This green and pleasant land

This land – the beautiful countryside, the bonkers humour, the sarcasm and satire, the quirky traditions, the diversity (of people, architecture, landscape, clothing), the road signs, the libraries, galleries and museums, red London buses, red post boxes, Yorkshire tea, a cream tea, real ale, music festivals, open-air theatre, the birdsong, the fresh air and freedom. I love Britain and its people who get on with life, who are resilient and resourceful, who don’t make a song and dance out of everything. If we’re heartbroken, we’re heartbroken quietly and mostly in private with a cup of tea. If we’re celebrating we have a cup of tea or we might push the boat out and pop a cork. (Tea suits most occasions.) If we see someone in need, we help. We have the stiff upper lip and we queue politely.

But these are difficult times. Austerity has led to some serious hardships for many people, we’ve been divided by Brexit and attacked by terrorists and now we’re having to vote for a group of politicians to deal with the mess. I, for one, am anxious and tired of it all. I know that the sun will still rise tomorrow and rain will fall and plants will grow, that the tide will continue to rise and fall, but it feels as though this country is at a major crossroads. I fervently hope for a change for the better, for the common good, but I suspect we’ll be stuck with the status quo.

A friend and I drove over to East Sussex yesterday to get away from it all. We drove cross-country, through the most glorious countryside – Kent at its most beautiful – down country lanes, through tunnels of overhanging trees, past picture-postcard cottages with roses around the door. So much green. Lush green as far as we could see. We were headed to Perch Hill, Sarah Raven’s garden, to a talk by the head gardener and a morning discussing propagation and planting. We wandered around the gardens, admired the layout and planting (noticing that there were weeds and untidy patches and liked the garden all the more for it), and got to take some cuttings of dahlias and salvias to take home with us. It’s a lovely place with a generous feel to it – do go if you get the chance. Afterwards, we drove to Bateman’s, once the home of Rudyard Kipling, to soak up more green and beauty. The whole day was a wonderful tonic and antidote to the current affairs.

As I write, the exit polls have been announced and my husband and eldest are glued to the tv. They’re planning to stay up to see the results roll in during the small hours; I’ve told them not to wake me up unless there’s a shock result. Goodnight – see you on the other side!


In a Vase on Monday: Brave

To those brave people – the concert-goers in Manchester, the people on London Bridge and in Borough Market, the emergency services who acted so swiftly. My thoughts are with all those affected.

My Monday vase this week contains Canterbury Bells (Campanula medium), Linaria purpurea ‘Canon Went’, Stipa tenuissima, Quaking grass (Briza maxima), Erigeron karvinskianus and lavender.

Thank you to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for hosting IAVOM and giving me the excuse to focus on nature and beauty for a while.

Wishing you a good week.

Red brick and roses: a visit to Sissinghurst Castle Garden

My mind is brimming with ideas this morning, laying down snapshots and processing happy memories of a glorious, flower-filled garden visit.

We first visited Sissinghurst in the early 2000s before our daughter was born. With two energetic toddlers in tow, we were more focused on keeping them on the paths and not straying too far from the toilets than admiring the glorious gardens and surroundings. I had clocked that it was a place of beauty, though, and we have some very lovely photos of the boys in the meadow. Despite now living only an hour’s drive away, it wasn’t until yesterday that we finally made the time to go there again, this time without any children – none of them could be persuaded to tear themselves away from their computing devices (oh yes, revision). ‘It’s ok, mum, you go on your own. We’ll be fine…’ ‘Well, ok then. If you’re sure.’ And we hotfooted it out of the door. How times change.

Anyway, back to Sissinghurst Castle Garden. The place has a fascinating history: it was used as a prison for 3000 French soldiers captured during the Seven Years War (1756–63); it was a poor-house in the late 1700s; and it was a fine example of Victorian farming during the mid-1800s when it was owned by the Cornwallis family. Poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicholson bought it in the early 1930s and set about transforming the buildings and grounds, creating the famous garden rooms that draw people from across the globe today. The National Trust took over managing the site in the 1960s, although members of the Sackville-West/Nicholson family still occasionally stay in the South Cottage. History lesson over (if you’d like to know more, start here), let’s move on.

The gardens are what we went to see, although you can also wander into a few rooms (the library, etc) and have a tour of South Cottage if you’re organised enough to get a timed ticket when you arrive (we weren’t). We did climb up to the top of the tower where I took these photos from each corner:

View to the north over the shop in the old piggery and restaurant in the granary (top left of photo).
To the south, over one of the garden rooms with the propagation area (no access, sadly) to the right behind the house and the lovely curved wall.
To the north-east-ish and the famous White Garden. The silvery tree you can see mid-left is a magnificent Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’ (weeping silver pear).
South Cottage and a snippet of meadow bottom left.
Gardeners (all women, as far as I could tell) were clipping box hedging; you can just see the wheelbarrows, etc, in the bottom of the pic. It was all very carefully done with lines and spirit levels (which is not how I do it!).
The library in the foreground and the oast houses in the background.

The red brick buildings and garden walls provide the perfect backdrop to the swoon-inducing planting. Really, the planting is delicious. Roses, such gloriously scented roses – climbers trained perfectly against walls, bush roses left to grow huge, climbers growing up inside frames and over hoops, low-growing roses; the air was thick with their heady, intoxicating smell. And the irises and salvias, and magnificent euphorbias of all kinds, all at their peak. The grounds were full of wildflowers – oxeye daisies, tall buttercups, huge clovers, mixed grasses, all nodding and swaying in the breeze. The place is magical.

Right, enough of that; must get on. Back to earth. Bye for now.

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.


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.
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.