Sunday, 24 August 2014

Lilac Squirrels

Or a visit to Avondale Nursery.
The a week or so ago I went to visit Avondale Nursery, which I had heard of yet never visited despite it not being that far from where I live.  They were opening their garden for NGS and this seemed the perfect excuse (like I need an excuse!) to go.
There are a limited number of gardens that I walk into and say wow.  Currently this number can be counted on the fingers of one hand.  This is still the case but with the addition now of the Library Garden at Avondale.
It is not huge, but it is packed full of the most wonderful plants.
The colours and shapes are skillfully put together and the garden acts as a living catalogue for the nursery (there is also a paper catalogue but when you see the plant growing in context that has more power than paper can ever give you).

The garden had to be studied systematically, going around the outer paths, then the inner ones, then the diagonals.  I did not want to accidentally miss a path.
Notes were made of 'must buy' plants and then into the nursery I went.  I bought plants, not many really and not as many as I wanted but I could not leave without some crocosmia, agapanthus and sanguisorbas and a rather fine bronze coloured echeveria that leaped into the cart before I could stop it.  Best of all, before buying the agapanthus I was able to ask Brian the owner for advice on why my previous ones had died.  He explained they like to be front of border and do not like to be crowded but were otherwise generally easy to please.  Whilst obviously I enjoy buying plants from nurseries, but is invaluable from these visits is the ability to ask an expert for their advice.

I had not been having a great week just before the visit (just general meh sort of week) but I realised as I wandered around the garden that when life gives you lemons.......trade them for lilac squirrels.
How can you not love a plant called Lilac Squirrel? Which is as bonkers looking as it sounds and utterly adorable.
Forget your grey or red squirrels, go for lilac.  

I predict another trip to the nursery soon, they had many asters......

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Old Horts do Euridge

Little did  I know when I joined the Old Horts network a couple of months ago that it would lead me to meet such great people and go to such interesting places.  A recent event was held at Euridge Manor, where one of our members is the head gardener.  We were going to have barbeque, there was talk of croquet and boules and a lairy shirt competition but to be honest the pulling power for me was the opportunity to wander around a garden not usually open to the public.
From the moment I arrived and saw the amazing earthwork, I realised this was a special place.
The front gate is a grand ruined affair and leads into a formal lawn with box edging and topiarised trees.
It was all beautifully maintained.
Box edging was very much a theme of the gardens, as were brightly dressed people.  
It is all rather spectacular.
Did I mention brightly dressed people and fantastic architecture?
Even the ducks had a grand apartment (there were two of these, one each side).
Everything was on a grand scale.
The walled vegetable garden was more than impressive,
just look at these perfectly espaliered trees.  
Beyond the formal gardens there were the working gardens, these were equally beautiful.  The cutting gardens were so well done.
and this eruption of pumpkins on the compost heap was just a masterclass in how to grow pumpkins.
The tump had to be climbed up.
and it was worth the walk.
did I mention brightly dressed people?  Its not often you see a peacock looking dowdy in comparison.
however the lairy shirt cup came home with me. 

It was a fantastic day, the food, the surroundings and the company was wonderful and a great time was (hopefully) had by all.  A huge thanks to the organisers, it was a triumph. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Pumpkins and pom-poms

I recently went on a visit to Calke Abbey, I have visited many many times and yet I never seem to get tired of it.  There is always something that catches my eye.

This visit I spent a lot of time looking at the outbreak of knitting that was all around the gardens.
Some these cheeky little characters were dotted around in trees,
in the Orangery,
in plant pots
the sun dial was adorned,
and this was the best way of dealing with an unsightly crack in a wall I have ever seen.  I do like a bit of yarn-bombing.
Moving further on into the walled garden then it was the pumpkins and squashes that caught my eye.  Ok, not pumpkins really, but squashes and pom poms just did not sound as good!
I found the Christmas pudding plant.
I found this oddly shaped one (I refrain from any descriptive comment).
These looks like sea urchins to me.
and this one looks like painted porcelain
The leaves are just so big and lush
and the flowers so bright
Why am I not growing an archway like this?

Well I will tell you why, I have grown squashes over the pergola one year.  It looked wondered, I duly collected up all the squashes at the end of the season.  They were solid as rock and tasted of very little, I decided no matter how good they were looked they were not worth the effort.

Now I am reassessing and thinking if I accept it as an ornamental feature I will be much happier, except I would worry about growing food for ornament which is basically a wasteful thing to do when not everyone has enough to eat.  I think it unlikely to happen after all.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A visit to the Thompson and Morgan trial grounds

The other day I received an email that I can only equate to being like finding one of Wonka's golden tickets, it was an invitation to visit the Thompson and Morgan trial grounds which are at a secret location (no, really) to the east of where I live, actually to the east of where many people live.  It was an opportunity I just could not refuse so on the appointed day I set off, sat nav and instructions duly to hand.
On arrival we were warmly welcomed by Michal Perry and Kris Collins; Michael is to many is the public face of Thompson and Morgan on Twitter and on home shopping channels and I suppose for the purposes of this day he was our Willy Wonka.  He showed us around, talking us through the plants: old favourites, new plants and secret developments for future seasons.  He talked about the history of Thompson and Morgan and the various different branches of the company which in itself was interesting as it was founded in 1855 which is a lot older than I thought (though admittedly I had not really thought about it much).  
The trial grounds were fascinating, probably not as large as you would expect, though, again, I didn't really know what to expect.  The mass of colour from the planting was almost overwhelming and there were bees and butterflies everywhere.  Michael talked us through some of the thinking behind some of the developments they make in plant breeding of look for in other plant breeders.  They have buddlijas that do not seed around as prolifically as other types and scented begonias and petunias.  They sell plants that have good colour and performance and can sell plants that garden centres would struggle to market as they might not display as easily as other plants on the shelves but perform brilliantly in our gardens.  This shows I was clearly listening to the sales pitch.
There were also products to see that show off the plants to their best advantage such as wall pouches, planting bags that can be moved around easily and hanging baskets.  They also develop planting mixes for hanging baskets that all flower at the right time yet do not overwhelm each other. 
Now I am not a huge hanging basket fan, but I could see that these were pretty and the hanging basket system they sell certainly seems a good way of doing it.
Beyond the display area were the trial fields.  Michael explained that in the display area plants were cosseted and fed and watered carefully.  In the field they were planted and had to fend for themselves. The field was full of flowers and vegetables.  Some were looking perfect, some were looking manky as some were clearly failing the trial.
Row upon row, some being trialled for colour and form and disease resistance.
and the colour was just wonderful.  As was the view across the fields.  The view across the fields is important as you can see how flat it is and how unprotected the trial field is from the elements.  If plants survive the field test they are going to be tough.
These rows of sunflowers just looked amazing.  It was a very blustery day and even though they were getting quite battered, most were standing up to it ok.  I love growing sunflowers and seeing the range of colour and size was fascinating.  2015 is apparently going to be the year of the sunflower, so expect to see lots of sunflower seeds to tempt you.
There were also some planted up borders and these were very well planted.  They have quite a team of gardeners and you can see the care and pride they take with these borders.  Obviously they are there to show off the plants to look their very best, and they do succeed in this.  This led to various oohs and ahs as we inspected the planting.
I love growing zinnias so these caught my eye,
as did these very jazzy dahlias.
These begonias looked good in the border too, they set off the dahlias and tagetes either side of them very well.  Again I have to admit I am not really a bedding plant sort of gardener, but I looked at them and thought they would also look good in a pot.  I've been trialing Thompson and Morgan plants for a couple of years now and that has challenged me at times at how I would grow plants I would not usually consider, and this has led to some very interesting pots of plants.

We were plied with tea and cake and sent on our way with goody bags.  So you can expect further updates on how these seeds and plants perform.  But I will give you my top tip for the must grow plant from all that I saw .........
...... Daucus Dara, the cut flower carrot, seriously find this and buy it, it will make you glad you did.  Of course I now have a packet of seeds to try so I will let you know how they do next year.

I have to finish with a big thank you to Thompson and Morgan, Michael and Kris for the invitation and for such a great opportunity, it was a privilege to be able to attend.