Sunday, June 21, 2015

Midsummer Madness

June 21st.

Prince William's birthday, International Yoga Day, Go Skateboarding Day (why not combine yoga and skateboarding and celebrate two days for the price of one?), the day before National Onion ring Day. Oh, and my birthday. And what better way to celebrate all of these than at the Chester Midsummer Watch Parade?

The parade started in 1498, but stopped in the 1670s. It was banned in 1599 by Henry Hardware, a Mayor of Chester who had all of the props broken up because the Midsummer Watch was an ungodly gathering that encouraged people to have a good time and behave badly. It returned the following year, due to popular demand and a new mayor. There's lots more history in the link above, including about the revival, which was started in 1989 by Dave Roberts.

To be honest, I think that Henry Hardware's views were pretty spot on, if the characters in the revived parade are anything to go by - it's a full on extravaganza for the senses, with angels, green men, drummers, pirates, crows, dragons, pike, devils, and the traditional giants, as well as a few of the city's great and good.

So, here are a few photos. If it reminds you a little of Summerisle, then that's no bad thing. Though we don't burn a virgin here.


The photos don't do the spectacle justice. Look through the photos whilst you listen to the drums on the video below.

The longest day is a signal of the move towards winter to many, myself included. So it's good to take some time to celebrate this day. If this whets your pagan appetite, welcome the changing of winter towards spring with the Winterwatch Parade in early December.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

BBC Gardeners' World Live - Beautiful Borders

One of the innovations at BBC Gardeners' World Live is the small border competition. It has been running for a number of years. Anyone can submit an entry, and the size of the borders means that it is a relatively cheap way of exhibiting at a national show. Also, the borders seem very popular with the visitors - their size means that the average gardener can envisage something similar in their own garden.

This year's theme was the 'Industrial Heritage of the West Midlands'.

Steel - Gold and best Beautiful Border (Kareena Gardiner)

The rusted steel and relatively muted colours of the cornflower and the bronze fennel looked sophisticated. The designer managed to fit in a small rill to denote the Birmingham to Wolverhampton canal. One side of the rill was planted with brighter foliage - I was surprised that I loved the small violas on this cooler side of the planting. They sat well with the silvery foliage.

A Glass Act - Luke and Cheryl Sibley (silver)

This seemed a vibrant take on a formal garden, with the glass mulch suggesting the water that would form the centrepiece of a formal water garden. Interesting use of glass, but I wasn't so keen on the colour mix - either between the glass and the plants or amongst the flowers themselves.

Back to Nature - Birmingham Metropolitan College (Silver)

A very strong link to the industrial background of the brief. Compared to the initial drawing, however, the planting was much sparser than I expected. A good example of how nature starts to reclaim even the bleakest industrial landscape.

The Teacup Garden - Georgina Chahed, Touch Landscapes (silver)

Lush planting in this garden, but it didn't grasp me as some other did. A mix of temperate and more tropical planting to link Wedgewood's Midlands potteries to tea-growing regions.

The Cut - Priory Park Level 2 Royal Horticultural Students (bronze)

Ah yes, Birmingham is oft described as the Venice of the North. Presumably by those who have never been to Venice, or possibly to Birmingham. Nevertheless, the team here endeavoured to show how the canal system is gradually being reclaimed by nature. The bees certainly seemed to be enjoying the Welsh poppies. Nice enough, but certainly been done many times before.

Foundry Garden - Amy Harper (silver gilt)

I took against this garden slightly, and I've been trying to think why. The design, planting and thought behind the border were all very good (as evidenced by the silver gilt). However, I didn't like the actual plants used. Plant snobbery, maybe? Perhaps, but whilst I loved some of the combinations, I was less keen on the yellowy Heuchera and marigold combination above. Luckily the judges work rather more objectively than me, and so it did well.

The Potteries - Nicola Oakey Garden Designs (gold)

 This was one border which wasn't afraid of getting some real height to it. The woven willows were beautiful and, listening to the designer, a real labour of love to complete. The planting was of delicate blues and whites, clearly reflecting the link to Wedgewood's china.
Forge Ahead - Lisa Niemy (gold)


Another beautifully planted border. Some great planting combinations, and the planting clearly linked to the narrative. The orange glass with black Ophiopogon grass was visually arresting, although not something most people would want in their own gardens. The Kniphofia/Euphorbia combination was one example of beautiful harmony within the planting scheme

The Black and the Green - Berkshire College of Agriculture (Silver)

The planting looked lovely against the rusted metal work in this garden. However,  my aversion to marigolds struck again, in the area where plants were supposed to be colonising an area of coal. This section looked a bit of a mish-mash of planting. The magenta Osteospermum against the darks straps of the Phormium and the rusted rails made up for this, though.

I must admit to a reason behind my great interest in this competition.I had every intention of submitting a design. I envisaged a border based on the heritage of Ditherington Flax Mill in Shrewsbury. It would have had rope features, and flax flowing through the garden. One side would have been planted to hint at the dereliction of the site, and the opposite side was to have been more structured, to hint at the redevelopment currently being undertaken there. BUT..... I didn't finish it. I got hung up on trying to draw a perfect perspective drawing, and ran out of time to submit. Having looked at the perspective drawings submitted, I could kick myself. A lesson learnt. To be honest, I couldn't have matched the work of the designers who did submit and got to make their designs come to life.

Maybe next year...

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The cavern - BBC Gardeners' World Live floral marquee

It has been four years since I last went to BBCGWLive. If my memory serves me right, the floral 'marquee' (soulless big shed) was full of exhibits. The number of people inside meant you had to adopt a shuffle/side-step gait to get anywhere, and inevitably tripped up/got mown down by the pink crates on wheels.

Not so this year. I don't know if it was cost, cancellations, lack of interest, lack of demand, or what, but the cavern was resoundingly cavernous and pretty empty. I hope that those nurseries who did attend found it worth their while, as the displays were very good.

Pretty vacant

What did I like? Lots. Did I buy anything? Sadly no - I had a train trip home, and a stuffed Friday afternoon Arriva Wales train would not have been kind to any vegetation. Anyway, I'm trying to avoid impulse buys nowadays, in a vain attempt to make the garden slightly more harmonious. There were lots of ideas, and I took photos of plants and the nurseries supplying them, so I can follow up any plant-based longings that stand the test of time. It's too easy to fall in love with something at a show and come home to a lack of space in the sort of conditions where it would thrive. Perhaps I'm gradually learning as I get older.

As always, an amazing display of veg on the W. Robinson and Sons stand
I was sorely tempted by this Peony 'Flame' but was saved from trying to find somewhere in the garden where it wouldn't clash with everything, by the fact that you had to order it.

A beautiful display by Pennard Plants. Something a little different, and it made me wish I was in the
Something I wasn't so keen on. It's a variegated beech - Fagus sylvatica 'Franken'. It looks diseased, or at least heavily pooed upon by a poorly pigeon.
The box full of mini 'mouse' hostas was rather cute - an amuse gueule for a hungry slug.

I just loved the colours on this Iris hollandica 'Silvery Beauty'. I can't figure out why, but it reminds me of the long summers of my childhood.


Despite the 'banging music' as I believe it's called, I rather liked Primrose Hall Plants rave/chill out zone. It  looked as though some visitors were rather nervous of entering the rooms, but I thought it was great to see something a little different from the usual planting displays. The moss 'picture' was beautiful.

But it's always impossible to forget where you are. I've not been to Chelsea, but I would imagine that the Great Pavilion has rather more atmosphere than a shed at the NEC. I hope that business in the 'marquee' picks up for next year's show, because much as I complain when a plant marquee is heaving with people, it's far preferable to empty space.