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,