Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Moaning about the weather and Petasites

I love being British....we moan that it’s too cold, then that it’s too dry, then too wet and this weekend too hot. Without the weather what would be talk about?
Yesterday was very hot; and I must admit that today it’s nice being inside being away from the glare of the sun as I am still feeling a little frazzled. However a very productive weekend as I dug the final bit I needed to plant a big Trachycarpus with a front of Echinacea and Echinops. I’m quite a fan of Echinacea in a jungle garden as there is something odd about their big flowers, however I’m not quite ready to dig everything up to create a Prairie garden yet.
I had the slaves working in garden yesterday clearing up the last remnants of the dug up rubble (still plenty more to excavate). It is great to get everything clear and sorted, although I do feel a little guilty getting my Dad to lug bag after bag of rubble whilst I sipped iced cocktails from the sidelines (not quite). Digging and clearing rubble was about all I did from Jan to May and after a little break I’m not feeling as fit as I was and it was hard work (the six pack is also still well protected).
I have also finally managed to find a place for some interesting bits of wood I found whilst initially clearing the site. As I rummaged around in the brambles, emerging with chunks of wood the parentals were looking a little unsure, my mother muttered something about ‘artistic temperament’ and Dad just shook his head.  I think if Kevin McLeod were there he would say something about keeping the integrity of the site, I would just say I think they look nice! There is something very beautiful about wood and I think this makes a good feature...quite how long they stay up I don’t know.
 I have a lot of other bits of wood on the site as South London is a hot spot for Stagbeetles and think it important to give them a home. Saying that Stagbettle larvae are about the ugliest scariest looking grubs you can imagine. I always remember the first time I found one in an apple tree trunk as it really freaked me, I gave a very girly scream and  then killed it immediately....however they do need a home.

Watch out, they are coming to get you!
There were three NGS gardens open locally, two on Camberwell Grove, one of Camberwell’s poshest streets. I went with Dad who was probably just as interested as seeing the houses as he was the gardens, although entry to the gardens was by a long walkway round the back through old Camberwell passages and ancient walls.  Despite the poshness of the address the gardens were relatively thin and narrow making me very appreciative of the size of my own garden as I think you would need to be good friends with your neighbours.

The first was very well kept, well laid out with a good use of plants and would be a pleasure to live in. Both had garden summerhouses I was very envious of. The second was more appealing as it was done into a series of distinct areas with a beautiful long thin (but deep) pond. Rectangular and about 8ft long, 1 ½ -2ft wide and 2-3ft deep with big fish. Strong design, with big leafed marginal’s/bog plants. Also good cake on offer!

I am becoming more and more enamoured with clipped hedges as they are a great way of punctuating a space
Finally was a garden in Lyndhurst Square which I saw last year. Mature with a large wide lawn giving a feeling of space from the house. The back was partitioned off and had a formal layout with beds of lavender and lollypop Olive trees. At the back, the bit I liked to most was a bed over run with Petasites hybridus which was about 4ft high and wonderfully jungle like as it felt like it was taking over. I went home and gave my own Petasites a bit more fertilizer hoping it would get bigger!

Their lovely Petasites, poised to take over the world

ooooh, you cant go wrong with a gothic folly
My own Petasites, but a wee youngster, but already growing a lot

Dahlia coccinea 'Great Dixter' I like the simplicity of the species

Loving my Paulownias at the moment as you can almost see them grow

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Birmingham and lusty buying

On Thursday I was lucky to be able to escape London to go to Gardeners World Live in Birmingham with my friend Peter. This was my first time and I didn’t really know what to expect, but was very impressed! What I had thought may be a marquee on a car park in Brum was a fabulous flower show. I think it was bigger than Chelsea but smaller than Hampton Court with a huge pavilion and lots of opportunities to buy plants.

I wondered if it would be a little dangerous getting Peter and I together, as we are both as uncontrolled as each other when buying plants, and as Steven couldn’t come there was no one to say ‘where will that go’ or sensible things like ‘that won’t fit in the car’
It was a great set up with lots of plant stalls, I wasn’t overly impressed with any of the show gardens which I thought a little amateur or too simple (there was one which was just grass with a sunken area punctuated by columns of fake grass with Senico on top). The show also ran at the same time as BBC good food live which was a little too much when my mind was so full of plants. It also seemed to have a lot of toffee vodka and hog roast stalls.

The stand from ‘From Desert to Jungle’ which was one of the best stops for an exotic garden person. Nothing surprising on the stand as it was the usual suspects like Musa basjoo, tree ferns etc. Nice to see Dahlia imperialis as it was far better in the flesh than in a book, and I bought a good few things including a Kalopanax, Lobelia bridgesii and Solanum atropurpureum. Peter had a bit of a tree fern obsession and bought a beautiful large Cyathea after being interviewed by Fernatrix as to his credentials to buy their baby (he was allowed as he has a Greenhouse that doesn’t get colder than 7degrees)
The amusing thing was seeing the gardening celebs. Monty Don was all over the place looking very country in his blue workmans clothes. I glimpsed Carol Klein from a distance which was good as she is such a lovely lady, I just wanted to go up and hug her....I would love to have her as an aunt. Poor old Toby seemed to be just doing a stand on veg growing near the gate...it is a shame how he has been banished, I hope he comes back. In the food bit we saw Andy Peters, the housewife’s favourite James Martin and one of my own current bits of tv totty Matt Tebut
With all our enthusiasm we had to go back and fill up the car 3 times! I was excited to buy some water plants I had been after for a while, a giant Miscanthus that gets to 8ft and a few palms. The palms were my favourite as the guy running the stall was a proper showman. ‘This is the only place in the country where you will see these three types of Chamerops sitting on a table together’. This lot introduced Chamerops humilis ‘volcano’ which does of course come from Volcano island (I felt a bit silly asking where Volcano island was, or even if it was real as it sounds a bit like Tracey island). He was a great showman and asked me to follow him to the backstage area under a curtain....this did make me feel a little uneasy as the husband was in London and Peter just looking bemused. Of course once I had made it to the inner sanctum I was ready to buy anything and was excited to get a Trachycarpus nanital, and Trachycarpus princepts (for non planty people this is quite rare and exciting). I also bought a £50 Trachycarpus fortunenii and blue Chamerops. Getting home we had a very full car.

This stand got me a bit lusty abotu Begonias....the foliage is just crazy

Same with species perrenial foxgloves...they have something quite primoridial about them
So at the weekend I was feeling like I had bought a lot of plants and wondering when to put them when Mum asked if I wanted to go to B&Q with them to buy compost and look at the 3 for the price of 2 plants. It was great shopping with Mum as we just bought everything ‘look, its £1! Let’s just get one, oh I’m sure we can fit those petunias in, they are only 50p. Worst was the pots as they had these nice sandblasted terracotta pots which I have been after for a while as they look very tropical and like they are made of real stone. I had only seen them at a couple of northern garden centres and online to ship from Vietnam (very nice when i win the lottery) I only really wanted 1, but ended up with 4 (buy 3 get 1 free). So...I kept buying, and buying...then as I was there I thought I may as well get 3 more Trachycarpus as they worked out at £33 each. Mum and I bought more, Dad got quieter and quieter...then in the car park we realised that we had bought so much stuff and the car was so full that we had to abandon Mum on the Old Kent Road and pick her up later. Oops!
So lots of buying and lots of inspiration, but I must admit I am probably most inspired from seeing Peters garden and spending time with a fellow fanatic. I did my Botany degree with Peter and haven’t seen him for a while and it was great fun having an adventure. He also has a great garden (immense NGS potential) and some beautiful tree ferns and ducks. Hurrah!
Peters garden, far better than mine...

Sunday, 12 June 2011

TV stardom and rain

Today it’s raining, and I’m not coping with being stuck inside as I’m at a bit of a loose end. Usually there isn’t much of an option as with the garden being such a demanding mistress she needs me outside tinkering with her.
Back border with 'NGS' bench
The in laws were down this weekend and it was reassuring to hear their surprise at how far things had come along. They were very content looking at the garden from the new benches (I call them the NGS benches as they make it look proper NGS). We also lost Irene for about an hour going and taking pictures of everything which made me realise how visitors would be happy.

Apart from that I did a bit of tinkering, filling gaps with some of the hundreds of marvel of Peru seedlings that are popping up, and splitting a Thalia. Thalia is one of my favourite plants at the mo as it is very tropical in appearance and responds very well to sun and lots of nutrients. I had one in the pond for years and it never really did anything, then I put it in a pot on the terrace and gave it loads of pelleted chicken manure and it exploded into a beast.
Pots on terrace last year, Thalia is infront of banana
However this all pails into insignificance compared to my big moment which came on Thursday evening when a random speculative call from the BBC turned into them sending a camera crew and reporter down to a volunteer celebration event that we were doing for about 220 local volunteers. Usually this media stuff all turns into nothing, and that morning a visit we had been trying to organise for Ed Milliband had been jettisoned but lo and behold they appeared.

I usually go a bit wide eyed but this time there wasn’t time as the reality of putting on an event for 220 people was rather time consuming and stressful and they were the least of my worries. (I had a perfect ‘remain calm’ face when we arrived and found out we were about 40 chairs short and there was a very high stage that anyone with a disability would really struggle with)

So the BBC did their thing...at one point the Mayor grabbed me and together we tried to get into the back of the shot, but I thought I had escaped. Then with moments to go before I climbed on stage to start the event they interviewed me. I remembered what I wanted to say and my sound bite quotes and ran a good event. I thought nothing of it until 10:10 when I started getting texts as lo and behold there I was on the 10:00 news with my face popping up after the Archbishop of Canterbury! All very amusing and the first time I have made it to National TV.

The only other time I have been on tv was when I was ‘Clive in the garden’ on Fox Kids TV ‘Action Man Action Mission’ about 10 years ago. It was all a bit random as we had got a call the day before asking if we could supply a gardening expert to help at a school playground make over for ‘a tv thing’. Everyone else was busy and they ended up sending me, who was just a volunteer at the time. I arrived at this school and it all looked normal until I went into the staff room, there were all the usual grumpy gossiping smoking teachers but the other side was Action man having his makeup done.  It was very bizarre seeing to see this quite prissy/demanding straight guy throwing tantrums about make up. I know he was straight as he was going out with the actress who played Barbie!

It was all very amusing with action man roaming the playground making things right, before he ‘fought’ with an evil baddie. I was just doing a spot in the corner planting pots in the cold and rain with 4 very cold and unresponsive children. The worst bit being that they did about 3-4 takes so each time I planted the pot I had to empty it again.

So who knows if this is the beginning of my TV career! Please talk to my agent....
Arisaema tortuosa

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Spirit houses, wet Astelias and a belly full of cake

I have just come back from three local open gardens, and have rather over indulged on cake..hats off to the persuasive lady selling cake at Piedmont garden as we bought 4, I then ate a spare one offered by a friendly lady whom I was sheltering from the rain under an umbrella with (note to children: don’t eat cake offered to you by strangers, note to self: moment on the lips, years on the hips)
I’m very excited this weekend to have finished a Balinese style spirit house/shrine which I thought up about 6 months ago when I saw an abandoned Islamic style table abandoned at the side of the road. I cut off one of the legs, Stu created a frame for me, I then dithered and got stuck on the roof for a few months and finally (hopefully) cracked it with a frame made of old trellis and fencing, and an under thatch of palm and tree fern leaves. I’m rather pleased with it as it has livened up a dull corner where nothing grew and added greatly to the feel of the garden. So much of tropical gardens are theatre and I think this is just right!
Now the spirits can have a place to party
Gardens wise the first we went to was 174 Peckham Rye...smaller than expected but immaculately planted with lots of plants I liked. Golden hop was climbing a summer house, and Astelias and Puyas were doing well in the beds. I particularly liked an established stand of Podophyllum and a pot with some big leafed hostas in. Good plant sales and I snapped up 2 Astelias which I was pleased with, till I realised that they were a little heavy and I needed to cart them around all afternoon.
Immaculate planting, and planted out Puya

A podophyllum party

The second garden was just up the road in Piedmont gardens, which was one of the best I have seen so far. Very friendly helpers abounded (see above about cake lady making me fat) and it was also the garden of our local NGS organiser who was a pleasure to meet. Long L shaped garden which opened out to at the end to a big circular lawn and path with a little banana dell and productive beds. You can tell the difference between gardens that have been designed and those that are evolving and cared for by people who love plants as it felt very alive with pots and stuff everywhere, much more my type of place.

I do like a nice bit of bunting...hiding at the back in a banana dell

It was getting a bit wet by then, and I should have taken more pictures of this beautiful agrden but i was getting a bit cake focused 
Finally we went to Choumert Square, somewhere I had heard about but not yet been to. I knew that in essence it was 2 terraces of small houses whose very small yards backed onto each other with a central walkway but was blown away at how nice it was. All the gardens and houses were special and there was a great sense of community. It was a bit like a modern day Barbary lane (Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin) loads of happy people all doing different things from selling Pimms to tombola’s, reflexology and my favourites which were ‘which celebrity is the same height as you’ and ‘talk to an old man for 20p’
A very wet and slightly grumpy Steven

This is basically it, a long strip between the houses covered in gardens , but very pretty...small trees and arches between neighbours. Bad place to move to if you werent a gardender

Who would have thought Peckham had such a beautiful spot
Great gardens, and also great to meet some interesting characters on route: met lovely group of artists, was asked tentatively by an old man'but why do you come to these gardens?' and then accosted by an old lady in Choumert who wanted to know if we knew where we were). It is making September seem sooner and they were a little intimidating!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Britney or Grace?

At the moment I don't know whether my relationship with the garden if more Britney Spears 'Im a slave for you' or Grace Jones  'Slave to the rhythm' either way it is being very demanding mistress. However I'm still on top of things and finding time to do good added value stuff... Its hard to stop digging as I had always said I would stop in May, but there is just a little bit more to do....

I'm getting into the swing of visiting NGS gardens at the mo...one of the great unexpected things about opening is that we get a card that gets us in free to all the other ones so we are making the most of things. It is certainly reassuring as they are all great 'normal' gardens! We saw a lovely one in Forest Hill (photos below) but I must admit I was more focused on going to see the exhibition on Balinese culture at the Hornimans museum which was very inspiring.

Anyway...I have a very picturey blog for you as I thought this was a good opportunity to take stock

Forest hill NGS garden...well designed, first half was gravel, no lawn!  but would it turn into a giant cat litter tray? They were brave people as they had entry through their house

If only Obama was there for a quick game of table tennis

Such good cake....I could have had one of each but that would have made me a bit of a fatty (and there were too many people watching)

This was their green roofed rabbit hutch...great idea, and the rabbits looked very happy

Back to me.....everything is a bit empty at the mo as its all been cleared out and dug over with lots of small plants (Ricinus are about 6inches with 3 sets of leaves) it will fill out and look jungly, I promise!

Tropaeolum brachyceras just flowering

End bed, bananas and Tetrapanax growing well

New bed (last year this was my veg patch) again everything is still very small

Clerodendron and Kniphofia caulescens and lots of baby Ricinus

Paulownia coming up, Tetrapanax looking grand. Opium poppies have just popped up so Im humouring them whilst things grow
Lots of evil blanket weed, but pygmy red lilly flowereing as is the white one. Cyperus alternifolius usually covers one side but it was decimated by the frost..

Iris that is a little OTT, bit like a blue Barbara Cartland on a stick

Eremus next to my hopefully large and impressive stand of Lobelia tupa

Tree ferns coming out..this area was soooo dry that I think it has been set back a bit

Sadly the one Musa sikkimensis which I had thought made it through the winter ok is actually dead :( I t will re-grow from the base to hopefully fill the gap...

The first passion flower of the year

Calla lillies...I probably like them more for the leaves, but looking so nice at the mo

Upper levels....eventually Ganesh should be surrounded by big leaves blocking the view

Just sorted this area making a more formal seating area from (very heavy) York stone. Difficult area as it should be shady but gets baked by the sun in the late afternoon 

Sunflower bed for cut flowers infront of the bog garden with Petasities growing bigger and bigger

Mum says the bean trellis looks like the thing you get at the end of rotary club firework displays....

I like this view as it looks very neat and NGS!

Perrenial foxglove in my not shady, shady area...

Terrace all in a bit of a jumble....bananas coming up, as is Cauteleya...Thalia looking big