Last weekend I went garden visiting with a fellow gardening anorak, Naomi over at Out of My Shed. It was great to be able to visit gardens for two whole days, without worrying about my companion getting fidgety and bored. Plus, Naomi has a van, which meant I didn’t have to hold back on buying plants – or heed concerns over a lack of room in the boot or getting the car dirty.
We went to some great gardens, more of which in future posts. I was blown away by how immaculate Hidcote was, and how beautiful. I was also blown away by the crowds. I was expecting it to be busy, but the garden was so packed that it was sometimes impossible to progress through it. I’ve heard Troy Scott-Smith, the head gardener at Sissinghurst, talk about the challenges of working in a garden that attracts such high visitor numbers – it must be a similar case for the team here.
I was also blown away by the behaviour of the visitors. There was no escaping a woman in mustard-coloured trousers who alternated between marching around the garden and standing abruptly still, talking very loudly on her mobile. With her free hand, she was waving her SLR randomly about, snapping photos without looking at what she was doing. I don’t think I’ll ever forget her.
People were also manhandling the plants with gay abandon, and in one case, filching plant material. At neighbouring Kiftsgate, I witnessed a group of people speculating about the depth of the pool, then lowering their golfing umbrellas into the water to measure it (in case you’re wondering, it’s a couple of feet deep). They then walked off, umbrellas dripping everywhere, looking very pleased with themselves. (Also at Kiftsgate, a group of Germans were having a conversation about black stockings: ‘Black Stockings? Ja, Black Stockings! Black Stockings! I can only assume they were talking about a plant variety.)
But I digress. Hidcote was truly lovely, and if there hadn’t have been so many people there, I might have taken some nice photos. Here are two that I did manage to take.
Inspired by my neighbour, who has one in her garden, I planted a stauntonia at the back of the border last year. I was a bit disappointed with it – it was billed as ‘vigorous’ but didn’t grow much. In fact, it didn’t do much at all. I feared for it over the winter – it’s supposed to be planted in a sheltered spot, and I had planted it in an exposed, windy one (as has my neighbour).
This year, it has romped away, clothing several feet of fence, which is exactly what I wanted it to do. But it’s main virtue is its incredible scent, which comes from the tiny, insignificant flowers. It’s so intoxicating that I can’t tear myself away, and as a result the border has never been so well weeded.
In an interview in the February issue of Gardens Illustrated, Edward Flint, head gardener at Tidebrook Manor and tutor on the Art and Craft of Gardening course at Great Dixter, said something that really struck a chord: ‘If you see something that needs doing, it’s probably too late.’ His words ring in my ears every time I dash out into the garden to sow, plant or prune, just before the window of opportunity closes. Good gardeners – especially head gardeners, whose job it is to stay on top of things – stick to a pre-ordained timetable. Somehow I never manage that.
Naomi is a good, organised gardener like Edward. In the depths of winter, when training a rose is far from most people’s minds, she was out in the inclement weather working some magic on this climbing rose with her friend Catherine. She says it was the last thing she felt like doing, but it was the right time to do it, so she did it.
The rose is now blooming its socks off and clothing the wall of the house perfectly. And it’s not even against Naomi’s own house – it’s in the ‘community’ corner plot at the end of her road, home to all kinds of edible delights that local residents can help themselves to. Every time she walks past the rose she thinks to herself: ‘I did that’. She jokes that if she can do that, she can do anything.
This winter, I too will be out in the garden in the freezing cold, pruning and training my own climbing roses. Just you see if I don’t.
Like many people, I don’t have room for a pond in my garden. But I would love to get some water in somehow and had a long chat with Waterside Nursery at the Chelsea Flower Show. They sell lots of plants suitable for ponds in pots on patios, in sun or shade. I’m going to start saving up…
In the meantime, I can dream about two water features from Chelsea this year: the beautiful copper bowl by sculptor Giles Raynor in Nick Bailey’s garden for Winton Capital – beautiful and mesmerising. And Cleve West’s rock pool, which was used as a bird bath by local birds, as his Instagram film shows.
They’re already calling the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016 a vintage year – and I’m inclined to agree. The show gardens were quite diverse compared to some years, and there seemed to be a joyfulness about the place. There was much to enjoy and admire.
Much has already been blogged, Tweeted and Instagrammed about the show, but here are my four favourite gardens.
Nick Bailey’s garden for Winton Capital was my joint Best in Show. It just looked so different, full of plants I wasn’t familiar with, and was unlike anything I’ve seen before at Chelsea. On the plans, the hard landscaping looked quite prominent but in the flesh it was subtle and allowed the plants to shine. I’m intrigued to know why it didn’t get a Gold medal (it got a silver gilt) – because of the plant associations, maybe?
Cleve West‘s show gardens never disappoint, and this was my second Best in Show. The M&G Garden was based on memories of Exmoor, where Cleve lived for a while in his teens, but wasn’t a pastiche of it – it didn’t use native plants, for example. I loved the way it evolved into from a rugged landscape to a more obvious garden, while using the same stone, sawn rough and smooth. I also loved the rock ‘pools’ and the incredibly natural planting, which looked like it had always been there.
I also really liked Ann-Marie Powell’s garden. It wasn’t a show garden but the official RHS garden for Health, Happiness and Horticulture. Residents of a London estate helped to build it, and it will have a permanent home there after the show. Community gardens can have a a certain look but this really breaks the mould – I’d love to have this on my doorstep.
And who didn’t love the Senri-Sentei garage garden? It was just so cute, and an inspired idea.
And big up to Juliet Sargeant for a creating a garden with a message that was instantly readable and thought-provoking. We’re often invited to think hard about tricky subjects at flower shows – from bladder problems to terminal illnesses – and they can be horribly clumsy. Juliet’s Modern Slavery garden got its message across in a devastatingly simple manner – and was beautiful too.
I never thought I’d be that bothered about having a manicured lawn, but I’ve realised that I like a healthy sward and a crisp edge as much as the next person. I love it when my lawn (which is actually more of a long, wide grass path) has been recently cut and edged, and I find myself feeling frustrated when daisies spoil the look, seemingly within minutes of mowing.
This spring, however, I haven’t mowed much. There are lots of ashy mining bees (Andrena cineraria) that cruise just above the grass and pause to sup on the daisies – and they don’t budge when a mower comes along. They gather nectar from the daisies (and the blossom of fruit trees) and I don’t want to deprive them, or chew them up in the mower.
As a result, the lawn has grown quite long. I’ve realised that once it’s got past a certain length, the daisies cease to irk me – the effect is more that of a wildflower meadow. The bees will be gone by the beginning of June, and I’ll be quite reluctant to start mowing again. I’m going to leave an area under the apple tree unmowed to keep the meadow effect going. I did it last year, and it’s fascinating to see what appears there.
The whole garden is teetering on the edge of chaos at the moment – everything is growing so fast that weeds and self-seeders are appearing daily. I planted some hedgerow plug plants under the edible hedge last autumn, and I can’t tell what’s a wildflower and what’s a weed – if there’s even a difference. I’ll have to intervene at some point, but at the moment I’m just enjoying watching everything grow.
I’m back! Sorry it’s been so long. I’ve been snowed under with freelance work, and I’ve been ill, and it’s been the longest winter ever. So much so that I haven’t been out much, or had the opportunity to just wander about with my camera.
I’ve also been wondering what to do with this blog. It strikes me that much of what I do on here – taking pictures of things that provide inspiration my own garden (and, I hope, you too) – is now being done very well by many people on Instagram. I too have an Instagram account, and it’s much quicker and easier to post on there. But what I can’t do on Instagram is write a great deal, and that’s what I love to do. So I’ll carry on doing that here when I feel I have something to say. I’ve also been working on a little project with Naomi over at Out of My Shed – more about that soon.
In the meantime, here are some tulips for you. They’re from my cutting patch, and have all flowered at once – I’ll have to plant more varieties next year for a longer period of interest. They’re ‘Orange Favourite’ and ‘Rococo’, and they positively glow.
On a day out at Greys Court last year, my Mum admired a plant theatre, filled with pansies and violas. In the gift shop, she picked up a leaflet that contained instructions for making one, and then thought no more about it.
On Christmas Day last year, after all the presents had been opened, my Dad disappeared into the garage and came back in, carrying a large present for my Mum. It was a plant theatre, similar to the one above. Every time Mum had gone out, Dad had worked on it in secret. Dad’s not big on grand (or small) gestures, so we were all quite gobsmacked.
The theatre now has pride of place on the wall of the house, and is currently filled with pansies and violas, just like this one.