As the bulldozers rumble in and we leave Chelsea for another year (pause for a muffled sob into my hanky): a gallop around some of the many, many little flashes of inspiration I spotted this year.
There’s always something that gives you that ‘ooh-must-try-that’ feeling; and of course particularly perfect demonstrations of some technique I’ve heard about before but never really seen in practice.
So here’s my round-up of things which caught my eye at this year’s show for bringing that touch of Chelsea bling to your veg garden. [Read more…]
I’ve done a fair bit of teaching over the years, on and off: a bit of student design critique for the Inchbald here, a writing course tutor there. But this one’s really got me excited.
I’m the new teacher of the Advanced Veg Growing and Self Sufficiency (Homesteading) Course (catchy, isn’t it) at MyGardenSchool, online and very on message, so to speak.
Fellow tutors include the likes of Noel Kingsbury, Andy McIndoe and Stephanie Donaldson so I have a lot to live up to.
The first course starts at the beginning of May and I’m so looking forward to meeting my first students and talking veg, veg and more veg (with perhaps a little chicken and sheep discussion thrown in).
In case you’re thinking of joining us, here’s a free and very gorgeous eBook with the first lesson’s notes just for you. Enjoy!
[Editor’s note: I discovered this post unpublished in my drafts folder today. I had meant to finish it off at some point last November, but then November turned into December which turned into January and then… well, you know how it goes. So rather oddly, here’s a post about my garden in November. Even though it’s now March.]
And this is how this area looked when we moved in three years ago. It’s a slightly different angle but reminds me how much we’ve done: both those looming conifers at the back have gone now, as has the out-of-control fuchsia. It may still be looking scruffy, but perhaps not quite as scruffy as it was…
You know Main Avenue at the Chelsea Flower Show? That elegant thoroughfare between the biggest, most glamorous show gardens of the lot?
Not much glamour involved today. Somewhere to the left, behind a dumper truck offloading topsoil over the roots of a pleached hornbeam hedge, is Jo Thompson’s Stop the Spread garden, a far more beautiful and gentle sunken garden of natural planting than its publicity of dire warnings about ash dieback would suggest.
But you’ll have to take my word for that. Walking down Main Avenue today is like negotiating a particularly bad traffic jam on the M25, except you’re on foot and the vehicles are twice the normal size and prone to veering off to the side, or backwards, as whimsy takes them. I’m told it can take a dumper truck 45 minutes to move 250m in this lot. Doesn’t surprise me one bit.
These are my Tulipa sprengeri – a first foray into the world of species tulips for me, but I have lost my heart to them. They’re in the raised rock garden that runs along the front of my house and the sun just catches them at the right angle so they seem to glow.
I have them planted with small daffodils (I would put a wider shot here of both in their dazzling yellow-and-red brilliance but my camera battery ran out) and the combination is one of those ones that makes you smile every time you see it.
The daffodils aren’t quite the right type – they’re WP Milner, which is a lovely daffodil but ever-so-slightly too early for the sprengeri tulips, so they’re almost over as the tulips get into their stride. You have about a week when they’re both looking perfect, then the daffodils start looking tatty. I’m thinking I might hunt down a later miniature daffodil for next year.
The lovely thing about species tulips is that they come back year after year without any fiddling about digging them up for overwintering, and they never flop. They even self-seed around if they’re happy.
I feel a collection coming on. The list on my phone now reads as follows (in rough order of flowering):
- Tulipa biflora
- T. bifloriformis ‘Starlight’
- T. humilis
- T. turkestanica
- T. clusiana var. chrysantha
- T. kolpakowskiana
- T. orphanidea ‘Flava’
- T. praestans ‘Fusilier’
- T. saxatilis Bakeri Group ‘Lilac Wonder’
- T. urumiensis
- T. linifolia
- T. orphanidea ‘Whittallii Group’
- T. tarda
That should fill up the front garden nicely!
Hello again, and a very happy 2013 to all.
I do hope this year will be a bit of an improvement on last year’s – with eyepopping statistics just about to be announced, no doubt informing us – as if we needed the rubber stamp – that 2012 was indeed the wettest since records began. The evidence here is all around: the Levels are under water, and driving over the Salisbury Plains to my Mum’s house after Christmas was like driving through Waterworld.
Still, in the spirit of New things, I’ve got a shiny new blog to unveil today: I’ve been tinkering around a bit as I’d got a little jaded with Blogger, and a bit annoyed by the fact that my URL didn’t fit my blog’s title. It still doesn’t match but at least it’s now relevant and doesn’t secretly annoy the wonderful and admirable Wellywoman. So I made the well-worn trek across to WordPress and here I am.
(please don’t look at the rest of the website just yet: I am a baby where website building is concerned and Do Not Know What I Am Doing so it’s rather rubbish while I’m fiddling about figuring out the answers to various niggly little difficulties).
Anyway, to celebrate January 1st I thought I’d start a little annual challenge, based on a competition I used to enter (and come last in, every year) with the Surrey branch of Plant Heritage – an organisation worth undergoing ritual humiliation for every January if it raises a few pennies to save some long-lost garden cultivar from oblivion.
We had a little form to fill in, on which you listed every plant in flower on January 1st. Mine was a very, very short list: in fact I claimed the prize for the shortest list pretty much every year I was there. The best I heard about was a stoic 28: I can only sit back and admire in wonder at such wintery prowess.
So here’s your challenge. Since it’s now dark outside I won’t stick to Jan 1st, but during this week pop out and count how many flowers are out in your garden, and let us know about them. There is a virtual bunch of (winter and highly scented) flowers for the winner, plus a major allocation of smug points.
Here’s my list: just four, though beauties all. General verdict: could do better, I think. If I’m still here I’ll repeat the exercise this time next year (giving us all time to plant a few more January gems in the meantime).
To be honest, with cucumbers like this to contend with – in early August! – it’s not really that surprising. I was congratulating myself the other day on the appearance of my second fruit: it has taken me a little while to get going with the cukes this year as planting them involved moving an entire greenhouse, so they were a little late off the starting blocks. Seeing this lot makes me realise just how late.
And as for the leeks… just look at these leeks!
And these are grown in people’s back yards, on their allotments, possibly in their greenhouses I suppose, but with no special facilities. I have, quite literally, no idea how you do that.
I was going to enter my onions – I have a fine crop of onions this year, at least – but I ran out of courage faced with this lot. As you can see, it’s not all about size: presentation counts for a lot, and these guys are pros.
However, with a little emergency work with the elastic bands at the last minute I did manage to get my shallots into presentable condition – and scored the triumph I am most proud of: a third!
Those are mine, on the blue plate. Next year I shall know better and have them beautifully laid out on a tray of dried sand like the seasoned exhibitor who won first prize: sometimes I think entering competitions like these is as much about learning what’s required as anything else.
My flowers were an absolute damp squib: I only entered two or three classes but drew a blank in all of them. I dare not take on the rose growers, or the chrysanth growers, or indeed the sweet pea exhibitors, all of whom had been doing it for far longer and with far more dedication than me. I simply bow to their superiority and admire.
I did think I’d have a chance with my ‘five sprigs of herb plants, all different’ – but I messed up by trying to be clever. My herbs were – to my eye – much bigger, healthier and generally more impressive than the other entries, so I had really high hopes of a first in that one. But I had decided to put in two different types of mint (I am building up quite a collection and they’re rudely healthy at the moment) – and that meant I was the dreaded ‘NAS’ (Not As Schedule) since they meant five different genera of herb plant. Bother.
You couldn’t help being impressed by the standard of exhibits: this was one of the floral art entries from our local and very talented florist. She’s almost impossible to beat – one of the few times I’ve been glad I’m no good at flower arranging and therefore have no incentive to put myself in for this sort of thing.
And of course there were the fun classes and the kids’ classes. The youngest was mighty chuffed to win a whole £2.50 for her friendship bracelet and handwriting entries (best not to mention the sock puppet). And oldest was doubly chuffed that her painting won a second prize against the grownups: she’s too old these days to enter the children’s classes.
Probably my favourite class in the whole thing, though, was class 111: an animal made from vegetables, in the 3-4 years age category. Don’t you just love this little guy?
Well, that’s better.
The week before last I took three whole days off work to cram my head choc full of foundation depths for single-skin versus retaining walls. At the same time as learning appropriate plants to use in carpet bedding schemes and the maintenance routines for prairie plantings. All part of the eclectic syllabus that is the RHS Level 3 (the Advanced as was: these days have to use the new but singularly uninformative new way of referring to the same qualification).
Then I took two utterly horrible exams. Well, they weren’t that horrible as it was such a relief to offload all that information from my perilously overstretched brain and splurt it out onto the paper, but I won’t know if I passed till at least the end of this month if not August.
I’m doing my RHS3 at Bicton College in Devon: set in what was once a stately home in Grade I listed parkland, it’s really a very fine sort of place for what is, in the end, rather a down-to-earth sort of establishment. It’s full of teenagers messing about trying to crash tractors and build York stone patios in fields and do obscure things to meerkats (there is an animal care centre of some sort there: I think, but am not sure, that it trains veterinary nurses).
And then there are the oldies: people like me and the motley crew of gardeners, plant nursery workers and general horticultural whizzes I was privileged enough to share a class with. They included the former editor of the Westonbirt magazine and the lady who organises Sidmouth in Bloom. It was all a little humbling, as these things should be.
Anyway, the reason I started explaining all this is because my final exit from Bicton (until next year: if I take a third module I get my Diploma so I thought I may as well get it all done at once) was down the college’s world-famous 500 metre long monkey puzzle avenue.
They propagate hundreds of monkey-puzzle trees from the avenue every year in Bicton’s greenhouses and sell them on: and some go to replace those in the avenue which have finally decided enough is enough. The result is a pleasing variation in size and texture in the trees which gives the avenue a kind of rhythm all its own.
It’s 26 metres tall, the largest specimen in the UK, and its girth is 4 metres round. Quite a tree.
Of course monkey-puzzle nuts are also edible: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, no less, has attempted to climb Bicton’s trees to snaffle some to try (he didn’t manage it: monkey puzzles are notoriously difficult to climb, so difficult, in fact, that they would puzzle a monkey. Funny, that).
The nuts are described as soft and like pine nuts or perhaps Brazil nuts – light and delicious. Trouble is, you need at least six female trees to each male to get nuts: so as long as you’ve got the sort of room Bicton has, you can grow your own. Otherwise, I can’t find a supplier in the UK: so you’ll just have to go and talk very, very nicely to the gardeners at Bicton. See you there.
|Achillea ‘Anthea’ and Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Goldrauch’
Barnsdale Gardens, Rutland
|Seline armeria, Geranium pratense ‘Violaceum’, Malva sylvestris ‘Zebrina’
The Botanic Nursery, Wiltshire
|Achillea ‘Fanal’ and Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’
Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, Hampshire
|Heuchera ‘Lime Marmalade’ and Selaginella apoda
Madrona Nursery, Kent
|Cenolophium denudatum, Pilosella aurantiaca, Achillea ‘Walther Funcke’, and Anemanthele lessoniana
The Landform Garden, designed by Catherine MacDonald (gold, Best Summer Garden)