For the last 2 years I have been raising money for this charity that is close to my heart. They helped us enormously when mum was dying and to give something back has been cathartic. Heres the story of how I and 12 other brave(mad) people trekked Cambodia for Marie Curie!
As I’m sure a lot of you already know I recently completed my Marie Curie trek No.2, this time in Cambodia.
Much like the first one, where we climbed 3 mountains in 3 days all over 3500 M, I had no concept of what I was asking of myself.
Often people assume it’s a bit of a jolly, having done it twice now I can assure you it’s no holiday. However the people that you walk with are often the most wonderful people you could ever hope to meet, and this group were absolutely amazing from start to finish! Continue reading “Trekking for Marie Curie”→
Its hard to believe its been a year since I saw Ulting Wick in the flesh for the first time, having admired it in many garden publications in the past. I came to view it not just because its an excellent garden but also to see how I would feel about taking on the job as Head Gardener so I came with my professional head on to assess how I would fit in. I fell in love with it. Over the last year Ive seen it grow and change in an amazing way. My initial viewing seems so long ago now!
After what has been its safe to say, and has been much discussed, one of the hardest winters we have experienced in a long time and one of the slowest springs its fingers crossed for a more average April. Everything is still running at least 2 weeks behind as I write this but the sun is shining outside and I’m feeling hopeful.
The last 2 weeks it feels like it hasn’t stopped raining, I’m sure it has, in fact I know it has as shortly after the bank holiday I managed to get out of the house for a short walk. The wind was cold but the sky was blue, I however was pathetically weak. You see at the start of the bank holiday weekend I started to develop septicemia, thankfully I recognised the symptoms. I think this is my fourth bout? It’s easy to overlook, in my case it manifests much like the onset of a flu or a bad cold but it’s subtely different. It’s certainly one which needs dealing with quickly and I was lucky enough to get through to an out of hours doctor… anyway! I got my antibiotics, 2 sets, which I finished yesterday and I’ve been back to work all week… albeit in a much limited sense but my enforced week off had given the garden a chance to leap into action!
I last wrote about Ulting wick just before the beast hit, it feels like that was ages ago! In fact it feels like its been cold since forever but we carried on hammering through the various jobs on our list in the vague hope that spring would soon be on us.
In late January I headed up to Waterperry to see the wonderful Pat Havers, Head Gardener and hero of mine. She was kind enough to indulge my love of Snowdrops and give me a tour of some of Waterperrys extensive collection. I also picked up some bare roots fruit trees, Apples for the fruit pruning course I had coming up and Pears … I ended up getting the wrong ones like a numpty but more on that later!
Nick Black who ran the Fruit pruning course with me also gave me my first lesson in using a chainsaw. At present I don’t hold my ticket so can’t use one as a paid employee but it could be an incredible asset to a gardener to be trained and qualified so im looking into getting myself the proper certification.
Wendy’s gold was one of the first special snowdrops to show her face, despite the horrendous weather she showed up in mid January
Another grim job but well worth doing was cleaning and weeding the paths, this involves many hours with a path weeding knife groveling on the floor. Our brick paths and surrounding borders are way too delicate to be jet washed so this is the best method, even if a horrible one
Above is the before, below the after!
February, for me, was a good month in retrospect.
The malus trees got pruned, this is done in exactly the same way as you would an apple tree. The reason for doing this is to keep them loaded with blossom and fruit every year, otherwise they will have a tendency to go biennial. Fruiting heavily one year and not the next.
Despite being bitterly cold as you’d expect for February it stayed relatively dry and allowed us to carry on working. I also had a few treats!
I popped down to one of my old workplaces in Kent, Hole Park, partly to see friends and the beautiful garden which is expertly maintained by my old Head Gardener Quentin Stark and his team and partly to see the first Plant fairs Roadshow of the year.
Although Hole park is famous for its bluebells I can highly recommend a visit pretty much any time of the year and if you love snowdrops you wont be disappointed!
I also decided that I had, had my shoddy phone camera up to the back teeth (im pretty sure so had everyone else) since I dropped it in the pond this time last year it had never been quite the same and had in recent months been getting worse and worse. Id come to terms with the fact no amount of filters would make up for it and carrying round the Nikon just wasnt practical, so new phone it was!
I’m still a bit impressed by it!
Anyway, once id had my jollys at hodsock priory and been prevented from joining the Garden Press event by ANOTHER dose of snow it was back to the garden!
Mainly rose pruning, we started on ‘Breath of life’ and truth be told Philippa stormed through most of them without me. I didn’t duck out entirely… honest! I think in reality though I only got involved in about 6 though.
At the end of Feb I managed to get Salix ‘Mount Aso’ planted, the ground was like dairylea! It looks amazing reflected in the water and in the coming years it will only get better.
It feels like the end of Feb was the last time we had a serious dry spell, I took a bit of time to clean and rearrange the conservatory out in readiness for the Dahlia tubers. they’ve been stored in the barns throughout the winter, now growing strongly in the heat and light, there may even be a select few available on our plant stall on our open days!
Whilst moving everything around I caught this Aeonium leaf in the rain, it was so beautiful I had to share it with you
March started like a lion! Another dump of snow seemed destined to bury us, my heart sank. By now I was so sick of the cold I can’t even tell you! It didn’t last long but when it left us everything was soggy! Just soggy! Low light levels and still cold, everything sat and sulked… including me. Frustration abounded, it felt like all plans were continually scuppered.
I had a much welcome visitor though! Ben Jones (@thehortdoctor) came to work and together we tackled the Ballerina bed. His enthusiasm is infectious it’s hard not to have a smile on your face when he’s around and he was an absolute machine, we weeded, dug and replanted the border in record time. leaving me feeling buoyant and positive for the coming month!
In the glasshouses plants were waking up, this fuchsia, a particularly welcome sight and a myriad hyacinths in the border…
A short break from the rain meant I could set up the wires, finally, for our new espaliers! I’m hoping these trees will be a feature for many years to come so getting the structure right to support and train them is incredibly important. We have 2 new pears and an apple to grow on the outside of the swimming pool wall. Im hoping that in coming years they will time their blossom perfectly for our open days in spring, giving our visitors a wonderful display as they drive in and in the autumn provide us with gorgeous fruit. I’m trying out a new method, to me, of espaliering in the round rather than the traditional flat arms. I’ve seen it done with pears before and the seem to take to it incredibly well.
Some more lovely Muscari added to the colour that was starting to fill the garden…
and Philippa has been sowing like crazy, the glasshouses starting to fill up. This of course means we start shuffling plants around on almost a daily basis, the great plant jenga game has begun!
So we reached the end of March, the clocks had changed and gradually the light levels improved, despite the rains seemingly endless supply we did get the odd sunny moment.
As March drifted into April I sadly took ill, squandering not only my bank holiday weekend in patheticness (I’ve decided this is a real word) but also the following sunny week! My guilt at not being fit combined with my very real inability to do more than walk from the bed to the bathroom and back again made me feel worse. I hate being ill, im the worst patient in the world! Anyway by the next weekend I had started to feel well enough to drive and ventured down to Great Dixter for its spring fair. In retrospect I was a bit ambitious as I spent most of my time sat down either eating cake and chatting or pestering Graeme from Plantbase Nursery for his chair. After a few hours I gave up and came home but it was lovely to see familiar faces and meet a few in real life for the first time, have a chat with real people and buy a few more Auriculas!
The first Auricula has also opened at Ulting Wick! This is a new unamed seedling from Pops Plants which I’m growing on for them. She wont get a name till she’s won on the show bench and as its her first year she still has a while before she settles into her true form but early signs are she could well be succesful… either way I love her delicate colour.
Coming back to work after a week had given so many lovely things a chance to poke their heads up, there was still a few challenges regarding squishy lawns and beds but work on planting out the veg garden could continue apace… I say apace I appeared to have only one gear and that was ultra slow! By Tuesday afternoon I was utterly wiped and it must’ve showed, Philippa took one look at me and told me to come in late on Wednesday for which I will be eternally grateful!
I did however improve over the course of the week!
With the kitchen garden coming on nicely a quick look round the garden shows us that so many lovely things will be in store for you if you come and see us on our opening days this month!
Looking at the weather for the next week with temperatures rising consistently im feeling more confident that the 10,000 tulips we planted over the autumn and winter will catch up quickly with the already magnificent display of wallflowers and we already have some early arrivals!
If you are free next Sunday 22nd we’d love you to come and see us, Philippa has baked an amazing amount of cakes (trust me her baking is sublime) and the tulips are going to be incredible! Another amazing reason to join us is we have a very special guest, Barbara Segall will join us to sign copies of her wonderful book ‘The Secret Gardens of East Anglia’ which of course feature the beautiful pictures of the late Marcus Harper
For all the details check in with the NGS website for this and further openings
I have had the pleasure of visiting Chelsea a couple of times over the years, sometimes as a visitor, sometimes in a working capacity. Like all shows I’ll admit I have a distinct preference for the actual build process. This to me is a time of magic, from the arrival on site of so many people determined to create structures that give the appearance of having stood forever, the laughing and sharing of biscuits, tea and sometimes plants. The camaraderie that seems to be something special and unique to building show gardens. After all this is an incredibly stressful time for all involved. Months, sometimes years of planning have gone into a single weeks worth of showmanship!
One of my first times building at Chelsea also involved growing the plants for a garden, I’d had experiences at other show builds which fully prepared me for the hiccups and tripfalls to expect but as each garden is different so too are the demands on contractors. I had been asked to help with growing plants for 3 gardens. Firstly for Garden Organics stand in the Floral marquee, secondly for Harrod Horticulture. Their stand was on the outside of the marquee and thirdly for Alitex Glasshouses.
This was to be my special project when it came to the build and I’d prepared thoroughly wrapping each parsley plant individually in newspaper (which I knew I would reuse, stuffed between pots in the actual build, waste not want not!). Transporting the plants is one of the most stressful points as damage done cannot be undone. The memory of a distraught gentleman handing me a Mimosa flower at Hampton court a few years previously, lamenting that this had been its only flower and now everything was ruined always sits at the forefront of my mind.
Myself and a wonderful lady called Helen, who’s tireless cheerfulness was incredibly welcome, set about putting the plants into a half built garden. Sand, dust and noise of machines, drills and builders catcalling each other on a blinding sunshiny day. This is what Chelsea to me is about!
Sadly most of my pictures of this day are lost, it was in the days of pre-digital cameras & limited to just 24 pictures anyway! Alitex were very kind to send me some of their own promotional pics from opening day, these I will always cherish but the serenity they exude doesn’t give you the blood, sweat & tears it takes to build a garden.
My favourite memory of this day was Helen’s panicked realisation that the sweet peas, grown in tubs, would have the pots visible. I had taken this into account and smugly, quietly packed a drill and jigsaw which I then proceeded to happily wield. Cutting through the hard plastic. As you can see from the pics it worked quite well! For this preparation I can only thank a wonderful man called John, whose second name I sadly can’t remember, who had taught me all I needed to know about Show gardens whilst at Photosynthesis. He was ace!
My second favourite memory was of the drive home, at about 2 o clock in the morning. Illuminated by the headlights of a car behind I could see what appeared to be the shadow of a ginormous spider! I nervously asked Helen if she could just check how close it was to me and how big, not realising her phobia was far, FAR worse than mine. She screamed, I screamed, we both sat screaming at 60MPH on the M40!
This went on for a while.
It turned out the spider was tiny
I guess its one way of waking yourself up after a long day!
Anyway, the next time I was to visit Chelsea was as a visitor, albeit a working visitor. I’d just started a job working in a private garden and had been invited by my new employers to accompany them to Chelsea’s opening day. Honestly, I was terrified. I felt totally out of my depth which doesn’t happen to me often! I remember this as being my most stressful Chelsea as I realised my every move would be seen by my new employers and we were going to be introduced to the great and good which if done on my own terms would’ve been fine but rightly or wrongly this felt awkward.
Nevertheless, I dressed up in my best “Head Gardener” togs which involved corduroy, of course, and hopped on a train. The rest of the day became something of a blur but a stand out moment, purely for its weirdness factor, was standing on the “Best in show” garden & being introduced to Ulf Nordfjell. He likely doesn’t remember this given how momentous a day it was for him but for me it was overwhelming.
I stood there in this amazingly glossy garden, its slick, clean lines & amazing construction. Trying to drink in all the details when I realised I felt a bit like a fish in a goldfish bowl! There were hundreds of people all around the edge of the garden, all with cameras and in my own head all going “who the hell is she?”
So I did the only thing which made me feel comfortable! I hid behind my camera and took pictures of them, perfect!
In reality probably no one even blinked an eye at me & its only years later that I realise this. My life experience at that point in time made this so far out of my comfort zone it wasn’t even on my radar. Its only nearly 10 years later I can look back on this experience and realise it for what it was. I was given an amazing opportunity which was a turning point in my life. Its odd though, often when you’re in these iconic moments you don’t realise it and focus on the parts you can understand and deal with… anyway I digress!
The rest of the show was a blur, I wish I’d felt in a position to enjoy more of it in a relaxed manner but then this is Chelsea. Relaxed isn’t really how I’d describe it at any point! After being ferried around and introduced to more people than I could ever hope to remember I was allowed to wander by myself. It was at this point I really started to enjoy myself!
These are a few of my best bits of 2009!
A few years passed, life happened, circumstances changed. I didn’t go to Chelsea, I had a break but continued to watch it on TV. It seemed busier, even more frantic than I remembered?
Then in 2015 I got the opportunity to go again, so of course I did. This time I think I finally got the hang of being a visitor! We arrived as the gates were opening and proceeded to methodically quarter every spare inch of the grounds. From the show gardens to the Marquee not a single millimetre was left unchecked!
So what had changed?
It was just as crowded as I ever remembered it but this time I was able to take some lovely pictures which feel very calm…
It wasnt just the fact I had a swanky new camera, although lets face it that does help! I think something about me and how I viewed Chelsea had changed. I still had a slightly awed, inspired love of the gardens but this time I was able to take a moment to draw back and observe the palettes the designers had used. Pick out the colours that spoke to me, think of how they could be transferred into a real situation.
…and more than that, I now had the confidence I had lacked previously. I was brash & cocky, I probably still am, but now I had the confidence to gently insert myself through the crowds and find the best spot for me to view the garden. Yes, I did get tutted at but that’s ok, I smiled said excuse me but would not be deterred. I saw this as part of my job, it was research.
To that end there were some gardens I had particularly wanted to see, these weren’t the massive show gardens but instead some of the courtyard and artisan gardens. Above all else I wanted to see the Japanese Garden: Edo no Niwa by Ishihara Kazuyuki. So different from anything normally seen in Chelsea.
Apparently so did everyone else!
One look at that heaving crowd and I very nearly turned tail to run but determined I slowly pushed gently through….
I was pleased I weathered the storm of bodies, crouching down I managed a few good shots despite receiving a Kath Kidson bag to the back of the head!
Then on to the floral marquee for a smorgasbord of delights!
One of which was of course is Primulas but when presented with so many gorgeous floral displays I realise I have no clear favourites in the botanical world. Each and every plant has something to commend it and the skill of the growers to bring each of them to the pinnacle of perfection is astounding. So I’ll finish up with a few of the best!
Last year I missed Chelsea entirely! Didnt even watch it on the telly *shocked intake of breath!* I know! How could I! Call myself a gardener!
In my defence I had a very good reason!
I was halfway up a mountain in Peru!
With these amazing ladies. Between us we raised around £50,000 for Marie Curie by climbing 3 mountains in 3 days, it was an incredible experience!
This year I’ve just received word I’ll be doing my bit for charity AT Chelsea which I’m hugely excited about! I’ve chosen this year to devote my time to help raising funds for Perennial these guys are awesome, check them out!
So far I’ve sold raffle tickets for them at their ball, I’ve raised a bit of cash for them on the Apple pruning course I ran a while back and now I’ll be part of the Chelsea sell off team! This is going to be SO intense!!
The garden they’re involved in is the Mindtrap Garden designed by Ian Price it has a moving story behind it, please do click on the link to find out more.
This wonderful concept also supports Inspire who support those with mental health challenges, based in Northern Ireland they do some amazing work.
There’s going to be lots of Horti faces there too so if you’re going to buy anything on sell off day at Chelsea make sure it’s from Perennial and help a Horti out!