Saturday, 23 July 2016

Irritating Plant of the Month - July 2016

I took a few turns around the garden to see which plant I would consider most irritating this month.  Then, suddenly, my eyes fell upon my Rosa Gloire de dijon.  I bought this rose back in 2011 and I was very pleased with it.  I bought it because I am very fond of the DH Lawrence poem of the same name.  I even wrote about it I was so pleased to own it.  Oh smugness, what a downfall lays ahead of thee, sadly the rose has not lived up to expectations.
Hang on a minute, I hear you say, that can't be it, you said you bought this rose five years ago!  Exactly, that is my point.  This rose has struggled from day one.  It has produced a couple of flowers but nothing spectacular.  Last year I thought it was dead.  It died down pretty much completely and I gave up on it altogether.  I added it to my list of 'I might buy another next year and find somewhere else to site it'.

Then suddenly I noticed there was new growth.  So I have been feeding it liquid seaweed and talking to it lovingly.  But it is still annoying as there are no buds this year and I have little confidence that it will ever amount to much.

So I may well buy another in the autumn to try in another part of the garden.

Which plant has been irritating you this month?  Use the comments box to let me know so we can share our irritations.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Book Review: Luciano Giubbilei The Art of Making Gardens

I was very pleased to be sent a copy of the new book by Luciano Giubbilei to review.  I first became aware of Luciano's work at the 2011 RHS Chelsea Flower Show and so I was very interested when I heard about this book.
The book opens with two Forewards. One written by Sir Paul Smith and one written by Fergus Garrett.  I think the combination of these two Forewards is important as they set the tone for the book.  Sir Paul writes about fashion, about rules and how understanding the rules of  what you are doing as then you can play with them.  Fergus gives us the background of how Luciano came to spend time at Great Dixter, the main bulk of the book, and about how there was learning and benefit from both sides of this arrangement.  I think quite often people skip the Forewards in a book, for this book I think it vital that you do not.

I have to mention the photography by Andrew Montgomery, it is exceptional.  It gives that sense of place that is vital to Great Dixter and it also is stunningly beautiful.

Luciano begins by telling us that this book is not a 'how to' book, it is a personal account of the background of and his creative process and approach.  Part one of the book is about Luciano's time at Great Dixter and part two is about how Luciano feels it has influenced the 'new aesthetic' he feels is now emerging from his work.  Part three is about form and function, those design details that bring a garden together.  Thinking back to the two Forewards, this explains why the two aspects have to be considered.  Part of the book is about thinking and doing the practical side of horticulture, part of the book is about the rules and aspects of what makes design.

It has taken me a while to work my through this book;  it is not a quick read but also it was a book that I wanted to take my time over and understand.  It is, most importantly, a very good read.  It is written well and the  personal journey that Luciano has embarked upon at Great Dixter is written about with style and genuine affection.  For instance: Luciano talks about the drive from his home to Great Dixter.  He says "Without any doubt, I've had my best ideas in the car on the way home from Great Dixter.  My head buzzes with possibilities; I feel viscerally connected to my profession and alive with a sense of purpose." *  Can there be a better description of someone being inspired and energised?

The relationship between Fergus and Luciano also is clear in the book and also with the gardeners that Luciano worked with.  I love where Luciano relates that Fergus said of his border last year that it had 'good moments'.  That really made me smile, encouraging and yet clearly there was improvement to be had.  The improvements are described and all add to the learning journey that Luciano has embarked upon.  I also really like that there are chapters written by Luciano's colleagues at Great Dixter, there is an inclusive feel to this.

The main part of the book is about Luciano's time at Great Dixter and, as mentioned above, the other parts look at design aesthetics and craft.  At first it took me a whilst to understand how the book flows, it felt at first reading a bit like a book on Great Dixter with other bits added.  This is diminishing what this book is about.  There is a line in the book where someone says to Luciano that after reading this book that people will understand him (or words to that effect) and this is the key to the book.  It is about what matters to Luciano and informs his design, it is 'his' art of making gardens.

This book is rather special, it is unlike most books you might expect as it is mainly about a journey, a very personal journey.  This book is about a garden designer at the top of his game deciding not to go back to basics, as the type of gardening at Great Dixter is not the basics for garden design as such, no, Luciano decided to go and learn the real fundamentals of horticulture/gardening.  From the good sunny days when all is growing well to the rainy soggy slug-filled days when a warm office seems a better place.  The whole 'is a garden designer a gardener' dichotomy is implicit in this book and what Luciano has done has used the knowledge of dirt-filled fingernail gardening to inform his design.  The book is not putting one over the other, it is about understanding each in their place and how they can inform and support each other.  The relationship between design and horticulture in this book is not about dichotomy, it is portrayed as more homologous.

Do I even need to end this by saying I recommend this book? I truly loved this book.

Luciano Guibbilei: The Art of Making Gardens is published by Merrell 

* p.24

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Schrodinger's mermaid

You know those moments when you are wandering around a flower show, let's say for instance RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, and you are chatting with a friend and something catches your eye.  I saw a mermaid.
She is a bit old, a bit showing her age and has a bit of an odd pipe protruding from where a mermaid should not have a pipe, but I liked her.  I looked at her admiringly but walked on by.

Later on we were still wandering and still chatting.  We had eaten pie and so all was well with the world.  When I realised we were approaching mermaid territory I warned that I did really like her and I might just have to buy her.  We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves and as as we mused on the mermaid my friend* called her Schrodinger's mermaid.  I immediately started to consider how many mermaids could dance on the head of a pin (this is not Schrodinger, he had a cat**).  The answer, of course, depends on how big the pin is.  I also started to mentally hum Monty Python's Philosophers Song.  

Sadly a purchase was not made as there was no price on the little lady.  I have a golden rule that if there is no price on something then I cannot afford it, so I walked on by.

I leave you with Schrodinger and the thought of the mermaid being simultaneously alive and dead which is both funny and scarey in equal measure.......

.......(I really just want to say don't blink but that might be too predictable??)

*With grateful thanks to the delightful Tanya Batkin for coming up with the idea and allowing me to use it here.  We shall meet up and share pie again soon I hope.

**You can look up Schrodinger's cat here.

Thursday, 14 July 2016


 There was a recent article in the Guardian by Sarah Amandolare about how people often have to move house frequently, usually for work reasons and that this leads to a feeling of impermanence and transience.  This was bounded around a discussion about how people do not decorate/furnish their homes with a feeling of staying there but that decoration/furniture is more of a temporary fix.  For some people this temporary fix is about moving on again and for some it is about the current state of their budget.  The article says: “the way we decorate is more often an afterthought than a carefully executed statement. For many of us, “home” feels too uncertain a notion to invest in, decoratively, emotionally, or otherwise”[1]  This article resonated strongly with me as it is something I have been thinking about a lot recently in relation to my current and previous gardens.  Next year I will have lived in this house for ten years, looking back I do not think I have ever lived in a house for this long  including when I was growing up.  This means this is the longest I have lived with a garden and really seen it develop.  Plants I bought nearly ten years ago are maturing, they are becoming what they have the potential to be.  Some mistakes I made in planting years ago are now but wisps of memory.  Other mistakes are just becoming apparent as the plants mature and I realise that my planting was ill thought out and did not look far enough ahead.
My mind then leaps to the article about Monty Don and his apparent ‘war on begonias’.  Monty is quoted as saying in a 2006 article that bedding plants are “a desire for instant colour and makeover effects ... one-stop gardening – disposable, dramatic and needing no knowledge beyond which way up to stick the plant in the ground.” [2]  This in my mind links directly to the point being made above, but in an understanding partly as to why this may be way.  If you know you might only be in the house three or four years (if you are even that lucky) and you have to sort the house out first, for many people the garden is low on the list of priorities.  Now I know many of you will say ‘not low on mine’ and it is not low on my priorities either, but we are not all built the same way (probably best). 

Thinking about this further, about this need to buy for impermanence and the need to garden for impermanence, it can be no surprise that people are not learning how to garden.  It can be no surprise that they buy what they can that instantly looks good but then also no surprise when/if that quick purchase dies on them that they are put off gardening because they are not seeing any positive result.  If your time is limited and that rose bush you bought sulks for a year, you might be lucky to ever see it really perform, so why would you waste your money on something that the next person may well just rip out?  It is also no surprise that families living at great distance from each other no longer can learn how to garden from their grandparents/aunts/uncles.  They also might not get the opportunity to learn to garden from their neighbours as I did as a child as depending on where you live: neighbours can be as distant as if they lived on the moon.  This distance might not be geographic, they might physically just be a semi-detached wall away.

I then wonder if there is a solution to this and of course there is not really.  The only solutions are ones that is not realistic and not open to many in our society as it stands today.  We have to face it that if we have a home/place to stay we are already significantly better off than many not only in our own country but also across the world.  When put into this perspective the worrying about begonias suddenly feels very small beer.  I have no issue with Monty disliking begonias, he is of course wrong as some begonias are rather wonderful but we all have our plants that we dislike that other people cannot understand why.  I am not very keen on cactii and have only recently started to like any hostas.  No gardener is an island as they say.
So let us celebrate every hanging basket stuck to a caravan, every window box, every plant on a window sill.  Gardening is impermanent (I am really not sure I like this word), by its very nature it has a life span.  From the annual marigold to the most long lived tree you can think of, gardening is meant to change.  If a bit of begonia bedding brings some instant brightness to someone’s life then let us glory in this; after all, it has to be better than the paved over alternative.

[1] Amandolare S, The Guardian 26 June 2016

Monday, 11 July 2016

Review: rakesprogress - a new kid on the block

There is a new magazine in town, rakesprogress: The progressive guide to gardens, plants, flowers.  I became aware of this through Twitter and asked if I could review a copy and they very kindly obliged.  There are many gardening magazines so it takes a brave soul to move into this arena.  It is also a time when the printed word, particularly in magazine and newspaper circles, is competing against the ever incoming tide of freely available online content.  When I received my copy of rakesprogress it was immediately not what I expected.
I have to begin by saying it is not like the usual magazines you will find in the racks at your local newsagent.  It is constructed more like a book, it has a solidity about it that makes it feel quite different.  It has good quality paper but it is not the glossy magazine type of paper.  It has more of a flat sheen that works particularly well with the images.  The paper is also quite thick, there is nothing flimsy about this publication.  Personally I think it feels more like a journal than a magazine.

rakesprogress is edited by Victoria Gaiger and Tom Loxley.  There are 120 pages of articles that range from interviews with the artist Nigel Cabourn to a profile of Luciano Guibbilei and a very interesting interview with Richard Reynolds on guerilla gardening.  There is practical advice to the rear of the magazine on knowing your soil and making war on weeds.  I am going to say that the practical advice seemed to me a little superfluous.  Had it not have been there I would have enjoyed the magazine just as much.  I enjoyed this magazine as food for thought, I was not expecting practical advice and if I do want practical advice I know lots of places to go and find it.  Possibly contrariwise, I enjoyed very much the Design Envy section as the lure of looking at beautifully designed garden equipment and nice things to buy is never beyond me.

The photography in the magazine is a cut above the usual.  I am very interested in photography and so this really appealed to me.  One of the features is about the collaboration between Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth called 'Eyes as big as plates'.  The resulting photographs of people sitting alone in nature (that is the best way I can think to describe it) are very wonderful.  My personal favourite is Agnes II.

The intention is that this magazine will be published quarterly and it can be found in various stockists (apparently the list grows almost daily) and you can subscribe to it online at the cost of £10 per issue.  Yes that sounds pricey at first glance but it is quarterly so it works out at just over £3 a month.  I know the next question is it worth £10 an issue and to some extent that is in the eye of the beholder.  What I can say is this; I read the articles in this magazine rather than what I do for a lot of other garden magazines where I tend to flip through the articles and look at the pictures.  I have recently cancelled one of my subscriptions as I realised I was doing this and just wasting my money.  I will be buying the second edition of this magazine as I am interested in seeing how it will develop.  It has the potential to be something a bit special and different from the same old same old.

More information on the magazine can be found here: