Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bedazzled by bedding

Right, time to put on your sunglasses, folks.

Yesterday was one of the highlights of my year: the entirely unmissable Thompson & Morgan sneak preview press day for all us hacks to see what they're planning to bring in to the catalogue for 2011.

T&M have a huge breeding programme: sometimes misguided (step forward, the frankly mutant mophead hydrangea produced this year with one single flower head 10" across on an upright stem) but mostly pushing the limits in an occasionally groundbreaking and always interesting way, especially among fruit and veg which is why I trekked all the way up to Ipswich to go have a look. Four hours it took me to get back. Four hours. They closed two junctions of the M25 in case you're interested. Now that's dedication.

Anyway: the veg come later but for now I just want to indulge a little. T&M also have a well-deserved reputation for the most spectacular bedding: not usually my cup of tea at all but when you're there surrounded by the most eye-spinning profusion of flowers you can't help but be won over. Well, all right, I can leave the magenta petunias (and the ones striped yellow and pink.... bedding truly is the last refuge of spectacularly unashamed bad taste).

But many were really genuinely pretty plants, and quite a few will be finding their way into my patio pots next year.

Petunia 'Phantom': now this is a well wierd one. Kind of intriguing in its own rather spooky way.

Actually I think I preferred the flowers when they're just emerging, a sultry near-black.

Zinnia haageana 'Chippendale' paired with Rudbeckia 'Cappuccino'.

...and the equally sunshiny Calendula 'Neon'

Another Rudbeckia, this time 'Cherry Brandy'. Described as the first red rudbeckia ever bred but I'm sceptical: looks more bronze to me. Still lovely though.

Isn't this pretty? And it's a Zinnia: 'Zahara Starlight Rose', to be precise. Zinnias have always been temperamental for me but I might have another go if they're going to look this good.

A little soothing pastel to cool things down a bit: Salvia farinacea 'Fairy Queen'

This dwarf sunflower, called 'Chocosun' for reasons that entirely elude me, grows just three feet tall but looks lovely planted en masse.

Verbena 'Peaches and Cream'

...naaah. That was all getting much too tasteful. Here's Salvia horminium 'Marble Arch Mixed': now you couldn't miss that, could you?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


House-hunting at the weekend: there has been progress. But I'm not going to tell you about it as I'm highly superstitious and since it's all built on very shifting sands anyway there's no guarantee that the tottering edifice (the buying-and-selling malarkey, not the house) will stay upright for the required length of time. Here's a moral: never buy, or sell, a house in a credit crunch.

The house-hunting involved staying at my mum's in Wiltshire (that's a clue, by the way). And that meant a visit to my very favourite stately home, Wilton House. I discovered that since my last visit the children of the previous Earl of Pembroke, including the 18th Earl of Pembroke and current resident at Wilton, who is also for reasons which are unclear the 15th Earl of Montgomery, have created a miz-maze in honour of their father, who died in 2003.

We went on a little hunt for the maze, which is buried deep in woodland behind the garden, and eventually discovered it nestled in a clearing. The girls spent most of the time scampering around the granite set paths, but we just absorbed the atmosphere: there is something about a miz-maze which is entirely other-worldly and quite apart from the usual amusement-park variety with hedges and lost children and what not.

Nobody actually knows what miz-mazes were for: they've been around since Roman times, and the Tudors were quite keen on them too. They're labyrinths: that means the paths don't have 'stems' but just curl around each other until you get to the centre. This reduces the chance of getting lost but increases the general sense of mystic meaning that pervades such designs.

There are links with witches, who would gather at the sites of miz-mazes; and they're also highly symbolic to Christians who see them as a journey to the central higher truth. Monks are rumoured to have crawled on their hands and knees to the centre of them as a penance. I don't know about all that: but I do know that this one, modern as it was, speaks of primitive meaning and deeper significances than a simple turf path in a wood.

There are a handful of surviving ancient miz-mazes in the country: one near Fordingbridge, in Hampshire, and another on a hill fort somewhere near Winchester. Apparently in the really old ones - made entirely of turf with no hard-landscaped paths - the passage of feet wore the pattern of the labyrinth more deeply and indelibly in to the ground.

But they're enjoying something of a comeback: the miz-maze at Mount Ephraim is probably the best-known example, but is rather un-authentically modern (if gorgeously pretty) in that it uses perennials to divide off the paths and some of the paths have dead ends - which I understand is Not Done in labyrinthine circles.

I rather like the idea of cutting a turf maze into a lawn: probably the easiest way to create a miz-maze. To reproduce the full symbolism you should have nine circles and the path should flow without hindrance back and forth right to the centre. And placing it in a clearing in woodland seems to help, too. As a memorial - as it's been used here - it was deeply meaningful, largely through its simplicity. I've always wanted to be buried under an oak tree when my time is up: I think I may add a miz-maze for good measure, too.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hampton Court 2010: The Floral Marquee

The show is over: but on my way out I had a little photo-frenzy snapping all the plants I've admired during the week on my many visits to the Floral Marquee - this year bigger, better and more conveniently-located than ever before. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Postcard from Hampton Court: Sunday

The Pansy Project: Best Conceptual Garden
Sometimes the simplest ideas are by far the best.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Postcard from Hampton Court: Saturday

The small garden I'd most like to take home with me: Urban Serenity, by David Neale (Gold).

I surprised myself with how much I liked this one, actually: it was a bit 'boy' for my usual taste what with all those crisp lines and bachelor decking, but it was the planting that won me over. I particularly liked these 'floating' planters in the middle of the water feature, filled with nothing but foliage: but what foliage. Podophyllums, an epimedium and an iris or two: not much colour but some truly subtle contrasts of foliage and texture. Serene, soothing, tranquil. And a lesson in why too much colour (other than green) is bad for the nerves.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Postcard from Hampton Court: Friday

Hot, hot, hoooottttt..... This is weather the Reflections of Thailand garden was made for. If you go across the bridge and round the back it's lovely and cool and shady in a jungly sort of way: I do like the planting on this garden. Here it's bat plant (Tacca chantrieri) teamed with a spectacular alocasia and a ferny sort of plant which designer James Clarke said he'd grabbed off the trolley to use as a filler. Some filler.
This one won not only the only gold medal in the show (everyone a bit stumped by that: not by the fact that this garden won a gold, but that none of the other large show gardens else did. I thought the judges were pretty harsh this year).... but also Best in Show. Any snide comments about hotel gardens are easily squashed by a closer look at the planting: quite sublime, and for a foodie like me fascinating what with lotus lilies, turmeric, kaffir limes and lemongrass. Fantastic.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The view from the office

I should apologise for my prolonged absence: life, or rather a series of RHS flower shows, got a little in the way of blogging for a while. And I've sold my house, so I'm a bit preoccupied by my state of flat-out panic about our imminent homelessness. Of which more later.

But for now I'm sitting in the press tent at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show and this is the view from my window. I'm not entirely sure life gets much better than this: so I resolve to turn my mind away from estate agents for a day or two and just enjoy. See you later!
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