Monday, May 31, 2010

Plant of the month: May

Euphorbia polychroma

Did you ever see anything so like summer?

I grow many euphorbias, which love my dry, sandy soil. E. martinii for its smoky flowers and burgundy stems, the slightly tender E. mellifera (clobbered by this winter's frosts but I hope recovering), E. cyparissias 'Fens Ruby' which I'm forever having to dig out of places it shouldn't be, but I forgive it anything for its feathery burgundy foliage in spring; E. myrsinites to snake around the skirts of other plants, and a few self-seeded E. robbiae from who knows where.

I love them when they're flowering, but for the rest of the year they can look a little gaunt, I find. That's fine in my jungle garden where wierd and gaunt-looking plants abound, but not so happy in the cottagey riot of summer flowers elsewhere. So I tend to hide the foliage behind other things.

Not so Euphorbia polychroma. This is the Jeeves of the plant world: a plant which in a garden full of the unruly, the mischievous and the downright contrary always, always, knows the right thing to do.

In spring, just when you need a foil to your muscari and crocuses, the clear lime-green foliage starts frothing up from the ground. Gradually it expands like a delicate bubble: never too quickly, as it would never be so rude as to outshine the tulips or the daffodils, but just quickly enough to provide a green backdrop at just the right scale.

Then finally, when it reaches a neat and tidy naturally domed shape of such perfect uniformity that nobody believes I don't clip it, and just when the tulips are going over and you're starting to want something else to look at, the acid yellow flowers appear - in reality, of course, bracts that attract attention to the inconspicuous true flowers in the centre. They are of a brilliant purity that reminds you of the sun even when there isn't any in the sky: and when there is, they glow with a luminescence of sunshiny joy that they make me smile every time I look at them.

They last a satisfyingly long time but not so long as to outstay their welcome. I grow an apricot rose behind it, and the brightest yellows last, obligingly, just long enough to combine rather fetchingly with the orangey shades of the rose. Then, like all good performers, it knows when to stop hogging the limelight and retires gracefully into the wings as the bracts fade back to green. Even then it judges its role perfectly, providing a green of just the right shade to set off the daylilies, rock roses and potentilla that also tumble around it.

There it stays, good-natured and accommodating to the last. It keeps its dignity and poise well into winter and sometimes into spring too if heavy rains haven't bent the branches out of shape, looking terribly sculptural with a good frost.

The only time it's even remotely demanding is when you need to snip away each branch right to the ground in early spring just as the new shoots come through (wearing gloves, as one of this plant's few faux pas is to emit an irritating sap when pruned). Then you wait for the whole thing to happen all over again. There's no better-behaved plant in my garden.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Postcard from Chelsea: Saturday

A little wander through the Floral Pavilion for you just before it's all taken to bits and Chelsea is over for another year....

Friday, May 28, 2010

Postcard from Chelsea: Friday

One of my very favourite small gardens: the Global Stone Bee Friendly Plants Garden, designed by Janey Auchincloss and Paul Hammond. I'm not entirely sure why it 'only' got a silver: the planting was delightful and there were some great ideas - a crinkle-crankle box hedge, a funky multi-storey herb garden and a sunken centre leading to a fountain. Janey's friend tells me they got marked down because of the fountain was too high, which seems a bit rough.

Here's a bit more of that planting: just can't get enough of it...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Postcard from Chelsea: Wednesday

The structure I would most like to nick from Chelsea and take home: Roger Platts' wooden summer house from The M&G Garden. Traditional, classic, and utterly beautiful.

Wouldn't you like to be sitting having tea right there?

And the craftsmanship was superb. This finally made my carpenter hubby understand the point of Chelsea. Carved from Sussex oak by 'a local craftsman' (who clearly wants to stay anonymous - don't know why, I'd be shouting it from the rooftops if I'd made this), it's held together with traditional oak pegs and perfect proportions.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Postcard from Chelsea: Medals day

The Daily Telegraph Garden won Best in Show for the second time running - though unlike last year's rather cool and unengaging garden I totally fell in love with Andy Sturgeon's passionate, warm design.

The write-up goes on about Southern Cape fynbos and Mediterranean maquis in a rather overblown travel guide sort of way that entirely fails to do justice to what is so engaging about this garden. I could go on for ages about all the things I loved most about it: but I'll just pick out a couple that everyone could borrow easily to adapt in their own garden.

  • The first is the echoes that run right through the planting. For example: he picks up the silver spikes of those Verbascum bombyciferum 'Polarsommar' with relatively low-growing Eryngium giganteum nestling by the ground and then echoes it again in the tall, stately Onopordium acanthium at the back (now I know where all those onopordums I saw at Crocus earlier this year were destined for). The result is a three-layer planting with symmetry running like a thread to draw your eye through the garden.

  • The second is the simple trick of picking up the colours of your hard landscaping (in this case, corten steel) very precisely in your planting. Here's a pic to prove the point. I have yet to find out what the cultivar of these bearded irises is: but when I do, I shall acquire some forthwith (and hopefully some corten steel to go with it: it is a match made in heaven).

  • And last but not least: quite simply, the planting was sublime. Quite a muted palette of silver, bronze and purple: which has now become one of my all-time favourite combinations. This is the one which is going in my notebook so that one day I can nick it pretty much wholesale for my garden.

I haven't quite got it all yet, but a good start would be:

Verbascum 'Clementine'
Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna'
Euphorbia 'Blue Haze'
Euphorbia mellifera
Geum 'Cooky'
Eryngium giganteum
Libertia peregrinans
Nepeta racemosa 'Walkers Low'
Ozothamnus ledifolius
Stipa tenuissima

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Postcard from Chelsea: Build-up day

The Great Pavilion is slowly filling up with flowers.... though it always amazes me how late they leave it to finalise their displays. Most of the stands are still only half-finished by the night before judging; and right now, the whole place looks like a building site (even more so than Main Avenue does outside).

I'm having a slightly odd Chelsea this year as I'm spending most of it in an edit suite in an obscure back street nearby watching the lovely James do his thing as elegantly and wittily as ever, if rather disjointedly as we're cutting his links together with footage in a telly sort of way. You too can hear his wise words on BBCi (aka Red Button, aka the nice people who have employed me as part of the team covering the show this year).

But I'm back in the showground on Wednesday for a swanky party... all will be revealed in a multiple postcard winging its way to you then.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Euphorbia mellifera (I think)
as seen at Vann, near Godalming, Surrey

Saturday, May 15, 2010

May flowers

Now, let's see. What's in flower this month?

Oh blimey, I can't be bothered to list all that lot. Right, so what isn't in flower this month?

Answer: not much. May is such a wonderful, wonderful month to be in the garden, especially after all that bleak midwinter hoo-hah. It does your heart good to walk among the tulips and the forget-me-nots and the first roses of summer and just drink in all that colour.

But I must choose which ones to take photographs of this month as Carol at the topically-named May Dreams Gardens is hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day: it's probably easier to choose what to leave out than what to leave in.

I feel a slideshow coming on.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Perfect partners #5

Tulipa 'Chinatown', Heuchera 'Beaujolais' and Anemanthele lessoniana
as seen in the Floral Pavilion at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Malvern flowers

Never mind the show gardens: at Malvern it was the Floral Pavilion which just blew me away.

Every bit as good as bigger shows like Chelsea and Hampton Court, I was like a kid let loose in a sweetshop: actually I was entirely paralysed when I first went in as I just wanted everything I saw.

To save the bank balance I contented myself with taking photos of my very, very favourites. Well, mostly: I will admit three more scented geraniums and a Gillenia trifoliata somehow found their way into my bag.

So here were the ones that got away:

Camassia leichtlinii 'Pink Selection'
(Avon Bulbs)

Euphorbia dulcis 'Chamaeleon'
(Claire Austin Hardy Plants)

Paris quadrifolia
(Mary Green at The Walled Garden, Lancs)

Hosta 'White Feather'
(actually, I didn't want this one, but I thought it was proof if proof were needed that breeders always push it that little bit too far)

Dicentra 'Bleeding Hearts'
(Cath's Garden Plants)

Epimedium 'Amber Queen'
(Edrom Nursery)

Trillium sulcatum
(Chris Cooke Plants)

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Didn't we have a luvverly day, the day we went to Malvern...

Yes, I was there too...!

What an occasion. Herb-tasting shenanigans from the Three Men and Jekka, bloggers galore, and even Princess Anne joined in the fun.

Much chatting was done: a special mention must go to Frances and Gail, who made the heroic journey all the way from Tennessee just to get rained on yet were utterly delightful about it all and didn't moan a bit about their sudden transition from shorts-and-tshirts temperatures to something requiring thick jumpers (though being in close proximity to genuine, 24-carat royalty I hope made up for it a bit). Also the lovely Ewa who joined us from Poland (presumably quite at home climate-wise) and Yolanda Elizabet who turns out to be an irrepressibly effervescent Dutchish person. And very many thanks to the ever-fabulous VP, who organised it all, and Helen, who bravely opened her gorgeous garden and home to us so we could eat pizza and sit on her stairs.

Right, before this all starts getting unbearably luvvie I shall stop there, and talk about the show: which is why, of course, we were all there.

It was the first time I've ever been to Malvern: a revelation to see the change of plant palette from the high-summer iris, alliums and agapanthus of Chelsea and Hampton Court, to the spring aquilegia, geums and dicentra of Malvern. Medals were much in evidence, though just two golds - to the 'Recovery and Wellbeing Garden', from the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (a little heavy on the chicken house, in my view, but lots of robustly healthy veg) and the rather gorgeous 'The Youth of Old Age', from Graduate Gardeners Ltd., which also won best in show.

But medals shmedals: here are the ones you've all been waiting for.

The Constant Gardener Awards for Malvern 2010

Plant of the Show 2010: Rheum palmatum

with hostas and coppery young leaves of Cotinus 'Grace' in 'The Youth of Old Age' (gold, best in show)

and teamed with Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba': 'ReSource Garden' (Silver-Gilt)

Planting Scheme I'd Most Like to Take Home: The Inside Out Garden (Silver)

It's not just because it's got veg in it- honest. The elegant, sweeping curves were echoed on the other side in aquilegia, swelling box balls and lavender. Heavenly.

Most Original Use of Plants: ReSource Garden (Silver-Gilt)

That's single-stemmed Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' used as punctuation to pale lilac iris and Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum'

Best re-working of a tired theme: The sedum roof in 'As Time Goes By' (Silver)

No boring-but-eco-friendly tile-effect sedum matting here: these are individual sedum plug plants (plus a few houseleeks) chosen for their variations in foliage texture and planted lovingly into capillary matting on a small shed roof. There was a life and movement to the planting you never find on mass-produced sedum roofs - and it made me want to do it myself

Most covetable paving: The Woodland Edge Garden (Silver)

Well, OK, it's decking, but I loved that contrast between the sawn logs and the circular decking.

Wackiest paving idea of the year: 10 Green Bottles Might Just Build A Wall
(School garden)

Yes, those are cut-off lemonade bottles. So wierd it almost works.

Fence of the year: The Owl & The Pussycat (Silver)

Hand-woven by the designer and heart-breakingly beautiful.

Highly Commended: The Morgan Garden

The one redeeming feature in an otherwise lamentably blokey garden: an exquisite espaliered apple tree 'fence' in full blossom

Sculpture of the Year: The Owl from 'The Owl & The Pussycat' (Silver)

Isn't he gorgeous?

And finally.... Bonkers Idea of the Year: Hansel & Gretel Fairytale Garden (Silver-Gilt)

That is toast on that roof. Real toast.

I am told by Deb (who hobnobs with royalty: it is she meeting Princess Anne in the main picture) that the designer cooked the toast and nailed it to the roof, only to have a flock of crows descend on it moments later and strip the lot off again. He did not give up and go find some plastic toast: no, he went out and bought another load of bread, toasted it again, nailed it on and this time laquered it in place.

Bonkers, or what?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Scents and sensibility

Hold onto your wallets! Plant fair season has begun!

Despite their utterly lethal effect on my bank balance, I can't resist a good plant fair. I go to all of them: the one at the village hall, the fundraiser at a local garden, and most of all the rare and unusual plant fairs. I don't often get a proper Rare Plant Fair coming to my neck of the woods apart from the London ones, which almost always seem to happen when I'm nowhere near London. But a very close second are the Plant Heritage plant fairs run by local groups and always packed with choice nurseries from all around the area (and sometimes considerably outside it).

So it was last Sunday when we had a single rainy day amid two weeks of relentless sunshine and that was the day Plant Heritage's Surrey Group held its plant fair (the first of three! Oh happy days...) There was much sploshing about with umbrellas and dripping hats: the stallholders were stalwart and resolute and Very Very British. And would you believe there was quite a crowd of galosh-wearing gardeners, also being Very British about the weather and shopping like mad.

I'm not allowed to buy any more plants for the garden at the moment. Not that it stops me, but I'm trying not to stock up my borders too much more as it'll all just have to be dug out again after we sell the house and that will just make me feel guilty.

So I was munging around feeling frustrated when I caught sight of this little corner of an un-named stall.

I am usually a little snobby about pelargoniums. They're all right, but have something of the granny about them even if they're in trendy shades of plum purple (the only ones I can bear to have about the place. Or maybe white).

But these, dear reader, aren't just pelargoniums: these are scented-leaved pelargoniums.

It's at times like this I wish this were a scratch-and-sniff blog. Take those leaves between your fingers and rub gently. Your fingers will come away redolent of smoky cinnamon; perfumed with the scent of rose-petals; tangy with lemon.

Pelargonium 'Little Gem': rose-lemon scents

The flowers are small and delicate and not at all showy, just as I like them: I can even forgive them for being mostly pink. As with most plants which are all about the foliage, they have such very interesting foliage, too.

Pelargonium 'Crispum Variegatum': another lemony one

It's not often I like a variegated leaf, but this is not variegation for the sake of variegation. Small and interestingly crinkled, the leaves give off a spicy citrus scent if you brush past it. This one can apparently be trained to shape: now that might make topiary interesting.

Pelargonium 'Lara Jester'

I think I like the rose-scented leaves best: they certainly have the sweetest perfume. I covet 'Attar of Roses' and one day will find it again: it remains the one that got away after I decided a few years back that a huge plant for just three quid was one too many for the car boot. How wrong can you be.

Other scents are definitely more savoury and might best be described as 'interesting' - certainly spicy rather than conventionally perfumed. But one day I shall build up enough plants to pick and dry the leaves for pot-pourri, and then they will come into their own: I dream of lemony P. graveolens, or P. odoratissimum which is said to smell of Granny Smith apples. 'Prince of Orange' - does what it says on the tin - 'Copthorne' - smells of cedar - and P. dichondraefolium, smelling of black pepper, are close behind.

As it was, I came away with P. 'Ardwick Cinnamon' (white flowers, leaves the scent of cakes in autumn), P. 'Cy's Sunburst' (variegated gold with a lemony fragrance) and the intriguingly curly-leaved P. graveolens 'Bontrosai', with a perfume of roses. I always said I wouldn't start collecting plants, but I fear I may have succumbed.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Making meadows while the sun shines

I mentioned a little while ago in one of my endless posts about the on-going saga of the house move that I was stewing up a plan to tart up the neglected central section of my garden with a metaphorical coat of paint in the shape of some annual meadow flower seeds from Pictorial Meadows.

Just to reiterate what a state it was in throughout most of last year, here's the horror pic again:

I think I referred to the planting of a meadow as 'a quick fix'. What I had forgotten was that when you decide you're going to perk up the living room with a quick coat of matt emulsion, and then you get out the gear and start to actually do it, you find that first of all, the corners of the wallpaper need sticking down where they've started curling up... then that dent needs filling... and that bit where the kids threw a trainset at the wall and took a chunk out will need repapering altogether, which means I'll probably end up having to do the whole wall... and in the end you've got a huge job on your hands.

So it is with the creation of meadows from scrap land.

On the first occasion when it looked as if it would stay dry for more than six hours - which, it being March, was quite a while later - I sprayed the lot with glyphosate (I am what's generally known as pragmatically organic - i.e. I'll avoid chemicals wherever possible but when it's absolutely necessary, such as clearing weedy ground, I reach for the weedkiller).

And two weeks later the above weedy mess was reduced to this:

Still not pretty, but at least you could imagine you might be able to make something of it now. Good thing too, as by now my little 50g packet of seeds was on my windowsill and calling to me seductively every morning.

Right, I thought, I'll just hoe up the dead topgrowth and then I can rent a rotavator and have a fun day playing with power tools.

Unfortunately, some of the dead topgrowth proved less than willing to move. So I stuck in a fork to see what was going on. And this is what I found.

Seven year's worth of couch grass had not been so much as mildly inconvenienced by my single application of glyphosate: though the topgrowth had gone, the roots were hale and hearty and doing a passable impression of spaghetti.

By now I'd run out of time to allow more topgrowth to come through so I could apply a second round of weedkiller: and I'd learned my lesson from a certain TV gardener who has never quite lived down his decision to rotavate an allotment containing couch grass roots (which, I understand, he has now sensibly abandoned so someone else can dig them out properly). So - with a wistful glance in the general direction of the hire shop - I'm getting behind my trusty digging fork and painstakingly, painfully doing it all by hand.

Two hour-long sessions later - it's 15ft x 30ft, so we're not talking small patch here - and here's what it's looking like:

Nearly there. Hopefully I shall be able to bring you some prettier pictures soon. And next time I start wittering on about how easy something's going to be, bop me over the head or something until I start talking sense again.

Related Posts with Thumbnails