Scenes from the Chelsea Flower Show

I’ve been pondering my visit to the Chelsea Flower Show on Friday while I’ve been working in my own garden over the weekend. I was going to write something about it not being as good as previous years – there were fewer large, jaw-dropping gardens and less creativity (in my opinion) – but that would be ungracious. It’s all so personal, isn’t it? What delights one person can leave another cold. While it may not have been a stand-out year, visiting the show is always a treat. It’s a fantastic experience for anyone interested in plants and gardening and there was plenty of beauty on display. The weather was fabulous, we had a day out On Our Own in London town, we got to wander around looking at wonderful plants, we people-watched, we had fun. It was a good day.

Rather than witter on about the merits of this and that, I thought I’d show you the scenes that caught my eye, the views that made my heart beat a little faster. There are quite a few photos (and I edited them down heavily), so perhaps make a cup of tea or pour yourself a glass of wine. Here goes:

The M&G Garden designed by James Basson was inspired by an abandoned Maltese quarry. I didn’t ‘love’ it exactly but there were some interesting interplays of light and shadow. It won a gold medal and ‘best in show’. The judging often leaves people slightly mystified.
The Breast Cancer Now Garden designed by Ruth Willmott won a silver-gilt medal. I really liked the plant combinations and the overall layout of the garden.

The Seedlip Garden (one of the Artisan Gardens) designed by Catherine MacDonald won a gold medal. I loved the use of copper pipes and this gorgeous geum below, Geum ‘Mai Tai’.

One of five BBC Radio 2 Feel Good Gardens, the Jeremy Vine Texture Garden was designed by Matt Keightley. I loved the colour palette and the contrasting textures of hard landscaping and the plants. I’m not sure what the lovely flower is below; there was no one around to ask. (Please tell me if you know!)

The Zoe Ball Listening Garden was designed by James Alexander Sinclair. Another garden full of interesting planting but the main attraction was the water. The three steel water troughs vibrated to an underground beat which you could feel through your feet if you stood right next to the garden. The water rippled, bubbled and bounced as it vibrated to the sound. Quite magical.
Here we come to my favourite garden of the whole show, the Anneke Rice Colour Cutting Garden, designed by Sarah Raven (with creative input from Tricia Guild). There was inspiration in spades (ha ha). Colour, generous planting, detail everywhere. I absolutely loved, loved, loved it and so did many other people judging by the crowds. The following seven photos are of this garden (I took loads…).

There were plenty of fabulous stands inside the floral marquee. The Pennard Plants exhibit had a gorgeous, soft wildflower meadow full of Ragged Robin and a lovely wicker pig and her piglets. This radiating climber support (below) attached to their shed also caught my eye. Definitely something you could do at home.

The vibrant dispay of cacti by Southfield Nurseries looked like delicious cakes in a fancy patisserie or sweets in a sweetshop.
Back outside and another Artisan Garden (which are often my favourites). This one was designed by Ishihara Kazayuki. Called ‘Gosho No Niwa’ (No Walls, No War), it exuded a sense of peace and calm.
The tranquil Poetry Lover’s Garden, designed by Fiona Cadwallader, had gorgeous, romantic planting featuring dramatic pots of very dark purple/black Fritillaria persica (below).

Chris Beardshaw’s garden for Morgan Stanley won the ‘People’s Choice’ award which is voted for by the public (not the RHS judges). I can see why it won with its lush mix of formal and informal planting but it wasn’t my favourite.
Finally, a shot of the main avenue at Chelsea, taken from a treehouse at about 7pm, the sun low and the crowds thinning out.

I hope you’re still awake…

It’s half term here this week and my three have exams to revise for. The eldest has an A/S level exam in Government and Politics looming and is glued to the political shenanigans on the tv and radio at the moment; the younger two have end-of-year exams. I’ll be making the most of the quiet by squeezing in as much gardening as I can to get our plot looking its best for the Garden Safari. Four weeks and counting… Have a super week.

In a Vase on Monday: abundant

It is the beginning of the time of plenty in the garden, when there is a choice of material to cut for Monday vases. For much of the year it’s a case of cutting whatever is flowering but now I can wander about, deciding what might work and which flowers to cut. It takes a little longer but it’s a happy position to be in. I’ve gone for what’s flowering in abundance today: chives, salvia, erigeron and cerinthe. I cut the first sweet peas (the scent!), which must be cut as soon as they flower so that more flowers follow on (it’s the law), and a glorious, glowing red snapdragon (the others are still in bud). Joining them are a few stems of nigella in bud. I love every stage of nigella: the frondy seedlings, the tight flower buds, the blue flowers and the architectural seed heads. Expect to see more in the coming weeks 🙂

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and I thoroughly recommend visiting her blog to see what she’s showcasing this week, plus all the other IAVOM-ers from around the world.

In other news… I’ve had my head stuck in books for the last 10 days or so, with no time for blogging (reading or writing) or much else. One of the books I’ve been working on is a gorgeous food book called Lagom; the Swedish art of eating harmoniously which will be published in October. One of my grandmother’s favourite sayings was ‘A little of what you fancy does you good’ and I’ve always followed that mantra, trying to stick to the ‘little’ part! This book is all about eating well, enjoying good food in harmony with the seasons, and eating healthily without denying yourself the pleasures of a good cinnamon bun. There’s a good deal of fika in there, but there are also vegetables. Anyway, if you’re keen on expanding your knowledge of Swedish food, other than the stereotypical meatballs and herrings, look out for it in the autumn. (There’s a particularly good recipe for morning rolls which I made yesterday. Yum.)

One more thing. I made this basket! A friend who runs willow-weaving workshops had a spare place on Saturday, so I went along. Under her expert tuition, I made an actual basket. It’s a bit rustic but it’s my first attempt and I still find it amazing that my hands made it. The whole process was fascinating and quite extraordinary – I learnt new terms like ‘slath’, ‘slype’ and ‘waling’, I used a metal bodkin dipped in tallow to separate the weave, I used a sharp knife to slype the rods. It was fantastic – that sense of total absorption and learning a new skill. You have to be quite gutsy and determined with weaving some of the thicker rods and my hands were rather sore at the end of the day but it was totally worth the effort. Have you ever woven with willow? Maybe you’re a dab hand. I’d love to know.

We’re off to the Chelsea Flower Show on Friday and I am beyond excited as we missed it last year. The weather is forecast to be hot and sunny, and I am trying not to eat biscuits so that I can fit into a summer dress. I will be taking my camera and I will report back (not on whether I managed to fit into a dress but on the show!). Have a super week. Toodle pip.

Self-seeders

Forget-me-nots and aquilegia, with nasturtium leaves in the foreground.
Erigeron karvinskianus and campanula on the front steps.
Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ with self-sown sweet peas.
Aquilegias and borage.
Briza
Aquilegia forest
Cerinthe, centranthus and more aquilegia.
Fluffy nigella lining the path.

A sunny May day is when the garden shifts into full-on growing mode, especially after a few damp days. You can feel it, there is exuberance in the air. Plants that were appearing in nooks and crannies now show themselves confidently and everything looks lush.

I can now distinguish the seedlings of self-sown plants that I want to keep – forget-me-nots, aquilegia, cerinthe, nigella, calendula, nasturtiums, ammi, cosmos, erigeron – from weeds that I don’t but it always takes me by surprise just how many pop up. There seem to be more aquilegias this year, most of them a deep purple with a few pink/lilac ones, and the forget-me-nots are spreading beautifully. I don’t mind how many of these little blue beauties grow, they can seed themselves all over the garden if they like. All of the ones that have grown this year are from a few plants my mother-in-law brought with her last year.

The briza is from a few small plants that fellow blogger Cathy kindly sent me last year – they have definitely settled in and made themselves at home (thank you, Cathy!). The borage and cerinthe are from plants I grew from seed last year. I read somewhere that once you have these in the garden you’ll have them for ever but I’m quite happy about that. The great thing about self-seeders is that you can hoik them out if they appear in the wrong place or carefully transplant them to the right place. The abundance of these plants fills me with happiness. Really, there is little more pleasing than finding a whole load of seedlings that will grow to produce some of my favourite flowers with absolutely no effort on my part!

Meanwhile, there are pots and pots, and trays and trays of young plants waiting in the wings for the weather to warm up a bit. Then it’ll be all systems go to get them in the ground, settling in and growing away in time for the great Garden Safari.

 

In a Vase on Monday: Wild

The footpaths, verges and hedgerows are erupting in a mass of frothy cow parsley, or Queen Anne’s lace, which billows and dances in the wind. It’s up at shoulder height in places and I couldn’t resist snapping off a few stems while out walking the dog this morning. Picking flowers from the wild is something I usually avoid – there are many species (such as broomrapes, orchids and saxifrages) that are protected by law in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and you’re not allowed to pick, uproot or destroy these. It is also illegal to uproot or destroy all wildflowers but not to pick a few pieces from unprotected species as long as you’re on public land (or you have the landowner’s permission). I think a bit of cow parsley is ok as there is plenty left for the bees and hoverflies.

Joining my foraged cow parsley in the jug are a couple of roses (inherited, unknown variety with a beautiful scent) and a pale, dusky aquilegia that was growing in the middle of the raspberries. I love the contrast between the dark stems and the pale, hooked petals with their lilac/pink blush. Almost all the other aquilegias that have popped up in the garden are dark purple; pale ones are unusual here. I’ve also added some Cerinthe major, which is looking almost metallic en-masse in the back border, the last of the dark ‘Queen of Night’ tulips and a stem of Centranthus ruber (red valerian). I read on Caro’s blog, An Urban Veg Patch, that red valerian leaves are edible. I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to eating ‘wild’ food so I haven’t tried them – have you?

It’s lovely to be joining other bloggers for Cathy’s gathering of Monday vases; she also has a soft-coloured aquilegia in her vase today.

Have a good week.

 

 

Into the blue

Ladybird on bluebell photo courtesy of my daughter 🙂

No, this is not a comment on the local election results. This blog will be a politics-free zone for the next five weeks (and possibly longer). It’s just Too Much (if I hear ‘strong and stable’ again I might have to throw the radio into the sea)…

Hey, how about some lovely bluebells instead?! These photographs are from last Saturday and a walk in a nearby ancient wood. It is full of bluebells at this time of year (and people doing the obligatory ‘in among the bluebells’ photoshoots). We were lucky with the weather and we almost had the woods to ourselves to soak up the atmosphere. There is nothing quite like it – dappled sunlight through the trees onto a sea of blue (purple) flowers, rich birdsong, woodpeckers drumming, bees buzzing, the sweet scent of the flowers… We took deep breaths and heaved deep, happy sighs – it was wonderful.

I drove over to East Grinstead yesterday evening to hear Steve Biddulph (of the books ‘Raising Boys’, ‘Raising Girls’, and ‘The Complete Secrets of Happy Children’ fame) give a talk about girls’ mental health and raising daughters well. It was pretty powerful stuff. It seems that since companies started marketing to girls as young as 8 years old, there has been an increase in girls suffering from anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm and so on. Of course, there are many other factors and it’s not nearly so simple but his assertion is that ‘the media’ (advertising, music videos, tv shows, films) teaches girls that looks are their most important aspect, that their body will never be good enough, that sex is something to be traded for belonging and/or power and other depressing stuff.

He wanted us to leave the theatre angry (in a good way), to be fired up, a vanguard for the third wave of feminism and he did a pretty good job! He’s written a book (of course) called ’10 Things Girls Need Most’ to help parents help their daughters and it has some hugely sound suggestions. I’m not going to give you a full review as I haven’t finished reading it but if you have a daughter, it’s definitely worth a look.

Do you have exciting weekend plans? I hope it’s going to be fairly quiet here as I’ve got a load of seedlings to pot on and some more seeds to sow, and more digging to prepare another area for planting. It’s seven weeks (seven weeks!) until the village Garden Safari. Yikes.

Have a good one.

 

Orchard dreaming

The orchard and meadow at Great Dixter in late March last year.
The work in progress of clearing.
Part way through clearing (from above). You can see the old stump we uncovered and dug out, mid-left of the picture to the right of our neighbour’s garage.
Bare root trees waiting in trugs of compost.
Marking out, digging holes and positioning stakes.
Planting
After (from above) with super-gran
Stepping-stone path laid around the trees and a lavender border planted along the path.

What do you imagine when you think of an orchard? The word has such idyllic connotations for me. It conjures up a particular image in my mind’s eye: dappled sunlight from a late-afternoon sun filtering through rows of gnarly old fruit trees, a blackbird singing its heart out, a gentle breeze moving the long grass which is dotted with wildflowers, the scent of ripening fruit in the air. It’s a serene scene and just the thought of it cheers me. There is an actual, real-life place that almost lives up to this – the orchard and meadow at Great Dixter. My heart skipped a beat the first time I clapped eyes on it but it’s too far away to visit often and I don’t think the gardeners would take kindly to me lying about under their trees on sunny afternoons.

My dream would be to have a little house in the middle of an orchard, but in the meantime (and this is very thrilling) we’re creating a mini-orchard of our very own. When we moved here, there were already a few low-growing apple trees, a plum (since gone), a greengage and a pear tree in the back garden but we always had the idea at the back of our minds to plant more at the front.

Our designs for planting the different levels in the front garden (the area that faces the sea) have evolved, as they do, and a few weeks ago we finally reached the decision to clear an area and plant some fruit trees. The end of the season for planting bare root trees (which are cheaper to buy and more likely to establish well than container-grown stock) was fast approaching but we managed to find most of the trees we wanted as 2-year-old bush, bare root stock from Blackmoor Nurseries in Hampshire. We ordered online and they arrived a couple of days later in a big cardboard box.

We ordered three apples, ‘Discovery’, ‘Red Windsor’ and a cooker, ‘Howgate Wonder’, two pears, ‘Beurre Hardy’ and ‘Doyenne du Comice’, and a ‘Victoria’ plum. We couldn’t track down a bare rootstock ‘Catillac’ pear (which I wrote about last autumn here) but I hope we can order one to plant next year in early spring.

We tucked our new trees into trugs of compost while we worked our socks off digging up overgrown geraniums and other plants to relocate, clearing brambles and weeds, moving rocks and levelling the ground. The space was carefully marked out, holes were dug, posts bashed into position, compost wheelbarrowed from the heap, and, finally, we were ready to plant our new trees. My mother-in-law was here at the time and it’s largely thanks to her that we achieved all this in such a short space of time. We truly have no idea where she gets her energy and drive but she galvanised us to get it done. (Our 17-year-old was even enlisted to help dig out an old tree stump!)

The trees are grafted onto dwarf root stock – M26 for the apples and Quince C for the pears – and will need to be permanently staked and they are planted a little closer together than recommended but we’ll keep them pruned so that enough air can circulate between them. They have 2-ft skirts of weed-suppressant fabric around their bases, covered with a thick layer of bark to keep moisture in and weeds down. David has laid a recycled stone path and we’ve sprinkled wildflower seeds on the soil in between. Newly planted trees do take longer to come out of their dormancy after planting, which can delay new growth, but there are already leaves and blossom on the apples and leaves are appearing on the pears. I’ve moved a seat down to the path so anyone going down the steps to see what’s what can sit a while and imagine how it will look in a few years.

Happily, we have had some rain since Monday and more is forecast for tonight, so I hope we won’t be using the hosepipe too much over the coming months. The nursery’s instructions were to remove any blossom and not allow the trees to set fruit in their first year – all their energies should go into establishing strong roots. I’m going to have to steel myself to prune off that blossom this weekend but I’ll admire it a little while longer…

Can you believe it’s  May 1st on Monday?! It’ll soon be time to plant out all the tender stuff. I hope you have a lovely May Day weekend, whatever you have planned.

 

 

In a Vase on Monday: Hopeful

It’s lovely to be joining in again with Cathy’s gathering of Monday vases after missing a few. I do so love a good faff with flowers. This week, I’ve picked and plonked three ‘Queen of Night’ tulips, some bluebells (from my garden, not the woods!), forget-me-nots, Cerinthe major, aquilegia and a few tendrils of honeysuckle foliage.

The garden is as dry as a bone, the soil dusty. We haven’t had any rain to speak of for weeks now. We’ve had to use the hosepipe to water all the newly planted trees, something we try to avoid doing as our water bills are extortionate; I’ve even been saving any leftover drinking water to pour on those plants lucky to be near the back door. There were promising-looking dark grey clouds (that’s not a phrase you hear very often!) earlier but they passed by without shedding a drop. There are showers forecast for this evening so I have my fingers crossed.

Happily, many of our plants are toughing it out and we’ve not been short of April flowers. The daffodils are almost over with just a few multi-headed white ones still looking good (although their top-heavy stems are lolling about, through lack of moisture I reckon). The tulips planted in pots are almost over, while those planted in beds are hanging in there. There are plenty of self-seeded Cerinthe, marigolds and forget-me-nots, and the aquilegias are starting to bloom. The bottom of the garden is covered in bluebells which is amazing considering we were stomping all over it a month ago, clearing pernicious weeds and planting pencil-thin Himalayan birch whips. One day, several years from now, there will be a sinuous river of graceful white birches down there in a carpet of bluebells and other delights.

I’ve mentioned my love of tulips many times and how I’d love to have so many in the garden that I can pick armfuls to bring indoors. Well, I’m a little way off that but I have been picking handfuls for the past few weeks – here’s one I picked last week, still looking good in the lounge. It is immensely satisfying to grow your own flowers to pick and bring inside – a fairly simple task with a massively pleasing reward.

Cathy is also showcasing tulips this week. Do go and see, and have a look at some of the many other wonderful vases of flowers from around the world.

Thank you for visiting and commenting. It’s been a bit full-on round here recently and I’m behind with responding to comments and blog-reading (sorry), plus the ironing and much more! I hope you have a good week.

The leaning tower of ironing…