Aug 022016
 
Gloucestershire

Gloucestershire

When I did a garden design course years ago, we all had to do a project on a designer/plantsperson of our choice. For some reason I chose Rosemary Verey, who wasn’t strictly a garden designer – rather an extremely well connected ‘owner-gardener’. But I was fascinated by the idea of potagers and knew that she had created one in the garden at her home, Barnsley House.

The house is now a hotel but you can still see the garden by either going for lunch or tea, taking a pre-booked group tour, or by paying £10 (including a coffee and a petit four), which is the option we went for. It’s a pretty classy establishment and we weren’t exactly dressed for it, but the staff couldn’t have been friendlier – they urged us to make ourselves comfortable in the armchairs near the log fire (yes, in July – the weather was terrible) while we sipped our coffees.

Afterwards, we pretty much had the garden to ourselves. It is famous for its Laburnum Walk, which had gone over by the time of our visit, of course, and the Lime Walk. I’ve seen a couple of lime walks recently, and have to say that I’ve found them rather dark and oppressive. I’m sure they’re lovely in spring when they’re just coming into leaf, with spring planting underneath, though.

But of course, we made a beeline for the potager. It’s huge – bigger than most people’s gardens – but there were plenty of ideas that could be scaled down for a smaller garden. It’s intricately laid out to a design that is not dissimilar to a knot garden, and is full of structure – topiary, trained fruit trees, box edging, arches, attractive plant supports and so on. Interestingly, some veg, such as courgettes, squashes etc  aren’t grown in the potager, presumably because they take up too much room and don’t look as attractive – they’re grown in a nearby veg patch. The potager is saved for the prettier crops – globe artichokes, tree fruit, alpine strawberries and herbs. Plus flowers of course – opium poppies added splashes of colour everywhere. I loved the living willow supports for sweet peas.

Of course, my own veg patch looks woeful in comparison. I did manage to divide it up with loose brick paths earlier in the year, and was full of good intentions, but I took my eye off the ball just when the plot needed attention. The runner beans and courgettes got eaten by slugs, so I had to buy plants from the garden centre (a very expensive way of doing things) and my autumn-fruiting raspberries went down with a virus. Many of my flowers for cutting just haven’t got going. I have resolved that there are going to be some changes next year…

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Sweet peas climbing up a living willow support at Barnsley House

Jul 232015
 
The veg garden at Trengwainton, Cornwall

Cornwall

I’ve just got back from a very foggy and wet week in Cornwall. It was disappointing because a) Cornwall looks stunning when it’s sunny b) We couldn’t see anything because the fog was so bad and c) I do not enjoy holidays that involve wearing a cagoule. In desperation one day, we went to the nearest National Trust property, Trengwainton, figuring that it would have a nice cafe at the very least. It’s filled with tender, exotic plants but we only managed to see the veg garden, where Christian enquired as to why my veg patch is not planted in straight lines like this one. A very good point – my veg planting has been very haphazard this year. By that time it was raining horizontally, so we retreated to the heaving cafe and agreed that we may as well call it a day and head back to our holiday cottage.

On the way back, we stopped off at an ancient monument looming eerily out of the fog, like a mini Stonehenge. We clambered over a dry stone wall to have a look at it, and sheltered under it for a while with a bemused-looking Swiss couple and their dog. We all looked sympathetically at each other before going our separate ways.

Jun 082013
 
Finsbury Park

Finsbury Park

If I could live anywhere in London, it would be Ambler Road. Who wouldn’t want to live on a street that is home to its very own topiary elephants (and a baby owl)? There’s also a shop around the corner that only sells naan breads. I just love that idea.

The street also has the perfect mix of ages and socio-ethnic groups, and thanks to Naomi Schillinger and her band of Blackstock Triangle Gardeners, some great front gardens and tree pits. The sense of community as a result of all this greenfingered activity is astounding and if I hadn’t witnessed it for myself many times, I don’t think I’d really believe it.

Ambler Road isn’t manicured in a Britain in Bloom way – you won’t find neat bedding displays or immaculate lawns. What you will find is a community veg patch, crops in dumpster bags and some small front gardens that are cleverly planted.

Robert’s garden (below) was tarted up thanks to an Islington Council grant – a few years back they were trying to encourage people to plant up, not pave over, their front gardens. Needless to say there’s no funding available nowadays, but quite a few gardens were tarted up as a result.

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Robert’s neighbours’ garden (below) is filled almost exclusively with veg in dumpster bags. I’ve always thought dumpster bags were a bit unsightly, but these are packed closely together. The rhubarb makes a great centrepiece.

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But back to the topiary. The elephants came about because the formerly overgrown hedge was a magnet for antisocial behaviour – you can read the full story at Out of My Shed. The aptly named Tim Bushe created them – here’s more of his handiwork.

 

Sep 102012
 

Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden

I suffered rather an ordeal the other night. In other words, I had my photo taken. My friend Naomi at Out of My Shed is writing a book, and she plans to include me in it.

It is an undisputed fact that I always look awful in pictures. I was once photographed for Which? Travel magazine (clutching a bottle of tequila… it’s a long story). The photographer said that the harder the person is to take a picture of, the longer the job lasts. Taking one picture of me took FOUR HOURS. In the resulting shot I looked like a burglar with a drink problem (bottle of tequila + the unfortunate choice of a stripey top).

Anyway, Naomi rather sprung this picture-taking session on me and it was just my luck that I was having a bad hair (and bad cold) day. But one does not say no to Naomi, so off we went to the Queen Elizabeth Hall roof garden for the ultimate urban veg growing vibe.

The place has got a lot more popular since I last went (and rightly so – it’s fab), and there were people sitting everywhere. Naomi snapped away, doing her best with such a lousy subject, while everyone no doubt wondered why a woman was having her picture taken next to some vegetables.

The ordeal over, we had a beer and admired the gardens. I loved this informal screen that has sprung up the length of the pergola that leads to the Hayward Gallery. The raised bed underneath it is probably one and a half feet wide and deep, and is stuffed to the gills with Verbena bonariensis, Solanum jasminoides, Joe Pye weed, the odd rose, nasturtiums and herbs. Edible, ornamental, and scented.

May 022012
 

Brooklyn

Here’s a neat idea that I really liked at the time but never got around to doing myself – dark pink tulips, ‘Absalon’, mixed with dark purple pansies and curly kale. I spotted it at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Maybe this autumn I’ll finally get around to it…

Nov 072011
 

St Albans

We had a disaster with our Florence fennel at the allotment this year. Bar a couple of plants, it all bolted, and once that happens the bulbs are too tough to eat. I think lack of watering at a crucial stage may have been to blame.

But every cloud has a silver lining and this weekend the bolted plants looked fantastic – about 6ft high and the kind of fresh, bright green that you only see in spring. They looked positively other-worldly amid a sea of decaying, brown plants.

Next year I’d like to actually eat some fennel so will make a bit more of an effort to look after the plants. But I’ll definitely neglect a row so I can enjoy the flowers too.

Oct 162011
 

Bath

I do like a bit of serendipity. No sooner had I read about Vegmead, a community veg garden in the middle of a park in Bath, than I walked straight past it. A former flowerbed, it was created by a group of volunteers as part of the Transition Bath movement in Hedgemead Park. It was planted in six days – you can watch a lovely video about its creation here. I’m not sure who gets to eat the crops…

Meanwhile Bath has won a silver gilt in the Britain in Bloom Awards. Bath in Bloom gave support to the Vegmead project, which shows that the competition isn’t all about immaculate flowerbeds like the one below. Apparently the Britain in Bloom judges saw much more veg displays around the country this year – I bet we’ll be seeing more of them in the future.

 

Oct 052011
 

RHS Hall

To be honest, I’ve never really got exhibition veg. Why would you go to extreme measures to grow an onion the size of a football or a parsnip that’s a couple of feet long? It seems like a very blokey thing to do – I’m not aware of any women who are into it. I’m more interested in growing tasty veg to eat.

But then I got talking to the twinkly Ray Bassett at the  RHS London Autumn Harvest Show. He’d won first prize for his French beans and second prize for runner beans in the Fruit and Vegetable competition and told me some of his secrets. To make the beans poker straight, he gently manipulates them into shape by hand. Once they’ve reached a certain size they grow straight all on their own, provided there’s nothing in the way. Ray said that ‘Stenner’ is the best and tastiest variety and promised to send me some seeds.

I didn’t like to point out that a couple of Ray’s beans seemed to be have been snapped in half, but apparently that’s all part of the judging. One judge calls out a number between 1 and 9, and then another calls left or right. And then a particular bean – say number three from the left – is snapped in half to test that it’s not stringy. Look closely at the pics and you’ll see the line where the beans were snapped.

Ray and I then had a lovely chat about love, life and gardening. Apparently his wife of 45 years likes horticulture too – she’s into the flower side of things. But it hasn’t always been that way – they used to be into TT racing and often say how surprised they are that they’ve ended up as gardening nuts. Ray says that life has never been better and he just wants to be in the garden all the time. And I can totally relate to that.