Sunday, 31 October 2010

Horror stories

As a passing tribute to Halloween and the Mexican day of the dead, I thought I'd dig up some advice from the past. From a time when wood veneer record players graced ladderack shelves, gold taps were de rigeur for avocado bathroom suites and full page technicolor adverts for Rothmans Select cigarettes sat opposite the gardening Q&A.
I found this near-pristine copy of 1972 House & Garden magazine at a car boot sale a while back. So, it being October, I thought I'd see how much of the gardening was still relevant. The seasonal advice is broadly unchanged - although heavily biased towards lawn maintenance and dealing with leftover summer bedding (no sign of making leaf mould or growing veg). The design tip was very retro - "conifers, always sensational, are now vrey much coming into their own", and Adrian Bloom's just published 'Conifers For Your Garden ' book comes highly recommended.
But my favourite is the advice dispensed to a resident of NW3, who is looking for a tree to plant in their Hampstead garden to screen them from the neighbours. The choice? Yes, of course it had to be the dreaded leylandii, that did for hedging what shag pile carpets did for floorboards. "It puts on three feet or so a year... the unwanted view would not take long to disappear."  In fact, he goes on to say, plant not one, but two! I wonder if they are still there and how tall they are now.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Frost and summer thoughts

Another frost, followed by wet and windy days this week. Summer - both the one just gone and the next one I'm already looking forward to - feels a long way away. I'm already thinking nostalgically of our late September holiday in Cornwall. I didn't blog about it at the time because it was a blissful week free from the internet and even a mobile signal. 
Although Cornwall is a massive gardening destination, this time I only visited two of the many gorgeous gardens in the county. Much of our time was spent walking the clifftop paths of the northern coast, marvelling at the views and the golden beaches that match anything I've seen in Australia; and admiring the fact that anything at all can grow there, in rocky soil and perpetually buffeted by Atlantic winds. And yet, tough plants thrive - like the sea thrift pictured above, and miles of gorse and heathers that flank the coastal path network with an impenetrable blanket of vegetation. It was right-plant-right-place in all its natural glory.
It also explains why most of the great Cornish gardens are located on the more benign south coast, where it's so lush that it's hard to imagine a plant in the wrong place. I'm sorry that I didn't get to Tremenheere, as scooped by the Galloping Gardener, but that will be top of the list for next time. I stuck to the big cliched ones: Heligan and The Eden project. Partly out of duty and partly due to time available - and I felt like I couldn't miss them out again.
Heligan did not disappoint (even husband, whose garden visits I have to ration in order not to peak his enthusiasm, liked this one). The story of Tim Smit's restoration is an inspiring one and the results are quite enchanting, even on the drizzliest of days (hence v. disappointing photos, none here). Somehow it made the tree fern gulleys more atmospheric. But the vegetable and the cut flower gardens were the parts I would like to take home with me. Or rather, be able to live in one of the gardener's cottages surrounded by it all.

The Eden Project is another story. Again, a fantastic achievement by Mr Smit and a wonderful thing that people come to see plants and maybe take something back home from their holidays other than buckets and spades. But as a plant geek, I missed the labelling that most botanic gardens are so fanatical about and I felt that the slick organisation, from parking, to pathways and signposting was a bit School of Ikea - not really encouraging visitors to explore and ramble and form their own opinions. I really like some of the exterior landscaping, particularly the meadows which featured the lonely coneflower above, and the mixed borders of shrubs and perennials outside those biomes. And as for them domes, apart from my camera being unable to cope with the steamy humidity inside them, they did vaguely impress me. But give me Kew's Palm House any day.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Colour and mulch

It's definitely autumn. My garden isn't great for autumn colour but this bunch I put together represents the final floral fourish and it kind of heartened me that even at the end October there are still a few reasons to be cheerful.  Namely, in my tiny plot at least, japanese anemones, sedums, clematis viticella and monkshood, plus the still-blooming summer throwbacks, sunflowers, lavender and nasturtiums. Last year, the October flower selection looked like this. The monkshood is in fact so divinely purple, it deserves a picture all of its own. Such an intense colour at this time of year.
And of course there are still bulbs to plant. Our local community bulb planting event in the burial ground today was a little thin on the ground with volunteers, but we still got in upwards of about 150 daffodils and tulips. And newcomers came with bulbs they want to watch from the local pub - which sums up urban community gardening quite neatly.
But still, reverting to my half-empty setting, I can't help but indulge in a little mournfulness about taking down the bean canes and cutting back spent plants and shrubs. Thank god for mulch, kind of makes things look all tucked up and cosy for the winter.

Sunday, 10 October 2010


Gnarled, beaten oak trees, herds of deer, beautiful sun-bleached grassy plains, clear-running streams. No clouds today, and the sun, clean, sharp and October-low on the horizon. I don't know if it was the lucky combination of calendar numbers everyone was talking about, but it did feel like the gods were having a good day; a beautiful afternoon in Richmond Park.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Negligees, blousy blooms and leeks

It seems only moments ago that I was swooning at snowdrops and buying summer flowering bulbs at the first show of the year back in February. But now I really have to come to terms with the fact that it's the end of the season and time for the RHS Autumn Harvest Show in Pimlico. I took advantage of a sneak preview of the show this morning, before the crowds arrived.
At this time of year, the flowers are bold, dramatic and voluptuous, like a bouffant, buxom, chiffon-negligeed seventies starlet. The last big blooms of the year like to go out in style. The first thing to stop me in my tracks was this mauve colchicum with petals like tissue paper. Then the chrysanthemums made me smile - they really need dusting down and a bit of an image makeover. With our love of all things vintage, they must be due for a high fashion revival that goes beyond wallpapers and curtain fabrics. This pompom yellow Chrysanth 'Misty Cream' is fabulously retro.
There was a lot of pink, courtesy of gladioli and of course, nerines. Gorgeous flowers that bring a little psychedelic passion to these dank, darkening days. I would have bought an armful had I not been dashing across town - next year, I vow to plant many bulbs. I'm picturing the nerine-filled tub that Edith Hope has so eloquently described in her latest post.
Blousy colour aside, the perfect textures and geometric rosettes of succulents was equally seductive and I was smitten by the giant Aloe polyphylla, courtesy of  Trewidden Nursery.
Last but not least, it being a harvest festival there were plenty of apples and other fruit and vegetables. But I say God bless the giant leeks.