Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Spreading muck

There's something quite therapeutic about standing in a pile of rotting horse manure on a weekday lunchtime. After many months of good intentions and bad weather, three of us (Kate, Tamsin and me) made a dash for the stables on the other side of the Westway. This has been a good source of fertiliser for our at-work-allotment the past couple of seasons and, lucky for us, it really couldn't be closer; so in lieu of another desk-bound sandwich, we grabbed spades, forks and a car and went to shovel some horseshit.
Amazingly, there is a fully working stableyard that backs onto Wormwood Scrubs, with the drone of a four lane highway in the background. It's so tucked away that it's been a relatively well-kept secret, but for the first time, the steaming piles of stable waste were running very low. It can only mean that lots of other veg-growers have cottoned on and the horse muck is being lavished on plots all over west London. We managed to fill five bags full, so that should give a bit of a seasonal boost to our rubble-rich soil. Can't wait to get digging.

Monday, 22 February 2010

The pimilico snowdrop thief

This is not some rare, undiscovered snowdrop bulb. If it were, it might change hands for £20 or more; some galanthophiles might even resort to theft and deception to have it in their possession. But plant addiction is a curious condition with many and varied symptoms. My own obsession manifested itself most recently by being strangely drawn to this gnarled and woody corm in a roomful of delicate flowers.
I went to the first RHS Show of the year, at the fantastically Art Deco Horticultural Halls. After a day of particularly vile, wintry rain, it was truly delightful to walk into a room full of snowdrops and other early flowering plants, just faintly scented with their collective perfume and buzzing with plantaholics.
Next to some rare snowdrops a collection of arisaema corms nestled. These wonderfully sculptural, ugly-beautiful plants-to-be are so full of promise. Like a horticultural frog prince, just waiting for a dusting of compost and water before transforming into a magically beautiful spathe.
I had to have one. I did restrain myself from buying the largest one, thanks to Gardens Illustrated's editor, Juliet Roberts pointing out that no-one else would ever be able to see what I saw in it once it was planted. In the end I opted  for A.consanguineum, that promises to deliver the most interesting foliage and a pin-striped flower.
I'm going to go out on a limb and sing the praise of the RHS London shows. Other esteemed garden bloggers (Arabella Sock, James A-S), have critiqued the show, not unjustifiably, for being a little lacklustre in parts. But the dull bits aside, there are fewer of these shows than there used to be and London would be poorer without them. They are an undiscovered urban gardener's treat, not least because at this time of year they bring a little slice of woodland and meadow to the heart of Pimlico. There should be queues around the block to get in, although part of the charm is that the shows are never unbearably crowded.
But bringing some of the country's best nurseries and growers right into the heart of town is something the RHS should be shouting from the rooftops. It's the best place to find plants that your nearest garden centre will never stock in a million years, and even better, you can talk directly to the grower and find out exactly how many degrees below zero the plant you are coveting has actually been able to withstand this winter.
Then there's the It's-a-knockout-style challenge of getting your plants home in one piece on the rush hour tube journey. My Elwesii snowdrops looked a teensy bit droopy and my hellebore a bit battered by the time they reached my garden. But my beautiful corm was still perfectly intact.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Open for business

There are snowdrops, aconites and even crocuses beginning to colonise the park and the little graveyard at the end of my road. Another sure a sign that spring is imminent is the launch of the 2010 Yellow Book.
It's one of a string of events at this time of year aimed at whetting the appetites of garden writers and editors. The bible of the venerable National Garden Scheme seems to go from strength to strength. Yellow Book gardens sum up a lot of what I love about gardening in the UK. You get to visit beautiful, otherwise inaccessible gardens, sample (usually delicious) home made cakes and tea, as well as almost definitely buying a few homegrown plants. And all the money raised by this very pleasurable summer activity goes to charity.
You might find those who argue that this terribly English approach to gardening is not very groundbreaking, that it simply perptuates horticultural stereotypes and tradition. But the NGS's purpose is not necessarily to push our garden boundaries; it's about celebrating a national passion and supporting worthy causes. Besides, it's hard to argue with a gorgeous plot and a fine slice of of Victoria sponge on a sunny afternoon.
This year, there seem to be even more city gardens and allotments on offer, and I've already earmarked at least 10 visits. My new tactic is to book these dates into my diary. I am not leaving my yellow book visits to chance this year. All too often I pass a famiiliar 'Garden Open' sign on my way to somewhere else and vow to return. Or on one of those early spring days, I remind myself not to miss this year's opening on Chiswick Mall, for example; and then suddenly I'm off on some other summer outing that weekend, and the opportunity has gone for another year.
So I'm going to sit down with my Yellow book and my diary and I will set reminders of those Garden Open dates and turn down all those other invites in favour of a tea and cake in a fantastic garden.

That gardens vs art debate - again

It's been a good gardening week, though not in the outdoor, productive sense. The Vista lectures resumed their first Tuesday of the month slot at the Garden Museum. It's always a good chance to talk gardens with designers and writers and eat some great food. This month, Tim Richardson and Noel Kingsbury quizzed artists Kate Whiteford and Julia Barton. They discussed how they used landscape, plants and irrigation as another creative medium. But although what they do is manipulation of natural elements in the landscape, they still label themselves firmly as Artists (note capital A). I really like their work, particularly Kate's chippendale sofa set into a Capability Brown landscape like those great chalk figures on west country hillsides. But it makes me wonder at the gulf between landscape design and Art. Kate and Julia suggested that because their work is temporary and deteriorates over time, that makes it Art, not gardening. So if garden and landscape designers don't call themselves Artists is it just because their work aspires to be more permanent? Surely all gardens are ephemeral and change over time? So surely all gardeners are Artists. Just a thought.