You may have noticed that it’s Chelsea Flower Show this week. I was there on Monday for press day. Chelsea is still an event in the horticultural calendar that I look forward to. Even if it is a bit of a circus and even if it does start to feel a bit same-y each year. It is what it is – artificial, a bit corporate and something of a media frenzy – but if it gets more people interested in gardening and plants then that’s fine by me. It’s also the best – or at least the most prestigious and visible – showcase we have in this country for garden design. Plus it’s a good excuse for a jolly and a catch-up for horticultural folk.
Having said all that, I didn’t think it was a stand-out show this year. Disappointing given it’s the show’s centenary. I expected a bit more pizazz. Garden gnomes just don’t cut it.
My favourite garden was Christopher Bradley-Hole’s design for the Daily Telegraph. It’s the one that most captured my attention and gave me the most viewing pleasure. Beautifully executed, it was stunning, striking, peaceful. It spoke to me and made me stop and stare. Not that I would want this garden for myself – what a bitch all those cubes of box and yew would be to trim. But it’s the kind of thing I like to see when I come to Chelsea and I like the idea behind it.
I also enjoyed the East Village garden by Balston Agius for being a bit different from your usual Chelsea designs with its sinuous lines, bold planting and angular viewing platforms that jutted out into the garden.
I thought two gardens were let down by the hard landscaping elements. Sadly the Sentebale garden didn’t appeal to me at all. The planting at the side, along the wall, was pretty but the hard landscaping was too much – far too dominating and out of proportion to the garden – and I didn’t like the material used. The polished grey stepping stones and expanse of grey steps up to the grey round house left me a bit cold.
Chris Beardshaw’s garden had some gorgeous planting but the path down the centre didn’t work for me – it was ugly and distracting.
The garden looked much prettier viewed from the side (bar the unsightly barrier tape keeping people off the plants).
The other things that I enjoyed were the artisan retreats, which returned for a second year. No doubt they appeal to me because I hanker after a garden studio of my own, plus they’re situated in a nice quiet spot. This one housed a Japanese-style dye workshop. The clothes inside were made by students from the London College of Fashion and dyed using natural plant dyes. So pretty.
In the pavilion I was completely captivated by this display of an entire 30-year old apple tree, roots and all, that had been dug up from an orchard by East Malling Research. Utterly beautiful and displayed to great effect.
If you’re going this week then have a great time. If not, there’s always the Chelsea Fringe – back for its second year there’s a host of garden-inspired events (many of them free!) happening all around London until the 9th June.
I’ve wanted to visit Stourhead ever since one of my lecturers talked about it as an example of a landscape garden when I was studying at Writtle. Stourhead was modelled on the idealised landscape paintings of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin – such gardens came to be known as ‘picturesque’ (other examples include the gardens at Stowe and Painshill - though I enjoyed Stourhead better than both). I wanted to walk around that lake; take in the carefully composed views of the classical temples and Gothic buildings that dot the route; see the historical and political references that garden-makers so liked to include back then. That was almost nine years ago now.
So on our way back to London after our Easter in Cornwall we decided to stop there to break up the trek home. I’ve seen so many pictures of this garden and have wanted to visit for so long it can be hard for a place to live up to high expectations. But this garden most definitely did. It was impressive without feeling overly imposing – welcoming and perfect for strolling around as it was designed to be. A new and tantalising view opened up at every turn. It was picture-perfect, tranquil and very romantic.
Henry Hoare II, who inherited the house and land from his father, created the garden from the 1740s. It’s situated in a beautiful location – where two steep valleys meet and where a natural spring called Paradise Well comes up (an apt name!). The large lake, around which the walk is designed, was created by damming the stream at the end of the valley.
If you want to visit the garden it is possible to stay right by the garden entrance, literally a stone’s throw from the view above – either at the Spread Eagle Inn or in the National Trust holiday cottage opposite. The Stourhead estate covers 2,650 acres so there is no shortage of long walks to keep you busy!
I am writing about lavenders at the moment. For an August issue. It is hard to imagine that summer and lavenders will ever materialise whilst we are still ensconced in this interminable winter.
But yesterday I did find spring. It was blooming in the RHS halls at the Great London Plant Fair.
As always, the show was a veritable feast for the eyes.
Hello. I thought I would mention that I have started writing another (non-gardening) blog over here.
I am in no way abandoning this one. But I have stuff that I’d like to share that isn’t gardening related and GirlAboutGarden feels so horticulturally-inclined that it feels wrong to waffle on about much else here. I could be wrong. But I don’t want the good gardening folk who have signed up to this blog to feel cheated when I take up their time chatting about London things or my quilt-making or even more random stuff. Anyway, do come and say hi. You are more than welcome.
If not, normal service of horticultural posts will continue (at their usual intermittent rate!) right here.
This is what my garden looked like a week or so ago. Submerged under water. And it’s stayed pretty sodden since. Nice, huh? That’s what you get in a garden of clay. Yes, it’s fertile, yes I suppose it might be better than thin, sandy soil (is it? IS IT??), but GOODNESS it’s heavy, and sticky, and really badly drained.
Apart from that anomalous Monday and Tuesday two weeks ago when it was almost hot on my patio (two days out in the garden, lunch in the warm sunshine – bliss!) the weather has felt endlessly wet and miserable and I’m well and truly ready for spring to, well, spring. We’ve even had snow. Snow for heaven’s sake. In MARCH.
Last week I was gardening at Chelsea Physic and the weather was particularly nutty. The morning was gloriously sunny, then it started snowing lightly (whilst it was sunny!) and by mid-afternoon we were getting sudden, heavy snow showers. Large, fat snowflakes poured suddenly from the sky. It was terribly pretty, if a little confusing.
But the equinox – it is a-coming. Longer days. Hurrah! Can we please have more sun too? Thanks.
I went along to the annual Garden Press Event today. In previous years it’s been held at the RHS Halls in Westminster but this year it moved to the Barbican. The Barbican is a maze of sharp angles and concrete. Designed to make you feel lost and a bit confused. I’ve been there a few times for concerts and plays but today’s event was in an exhibition hall I hadn’t been to before. Needless to say I took a few wrong turns before I found where I was supposed to be. But it meant that I went past the queue for the Rain Room, which reminded me I really must go and see that before it finishes.
Anyway, there’s rarely much that is new at these garden shows, but amongst the people I chatted to and things I picked up, these caught my eye:
Flexi Spray from Hozelock
When I worked at Savill Gardens and then Chelsea Physic Garden we used lances for watering plants all the time. They were long metal attachments that connected to the end of a hose and were really convenient for doing a lot of watering. Their long reach allows you to accurately and comfortably direct the water flow to the soil level of plants and pots. You don’t really see them in domestic use but Hozelock have brought out this new Flexi Spray product that does the same kind of thing. Only it’s extra whizzy. For a start it’s bendy, which means you can use it as a sprinkler, either with it laying on the floor or wrapping it round an upright stand such as a spade handle. And it also has four different water flow settings which you select by twisting the head. Hozelock products are normally well made so I’m looking forward to trying this out. It’s available to buy now and costs £29.99 (RRP).
For those that use grow bags (personally I am not a big fan and don’t use them myself, but many people obviously do) Hozelock have also brought out a product that helps to keep your grow bags evenly watered and allows you to securely poke your canes in to support your tomatoes – tackling two problems that, in my mind, make grow bags a right pain in the derrière to use. It’s called a Growbag Waterer and is basically a trough that holds a reservoir of water (15 litres), on top of which you place your grow bag. Capillary matting sits immersed in the water and runs up the yellow spikes, which pierce into your grow bag. You just have to keep the trough topped up with water. The matting draws water up and keeps the compost in the grow bag evenly moist. You can also push canes through the grow bag and into holes in the trough below, which keeps them in position – no more battling to get canes to stay upright in 10cms of soil whilst supporting your heavy plants (an impossible task). The Growbag Waterer is available from various online stockists and costs around £24.99.
Ethel bamboo gloves
I nearly always wear gloves when I’m gardening and I’m a loyal user of Showa gardening gloves, which I love. But when I saw these bamboo gloves on the Bulldog stand I was keen to try them out. I got some bamboo socks from mother for Christmas and they are sooo comfy, warm and breathable. These gloves come in a range of colours and are designed to fit snugly. They would make good presents. Looking forward to giving these a go.
RazorCut Comfort Bypass Pruner from Wilkinson Sword
I’ve been able to get away with relying on my little Burgon & Ball pruners since I lost my Felcos, but I’ve been on the lookout for a pair of larger pruners – Felco-replacements – at a pocket-friendly price. Felcos are great but pricey and I’m keen to give other brands a go. I like the look of this new bypass pruner from Wilkinson Sword. It’s made with Japanese steel blades and has an easy-open lock mechanism – you just squeeze the handles together. And it’s only £19.99. This is the medium-sized pair. It feels really comfy to hold at first try. We’ll see how it does when it’s used in earnest.
Black Soap from Nether Wallop Trading
I was chatting to the lovely people on the Nether Wallop stand and they were telling me about a product they are going to start selling very soon. It’s called Savon Noir (which means ‘black soap’ in French) by Marius Fabre (a maker of Marseille soap since 1900). It’s an all-natural, multi-purpose soap made from olive oil. Apparently it is common to find it in garden centres in France. You can use it to clean all manner of things in the home and garden and because it is 100% natural and biodegradable you can tip any wastewater out onto the garden afterwards. In the garden it can be used diluted and sprayed onto plants to treat greenflies and red spider mite. In that way it sounds similar to Savona (a fatty acid concentrate). Have you ever tried black soap? There weren’t any samples available today but I’m curious about the product and look forward to giving it a go.
Great Dixter had a plant fair on the other weekend and it was the perfect excuse to make a long-overdue return visit to one of my favourite gardens. Deservedly famous and created by its equally famous gardener-owner, the late Christopher Lloyd, this garden in East Sussex is packed with plants and is full of beauty, interest, splendid views and an awful lot of heart. Always worth a visit, I couldn’t recommend it more.
As hubs noted on our visit, the plants own the garden here. So true and so I will let them do the talking:
We had such a perfect afternoon out. The low autumn sun cast a beautiful light everywhere. I left with a distinct feeling that I needed more dahlias in my life next year, starting with some of the cultivars I saw here. Shopping list at the ready…!
And I also resolved not to leave it so long before I visit Dixter again next time.