Sunday, 27 July 2014

A trio of tools - product review

I was contacted the other day to see if I would like to review some tools by  I thought about this for a millisecond and said yes.  I was offered a choice what I might like to try and as ever when I am asked to review things I thought about what I use, what I might need and also what I might have never used but would be interested in seeing what they were like.
 The first item I chose where the ‘Wilco Get Gardening Anvil Pruner’ that retail at £5*.  I already had a pair of secateurs that I will admit cost considerably more than that.  I have had them for many years, I think about fifteen and they are my constant companion.  They are also in need of a service as some idiot (me) used them as wire cutters and quite frankly they were not happy about this.  I had been thinking about getting another pair and so this seemed an ideal opportunity.  I will also tell you that for £5 I did not have high expectations of what I would receive.  These anvil pruners are however rather fab.  They are lightweight but I would not describe them as flimsy.  I think if you have poor mobility in your hands they could be very easy to use and they were certainly comfortable to hold and use.  The blades are Teflon coated to make them non-stick.  This works a treat, they cut very easily and I was not pulling bits of dead rose out of them, the rose heads just fell away.  I do like to test things properly so I have been using them every day this week.  It is my daily routine to get home and wander around the garden dead-heading this and that so I have got used to this secateurs very quickly.  I have even started to use the blade lock automatically now with one hand, which at first I struggled with as my hands automatically were trying to work as if with my usual secateurs.  So the verdict, well I like these secateurs a lot.  They are easy to use and do what they say they will do, for £5 they are an absolute bargain.  I cannot say they will last me fifteen years, but who knows?  If I avoid cutting wire with them they might keep me going quite a while.
Next I chose the Wilko Folding Pruning Saw.  Friends who follow me on Twitter may remember some weeks back I lost a pruning saw.  Mid-prune I put it down somewhere and to this day it has not turned up.  I think it might have been composted though I have hunted through the prunings of that day more than once.  So a saw with less green handles seems a good thing to me and this one is grey and red.  It retails at £4*, again not the most costly you will buy but also again certainly not flimsy.  Now it is not really pruning time so that almost presented a bit of a challenge in terms of testing this saw, but some of you may also remember that I have recently started work on clearing my driveway.  The driveway is lined with totally neglected trees, several of which are self-sown.  I have already removed some tree-lets that were just too many and some lower branches, but the trees still need further tidying.  So I went out yesterday and had a good (hot though) session at removing more unwanted tree-lets.  Some of the stems were a good couple of inches in diameter so not an easy test for this little saw but it coped beautifully.  Best of all I did not lose it, a definite result.  Would I recommend this saw – oh yes, it is extremely good value for money.

Finally I chose the Wilko Swivel Grass Shears, also retailing at £4*.  I have not tried this type of shears before and I was interested in seeing how they would fare.  I have some ‘proper’ topiary shears for the Knot Garden, but to be frank they are a bit of a pain.  The blades spring open too often and I find them hard to control.  Last time I pruned the Knot Garden I gave up with them and used ordinary hedge shears, they did the job well but were a bit large and unwieldy really.  The first test for these Grass shears was to trim the lavender edging to the front path.  It had got a bit out of hand and the first flush of lavender flower is done now.  I find that a prune now makes them re-flower and also keeps them in good shape.  These little shears worked beautifully.  They are light and fit my hands well, I had soon made a good impression on the lavender.

Next I tried them on the box hedging in the Knot Garden, again, they worked well.  They were easy to control and cut through the box with ease.  I really really like them to prune box with, they did the job incredibly well.  I started to get that ‘Edward Scissorhands’ moment, you know the one, where you wander around snipping at the air thinking what can I prune next?

What’s that you say?  They are grass shears – there is a clue in the name what they are meant to be for?  Heavens-to-Betsy!  tools often have to multi-task in my world and a grass shear here is a box shear there (however a pair of secateurs are not a wire cutter!).  Anyhoo, I wandered into the back garden to where the Four Sisters are growing and tried the shears out on some grass.  They cut the grass around the base of the shrubs really well, it was so much quicker than faffing around getting the strimmer out.  For small quick tidy-up jobs these are ideal.  I also used them at different angles, making the most of the swivel feature.  They swivelled, I tell you they swivelled fantastically.  They swivelled so well I went back into the front garden and trimmed the box hedging a little well, swivelling to and fro. These are a great tool and I now wonder how I managed without them.  

The final verdict:  If you want some inexpensive but good tools these are worth a try.  They will not break the bank but will do what they say they do. 

*prices taken from the Wilko website, correct at the time of viewing, no promises as to what they will remain at

Thursday, 24 July 2014

A sweet pea moment

A moment with sweet peas is rarely wasted and they are at their peak this time of year.  I grow sweet peas, not a lot of varieties, but enough to make me happy.  Some types I grow every year (Matucana, King Edward VII) and others come and go from the list depending on mood, last year's performance, availability and just what takes my fancy.  For the past couple of years I have been to visit Easton Walled Gardens in their sweet pea week.  It is worth a visit for the sheer sweet-peaness of it all and the flowers are there to see for much longer than a week.
The majority of sweet peas are to be found in the Pickery, the serried rows of blooms invite you to bend in closer and inhale.  It is against the law to not do this in this garden (unless you have a doctor's note or a note from your mum/close friend/pet cat).
It can take a long time to walk slowly up and down each row, stopping, inhaling, thinking, considering, comparing, approving or sometimes dismissing.  Yes some sweet peas are walked on from swiftly as they are too this, or not enough that.  There was much discussion.
The comparisons and discussions continued as we wandered into the display room close by the Pickery.  I thought that visually it was very pleasing.
The blooms were set off well by the white-washed walls.
The blooms could be really appreciated close up.
Back out into the gardens there were more sweet peas to find, these are in the vegetable garden, the immaculate rows of lettuces are a clue to this.
Yet more could be found in the Walled Garden itself.

and just in case you were wondering, there is far more to the garden than sweet peas,
far more,
there is even the odd poppy to admire.
Notes were taken, photos stored alongside names collected and I can confidently predict that there will be sweet pea buying later on in the year.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Hampton Court Flower Show - for a few gardens more

Three posts is probably enough from a Flower Show in my view, so this is the final post relating to Hampton Court Flower Show and I should warn you, it does involve a bit of an epiphany.

It strikes me that when designing a show garden, something I know absolutely nothing about and I may just be proving by what I am saying, that you need to grab people's attention really quickly.  Most visitors are wandering around and talking with their companions and you need something that will make them stop and pause and look at what you have done.  Something has to catch their eye or they will just keep going maybe with a passing 'that's nice' as they go.  Building something huge in your garden will generally have some impact.  The Quiet Mark Treehouse with landscaping designed by David Domoney could hardly be missed.  I believe this garden is a 'feature' and not a show garden as such.  I was not at all confused by this.  It was an amazing structure and may I say some rather nice planting too.  Sadly I was not that keen on the car element, which is not because |I do not like cars but for some reason I rarely like to see them in the garden show context, it always jars.
The Essence of Australia was the Best in Show, this is probably because it was clearly the best in my uneducated opinion.  It did it no harm at all that it was a very hot day when I was viewing this, so the hot colours and native planting gave it a real atmosphere.  I really liked the dark orange of the paint, it picked up the colours of the soil and planting well.

The Flintknappers Garden was also worthy of note, it also provided a fine demonstration that where-ever you stood to take a photo, there was someone doing exactly the same thing on the other side.  It was a great garden, beautifully put together with fine planting.
The NSPCC Legacy Garden by Adam Woolacott and Jonathan Smith demonstrated well the decades of the history of charity.  It also managed to draw attention to itself in simple and fairly understated ways, the addition of a pull-along duck was enough to make me stop and concentrate on it (simple things.....)
The One Show Garden also made me pause, I had mixed feeling about it to be frank.  Its probably best described as I sort of liked it.  It had nice planting but there was nothing that made me enthuse.  This was also not a show garden apparently but I thought it would have got a medal of some sort if it had have been.
I rather liked the Vestra Wealth's Vista.  It just sort of worked.  Can't think of much more to say than that, it was a cracking bit of good design by Paul Martin.
As well as these show gardens there were other displays such as this giraffe-theme bedding plant display, which whilst I know we should all look down on bedding plants and probably have a little sneer, for the sheer love of colour and fun I thought this area was brilliant.
and this bright patch was just covered in bees.
There were some odd looking by-standers at the show
and this bint had had a serious wardrobe malfunction yet seemed quite pleased about it
All in all Hampton Court was great fun and a hugely enjoyable show.

So, to my epiphany, I realised this as I was walking past the show gardens on one side of a walkway with selling stalls on the other.  I realised that my attention had not been on buying and not really as much on show gardens either as I would have liked.  I am clearly a simple soul, I either want to go to buy or to look, I am not good at both.  So Chelsea will remain the one I want to see most show gardens at and if I go again to Hampton (which I probably will) I shall maybe focus more on buying - or not, who can say.

Other Hampton Posts:

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Big Butterfly Count - 19th July - 10th August

The nice lady from Butterfly Conservation got in touch with me again and asked if I would help promote the Big Butterfly Count that starts on July 19th.  It seemed churlish to refuse especially as I do love watching butterflies and moths flit about in the garden.  I am also remarkably ignorant about the names of butterflies and moths though thankfully after tweeting photos of the ones in my garden I now know the names of the ones I see most frequently.

The Big Butterfly Count is a survey to help Butterfly Conservation use the numbers of butterflies and moths as an indicator of how healthy the environment is.  Their website explains that butterflies and moths are good indicators of change in the environment as they react faster than other species.  They go on to say that they make a good 'early warning' indicator that something is amiss.  The survey itself was first carried out in 2010 so it is now building up a body of data that will prove invaluable as it is carried out year on year. 

To take part in the survey you just have to count butterflies for fifteen minutes on a bright sunny day.  The website gives full instructions and there are various goodies to download including ID posters. There is also an app for IOS and Android, now I do love a good app.

So I commend this survey to you and hope you if you do take part that you have fun doing so.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Hampton Court Flower Show - some gardens

The thing about Hampton Court Flower Show is that it is big.  No I mean really big, you have to buy a catalogue with a map in it otherwise you could wander around for hours and still not find what you actually wanted to see.  I think you could easily miss huge chunks of the show if you were not careful.

I had not watched a lot of the tv coverage before going, by not much I mean I watched one programme that I recorded and I FFd through some of that.  So to a large extent I had no idea what the gardens were going to be like and I think this was not as bad a thing as I had feared as it meant I looked at them all as if for the first time.  What I knew I did want to see where the conceptual gardens.  I like the principle of these gardens because they are not necessarily replicating what I might see in other gardens, but they are trying to make me think.  Some do this more effectively than others.
This year there were the gardens based on the Seven Deadly Sins.  Some worked better than others, some were more crowd-pleasing/easy on the eye than others.  I rather liked the Dichotomy Garden (Greed) designed by Sarah Jane Rothwell.  I thought it made its message well.
Lust, by Rachel Parker-Soden was also worthy of note, I think I liked the orchids springing out of the couch best of all.
Though the reflecting pools could have been easily missed as people looked ahead to the 'Peep Show' greenhouse in the queue I was in to see it, which is a shame.
It has to be said though for sheer impact, Sloth, Quarry of Silences, probably took the biscuit, well the gold medal anyway.  It was designed by Sheena Seeks and whilst I cannot say I thought it worked from every angle (sorry), the element of the spades going up the incline was just a superb visual effect, helped hugely by the shadows cast by the sun.
Moving on, there were also gardens such as Connecting the Real Sound of Nature by Stefano Passerotti.
This was a real dramatic statement piece and whilst your eyes tended to go up to the structure, the planting around the base deserved a second look.
I have to say the structure made me think of the dufflepuds from The Voyage of the Dawntreader (C.S.Lewis), it reminded me of the bit where they are sleeping on their backs with their huge foot in the air shading them from the sun.

This is rather a brief glance really at some of the gardens and I will write a further post on the other show gardens that I particularly noted.  It is worth noting that whilst I have particularly noted some, this does not mean that I have not mentioned others that they are not also worthy of note, it might mean I just might have missed seeing them.  I know for certain at least one garden I intended to see I never found.  Did I mention the show is big?

Other Hampton posts: