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Showing posts from 2011

Have Yourself A Veggie Little Christmas

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas   This is the second broadly non-gardening post in a row, but I am going to resume that line of attack when I have actually done some. (Although I did set out to prune my apple and pear trees on Christmas Day, armed with long-handled loppers and secateurs. I went out and looked at them. Thought ‘Um’. Snipped off a few twigs, mourned my immediate lack of pruning saw* and step ladder and went back inside. ) But with Boxing Day comes renewed vigour. Starting the day with black coffee and stollen in bed followed by cranberry and orange smoothie will do that every time. I have long held that it is not that vegetarian food is lacking in flavour, nutrition and excitement; rather, people generally make it very badly and then exit, disappointed. I favour the Hugh-and-Jamie technique of boshing ingredients together to create food that excites and inspires. And as self-appointed queen of the adapted recipe I was very happy to get the River Co

Garden Media Guild Awards - The Musical

Ok, if you want serious gardening commentary look away now. This is how I think the Garden Media Guild Awards would look if it were iterated as a musical or rock opera. All events and personalities depicted are almost entirely fictional* (apart from 3 Men Went to Mow, clearly). Here is the outline and draft soundtrack** - I am now going away to work on the choreography. 'The Pub', Act 4... Garden Media Guild Awards – The Musical Act One The good and the great of the gardening media world awake . They dress uncommonly carefully, remove stray mud and have a coffee. There is a sense of anticipation , excitement even as they leave the house. On arrival they are greeted by a bowler-hatted gentleman and attend to the first business of the day – the GMG AGM. Votes are cast, more coffee is drunk, opinions shared. Onwards and upwards, say all. Act Two In a swirl of glittering society, a glass of pink champagne is pressed into the hands of our heroes. A slow dan

Every Girl's Guide to Gardening

Helenium crowns can be split into single buds in Autumn or Spring (if you want 45,000 of them) It’s been said before and I’ll say it again. If you want to be good at gardening (or writing about gardening) there is no substitute for getting your hands dirty by doing as much of it as possible. For example. Today I have learned that a Japanese wineberry tip-roots like blackberries do. Not sure why I should be surprised, it is clearly just a fancy bramble. And I also learned that it is b***d spiky if you try and pull the rooted bits out by hand. Through practical experience it has been impressed upon me that tumbling backwards out of the herbaceous border onto the path in an enthusiasm of weeding is distinctly inelegant. Even if one does end up sweetly scented with rosemary and lavender. I have reminded myself (again) that nettles and gardening gloves are made for each other.   And concluded that Margery Fish’s maxim ‘when in doubt plant a geranium’ should come with the coroll

Brothers In Arms: Finding a Generation of Gardeners

Radishes: The first thing I ever grew I am, according to a recent RHS press release, part of a lost generation. A generation whose gardening skills are eclipsed by those of our parents, grandparents and, increasingly, our children. Enthralled by my first row of radishes sown aged about four, under the wing of my botanical uncle, I got the bug early and continued through a childhood of growing sweet peas and foraging fruit. I loved natural history, botany and biology. I wanted to be David Attenborough when I grew up. Or Gerald Durrell. Or the Swiss Family Robinson. Or to present Tomorrow’s World. But whether too deep in classic children’s literature or just a bit slow on the uptake, it never really occurred to me that my keen, green fingers were a generational anomaly. I didn’t care much, either. I figured that they would grow into it, cos lots of older people are into gardening, right? Right. According to the RHS 55% of people were taught gardening in school in the 1950s and

One Weed to Rule Them All

Urban Dystopia At the weekend I returned to a garden that I made about eight years ago to show it some love. Funny, you turn your back for five minutes (or five years as the case may be) and everything goes berserk. The formerly modestly proportioned planting was level with the fence and swathed in a thick blanket of bindweed. Not simply bindweed growing through it, more a dense shroud over straining shrubs, the stems coiling up from the ground in fat ropes. Stringy corpses from summers past providing a ladder for this year’s growth. The mat of foliage covered a good third of the garden, swamping the shrubs and reaching up into the cherry tree. Working my way into the murky green understory to undermine the menace, I considered a dystopia; humans gone, neighbours no longer trimming the tree and battling the bindweed on the boundary. Where the fence collapsed and the spreading, new, layered plants of Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, Lonicera fragrantissima and Forsythia marched acros

Horti-Couture on the Western Fringe

Festival goer Kenny and his superior hat It turns out, contrary to popular belief, that Chelsea Flower Show does not have the corner on cutting edge fashion. Sure, the stylish gentleman cutting a dash in white suit, white patent leather shoes, red snake-style belt and a flower-studded Astroturf titfer at Chelsea '11 made front cover of The Guardian's G2 section (as I recollect) but his horti-sartorial antics are just the tip of the iceberg*. Last weekend’s trip to the western fringes of the empire, aka Green Man Festival , was delightful. I was charmed by the bicycle-powered Venus fly trap chasing a six-foot fly around site. And hats as sported by Mr Bloom of Mr Bloom’s Nursery **  fame, are the pinnacle of popularity. But it was the rather awesome creation above that got my Best in Show award. Mohican daffodils and ivy with an integral head-torch prove that horti-couture can combine style and function with insouciant effectiveness. (Thanks for the pic, Kenny!). Like

The Burlesque Principle of Garden Design

You don't want to see everything at once... This may appear esoteric even by my own standards but bear with me. I have a point, nay an academic principle to propound. And I have been thinking about this for a while. Garden design is a bit like stripping*. The posh sort, of course, but getting your kit off nevertheless. In the same way that you don’t (so I am led to believe) see a lady walk on stage, drop her metaphorical towel, go ‘ta dahh!’ and walk off again, you want a garden to tease you a bit. The concept is well known, garden rooms are ten a penny, but the comparative epiphany came when I recently visited a garden that needed a little mystery. It showed its, undeniably outstanding, best feature off immediately ...but then there was nothing much left to keep you hanging on. Really good gardens are the ones that keep you guessing. The ones that captivate, that go on and on with surprise views, distant temptations and sudden flurries of excitement and beauty. The ones

A Case of Mistaken Identity

'Diamonds and Rust' by Tony Smith at RHS Hampton Court 2011. Brings new meaning to smoking grass Small son has been helping with the gardening. Mistook runner beans for bindweed. Runner beans not looking quite so fine and healthy anymore. It is a pity. They were romping up an arch over the path as a catch crop, growing ahead of the roses and clematis that will eventually cover it. All very on trend. The idea was to create an exciting and decorative edible tunnel with a nod to Victorian ornamentals. Fortunately some escaped the depredations of well meaning infants so the vision may yet be realised. Just back from a lovely day at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, I had supper in the garden and, mangled bits aside, for the first time it seemed like it is not doing too badly. The roses are flowering, I am very excited about the Hemerocallis that I got from Waddesdon Plant Centre earlier in the year and the designed bits outnumber the randomly-gone-to-seed bits for the f

Exploding Alliums, Batman!*

The spiky space-flowers of Allium christophii I rarely do anything by halves and  with my current drive to finish planting up the garden, my plant bender continues. With the hefty swag of roses planted this spring establishing nicely, I am filling the spaces between. Before Christmas, I received a very exciting box of bulbs from De Jager containing,  inter alia , alliums. Now I have not had much success with alliums so far (I know not why, probably buying rubbish bulbs in the first place) but they are a wonderful thing. The first time I exhibited at Chelsea , I left the showground on the final day staggering under the weight of flowers blagged from nursery exhibitors and went home to live in a room that, for a while, resembled a floral marquee. So having got the fat, promising-looking bulbs into pots and soil, I loved and nurtured them; watered them, coaxed them, glared at them and generally willed them to perform. And perform they have. Allium christophii is a particular favouri

Magic Mixtures

Spring flowers I am having a last ditch attempt to plant a specimen tree in my front garden, which is very well-drained and north facing - although the bit by the road does get the sun. Lavender and sage love it and the Malus sargentii is doing well with much food, mulch and love, but the corner of near the gate is proving recalcitrant. It has already claimed two victims, a Hamamelis and a magnolia, and I am having a final go with another magnolia (but not the one from a few blogs ago, a new and different one) before I move on to plan B (although I am not yet sure what that would be). Anyway, I have chosen a much smaller plant so its needs are not immediately so great. I dug a big hole, oooh at least three or four times as big as the pot. And I made up a magic mix of compost, some of the soil from the hole, pelleted chicken manure, some Carbon Gold biochar and a shake of swell-gel to hold water. The idea is to get it going in a lovely, moist, nutrient rich environment which will

Dancing Tulips

Tulips 'Abu Hassan' and 'Queen of Night' and some gatecrashers With all this lovely warmth has come lots of lovely plant growth, which is great as I have 12 new plants in one border alone...although this does have watering implications. My neighbour’s wisteria is coming into flower and smells wonderful and my tulips are looking fantastic too, especially my favourite ‘Abu Hassan’ and inky ‘Queen of Night’. I always heard that ‘Queen of Night’ was a bit effete and would fade out after a couple of years but these have bucked the trend and multiplied by half, so all good there. When I visit beautiful gardens for work, I often discover a gardener inspired by Sarah Raven and her colour schemes. One of her tips is, apparently, that one should arrange flowers like a wedding – a big one as a bride, several smaller ones that echo the form of the big one as bridesmaids, some other stuff as guests and then add a gatecrasher – a contrasting, uninvited flower to shake the whole

The Year of the Garden

Herbs at Sheepdrove Organic Farm I walked the long way home by the canal yesterday just because it was there, all narrow boats, sunlight and ducklings (ahhh!) and blackthorn blossom blowing into the water. Soon I am going to the official launch of the National Gardens Scheme Yellow book, a genteel and pleasant occasion and I am looking forward to seeing my NGS friends. It is perverse. The more there is to blog about, the less time there is to do so and vice versa. On the work front there are places to go and people to see and on the garden front it is all getting going in a very exciting fashion. My car has very rudely gone bang, which means that my garden centre list is starting to get slightly out of control. I try and exercise extreme restraint at all times, but right now I want to get pelletted chicken manure and two Lonicera fragrantissima and a cardoon and a small shrub rose and a couple of dark orange Erysimum and some candelabra primulas and an evergreen shrubby thing to

Making A Garden Good

A fluffy bud of Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel' It has been an absolutely cracking weekend for gardening. Roses propped, check. Trees pruned, check. Seeds sown, yup. Little hide built for dustbin, uh huh. As part of the plan to divide the back garden into different parts and create a sense of journey and surprise (TM), I have got a new garden arch to go across the path just the other side of the apple tree. When things dry up a bit I will paint it my regulation shade of soft aqua but I have got the plants in anyway – a box ball provides a punctuation point at the base of the arch and the beginning of the border and rose ‘Ena Harkness’ will romp up it, adding to the hot colour scheme in that particular bed. Next to that I put in the Hemerocallis ‘Burning Embers’ that I impulse bought, along with Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel', at Waddesdon Plant Centre the other night while attending the launch of the regional Berkshire and Buckinghamshire NGS booklet.

Pedantry, snowdrops and snakes

 Spreads of snowdrop Galanthus nivalis at Welford Park in Berkshire  Anyway, there I was at 7am last Saturday listening to one of those compilations with a title like 'The Essential Power of Ultimate Music, Ever', on my way to a hot date to talk gardening with BBC Radio Berkshire, when up pops Alice Cooper’s ‘Poison’. You know: I want to love you but I better not touch (Don't touch) /I want to hold you but my senses tell me to stop/I want to kiss you but I want it too much (Too much) /I want to taste you but your lips are venomous poison. etc. Driving when one should be sleeping leaves plenty if time to be pedantic about artistic licence. As any fule kno, but possibly not as any snake-fancying rock icon kno, poison is not in itself venomous. Venomous animals use fangs or a sting to inject their venom which is a biotoxin. Poisons can be absorbed, ingested or inhaled and need not be organic. Technically, wasps are venomous while poison arrow frogs are, well, poisono

Of Mud and Moonlight

Exploded Spaghetti It has finally got warm enough to do some gardening, which is rather nice as it is high time I gave my plot some attention. A merry hour or two has been spent mulching and cutting things back and while not exactly finished and not exactly tidy in every facet, it does look a little bit more intentional. This weekend I also got around to putting up a new rose arch (glamorously leading to the compost heap), planted Rose ‘Malvern Hills’ up against it and spread around the packet of Biochar soil conditioner that I was given at the Garden Press Event last year. Been busy, that is my excuse. Anyway the borders in question will doubtless be grateful. Still on the to do list is to tie up the Parthenocissus henryana as the top stems are drooping somewhat and it needs to work twice as hard this coming year to make the wall look nice following the sad demise of the Hydrangea petiolaris that couldn’t hack its dry position. Despite the chill, the plants seem to be sendin

All the Small Things

 Brassica seedlings - a rather more planned sowing... Yesterday I woke up to the sound of rustling and a light staccato hissing, as of rain or small beads falling, punctuated by the occasional satisfied ‘ga!’ of a toddler employed in a really good game. Quiet games being cause for some concern, I opened my eyes to find that my youngest had helped himself to a document wallet that I had been slinging packets of seeds into as a holding bay during the gardening mayhem of the last six months. He had been happily pouring out the open ones and ripping up the closed ones and was sat in a pile of clean laundry with seeds of all sizes sprinkled gaily around. Clearly I have only myself to blame for leaving things within reach (although ‘out of reach’ seems to be a smaller place every day that passes) but this does leave me with the problem of what to do with a mixed selection of endive, wild rocket, beetroot, coriander, lettuce ‘freckles’ and something that may or may not be kale. Doubt