Sunday, 31 July 2016

End of Month Review - July 2016

As July ends the year still feels slightly behind, summer has finally arrived and the weather has definitely warmed up.
This Knapweed is the legacy from a packet of seeds I bought on the Isle of Man getting on for eight years ago.  I sowed them and was really happy when they germinated.  Then it became a bit invasive, (is it possible to only be a bit invasive?).  I spent quite a bit of time controlling it in the front garden and still have to remove it from where I think it should not be. I planted some of the seedlings into the driveway as I am happy for it to dot about there.  I'm relieved it has decided to comply with this request, well mainly anyway, and I can now happily continue to remove it from the front garden.
The lavender that lines the front path is flowering well and Esme approves of it.
This pretty little geranium is under the magnolia tree in the front garden.  I relocated some divisions to under the tree some years ago to see if it would thrive and light up this dark corner, I think it has done this well.
On the front step this bowl of Verbena 'Purple sparkles' and Bacopa 'Blue Hollyhock' has been flowering for weeks.  It is a bowlful of cheer.
The white Japanese anemone in the front border is starting to flower and I always like how it looks with this red rose (name unknown).
Around to the back of the house and the Rosa Maidens blush has developed into a small mountain of a rose.  It must be over six feet tall.  It still has a tendency to mankiness but I feed it regularly and it rewards me by wafting its scent around on these warm summer evenings.
This row of zonal pelagoniums is doing very well.  These planters are incredibly heavy but I like how they look.
In the Courtyard the pelagonium stand is looking good as well.  They are all growing well.
This species fuchsia and Hydrangea macrophylla 'Miss Saori' look good together.  The hydrangea was sulking a bit so I moved it forward to get a bit more light.  It has rewarded me by flowering.
Just by the edge of the Courtyard are two of my very favourite plants.  The Brugmansia is flowering like a flowery thing. It has the most intoxicating vanilla scent.  Just by the side and slightly overwhelmed by it is my dombeya. Well, in truth it's 'son of dombeya' as the original plant died over the winter, but the contingency cutting I thankfully took has grown really well.
The view across the Conservatory Border is pleasing this time of year.  The Leucanthemum superbum 'Phyllis Smith' are dotted through the border and the white gives the borders a lift.
They mingle well with other border stalwarts such as the Geranium 'Patricia'.  I divide these plants every now and again and so they repeat merrily throughout the garden.
This is the view from the formal lawn down the Long Shoot.  The Crocosmia 'Lucifer' adds darts of red on both sides.  This is what I wanted to achieve as I like the idea of a repetitive rhythm of planting.
This is the view going back the other way.  You can see the Evening Primrose that has turned up this year. I shall have to keep an eye on it as I know it seeds well, but I don't mind it seeding around a bit willy-nilly.  (Willy-nilly is a technical term that all the top garden designers understand.......)
It is bee time in the garden, plants such as this allium attract them well.
The Four Sisters are growing well and if you peer into the background you can see the fernery is coming on as well.
The Exotic Border is getting ready for the dahlias to start to flower.  The lupins and the gladioli are doing well.
I like this banana/tithonia/zinna corner of the border.
The Prairie Borders have some white cosmos flowering in them.  There are not as many has I had hoped flowering yet, the slugs have eaten many but I am hoping that they will start flowering soon.
This purple beech pillar is almost looking like a pillar now.  I have three and they have been twigs for most of the time.  They have finally reached the stage where I am shaping them and I am hopeful that this will mean they will bulk up soon.
The Woodland Border looks good from this angle.  I will therefore only show you this angle.
Oh ok, there is this angle as well, it is also looking quite patchy.  Mainly this is because what was planted here has been eaten by the hoard of slugs that have been marauding around the garden like a plague of....... of........ slugs?
The view from here in the garden is quite pleasing.  The Woodland Border is to the left and the Wild Garden to the right.  The path winds down across the Dancing Lawn towards the Exotic Border.  One's dances should always border on the exotic......
I end as ever with the pond, still a bit sludgy but better than it was.  The waterlilies are flowering well and that is a good thing.

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.

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.

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:

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Hampton Court Flower Show 2 - Show gardens, gardens and stuff

RHS Hampton Court Flower Show is big, I have to say this because be in no doubt, it is big.  It is the largest of the RHS shows and whenever I visit I still get amazed at the bigness of it all.  I am starting to think I need more than one day there as I am fairly sure that I do not get around to see it all.

I shall start with my favourite show garden: the Dogs Trust A Dog's Life garden designed by Paul Hervey-Brookes to celebrate 125 years of the Dogs Trust.
The planting is superb and I loved the yellow origami sculptures set inside the the yellow and blue planting.  Why yellow and blue?  because apparently they are colours that dogs can see.
At one side of the garden is this pool which again some impressive dog sculptures.
Into the garden itself there is a windy path of discovery.
It all works brilliantly from every angle.  I really liked this garden, it set out to do something and I think it did it.  It received a gold medal and rightly so.
I rather liked these two dogs, they are not part of the garden but waiting by the Dogs Trust stall next door.

This is the Zoflora Outstanding Natural Beauty Garden designed by Helen Elks-Smith.

This garden also won a gold medal.
The planting is excellent,
as is the use of materials.  It was colourful and soothing, it worked well.

Just across from this garden was the World Visual Garden designed by John Warland.
I loved how different views of this garden changed it completely.
It was precise, well planted and I thought a superb example of what a show garden should be.  Yes of course it won a gold medal.
I love this view in particular.

This is one of the Water Gardens: the Viking Cruises Scandinavian Garden designed by Stephen Hall.
Superbly put together and a very nice boat.

There are displays all over the show ground.  I loved this cheerful garden in front of one of the nurseries (sorry did not pick up the name).
Here are some of my favourite views from the show:

and I will finish with this bench,
The Sitting Spiritually Simon Thomas Pirie Floating Bench.  It is a thing of beauty.  I love their furniture generally, but this bench specifically.  It is used in the Summer Retreat Garden designed by Amanda Waring and Laura Arison.
They look fantastic and work well with the planting.  This garden won a gold medal.

I think I have finally fallen in love with  Hampton Court Flower Show, I have been a bit undecided in the past, but now I think I get it.  I shall return.

Other RHS Hampton posts:

Part 1 - the Conceptual Gardens