May 242012
 

 


Unless you’ve been living in a cupboard under the stairs, you’ll know that the Chelsea Flower Show is taking place at the moment. I went on Monday, on press day. It’s a privilege to walk into the  showground early in the morning, the air heady with anticipation, and to glimpse the show gardens for the first time. I’ll admit that I’m more interested in the show gardens than I am in the displays in the Great Pavilion. Maybe that will change when I get my own garden, as I might actually be in the market for buying some plants.

This year, the must-have plant seemed to be cow parsley. A colleague quipped that he spends most of his life trying to keep it out of his garden. There was a very high box ball and topiary quota, too. Some of the big gardens on the Main Avenue looked a tad similar, with lots of naturalistic, romantic planting – a reaction to the double-dip recession maybe? Or a homage to the big Chelsea cheese and gold medal winner Tom Stuart-Smith? And oddly, there was very little grow-your-own in comparison to the last few years, so maybe that bubble is beginning to burst.

This year, I decided I’d ‘judge’ the gardens on whether I’d like to wake up looking at them every day. My favourites are below. I wouldn’t actually want Diarmuid Gavin’s creation (above) outside my back door, but it was most definitely fun. Due to vertigo issues I only got halfway up, but it was great being able to set foot in a show garden, especially one that involved ladders, waterfalls and slides.

And then, of course, there were the celebrities. I’ve come to the conclusion that spotting celebs on press day at Chelsea is a bit like going on safari. On safari you’re told what you might see – zebras, lions, elephants etc – and you really, really want to tick them off your list. At Chelsea, you’re given a list of the celebrities who may be present (Christopher Biggins, Floella Benjamin and Ringo Starr are usually guaranteed), and you really, really want to tick them off the list. You get jealous if someone has seen someone you haven’t, even if they’re a bit Z-list, and get over excited if you spot anyone at all (my colleague Jane, visiting Chelsea for the first time, cried: ‘Oh my god, it’s JENNIE BOND!!!!’. We haven’t let her live that one down).

If you get wind of a crowd gathering, see some flashbulbs going off, or hear a rumour that someone off the telly is nearby, you hotfoot it there indecently quickly, camera or smartphone held aloft and sharp elbows at the ready. This is what happened when I heard Gwyneth Paltrow was in the vicinity last year, and the same thing happened this year with Sir Cliff Richard. I’m not proud of it and I don’t know why I did it, but there’s a pic of him at the bottom of this post anyway.

The Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust garden by Joe Swift

There was a lot going on in Joe Swift’s garden compared to others on the Main Avenue, but it was ordered, welcoming, contemporary and considered. I’d seen some drawings beforehand and the garden didn’t look particularly inspiring, so the finished result was a surprise. All the years commenting on other people’s show gardens for the BBC have obviously paid off.

The Brewin Dolphin garden by Cleve West

I sat on Cleve’s bench for a few moments with a bunch of other hacks. I loved the planting  – naturalistic but with lots of pops of colour. Apparently there was some red, white and blue to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but it was very subtle.

Celebration of Caravanning by Jo Thompson

Jo Thompson’s garden was an inspiration for anyone with a small space. She used mature birch trees, Betula albosinensis  ‘Fascination’, which were perfectly shaped and not remotely overpowering – perfect for a town garden. And who wouldn’t want Doris (the 1950s caravan) at the bottom of their garden?

The Bradstone Panache garden

More inspiration for small gardens. The clever layout included a path that was a continuous curve, leading to a seat. The sweep of alpine strawberries (on the right) was a nice touch.

Satoyama Life

This Japanese masterpiece invited you to just stand and gaze at it. Which I did, for a long time.

The World Vision Garden

Lots of hard landscaping and tree ferns isn’t really my thing, but the underplanting was really pretty in this garden, in shades of purple and orange. I couldn’t really do it justice in this pic.

A national treasure

 

May 052011
 

North Wales

I don’t generally go to Huw’s holiday cottage in Wales if there’s an ‘r’ in the month as the weather can be somewhat inclement at the best of times and the house has no central heating. But the second half of last weekend was actually be in May, the weather was set fair and Huw has a new woodburning stove, so I went.

As ever, as soon as we arrived, we went on a tour of the garden. This is when Huw notes the latest round of plant losses and survivors. The garden is at the bottom of a mountain overlooking the sea, so the growing conditions are pretty extreme – wind, rain, cold, slugs, mice and hungry sheep are all a threat. And Huw doesn’t play it safe, either – his plot is packed with rare and exotic plants, many of which are borderline hardy.  It even has what must be the UK’s only piptanthus grove.

I struggled to identify much in the garden but Huw leapt about, happily noting blossom on his schisandra,  michelia, abutilon and Rosa sericea (above) and proclaiming:  ‘Stephen is alive!’ (‘Stephen’ is his favourite ginger lily, and its shoots were just emerging).  All in all there were lots of survivors this time around – even the more unusual tree ferns had fresh shoots on them, but some rarer species of banana hadn’t made it through the winter.

Huw’s attitude to gardening is very different to my own. He grows plants from seed that I’d never even consider, such as palms, shrubs and trees – even though they take years to flower or reach a decent size. He’s matter-of-fact about his plant losses and isn’t that fussed about the ‘right plant, right place’ mantra – he’ll happily try out plants from California or Australia just to see how they do in Wales.

Plus, he’s gardening for the long term – the cottage has been in his family for over 80 years and he’s planting for future generations. So it’s just as well that he’s made a note of what he’s planted and has a giant plant encyclopaedia – because they’re probably going to need it.

Mar 182011
 

Victoria

I went to the RHS Halls in Victoria today for a preview of the London Orchid Show and to hear about what the RHS shows have in store this year. I chatted to Colin Crosbie, Curator at RHS Garden Wisley. He said that plants are an addiction, and he often has to fib to his wife when she spots a new plant in their garden, claiming that it’s been there for ages. My mum does a similar thing with my dad. I guess it’s the horticultural equivalent of someone with a shopping addiction claiming to have had a new pair of shoes for years.

Anyway, after the show I went shopping. I tried on some clothes, hated all of them and found myself in a bit of a bad mood (I hate shopping). And then I spied a street full of cherry trees in bloom, and found myself drawn to it.

The trees led to Ashley Gardens, a Victorian block of flats. Its garden is a cornucopia of shade-loving plants – hellebores, fatsias, camellias, Arum italicum, tree ferns, hardy geraniums and so on – with paths and mystery doorways and different levels. I spent a happy few minutes taking pics – along with someone else (I hope she doesn’t have a rival blog to this one!Q).

When I walked off I realised my spirits had lifted considerably. So I guess I’m with Colin on the addiction front. Oh well – plants are (usually) cheaper than shoes…