careful, considered, organic groundworks with a clear end in mind.
I am holding my ground, but when pressed as to why it could not be removed when the main groundworks take place I admitted that some of my indecision hung on the fact that specimen trees are not exactly cheap. At which point I was told that if the willow went, a replacement would be paid for – up to a point.

Ok. Not a bad deal. Deals with Beelzebub rarely are on the face of it. But now I have to make a decision. Fast. And be there to keep a goddamn eye on proceedings.** This is a big space in direct view of the house. I was thinking Morus nigra – perhaps too slow growing; Cornus kousa 'Variegata' – maybe not big enough; Liquidambar...white stemmed birch...Crataegus....a delicate ornamental cherry....  What is needed is a specimen tree, 10-15 metres at maturity that will thrive in moist, medium-heavy, somewhat acid soil. Answers on a postcard please!
And what else does the New Year hold? Well, it looks like I will be giving gardening talks more often which is an exciting departure. There are some gardening projects too. What I need most right now (apart from loads of plants and a massive pay rise) is some really heavy-duty gardening gloves – gauntlets, preferably – to deal with the brambles.

Tis a funny thing. The very best ideas arrive with no prompting. All is quiet, then they hit like rain splattering on a window pane, to be caught and chronologued before they run to waste. Silver threads of text whirling into being from blackness and void. You know when the words arrive. All is well. Indeed, the very best work arrives on the page fully formed. In a nirvana of space and intellectual time, the passion and intensity coalesces into something more solid.
Sometimes you travel so fast that you forget that you will probably get further if you stop. Suspect this will be worth remembering in 2012.  

*Fear not gentle environmentalist, there are plenty of native trees and we are planting more for the wildlife. All is well.

**This is not so much ‘not in my back yard’ but ‘Yes, in my back yard but just the way I want it – don’t get excitable with no diggers behind my back, ok?!’