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In search of spring

March 27, 2013

RHSSpringFair 9

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.

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These mountain-dwelling, alpine irises aren’t afraid of a bit of cold. Iris histrioides ‘Frank Elder’.

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I just love the delicate silkiness of pulsatillas. So beautiful. If I had free-draining soil or a gravel garden these would be straight in. Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Blaue Glocke’.

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The scent coming off these daffodils really packed a punch!

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I always make sure I visit Sea Spring Seeds’ stand. This time Joy was displaying lots of cut-and-come-again salads. I bought a few varieties of seed. Salad and cut flowers is what I will be mostly growing in my raised beds this year.

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How can you not love a hellebore? This one was a rich, chocolate-coloured beauty. Almost black. Scrumptious. Helleborus ‘Burgundy’.

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A shock of pink. Bleeding heart. The genus has changed from Dicentra to Lamprocapnos. I always find it hard to dislodge the existing latin name of a plant in my head and replace it with new. Pretty sure I’ll continue to know this as Dicentra!

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Another beautiful hellebore. Pink and speckled. Helleborus x hybridus ‘Anemone Centred’.

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The furry flowers of Streptocarpus ‘Hope’

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Amazing leaf patterns of Begonia ‘Namur’

Other blog

March 19, 2013
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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.

S x

Crazy spring weather

March 18, 2013

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.

Wet spring garden

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.

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A sunny morning. The grapefruit that grows outside the backdoor of the mess room. It does rather well in its cosy spot just here.

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My view at lunchtime – big old olive tree, cold frames and pit house (the olive tree is thought to be the largest outdoor fruiting olive in Britain!)

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Sun streaming through one of the glasshouses

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Snow shadows. Sudden, heavy snow showers fell in the afternoon. So pretty. Hard to capture on camera.

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The sun returns. Late afternoon.

But the equinox – it is a-coming. Longer days. Hurrah! Can we please have more sun too? Thanks.

Garden Press Event 2013

February 14, 2013

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Early autumn visit to Great Dixter

October 19, 2012

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.

Approaching the front of the main house. There is always an impressive pot display there to greet you. No one quite does it like they do at Great Dixter.

As hubs noted on our visit, the plants own the garden here. So true and so I will let them do the talking:

The Solar Garden looking fantastic in the early October sun, with the oast house and barn making a picturesque backdrop

Purple-blue Aconitum, cerise tassels of Persicaria orientalis and the yellow suns of Rudbeckia having a party round the back of the Long Border

Spiky fuchsia-pink petals of this stunning cactus Dahlia ‘Hillcrest Royal’ lighting up the Long Border

A view down the famous herbaceous Long Border, still looking great in early autumn

The Topiary Lawn with glimpses over the distant, rolling East Sussex countryside

The house, which was Christopher Lloyd’s family home, was originally built in the mid-15th century, later restored and extended by Sir Edwin Lutyens in the early 1900s. The gardens wrap around the house so it is prominently visible from most places in the garden.

Love it or loathe it. Cortaderia, or pampas grass, looking fantastic in the Sunken Garden

Autumn view. Sunlight catching the grasses in the Peacock Topiary garden

I love the soft salmon-pink and perfect petals of this gorgeous Dahlia ‘Dikara Superb’. Too sublime for words.

In your face. The giant Dahlia ‘Emory Paul’ towering over me (not difficult I’ll admit, but still!) in the High Garden.

Squashes growing on top of the compost heaps, round the back of the High Garden. One day I will try this.

Truly a plantsman’s garden. Bursting with plants as far as the eye can see, back to the rooftop of the main house over the High Garden.

The Exotic Garden stuffed with luscious foliage plants. In the early ’90s Lloyd famously and bravely ripped out an 80 year old traditional Edwardian rose garden to create this. And what a great decision it was. I particularly like the orange and purple combination of the Dahlia ‘David Howard’ and Verbena bonariensis on the left of this picture.

The plant fair was small and friendly with a lovely village atmosphere. I liked the sweet-looking stalls that the nurseries set up shop under, with simple timber frames holding up a corrugated roof.

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.

London 2012 – Olympic Park Gardens

August 2, 2012

I was lucky enough to visit the Olympic Park in Stratford a couple of times this past week. The landscaping was suitably impressive and the vast areas of informal perennial planting (designed by the meadow experts, Professors Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough of Sheffield University, and garden designer Sarah Price) is looking fantastic.

On entering the park, once you have crossed over the bridge and passed the Aquatic Centre, you can drop down from the main concourse to the garden areas that run alongside the River Lea. If you’re not in a hurry it’s a lovely walk beside these planting areas all the way to the other end of the park. On our first visit we arrived around 10am for an afternoon hockey session and it was nice and quiet for some wandering around (people were in their morning event sessions and most others had yet to arrive for the afternoon ones).

Kniphofias (or Red Hot Pokers) with the top of the main Olympic Stadium in the background. Most of the 2012 Gardens planting is found on terraces or ramps so you can look up, down or across the areas.

The South Park area, nearest to Stratford Gate and the main stadium, is more ornamental and decorative than the other end of the park and has been designed with an urban feel. Here the ‘2012 Gardens’ have been arranged according to ecological zones and are split into the European, North American, South African and Asian Gardens. Much of the large perennial borders in this area have been planted randomly in order to mimic the nature of the plant communities in the wild. Other parts have been inspired by the naturalistic ‘new perennial planting’ style – with plants in strips or waves.

Planting in the South Park area:

The first bit of garden we came to on arrival in the park – the South African section of the 2012 Garden, inspired by moist montane grassland

‘Asia’ Garden. Planting in swathes. The designers wanted to focus on the structure and lushness of foliage that you find on the edge of Asian woodlands.

Beautiful umbel flowers of Ammi majus, with spikes of purple Atriplex and blue cornflowers growing through it. Gorgeous!

North America prairie planting with the edge of the Aquatic Centre just seen in the background

Europe Garden. An area inspired by European hay meadows but with flower species chosen for their length of flowering

Europe Garden – Planting detail

The landscaping has seen the largest areas of annual meadows ever to be sown in a park. More than 10 hectares of annual and perennial meadows have been created in total.

A specialty of Nigel Dunnett & James Hitchmough – Annual ‘pictorial’ meadows surround the main stadium. The stipulation for the meadows around the Olympic stadium was that they should be yellow and gold – known as the ‘Olympic Gold Meadows’.

A vivid combination of both native and non-native plants were selected for the gold meadows designed to flower from late June until the first frosts. After the Games the meadows will gradually incorporate a range of grasses, both naturally and through over-sowing. The idea is that they will become self-sustaining and help support wildlife.

The North Park area is extensive and informal. The areas here represent a range native UK habitats and this is where the wetlands area, rain gardens, bioswales, wet woodlands, reed beds, ponds and perennial meadows are found.

Sticking to the landscaped areas we walked along to the North Park with the River Lea on one side and meadows up the bank on the other. Looking back the way we came towards the stadium and the Orbit.

The Velodrome in the North Park area

Looking over the River Lawns area in the North Park. Beyond the trees you can see the Riverbank Stadium where the hockey is taking place

Looking over the wetlands area back to the stadium. You can really get a sense of how green and vast the park is from here

Woodland on the edge of the wetlands area in the north park

View to the City in the west. You can see the Shard and the Gherkin. Park Live where people gather to watch events on the big screen is just in the foreground. This is an area where the bioswales could be seen. It was also where volunteers were fighting a losing battle to keep the public from rudely trampling paths through the planting on the banks!

This has been the largest new urban park to be developed in Europe for 150 years. If you haven’t been fortunate enough to get an Olympic ticket to the park, don’t worry! It will be converted and opened up for public use after the Games. Some of the planting areas will be adapted slightly. The annual meadows for example, will be turned over to perennial meadows with a mix of grasses. The park will be taken over by the London Legacy Development Corporation and the first areas of the future Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park are planned to be open to the public from the end of July 2013.

Useful links:

Nigel Dunnett’s Olympic Park page

Official London 2012 Gardens site and Phone App

More photos from the Olympic Park can be viewed on my Flickr feed here

London 2012

August 1, 2012

I always love it when the Olympics come around. The earliest one I can remember watching and following on TV was Seoul in 1988, willing the likes of athletes including Linford Christie, Colin Jackson and Liz McColgan to go faster. I get completely swept along in the celebration of human endeavour and with all these nations and the world uniting in sport. It is inspiring and uplifting. With 2012 being our local Games and practically taking place in our back yard, Olympic fever is at an all time high in our household. I feel completely proud to be British and supporting all our amazing athletes in Team GB. Bah humbug to all the cynics and moaners.

So far I’ve been to see the rowing at Eton Dorney and to the Olympic Park in Stratford twice – once to see the women’s hockey and yesterday for the swimming. The organisation has been good. The fans have been great – the atmosphere has been amazing and as you’d expect the support for team GB from the stands has been immense.

Today is going to be a big one for Team GB. I’ll be watching the TV for the rowing finals later this morning, Wiggins cycling the time trial and our two GB boys swimming the men’s 200m breast stroke final later this evening. Go GB GO!

Some photos from the last few days (ones of the landscaping and planting in the Olympic Park to follow in a separate post).

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