A forgotten love affair rekindled…

As I head off to #glee17 this week I’m thinking tools & which ones I love.
My Wolf Garden “claw” is high on my list so here’s my review…

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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!

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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.

 

My Zygopetalum

A love of Orchids is all consuming, the flowers and scent from my Zygopetalum are one of the reasons why

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Vanda

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!

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Paphiopedilum

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.

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Look at the stupid look on my face! Such joy!

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!!

SUCH EXCITEMENT!!

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!

Heres a few of the loveliest you may consider…

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A month in… Ulting wick

I’ve been at Ulting wick just over a month now & so much has been happening!
Here’s a quick catch up as Phil & I settle in…

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Phil catnaps on the patio, he’s fully settled in here now & very happy!

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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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one of the lovely melons developing in the glasshouse

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.

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The farmyard looking increasingly tropical!

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!

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salvia bullulata – pale flowered form, with a delicious coleus/plectranthus

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!

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coleus have gone through so many name changes but are still some of the most beautiful leaf colours available, love them!

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!

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Gloriosa superba rothschildiana

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!

 

2 weeks in..Ulting wick

Wildlife, plants and shows. It’s all been happening here!

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A quick post to let you know I’m not dead!

Just busy!

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.

Hampton court – Team Colour Box

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Much fun & silliness ensued with the #gdnbloggers

So what else has happened?

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…

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Hope to  get back to my usual posting soon!

Hampton court – Team Colour Box

The anti designers, Designer! Charlie Bloom talked to me about Colour Box, her garden for this years RHS Hampton Court.

 

colourbox1088x621This 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

charlie b1

 

 

 

 

#mygardenrightnow

As part of the Chelsea fringe there’s a #mygardenrightnow. Get involved by posting pics of you & your garden on social media!

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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!IMAG5026IMAG5000IMAG4999IMG_-ang3deIMG_20170603_080551IMG_20170603_080512IMG_20170603_080451

If you’d like to get involved yourself just post using the # & if you’re feeling brave include yourself in the shot!

Great Dixter – Spring plant fair

Great Dixter is a fine garden to visit especially when theres a plant fair on! Often you can find that rare plant from an independent nursery youd find no where else!

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For six years I lived on the doorstep of Great Dixter and like a lot of gardens in the area it has a theme of high hedges and garden rooms so synonymous of Lutyans arts & crafts style work. Great Dixter though has an added twist of having had Christopher Lloyd own it and put his stamp on it.

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Many finer writers than myself though have beaten this subject to death so I don’t need to gush and enthuse on the subject of Dixter and its design, suffice to say its worth a visit and has changed subtly since the death of Christopher. Which isn’t a negative thing rather a natural thing as gardens are living creations and to try to keep them static is an odd concept.

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One thing that always strikes me though when I visit Dixter is its size, I’m always shocked by how small it feels. When you think of famous gardens you often think of rolling acres, at least I do, but Dixter is an oddity in so many ways. The gardens never seem to take long to see in their entirety, although there are areas where you can linger quite happily.  The house itself, despite its appearance of having stood on that spot forever was actually only placed there last century. I say placed, not built as Lutyens and Nathaniel Lloyd (Christopher’s father) actually took the main part of the house from a village called Benenden nearby and reconstructed it. Melding it into the original structure that was already there known simply as Dixter. As a visitor you would never know this though as it was done so successfully it has the appearance of a house that has grown organically for centuries.

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The gardens are being added to continually in the way Christopher did when he was alive. Fergus’s commitment to Dixter and its ethos of teaching being something special to witness.

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The plant fairs though, especially the Spring one are a great opportunity to get out and see small independent nurseries offering beautiful plants at very reasonable prices. I admit its become something of a spring time pilgrimage for me. Even if it now takes me a couple of hours to get to it instead of a couple of minutes! They also do a great thing throughout the weekend where Nurseries give talks throughout the day. Often entertaining, enthusiastic speakers with a wealth of knowledge on their chosen subjects, which if you’re a plant nut like me is well worthwhile!

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For me there were 2 that particularly stood out the first being Barnhaven, a fabulous nursery dedicated to one of my greatest loves Primulas.

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I wrote quite extensively about auriculas on my old blog so if you’re interested have a quick look here…

Forget me not – Auriculas part1

Forget me not – Auriculas part2

Forget me not – Auriculas part3

Barnhaven has recently supplied Sissinghursts garden with a large amount of old variety primulas in their efforts to repopulate the garden with varieties which were there in Vita’s time. Gardens often lose specific plants, sometimes even their own bred varieties. This I’ll mention again in a moment.

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Sometimes a gardener will endeavour to reverse the changes time makes to a garden and small independent nurseries are critical to retaining the genetic stock. Barnhaven is not only responsible for maintaining collections of amazing old varieties and making them available to the public, such as “jack in the green” a very old variety with a charming corolla of leaves which cup the flowers to breeding new introductions and bringing back styles such as the stripey and double Auriculas.

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The second was a talk from Steven Edney, Head Gardener at Salutations, another gorgeous Lutyens garden. The gardens are a tribute to his hardworking team and unceasing enthusiasm. Having suffered a massive flood in 2013, only 5 years after the gardens were officially reopened after years of neglect, they are once more in beautiful condition and this year is their 10th Anniversary!

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Steven touched on the subject of “lost plants” having fortuitously been offered a cutting after the floods of Hebe “Salutation” originally bred at the garden in the 1970’s. His nursery on site has propagated it and it is now available to the general public, another example of how important some plants can be in context!

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He is full of little gems of information too, he told us about plectranthus fruticosus an important plant to Edwardian gardeners as it would be used as a reliable indicator plant for frost. When nighttime temperatures drop below 5 degrees it develops a bronzy colour to the leaves and this would be a sign to the gardeners to lift their tender plants like Dahlias into the glasshouses.

I had to take a second look at this amazing Asphodeline liburnica and was tempted by some of the seeds he had for sale, grown & collected in the gardens!

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Another fabulous nursery is Pineview plants run by the lovely Colin and Cindy Moat who always have time to help you out choosing the right plant for the right place. I fell totally in love with his Epimediums and after going away and coming back THREE times finally settled for this gorgeous one called aptly “Ruby beauty”

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Whilst there I mentioned my mystery Epimedium I’d been given which hadn’t as yet flowered… which of course by the time I got home that evening had… So here it is and I’ll be asking Colin if he can help me identify it!

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There of course are many fine other independent nurseries at the plant fair which are well worth your time and if you’re not aware of one’s in your local area here’s a list that although not comprehensive is getting close and is constantly updated

Independent Plant Nursery guide

Of course there were many others (over 20!) there all with gorgeous specimens so here’s a selection of a few that caught my eye!

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and of course those that came home with me… I’m thinking the garden may have a purple theme… again!

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I didn’t leave Dixter till pretty much kicking out time, after all it was a beautiful day with fine company…. Look forward to seeing you all there again this time next year!

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My little car abandoned and lonely in a now empty field!

Chelsea Flower Show

Chelsea flower show, show gardens are designers dreams, style and fantasy, plants and pimms!
I revisit my Chelsea experiences, horticulture at its finest!

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!

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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!

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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.

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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?”

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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…

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M & G Garden – Caroline Davy Studio

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.

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…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!

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One look at that heaving crowd and I very nearly turned tail to run but determined I slowly pushed gently through….

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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!

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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!

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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!

Look forward to seeing you all there…

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Alnwick Gardens

Alnwick Garden, one of the UKs most spectacular gardens of this century!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!)

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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…

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Wandering through we came across a sword firmly embedded in a stone. So of course we both had a go at being Arthur…

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

Alnwick Grand cascade with Dads commentary

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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!

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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?

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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!

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Cut Flowers – A guest blog by Bohemian Raspberry

The first in a series of Guest blogs. Written by some of the best bloggers IMHO out there on the internet at the moment, this time its Michelle from Bohemian Raspberry

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Michelle is a Garden & Lifestyle blogger at the Bohemian Raspberry. Focused in sharing the experiences and passion for gardening, growing your own food and cut flowers for complete beginners to experienced gardeners alike.
This bubbly Northern lass produces candid and sometimes brutally honest blogs, both written & video clips, relating to her own life and experiences, also some hilarious outtake video blogs.
If you like what you see here go give her a Follow on Twitter or on wordpress.
At this point i’ll shut up & let Michelle talk to you about one of her passions…

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The wonderful world of cut flowers has increased in popularity over the last couple of years and for good reasons too. People don’t want air miles adding to their carbon footprints by having exotics flown in from overseas. Some want to help support our wildlife and ecosystems and others want to be a bit more frugal, as having fresh blooms on the table each week soon mounts up in costs.

More and more people are tempted to grow their own beautiful blooms and I understand why, flowers are a very powerful thing. They lift peoples mood, you’ve heard the chatter at the beginning of spring where the anticipation of the first flowers are emerging and the glee and excitement it brings knowing the dark colder months are now a thing of the past. We give flowers to help heal a sick friend, we give flowers to the person who’s affections we are trying to win, birthdays, weddings, celebrations, basically flowers are LOVE and who would not want them as a part of their daily lives to wake up to on a bedside table or admire over dinner, or as welcome home on a sideboard after a long day at the office!

Well I have grown cut flowers for a few years now and I am going to share with you some advice on how to get started yourself.

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Designing a cutting patch doesn’t take rocket science, but it does require some common sense.  The first thing I suggest to people before they run for the seed catalogues is think about the types of arrangements and flowers they love. Have a flick through Pinterest or your favourite florists gallery and see which flowers twang your heart strings. Next, you want look at what flowers they are teamed with, there is no point in growing flowers that clash with each other. For instance you wouldn’t find a tropical flower like a bird of paradise with a soft English rose, it just wouldn’t work.  You also want to be thinking about the seasons too, which flowers bloom when.

Arrangements are usually made up of a showstopper, a middle note and a backdrop and in display a palette from a subdued colour mix, a balanced colour mix to chaotic and flamboyant colour mixes, the choice is entirely yours, but you do need to choose well, so it does pay to do your homework here and when you have made your selection you are good to grow!

Although it is relatively simple to grow cut flowers when it comes to designing your patch there are a couple of things you will need to think about. The first is time. How long do you have to dedicate to your patch?  As blooms are pretty straightforward to grow yes, but you will need to dedicate time to dead heading, pruning, watering, feeding and mulching your blooms, especially in the height of the summer months. Once you have established how long daily or weekly you have to dedicate to your cutting patch you can then plan how much space you can give over to growing them. Will you have a patch in the garden, a small patch on the allotment or even a full allotment of cut flowers however the choice is entirely yours and shouldn’t be overwhelming.

Once you have decided the size and time you can devote to your new cutting patch there are a few other considerations to make too. One is site location. Most blooms tend to like the sun, and if you are growing for good stem lengths you will also want t take into consideration wind, is there any protection from strong winds, as the last thing you want is to nurture a plant from a sprout for it to never make the vase due to wind damage. Another consideration is soil. Like most growing, if you want good strong healthy plants then soil is key, most blooms prefer rich free draining soil. So if you feed your patch with a good layer of manure and compost, your blooms will reward you later and if you have heavy clay soil add in some grit for drainage.

You are then ready to plant up, the most cost effective method of growing cut flowers is from seed, if you were to by plugs from a nursery, which there’s no stopping you if you don’t want to faff about with seedlings but it most definitely adds expense to the project.  It does bode well to pay attention to the type of plant you are sowing and the care it needs it’s no good sowing tender annuals in March, planting out a couple of weeks later for a late frost to zap them.  It’s also wise to make successional sowings so you have a steady supply of short lived plants through out the season by making new sowing every 2 -3 weeks.

Once your plants are growing away you want to feed them, first with a nettle tea solution this will help promote good bushy and sturdy growth and help fight off the slug and other potential pest damage that may threaten them. Then from midsummer once the buds appear you want to be feeding your plans with comfrey tea to encourage strong and abundant bloom harvests.

With regular harvesting your blooms will prolifically perform for you spitting out new shoots for fun, all you need to do is water well twice a week, now I’m talking a good drink not a sprinkle, pick or deadhead and that’s just about it.

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Here are some marvellous bloom suggestions that make excellent cut flowers to get you started.

Annuals

Cosmos bipinnatus

Nigella

Ammi Visnaga

Centaurea cyanus

Helianthus annus

Lathyrus odoratus

Antirrhinum

Perennnials

Eryngium planum

Scabiosa

Rosa

Lavandula

Bulbs & Corms

Dahlia

Tulipa

Anemone

Hyacinthus

Ranunculus

Lilium

Foliage

Euphorbia oblkongata

Skimmia japonica

Ribes sanguineum

Eucalyptus gunnii

Hedera hiber

Moluccella laevis

Biennuals

Digitalis purpurea

Dianthus barbatus

Erysimum

Dipsacus

Lunaria annua