Monday, 30 May 2011

No cake today

There's untapped soap-operatic potential around NGS open days, particularly those multiple gardens that open on the same day in the same street.
I've been to two quite different days in the last week. The first was to the fve gardens on Kew Green, where you buy one ticket and it's all organised in a very neighbourly - and orderly - fashion with riverside garden gates open to allow acces through interconnecting gardens and garden no. 4 doing all the tea and cakes. So you get to see five gardens of similar size and how they deal with that long-thin garden conundrum. Mostly they opted for the long and winding path through several different areas of sun and shade, with  long deep borders, all the garden admin - and a spot of beekeeping - going on in generous shady compost areas at the back.
Plantwise, being a stone's throw from the Botanic Gardens, the borders were clearly the work of passionate gardeners and there were a few surprises that looked like they might have jumped the fence. An amazing Arum dracunculus in two of the gardens. Garden number five may have lacked a little in the planting stakes, but made up for it in garden art, with this amazing summerhouse below and a beautiful sculpture by Barry Hart who was Henry Moore's tutor. Plus the tantalising tale of Henry Moore visiting and possibly starting an affair with the lady at no. 67.  I made a mental note to go earlier in the afternoon in order to sample the best of the cakes.

On Sunday, four houses on Chiswick Mall opened their gardens. I often wander along this prize piece of of Thames river frontage past the gorgeous unaffordable houses, consoling myself with the thought that it wouldn't be much fun to have to worry about flooding all the time. With the chance of a peek at what's behind some of the front doors, I discovered that quite a few of the houses have fine backgarden views of Chiswick brewery, which also would not be top of my house wishlist. However, this year, there was a bit of an open gardens battle raging (quite politely mind), with two extra gardens opening specifically for the Red Cross, not the NGS. That made for quite a lot of garden visiting.
Disappointingly, the NGS gardens didn't do a group ticket. The lady on the door of the first garden somewhat grumpily replied that it had never really worked out that way. I suspect I wasn't the first person who'd asked and that it points to a bit of neighbourly rivalry. Call me a cheapsgate (husband often does), but at £2 a visit, it starts to add up. I know it's all for charidee, but I dashed out the house with only a fiver and some loose change, so I had to choose four.
Gardens number 2 and 3 were the most interesting, with a wonderful conservatory/greenhouse that ran the length of the garden wall at the Red Cross open garden. I was also impressed by a magnificent twisted Eucalyptus and this Fuchsia magellanica in the NGS one. Not a favourite of mine, but this one had so many flowers it looked like it was dripping with fairylights.

Lastly I thought the pockets of alchemilla dropped into the paving in my fourth garden was a nice idea to steal, although the exuberantly planted border on the right looked  imbalanced next to the neat clipped lawn and horizontal paving. It just didn't quite work for me. I had no money left for cake or refreshments, but have to say there was a lack of home-made sponge on offer, so my purse and my waistline were spared without too much of a sacrifice.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

My Chelsea shopping list

My only regret about my day at Chelsea Flower Show yesterday was that I didn't get to a betting shop. For the second year in a row I predicted (along with most other people, I'll admit) that Cleve West's Telegraph Garden would win best in show. And it most deservedly did. But I didn't put any money it. Shame, but well done Cleve.
My snap below doesn't do it justice. Although it's a show garden, built to last a week, it has the quality of a garden that stays with you and makes you want to return to spend time in it. I loved the sculpture columns and the jewel-like planting - acid sharp colour combinations of  flowering parnsip (Pastinaca sativa) fennel and valerian, and achillea, punctuated by pockets of the heart-stopping ruby-coloured Dianthus cruentus. Cleve, I think you might have launched a dianthus revival, and a new planting trend this year: no big drifts and blocks of colour, nor a prarie-style meadow a la Piet Oudolf. This planting was like a new, natural take on the mediaeval-style flowery mead - it felt fresh and contemporary. I think we might be seeing more of this. 

Of other hot of the press horticultural fashion must-haves this year: flat topped trees - the mulberrys in the B&Q garden were gorgeous.

Green walls are now positively commonplace, as are bug hotels. But in between dodging the hefty gusts of wind and accompanying pollen dust from the plane trees (you could tell when it got people right at the back of the throat as the showground reverberated with polite Chelsea coughs), there was much to covet.
I would like to have taken home with me most of the Kevock nursery display, the scent of the Dutch hyacinths and these plants I'd not really come across before:

Phlomis tuberosa, 'Bronze Fleming'

This Cirsium heterophyllum that is bigger, pinker and more upright than rivulare, although Alys Fowler told me they flop badly in the rain.

And this Geum tangerine that was one of those plants that seemed to crop up in lots of gardens and nursery stands. Here it nestles next to one of Nigel Dunnet's dry stone walls.
I would love some of Tom Hoblyn's beautiful Italian lava pots with a pale glazed interior so that they look like rock pools; I heard him say they are about £1000, so I'll have to buy a lottery ticket for those. I also loved the lovely burnished steel pot in the Power of Nature urban garden.

Things I'd leave behind - the crazy golf landscaping in the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne creation (surprised it got a gold). The crane that lifted Diarmuid Gavin's pod - couldn't it have sat on stilts? And those partition walls in the Bradstone urban garden.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Seedlings, the Spar and the Vicar

Phew. A week on from Sunflower planting day in the graveyard, the seedlings are not only still in situ, but apparently thriving; and the first showings of the Pictorial Meadows seeds are peeping through. I have high hopes for a dazzling display in late summer.
Planting day was a very positive urban gardening experience. We had a good turnout of about a dozen local folk to plant out some 75 seedlings (we held a few back in case we need to replace them at a later date...). Organising these things is a bit like throwing a party - for the first 15 minutes I was worried that no one would turn up. But there were some new faces and some passers-by who stopped to find out what was going on. The sun shone, David the Vicar stopped by on his bicycle to see how we were getting on (on his way to watch the cup final), and the man from the Spar in over the road that nobody shops in, kept ferrying buckets of water across to us to top up our watering cans. It was guerilla gardening meets The Archers Christmas Panto. Luckily I caught the council maintenance team before they had a chance to weed out all the seedlings a few days later - they don't really know what they're doing. Next month, we're having a plant-sale fundraiser - the garden looks like a very small nursery at the moment with all my seedlings and cuttings. We'll be selling plants to raise money to buy trees.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Well hello poppy

Back home again and it's amazing how in just a few days the garden has moved on a season. Husband did quite well on his watering chores while I was away. The alliums are already fading and the sweet rocket is now positively luminous with purple blooms.  And sadly, the last petals on my favourite tulip of the year - the marvellously frilly Cummins pictured below - have crumpled and the equally gorgeous, crepe-like oriental poppy is now the camp centre of attention in my backyard.

Meanwhile, I'm even more behind with my potting on. This year, for the first time, I have almost run out of plastic pots. I must have gone overboard on my seed sowing - sunflowers, tomatoes, courgettes, chard, beetroot, marigolds, molucella, sea kale, basil, cosmos. Quite a lot for a small town garden. The loft bathroom-cum-greenhouse is full and the garden is littered with some of the lucky ones that are being  hardened off. I think I might have had a good hit-rate with my seeds this year.
Where will they all go? Some will go to a plant sale to raise funds for our newly inaugrated Friends of St Mary's Burial Ground Group and, the sunflowers will be planted out tomorrow in our monthly gardening session. So at least I will regain some pots...

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Greenest city in Europe?

I'm in Madrid for a couple of days and it's beautiful here. My guidebook tells me it's the greenest city in Europe. Surely not ? I thought it was London.  I've been to Madrid a few times before and haven't come away with especially green memories - it's the small streets and tall buildings (and the shops, bars and restaurants) that made an impression on me. I dismissed the comment as one of those things guidebooks tell you. But my Spanish friend Teresa who lives here and is an adoptive Madrileno (and who I would trust a thousand times more than any guidebook), says it is technically correct, because of the vast Casa del Campo park that is now included within the city borders.
And if I lay out my map, I have to concede that the proportion of tiny streets to green does look pretty high. A rough count on Googlemaps view, offers up around 32 listings of parks. I haven't been able to whizz round all of them - a challenge for another time. But I have revisited old memories of the city and found new greenery.
Of course, I went to the Retiro Park - the green heart of the city and the perfect hub on Sundays (when shops are still mostly closed and the city is at leisure) for all the runners, rollerskaters, dogwalkers, promenaders and the overspill from the museums. The  Parque del Ouest attracts a similar crowd, but fewer tourists as it's more of a neighbourhood park, but quite a special one, with a  small Egyptian temple and a great monument to the Spanish Civil War.
The Botanic Gardens are a more peaceful retreat and a must for the plant geek like me - I love a garden with labels. I like to secretly test my knowledge (and scare myself that my memory is going to pot) and then spot a new plant I've never come across before. I didn't know that botanists have split sedums into two groups and the familar garden varieties, Autum Joy etc are now Hylotelephium. And the Abelia triflora impressed me with it's gorgeous spiced jasmine scent produced by tiny flowers.  Meanwhile the English Border - that would be in full sun at home, is in semi-shade, as those familiar perennials would fry in the hot bright Madrid sunshine.
Shade is what Madrid's green spaces do so well, from the long tree-lined boulevards with towering plane and horse chestnut trees, to the paths and grassy areas in the parks - all creating delicious cool wells of space to provide a retreat from the heat. And if I thought that English gardeners were masters of clipped and pruned hedging, I may have to revise this judgment too. Smaller green pleasures this trip have been the abstract hedging outside the Prado in the picture above and this example of high baroque cloud pruning in the Retiro.

But perhaps my favourite discovery was the pretty andalucian style courtyard designed by the painter Sorolla at his house, now a museum. He's a wonderful painter - fantastic light in his work. And the one plant label in this garden told me that the Spanish common name for Cercis Siliquastrum, the judas tree, is Arbol del Amor - tree of love.