Hard to believe I’ve been here 3 months already! The garden has grown & changed so much in such a short time. We’ve had so many visitors, raising huge amounts of money for the NGS who in turn donate to lots of worthy charities.
Soon we will be doing the change over from summer planting for the spring display of bulbs, an incredibly exciting time. Ulting wick is a dynamic garden which I am still learning about. Very different to any other garden I’ve ever worked in, I know it will take me a year of watching it through the seasons to get to grips with.
For me this is both slightly daunting & also challenging in a very positive way. It’s very easy to become complacent as a gardener, going through the routines which become habit. Ulting wick doesn’t allow for that due to its ever-changing nature.
Of course there are the jobs which need to be planned in as with every garden, pruning, training etc. But Phillipa’s enthusiasm for trying new things is bottomless, as is her energy!
Already plans for the next year ahead are multiplying and new planting in the beds has started. We cleared an area of rampant vinca a month or so ago. Some dead hawthorn hedging was removed opening huge possibilities. Last week we started to actually create in that area, adding exquisite Epimedium ‘spine tingler’, Geranium ‘splish splash’, G. Pheum & lots of thalictrums, ferns etc which when viewed from the opposite bank will create an amazing display!
We also noticed that sadly another tree has taken a blow in this year’s climbing tree toll! The old pollarded oak just across the boundary had succumbed to rot and one of its main limbs has ripped the trunk to the base, heartbreaking! Measuring just over 6 metres at the narrowest point of its base (making it between 5 & 600 years old!). This of course isn’t a death knell for this tree even if it’s a significant event, the tree will happily carry on for another 100 years at least but some of its perfect symmetry has been lost.
Other things that have been happening, I went to GLEE & to Kew (see previous posts!) Next week a lot of us are going to the Cotswold’s wild animal park, Harriet Rycroft (The guru of all things pots, colour & form) has very kindly organised us a tour with the HG & it coincides nicely with Roy Lancaster being there, so books shall be bought & signed! Exciting to meet such a gardening legend!
I was invited to do a talk on organic gardening for Tottenham flower and produce show, competing for volume against a steel drum band was a challenge even for someone as loud as me! Thankfully I had an incredibly receptive & interested audience who asked so many questions I ended up talking for far longer than planned which was lovely!
Phil cat has thoroughly settled in an honestly I haven’t seen him so happy in years! A few territory spats out of the way & an uneasy truce (on Phil’s part) with Bobby the spaniel, who is absolutely convinced he can make Phil love him if he just wags his tail a bit harder!
Although Phil’s reputation as a killer of all things rodent may be challenged given his reaction to the new residents in the cottage roof space the other morning… his face was a picture when he heard the skritching, scratching noises coming from above us! Hilarious!
The big hedges are now fully done for the year too, leaving only a bit of box to be completed. The weather has been utterly frustrating me on this front though! I’m beginning to think the whole “drier than Jerusalem” thing is a myth! We fitted irrigation in my first week here and since then it’s rained consistently and at times biblically! But hey ho! These things are sent to try us & I’m hoping next week for a few days of dry so I can crack on & finish up the parterre in the old farmyard.
Our meadow was cut & bailed for hay last week, done with a flail on the back of a tractor it took literally half an hour to cut. A few days later they came back to bale. To do this manually would have taken days!
The garden still has lots to offer in this beautiful autumn light so I’ll leave you with just a few of its delights to peruse until my next Ulting wick update…
Last of all, possibly one of my most favourite ever pics of Phil & I ever…
For those of you on Twitter I’m sure you will have seen a lot of this #glee17 hashtag but for those of you not perhaps I ought to explain. GLEE is and has been for over 20 years the “must go to” show for the horticultural trade. It’s where the suppliers to the retail industry launch new products and as a buyer it’s where you get to make the interesting contacts, see the tools & of course meet friends, eat cake & listen to seminars from the likes of Nick Bailey (heart flutters) & James Wong etc.
I had wanted to go last year but it clashed with the Landscape Show, which was awkward, so sadly I didn’t get the chance but this year I had myself fully booked from as early as March! Then myself & others were invited as VIP guests of Hornby Whitefoot PR, it seems the blogging community is really being welcomed with open arms now which is wonderful for all concerned.
I haven’t been to GLEE since I was a student. My tutor at Pershore pushed all of us to go & see & make contacts. I was young and wasnt as ballsey as I am now so spoke to very few exhibitors and frankly was a bit overwhelmed as the show was and still is HUGE! This year I had a game plan of people I really wanted to see, things that could be of benefit in particular to Ulting Wick & our work there … but best laid plans etc… it’s always easy to get distracted by shiny things and cake!
Anyway, here are some of the lovelies I saw and in some cases will be trialling over the next year to see how they stand up to constant use (& maybe a bit of abuse) from a full time gardener. After all if I can’t break them you might not be able to either…. maybe?
These guys have been going since time began & have become a byword for quality in the hort trade. I honestly can’t think of a place I’ve worked that hasn’t had a Haws, or several! Wonderfully balanced for ease of lifting and watering, they have a range of brass roses (The bit the water comes out of) for seedlings to a direct jet for hard to reach pots.
Weird fact! I lived opposite the factory for just over a year when I was studying to become a Jeweller. It’s a small little world.
I’ve also had one of their beautiful mini watering cans which was a pressie for around 15 years, it’s still in absolutely perfect nick.
They have a funky range of powder coated rustproof watering cans now to run alongside their classic plastic range. I totally fell in love with their copper watering can on their stand this year. I honestly don’t think I’d ever use it, its way too nice, just keep it highly polished and look lovingly at it.
The lovely chaps also answered a question that’s been bugging me forever about their products. Have you ever noticed that you sometimes come across the odd watering can with a broken handle, predominantly in red, apparently this was a fault in the manufacturing which has since been sorted and the nice people at Haws will happily send you out a replacement handle! Easy to fit too!
Spear & Jackson are a well known name in gardening, constantly updating their range & looking for new solutions for us gardeners
In the next few months I’ll be trialling a couple of their products out, firstly their range of professional quality secateurs…. well, actually it will be my dad, only don’t tell him as he doesn’t know it yet. He has some lovely apple trees which he has grown from maidens that he regularly updates me on but frankly his secateurs are a mess.
I will be giving their most recent introduction a run for its money!
The dinosaur headed zombie killer range!
This is the Allotment Hoe… but wait it’s so much more than just a Hoe. The arrow head shape is designed with creating furrows for sowing your seeds in and the serrated flat head for pulling the dirt back over. How cool is that! why take 3 tools to the allotment when you could just have the allotment hoe!…. I’m so excited to give this one a go and will be reporting back soon!
If you only buy one tool this year make it a Burgon & Ball tool!
It genuinely doesn’t matter which one but if you have heavy clay soil or borders where plants are crowded on top of each other I would recommend this weird looking implement! A genius idea, it’s basically a cut down border fork. Two main prongs which are designed to slip between plants for lifting or aerating the soil but it has a full support for your foot!
Another tool which I look forward to trying out are these wonderful, shaped, stainless steel spades. We have a lot of planting to be done at Ulting Wick so I can see it being very useful and I’d like to see how it holds up against my old favourite spade.
The last genius idea I saw on their stand was a range of flourescent tools! Amazing! I can’t count the times people have told me they’ve lost secateurs, hand forks etc, only to have them turn up in the compost 6 months later!
Fito “Drip by Drip” feeders
Now we all know how incredibly precious I am about my Orchids, right? …. Well I am!
I currently use feeds that have been recommended by other Orchid growers but the lovely people at the Blument stand assured me I would be delighted with the results of their Drip by Drip feeders. The idea being the plant receives a constant, gentle supply of the nutrients it needs (which honestly in the case of Orchids is very little).
I’m still waiting on the technical data, eg NPK ratio’s, but I am going to give these lovelies a go and I’ve chosen one of my most awkward buggers to trial it on. A rescue Orchid which despite being repotted and given various locations in the house has stubbornly refused to thrive…. or die! It just sits there looking at me sadly…
Fingers crossed this may be what it needs to jolt it into action!
Johnsons seeds were established in 1820 & are now part of the Fothergills range which also includes DT Brown.
Their World Botanics range though steps a bit outside the norm for what you would expect from a larger company which is nice.
It gives your average gardener a chance to try something a bit more exotic or unusual, I hesitate to say rare as obviously the seeds offered are easily produced in their millions but they can definitely be a bit different from your normal urban gardens fodder.
We have about 10 different varieties which we will be trialling here at Ulting Wick next year & I’ll be giving you the full run down on these nearer christmas!
The people on the Thompson and Morgan stand were incredibly helpful and were happy to talk about some of their garden favourites as well as some of their newer exciting introductions, like these Radishes! How cool are they! I cant wait to try them out in a salad next summer. They also had an amazing Breadseed poppy, something unusual for your Kitchen garden & the Tagetes that actually does repel whitefly, Tagetes minuta. I’ll go through the others in more detail in a later post.
A lot of you will have seen a lot of us bloggers raving about Goldleaf on social media recently, there’s a reason for that, they’re AMAZING!!
It’s not just that the products are exceptionally high quality, it’s not just the thought and care that goes into every single detail, the thing that makes Goldleaf so different is that it’s a real old fashioned family business!
Started by Peters father as a hobby after he retired in the early 70’s it supplied gloves to the engineering trade from his fathers garage. When Peter & Kelly took over just before the birth of their first child Peter realised there was a gap in the market for a well made high quality glove in the gardening market. Their gloves are made from deerskin leather and are incredibly soft and supple, giving you the dexterity normal gloves just don’t. Their history of making gloves tough enough to withstand the rigours of engineering has also allowed them to produce gloves which are tough enough to allow you to grip a rose stem, hard, and not feel a single scratch. I tried it, I actually broke the thorns on the rose and they didn’t come close to even puncturing the leather! Awesome!
Goldleaf have just launched their new range, the RHS Collection, for which the won the GLEE exhibitors Award. Kelly regaled me with stories of sitting crosslegged on the sitting room floor prior to launching it going over samples with a fine tooth comb. As a family they REALLY care about what they’re doing.
The RHS Collection has a choice of 3 lovely designs to choose from which makes them a perfect gift. Named after 3 famous RHS shows & on the back is also an explanation for the language of flowers!
Rose, symbolises friendship
Iris, symbolises wisdom
Poppy, symbolises remembrance… a lovely way of telling someone they’re in your thoughts!
For those of you who read this far I wonder if you can spot the deliberate mistake I made on the title of this blog…. 😉
We all have our favourite tools, some have been passed down to us from beloved family members or bought as presents giving them an extra sentimental value. Some are those that we spend years hankering after before finally justifying the cost to ourselves (then wondering how we ever lived without them). Some, like mine, we’re an almost accidental purchase.
You see I wanted a particular Wolf Garten tool, I remember it clearly. My family and I were at the Gardeners World show & I’d set my heart on a small hoe/fork combination tool but it came as a pack of 3 tools, the other 2 didn’t really set my world on fire but I was desperate to have this attachment.
I bought myself the small handle to go with it, I already had the long handle, I figured that between the 2 I’d be well set up.
I got home & like any kid in a sweetshop I ripped the packaging open and tried out the 3 tools one by one, leaving the rather lethal looking claw till last… in a moment my life had changed!
The hoe/fork attachment was exactly what I’d expected & would be perfect for using on the veg beds, it’s narrow profile slipping between the rows easily, the other tool too was satisfactory. If I’m honest I can’t even remember what it was. The Claw though was exemplary!
At the time I was gardening on Birmingham clay, not the toughest in the UK but still gave tools a run for their money!
The Claws three prongs slipped through the compacted surface, digging themselves deep into the ground and breaking the soil with minimal effort! Weeding and hoeing in one fell swoop, I was delighted!
I tested it out thoroughly, weeding the whole of my garden in record time, then took it to work! Work at that point was Ryton Organic Gardens, their soil was far lighter, siltier & generally speaking in far better condition than mine at home but even the bog garden, which was the toughest test I could give The Claw, yielded before its mighty prongs!
I then moved to Kent, where the soil was the heaviest clay going! Seriously you have a 2 minute window between it being like dairylea or concrete to work it. The Claw didn’t care! The Claw bit into the the hard cap like a hungry cougar on steroids! Once more proving it’s worth & securing it’s place deep in my heart.
Then disaster, I had to move as I took on a different job. Financial circumstances meant I had very little storage space & taking your own tools to this job was frowned on so The Claw went into storage, consigned to a friends shed for nearly 2 years along with a lot of other equipment that I dearly loved.
Two weeks ago I finally got some of them back, it was like Christmas! I had remembered my weed burner & also my Wolf Garten rake attachment but not the trio of attachments I’d bought those many moons ago at Gardeners World. Seeing them brought back so many memories. It honestly felt like a different person had bought them so much had changed since they came into my life.
I got The Claw out & stared at it lovingly, I’d missed this workhorse. The next day I started using it & the love affair was rekindled. Weeds in gravel were no obstacle, unlike a hoe The Claw could slip through the stones easily, catching the roots and bring them to the surface. Fallen branch in the pond? No problem! Just fit the longer handle & The Claw has you covered. Dragging that annoying branch back to land. Compacted ground under the sorbus? The Claw doesn’t care! It’s nimble, nifty & versatile, there is practically no situation it can’t be used in!
This week I’ll be visiting GLEE, the horticultural trade show, and one of the stands I’ll be making a beeline for is the Wolf Garten stand. I saw another tool I like the look of… I’ll let you know how it goes…
Also, if you’re looking for The Claw yourself it goes by a far less evocative name of “grubber” which is far less exciting.
I’m a great lover of orchids, as some of you may know, I own about 20 now. The vast majority are Phalenopsis, given the nickname of the moth orchid, it could now be happily called the supermarket orchid. Most are rescues as I can’t bear seeing them thrown away simply because they have finished flowering. It pains me to see a good plant go unloved when I know it will go on to thrive once more with just a bit of tlc.
For years though I have been hankering after 1 orchid in particular. I’ve never dared buy it for myself, terrified I might lose it! That is the zygopetalum.
Back in February an All horts visit to Kew gardens was organised by @gardenwarrior (twitter handle, his real name is Andrew) to see the Orchids there. These visits to various gardens & events are always great fun as not only do you meet wonderful, like minded, enthusiastic horts but in such inspiring places!
This visit for me was particularly special though as it coincided with my birthday woo-hoo!
We happily trotted round the glasshouse oohing & aahing as appropriate at what is a truly impressive display of Orchids when the scent of one caught me unawares!
Sweet, so very sweet! And musky, you almost smell it in your throat…I’m not sure if that makes sense but honestly you do! It was a familiar scent and immediately I was looking for the zygopetalums!
Not all orchids are scented and as a rule of thumb the bigger & showier a flower is the less scent it needs but zygo’s break that rule!
Lime green with maroon spots they are about an inch across. To my mind they look like little happy faces with purple flecked beards, like punk gnomes.
My friend Justin (Twitter handle @allotment7b ) , who knows a lot more about orchids than me, had very generously said he would buy me one from the shop for my birthday! Imagine how excited I was! Any orchid I wanted!!
Now I did have several “favourite” orchids in mind, one of which is a purple Vanda, these are relatively tricky to look after successfully in a normal home but are absolutely luscious!
Another I had in mind was a Paphiopedilum or slipper orchid. As I think I already have one in my collection of rescues though it seemed wasteful to not get something different. Even when they do look this good!
I eventually settled my mind on a zygopetalum which after raiding the unpacked cages of orchids in the shop I found and the wonderful Justin bought for me.
For weeks it flowered it’s head off, making my bedroom smell amazing & in fact the whole house! Eventually it finished and I worried I wouldn’t be able to keep it happy. I forced myself to NOT fuss over it. Most orchids die from being loved too much! I lost my first one this way. I’ve found they much prefer being ignored for the most part. I water them with rain water if I can get it, if not I’ve been known to fill up the sink & plunge them in for an hour or so. I keep a bottle of water to go stale as an alternative. I bought a mist to encourage them to flower which I use intermittently & I also have a feed which encourages leafy growth which I use every few months but I worry about overfeeding as the build up if salts from these in the growing media can kill them just as quick as abandoning them altogether!
The strong sun on my window sill scorched one of the leaves of my beloved zygo back in June, also caused one of my others to abort flower production. It was the week I was moving & my well meaning housemate closed the windows and cooked them all in my absence. I could’ve cried… but hey! They survived! In the next few weeks as we all settled in to Ulting wick I repotted a few of my beauties & in the process noticed flower buds forming on the zygo!!
I tweeted Justin to let him know.
That’s the thing about giving someone a present of a plant it’s a joy that keeps going.
He had given me my hearts desire & now it’s scent fills the little cottage. It’s smiley punk faces greet me every morning. I have no idea what I did to make it so happy but it obviously is!
Zygopetalums were first found in 1827 by a chap called Mackay from Brazil. He gave one to the esteemed orchid expert of the day sir William Hooker, who promptly created a new genus for it. They can be found growing in cloud forests of south America and are classed as both epiphyte & terrestrial giving them the ability to be flexible in their growing conditions. The growing media need to be free draining, I tend to go for some of the more difficult to get hold of stuff which I buy from the Orchid experts at shows. This is a mixture of perlite, charcoal, bark and a few other bits.
If you’ve never tried growing Orchids before don’t be put off giving them a go, the Phalenopsis are probably the most forgiving, here’s a tip to getting them to reflower, leave them on a window sill where the temp will drop overnight. This triggers the flowering response, I found out by mistake and all of mine proceeded to flower their heads off for the next 12 months!
With a bit more time I’ve started planning this post early!
Yesterday I took some cuttings of the salvia blue merced I bought at Hampton court from William Dyson of Great comp gardens in Kent. Look at their loveliness! Hopefully all will take & they will look marvelous in the pots next year… fingers crossed
I also had a surprise on surveying the dahlias this morning, in a clump of Bishop of Auckland I spied a gorgeous anomaly! As beautiful as this lady is she’s just not right and so will have to be removed!
On Thursday myself & Phillipa tackled the mystery weed that clogs up the stream. Phillipa got stuck right in, almost literally at a few points, leaping into the stream itself and between us we hauled tons of the watery stuff out of the stream!
Phillipa was kind enough to invite me to join her in the evening to RHS Hyde Hall’s opening of their new veg garden in the evening. Spectacular new glasshouse and raised beds, all beautifully planted up with some quite unusual specimens. I’ve not seen Ullaco or Oca like that for many moons! I’ll be popping over their this weekend coming to offer up some Achocha seed. Far nicer than the shop bought stuff it has less spines on its fruit, I hope it will be a welcome addition. Mine came from HSL’s own stock available to members.
Today was Friday & overcast so much box cutting ensued! I’ve finally finished the rather over fluffy sides in the farmyard, it’s taken longer than I expected as it missed it’s cut last year so bringing it back to straight has been a challenge! I’m hoping the tops & pyramids will prove quicker then I can move onto the spirals & balls.
We’ve also had to start cutting back the mixed hedges at the front, they are young hedges & are putting on so much growth they’re starting to encroach on the road, not good on tight country lanes!
Massive changes to the stream beds are now underway. Winnie the Pooh tree (a willow tree) finally gave in to gravity 2 weeks ago. The base of the tree was about 6ft across & 4ft high, swathed in Ivy. It had basically rotted through and it’s one new trunk had completely snagged up in nearby trees as it slowly & graciously fell over! It’s removal has opened up all sorts of exciting new planting possibilities!
When moving here I was assured it had the lowest rainfall in England, after the last 2 weeks of almost daily rain I can only assume the rest of England has developed gills? The rain shows no sign of letting up but it has meant watering has been an infrequent task. In between showers though the heat can be quite intense so we seem to be in prime grass growing weather at a time you would normally be expecting to ease up.
We ended the month trying to get everything finished up before Phillipa went away. A constant stream of deadheading & pulling out of things that have finished ready for our visitors.
As I finish this up ready to publish our Dutch group have been & gone, all the feedback was very positive & I hope they will return again, a truly lovely group of people!
Hard to believe I’ve been here just over a month now, it’s gone so fast, equally it feels like I’ve always been here, in a nice way. I’m starting to settle in… I’ve also found a place I can get free Wi-Fi for 4 hrs!! Woo-hoo!
I also have limited internet access, which is driving me a bit loopier than usual!
The last 2 weeks have flown by though, nervous new girl was greeted by Phillipa and Neil, who’s shoes are rather large to fill… size 11 to be exact! I had an information full 3 days which I can barely remember now, thank the gods I take notes!
Then on my 4th day I met my assistant and what a lovely, enthusiastic chap he is, which makes life just about perfect!
Those of you who have been following me on twitter will have seen my continual posting about the reams of wildlife here, on my first night I saw my first hare in over 35 years!! So incredibly exciting, swans made an appearance, coots too!
I’ve heard owls at night, muntjacs in the day & honestly it feels like paradise here… *happy sigh*
Last Monday I played hooky and snuck off to Hampton court for the press day, had a fabulous time and got to see Charlie & the teams work on colour box.
I’ve started cutting the box hedges, borders have been cut down, veg garden planted, an absolute stash of huge bulbs were unearthed! Then promptly replanted… oh, and I went to Hampton court again! Volunteering for Perennial. They’re great people, big love!
So to make sure I don’t waffle any further here’s the pretty bit…
This year Hampton Court will be a busy one for me, I’m working on the Colour Box garden for Charlie Bloom & Simon Webster… well, I say working… When I asked Charlie what she would like me to do her answer was “enjoy the show!”. I will also be volunteering on Tom Massey’s garden for Perennial later in the week.
We got to talking via twitter a while back now, her irreverence & joie de vivre comes across on social media in spades, also she likes horses and anyone who likes horses is fine by me. That aside she loves plants! I mean really loves plants!
Just a glance at her twitter page will show you her work. She considers herself a gardener not a designer. In fact its fair to say she is a bit militant towards the designer culture that has grown up around show gardens in the last 10-20 years.
In the last few years though her view is starting to become one that seems to have a groundswell of support from ordinary folks who go to Chelsea, Hampton court and the myriad other shows across the UK. People want to see things they can imagine working in their own gardens, they feel alienated by the conceptual gardens. This can be plainly seen in the feedback surrounding this years Chelsea.
That’s not to say the gardens werent beautiful and exceedingly well executed but like the work of Dali when compared to say a Monet it can be a divisionist subject. Both brilliant artists but using their talents to speak different languages to the viewer. I hope for the future of our magnificent shows that the voices are listened to and room is made for both styles.
When I asked Charlie what she found to be the most stressful part of organising a show garden I got an answer I hadn’t expected. I had thought she would say the logistics of getting everything into the right place at the right time, sourcing the right plants or given the trials sent on the exhibitors at Chatsworth the other week, the weather, but no! Charlie said the part she found most stressful was the add ons to the budget, this includes feeding & watering the team behind the construction. Thinking about her concept this makes entire sense though. Charlies approach to the garden is to build a garden for the lowest possible cost, using the goodwill of people working in horticulture. It’s a team effort, she is massively behind the concept of a team, what we can achieve if we all pool resources. I love this idea!
This is Charlies fourth show garden, she exhibited twice at Gardeners World and once previously at Hampton Court so you could say she’s becoming an old hand at building gardens in this wonderfully fictitious environment that is show gardening. One thing that is important to her is making sure it’s an enjoyable experience for all involved. It can be such a stressful time especially if people’s focus is on the medals not the experience and I think that’s becoming more prevalent since I was involved in building gardens or maybe as I just wasn’t aware of it? I have a habit of swanning past drama, completely oblivious!
This year her garden, called Colour Box, is being built on an incredibly tight budget! There are some wonderful companies involved who have given their support totally free of charge which is so beautiful! It’s so good to see the different skills of horticulture pulling together to create something, warms the cockles of your heart. Some of the people involved are Burnham Landscapes, headed up by Ed Burnham and a lovely chap he is! Also London Stone, providing some their sleek materials for the hard landscaping. Last but by no means least Stark & Greensmith, you may have seen their etched panels on gardens at Chelsea recently? They are providing some of their amazing products and also helping to man the garden through the week.
The part that is actually costing the most is the actual plants but Charlie says she has already solved that conundrum by pre selling some on to her existing clients and there will also be of course the sell off on the last day, make sure you get in fast if you see something you fall in love with… im sure there will be! This will be a gardeners garden built by a team of people, Charlie is militant that the team gets the credit. After all as she quite rightly points out this is not about one person, everyone involved makes the magic happen!
Charlie also has people who she admires and happily recommended I take time out to see certain gardens whilst at the show. In absolutely no order of preference (as she was equally enthusiastic about all)
Frederic Whyte – Designing for The Centre for Mental Health, called On the Edge
Tom Massy – Designing for Perennial, called the Sanctuary Garden
Andrew Fischer Tomlin – with Dan Bowyer, Designing for Blind Veterans UK, called It’s all about Community
Will Williams – Designing for Streetscape, called Holding Back the Flood
I hope you enjoy your visit to Hampton Court this year and that the weather is kind! Let me know your thoughts
I’ve had a rare lazy day in my own garden today which handily corresponded with the Twitter/instagram #mygardenrightnow. It’s not as finely tuned or designed as some of the gardens I work in but it’s mine & it makes me happy… although I find it difficult to do nothing!
I thought I’d share with you all some of my joys!
If you’d like to get involved yourself just post using the # & if you’re feeling brave include yourself in the shot!
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!
I’m writing this as I sit on my dad’s sofa, he’s opening a bottle of prosecco I got him for his birthday and it’s my first attempt at blogging from my phone. This could get messy…
We’ve talked about visiting Alnwick for years together, mum & dad visited shortly after the Grand Cascade was first opened in 2001 but today was my first visit! For those in the know Alnwick is pronounced Annik…apparently…anyway!
On our approach along the A1 there was a moment of horror as we saw a sign telling us the opening wasn’t till the end of March (which sent me off into gales of laughter & my dad saying frantically “I checked the website!”) But that referred to the castle not the gardens. We also decided to turn up on a day when they were holding another event so there were hundreds of people trooping along the country lane approaching Alnwick but it did mean we got to park in the priority car park.. bonus!
From here we could see the amazing tree house which is a recent addition
Admission is very cheap by comparison to other gardens, mentioning no names, that have far inferior facilities but that’s in my hugely over inflated opinion.
The jaw dropping entrance to the garden is dominated by the much vaunted Grand Cascade and wow! The scale is amazing, it has echoes of some of the finer Italian gardens in its sheer scale but with wonderfully modern clean lines. Designed by Wirtz international it encapsulates the Duchess’s vision for the garden & what a vision.
It’s shape is echoed in the incredibly sculpted yew and beech hedges which climb to the summit where the ornamental walled garden is hidden away. We were booked on a tour of the poison garden, something which I’m very excited about…. I realise how odd this sounds but as a gardener there are so many wonderful plants we encounter on a daily basis that are considered toxic that to rule them out would be to almost ruin our gardens!
First though we had a while to explore! So we headed to the bamboo Grove.
I of course being a complete child immediately ran off down this labrynth of shady tunnels giggling madly & hiding from dad, then running back up behind him like some kind of mischievous bamboo elf! Great fun!
There are various exits located around this amazing maze and after dad was completely lost we exited and made our way over to the entrance to the poison garden. Now I’m not going to talk in depth about it this time, it deserves a blog in its own right but suffice to say our tour guide Jamie was excellent & very helpful, informative & patient with all my questions (Thank you Jamie!)
There is a wonderful bank of snowdrops, Scots pines & silver birch as you head towards the cherry orchard on leaving the poison garden. With an amusing owl & pussycat eternally sailing the lake to your left. Then you reach some fabulous mature dawn redwoods. A reminder for dad & I of a trip to Heligan where we argued about whether the giant tree in the distance was a redwood. It was…
Wandering through we came across a sword firmly embedded in a stone. So of course we both had a go at being Arthur…
Neither of us will be laying our claim to the crown & the sword is still firmly embedded.
Next came the cherry orchard which sometime around late April, May will be absolutely blissful! There are swing seats between the trees which will be incredibly gorgeous to be on as the petals fill the air and the bees create a melody around you *happy sigh*
As you travel through the garden there are many amusing little statues hidden away from the lion to humpty dumpty to cinderellas pumpkin.
As you reach the pinnacle of the hill you are once again presented with a fabulous water feature, I can imagine on a hot summers day how this would cool the air. Inviting visitors to paddle and play with the swiftly flowing water.
This rill emenates from a beautiful pool in the centre of the walled garden where the water bubbles continuously to the suface. Framed beautifully by the ornate gates at the entrance, it invites you to explore what is a very large area. One thing that strikes you over and again with Alnwick is the attention to detail. The construction of the different elements of the garden, the permanent structures is so well thought out. The attention given to what it will look like in winter, one of the most difficult times for a gardener in some ways, is incredible!
We lingered a long time in the ornamental garden, its sheltered climate home to some lovely Camellias which ive never seen planted this far north. The iris’s & Snowdrops flowering merrily away. The Wisterias on the centre pergola promising a spectacular display in a very short time. The scent of the Chimonanthes beguiling us further to stay.
The rose pruning is particularly spectacular, everything from intricate towers, arches & wall trained and the labelling is to die for! Accurate and plentiful, I love a good label!
At this point Dad and I started to feel the need for a fortifying cake and coffee. So we started to make our way down the Grand Cascade, it really is spectacular. The sound of rushing water is simultaniously overwhelming and calming.
Dad didnt really get it when I told him I was going to film and in his excitement at the feat of engineering that the pumping of hundereds of gallons of water involves kept chatting so you get the pleasure of hearing my dad! I can certainly think of worse things!
Having partaken of the wonderful spread in the Pavillion cafe and feeling a bit more bouncy once more we set out to cover the rest of the garden befor closing time. Having already played in the Bamboo maze we headed straight for the Rose garden. Now admittedly a rose garden is not at its most spectacular (to most people) in March it is worth seeing the bare bones of the structure.
The hours of pruning this must take!
Once again its the attention to detail which strikes you as you wander through the garden, the gorgeous gateway with its incredible craftsmanship struck me particularly. Maybe because it reminded me of the jewellery i used to create in my previous incarnation as a jeweller. Metal working and gardens so often seem to go hand in hand curiously. I know many gardeners who dabble in jewellery and metalsmithing and vice versa, perhaps its the creative nature of them, the wish to bring beauty to the world?
Whatever the reason, inspiration behind this amazing crossover of skills I for one am a great advocate and lover of metal smithing in garden settings.
One last thing before I sign off!
The hedges at Alnwick, incredible, amazing! Often overlooked in their importance in a garden setting, hedges have a multitude of functions. Creating structure throughout the year, giving form and shape, a backdrop for the plants to perform against and seperating various areas. All of my favourite gardens have one thing in common. Great hedging!
When considering the layout of a new garden this is the very first step and here they have it just right!
I cant wait to return to Alnwick with my proper fancy camera in the summer to capture how amazing I imagine it will be!