Sunday, 28 June 2009

Form and Texture - Two more from Tom Stuart-Smith at Wisley

This great green block of planting inspires me to really go for leaf texture. It also reminds me to have the courage to show restraint in the number of plants in a scheme. There are the designer's signature columns providing structure (here, not quite evergreen, as they are beech, but the brown leaves will remain through winter), and allowed to go straggly. The Allium seedheads almost look better, I bet, than when they were a haze of purple balls floating above the swishy waves of grass. I am not sure what grass this is or what its flowers will look like. I'll just have to go back. This apparently simple planting creates a powerful genius loci, or spirit of the place, outside the new glass house.

This small composition is also thrilling: spikes of Eremurus, floating plates of Achillea, a fan of Iris, and a haze of Stipa tenuissima.

Update: the grass is Hakonechloa macra, Japanese Forest Grass, which is often grown in its variegated form, 'Aureola'. T S-S apparently won't use variegated forms, though I have been told that some imp did sneak in one of the vulgar yellow-striped miscreants.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Sweet peas

The scent of sweet peas is spicy and exotic - really heady, especially in the evening. The colour and texture of the petals is like oriental silk. Sweet peas hide under a reputation of belonging to Victorian ladies, but they're a full-on sensual treat.These are from a mixed packet by Thompson and Morgan called 'Elegant Ladies - highly fragrant heirlooms'. Half the plants look to be 'Matucana': bi-coloured flowers with blueish-purple wing petals and reddish-purple flags or standards (the two petals that stand up at the back of the flower).This variety is
particularly fragrant and free-flowering. It's thought to be an old one, close to the species, that was somehow naturalised in Peru (Matucana is a town there) and brought back by a Jesuit monk to Europe. Lathyrus odoratus originates in Italy, including Sicily.
There are many sweet pea cultivars with frilly edges, for instance, in a range of gorgeous colours (whites, pinks, blues, purples). My white ones are in a separate vase - they have a simple elegance that is entrancing.

Growing. Without a green house or a decent coldframe I can't sow sweet peas in October to get early blooms. I sow mine in April indoors and plant out mid-May. If you soak the seeds overnight, they don't take long to germinate. The seedlings get tall and floppy so I put them out, even though it seems to check their growth for a couple of weeks. This year I had some pea-sticks from a Surrey coppicer and placed these against a wigwam of canes. I also put in some climbing French beans which will have lilac flowers. Anyway, they were flowering by mid-summer's eve, which is good enough. They are half way up the wigwam and I am cutting regularly to keep more flowers coming. Once the flowers set seed the plant stops making new flowers. I hope to show you the wigwam in full glory next month.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Psychedelic Prairie Planting at RHS Bicentenary Glasshouse, Wisley, Surrey, UK

I urge you to get to Wisley within the month to see the most mouth-watering sweet shop planting. My little camera cannot do the colours and the space justice.

Do not look left or right once you enter the garden but head straight for the Bicentenary glasshouse. Walk straight through and out the back to James Hitchmough's seeded prarie planting, and to Tom Stuart-Smith's herbaceous perennial planting.
Yellow fox-tail lily (Eremurus), and acid orange red hot poker (Kniphhofia); hot pink carthusian pink (Dianthus carthusianorum) - wowee!

Update January 2010: here is the prairie planting in January.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Garden Barge Square - garden on the Thames

This is a house boat community on the Thames, not half a mile from Tower Bridge. The Dutch barges have been planted for the exposed conditions using deep containers. There is a unified planting scheme including light trees (Robinia pseudacacia, Birch and apple varieties) grasses, shrubs and annuals.

This is a really exciting garden. You enter the wharf through a tiny portal in a wall, and then there is this whole other world below you, down a gangplank shifting in the river swell. What's a garden doing here, fruit and roses, so close to the City?! This is the area where spices, tea and other goods from the east were docked. There's a sense of dark history and transgression, even on a gloriously sunny mid-summer day.

Please follow the link and click on the slideshow icon top left in the toolbar. You can regulate the pace of the slideshow yourself and turn on or off the comments.

Unfortunately this garden is open to the public only once a year, so bookmark this link and put it in your diary for next summer

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Leaf colour and texture - Melinda's garden

These textures and colours ZING!
Golden Hop (Humulus lupulus 'Aureus')
Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra 'Eva')I think...let me know, Melinda!
Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutifolia 'Overdam')
...and something interestingly glaucous front right.
Melinda's a garden designer and a design tutor. She knows what she's doing. She opened her garden under the National Garden Scheme, Below, you can see her husband taking entry money, the blue of his shirt setting off the yellow Choysia (shrub) behind him, and the frosted lime green of feather grass (Stipa tenuisssima) in the path. Stipa self-sows freely, as does the Nigella, little specks of blue flowers in the foreground. She 'edits' what pops up each year (that was the term of another garden visitor). Another tip to store away for the future is the paint colour for the fence. It sets off the palette Melinda has chosen really well.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Kate's garden

Kate opened her garden as a member of Lambeth Horticultural Society, It's a wildlife garden. This amazing insect city was built by her son using some pieces of his iron sculpture work, bricks and sticks. There's also a pond, a meadow cut in a paisley shape and raised veg beds with diagonal rows. Kate really has green fingers and a good sense of design. There are four or five places to sit and study her planting choices. So many to choose from but I particuluarly liked this unusual, delicate cut-leaved rheum (below) which echoes the acer behind, with insect-magnet valerian (Centranthus ruber).

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Trug shots

I was given this trug a long time ago (it had a ring in a box in it , ah). Anyway, I've only just started using it and it is perfect for going to and fro the allotment - seedlings on the way out and produce on the way back.

Setting out a shady border

You plan, you go to the nursery. At the nursery what you planned doesn't look so good and there's something else of irresistable quality in stock. They have that great plant you never thought of, or that one you've only ever seen a picture of. Wow! You juggle it all in your mind. Drive back, plotting and scheming and crossing your fingers. Your friend commented how tasteful the selection was. Did she mean boring? I wanted it to be full on blowsy!

Then you set it out. Move the pots around. I think it's going to work, it just has to knit together. I have primed the clients to know pot-thick show garden planting isn't practical or good for plants...yay! They like it.
I'll feed back when it's all grown up.

Rows and rows

It's always worth listening to more experienced gardeners, even if you don't 'hear' the pearls of wisdom straightaway. Kate, who does other people's gardens, observed how the quality of the soil makes such a difference.

I took over the land where this raised bed is two to three years ago. I've mulched as much as I can with my own meagre returns of compost -relatively small amounts but super-rich. I really feel the patch has turned a corner in terms of fertility this year. It seems to be full of life. It took Kate's comment for me to notice and 'click' with this patch.

From the top:
Spinach 'Matador' - Food Up Front
Carrot 'Primo' - I think, from a friend in a seed swap
Escarole 'Cornetto di Bordeaux' - Franchi sementi. Always interesting continental varieties; usually expensive but a really big packet, so good to share
French parsley - Tuckers Seeds
Beetroot 'Boltardy' - Suttons seeds and top-selling variety for a reason. Homegrown beetroot is so sweet and buttery of texture.
Baby leaves are great in salad.
Rainbow chard - seed swap. This is ready to eat, 10 - 15cm; too 'chardy' when bigger
Broad bean - March-sown 'Witkiem Manita', Tuckers. Charming picotee edge from some member of the munch bunch. Nowadays I not only pinch out black-fly prone apical (top) bud, but also later on de-budded top part of the stem if black fly come back. It concentrates the plant on the flowers and forming beans it has anyway.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Three sisters

Beans, sweet corn and squash - these are the three sisters. Corn provides support for beans, beans bring nitrogen to the soil, and sprawling squash shade out weeds. The association provides carbohydate and protein (beans with corn), plus veg. It's a traditional growing system from Mexico way. Runner beans are from Central America where apparently they grow wild, ramping up through the trees. In my patch I grew red and white flowered runners. I added some stout upward bean poles (not teepee'd or in rows) because in our temperate climate the corn won't be tall and strong enough til at least mid-summer. I also added Thithonia rotundifolia, an annual also of Mexican origin, for some mid-height colour (1.2m), and for bees and butterflies. I'll show you know how it works out!

Friday, 29 May 2009

Spheres and circles at Chelsea

I overheard the stand owner explaining that a famous singer-songwriter had snapped up this hanging cocoon. What a great place to concentrate and be creative.

Allium 'Round and Purple' - says it all

Tom Stogdon's slate and pebble sculptures are really special,

I had more images but doing layout on blogger with more than two images seriously damages your health - any tips anyone?

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Communicating the subtle energies...

Beyond the fashion of Chelsea and the pragmatism of 'right plant, right place' I think every gardener understands this,

"to have 'green fingers' or a 'green thumb' is an old expression which describes the art of communicating the subtle energies of love to prosper a living plant."

So writes Russell Page (1906 - 1985), British garden designer, in his autobiographical The Education of a Gardener.

Sometimes that communication is from your fingers, sometimes from your eyes. I was reminded today of the expression, 'Loving comes from looking'.

Some colleagues and I had been to a nursery to get plants and there was the general lament that however well you choose plants to be low-maintenance, some clients seem not to understand that plants are living and have to be tended. There followed a discussion comparing plants and their needs to children, perhaps subconsciously extending the nursery metaphor! You look long and lovingly at your children, and your plants, and somehow it gets them in order and helps them thrive.

Even when you're away from them, they are in your mind's eye.

statue is in the formal garden at Waterperry Gardens, near Oxford

Sunday, 24 May 2009

The Key - food plants for form, texture and colour

It was most enjoyable to study the clever planting in this garden at Chelsea. Edibles were mixed with herbaceous perennials and structural shrubs in an original way, and with full attention to form, texture and colour. In this picture (left) box balls, Ricinis communis (palmate leaves in centre), spiky eryngium, oriental poppies, lillies, cabbage, kale and orache make a beautiful composition in blues, purples, glaucous green and mid-green. It's all too closely planted to be sustainable (as show gardens are) but provides inspiration for borders at home. Plantlist:

The garden echoes a homeless individual's life journey. Dean Stalham's poem is painted on columns that represent the breach from hard journey to a place of health, growth and stability. Brass doorkeys glitter in the bark mulch path.

I particularly like the placement of the pillars in relation to the deck, the angle at which the raised bed is placed and the rows of veg within it. It all looks 'off', no right angles or 45 degrees. To me, it conveys the awkward reality of a fresh start but it works well and is pleasing.

I admire the job Paul Stone, the designer, has done. Over a hundred people contributed to the garden: homeless individuals, those recovering from substance misuse, and prisoners. Read more,

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Sarah Eberle's Credit Crunch Garden

The path here generated a great deal of interest at Chelsea this week. I 'manned' the garden one day and fielded a lot of queries about it. The idea is that the owner of this garden is an overdrawn artist, short on money but with lots of time and creativity. She has sourced these walkway grills from a scrap yard for £10 each and used ends of bags of different coloured aggregate (gravel) to fill each square, mosaic-style. London buildings are represented. At the front is the Royal Hospital (site of the Chelsea Flower Show). I also found Battersea Power Station and St Paul's Cathedral, but not the Gherkin!

I like the way this simple design element (the grill) has been used on different levels and planes - for the floor, the steps and decorative panels on the wall to the right. It's great how money has been saved on hard landscaping (I counted 15 grills) leaving more for plants.

I also like the use of herbs and fruit in with mixed planting. There's a vine and a gooseberry bush at the front, borage and woad on the right, and there was also oregano and mint. Productive planting is a good trend and represents a return to the origins of cottage gardening - ornamental and edible together. In the designer's narrative, the artist was selling herbs and berries in an honesty box by the front gate.

This designer normally does far grander gardens but was asked to step in only in March as Flemings from Australia had had to pull out when their nursery had been destroyed in bush fires.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Post-glacial cool

Black-framed ultra-designed pavillion, icy white stone blocks scattered as if by a retreating glacier.

Eremurus 'Joanna' requires full sun.

Ulf Nordfjell's Chelsea Best in Show


The iridescence of these peony petals is fascinating. The planting here with its moody colours, the mix of shiny and feathery, and of rounded and spiky is absorbing. The sharp geometry of the evergreens and hard landscaping create the feeling of a dream.

Chelsea Gold-winning garden:
Paeonia 'Buckeye Belle'
Iris 'Black Swan'
Deschampsia cespitosa (grass mid-left)
Foeniculum vulgare 'Giant Bronze' (fennel)
Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' (blue spikes to the front)
Astrantia major (buttons of flowers to right and bottom left)
Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' (grass in a row at the back)

In a real garden you would need to add a range of plants to have colour beyond May. The calamagrostis, or arrow grass, has particularly good year-round value, with upright flower heads and a height of 1.8m in late summer. It retains good form when dead and buff coloured, only needing shearing down in February. From now on it has lovely movement in the breeze and soft whispering (the designer has located a seat behind it).

See the garden more fully and hear the designer, Luciano Giubbilei, talk about the interrelation of the different elements

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Broad beans are in

In between today's showers these were harvested, photoed, podded, steamed and scoffed. A small handful each, but sweet and with that unique taste.

These are November sown 'Super Aquadulce'. It is so nice to be able to sow something outdoors at the end of the growing year, and wonderful to harvest them early in the season.

'Super Aquadulce' is an extremely hardy variety. In this winter's cold snap the plants survived being frozen when the nearby water tank pipe cracked and filled up the raised bed. The plants looked very droopy on defrosting but came back to life.

I'm quite impatient to move on with the beans and free up space, but that's no hardship - just raw baby beans with crumbly feta cheese and lots of oil.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Silver birch stems

Inspired by the grove at the end of the Serpentine path at Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge, I recently used birch in a couple of student designs. Silver birch gives good year round value: shining stems in winter with a tracery of black twigs, fresh green leaves in spring that darken to provide dappled shade in summer, and buttery yellow leaves in autumn. Here you see them photographed on May 3rd, with new-ish leaves and an underplanting of small tulips. I've seen winter photos with just a dark mulch, all the better to contrast with the white. It is a stunning effect when you turn the corner to enter the grove and there's a strong sense of place.
Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, the Himalayan birch. Eventual height 18m. Moderately fertile soil in full sun or dappled shade.
I'm not sure if those at Anglesey are a cultivar, but 'Doorenbos' reaches a more manageable 7.6m in 20 years, with an eventual height of 12m. It suitable for the smaller garden, but even a small and slender tree such as this birch should be planted a good distance from a house (root damage, falling). 'Doorenbos' has the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit, evidence of having been trialled and found to have both horticultural and aesthetic value. AGM plants tend to be readily available in garden centres or from suppliers. These stems had been cleaned - you just need water and a soft brush to remove dust and algae.

A 'soft' day in an English May garden

Last week garden designer Charles Rutherfoord opened his Clapham garden to the public. There was a soft rain and the sky was overcast, and this allowed the colours of blooms to glow a little more. Here (left) you can see tulips just about to go over, and irises in the foreground ready to take their turn. Visitors were softened and awed by the loveliness of this urban garden.

Poached Egg Plant

'Do you grow it for joy of it?', asked my new friend on visiting my allotment. Yes! The yellow and the white make a shining, joyful carpet at the moment.

I grow it for lots of other reasons too. Hoverflies and bees love to visit and they pollinate the nearby raspberries and the pixie Bramley apple they grow under. The plants make a green mulch overwinter, protecting the soil from battering, nutrient draining rain. The faded leaves add organic matter. They self-seed one year to the next and look after themselves. Lastly, it's one of the many plants that reminds me of my granny.

Limanthes douglasii. 15 x 15cm. Full sun in most soils. Poached Egg plant is a hardy annual that you can grow from seed in Spring or early Autumn direct into the ground. The seeds are readily available at garden centres or catalogues.

My new friend is the neighbouring street rep from Food Up Front,