Saturday, May 28, 2011

Postcard from Chelsea: New plants

Rosa 'York Minster'
(Harkness Roses)

Clematis 'Abilene'
(Raymond Evison Clematis)

Hakonechloa macra 'Samurai'
(Knoll Gardens)

Lewisia 'Little Mango'
(D'Arcy & Everest)

Iris 'Discovered Treasure'
(Claire Austin)

Lilium 'Lankon'
(HW Hyde)

Primula euprepes
(Kevock Plants)

Rosa 'Friendship of Strangers'
(Peter Beales Roses)

Erythronium 'Hidcote Beauty'
Harveys Garden Plants)

This is just a small selection of the new plants I discovered on my way round the Great Pavilion: if you want more, Matthew Biggs has said a bit more about a few of the ones above plus a few others in an article for the RHS, while Graham Rice has also been forthright and rather justified in his comments about 'new' plants which aren't really new before for the Guardian: thankfully, none of the above are among the culprits...!

Postcard from Chelsea: Friday

Astrantia 'Roma', Astrantia 'Buckland', Digitalis x mertonensis, Pimpinella major 'Rosea', Iris 'Dutch Chocolate', Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing' and (you'll have to take my word for it as it's just outside the picture) Nectaroscordum siculum, besieged by bumblebees.

The surprisingly gentle, calm and utterly sublime planting combination used by Luciano Giubbilei on his Laurent-Perrier garden to evoke rosé champagne. I spent all day yesterday looking at it as I was handing out leaflets and explaining what was what to the public; and I never once tired of it.

I seem to remember going on about Luciano's planting last time he was at Chelsea; this is a man who knows his way to a girl gardener's heart.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Postcard from Chelsea: Wednesday

The picture doesn't remotely do it justice, but this is the Crûg Farm stand in the Great Pavilion: winner of a Gold Medal and the President's Award.

I'd heard how good Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones's nursery was, but I never realised just how good.

I'd already set aside a separate visit to the Pavilion just so I could concentrate on their stand: but then I met Bleddyn and he showed me around it, and I filled three pages of my notebook with excited scribbles I suspect I may never be able to read again, and filled my camera with shots of plants I particularly adored, and coveted every single plant on the stand. I was there for ages and still want to go back again.

This was among the plants which really made my mouth water: Paris lancifolia, collected on one of Bleddyn and Sue's many trips to Taiwan (Paris has a reputation for being tricky to establish but top tip from the team: they don't like being disturbed. Leave it completely alone, have patience and it'll grow).

Bleddyn told me they find around 500 new plants a year in various far-flung places (they're off to Korea this year) which they think might be worth introducing to the UK: it used to be much more, he said. They have a hotline to the botanists at Kew, and the RHS sends someone up to their nursery in north Wales each year from the Plantfinder to keep up with their prodigious output.

I came away with beautiful plants dancing before my eyes, a coveted mail order list and a map to their nursery: a pilgrimage to North Wales may be imminent.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Postcard from Chelsea: Medals Day

Cleve West's garden for the Daily Telegraph: one of eight gold medal winners and also this year's Best in Show. Dramatic sculpture, the most wonderful ochre-painted wall, cobbles, Sophora trees, artless, jewel-like planting.... oh, I love this garden!

So much so that I've got another postcard today too - here's a closer look at that planting.

Myrtus communis subsp. tarentina, Dianthus cruentus (plant of the show for me), bronze fennel, Artemisia 'Valerie Finnis', Allium nigrum, Euphorbia cyparissias 'Fens Ruby', Eryngium eburneum, and Libertia grandiflora, in case you want to do this at home.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Malvern 2011: The Flowers

I make no apology (well, maybe a half-hearted one then) for continuing to go on about Malvern even though everyone packed up and went home a couple of days ago.

But before all thoughts turn to Chelsea, I just wanted to take one last, lingering look back at all those spectacular, surprising, intriguing, delicate, spooky and downright wonderful plants I discovered in the Floral Marquee.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Malvern 2011: The Awards

Yes: RHS eat your heart out. This is the one they've all been waiting for. It's time for....

The Constant Gardener Awards Malvern 2011

More categories this year than last year, mainly because it was a really very good show and I kept coming across things I liked. So... without further ado.... let the ceremony begin!

Planting Scheme I'd Most Like to Take Home
The Parterre from Lady Alice's Garden (Silver)

Mainly because I've got a couple of terraces crying out for a parterre.

I particularly liked the way this one wasn't fully enclosed: so the diamonds created little open planting pockets at the edges. The planting inside was lovely too in silver and mauve: aquilegia, lavender, sweet rocket, alchemilla and artemisia, with foxgloves at the back for height.

Sculpture of the Year
Avon Bulbs (gold)

The runaway winner: quite, quite exquisite, especially the way they picked out the colours in the planting. Avon always do a fabulous display, but this year I thought they excelled themselves.

Water Feature of the Year
Collision (Silver)

I so totally covet this spiral rill, invented by one of Chris Beardshaw's would-be mentoring scholars.

Hedge of the Year
The Atomic Journey (Silver)

Well, not so much a hedge as a garden sculpture: a sensuous, sinuous bubble of a centrepiece to Becky Hand's garden, again for the Chris Beardshaw scholarship.

Highly Commended:
The Morgan Garden (Silver-gilt)

Actually I couldn't make up my mind whether I liked this properly or not, but I think the combination of textures from the yew and box was interesting - and softening it with tiarella and verbena was a lovely touch.

Nickable Idea to Take Home
The Rain Garden (Silver)

This bug hotel, built into the end of a wall in Rhea Lyn Parkes' garden, was super-smart and just goes to show that wildlife gardens don't need to be hairy. Another Chris Beardshaw Scholarship hopeful (they should pay these people by the idea, you know).

Highly Commended:
The Shepherd's Garden (Silver)

I felt a bit sorry for this garden, tucked away behind the Floral Marquee: and it had some nice little touches, such as these home made and rather charming plant labels (would have been better with full and correct names, mind you...).

Spurious Celebrity Photo of the Year

They made me take it. Honest.

Bizarre Sight of the Year

This busy little pair were there for the rather lovely box gardens created by the Care Farms movement - of which, I hope, more later. They even had flowers painted on their backs..... awwww.....

Plant that Really Shouldn't Exist

It's a two-foot high Wisteria floribunda. It's 40 years old. It was on Pinewood Bonsai (Silver-gilt) and rather fascinating, in a shuddery, mutant sort of way.

Highly Commended:
Primula 'Francisca'

I've said this before... but sometimes, breeders just don't know where to stop.

Bonkers Idea of the Year:
In Pursuit (of the Heart of the Matter) (Silver)

These caused terrible problems if you're a journalist - I kept having to edit myself after writing 'hairy balls'. They're planted with turf and the occasional bit of wildflower - things like achillea and clover. And lettuce. Why lettuce? There is a serious point - something to do with the melding of science and nature - but actually, they're just so wierd they're good.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pretty posies

Further to the previous, one bit of Dan Pearson's book which piqued my interest was his description of his friend Geraldine's habit of picking a posy of flowers from her garden every day of the year to pop in a jamjar on the kitchen table.

The flowers were gathered at random: just eight, or maybe ten, of the first flowers that came to hand. No thought to colour, form, or all those angst-ridden artistic things which I'm no good at - I'm a dab hand at appreciating artistic things when other people do them, but absolutely rubbish at coming up with the ideas myself.

So this is the non-flower-arranger's school of flower arrangement. Right up my street. And there's a useful sort of gardening point to it all, too.

Dan says he takes inspiration from throwing together flowers like this: colour combinations you might never consider normally, and a close appreciation of the way flowers behave. And the posies change according to the seasons. It all adds up to a real insight into how plants work together in the garden.

So, I got to thinking: let's try this at home.

I couldn't quite manage a posy every day: actually I don't own enough vases to hold them anyway and can't quite harden my heart enough to throw away a perfectly good bunch of flowers. So for the last week I've been picking a posy maybe every couple of days.

The rules I followed: pick the first flowers you see, only one of each type in each posy, and no more than 10 in a bunch. Here's the result.

Friday: Philadelphus coronarius 'Aurea', Geranium pratense, Sorbus aucuparia, Queen Anne's lace, Euphorbia griffithii, red valerian, comfrey, Alchemilla mollis, flowering mizuna and Astrantia major.

I learned: orange and lime yellow look fabulous together: tree blossom looks lovely in a vase; and dusty pink and burnt orange work surprisingly well. And bolting vegetables are beautiful!

Sunday: Stachys byzantina, Euphorbia amygdaloides purpurea (I think), bluebell, red valerian, Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple', Queen Anne's lace, Aquilegia vulgaris, Cerastium tomentosum, chives, Spiraea arguta

I learned: you can overdo white (and purple); white against deep purple is a combination to die for; if you've got a group of small-leaved and/or small-flowered plants, you need something big or something brightly coloured to stop it being too 'bitty'.

Today: Paeonia lactiflora, Meconopsis cambrica, pink lupin, chive, red campion, Aquilegia vulgaris, comfrey, red valerian, Geranium pratense

I learned: You can overdo the big splashy flowers - with both paeony and lupin in here neither shone as it should; the yellow splash of Welsh poppy worked surprisingly well and lifted the whole thing; wild flowers like campion hold their own among even very cultivated plants.

I've got a bit of a taste for this. My house also looks rather lovely bedecked in flower 'arrangements' which are artless, unplanned, yet all the more beautiful for that. Plus it's a great excuse to get out in the garden and really look, closely, at what's out there, and celebrate just how beautiful it all is.

If anyone should feel like joining in, be my guest: pop out for five minutes and snip yourself a posy, then take a pic and show us all. And don't forget to post here and tell me too :D

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Garden words: The May review

Home Ground: Sanctuary in the City
Dan Pearson

You know, I do sometimes wonder why Dan Pearson ever became a garden designer.

The thing is (and I sincerely hope he doesn't mind me saying this) he doesn't really seem to be that interested in it. This, his latest book, is a moving and poetic love song from a gardener to his London garden. And - rather refreshingly, if I'm honest - it barely gives a mention to the day job.

Dan is Kew and Edinburgh trained: he's a botanist and a gardener to the veins of his mud-grimed fingers, and it is his love of the physical act of gardening that shines out from these pages.

He talks of 'utter absorption', the rhythms of the seasons, rhapsodises about Felco no.2's in the way only a dedicated gardener can. You've got to like a man who can write, 'I have four pairs because I feel lost without them and ill-equipped if I can't feel them in my back pocket'. Is there any gardener who doesn't derive deep comfort from the weight of a pair of Felcos in the back pocket, I wonder?

But on the design of the garden - the structure, the hard landscaping bones - he is so brief as to be almost dismissive. There is a passing mention of cantilevered steps which hints at something more styled; but to be honest, he shows more enthusiasm for the rubber builders' buckets he uses.

Mind you, he likes his dark limestone slab benches - though I suspect that's because he uses one of them to house his species pelargoniums. And he's also lyrical about the 'shards of tumbled limestone' which make up his path: 'The pacing in the garden is interesting underfoot,' he says. 'I like the way you move from wood to solid stone to the clatter of broken limestone, then wood and clatter again as you move through the garden'. But that's by way of taking you to his willow tree and his agonies over removing it.

This is a book to speak to the heart of any muddy-fingered, welly-clad gardener. Anyone who has ever railed at the ever-growing list of things to keep them from the garden will sigh when he says, 'I spend as much time as possible living outside because the garden draws me there; it is the first place I go after getting out of bed and the last at the end of the day.'

As well as being a passionate gardener, Dan is an inspired and poetic garden writer. His use of language is simply delicious: you revel in it, bask in it, hold it like jewels in your fingers. He talks of holly never being oppressive because the leaves 'shine like a thousand tiny mirrors'; Magnolia 'Porcelain Dove' smells of 'churches, incense and musk', while the blooms of a Paeonia delavayi, nicked as a seedling while he weeded beds at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, is 'dark as dried blood and satiny as an Elizabethan damask'.

There are useful tips too: a planting combination he recommends shades the tricky Erythronium californicum 'White Beauty' to just the right degree with filigree Dicentra 'Langtrees', which after it has died back in summer is replaced by the willow gentian Gentiana asclepiadea. A real plantsman and gardener's combination - and one for the notebook.

And I was deeply reassured to find that even such a god as Dan Pearson has his 'corner of shame': that bit of the garden where odd cuttings, surplus seedlings, impulse buys and sentimental saplings moulder miserably for months, forgotten. Of course Dan's corner is a cut above: it includes such treasures as balsam poplars and Euonymus planipes sown as seed from the Netherlands. But nonetheless - you can feel he gardens just like you do.

And I haven't even mentioned Howard Sooley's sumptuous photography: lingering, atmospheric, perfectly capturing the earthy and natural feel of the book itself. Dan has now burst the constraints of his city walls and I can claim him as an almost-neighbour, since he has moved to a smallholding not many miles from me in Somerset these days. I can't help thinking he will be happier in the country.

Home Ground: Sanctuary in the City by Dan Pearson, is published by Conran Octopus
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