Sunday, June 20, 2010

One thing I've learnt...

...whilst studying for the RHS level 2 certificate, is that the answer to many gardening questions is "organic matter".

I'm not sure if thet holds true for the rest of life, but it may be worth considering.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Blue

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

GBBD June 2010

The garden is crammed full of beautiful flowers at the moment. Some of my favourite flouncies have already flashed their frills. The sunny border is full of colours that make no apologies as they punch you between the eyes.

But in the shady border is something quiet, delicate, unassuming. And I love it all the more because it doesn't shout out "Look at me!".

Polygonatum curvistylum

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Have a look at flowers blooming all over the world right now. Thanks Carol!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Basket case

I have just cycled back from the allotment with a small harvest. The cyclist who pulled up along side us at the traffic lights looked, looked and looked again at the contents of my basket. I'm not sure if he thought me odd, or if he was plucking up the courage to ask for a strawberry, or perhaps an anemone to tuck behind his ear.

Nothing was said. The lights changed. We cycled on our separate ways.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Bodnant Garden - the Dell

Whilst the formal Italianate gardens at Bodnant are pretty amazing, the area that really sticks in my mind is the Dell. This is a wooded valley leading steeply down to the river Hiraethlyn, and to mill buildings, a mill pond and mill race.

The steepness can be seen in the photo below - looking down onto part of the Dell. The planting is naturalistic, with beautiful massess of rhododendrons and azaleas, supported by ferns, primulas, meconopsis and many other herbaceous plants. At the bottom of the Dell, as well as the river, are a whole range of trees, many of them 'champion trees', including several redwoods.

We were lucky enough to be taken off into one of the currently closed areas by one of the gardeners. This is on the opposite side of the Dell to the house, and Lady Aberconway has a seat where she can sit and look back at Bodnant Hall.

In the closed off area, they have been clearing Rhododendron ponticum, to try and reduce the likelihood of spread of Phytophthora ramorum ('sudden oak death'), something which is being done across a lot of National Trust gardens.

It was a relief to get out of the heat into the coolness of the dell. Many of the azaleas and rhododendrons at Bodnant were bred there.

This view down the river shows the azaleas in full bloom - magical in the dappled sunshine.

More massed azaleas next to the waterfall. Whilst they can look a bit 'plonked' in a more suburban garden, and so have been plants that I haven't really admired in the past, in an environment like this, they make absolute sense. Walking down the slope through rhododendrons in full bloom, you can try to imagine how exciting it must have been for plant hunters such as 'Chinese' Wilson & Frank Kingdon Ward to come across a new species flowering its socks off in its natural environment.

At the bottom of the Dell, as well as down some of the steep ravines, are swathes of candelabra primulas reaching for the sky.

Put all these plants together and you get a view like this - if it wasn't for Nigel Colborn banning the word, I would call this stunning. So, instead I will call it fabulous, beautiful, inspiring, lush, heavenly and an absolute 'must visit'. And I haven't even shown you the Embothriums.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Bodnant Garden - Italianate Terraces

I had a trip to Bodnant Garden yesterday, with fellow students and two horticulture tutors. A very warm day saw the gardens extremely busy, but it wasn't hard to understand why.

Bodnant Garden spreads over 80 acres, with informal lawns and formal terracing close to the house and then the informal picturesque Dell, with veritiginous slopes clothed in a bright tapestry of azaleas and rhododendrons leading down to the river at the bottom of the valley. Not all of the gardens are open to the public (though we were allowed into one closed section with one of the gardeners). There has been a lot of work done in the garden over the past few years, and this continues, with new plantings and renovation work.

Harry, our lecturer (who you've met before when I posted about Tatton Park), gave us a history of the gardens and the family who developed them, as well as lots of horticultural information. The Italianate terraces were dug into the rock of the garden - a plaque states that they were put in place in 1905.

I think yesterday must have been the perfect day to visit (hordes of people notwithstanding). The famous 55 metre laburnum arch was in full flower, the azaleas and rhododendrons were still well in flower and Embothrium coccineum (Chilean fire bush), scattered around the grounds, looked alight with flowers.

A view towards Snowdonia, from the front of the house.

A view to the lily terrace from the croquet terrace.

A reflection of Bodnant Hall in the water of the Lily Terrace

The Pin Mill at the head of the Canal Terrace.

Huge pergolas wreathed in wisteria

A Lutyens style bench in an alcove. The steps, when viewed from above, describe concentric circles. Self-seeded Campanula soften the steps.

View of the herbaceous borders across the lily pool. The planting in the border is relatively new.

Wisteria sinensis 'Alba' trained across a wall. Growing in the walls are Lewisia, which you can just about see.

More wisteria and a very opulent viburnum.

More steps.

The laburnum arch, with lots of people's heads.

We nearly got locked in, we were enjoying the visit so much - the gardnes closed at 5pm, but it was 5:20 by the time we emerged from the Dell. I'll post photos of the Dell in a second post.

If you haven't been to Bodnant Gardens, then go! Earlier in the season there are camellias and magnolias. Later in the season are herbaceous borders and rose borders. But if you want to see it at its very best, go now. I can't describe how amazed I was by the planting in the Dell.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Some thoughts on show gardens

This stream of consciousness (below) was a comment I left on VP's blog, on a post looking at some of the gardens at Chelsea this year. Some of the comments seemed to suggest that unless you were prepared to build your own show garden (i.e. 'put up or shut up'), then you had no right to comment on a garden.

Garden bloggers come from a whole range of backgrounds, from award winning garden designers and judges, right through the spectrum to interested amateurs like myself. I do photograph and comment on show gardens, and say which bits I like, which I wasn't so sure about, even though I'm a Know-Nothing Bozo when it comes to the practice of competitive garden design. But looking critically at a garden helps me. I make no claim to any knowledge on the topic, but does that preclude me from making comments on how I feel?

Anyway, I've introduced this post - what follows below is my comment:

"I think it's a shame that some people think that you can't critically analyse a garden without thinking of it as a criticism of the person who made that garden. I realise that because gardening is so personal, it can be hard to separate critical discussion of a garden from how the creator feels about it, but with something in the public arena (such as a show garden), one must expect people to discuss the work.

Can only qualified garden designers pass comment on a show garden? I will never have the imagination and inspiration to design a show garden. So does that mean that I have no right to comment on what *I* find works well or doesn't work so well (to my mind) in a garden? When I spend some time really looking at a show garden, there will always be things that I may not think are perfect. At least not for me. A dozen different people stood in front of that show garden will have a dozen different views. But by looking at that garden, looking at what *I feel* works, what *I feel* could be done differently, I am helping myself understand that garden. I might not understand it how the designer does, but I understand it how it relates to my own experiences, what *I* can take away to use.

Is that not the whole point of a show garden? Or are we to mutely look in awe at what we mere amateur gardeners will never achieve. And if we want to write about what we have learnt, what we have taken away, to share with others? Not everyone who reads what we write will agree with what we say, but at least we have caused them to think about it a little more deeply, too.

Not everyone can design a show garden. But we can all look, we can learn, and as someone who teaches (though nothing to do with gardening) and learns, I find critical analysis a very powerful learning tool. So, when I read about show gardens on people's blogs, and they comment on how *they* feel about a garden, it makes me think: What do *I* feel? And that is good."

Heavy metal

Plants are generally very competitive. They compete for food, light, carbon dioxide, water. Some plants are very good at competition - look how widespread grass is. I have a theory that, much like some parasites that can affect their host's behaviour*, grass can affect human behaviour. Why else would some people be so driven to spend hours making conditions just right for the perfect sward? "Can't be having any of those nasty weeds spoiling the picture-perfect lawn", thinks the lawn obsessive. "Ha ha!", thinks the lawn (which I imagine to have a hive mind), "my competitiors have been removed - more space for me!"

Some plants, however, drop out of the rat race. Not for them the constant fighting for space, food and water. They take a step sideways and look for somewhere to live that provides them with a bit of a challenge, but which other plants find much harder to cope with. Like a plant I met for the first time yesterday. We went for a walk in North Wales, in an area which has a rich lead mining history.

Lead isn't very good for most organisms. But some plants can cope with it and thrive on the competition-free waste heaps in these sites. There's quite a lot of research going on about how the use of these plants could help to remove toxic materials from contaminated sites - phytoremediation. Or, you could just do what we did yesterday - admire the rich carpet of Spring Sandwort (AKA leadwort) getting along just fine in an area where few other plants were growing.

* Quick overview of some examples of this phenomenon here, but there are many more examples.