May 292015


I know I’ve talked about Bradford on Avon several times before, but I’m about to do it again. We had a wander around there last weekend, and the two rows of houses above the Newtown area, Tory and Middle Rank, were looking as gorgeous as ever. Their main gardens are across the footpath, but most houses have planting outside too. Everything seemed way ahead of my own garden, presumably because the houses face south and are in a sheltered spot. Christian’s garden there is tiny, but for a small moment I could see us living there, instead of at my house, enjoying the pleasant lack of wind. But what would we do without any gardening to do? I’m not sure I can imagine it…

It’s the Bradford on Avon Secret Gardens Festival on Sunday, and it is well worth a visit – there are clearly many green-fingered types in the town. I’m not sure if any gardens in Tory or Middle Rank are taking part, but you’ll see plenty if you just wander up there – and the view is spectacular, too.


May 222015


I was at the Chelsea Flower Show on Monday, for press day, and saw very little of it as I was working in the Great Pavilion. I had half an hour for lunch, and tried to see as much as I could in the wind and rain, but when I got home I realised that I’d missed huge swathes of it. Mind you, I always seem to miss part of the show even when I have more free time, as my sense of direction is so lousy.

As ever, I was looking for planting inspiration for my own garden. Several of the gardens had orange and rust-coloured flowers such as verbascums, geums and irises, often planted with dark plums and bright blue – a combination that wasn’t really my bag. The planting in The Time In Between garden most closely reflected my hopes for the border in my own garden, which seems to have developed a dark pink, purple, pale lemon, white and green theme. I’ve got some box balls, alliums, foxgloves, and a small, multi-stemmed Cercis canadensis ‘Avondale*’, which in 20 years might look as impressive as this magnolia. It made me realise that I could do with some grey-leaved plants to add some contrast (and the advice of a Chelsea designer to bring it all together).

The planting was quite similar in several of the gardens (all that orange), so the Front Garden by newbie Sean Murray, winner of the The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge, was a breath of fresh air – its predominantly yellow planting looked really good against the slate.


And of course I liked Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth-inspired garden – didn’t everybody? I’m not massively keen on representations of existing gardens, but it had unusual shrubs and perennials that you don’t usually see in Chelsea show gardens. And it’s nice to know that it will have a life beyond the show. It was a bugger to photograph, though.


And finally, I loved The Sculptor’s Picnic Garden. It had a lovingly crafted feel to it, and it showed that you can use natural materials to create structure and focus, without splashing out thousands on a sculpture.

*Yes, I got one. The Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-Mai’ is about to be moved…

May 072015


Whenever the weather forecast says it’s going to be windy, my heart sinks. ‘Windy’ means ‘gale force winds’ in my garden. It’s positioned in such a way that it gets the full force of south westerlies, and there’s nothing I can really do about it, as I’ve explained before. All I can do is plant wind-resistant plants such as Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ and grasses, and try not to look out of the window while violent gusts toss my precious plants about.

So hats off to the two tulips you can see here, ‘White Triumphator’ and ‘Attila’s Graffiti’, which have endured two days and nights of very strong winds. Some lost their petals, but the stems on all of them stood firm. ‘White Triumphator’ in particular looks almost as good as they did before the windy weather.

I saw ‘White Triumphator’ tulips at the Walled Garden at Mells last spring and loved them as they looked so classy. I chose ‘Attila’s Graffiti’ because they’re ‘Triumph’ tulips, said to stand up to bad weather. I’ve been really pleased with them, too – the flowers have been huge and have flowered for ages, and they contrast really well with the acid yellow flowers of Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfennii and the purple erysimums. I’m defnitely going to grow more Triumph varieties next year.

The same can’t be said of ‘Prinses Irene’ in pots in the front garden – they’ve all been decapitated.

Apr 292015



Arundel, West Sussex

As I have previously reported on this blog, my boyfriend is a fan of castles. That was fine by me, until we started visiting them. I soon realised that I don’t like castles much. As far as I’m concerned, if you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all. They’ve all got a gatehouse, a portcullis, a drawbridge, tricky spiral staircases and slitty windows for shooting arrows out of. Some are just ruins that you still have to pay to get into, then imagine where those features were. I’m rarely bored, but I am bored by castles, and find it difficult to hide – so much so that when we visited Caerphilly Castle (one of my boyfriend’s favourites, one of my least favourite ever) I couldn’t hide my desperation to get out of there. It has given rise to the term ‘Caerphilly Face’ in our household.

As Christian gamely trudges around gardens with me without complaint, I have vowed to never again show my Caerphilly Face when visiting a castle. To lessen the chance of it happening we have agreed that it’s best for all concerned if the castle has a tea shop, and, ideally, a garden. Which is, of course, the case with Arundel Castle. So off we went to coincide with the Tulip Festival.

Judging by the Caerphilly Faces of the French and Dutch teenagers trudging around the castle I am not alone in my castle-phobia. But actually, I quite enjoyed this one. For starters, it’s intact. It has lots of life-size models and recordings that give you a sense of life in the castle. It even has soft furnishings.

But of course the garden was the main draw for me. It’s awash with tulips at this time of year – over 20,000 of them.  Some of the displays were a bit too garish for my liking (I guess you have to go for the wow factor in a garden like this) but here are some ideas that I could see myself replicating in my own garden.



Arundel Tulips-by-steps


Apr 162015


It seemed like spring would never come, and now we seem to be hurtling headlong into summer. I’ve gone from willing everything to grow, to wishing it would all slow down a bit.

This patch of bulbs is just one tiny part of a 20m long swathe of bulbs that seems to have popped up overnight alongside a busy road in Cheltenham. The verge separates the road from the pedestrian and cycle lanes on the other side, and this delicate spectacle is definitely best enjoyed by those on foot or on bikes. It isn’t brash enough to be appreciated by car drivers whizzing past.

Someone has a put a lot of thought into this planting – it’s fresh, pretty and unusual – and keeps on going (the daffs, now going over, are being succeeded by tulips). The main road is usually my least favourite part of the walk to work, but right now it’s my favourite.