Monday, May 30, 2011

Ligularia Blues

Woke up this mornin’ and my Ligularia was gone.

Said I woke up this mornin’ and my Ligularia was gone.

There were holes in my Hosta,

The critters that done it had slithered off by dawn.


Woke up this mornin’ and all I saw was stumps

Said I woke up this mornin’ and all I saw was stumps.

A few slimey trails

That give my skin goose bumps


Up late this evening, I’m waiting for my prey

Said I’m up late this evening, and I’m waiting for my prey

Got some sharp secateurs,

Those slimey devils gonna pay.


With apologies to BB King

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

Climbing aboard the Chelsea bandwagon

It's Chelsea Flower Show this week - an opportunity to see horticultural perfection. The usual suspects are complaining that the show gardens don't represent what the average gardener is faced with. Well, thank goodness for that! Why would I want to see world-class designers designing for the average back garden? I want to see something new and exciting, to see new ideas, unusual plants. OK, perhaps Diarumid's bonkers flying pod is a bit too far, but at least it gets people talking.

I hope that everyone going has a great time. If, like me, you're not going and unlike me, you don't want to see new and exciting designs, here's something for you, from 1964 (from British Pathe)


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wearing boxing gloves and singing hearts and flowers

Meet peony ‘Buckeye Belle’. I think she has avoided the notice of the weather gods; the weather gods pay an inordinate amount of interest to peonies. As soon as the bud gently opens, the weather gods react jealously, and throw torrential rain onto the flamboyant peony flowers, for fear of being upstaged in the drama stakes. However, ‘Buckeye Belle’ has dodged under their radar, as they are far too interested in the progress of ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ in the front garden. With the enemy distracted, ‘Buckeye Belle’ quietly gets on with flowering.

Her colour reminds me of the heavy, old–fashioned red leather boxing gloves, hence the title (courtesy of the wonderful Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera).

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I fear that ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ will not be so lucky – the weather gods will ensure her disporting petals will be transformed into buds which look like a tissue that’s been through the washing machine.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Malvern Show Gardens 2011

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Malvern Show – the Chris Beardshaw Mentoring Gardens

One of the most interesting things at the Malvern garden show is, for me the Chris Beardshaw mentoring scholarship competition. Eleven finalists were chosen to build their first show gardens at Malvern this year. The subject was ‘Atom’ to tie in with UNESCO’s international year of chemistry.

Whilst the individual gardens varied hugely, there were several themes running through most of the gardens. It is natural to consider the shape of the atom as one of the defining features, and many of the gardens had circles and spheres as motifs, to infer the shape of the atom. This was done in an interesting way in Becky Hand’s garden, with the box shape in the centre imitating the nucleus of an atom.

Detail from ‘The Atomic Journey’ by Becky Hand (Silver)

Several gardens took their inspiration from education and science. I thought that Lindsay Warwick’s garden was great fun, with bubbling water features which really shone out when the sun hit them, reminding us of what fun chemistry *should* have been when we were at school. Instead, it was rather more likely to involve producing slightly grey solids and setting fire to your fringe if you leant too far over the bunsen burner.

IMG_8772 IMG_8770 ‘Chemistry…all that matters by Lindsay Warwick (bronze)

Rachel Phillips’ garden was designed as a place of learning and discovery, and packed a huge amount of detail into a small area. Again, there was reference to a central nucleus within the design – in this case a nucleus for gathering together to share knowledge. An inspiring garden, which I hope has a life after the show somewhere where young children can explore it.


Ladybird bird feeder


Detail from Rachel Phillips’ ‘Budding Scientist’ garden (silver-gilt), again reflecting the spheres used in many gardens

The mentorship scheme is sponsored by Bradstones, so one might expect strong hard landscaping in the gardens. I liked the long units used in the Po84 garden by Jackie Crofts, softened by herbs. Again, the circle motif was highlighted, this time using woven stems.


IMG_8778 Details from Jackie Crofts’ garden ‘Po84 Atomic Energy’ (silver)

Two of the gardens could be described as ‘conceptual’. Paul Cantello’s garden really struck me, with (again…) circles coming to the fore. The garden was inspired by the oxygen atom and its need to pair with another of its kin to make a stable molecule. I think that gardens get called ‘conceptual’ when they aren’t obviously made for sitting in. But I think I *could* sit in Paul’s garden. The bamboo screens again echoed the circular nature of the podiums (for want of a better word), which themselves were paved with organic-looking hard landscape material. The rusty metal surrounding the podiums contrasted with the acid green of the euphorbia.




Paul Cantello’s ‘Breathe’ garden (silver-gilt)

The second ‘conceptual’ garden was that of Kasia Howard. An artist by vocation, Kasia’s garden certainly drew a lot of comment. The large cube was studded with hanging ‘baubles’ – spheres again. I can’t say I would want it as part of my garden, but that is not the point of it. Why have a show garden that merely mirrors a hundred thousand gardens up and down the country?



A couple of gardens which didn’t chime with me so well were Pippa Bumstead’s and Rhea Parkes’. Pippa’s was an exploration of the role of carbon in life, with plants used to recreate the feeling of oriental textiles. The planting was vibrantly, and I felt it lacked some height. It was an interesting interpretation of the concept of ‘Atom’, not least because it did not really include much of the symbolism that many of the other gardens did. I didn’t manage to take a decent photo, but the photo below gives an idea of the brightness of the planting, although rather out of focus.


‘Colour from Carbon’ by Pippa Bumstead (bronze)

Rhea Parkes’ garden used changes in level in the garden to represent the changes in the paths of electrons orbiting the nucleus. It also was designed to encourage sustainable use of water, though I’m not sure that I got this concept from looking at the garden. I felt that the hard landscaping rather dominated the garden, and it had an awkward angle in it. There wer some nice design touches – I liked the ‘insect hotels’ built into the walls, and some nice planting, with sun lovers exposed, and moisture lovers near the water feature.




‘The Rain Garden’ by Rhea Lyn Parkes (silver)

Another garden with a reliance on hard landscaping was Christopher Tessier’s garden. I rather liked this garden – an interesting water feature (if not entirely practical, but this is a show garden). Again, planted spheres highlighted the ‘atom’ design brief, with a limited planting scheme providing unity (although I think the mentorship judges thought the planting list a little too limited). The water feature was the real talking point; I liked the way that the feature integrated the two types of paving used in the design – the ‘cobbled’ paving swirling into the darker pavers.


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‘Collision’ by Christopher Tessier (silver)

One of my favourite gardens for producing different views within the garden was Keni Lee’s garden, inspired by oriental gardens. The garden is symbolic of the trinity of proton, neutron and electron, according to Keni’s information. To me the subject of ‘Atom’ was not so explicit in this garden. The use of alpine plants in raised planters meant that Keni produced landscapes in miniature. I found this the most photogenic of the mentorship gardens, as you could frame different views through the moon gate. The finish to the planters let the garden down a little, although I hasten to add that I am in awe to all the first time show garden designers and couldn’t do it myself.



‘From Laozi to Heisenberg’ by Keni Lee (bronze)

The winner of the Chris Beardshaw Mentorship Scheme for 2011 was Caroline Butler. Like Keni’s, Caroline’s garden allowed different views into the garden, although I found it harder to photograph as there were no fences around it to provide a neutral background. The concept of atom was to the fore again in this garden; the positive aspects of the atom were represented by dry-loving plants, and the negative by moisture-loving plants. It was very nicely done, and an interesting garden, but it didn’t capture my imagination in the same way as some of the other gardens. The mentorship is judged against a whole range of criteria, and Caroline produced a great garden. I look forward to seeing her garden in the autumn, and next year at Chelsea.

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‘In the Balance’ by Caroline Butler – winner of this year’s Chris Beardshaw Mentorship Scheme

Throughout most of the gardens, alliums were used extensively. I suppose there are two reasons for this – firstly their shape chimes nicely with the concept of the ‘atom’ – all of the individual florets circling the nucleus of flower stem, like crazy electrons clamouring around the nucleus. Secondly, of course, many of the gardens every year feature alliums at Malvern – it is their time. This is *a good thing* as far as I’m concerned, as it could be said that I’m rather keen on these flowers myself.

One reason why I was so interested in the interpretation of the concept of ‘atom’ was that I had put some thought into it myself. By no way am I skilled enough or imaginative enough to send in an entry, but reading about the competition last summer sparked an idea in my head. I thought of using the element magnesium as the basis of a design, as it is present in chlorophyll (the green pigment responsible for most photosynthesis in plants). However, the talented and imaginative people above took the plunge and actually *did* while I just *thought*, and took it no further. Congratulations to them all – each garden was a real achievement.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Malvern Spring Gardening Show

It’s the middle of May, so it’s time once again for a visit to the Malvern Spring Gardening Show. Instead of cold winds and winter weather, this year’s show was much warmer (at least on Friday). The recent warm weather meant that some flowers were going over, whilst others we might not expect to see at Malvern were in full bloom.

Plants that people seemed to be buying a lot of this year included Meconopsis and Trollius, as well as heucheras and Lamprocapnos spectabilis (or, the much nicer former name of Dicentra).

Show gardens were good, although many of them seem to have over-dosed on hard landscaping. A lot of focus was put on the challenge of shade-loving plants. I’m not sure this is too much of a challenge – if I was given a garden which consisted solely of moist shade, I think I could happily garden there for a very long time; my favourite border in our current garden is the shady, moist one. Still, if it means we see more Rodgersias in show gardens, then pushing shady gardens is fine with me. Dry shade, however…

I didn’t buy any plants – sacrilege! But I did spend some time trying to understand the show gardens, looking at the use of plants, the different views into each garden, and the ideas which they were expressing – very useful. Gardening is very personal, and there were gardens that I didn’t like, others that I loved, some that challenged, and some that didn’t challenge at all.

I could have happily spent some time in this garden - ‘A garden for life’ by The Graduate Gardeners (gold and best in show).

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Out of my depth

In an attempt to try and improve my photos, I’ve been doing a few exercises. Despite SomeBean’s and my father’s explanations, I hadn’t really played a great deal with camera settings until quite recently. To continue on from my playing with light, this weekend I was playing with depth of field on the camera.

I took some photos at f/2.8 (very shallow depth of field) and then the same photo at f/32 (very large depth of field). The higher the number, the less light is let in when you take the photo, so for high f numbers like f/32, a longer exposure is needed. I therefore had to use a tripod, to keep the camera steady.

A very interesting experiment. The depth of field you want will depend on the type of photo you want to take. If you’re taking a landscape photo and want it all to be as in focus as possible, then you need a higher f number. I quite enjoy taking macro snaps, with a narrow depth of field. When you do this with a high f number, the background is too much in focus and distracts from the subject of the photo.

Well, it kept me quiet for an afternoon anyway!

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

A shining and affirmative thing

The blue Meconopsis grips my heart with its colour; but the white one has just come into flower. It lights the shady border – a shining and affirmative thing.


Friday, May 06, 2011

It's good...

... to have a thrush in the garden. There are broken snail shells all over the patio. We get more damage from snails than slugs most of the time (they collect in the tight Kniphofia leaves to aestivate). Nematodes don't target the snails, so a friendly spotty helping beak is a relief.
Incidentally, I do like the word 'operculum' - the name for the the door to the snail's shell.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Monday, May 02, 2011

Health & Safety

A tale of ‘Elf ‘n Safety, not ‘gone mad’ – just gone.

So there I was, edging the lawn, with the nice sharp lawn edgers. In my slippers. Mules, to be precise. Although at least not these sort of mules. Or indeed these – for the health and safety of both myself and mule.

Not exactly RHS recommended PPE. Still, at least I wasn’t bare-footed – I’ve done that before. I do still have all my own toes, but they are rather short – though not due to any lawn-edging related accidents, I promise. Yet.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

A study in light

It has been blowing a gale, but I set myself the challenge today of looking at the effects of light. Stupidly, I did this with flowers on long wavy stems with big heads that easily catch the slightest breeze, at the end of a wind tunnel of a passageway between the front and back garden. I have deleted loads of photos where the frame is almost empty apart from a smear of purple in one corner, where the allium head has blown out of shot. Lessons learnt? That photos with the sun behind you are flat, that interesting effects can be made by shooting into the light (but the white balance or something isn’t right – I’ll have to experiment with that) and that flower photography would be much easier if I did it when wasn’t blowing a hoolie.

IMG_8476  Front lit

IMG_8477Side lit

IMG_8485Back lit