Monday, 23 May 2016

Product Review - Gardman Nature Trellis

I was contacted by Gardman and asked I would like to review a product for them.  After a bit of thought I chose their Nature Trellis.  It was quite an easy choice for me as I had already been looking at this trellis and thinking it was rather pretty.

It is not as heavy as you might expect even though it is made from iron.  It has good spiked feet that mean it slips into the ground easily and I have to say also quite stabily (I am not sure that is a word).  It is 1.5m tall and 0.4m wide.  This is a good handy size, a few in a row would make a wonderful screen but one on its own is enough to make a feature.
I decided to place mine in my newly being planted up Exotic Border.  I thought that a bit of structure would be good in that border.  I think it looks ok, I will be able to tell better when the border is more at its peak so there will be further updates as the season develops.

I decided to plant the Chilean Glory Vine (Eccremoncarpus scaber) to scramble up it.  I bought this plant a few weeks ago at a plant fair and I knew I wanted something to grow it up in the Exotic Border.
The vine rewarded me by immediately starting to flower.  That has to be a good omen.
I love the birds that form part of the design, it is these little birds that made me want the trellis, they are a very nice detail.

I am very pleased with this trellis.  I think it is the just right mix of being beautiful and practical.  I am happy to recommend it.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Hortus Romam 3 - Villa Lante

Day three and its the big day, the one where we visit three gardens:  Villa Lante, Villa Farnese and Bomarzo.  I shall tell you now I was probably most excited about Bomarzo, but that is not the subject of this post.

Villa Lante is in Bagnaia which is a fairly small town.  We arrived a little early for the garden so we went for a coffee in a local cafe.  This resulted in some excited discussions about Leicester City (who, for those who have been living in a bucket) had just at that point won the Premier League.  Their manager Claudio Ranieri is Italian and from the environs of Rome so it was big news there as well as for our group of Leicester tourists.  Here I must add a caveat: I am not a Leicester City supporter, but most of the people I was with seemed to be and the 'we're from Leicester' resulted in us being serenaded by one of the locals.  It was all a bit magical.

Anyhoo, to the garden, which was a pleasant wander up from the town square.
This is the view back towards the square.  The clock tower was rather fine.

The gardens are dominated by topiary and water.
Fountains are a key feature.  If you want a proper description then Wikipedia has a good one here.  I am not going to take you on a factual tour, but one more of what I liked and how I felt about it.
The water features all work from natural water pressure, sadly it was explained to us that the pressure system no longer worked as it had due to age deterioration.  As the gardens were mainly built in the late 1500s I think we can forgive age catching up with them.
People often talk to this type of garden being mainly green, and indeed it is very green, but there was also some colour.  This is apparently a fairly late addition but it was welcome and I think it works well.
The garden is a series of terraces, it is perfect for strolling around.  This is  a lucky photo as 'dodge the crowds' was the name of the game.  There were several large groups 'doing the tour' the same as we were.  As I stood here I thought about how this garden was developed for one man to wander around and show off.  This garden is the equivalent of manspreading, it shouts 'this is what I can do, this is how powerful I am'.  As I looked down on the town below all I could think is that the garden is designed to look down.
There are big stamps of wealth and power in the shape of huge features.
The statues were impressive,
I rather liked their mossy feet.
The top terrace sees pillars and matching twin summer houses,
that just exude cool and calm and have the most beautiful wall paintings.

I think this was my favourite wall painting which is in one of the lower buildings closer to the topiary garden.
She looks slightly surprised at seeing a lion so close, well you would be wouldn't you?
I have to include a picture of the famous water-rill that cascades down the garden.
It is topped with a shrimp, the symbol of Cardinal Gambara as the Italian for shrimp is gamberi (apparently).
The shrimp motif was repeated throughout the garden.
I got distracted by detail, I loved this mossy wall with its tiny wild flowers upon it.  The gardens have been through a period of restoration following damage from Allied bombing during the Second World War.

This is a 'great' garden, built on great scale with great wealth.  You look at it and cannot help but be in awe.  It did not, for me, feel like a garden to particularly enjoy though.  I almost cannot explain this but it felt so formal, so staged that I could not really imagine where I would sit for a cup of tea when the day is over and I want to ponder things.  Maybe we just did not see it as it was a tour, but I did not get a feeling of a private space where the owner would sit in their gardening trousers and just unwind.  It felt like life is always on show, always on duty.  Maybe it was and therein lies probably my feelings for this garden, it did not feel happy.
The views across the town and beyond left me breathless.  I think my abiding memory of this holiday will be the views that stretched for miles and miles.
As we walked through the  town I had a 'Clough' moment.  Any visitor to Portmeirion would recognise this detail I am sure.

We then returned to the cafe for one of the best meals I think I had whilst in Italy, very simple pasta and porcini mushrooms and a jug of fizzy white wine followed by tiramisu, I was in heaven.

Part 1 - Rome

Part 2 - Villa Adriana

Part 4 - Villa Farnese

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Product Review - Outdoor Baby Bio: Flowers and Shrubs - Part 1

I have been asked to trial the new Baby Bio made by Bayer that is for outdoor use, which is called Outdoor Baby Bio Shrubs and Flowers.  I have used the Baby Bio indoor plant food for almost as long as I can remember, I have always found it reliable and much appreciated by my pot plants.  I was therefore happy to give the outdoor version a go.  I have to say upfront this is not an organic product, so if you are an organic gardener this product is not going to attract.

The trial asks me to use two identical pots and feed one with the outdoor Baby Bio and the other with ordinary water.  They very kind provided a rather dinky little watering can to use for the plant food.
I then had to think which plants to try it on.  I chose two Pelagonium sidoides:
The one with the lollipop stick is the one that has had the Baby Bio,
This one has had ordinary rain water from the water butt.

I am supposed to get 70% more flowers from the fed plant.  I shall water/feed them weekly and I will report back on progress.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Hortus Romam 2 - Hadrian's Villa

Day two of the Roman adventure took us to Villa Adriana in Tivoli.  I had seen Monty visit this place on his Italian Garden programme and I was looking forward to seeing it in reality.  It was not at all what I expected.  I shall explain...

I knew that it was not a 'garden' as such but more of a landscape/built area.  What I had not appreciated was what a tiny part of a such a massive complex that it is.

Of course I got distracted.
When I should have been looking at beautifully made Roman walls I was admiring this avenue of cypress trees.
Then when I should have been looking at something else, don't ask me what, I was looking at olive trees.
and then at a lizard.  My archaeological prowess is legendary, (well, it doesn't exist and that like a lot of legends isn't it?)
There were these rather nice pillars leading to a large pond (canal?)
I did look at the ruins too and I did admire them.  The mosaic floors were astonishing in their beauty and completeness.
But look, there's a really old olive tree, isn't it an amazing shape.  The orange mesh is actually orange mesh and should not be confused with a drift of poppies.
This olive tree has either split in two with age, or has always been two trees.
At one point when our poor, mainly perplexed, guide was trying to get us to look at another bit of ruin, we could be found taking photographs of these orchids growing as weeds in the grass.
I might have spent a little too long trying to decide if this self-sown weed was some sort of fig.
The views across the ruins were stunning.
Eventually after a good hour we reached the bit that Monty had visited,
There are many statues,
some of which are distinctly cheeky.
I loved the Canopus statues,
and the crocodile was just wonderful.
but then I got distracted by two cypress trees and an iris growing wild.

Hortus Romam 1 - Rome

Hortus Romam 3 - Villa Lante

Hortus Roman 4 - Villa Farnese

Monday, 16 May 2016

Book Review: A History of Kitchen Gardening by Susan Campbell

A History of Kitchen Gardening has been reissued as an update to the 1996 version.  The reason for the reissue is that Susan Campbell is now able to talk about the real garden behind the book, Pyewell Park in Hampshire rather than the fictional garden Charleston Kedding, she used in the first printing.
The book is a thick paperback and made from that rough recycled-type paper, I am sure you know the type I mean.  Whilst it is a heavy large book it is constructed well enough and is good quality.  There are few things as annoying in a book than one that is too big for its mode of construction and that falls apart after one reading.

The illustrations in the book are also by Susan and are completely fitting and very beautiful.  Probably my favourite one is below, who cannot love something called a 'potato dangler'?  They work well with the type of paper used too.  I almost cannot explain that observation, but there is something about the simplicity of the illustrations and their style that would look out of place on bleached white shiny paper.
Every aspect of kitchen gardening is covered: from location and water, to compost, the pinery (for pineapples), the potting shed, the mushroom shed and pests and diseases.  I hope I am not alone in not knowing about mushroom sheds?  I probably read that chapter with the most wonder and interest.  I also read the information on growing fruit trees avidly, it talks of quince and medlar trees, two of my favourite fruit trees.  My regular readers will know of my quest for a quince and I will take any hints I can find on how to encourage my tree to fruit.

The final chapter is on the gardeners themselves.  It looks at the duties of the Head Gardener, the foremen and apprentices and the (limited) role of women in the garden.
It is a truly interesting book, you might think that you have only a passing interest in kitchen gardening, but even if that is so I am pretty confident that if you picked this book up and started flipping through the pages you would find it hard to put down. It has the perfect mix of fascinating insights into the past plus nuggets of information that have informed my gardening going forward.

The History of Kitchen Gardening is published by Unicorn Publishing Group