Thursday, 28 July 2016

The 1960s Project

I have been thinking about doing some retro-planting for a year or so now.  It started with some alyssum and quickly developed into a wish to grow some alyssym and blue lobelia alternating in the garden.  This was the type of gardening I grew up with and a nostalgic wish made it seem like a nice thing to try.

I did not appreciate that this would be more challenging than I expected.  Let me start this story with last year....

Last year

Last year I started to grow some alyssum from seed but could not get the blue lobelia to germinate.  This was frustrating but undeterred I thought I would get around this by ordering some lobelia plugs.

Can I give you my top tip when ordering plug plants?  Check when it says they will be despatched.  If you buy late in the season, which I did, it might be the case that they are not delivered until the following Spring.

Yes, that's right, I had to wait for them.

This year

Which neatly brings us on to this year.  This time I lost my alyssum seeds, I should have known then that the fates were out to thwart me.  However some had survived the winter and I thought that I could get away with them for another year.  The blue lobelia plugs duly arrived and I potted them on carefully.  All was well.

Then I planted out the first batch, the slugs swooped in on them and they were reduced to stalks.

Undeterred I planted out a few more.

The slugs swooped again, burped in gratitude and lay in wait for the next batch.  Even I am not foolish enough to just plant out more, so I put out some organic slug pellets and they are sort of limping along.  However the effect is nothing like I intended yet and I wonder if it ever will be.


and then fate stepped in to lend a hand.  Fate decided to wear a hole in my coal scuttle.  I realised this after I kept seeing little coal-dusty spots on the carpet when I had moved the coal scuttle, a quick check and I was wandering around like dear Liza with a hole in my bucket.

I put the scuttle in the utitlity room thinking I would put it out for the rubbish.  Then Serendipity, whom we already know to be muse, gave me a bit of flick around the ear and pointed to the coal scuttle.

I was perplexed, what was I looking at other than a coal scuttle with a hole in the base?

and then it dawned on me.  I have spent years reading those gardening mags where they make amusing planting in recycled containers.  For years I wondered where these people got their unwanted coal scuttles from to plant up.  Now I knew!
A few pelagoniums from later and there it is, my coal scuttle installed on the front door step.  It might not be quite what I intended, but I have got where I needed to be*

*with due reference to Douglas Adams:  

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”  (The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul)

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Thompson and Morgan Jazzy Potato Challenge 3 - too soon?

It was going so well!  I was keeping the potatoes watered, I was looking after them, I was taking part carefully in the challenge.
The foliage had died down, I thought the potatoes should be about ready.  I had a little furtle in one the bags and I pulled out a reasonable sized small potato.  It was time to do the big reveal I thought.

Bag 1 - no incredicrop

So this is the harvest from bag 1 with no incredicrop:
Not very many and quite small.  The bag was not ready.  What should I do?  Stuff them back in?  Give up altogether??  I did what I usually do and carried on regardless.

Bag 2 - incredicrop

This is the harvest from bag 2:
There are more, but some are smaller.  Given a chance they would/could have been bigger.

Because even with new potatoes size does matter, pea-sized spuds are not the aim.  I had prematurely furtled and whilst it can happen to anyone, and whilst it does not matter in the scheme of things and I have successfully grown potatoes in the past; it was still disappointing especially as it was my own fault.

So not a great outcome, it just proves I'm a still learning as a vegetable grower and I need to try harder.  I can say that the boast of incredicrop producing more tubers looks correct, but I cannot say anything more conclusive.  I nearly did not bother to write this final post, I considered letting the challenge be forgotten, but in the spirit of learning from my own mistakes I thought I should carry on regardless.

I am going to try growing potatoes in bags again, next year I will get it right as it should have been a good sized crop and they take up far less space growing them this way.  I am definitely converted to this method of growing.

Part 1  Bagging up

Part 2  Emergence

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.