Oct 302014
 
Pelargoniums and paperwhite narcissisi in conservatory

Bath

There’s a clash of the seasons in my conservatory at the moment. Some paperwhite narcissi have flowered way earlier than I was expecting, and some pelargoniums (including the wonderfully named ‘Happy Thought’, in the front) have decided to flower again.

The tiny space is getting very congested – I’ve already brought in some tender plants, such as lemon verbenas, which was a bit premature given the ridiculously mild weather we’ve been having. Soon a couple of bananas and a fuchsia will be making their way in. Mind you, the effect I’m going for is Andie McDowell’s indoor greenhouse in the film Green Card, so a bit of congestion is fine by me.

Sep 012014
 
Pelargonium-house, Stourhead

Stourhead

When I spotted a sign pointing the way to the Pelargonium House at Stourhead, I made an immediate beeline for it. It’s a beautiful old glasshouse that contains around 100 varieties of pelargonium, some of which look nothing like a pelargonium. The smell in there is divine.

Several of the varieties are sold in the shop, and I brought home three with me. The most successful plants in my conservatory this year* have been pelargoniums, so I’m going to turn it into a mini pelargonium house.

*More on this in a future post.

Jul 222014
 
Scented-leaf pelargonium

Belcombe Court, Wilts

Pelargoniums have one thing in common with succulents in that they don’t need much watering. I’m spending an inordinate amount of time watering at the moment, with a hose that behaves like a demented serpent, so anything that isn’t needy on the watering front is very welcome.

I’ve got several types – ‘Attar of Roses’, ‘Fragrans Variegatum’ and ‘Candy Flowers Dark Red’. Some are in my conservatory, and some are outside. The plants in the conservatory are much more impressive – they’re smothered with flowers. The ones outside are smaller, with fewer flowers, and a little rain-bashed.

Jun 112014
 
Succulents

Bath

My love affair with succulents continues. I was happy with these little numbers in my conservatory even without their flowers, and then all of a sudden, they flowered. The one below has sprouted a stalk that’s about a foot long, from a tiny rosette. Another very similar-looking plant produced a completely different, star-shaped yellow flower.

I just love these little guys. As I’ve said before, the conditions in my conservatory are harsh – cold in winter and hot in summer. Many of the plants need watering every day at this time of year, but not so the succulents. Photographing them next to a watering can is a bit of a red herring, as they’re the ultimate drought-tolerant plant. They haven’t seen a drop of water for days. In fact I’ll confess that the plant below hasn’t been watered for months, hidden away at the bottom of a plant stand. I feel so guilty that I’m off to water it now.

Succulents2

Nov 142013
 
Conservatory

Bath

Along with a new house and garden, I have acquired a conservatory. Some people have been slightly derogatory about its plasticky look but I love it. On a sunny autumn day it gets distinctly toasty and there’s no nicer place to sit eating breakfast or working. On a dull day it gives a double hit of daylight and chlorophyll, without having to step outside.

The space only covers about 2.5m x 2.5m, but it’s a bottomless pit as far as plants are concerned. It already contains around 20 plants, but looks empty. The effect I’m going for is Andie MacDowell’s roof terrace in Green Card – so consider this the ‘before’ shot.

Needless to say, as with most conservatories, fluctuation in temperature is an issue. At the moment it’s about 10 degrees warmer inside than out, but as night falls, the temperature plummets. It’s still not as cold as outdoors, but it’s pretty chilly. I’m not planning on heating it – it costs enough to heat the rest of the house – so I’m making do with plants that can tolerate temperatures down to about 7 degrees. In effect, I am creating a winter garden. 

So far, I’m overwintering a few plants for friends – two bananas, a fuchsia and a pelargonium. I’ve bought a lemon tree (Citrus x limon ‘Meyer’, which tolerates cooler temperatures), a camellia that should flower earlier as it’s under cover, and some succulents. Paperwhites, hyacinths and minature daffs are waiting in the wings and next spring I’ll start off some seeds in it. It will probably be largely emptied out for summer as it will get pretty hot, but next autumn I’ll bring in all the tender plants that I’ll no doubt have acquired by then.

So this time next year I should be giving Andie MacDowell run for her money. In the meantime the rays of sunshine and handy vantage points are being appreciated by my new four-legged friend…

Weds

Jul 192012
 

Buckinghamshire

I’ve been on quite a few work awaydays over the years, and one – a day trip to Ghent, Belgium, for the Floralies in 2010 – will be forever etched into the memory of those involved. Sadly I can’t divulge what happened (what happened in Ghent, stays in Ghent) but let’s just say that it’s strictly UK-only trips from now on.

This year we went to Buckinghamshire (nothing bad ever happens in Buckinghamshire) for a brainstorming session. We discussed the schedule for 2014 (that’s how far ahead gardening magazines work) and then we visited Mary Berry’s garden.


As you can see, it’s rather large. The highlight is most definitely the pond, designed with the help of the former head gardener at Longstock Park Water Garden (Mary has friends in all the right places). It also has a rose walk, tennis court, meadow, lots of herbaceous borders and, not surprisingly, a large kitchen garden. Mary is a knowledgeable gardener and highly recommends Rose ‘Chandos Beauty’ (below) for scent, disease-resistance and flowers until November. I had a sniff and wasn’t disappointed.


And yes, there was cake. Mary was going to give us tea in the conservatory but as it was so cold and wet, she invited us into her kitchen for a cup of tea and a chat. She’s got the biggest Aga I’ve ever seen and the biggest teapot, too.

Apart from us cleaning Mary out of lemon drizzle and chocolate cakes (both delicious, of course), I’m pleased to say that the afternoon passed without incident. Clearly the new awayday policy of venturing no further than 30 minutes from London with no need for foreign currency/a working knowledge of Flemish/valid passports/train tickets/tram tickets/timetables/maps/ash cloud diversions has paid off.

Mar 082012
 

Paris

A friend of mine once spent some time at a monastery in southern France where the monks lived in silence. They were allowed to speak when it was their turn to welcome passing travellers – and when it was their turn, they couldn’t stop talking. By the end of his stay Gérard was desperate for some peace and quiet.

I was reminded of this story at La Musée de la Vie Romantique in Paris last weekend. It’s free to get in and was virtually deserted, so the receptionist had very little to do. She checked we had the right leaflets, fretted over some audio guides, described in detail where the toilets were and talked us through every item for sale in the tiny shop.

Needless to say what I was most interested in was the sign saying ‘Thés dans le jardin’, but the receptionist didn’t have anything to say about that. There were no teas in the garden – they don’t start until early summer. This was a shame because the newly renovated Winter Garden, attached to the house, would have been the perfect setting in which to nibble cake, sip tea and shelter from the cold. I can’t imagine a ‘refreshments in summer only’ rule going down very well with in England – a historic house without a tearoom is like a ship without a sail.

But I digress. I’ve always loved the idea of a winter garden, or a conservatory, or a room like Andie McDowell’s in Green Card – a place to go for light, warmth and greenery when it’s cold outside. I love the design of this one, with its sloping roof and green paint – it manages to look classic yet contemporary. I wouldn’t have a grotto in mine, though, and I’d pack it with a hell of a lot more plants.