Every year I admire this combination of a red rose and a Hydrangea petiolaris, along a fence in a front garden. Why grow one climber, when you can plant two?
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.
This is my least favourite day of the year – the day when the clocks have gone back. But for the time being at least, my garden still thinks it’s summer. Penstemons, phlox, Geranium ‘Patricia’ and verbascums are all going strong, along with the old stalwarts, Erysimum Bowles’s Mauve, Verbena bonariensis and Gaura lindheimeri. Further down the garden, dahlias, marigolds, rudbeckias and cosmos are oblivious to the season. Frosts are on their way, though, so I’m making the most of every flower and leaf.
Below is a shot of the same border in March. The clocks had just gone forward, and all the fences had blown down in a gale. Many of the perennials and bulbs planted the previous autumn were refusing to appear and I was beginning to think that nothing was going to grow. So in the dark days of winter, when the garden is stubbornly dormant, I’ll console myself that it will look lovely again.
When I was a language student in the early Nineties, I lived in Nice for a year and worked as an ‘assistante’ in a secondary school. I drank a lot of café au lait and cheap rosé, learned how to eat better food and live well, and marvelled that I was living in a place that was almost permanently sunny.
I haven’t been back for many years, and I wondered how the place might have changed. The answer, to my surprise, was: not that much. It’s like the Nice I remember, but better. The population seems younger and more cosmopolitan (it was mostly old ladies in fur coats when I was there), and the dog of choice is no longer the poodle but the pug. The skateboards on the Promenade des Anglais have been replaced by Segways, restaurant menus are in Russian, and they’ve gone in for sushi and organic food in a big way. But the sea is still as blue and sparkling as ever, and the Old Town is still vibrant. The ubiquitous dog poo that blighted every street has long gone, the buses are fast, frequent and ridiculously cheap, and there’s a snazzy new tram system that’s still expanding.
There was one major addition, on the site of the old bus station and a multi-storey car park: La Promenade du Paillon. This new 1.2km ‘coulee verte’ (green corridor) opened in 2013. It was designed by the landscape architect Michel Pena, and cost 40 million euro. That’s a hell of a lot of money, but I’d say it was worth every euro.
The park stands on the course of the river Paillon, which still trickles beneath. Everything has a subtle watery theme, from the water jets to the giant wooden sea animal sculptures for children to play on. It is home to 1,600 trees, 6,000 shrubs and 50,000 plants.
The planting is planted in waves, in a contemporary prairie style, and themed by areas of the world. There is very little bedding – something that’s echoed in the rest of the town. The planting is much more sustainable these days, and no pesticides are used, either.
Interestingly, there is no cafe – a British park would definitely have one – but in a town that is brimming with them, I guess it doesn’t need it. We didn’t see a scrap of litter, and there are lots of park guardians, sadly lacking these days in Britain. Apparently it’s forbidden to sit on the grass (common in French parks) but we saw plenty of people doing it.
Nice doesn’t have much in the way of parks, despite having a very green feel – there is planting everywhere, and lots of trees. It’s something I didn’t notice that when I lived there – life is lived outside, on pavement cafes, and at the beach and promenade. But what is abundantly clear is that this park was needed. Locals and tourists sit on the many benches, watching the world go by, couples take an evening stroll, kids play in the play areas, and teenagers snog. If you wanted to create the perfect public space, it would be hard to do better than this.
At the time of writing, my garden finally looks OK. All year, I’ve been willing my young, newly planted perennials and shrubs to grow upwards and outwards, knitting together to cover the bare earth. And finally, they have. Many of the young perennials I planted last autumn and in spring are flowering (some for a second time), the lawn looks reasonably lush, and the climbers are gradually covering the fences. The weather has finally been sunny and mild, and I can’t believe that the show will inevitably end soon.
I’ve spent a lot of this summer fretting about the garden, rather than enjoying it. Now I feel a bit foolish, as it all turned out alright. My boyfriend has found my impatience and negativity exasperating – he’s not a gardener, but he understands that gardens take time to make, and that it’s a process of trial and error. In my defence, this is a new garden, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Plus, it has mostly been cold, wet and very windy – not the ideal conditions for new plants. Also, in my day job, I see hundreds of images of beautiful gardens, so my standards were unreasonably high.
In my new spirit of positivity, here’s what has thrived in a cold, wet summer on heavy clay soil at the top of a windy hill – and if they can survive here, they could surely survive anywhere…
At the end of the garden, where it’s more sheltered, I’ve started a little potager/cutting patch, edged with stepover apples, backed with cordon fruits, and with standard fruit bushes dotted about. I’ve grown Ammi majus, dahlias, Calendula officinalis ‘Indian Prince’, Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’, white cosmos and tanacetum. I’ve picked small bunches every other day, and they’re still all powering on. It will be a sad day when they finally run out of steam. I’ve enjoyed growing them more than I have veg.
When I planted up the garden, I trawled the internet for wind-tolerant plants, or plants that don’t mind exposed conditions, for my south-facing, wind-blasted border. I planted Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’, Gaura lindheimeri, Rosa rugosa, Verbena bonariensis, sedums, grasses and honeysuckle, plus agapanthus for pots. Hardy geraniums, giant fennel, Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfennii, Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Penstemon ‘Garnet’, Phlox paniculata ‘David’ and verbascums have also done fine. I do think some plants were a little stunted by the cold winds, and they all lean a little away from the fence, where the wind hits. I may stake a few next year.
I planted a bare-root hedge in March, in a partly shady, narrow area that I couldn’t think what to do with. It’s comprised of Rosa rugosa, sloes, hawthorn, cherry plums, hazel etc, and it’s bulked out pretty well. I’m going to underplant it with some hedgerow plug plants this autumn.
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Phantom’
What a brilliant plant. I bought this at a plant sale earlier in the year. It started flowering in July, and is still going strong now. The cone-shaped flowers have turned from pure white to a deep pink.
Raspberry ‘Joan J’
I planted these because they’re a Which? Best Buy. The big, tasty fruits just keep on coming. Next year I’m going to try double cropping.
Uninvited but welcome guests
In June, July and August, I had loads of orange poppies that would pop up, flower for a couple of days, then go over. I’ve no idea where they hitched a ride from, but I really liked them. Orange was never part of my planting plan, but now, I think I want more of it. Cow parsley has also popped up, rather fetchingly next to some foxgloves in my shady border, and I’ve even had a couple of sheafs of wheat.