Sunday, December 30, 2012
No, this year, I thought I'd try something a little more fun. A little more of a challenge. I thought I'd try and kick a bit of bottom, horticulturally. OK, so it'll end up as a damp squib, but at least I will have got a few things off my chest. We want a Revolution!
So I shall start 2013 with an attempt to get a few New Year Revolutions going. Perhaps I can change a few things, to make the world a better place - for me, at least...
First against the wall will be all gardening journalists who refer to a few clashing flower colours as "outrageous" or "courageous". No, just a bit bright.
Start up a new gardening magazine. It will contain normal sized gardens. Too long have I had to put up with a single patronising "small gardens" issue per annum. Yes, I'm looking at you, Gardens Illustrated. Of course, it will flop as I expect I'm the only person who would like to see interesting smaller gardens. I suppose others prefer to see identikit rolling acres with huge herbaceous borders and natural swimming ponds the size of a small sea.
Singlehandedly make candytuft the "must have" plant for 2014 (I thought 2013 would be pushing it). It's so retro it's futuristic. Candytuft will be in all the Chelsea gardens in 2014, mark my words. By 2016, it will be everwhere, and the plant snobs will begin the backlash.
Develop a new form of parasitic nematode. It will parasitise smug proselytisers, such as rabid organic souls. Parasites can do some really weird things to their hosts. Good. I try to garden organically, but find it ironic that organic gardening allows a range of chemicals which I find hard to believe could be classified as "organic". I've wondered about organic gardeners' use of Bordeaux mixture for some time, as it is harmful to wildlife, but at least is is being banned from Feb 2013. I have to say, I'd develop a similar parasite to attack those gardeners who have spraying regimes which would put the American army's use of Agent Orange to shame. Blackspot isn't the end of the world, you know. Sorry, that one was a bit of a rant. Still, it is *my* revolution - I can rant if I want.
Ban any more bl**dy heuchera cultivars. Especially those that are the colour of sick (i.e. most of them).
There is no revolution 6.
OK, a garden can be critiqued like a piece of art, but some people really do visit just because of the coffee and cake. They have busy lives, and think about lots of other stuff in a deep way. Perhaps they just want to take a deep breath and admire the achilleas. Chill out about it, please!
Require that all references to bumblebees are superceded by the term "foggie toddler". Any non-compliances will be dealt with severely (i.e. forced to give garden room to spray-painted heathers).
New Years Eve addition:
Er, helloooo! Gardening magazines (or those contributors asked to write the "25 must visit gardens" reviews). Please note: once you get north of Oxfordshire, there aren't just barren glacial wastes. There are a few gardens up here. Well, I say up here, but I only live in Cheshire, and there's quite a lot of the UK above me. I realise that in these straitened times travel expenses might be reduced, but not every garden up north has been dug up by whippets wearing flat caps and drinking stout. I think Scotland and Wales might want a word, too.
Happy new year. And remember, if you want to be ahead of the fashion for 2014, get growing candytuft!
Monday, December 24, 2012
Saturday, December 22, 2012
"Hello. Would you like your front garden tidied?"
If only the chap had come by in February, when the dwarf irises pierced through the soil and early crocuses offered their throats to the sunny skies.
Or April, when tulips and forget-me-nots waltzed together in the borders. Or May, when the Centaurea exploded like blue fireworks.
Or June and July, when the peonies managed to dodge the rains and flowered like the most plumptious of scented pompoms.
Where was he in August? Aster 'Monch' was the star of the show.
In September and October, other asters took over, to the delight of bees, hoverflies and butterflies. In November, Japanese anemones were still flowering.
Even a couple of weeks ago, the garden was shining. Frost scintillating on spent flowerheads and on evergreen foliage.
And then it rained. For a couple of weeks. Sparkling flowerheads offering their seeds up to goldfinches have turned to brown mush. Cardoon and Japanese anemone foliage has slumped and blackened. Fuchsia leaves have dropped.
And someone offers to tidy my garden.
Oh dear. For now, I'll continue to watch the goldfinches, blackbirds and wrens foraging through the sodden udergrowth for food. And then I'll get round to a bit of tidying. Probably.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Nevertheless, I decided to make our garden a little more interesting for Thomas as he grows up. So, I thought I'd have a go at making a living willow structure. There aren't many places in the garden which aren't stuffed full of plants, so a rather unpromising site was chosen - well, willow will grow anywhere, pretty much, and we're not short of water in the North-West of England. We did have a raspberry cane patch in one place, but dug it up a couple of years ago as we had so many raspberries at the allotment (which we have now given up, so no more raspberries for us!). Since then, this space has been used for plonking pots of gone-over bulbs and plants.
So, I hacked a few overhanging branches down, and prepared the site. To add insult to injury for the Fatsia, which was cut down to make space, I used its leaves to mark out the spacings for the uprights. They looked like they were waving at me, in a friendly sort of way. Rather more likely they were howling with despair.
The kit was well packed and it was clear, even to a total beginner like me, what was what. The long ones were the 10' uprights, the not-so-long ones were the 8' diagonals, and the short ones were the weaving whatsits. Ah yes, weaving. More on that, later.
Armed with lump hammer and stake, I made 30cm deep holes at 25cm intervals. Well, I did where I could. Our garden has an extensive amount of archaeology in the garden. Despite being in Chester, I doubt it's Roman. Instead, the estate was built on the grounds of an old house. They didn't bother demolishing the structure below ground level, so parts of the back garden are riddled with brick walls. I've tried digging them up. I gave up. We do have a good brick pile, though. Or spider-breeding centre, as it currently seems to be. Anyway, the uprights went in.
It started to look quite good when I made the doorway - I almost thought I'd get it looking half-decent... I started to get cocky - a piece of cake, this.
The instruction to weave a horizontal band about 3' up from the ground floored me. I looked and looked for a secret page on the instruction leaflet which would show me how to weave. The diagram made it look simple. Well, not so much a diagram as a hopeful line drawing. It was like making something from Blue Peter all over again. The mothers and fathers might have left the room, but I was entangled in something much more complicated than a toilet roll desk tidy, and I had no double-sided sticky tape to hand.** By the third attempt, I was reasonably adept. I believe the word that is used by art critics when something isn't very good but has critical acclaim is 'naive'. Well, if you exclude the critical acclaim, I achieved naive weaving.
The diagonals went in, again in 30cm deep holes - one arm was now beginning to resemble Popeye's thanks to the lump hammer wielding. Actually, I'm not sure what a lump hammer is. I think I was actually using a mallet, but to be honest, the closest I'd previously come to mallet-wielding was in a particularly vicious game of croquet in Cambridge.
All went well, until I came to the final instruction. "Draw in the rods at the top. Tie in with biodegradable twine." Well, I thought I had it sorted. How difficult could it be? Very, it turned out, unless you were a twine, scissor and serenity-wielding octopus. If I wasn't such an incredibly placid and patient person, I'm sure the air may have turned blue, as uprights whipped out of my hands, out of the biodegradable twine, and out of control.
This was too much for one person. But it was cold and late.
The following week, with Grandma keeping Thomas entertained, I enrolled the help of SomeBeans. Despite being very detail-minded in most parts of his life, he declared, after he had tied a few uprights together willy-nilly, that it was outside, and so he wasn't bothered about the structure being orderly. Well, I did mind, so we undid the uprights, and decided to turn the wigwam into a dome (very similar to the instructions for a wigwam, but easier to do if you don't have a small team of willing helpers and unlimited patience).
We did it. There was a gap at the front, though. This was because I'd made the door too tall. This will have its advantages, however, as Thomas' aged parents won't have to get down on our hands and knees to get in.
To fill the gap, I channelled Kirsty's creative juices, and made a 'T' (for Thomas - geddit?) in a woven willow circle. There's no stopping me on the weaving front, now. I think I'll weave an iPad for SomeBeans' Christmas present. Or perhaps willow socks.
And so, we had our willow dome. Hopefully living. We'll have to wait til Spring to find out. I'll update on our endeavours then. I'll put down some weed suppression membrane and bark chippings inside, and then as it grows and matures, so will Thomas. By the time he's old enough to (hopefully) appreciate it, the living parts will have grown and thickened and can be woven in to make the structure thicker.
In case you're wondering about the title of the blog post, it is inspired by our visits to Ness Gardens. In a couple of areas, they have woven structures and sculptures. These are usually labelled with a sign along the lines of "made by some of our more creative volunteers." We often wonder what the less creative volunteers (the lumpen proletariat?) think of this implication of their own creativity.
*SomeBeans (possibly deliberately) mixes up decoupage and decolletage. That may well sag, too.
**Maybe I've had a very sheltered life, but I have never come across double-sided sticky tape. And without that wondrous ingredient, you couldn't make anything from Blue Peter. Am I the only one never to have made anything? I'm sure my parents knew they never had to bother leaving the room if a craft project came onto the programme.
Wednesday, November 07, 2012
Thursday, November 01, 2012
Sunday, October 21, 2012
This garden is situated in woodland, though cannot really be described as your traditional woodland garden - there is little in the way of woodland understorey such as wood anemones or even bluebells. The trees are mature, with spreading canopies. Luckily, however, the gardeners seem to manage to get a lovely green lawn to grow right up to the tree trunks - something most gardeners with mature oaks would really struggle with.
Apart from describing it as a woodland garden, it is otherwise slightly hard to categorise. It has some elements of formal bedding - the edges of the mature trees are planted up with what appear to be traditional bedding plants (begonias?). One area is dominated by large ox-eye daisies - a modern twist on the wildflower meadow.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect is that within this woodland context, the garden makers have tried to include a nod to the picturesque with the addition of a hermit's cave. Whilst the cave does lead on from what appears to be a naturally occurring ditch, the stoneworks themselves do not show a great deal of unity with the surrounding area. Rather, the cave seems 'plonked' amongst the short, well kept grass of the mature woodland. However, look carefully, and you will see a real hermit living there still. He appears to be a little obsessed with stones.
Whilst the gardens appear very well tended (a small number of what I presume to be gardeners can be seen living within the gardens themselves), it would appear that the odd bush does suffer from pest infestation. One bush in particular seems to be suffering from some sort of grub attack - possibly vine weevil. Nothing a bit of biological control or a dose of chemicals couldn't sort out, I'm sure. Other wildlife seems fairly scarce, perhaps due to the wide expanses of short turf, but there are a few birds around.
A central gazebo acts as the garden's focal point, and the garden staff meet there regularly for a dance - it is worth catching this if you are in the garden on the right day. To help the garden visitor get around, there are a couple of methods of transport, but to be honest, the drivers seem a little unconcerned about passenger safety.
Is it worth a visit? Perhaps the garden is best visited in the company of little ones.
A link to a tour of the garden.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
However, times change, and with the arrival of Thomas, weekends weeding are over. We can't really keep the plot how we want to, and so have decided to let it go. I'm sure Thomas would be put off gardening for life if his first memories were being stung by crouching nettles, hidden thistles down the allotment.
We won't, of course, allow Thomas to miss out on the excitement of discovering the buried treasure of potatoes, picking fresh beans and so on, so will restrict veg growing to those we can grow in borders and small spaces at home. This may mean a return to the sprout-sized cabbage rather than those the size of Alfredo Garcia's head...
Oh well. A sense of sadness but a bigger sense of relief.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
This summer, a wipeout for most of our veg, has been rather a good one for the Schizostylis coccinea in the garden. Last year they sulked, as it was quite a bit drier. One advantage of the non-stop rain this year is that they have loved it.
I only grow the bog standard Schizostylis coccinea (though it might be the cultivar 'Major' - I can't remember, to be honest), and is has spread quite quickly in the wet years since it was planted. I love its simple, bright flowers. The leaves tend to look a bit weedy in the border, but hide them with another plant and its a problem easily solved.
Unlike your hand unexpectedly coming across a large slug, the Schizostylis this year gave me a nice surprise. As well as the red, a sport has come up, in a rather nice pink. There seem to be quite a few pink cultivars out there already, but I'm proud of my darkish pink sport, even if it clashes somewhat with its bedmates at the moment. I'll ferret it out soon, and give it a slightly more tasteful place than in a bed of autumnal reds, yellows and oranges.
It came in rather handy, as I'd been meaning to buy a pink one for a while!
Friday, August 24, 2012
At the moment, this is how I feel about Gardeners' World. Hence my return to the topic after Nigel the Dog's guest post.
To be honest, I think that one needs a little incentive to watch this programme nowadays. And so in a state of reckless abandon, I suggest the Gardeners' World Drinking Game*. It should make the programme more interesting, and if it doesn't, you'll be too blotto to care.
Drinking Game rules:
Have one gulp of your drink (or if you are really going for it, one shot) for each successfully met condition:
- "Here at Longmeadow"
- "Time to trim the hedges"
- any mention of blanket weed in the pond
- any mention of non-use of chemicals (NOTE: for die-hard drink-along-a-Monty gamers, this should be accompanied by downing a cocktail made up of the most virulent-coloured, additive enhanced cocktail you can make. Or a Kia-Ora)
- any mention of compost heaps (a double shot if accompanied by either his love of compost, or by mentioning that he lawn-mowers it)
- Any appearance of Nigel Dog - should also be accompanied by a loud "Woof woof!"
- Close-up of flower with Monty working, out of focus, in the background
- Shot of pristine garden tools on the shed wall - you know the ones - the dozen different trowels)
If you're teetotal, and have access to a laptop, you might prefer to follow the programme on Twitter, with the hashtag #shoutyhalfhour (via @saralimback) - always entertaining.
Let me know if you have any other conditions you think are worth adding to the rules.
*Though, as a responsible mother, I will be gulping on orange juice rather than gin).
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Monday, July 09, 2012
I discovered this little chap (or chapess – not sure how you tell? Or how the beetles tell, come to that – presumably they can) on our lavender this week.
Isn’t he lovely? A beautiful metallic brown with green, bejewelled stripes. A blinged-up beetle.
The rosemary beetle has a taste, it seems, for all manner of aromatic plants. Much as I love to see the bees on the lavender, I think there’ll be enough flowers to go around, even with a few of these chewing the buds. I might resort to a bit of hand squishing if they start to get out of hand. After a chat on Twitter, I thought that they might make an interesting aromatic popcorn-style snack if cooked in a hot pan. Arabella Sock had the altogether more tasteful suggestion of turning them into earrings.
Any other ideas for such a pretty pest?
Sunday, July 01, 2012
Never let it be said that I have a love of sophisticated, trendy plants. One of my favourite plants is candytuft, simply because it grew in our garden when I was a child – I may even have sown some myself back then. I’ve certainly grown it in the garden here, where it self-seeded for a few years, but has now petered out. I must remedy that. I also rather like that common old white sweet alyssum. This dates back to spending a lot of time on my tummy in the front garden watching ants and other creep-crawlies. When your nose is but a few centimetres from the floor, the scent is overwhelming.
Even better than these two plants, though, were snapdragons. These were interactive flowers – pick a flower and squeeze, for growling, biting action. You could then dismantle the flower, to investigate its white throat, the golden lower lipstick, furry inner beard and pollen-coated anthers.
When you were finally bored of that, you could study the bees squeezing into the flowers and then reversing out, with their body dusted with pollen.
Proust might have had his fancy biscuits (mine’s a malted milk, if you’re offering), but to take me back to childhood, just give me a 1970s garden to explore (though it was thankfully heather-free).
I always used to think that snapdragons were annuals. That’s how they’re marketed, I suppose because they’re not reliably perennial in the UK. The dragon below, however, is now in its fourth summer, having endured two very bad winters and this year’s tolerable winter. It has also endured neglect, apart from the occasional dead-heading.
And now, this dragon has bred – the dragonlings are a mixed bunch, and I have to say that the pure yellow one is probably living on borrowed time as its colour is a slap in the face in that particular area, but I’m very fond of my unexpected dragonlings, so it may just be moved.
Hurrah for childish delights and unexpected perennials :-)
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Thursday, June 07, 2012
OK, so this book has been around for a while, but I happened to notice it in the library a couple of weeks ago (sorry, Anne – no sales income from me). Anne has made herself a niche in the gardening press as the self-styled bad-tempered gardener, and so I was expecting some rather bad-tempered rants in this book. Fortunately, perhaps, for my blood pressure, she comes across more as an irritated (and sometimes irritating) gardener. A self-made square peg in a round hole.
The structure of the book is in short chapters of a couple of pages or so; incidentally a very useful structure when I have to keep putting the book down to do baby-related things. For those who follow Anne on Twitter, some of the chapters, and the recurring themes, read rather like expanded versions of her tweets. Typically, these cover: the mediocrity of gardens opening for the NGS; gardens being featured in magazines in a highly selective fashion; uncritical views of gardens visited by media. I’m certainly not saying that these are not valid points. I don’t know how the garden media works, and it does seem odd that a garden can be awarded a ‘Garden of the year Award’ by viewing some selective photographs. One could argue that it is only the view of one magazine that this is the garden of the year so what is the big deal? But I suppose it has a substantial(ish) readership and such an award increases visitor numbers and so income for that garden.
I think Anne is rather harsh on plantsmen (plantsperson?)/plantaholics. Not everyone gardens for design effect, and many people garden (and I would imagine go to visit gardens) to see a wide variety of plants. This may give a garden an unsettled overall look/feel but perhaps it is what many people want. I can understand their point of view as I was, until quite recently, very like that. Now, my feelings towards my garden have changed. I look at it now and see it as too ‘bitty’ – too many plants, not enough statement. It’s something I’m gradually trying to change, and so Anne’s comments upon buying/propagating many plants of one type for mass planting for effect ring very true to me. But, although I now realise the unifying power of mass planting in a garden, it doesn’t mean that I can’t still enjoy a plantaholic’s garden. I just get something different out of each.
Anne exhorts us, and the garden media, to be more critical of the gardens we visit. She was instrumental in setting up and running ThinkinGardens, an organisation encouraging us to explore the role of gardens. I suppose how you feel about analysing gardens depends on what you think a garden is for, and why you go garden visiting. Since coming across ThinkinGardens and Anne, I have tried to look a little deeper at gardens I visit. Not entirely successfully – I haven’t expunged the “oh look – pretty flower” habit from my view of gardens (and nor would I want to, completely!), and I’m not sure that I have the mental toolbox to look at gardens from a critical point of view as Anne wants us to. I can look and see whether the garden is well tended, I can, to a certain extent, admire planting combinations, colour and form – what works well and not so well from my own point of view. I’m not so well equipped to critically analyse from an artistic point of view as a critic would in an art gallery or at a theatre. Anne seems to want us to approach a garden open to the public as we would a gallery. Most people approach a garden, especially one open under the NGS as an opportunity for a nosey around and for some homemade cake. Perhaps Anne is right to some extent, but how many people wander round an art gallery to really analyse the paintings, to try to understand the symbolism of the items in the painting? I think a lot of people will go to the National Gallery and be as keen on visiting the cafe as they are on seeing the Turner exhibition. Cake is not available at Veddw.
Talking of the Veddw, it is here where the real passion in the book shines through. Anne talks in detail about the development of her and Charles’ garden over the years, and the sheer hard work that went into it. I wouldn’t like to judge a garden solely from the photographs I’ve seen if it ;-) but Veddw certainly looks very good. Anne talks about her struggle to understand the alien landscape of the area, and how she could reflect this in the garden. The garden therefore reflects its environment (is this what they call the genius loci?), and the history of that environment. Her views on certain plants are interesting, and often entertaining; rampant plants are welcomed, as a means of covering ground – great if you have a large garden, but I’m not sure I’d welcome ground elder into my domain. The reflecting pool and hedge garden look gorgeous (in the photos…), but please, Anne – I didn’t need to know the gory details of what you have done there!!! Pass the mind bleach…
Bad-tempered? Occasionally. Entertaining? Mostly. Thought-provoking? Certainly.
(Title of the post inspired by the Stone Roses. Incidentally, Anne is not keen on roses. Not at all).
Monday, June 04, 2012
No, nothing to do with plasticine figures. Morphic resonance was a phrase invented by scientist and author Rupert Sheldrake. He described it as “…the basis of memory in nature....the idea of mysterious telepathy-type interconnections between organisms and of collective memories within species." A bit wacky, really.
I think Sheldrake was more concerned with this in animals, but I think I’ve found evidence of it in plants. I must have bought an aquilegia at some point, as the garden just contained lollipopped shrubs when we first moved here. Since then, the aquilegia (notoriously promiscuous) has seeded itself around the garden. I think the original may have been a dark-coloured double – frilly knicker style.
Now, this original has spawned a range of plants which have seeded themselves around the back, and now front, garden. Strangely, though, the plants have come up in sympathy to the surrounding flowers – not due to any weeding out by me.
So, we have…
Blue next to a blue geranium
Red next to a red Astrantia and in front of the purple of Lysimachia ciliata ‘Firecracker’
Lilac and Allium christophii
Frilly pink in front of the pink-branched Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’
Frilly purple in front of a purple-leaved Acer (and a self-seeded Allium christophii – but more on those in a later post).
Thursday, May 31, 2012
For reasons best known to himself, he prefers to communicate in limericks. I asked him first to tell me a little about Monty, his veg growing and his taste in clothes...
"Now Monty grows many a gherkin
In his cords and his old leather jerkin
This rhyme is to teach you
That if you stand still, he'll pleach you
And that his hair resembles a merkin. Woof woof!"
He agreed to spill the beans on Monty Don's recent press kerfuffle, when Monty stated that the only way to kill lily beetles was by hand...
"Now my Monty's not academicalFinally, I asked about the new pond that Monty dug by hand in his garden, Longmeadow. There has been some criticism that the pond is the size of many people's gardens and that Monty's gardening plans are on a scale that many people just can't adapt in their own small gardens. Nigel spilt the beans on Monty's true plans for the pond...
But he can sometimes get quite polemical.
He'll exhort you to splat
Those lily beetles flat,
And not mention the use of a chemical! Growl."
"Now the pond was a big, big mistake.I'd like to thank Nigel for taking a brief break from rolling in compost heaps, to chat to me today. I hope he'll be a regular guest contributor to the blog. You can follow Nigel's occasional revelations on Twitter at @Nigel_Dog
In fact, it's more the size of a lake.
Monty's plan of action
Is to build a boating attraction,
And have Joe sell teas, coffees and cake. Woof"