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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
More photos from the Olympic Park can be viewed on my Flickr feed here
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).
This is our third summer living on the London/Kent border. It’s been great having the best of both worlds – an easy half hour train ride that takes us smack bang into the middle of the big smoke or a roll down the hill into the glorious, green countryside of the Garden of England. The more we explore and get to know Kent the more we fall in love with the county. From the undulating High Weald and the Kent Downs, ancient woodlands to the arable land of east Kent, dramatic cliffs on the coast around Dover to the bleak beauty of Dungeness and Romney Marsh, it is varied and truly beautiful. There is much for us to discover and we are doing so bit by bit. Last weekend I went to visit yet another picturesque corner in search of lavender.
This is the time of year for lavender. It’s looking great right now, that gorgeous-smelling, beautiful, useful herb. Last year I went to see fields of it at Castle Farm in Shoreham. This time I trundled down the road a bit further to Downderry Nursery, which holds a Scientific National Plant Collection of Lavender. This is not the place to come to see fields upon fields of lavender. But what they do have is the most diverse collection of lavenders in the world. Down some beautiful, quiet, winding country lanes (with some great views over the surrounding countryside), not far from Hadlow, I arrived at the sun-baked walled garden that is home to the nursery.
The garden is stuffed full of different lavenders growing in the ground but what I particularly liked were the demonstration trial beds, which showed the effects of planting distances, pruning times, mulch types, the addition of grit and different feeds. The hedges looked best at closer spacings – giving a larger, fuller hedge – but I suppose it depends on the effect you are after. Pruning immediately after flowering from early September produced the healthiest, bushier-looking shrubs. Unsurprisingly grit mulch worked the best, as did grit added to the soil (50kg per square metre). The plants by far preferred having no feed – and definitely were not liking manure added on planting!
There were some roses trained against the back wall of the garden. This one, ‘The Generous Gardener’ is worth a mention as it was looking and smelling divine:
Downderry are leading lavender experts and this is a great place to come for choice and advice. This small family company propagates over 95% of the plants they sell and guarantee their lavenders are true to type. It’s worth buying lavender cultivars (for example, my favourite cultivar ‘Hidcote’) from reputable people such as this because plants raised from seed are often variable.
Downderry are open Tuesday-Sunday and bank holidays from May to September. See their website for more details and for plants sold online.
They can also usually be found at Hampton Court Flower Show and this year is no exception. They won Gold and Best Exhibit in the Floral Marquee – many congratulations to them!
I went to the Cottebrooke Gardeners’ Fair on Saturday. This is the fair’s fifth year but only my first time visiting. It always gets raved about as being a real plants person’s plant fair. It has a hand-picked selection of specialist little nurseries and garden sundry companies selling interesting plants and garden equipment, including those that you can’t get just anywhere. The fair takes place in the grounds of Cottesbrooke Hall in the Northamptonshire countryside.
I took a small shopping list with me and was very good as I more or less stuck to it, buying a few plants from Meadowgate, Hardy’s, Edulis and another nursery, which I have shamefully forgotten the name of. I wanted all the tools from Niwaki but resisted. The fair was indeed very good – pleasant surroundings, never felt crowded and the exhibitors were all of a high quality and good mix. Even hubs enjoyed it. He particularly liked the Edulis stand with their unusual edibles. Although we didn’t go to any, there was also a marquee with talks from gardening slebs and experts throughout the day.
For those who have to travel some distance to the fair and who may want to visit next year, we drove up on Friday night and stayed in Highgate House (which we booked for a cheap price with Booking.com) – a good value hotel with friendly staff and decent food just 2 miles down the road from Cottesbrooke Hall.
Despite getting stuck in the mud in the car park on the way in I’m pretty certain I’ll be returning again next year.
More photos on Flickr here.