Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Bamboo Uprooting Movement

That's it - I'm officially launching the BUM.

I'm still nursing my wounds after having to deal with a client's rampant black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) - don't believe 'em when they tell you it's clump forming: it is, but only if you want clumps six feet or more across.

Now I've been collared by my next-door-neighbour wondering what these big hefty weeds growing in her garden are. It turns out that when the next-door-neighbour on her other side had his garden re-designed, the designer (who should have known better) scattered bamboo willy-nilly through the otherwise well-planned borders - and crucially, along the dividing fence between the two gardens.

The bamboo has now decided next door looks kind of nice too, so it's making a bid to colonise my poor neighbour's garden. This is what happens when a garden is designed without consideration for the fact that it's a garden: i.e. it grows, and some plants grow more politely than others.

Bamboo is a very impolite plant, has no respect for borders, or anything else for that matter. It sends out runners as thick as steel hawsers - and as difficult to get out - that then send up huge canes which you simply can't ignore or live with - or get rid of. I believe it should be classified as invasive, in the same bracket as Japanese knotweed. After all, no doubt the Victorians thought knotweed gave borders height, stately elegance and architectural beauty when they brought it back from the Himalayas in the 1800s - and look where that got us.

I'm now wondering whether I'll cause a civil war if I advise my neighbour to do something unmentionable involving cutting a stem and pouring something lethal down its hollow middle. Please - don't find yourself in the same situation. Get it out of your gardens. Now.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How to make a coldframe #4

Time to get back to my coldframe construction - it's been put on the back burner a little since all the blessed weeds started growing in about April. I'm currently juggling with a Heath Robinson construction of planks and old greenhouse glass next to my greenhouse as the home for my long-suffering seedlings (late-sown summer annuals, mostly) - I do wish I could get on and finish the deluxe model. At this rate it'll be just about ready for the first frosts...

Anyway, I think I left this just as the uprights were nicely battened and ready to clad. You start by doing the end uprights, the ones you put battens around the inside edges as well as at top, back, front and base. The reason for these inside battens will now become obvious: these are what you fix the cladding to.

This is a pretty easy process: you can either use thin planks, like I have, or following the Terence Conran design more closely, you can use overlapping cladding, which is kind of wedge shaped and widely available from DIY stores. I originally thought this would look a bit clunky (actually I still think that) but now I think it might be the better option - the above looks smart, but it does inevitably mean tiny gaps between the planks, as wood rather inconveniently tends to move as it gets soaked or dries out. Cladding, on the other hand, can move all it likes but it's still overlapping, so no draughts.

The only slightly tricky bit is cutting the top triangular wedges to size: the best way is to draw the shape of the upright onto the planks as a cutting guide before you actually nail them on to the battens. Or you can do it like me, and fiddle about cutting extra bits off here and there as you go along, thus doubling the time it takes you and making you swear in frustration.

No prizes for guessing that we'll be cladding the rest of it next time.

Previous bits of the series:

How to make a coldframe #1

How to make a coldframe #2

How to make a coldframe #3

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Novelty value

I found out what my mystery honeysuckle is today!

I eventually got around to taking a sample over to Wisley's spectacularly useful Advisory Service a couple of weeks ago. For those who don't know, this service is perhaps the most useful thing you get along with your RHS membership: you get to take any problem, and any unidentified plant along to your nearest RHS garden (or you can send it in) and you have instant access to the country's leading plant experts to identify it for you. I always have the "I'm not worthy" feeling when I go in there - why would they want to be bothered with my humble little garden? - but they're unfailingly friendly and extremely helpful.

Anyway - back to the honeysuckle. It turns out to be Lonicera xylosteum - a new one on me. In his email the RHS botanist tells me it's "a native shrub sometimes known as fly honeysuckle... It normally forms a medium-sized, deciduous shrub producing small, creamy-white flowers in early summer. These may be followed by red berries in the autumn. Although of very restricted native distribution, it is grown in gardens and has become naturalised throughout the country."

I love having an Unusual Plant in my garden. It makes me feel like a trustee of something important - something to do with there not being that many around, but one of them's in my garden. I'll get ideas about National Collections next...

Monday, June 09, 2008

Beauty in unexpected places #2

This lichen was clinging to an ancient apple tree on the Trevarno Estate in Cornwall (yes, I'm aware that I've banged on about this lovely garden before). It was in the walled garden - currently being restored to its former glory, and including a few remnants of the old Victorian kitchen garden it once was.

Lichen is a thing of total, wonder-inducing beauty if you look at it closely. It appears on older trees and lots of people think it's doing damage - in fact it's just a sign that conditions are perfect, which means damp and a little shady with a nice bit of roughened wood to cling on to. Those little tufts of hairy grey moss just add to the general sense of other-worldliness, don't you think? It could be a scene from the surface of the moon.

Monday, June 02, 2008

So, then, that was May...

May is a write-off for me every single year. I always seem to leave normal life somewhere about mid-spring, and then wake up again when the summer's arrived, slightly bewildered and wondering what hit me (and the garden, which is by then knee-high with weeds).

The main reason for this is a particularly nice one, which is the massive workload I get in the run-up to and during the Chelsea Flower Show. I go there every year with a much-prized press ticket and have a ball. I loved it this year as much as ever: you don't need me to go on about which garden was best (plenty of others have done it better) but all I'll say is that my favourite won it. I had Cleve West's lovely confection as an outside bet for best in show - he said he was hedging his bets by making one side a tapestry of rich, purple-and-burgundy colour while the other end was all soothing greens and whites. I thought it just meant you had two gardens in one, so double the bang for your buck, so to speak. The amazing thing was, it held together as a whole, too, which is quite a feat.

The only other thing I'll go on about is the Great Pavilion, which is by far my favourite bit of the show, and the bit that makes me feel most humble. Avon Bulbs, Hilliers, Barnsdale, Kirstenbosch, Grenada, David Austin... the roll call of my all-time favourites is nearly the same every year, but there is a reason for that: these are the ones you can depend on to put on an exceptional show of horticultural fireworks, and you always come away bursting with new ideas and marvelling at new plants.

Anyway, that's quite enough of a show long past now. I brought my annual souvenir away too: I've been buying a plant from a Chelsea garden every year since I started going. So far the tally is a Helictotrichon sempervirens (2006), a Heuchera 'Brownies' (2007) and this year two: a shining silver Astelia and (impulse buy this one) a fabulous purple-and-green canna which cost me six quid for a five-litre potful from the confusingly-named Gavin Jones Garden of Corian, which was alternatively titled "Elevations" and was in fact designed by Philip Nash - dunno who Gavin Jones was. The garden was OK - not my favourite style, as it was kind of modern and spiky with lots of white hard landscaping mixed with steel and glass - but the planting was fantastic, with a really rich textural mix of exotics and unusual forms of more commonplace plants. I loved (and nearly also bought) the Pittosporum tobira 'Nanum' they used and it's now on my list of plants I must grow before I die.

But there I go, on about Chelsea again, and it's a week gone by since the last day. Back to work, back to the hedgetrimmers... normal life again.
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