Skip to content

Easton Walled Gardens

June 21, 2012

Having driven past Easton Walled Gardens on countless journeys back to the shire I finally managed to visit yesterday. It’s just off the A1 in Lincolnshire, by the junction we always take on our trips back ‘home’. Admittedly this is often at non-friendly times for garden visiting – usually late on a Friday night (gardens closed and us frazzled after a week of work and 3 hours driving) or late on a Sunday on our way back down to London (gardens closed and us frazzled after a weekend of family) – but I knew of its story and I would always see the sign for the garden and think ‘I really must visit there someday’ as we cruised on by. So when an invitation from Ursula to a Midsummer Lunch press event dropped into my inbox I jumped at the chance. It was a perfect excuse to visit the lost gardens.

Sir Henry Cholmeley first bought Easton, nestled in a little valley of the River Witham, in 1592. The original conveyance listed a manor, orchards, meadows and gardens and the estate has been in the family ever since. Sadly the grand old house that was once there, Easton Manor, fell into disrepair and was pulled down in 1951. The gardens were abandoned and soon became overgrown and engulfed by elder, brambles and 20ft trees. The only original buildings that remain today are the gatehouse and stableyard. The gardens, over 400 years old, were almost completely lost before Ursula started to rescue them from dereliction in 2001.

We were encouraged to wander the grounds before lunch. The place was looking wonderful on this balmy midsummer’s day. From the drinks reception I walked through the Pickery and the cottage garden, past the greenhouses, vegetable garden and compost heaps and came out to a vantage point alongside the terraces, looking down to the river (as seen in the picture above). Swallows were swooping and diving all around. It was a beautiful view. The garden has an air of romance and tinge of sadness about it knowing that the old house has gone and the gardens almost vanished. On the other hand the rejuvenation of the gardens is a joyous one and the love and passion that Ursula and her team have for the place really shines through.

Ursula is big on meadows and I loved the use of them on the slopes of the terraces and in the old kitchen garden where roses have been planted in long grass. The Pickery full of cut flowers, orderly vegetable garden and colourful cottage garden were also all looking great. It really was an enchanting place, one that I look forward to re-visiting and recommending friends and family to visit too. Easton is also very welcoming of children so it’s a great garden for those with little ones curious to explore and play.

A view looking down the terraces, over the Witham and what used to be the large walled kitchen garden beyond – this contains the yew tunnel running down the middle and rose meadows and orchard on either side. Just in front of the walled garden are the two long borders

Taken from the ornamental bridge over the River Witham, looking back up the terraces. You can just make out a dot of a person on the top of the terraces, which is where the old house once stood

The rose meadow with David Austin roses planted in long grass

The long flower borders which run alongside the river

Pretty stone archway. The initials of Sir Montague Cholmeley, who did much work on the house and gardens in the 1800s, can be seen in the iron gates

The yew tunnel. It was planted in 1852 and is 106 metres long. In the garden’s heyday it formed two dense, 15ft high hedges

Looking along one of the grass terraces where the summer meadows on the slopes are starting to flower

The Cottage Garden

The Vegetable Garden

The Pickery. Provides cut flowers for the garden and they allow visitors to pick varieties they like for inspiration in their own gardens too

Sweet peas growing up canes in the Pickery. Every year hundreds of sweet peas are raised from seed and planted in the Pickery, vegetable and cottage gardens. Easton opens for a Sweet Pea week at the beginning of July

Sunset Sail in New York

June 15, 2012

Whilst we were in New York we went on a two-hour sunset sail on a replica of an old schooner on the Hudson. Although it was warm the weather had been a little changeable that day. At one point we thought it might get rained off. There was a heavy downpour just before our trip but then luckily it cleared up, stayed dry and turned out glorious.

It was a beautiful evening and I think it was perhaps the most brilliant thing we’ve ever done in NY so I thought I’d share some pictures.

Waiting for the boat to set sail. Crepuscular rays (so a member of the crew told us!) through the clouds as they started to clear.

Hoisting the sail

Feet leave the ground

Plenty of bubbly

Colourful buildings on Manhattan

Fabulous view of the Empire State

Manhattan island, Hudson to the left, East River to the right. A smaller sister schooner just in the foreground. You can just make out Brooklyn Bridge to the east (right) of Manhattan

Statue of Liberty

In all her glory

Sunset behind Ellis Island

Big yellow macs are provided if you’re feeling a little chilly

Sun disappearing behind Jersey

Golden – as the sun hit the horizon we had the most beautiful light

Glittering towers – the skyscrapers twinkle as they reflect the sunset

Returning to dock

Almost dark on Manhattan

Bringing down the sails

We did our sunset sail with Classic Harbor Line, which went from Chelsea Pier to the Statue of Liberty and back again. In winter the boat we were on spends the season in Key West. Sounds like a fabulous idea I say.

Back on the High Line

June 12, 2012

We’ve just returned from a fantastic week in New York. A friend of ours is out there on a two-year stint with work – the lucky bugger. Happily for us he welcomed us to his apartment where we stayed for the duration of our trip (thank you Alan!). He’s living in the West Village on Manhattan – an historic, leafy, residential area that used to be all boho and arty. These days it’s a very gentrified, clean and desirable part of town, popular with families and celebrities. I can totally see the appeal. It’s an attractive neighbourhood with pretty tree-lined streets. Great little coffee shops, bars and local restaurants litter the blocks. It has a very relaxed and comfortable vibe to the place. For us it was great spending time experiencing a different side of New York, away from the canyons of Midtown and Downtown. I love New York all the more for it. One of the best things for me (aside from all the gastronomy on our doorstep) was that the apartment was just a mere ten blocks away from the start of the High Line in the Meatpacking District. Ten blocks that feel like a walk in the park when the stroll is through the green and pleasant streets of the West Village in the June sunshine. The first time we were up on the High Line, a year and a half ago at the end of autumn, the second section hadn’t opened yet so I was excited to go and check it out as well as to see the park during summer. We didn’t waste much time getting ourselves up there.

Having fun on the High Line {Taken by hubs – that’s me in the blue top with my camera}

On our first morning in the city we were up pretty early. The weather was balmy and by the time we headed out for a delicious breakfast at Joseph Leonard’s in the Village at around 8.30 the weather was already in the 20s.

Big breakfast at Joseph Leonard’s. The sprouts with sriracha chilli sauce was delish!

We wandered up West 4th (full of fab little restaurants – I can highly recommend Café Cluny and Mary’s Fish Camp) towards Meatpacking and got on the start of the Line on Gansvoort Street. We walked the entire length, which probably took us at least twice as long as most folk what with me stopping every few metres to look at something or take a photo. I have an eternally patient hubs.

As on our first visit I loved how well used the park is by visitors and locals alike. The High Line has been a huge success story attracting almost 150,000 visitors a week. Its popularity was evident by the number of people we saw enjoying all it has to offer. New Yorkers were catching rays, reading or having a break on the loungers whilst others were grabbing coffee and a gossip. There were plenty of tourists trekking by or resting their weary legs and taking in the views, school groups were on educational visits, arty types were doing photo shoots, families were out giving their kids a run around, others were just walking through using the line as a handy, pleasant route on their way to elsewhere. The place was full of life.

People on the High Line

From lazing in the sun to educational visits. All types and ages hang out on the line

The planting (a mixture of perennials, grasses, trees and shrubs, which was designed to mimic the landscape that had self-seeded on the derelict line before it was resurrected as a public park), was lush and green, quite a difference to the swathes of golden autumn colours on our first visit. My favourite section is still the Chelsea Grasslands area.

Plants on the High Line. Clockwise from top left: large orange spikes of Eremurus stenophyllus; floaty Echinacea pallida ‘Hula Dancer’ (love that name – it really suits them too!); bees were loving the Baptisia alba; and also loving the Dalea purpurea; crimson cushions of Knautia macedonica ‘Mars Midget’; dramatic flowers of a smoke bush (Cotinus) against a building; a rather bedraggled swallowtail butterfly flitting around the Monarda bradburiana; yellow heads of Achillea filipendulina ‘Parker’s Variety’ poking up through the bench seating.

As we were staying so close to the High Line it meant we were able to nip through on several further occasions, using it as a traffic-free, scenic route on our way to and from various places during the week. It was great to see it at different times of day and weather. Each time you notice new things. The light will have changed and different plants come in and out of focus or into flower. There is so much to look at and discover, as well as being great for people watching!

Passing through one evening. The High Line opens until 11pm during the summer.

Rainbow over the Empire State, taken from the High Line after a heavy rain shower

Astilbe chinensis ‘Visions in Pink’, which were not yet in full bloom just days before, grab all the attention on our last day in NY.

Eryngium yuccifolium in the foreground with views over the Hudson and towards Jersey beyond

The Woodland Flyover – part of the second section which opened last year. Construction for the third and final section (the Rail Yards) is hoped to start this year.

The High Line run various events and tours – you can hear talks from the gardeners and designers and find out about the art and sculpture or the wildlife on the Line. Sadly we weren’t able to fit any of these in this trip. They have a great website with loads of information on it, including comprehensive plant lists, which you can find here. If you are heading to NY I would highly recommend a visit!

For more High Line photos see my Flickr feed here.

Chelsea Flower Show 2012

May 25, 2012

It’s that time of year again. My favourite time of year actually. When everything starts happening: the garden is lush and starting to romp away (along with all the weeds – eek); the sun has FINALLY made an appearance in a very summery fashion; the days are longer which means evening meals outdoors; the diary is chocka with plenty of fun; and it’s also that time when everyone can’t fail but to notice gardens and plants and to take an interest, even if just for a tiny second, thanks to the theatre that is Chelsea Flower Show.

I was there on Monday and Tuesday this week, took far too many photos for me to deal with quickly and have only just got round to sorting through them. I hope you haven’t reached your limit of Chelsea chat. Well, tough wellies if you have. I’ll be darned if I don’t manage to post a few of my hundreds of photos on here. In an attempt to keep it brief (!) I’ve just chosen a few of my very favourite gardens.

Cleve West’s Brewin Dolphin Garden

This was the first garden I came to at the top of Main Avenue. It was a dull old morning on Press Day, the light wasn’t kind to anyone, but despite that the planting here was singing. The contemporary, informal arrangement of plants around the formal structure of topiaried yews really did it for me. It was so well executed. This man has a way with plants. The result of his loose mix of perennials and annuals worked better, I thought, than the same naturalistic style of planting seen elsewhere at the show. I loved the zingy reds of the poppies and lime green bracts of the euphorbias leaping out at you amongst the more subtle greens, whites and purples.

Joe Swift’s Homebase Garden

I didn’t think I was going to like this garden before I saw it. The PR pamphlet through the post showed a murky, blurry, uninspiring computer graphic and my glimpse of it on TV on the Sunday night didn’t convince me either. But then I saw it in the flesh and I was completely sold. The russet and umber colours were warming and inviting, the planting was original, the cedar wood frames shipped over from Germany didn’t overpower the garden as I thought they might but broke up the linear plot in a pleasing way, revealing the garden as your eye progressed. I spent a good amount of time staring at this, taking photos and wandering around it. You could really see everything in this garden, if that makes any sense. Each element stood its own yet complemented each other perfectly. I loved the choice and use of the trees in the garden.

Inspired by an urban environment Joe used dry-tolerant plants. I like the twinkling white flowers of Libertia grandiflora against the predominantly darker, warmer tones

Jihae Hwang’s Quiet Time: DMZ Forbidden Garden

The most thought-provoking garden (not that there was much contest) at the show was the Korean demilitarised zone (DMZ) garden. Designed to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean conflict the garden was planted with indigenous plants that have thrived on the narrow, untouched strip of land that acts as a buffer between North and South Korea. Heavily guarded and a rather dangerous place for people, it has become a haven for plants and wildlife and has developed, in stark contrast to the war-ravaged peninsular, into something of an ecological treasure. Despite this show garden’s unfortunate location next to Diarmuid Gavin’s pyramidal playground and a restaurant marquee it somehow managed to feel authentic and atmospheric. It felt like it had actually been there for years – it’s boggling how they managed to achieve this. The majority of the plants were native to, and imported from, South Korea. Not a show garden that you aspire to emulate at home, no. But definitely one that forces you to reflect on the conflict and the people it has affected as well as on the insistent march of nature, its beauty despite the destructive nature of man and its ability to heal. Happily the garden won gold.

You can read a recent Guardian article on the Korean DMZ here: ‘How wildlife is thriving in the Korean peninsula’s demilitarised zone


A stream flows through the garden, oblivious to north-south barriers

Sitting quietly below Diarmuid’s pyramid

The little details

Elsewhere at the show…

Sarah Price, the Fine Art graduate and young garden designer who has also had a hand in the landscaping of the Olympic Park, designed a show garden for the Daily Telegraph that took its inspiration from the British countryside. It had three main sections – a meadow, water area and a woodland. It was one that really benefitted from the rays of sunshine shimmering down on it on Tuesday. It really lifted it and made the garden come to life. I overheard someone say on press day that they were suffering from ‘cow parsley fatigue’. Unfortunately for the poor man I think the wildflower meadow look may be here to stay for a while yet.

The meadow area with the water and woodland beyond.

And the meadow on a sunny Tuesday

Kazuyuki Ishihara’s Satoyama Life garden was a beautiful one in the Artisan garden section. Satoyama is a Japanese term for the area between the mountain foothills and the flat, arable lowlands, where people traditionally lived in a close and harmonious relationship with the land. The mossy garden sat well in the shady surroundings of Ranelagh Gardens. I love those shiny, huge stones. Don’t you just want to touch them!

Satoyama Life garden

That’s it for now (phew, I hear you cry). I plan to upload more photos from Chelsea to my Flickr stream, if I ever get round to it.

National Gardens Scheme

April 4, 2012

Spring has most certainly arrived with the start of the garden-visiting season upon us. And what better way to celebrate than by visiting beautiful and interesting gardens in the warm fuzzy knowledge that you are doing your bit for a good cause at the same time? This year is the 85th anniversary of the National Gardens Scheme. If you’ve never heard of it before it’s a scheme that raises money through garden visiting, tea and cake! Every year hundreds of gardens all over the country (over 3,800 this year), many of them private, open to the public and charge a modest fee for entry. Impressively 83p in every pound raised goes to charity – mainly nursing and caring beneficiaries including Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Help the Hospices and Crossroads Care. Last year 2.6 million was raised in total for nursing, caring and gardening charities.

Yellow is the colour

Participating gardens are listed annually in the famous Yellow Book. You can order your 2012 copy (£9.99) online here. The NGS has rigorous and high entry criteria so you always know that gardens will have passed a minimum standard making it worthy of inclusion in to the scheme. For the first time this year the NGS has launched a free iPhone app making finding gardens to visit even easier. The NGS can also be found on Twitter here. Who says garden visiting is fuddy-duddy?

Hidden gems

Last year I visited Tom Stuart-Smith’s garden in Hertfordshire on its NGS open day (I’m tempted to revisit again this year to see how the prairie he had sown is doing). I look forward to discovering many more gems in the book this season.

This year Dawn Isaac, author of Garden Crafts for Children and owner of this lovely garden in Cambridgeshire is opening her place for the first time in June. I’m hoping to make it to that.

Right, I’m off to have a cup of tea, perhaps a biscuit or two, and to flick through my Yellow Book to see what’s opening near me this Easter weekend. Happy garden visiting everyone!

Still the tree stands

April 4, 2012

This is the view looking out to the bottom of our garden. It’s facing west so the sun sets behind these stately boughs. Pretty isn’t it? These shots were taken from upstairs but from ground level there is a Robinia in front of a silver birch in front of these two trees (an oak and an ash), which frame and layer the view. It makes for an appealing outlook at the end of a garden that sits near the edge of a vast urban sprawl. I am guessing they pre-date the house (there is a broken string of old, large trees running behind this road of houses) and are probably remnants of the wood that once stood here. These houses have been here for around 80 years so the trees must be older than that.

Those who follow me on Twitter will know that 4 weeks ago we came home from a weekend away to discover that a neighbour was about to remove the tree on the right. I took these photos on consecutive days from my phone when I was feeling sad that the view might be about to change irrevocably. The scene decided to be particularly poignant in response.

The news had me in a bit of a panic that such a large, old tree was suddenly going to be chopped down. Why was it being removed – was there a good reason? Had it been given proper thought? Had the right advice and permissions been sought? What kind of precedence would this set for the other trees (another tree – I think an oak – had only just been razed to the ground a bit further down the road a few weeks previously)? What were the implications of its removal on the health of the adjacent oak, for wildlife and on the appearance of the area?

Trees and tree felling can be such a contentious and emotionally charged issue. Many people are probably quite happy for trees to be protected, as long as this doesn’t apply to ones in their own back garden. I don’t believe felling a tree is intrinsically a bad thing. It is not always to the detriment of the environment or character of a place. In some instances it is the sensible thing to do. It may be dead, dying, diseased or dangerous. Removing a tree could be part of a larger plan in the management of an environment or garden. I have worked in gardens where taking a tree out has been the right decision even though there may be consternation from visitors and residents in the area. But I do think a mature tree, that has been standing there for a longer time than your house, that supports wildlife and contributes to the personality of a place and has taken 80 years to reach this state deserves a bit of consideration and should not be destroyed in a single day under what may be groundless reasoning.

Today the tree is still standing. Just. It has survived two dates where tree surgeons have been booked to come and fell it.

The first date for the tree’s demise was averted when I went round at the eleventh hour to try to find out from my neighbour why it was being removed and whether they had sought permission from the council first (I myself had no idea whether it was protected or not and could not get through to anyone useful at the council at such a late hour – i.e. 4pm).

The next morning there was blissful silence. Chainsaws failed to appear. My questions had prompted them to postpone the chop.

I eventually got through to the tree officer at the council who came over to take a look. They made a decision to put a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) on it (the oak on the left was already covered by one). They could, of course, have decided it had no value and was not worthy of being saved. Then it was a matter of waiting for the TPO notice to come through.

The following week I had a voicemail from the neighbour to say a second date had been set for the tree to be felled. This was again thwarted when, the next day, notice arrived from the council of the proposed TPO.

The neighbour was less than happy. We had a 5-10 minute conversation on the phone during which she was ranty and irrational and then she hung up on me.

A few people have said that I was brave or I did the right thing. Some believe I should ‘mind my own business’ or not get involved. But the thing is, it is my business. It is the business of all of us. No, it’s not my tree and it is not on my property but it certainly does affect me, and my property come to that. We all have to live in this environment, and I want the environment we live in to be a green and healthy one. All I know is that I felt sick when I found out the tree was coming down. The reasoning for it to be destroyed did nothing to convince me. I would have felt much worse if I had sat back, said nothing and just watched as an 80+ year old tree, that may not have been causing any harm, was felled in a day.

If the tree is a danger to people or property then of course it has to go. I’m just glad that careful consideration plus sound and valid reasons must now be given first before this old tree can be permanently removed. Just a bit of thought. That is all I ask.

Some tips:

  • If there are any trees important to you in your garden or surrounding landscape and you think they may be under threat, check their TPO status early on – don’t wait until they may be chopped down.
  • Planting trees is a wonderful thing to do but please plant responsibly. If you are planting a tree in a small garden make sure its ultimate size and vigour is appropriate for the distance you are planning to site it from the house. I read somewhere (unfortunately I have forgotten where) that as a general rule you should plant your tree at least as far from the house as its eventual height will be. If you are unsure of what to plant then seek advice first.
  • Don’t move into a house with a large or potentially large tree in the garden if you don’t want to manage it or live with it. Check before you move in to a house whether any of the trees on your land are protected or if you are in a conservation area.
  • Be wary about removing a tree because you think it is causing a problem. Unless there is imminent danger from structural failure, hasty action could cause more extensive damage in the future. Seek independent advice from a qualified arborist as well as a building surveyor if you think your tree is causing a problem.
  • Before carrying out work on a tree check with your Local Planning Authority that the tree is not protected by a TPO or in a Conservation Area.


Guide to Tree Preservation Orders

Advice on trees near buildings from the RHS

The Tree Council

Forestry Commission

The day the finches came

February 12, 2012

In 2003 we were living in a rental flat in east London. The patio was a bare, north-facing, gravelly patch that was empty save for a few weeds that had sprouted up about the place. It was pretty desolate and soulless out there. One afternoon I looked out to see a little bird perched on one of the offending seed heads of something thistle-like (I forget what it was; Senecio vulgaris/groundsel perhaps?) and was having a good peck. It was beautiful. It had bandit-like eyes, a bright red face and a streak of vivid yellow on its wings. I was mesmerized. And I had absolutely no idea what this bird was. It was shameful that such a beautiful bird would grace our cr*ppy patio with its handsome presence and feed on our unwanted ‘weeds’, and yet I didn’t have a clue what it was. I went out and got a bird book to rectify this sad state of affairs and so started my appreciation of our fine-feathered friends (although that appreciation still fails to extend to feral pigeons or seagulls).

This may seem quite an insignificant event but it was also one of those little moments when I realised I wanted more of that in my life – more of that colour and natural beauty, more discovery of something meaningful – less of the endless meetings, grey suits and grey faces in those grey offices. That (energy-saving) light bulb in my head was powering up.

Since then I have had a real soft spot for Goldfinches. If I had to have a favourite of the UK garden birds then they would be it (closely followed by the sweet, buff-coloured Long-tailed Tit).

When we moved into our suburban semi we didn’t have any expectations of the feathered guests we’d be receiving, but we’ve been lucky. We have several woods in the surrounding area and from the moment we moved in we’ve had an array of birds visiting our modest patch of green, including:

Blue & Great Tits, Starlings, Chaffinches, Dunnocks, Wren, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Green Woodpeckers, Jays, Parakeets, Nuthatch, Greenfinches, Collared doves and we’ve even had Redpoll, Redwing and Long-tailed Tits. Not forgetting the robins, wood pigeons and magpies, which we get on a daily basis.

But no Goldfinches.

Despite putting out niger seed, practically as soon as we moved in in the hope that we would attract them to our turf, two years passed and not a single one came even close to a sniff (well, not that I ever saw).

And then, a few weeks ago, I look out of our kitchen window whilst making breakfast one morning and see a little bird bobbing about, clinging to the top of a seed head. I blinked and looked again. Unmistakable gold and red! It was feeding on seed heads* I had left over winter, both for interest and for the birds. And there a bird was. A Goldfinch no less. Feeding on my seed heads.

A couple of days later and there were four of them feeding amongst the plants. And then the following weekend AN ENTIRE FLOCK of them descended onto our little patch to feast on the dried winter seed heads. You wait for a goldfinch for two years…nada…then fifteen come along at once.

Wildlife brings a garden to life and sharing it with these little creatures is part of what it is all about. There is something extremely satisfying and happy-making when the garden you create is enjoyed by wildlife as much as it is by you.

Visits from butterflies, bees and birds have been a rewarding validation of my small gardening efforts. And with them comes a joy that, for me, makes gardening and life colourful.

Some photos from when the flock visited:





* We only have a modest garden but I still wanted a herbaceous bed. My criteria for plant selection, other than personal preference and aesthetics, was that it had to: a) suit the soil/situation/aspect – I’m far too lazy to be bothered to continually battle nature to make something thrive in a place it just doesn’t want to grow, not to mention the waste of time and resources that would involve; and b) it really had to earn its keep – with a long season of interest (preferably lasting into the winter with its form) and to be ‘useful’ or edible (if not for humans then for insects and birds). The two plants that attracted the Goldfinches were Verbena bonariensis and Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullvantii ‘Goldsturm’. They are both popular choices in contemporary planting and I can’t recommend them enough. They both look fab with a long flowering season and a good enough structure to stand up over winter. Butterflies and bees love them in summer, especially the verbena. Plus, the verbena has the added benefit of self-seeding about the place (which I see as a good thing). AND the goldfinches love them in the winter. What more do you need?

B&Q press day

January 18, 2012

The tour of cool London venues courtesy of B&Q continued today with their latest press show being held at The Hospital in Covent Garden – a private members club for people in the creative industries. Unfortunately the event was held in a fairly unremarkable room on ground level so there wasn’t an opportunity to poke about the swishy-looking rooms hidden away on the seven floors of this nondescript building. Ah well, on with the more important gardening stuff…

On that front there wasn’t a great deal of new news this year. Many of the stories were similar to last – minus the excitement of a Chelsea garden. A new brand ‘Verve’ has been created for their gardening products, which includes a new ‘Beginners’ range of seeds and a new range of peat free composts. Apparently growth of GYO fruit sales is ahead of GYO veg, with soft fruit and ‘superfruits’ still proving popular. Not particularly surprising perhaps given the trend for preserving and pickling and gardeners discovering the easy, perennial nature of most fruit plants.

I asked them about not selling Impatiens walleriana (Busy Lizzies) this year because of the downy mildew problem*, which got particularly bad in 2011 – you might have heard about this reported in other places. B&Q sell around 20 million Busy Lizzies a year (gulp!) but decided not to stock the plant in 2012 – both to give the industry a chance to deal with the problem and also because they don’t want to sell plants that are unlikely to perform in the garden. They’re hoping to plug the gap mainly with begonias as well as petunias, marigolds and pelargoniums but admit it will be a question of informing and educating the public who tend to like what they know when it comes to bedding. Maybe this will encourage a few people to do something more worthwhile/interesting than to plant a whole patch of bedding in their gardens this summer? Here’s hoping.

A few pictures from the show:

Pastel coloured pots and propagators

New Verve range of composts, including peat free options

Table height garden trough and hanging planters

The Hospital Club, Covent Garden

* For advice from the RHS on Impatiens downy mildew see here.

Happy New Year

January 2, 2012

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you’ve enjoyed the festive period. We saw in the New Year with some great friends, too much food and plenty of bubbly. Here’s looking forward to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012. Santé!

A visit to a dear Great Park

November 10, 2011

Last week my friend, Jo, and I took a trip back to the Savill & Valley Gardens in Windsor Great Park. Having both worked there (at separate times) in our year out of studies at Writtle we were looking forward to an overdue visit. It was a lovely autumnal drive – a bit grey but lit with golden leaves fluttering through the air, raining down from increasingly bare branches. After an amazingly clear run round the M25 from Kent I arrived super early, so I popped over to a café in Sunningdale I used to frequent before meeting Jo at the Savill visitor centre. Mark Flanagan (Keeper of the Gardens ­– and font of all horticultural knowledge) took a few moments out of his busy schedule to join us for a coffee before Jo and I headed out into the gardens. It was so great to be back in the park and to see everyone again. As is the way we ended up doing a lot of chatting and catching-up with old colleagues, leaving us little time for much else. We did manage a quick loop of the gardens – it was all looking spick and span. The large New Zealand garden, which hadn’t yet been refurbished when I was there, is settling in – Jo was eyeing up the plants with interest as they have a New Zealand garden at Hyde Hall (where she now works). Cutting back of the huge herbaceous borders was underway, but what was left standing was still looking great. The roses were still going in the rose garden and major redevelopment had started in Summer Wood with new paths and beds being dug.

After a late lunch we drove into the park through Bishopsgate (with permission of course) and headed over to the Valley and Heather Gardens. I love it out there – so beautiful and peaceful and so many fine trees and shrubs. My heart is filled with many fond memories of this place. The sun was very low by this time but we had discovered earlier that, by happy coincidence, we both wanted to go and seek out a Cercidiphyllum japonicum (or Katsura tree). Turns out we both love the plant and wanted to go and sniff its autumnal candy floss scent. Bunch of oddballs us hort lot. With the sun descending we jumped out the car and made straight for a specimen that Jo could remember growing up near the car park. We smelt it before we could see it. It had already dropped all of its golden heart-shaped leaves on the floor but its burnt sugar aroma was unmistakable. With our Cercidiphyllum craving fixed we went and found the Valley Garden team under the trees rebuilding the nursery beds. Leaves crunched under our feet. We said our hellos. Everyone was all smiles. Geoff took us to see their new viewing platform, which looks over the Punch Bowl – and what a fab view it was. The Punch Bowl is known for its riot of flamboyant colour in the spring when the Kurume azaleas are out but it was still looking rather fetching with its slightly more demure autumn coat on too. Then, having escaped it all day, it started to rain. We dashed over to the Heather mess room to catch up with the team there before a quick walk around the deserted Heather Garden in the gloaming. When we returned to our cars it was dark. It was time to bid the park farewell and face the rush-hour drive home. Until the next time my dearest Great Park…

Stepping out

The beautiful, sinuous, oak roof of the visitor centre – built with local materials and designed to blend into the landscape (opened June 2006)

The herbaceous borders still looking resplendent with the trees of Spring Wood as a backdrop

Roses still going in this modern take on a rose garden, designed by Andrew Wilson (opened June 2010)

Impressive seasonal display of pumpkins and squashes in the Temperate House

Valley Gardens. Carpet of gold. Majestic trees. I am totally biased but my heart sings and soul soars in this place.

The Punch Bowl seen from the new viewing platform. The colours may be more muted but no less stunning in the autumn.