Woburn Abbey Garden Show: A Family Affair

Where better to take the kids on a sunny summer’s day than the family-friendly garden show set in the beautiful grounds of Woburn Abbey? Now in its ninth year, the show attracts many visitors all looking for inspiration from the 100+ exhibitors, demonstrations, talks and garden tours. The talks – from Adam Frost and Pippa Greenwood –  include topics ranging from designing your garden to creating an alpine planter and, of course, the traditional Gardeners’ Question Time. This year the questions concerned the perennial weeds ground elder and mare’s tail, a sickly daphne, a wisteria that refused to flower and how to prune giant euphorbia and the foxglove tree (Paulonia tormentosa).

DSC_0089 (2).JPG

The panel – Adam Frost, Pippa Greenwood and estates garden manager, Martin Towsey

What we enjoyed most about the show was the relaxed atmosphere – the busy crowds seem to melt into the extensive surroundings – and the wide variety of nurseries with experts on hand to give advice. Dalefoot Composts were there to suggest which peat-free compost from their growing range best suits which situation. I’ve been using their seed compost for a few years now and it’s excellent for all manner of seeds. They are also one of only a few suppliers of peat-free ericaceous compost, and I spent most of yesterday up to my elbows in their vegetable/fruit and double strength composts as I potted on my tomatoes, chillies and cucumbers. I’m hoping for great results and lots of fruit this summer.

DSC_0075

Traditional trug making from Thomas Smith’s Royal Sussex Trugs

There were single species displays from Harkness Roses and the National Plant Collection of Achillea millefolium and mixed stands from RHS Gold Medal winners Hardys Cottage Garden Plants. Other nurseries were exhibiting and selling grasses, hostas, peonies, chysanthemums, herbs and many more plants.

DSC_0078 (2)

We loved the vibrant achilleas

I chatted to Pippa Greenwood who has been a regular at the show since it began. She thinks the warm atmosphere is created by the many local people and families who visit each year and who see the grounds and show as being a part of the local community. It is certainly encouraging to see the presence of local suppliers like Brickhill Perennials at the show. Community spirit was also shown through the Badger Hill Scout Group helping to carry plants to cars and the cheerful brass band music throughout the day from Bedford Town Band.

DSC_0070 (2)

The spirit of summer in car form…

Pippa was in search of her favourite plant at the show, and was struggling to choose amidst such competition – everywhere you turned there was fresh horticultural temptation. I didn’t find out which plant she chose in the end, but thought I’d set off on the same quest myself. I was tempted by Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata) from Brick Oak Farm Herbs and Achillea millefolium ‘Inca Gold’, but in the end I couldn’t pass by Pelargonium sidoides – a showstopping species pelagonium with deep velvety red petals against soft glaucous foliage. I’ve grown it before and enjoyed the vivid sprays of flowers, but overwintered it badly and lost the plant. I’ll be giving my new sidoides the VIP treatment this winter to make sure it is still with me next summer.

DSC_0082 (2)

Pelargonium sidoides – simple, elegant and breathtaking

The kids enjoyed visiting the Artisan Food Hall and the wide expanse of grass in the middle of the show ground was declared ideal for cartwheeling with both my daughter and husband joining in at one point! There is also easy access to the gardens themselves because of the way the show sits right in the middle of the site. You can saunter down the perennial borders, visit the folly grotto and explore the private gardens of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford.

DSC_0065

Beautiful perennial borders

The kids picked up some peas for sowing from the Heritage Seed Library – a fabulous organisation run by Garden Organic working to save old seed varieties. The peas – a variety called ‘Tutankhamun’ – are thought to have originated from the garden of Lord Carnarvon at Highclere Castle in Berkshire who, along with Howard Carter, discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. Then we headed back to the car, but the excitement wasn’t over for the day. As we stopped to listen to the brass band my son, who had already struck up a conversation with the band leader earlier in the day about his recent Grade One trumpet exam, was offered the opportunity to conduct the band during the Radetzky March. Watching him conducting a piece that both my husband and I have played in bands many times was a wonderful end to the show. We’ll definitely be back next year – but you don’t need to wait until 2019 as the show continues tomorrow. The forecast is good, so do visit and enjoy a family day at Woburn Abbey Garden Show.

BBC Gardeners World Live – All About Inspiration

Visitors to BBC Gardeners World Live have a busy, exciting show ahead of them this year. With 10 show gardens, 6 smaller gardens, more than 20 beautiful borders and over 100 stands selling plants and gardening equipment, the show will provide inspirational ideas for everyone to take home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Inspiration is everywhere at this year’s show

Made in Birmingham

As soon as you step into the show garden area the Pullman Carriage and working steam engine draws you into the beautiful Made in Birmingham garden. Not only is the train a spectacular centrepiece, but the surrounding gardens are bursting with colourful vegetables and flowers grown by volunteers from the MIND group in Knowle, supported by Flowers from the Farm.

DSC_0049

Outside the Pullman Carriage I found an impressive vantage point over the whole show

I’m always in awe of giant brassicas and each one of the gargantuan specimens in the allotment section would feed a family for a month! The carriage was made in Birmingham (hence the name of the design) and the garden represents the city’s contribution to agriculture and horticulture throughout the Black Country. After visiting the garden and travelling through the train, it was no surprise to me at the Awards Ceremony when it won Platinum and Best in Show.

DSC_0044

Giant brassicas as seen from the train window

Young Landscapers’ Award

Taking inspiration from an initial design by Diarmuid Gavin, four top young landscapers have paired up to create The Round Garden (The Plants and Paving Company) and The Square Garden (Bespoke Outdoor Spaces) in this brand new competition supported by the Association of Professional Landscapers.

DSC_0007

The Round Garden

Dairmuid discussed the award, emphasising the need to encourage young people into horticultural and landscaping careers, and he also highlighted the lack of female landscapers in the competition – expressing a hope that this will change in future years as the industry becomes seen as more accessible for women. This year, Jacob Botting and Laurence Senior are deserving winners for their elegant square garden with its elegant birches, gentle planting and immaculate slate walls.

DSC_0055

The Square Garden

Beautiful Borders

It is encouraging that many of the borders focus on wildlife-friendly planting, particular on providing food for our pollinating insects. Bee Inspired designed by Aldethea Raymond and Tiernach McDermott for Candide, the country’s newest gardening community, which aim to connect plant-lovers across the country through their gardening app. Their border displays bee-friendly perennials and the best photo of the show uploaded to Candide’s app wins the full border display.

DSC_0030

I love the salvias, heucheras and fairy bug hotel in the Bee Inspired border

 

The Useful and Beautiful border designed by Alexa Ryan-Mills includes more unusual cultivars like Sambucus ‘Chocolate Marzipan’, Linaria ‘Tarte au Citron’ and Achillea ‘Prospero’ to entice pollinators and Alexa told me she has chosen flower types and shapes to accommodate different insects. There are even gooseberries in the border to encourage pollinators – in this case, wasps!

DSC_0019.JPG

Alexa’s border shows how planting can be both beautiful and useful

DSC_0027.JPG

This beautiful native fox and cubs or orange hawkbit is radiant in the border: their petals reflect ultraviolet light, making them more conspicuous to pollinators

APL Avenue

My favourite garden on the avenue, which was awarded a Gold, is Living Gardens ‘Inspiration in the Raw’ Garden designed by Peter Cowell. This is a deeply tactile garden that draws you in to touch, smell and experience the raw recycled materials and plant up close.

DSC_0009 (2).JPG

I felt at home in the ‘Inspiration in the Raw’ garden

DSC_0060 (2).JPGAs I walked through the space I was impressed by the way Peter has divided the garden into rooms for entertaining, cooking, relaxing, with secret areas for children, without losing the unity of the design: each space is subtly different but linked through the use of wood, brick and delicate meadow planting.

I felt grounded in this garden, so I’ll be taking the raw sense of this design back home and experimenting with recycled materials and meadow planting in my own garden in the future. 

What I would give for a heuchera wall like this in my garden – maybe next year!

 

 

 

 

Health, Wellbeing and Sustainability at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Chris Beardshaw recently said that he felt Chelsea show gardens should only be accepted if they were going to be relocated afterwards. It seems that other designers may be following his lead as this year’s show sees more of the gardens and planting being relocated than ever before. The recipients of the gardens are diverse; ranging from a refugee camp, a higher education college, the grounds of the Epilepsy Society, a community garden in Westminister and the grounds of the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted.

DSC_0096.JPG

The Myeloma UK Garden will be relocated to the Hospice of St Francis

An average of 3010 plants are used in each show garden and many of these are borrowed then returned after the show; in fact some of the plants are Chelsea veterans, reappearing in different gardens year after year. The Weston Garden embraces the philosophy of reusing materials – many of the plants have been borrowed for the duration of the show from Crocus and the rest will be reused afterwards. Plants from The Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC, designed by Chris Beardshaw, will be donated to the NSPCC who are organising plant sales in Barnet, North London and Maidstone, Kent. Across the whole show plants will be collected and redistributed to local schools and community gardens across East London and beyond as part of a reuse scheme set up by the landscape, architecture and art collective Wayward.

DSC_0160 (2).JPG

The Urban Flow Garden plants will be donated by Thames Water to ‘Roots and Shoots’ – an environmentally-focused educational charity based in Kennington providing vocational training for young people from the inner city

The RHS Feel Good Garden is another design which is intended for a new life after the show. It will be relocated to the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust which provides care and treatment to vulnerable adults in a build up area of London where green space is limited. Matt Keightley, the designer and twice-winner of the RHS/BBC People’s Choice Award, visited the NHS site in April. He said ‘I am delighted that the RHS Feel Good Garden will live on, providing a calm and beautiful space for adults in need of respite.’

DSC_0027 (2)

The RHS Feel Good Garden, destined for an NHS Trust site after the show

Matt is also creating a health and wellbeing garden at RHS Wisley, due to open in 2020, and the RHS Feel Good Garden is inspired by his Wisley design. With an increasing evidence base demonstrating the positive effect that gardens and gardening can have on mental health, the joint venture between the RHS and NHS to gift the garden to a mental health trust site signals the growing awareness of these benefits across the healthcare profession.

DSC_0113 (3).JPG

The RHS Feel Good Garden creates a relaxing atmosphere which draws the visitor into the space

Sitting in the garden you are surrounded by soft planting in lemon, green and blue with bursts of deep reds and purples. It’s a relaxing space which also entices you to reach out and engage with your environment.

DSC_0201 (2).JPG

Relaxing blue, lemon and green planting including nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’, Iris ‘Silver Edge’ and Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’

The mellow sandy and chocolate coloured paving is laid transversely to give a sense of width to the space, encouraging the visitor to slow down and enjoy the journey through the garden. I like the way the planting falls across the pathway and Matt has chosen many aromatic plants like thyme, rosemary, mint and sage to create scent as you move around the garden.

DSC_0026 (2).JPG

Mellow paving to match the planting

DSC_0206 (2)

Beneath the seats and stonework nestle aromatic herbs and tiny campanula flowers

Grasses such as Deschampsia cespitosa, Briza media,  Melica nutans and Stipa tenuissima, alongside naturalistic perennials like Pimpinella major ‘Rosea’, Astrantia ‘Moulin Rouge’, Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Cirsium rivulare and Dianthus cruentus create an airy filter through which the more textural plants like the ferns can be seen. The light planting also softens the cantilevered stone terraces which appear to float above the plants, grounding the visitor in the sanctuary of the garden.

DSC_0021 (2)

The layers of planting build up texture in the garden

DSC_0022 (2)

The shade loving epimedium, ferns and acorus create a sense of intimacy in these stone cavities

DSC_0217 (2)

Soft curves and airy planting stops the stonework becoming too heavy

The mushroom seats create more floating structures within the planting. Herbs predominate in this area so that visitors have to step on the mint and rosemary to access the stools and the scent emanating from beneath your feet commits the mind entirely to the present moment.

DSC_0210 (2).JPG

These organic shaped seats give the visitor licence to immerse themselves in the garden

I sat in the garden for a while, contemplating the way it made me feel. I had a sense of being grounded in the moment; I was relaxed yet at the same time completely engaged with my environment. If the garden can foster the same feelings of happiness in the patients, staff and families at the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust that I felt yesterday, it will be an extremely worthwhile addition to the site and will hopefully encourage more dialogue and practical projects based on the important relationship between gardens, gardening and mental health.

DSC_0211 (2).JPG

Striking contrast of the soft Digitalis lutea and Trollius ‘Alabaster’ with the dark, silky Iris ‘Black Swan’

DSC_0025 (2)

The RHS Feel Good Garden – inspiring on so many levels

‘When you are sad a garden comforts. When you are humiliated or defeated a garden consoles. When you are consumed by anxiety it will soother you and when the world is a dark  and bleak place it shines a light to guide you on.’ Monty Don

If you’d like to follow my coverage of RHS Chelsea Flower Show, you can subscribe below. Thank you.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 310 other followers

 

 

RHS Chelsea Flower Show Highlights

The attention to detail in the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show gardens surpasses anything I’ve seen before; I love the way the planting maintains a sophisticated and elegant feel, yet is more grounded than in previous years. Many gardens focus on naturalistic forms and soft planting with coppery tones, highlights of deep purples and pinks, and fresh green foliage alongside white and ivory flowers.

After an busy and truly inspiring day I’m finally home. I’ve taken off my sandals and had a cup of tea; so now it’s time to look through my photographs at some of the highlights of the day:

Pearlfisher Perfection

The Pearlfisher Garden combines a big idea – the plastic crisis in our oceans – with immaculate planting to create a garden which draws the visitor down into its watery recesses. The use of cacti, succulents and air plants mimics the underwater environment and my initial impression of the garden was of waves washing over me – from the curved steps, the tillandsia fronds undulating on the ceiling, the circular motion of the fish to the spiral cobbles at the heart of the garden. I’ll be writing more on the exquisite planting in this sub-marine garden later in the week.

DSC_0033 (2).JPG

Pearlfisher Garden

As I walked into the central area the water from above sent shadow ripples across the paving and the detail of the planting – down to individual lithops in the paving and wall gaps – was revealed. I lost myself taking photographs of the planting until a commotion ensued and I was ushered to one side while Theresa May came to look round the underwater scene.

DSC_0050.JPG

Theresa May admires the planting in the Urban Flow Garden

Oh Happy Day

Sooner or later I always find myself at the Pennard Plants stand, marvelling at the latest salad crops, or new varieties of chillies. It’s a dangerous move for a vegetable obsessive like myself. Today Pennard Plants were launching a new tomato called ‘Oh Happy Day’ to the accompanying voices of the singers from the Brighton School of Music.

Tomato Oh Happy Day.jpg

Tomato ‘Oh Happy Day’, Burpee images

‘Oh Happy Day’ is a new beefsteak tomato with blight resistance and a sweet taste with acidic tones. For those of us growing outdoors, blight resistance is key to the success of tomato plants, so this looks like a tasty and interesting variety to try.

Wormhole

Alice might have fallen down a rabbit hole, but I fell through a wormhole on the David Harber and Savills Garden. 

DSC_0069.JPG

Through the wormhole…

The design showcases sculpture in a garden setting and the large sculptural pieces create energy as you pass through and see the space from different angles. The planting is airy without being insubstantial and the final view reveals a wormhole through which Aeon, a nucleus of energy can be seen in a state of equilibrium.

IMG_20180521_173224_740.jpg

…and relaxing on the other side

Tea Break

Halfway through the afternoon, feeling rather parched, I arrived at the Wedgwood Garden. Not only has Jo Thompson designed a sumptuous, modern tea garden for relaxation, in which Iris ‘Kent Pride’ lives up to its name and takes pride of place, but it opens onto the Wedgwood tea pavilion. 

DSC_0222.JPG

Wedgwood Garden

After sampling a light Darjeeling and an aromatic Ceylon it was back to the gardens with renewed vigour.

DSC_0221 (2)

Tea drinking, Wedgwood style

Feel Good Gardens

It’s great to see such a focus on relocating the gardens after the show this year so that many other people can continue to enjoy them for the future and one garden due to be relocated to the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust is the RHS Feel Good Garden designed by Matt Keightley. This beautiful garden with its cantilevered stone terraces and aromatic planting will give patients, staff and their families the opportunity to enjoy the relaxation and also the stimulation that the garden creates. I’m looking forward to writing more about the planting in the garden and the ideas behind it later in the week.

DSC_0025.JPG

RHS Feel Good Garden

Cocktails and Dancing Box

At the Pennard Plant stand I was lucky enough to have a garden cocktail mixed for me by Mark Diacono from Otter Farm. It was a delicious mix of homemade orange and limoncello with sparkling water, but afterwards strange things began to happen – as I passed the Space to Grow gardens, the box balls started waving at me – then they were still. Just another day at the most inspiring garden show in the world…

What has caught your eye so far? What gardens do you think will win gold?

If you’d like to follow my coverage of RHS Chelsea Flower Show, you can subscribe below. Thank you.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 310 other followers

 

Seedy Saturday: Rainbows, Crocodiles and Pearls

With chilli sowing season already upon us, it’s time to unearth my special seedy shoeboxes to plan for the growing year ahead. One particular box contains an exciting collection of seeds – those I’m trialling for Suttons in my role as a guest blogger for 2018. I’m really looking forward to trying out some of the new seed ranges – in particular their children’s ‘Fun To Grow’ seeds and the rainbow-coloured ‘Developed by James Wong’ collection. I’ll also be experimenting with crops and varieties I’ve not sown before, like edamame beans and chilli pepper ‘Pearls’.

DSC_0005 (2)

Chilli sowing signals the real beginning of the new year for me

I began buying seeds from Suttons years ago whilst searching for more unusual tomato and chilli varieties. Over the past few years I’ve grown a range of interesting Suttons crops such as cucamelons, achocha, inca berries, tomatillos, trombonchinos, Chilean guavas, and Kaffir limes. Some have been more successful than others, but the exploration of more unusual crops has been fascinating and has introduced some new staples into our family garden and kitchen. Suttons continue to expand their range and now offer everything from electric daisies (on the list for next year) to liquorice (a hardy member of the pea family which I’d also love to grow).

DSC_0043

Dogwooddays as a guest blog in Suttons 2018 catalogue

The kids are particularly excited by the ‘Fun To Grow’ range as it combines edible crops such as Crocodile Cucumber (‘Bush Champion’) and Bowling Carrots (‘Rondo’), with the more unusual Strawberry Sticks (Chenopodium – a leaf vegetable in the summer with strawberry-like fruits in the autumn) and interesting ornamentals like the Dancing Plant (Mimosa pudica) and the Caterpillar Plant (Scorpius muricatus).

DSC_0076 (2)

Suttons ‘Fun To Grow’ range

I like the way these varieties offer children different shapes (round carrots), easy-to-grow dwarf varieties which will work as well in pots as in the ground (Tabletop Tomato – ‘Sweet ‘n’ Neat Cherry Red’) and interactive plants like the touch sensitive Mimosa. Anything which engages children by making them think differently about plants (and where their food comes from) is a step towards a more widespread acknowledgement, not only of the complexity and beauty of the plant world, but also of the way we rely on plants for our food, medicines, many materials and the life-support systems of the planet. I think we’ll learn interesting things together and have a lot of fun with this range and I’ll be updating the blog with the progress of my little ones and their plants throughout the growing season.

DSC_0074

‘Developed by James Wong’ rainbow range

The second range includes fruit and vegetables in a variety of different colours – focusing particularly on varieties which are rich in lycopene, the bright red phytonutrient found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Medical studies suggest that lycopene may be a factor in improving heart health and reducing cancer risk, and work is ongoing to find out more about its health benefits. This is a topic the ethnobotanist, James Wong, covers in detail in his book ‘How To Eat Better’ which I reviewed when it came out last year. I’ve always loved growing different coloured crops – it’s fun for children and makes them look at food in a different light when they’ve grown a yellow raspberry or purple carrot. It also fills me with pleasure when I harvest a colourful basket, especially in the darker months (oca is particularly good for this), so it’s great to know that lycopene, along with a range of other colourful antioxidants in our fruit and vegetables, is also great for our health. So here goes with purple carrot ‘Night Bird’, striped tomato ‘Red Zebra’, orange squash ‘Uchiki Kuri’ and beetroot ‘Red River’.

You can’t get much better than a rainbow of vegetables – for the eyes or the stomach

Last year, the cutting patch in the allotment was one of the most pleasurable and successful elements of our growing, so I’m planning to continue growing flowers for cutting in 2018. I’ve chosen a couple of zinnias – ‘Queen Red Lime’ and ‘Molotov Mix’ as our zinnias were stunning last year and Rudbeckia ‘Irish Eyes’ as the rudbeckias lasted for ages in vases last year and really brightened up my study windowsill for much of the summer. I’ve also chosen Tithonia ‘Red Torch’ which is a vibrant orange – a colour I unexpectedly fell in love with last year.

Zinnias and rudbeckias in 2017

Finally to the new experiments for the year – I’m growing edamame beans for the first time alongside a dwarf french bean called ‘Yin Yang‘ which might look too beautiful to eat at harvest time. There’s also a new chilli variety called ‘Pearls‘, to add to my chilli collection, which has bright red ‘beaked’ fruits and a mild, fruity taste – ideal for a family meal.

IMG_20180113_153508[1].JPG

Too beautiful to eat?

If you would like to follow the blog – do sow and grow along with me and compare notes throughout the year. Let me know in the comments what you’re growing this year and what crops you’re most looking forward to trying at harvest time…

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 310 other followers

DSC_0052 (2).JPG

A growing season of fun for all the family

Suttons kindly supplied me with the seeds for these trials.

This post is not sponsored and I only ever trial seeds and other materials from companies which I believe in and already use. In the case of Suttons, I have been a customer for many years. I hope you find the post useful 🙂

Creating A Winter Garden (Part 3)

I was chatting to a friend at the community garden yesterday as we collected leaves and pruned the willows about the beauty of oca with its lush trailing leaves and jewel-like edible tubers. To my mind, harvesting these colourful tubers is one of the most joyful moments in the winter garden, along with watching the birds pass through – we had long-tailed tits, goldfinches, goldcrest and red kite at the community garden this week. So for the final part of the series, I’m taking a look at the way seed heads, containers, crops and birds all add a little bit of extra magic to the winter garden.

Seed Heads

During the winter months, as we gardeners spend a little less time outside due to short days and cold weather, the birds increasingly use our gardens to supplement their winter diets. The berries on my cotoneaster and pyracantha disappear into the bills of hungry thrushes, pigeons and even, in cold winters, waxwings, whilst winter seed heads attract smaller birds. Supplementing these natural food sources with seed feeders is important, but nothing beats watching birds feed on the seed heads and berries in your own garden.

Waxwing 12_025 (1)

Waxwing in next door’s tree

Stems and seed heads also create winter habitats for invertebrates which, in turn, provide more food for birds. Perhaps my favourite seed heads in the garden are the tight balls of globe thistle (Echinops ritro) against the dusty light grey plumes of Russian sage (Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’). In the back garden, the softer combination of Verbena bonariensis and Knautia macedonica provides ideal perches for passing charms of goldfinches. These gilded songster bend the heads low, balancing delicately, bobbing up and down as they search for seeds, delighting my children who are watching from the window. Echinacea, phlomis and sedum seed heads also have mesmerising shapes and I love any form of umbellifer head, such as fennel, at its best when encrusted with rime frost on cold mornings.

Redwing 08_25 (2)

One of a small crowd of redwings in the cotoneaster

Containers

Even if there’s little scope to add plants to your garden, or your plot is a courtyard with no planting area, a winter container will brighten up the entrance to a house or an area on the patio visible from a window. Simple arrangements of violas, pansies or primulas create a cheerful effect and in larger pots you could include shrubs or grasses for a longer lasting display. I often plant a dogwood as the centrepiece as my ‘Midwinter Fire’ has a tendency to sucker so I always have dogwoods looking for a home. Adding some of our excess black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) from the front garden creates a contrast around the base of the container and leaves room for winter bedding or early spring bulbs like snowdrops, iris or miniature daffodils.

Winter pot1

The large container outside our front door

Crops

Finally, I can’t ignore the potential to grow food in the winter garden. Most of the fruit is now over, with the quince (Cydonia oblonga ‘Meeches Prolific’) and Chilean guava (Ugni molinae) being amongst the last harvests in October and November. The autumn raspberries peaked early this year and were gone by the end of October, whereas last year we were still picking ‘Autumn Bliss’ and ‘All Gold’ on Christmas Day! But this doesn’t mean all the colour and edible potential has to come to an end with the arrival of winter in the kitchen garden. Early winter is the ideal time to harvest oca (Oxalis tuberosa) – by now the foliage is generally frosted so it’s an unprepossessing looking crop above ground, but it more than makes up for this below the surface. Stealing out into the garden or allotment on the grimmest of winter days, armed with fork and trug, to unearth strange red, orange and yellow nuggets is one of the joys of growing your own.  The tubers taste best after a a couple of weeks sweetening on a sunny windowsill, so you will be able to enjoy the gleaming hoard arrayed like Christmas decorations for a full fortnight before adding them to a Sunday roast, warming stew or spicy stir-fry.

IMG_20161214_161318.JPG

Trays of oca which I harvested from the allotment last year

Sprouts are another winter pleasure, especially if they also add to the culinary colour palette. Last year I grew ‘Rubine’ with its purple-red balls of sprouty goodness which looked attractive in the cold allotment and tasted great after the first hard frost had sweetened them. Later on we also ate the cabbagey heads of the plant which shared the same purple coloration. Kale is another cruciferous delight, both to harvest and simply for its textured beauty which equals that of any ornamental plant.

Frosted cavolo nero and purple sprouting broccoli in the garden

I love the festive magic that Christmas lights bring to a dark winter garden, especially if they are used to highlight an attractive tree trunk or well clipped hedge and I’m excited by the prospect of visiting the sparkling trail of over one million lights at Kew Gardens next week. But before you switch on the Christmas illuminations this weekend, spare a thought for the garden by daylight and add a plant or two to create some winter glamour up to Christmas and beyond.

If you would like to read the first two parts of Creating A Winter Garden, you can find them here…

Creating A Winter Garden (Part 1)

Creating A Winter Garden (Part 2)

For further reading about winter gardens, I would recommend...

The Year Round Garden, Geoff Stebbings

The Winter Garden, Val Bourne

What Plant When, RHS Publications

What plants have you added to the garden this season to add that extra sparkle when the weather turns cold? If there was one plant which every winter garden should include, what would it be? 

Do leave me a comment and let me know what winter brings to your garden. Thank you and happy gardening (once the snow clears 🙂 )!

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 310 other followers

 

Creating A Winter Garden (Part 2)

Last weekend, the first part of Creating a Winter Garden considered structure and flowers. Thanks to everyone who shared images of their winter gardens: those small moments which lift our spirits on short December days.

Stems and Bark

The scarcity of winter flowers means that a wall liberally covered in clematis ‘Freckles’ is a precious sight, but a successful winter garden needs to rely on more than flowers for year-round visual impact. Stems and bark create drama in a garden of any size – if you have room for a small tree like the popular Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula), it will add a coppery sheen to even the dullest winter afternoon. I used to have the privilege of a mature specimen just beyond the garden and without any room in our own plot for extra trees other than the apples, plum and greengage I planted upon arrival, I counted myself fortunate to be able to ‘borrow’ this cherry, along with a tall silver birch in my neighbour’s garden to the left and a hazel to the right which drops its nuts over our fence. Then, a few years ago, the cherry was removed to make way for a shed. I still mourn the loss of the mahogany giant, more than I miss the resulting loss of privacy beyond our fruit cage.

DSC_0095

Himalayan silver birches at Anglesey Abbey

Himalayan silver birches have an ethereal quality which lifts any dark space. In the magnificent grove at Anglesey Abbey these slender trees are underplanted with evergreen Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’ and tulips in spring. However, unnamed forms of Himalayan silver birch (Betula utilis) vary greatly in size and most will outgrow a small garden. Val Bourne recommends Betula utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Silver Shadow’ as the smallest, slowest growing birch with white bark, reaching 8m when mature. The Chinese red-bark birch (Betula albosinensis) is also a winter beauty with smooth cinnamon bark beneath the peeling layers, although cultivars will reach up to 15m when mature. Acer griseum – the paper-bark maple – also looks spectacular in winter as its textured bark peels and flakes like a lizard shedding scales. At a mature height of 10m or less and with vibrant red autumn foliage, this is a hard-working tree for any medium-sized garden.

If your garden, like mine, is too small for additional trees – don’t despair! Rich colours can still be achieved by using stems rather than tree trunks. Bamboos offer colour all year round. Phyllostachys nigra has matt black culms and Phyllostachys aurea golden-yellow. Over the summer I visited the 2 acre Henstead Exotic Garden in Suffolk, where the bamboo grove is both delightful and powerful; the height of the plants alongside the sheer density of the thicket, transported me to another world. I felt drawn to the plants, to run my fingers up the smooth grain and round the ridged nodes. Even a small area of bamboo can create a tranquil ambience in a garden with its exotic form and gently swaying culms, but the atmosphere will be far from relaxing if the bamboo rhizomes transgress outside their allotted space, so always find out which species are suitable for your garden and add any necessary barriers to protect the rest of the garden from exploring roots.

DSC_0136.JPG

Bamboo grove at Henstead Exotic Garden

I couldn’t end my musings on winter garden stems without mentioning shrubby dogwoods. As regular readers will know, I admire these plants for their resilience, versatility and vibrancy in the depths of winter. I currently have ten dogwoods in my garden, of three different species: Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ and Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, but I also love the variegated Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ and the dark, almost black stems of Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’, both of which I’ve planted in previous gardens and Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ which was looking fresh and alive with such bright yellow-green foliage en masse at Bressingham Gardens in Norfolk earlier in the year.

 

 

Grasses and Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ creating contrasting layers in Bressingham Gardens

IMG_20161210_145420

Potting shed ‘Midwinter Fire’

The advantage of these shrubs is that they can be stooled (cut back to near ground level) in spring and will slowly regrow throughout the summer as a quiet backdrop to other shrubs and perennials, and then be ready to take over once winter arrives. Single plants can be used in this way in small borders, but they look better in groups of three or more, especially if they are kept as smaller plants. Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ is not as tolerant of hard pruning as the other species, so I lightly prune the three in the front garden each year to manage their size and shape, and to encourage new stems which have the best winter colour. I have a larger specimen in the back by the potting shed, which I leave to grow to around 1.5m and cut back by about a third every couple of years. ‘Midwinter Fire’ also has the advantage of gentle orange autumn colour and this year, in the shelter of the back garden, the foliage remains even though it is long gone at the front.

Scent

One of the most pleasurable sensations on a winter walk is when you suddenly catch a sweet scent stealing over a garden wall or from a hidden shrubbery. Using fragrance in a winter garden entices you to stop and appreciate the sensory experience, grounding you in the physical garden rather than just passing quickly through en route to the warmth of the home. Plants with winter scent need to be situated carefully – in a place where their fragrance will be caught in passing, so front gardens and containers are ideal spots. One of the best plants for winter aroma is Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa) with its tiny white flowers belying its intoxicatingly sweet scent. Alongside evergreen foliage, its tolerance of shade and ability to create a neat hedge mean that Christmas box is a must have for any serious winter garden.

Viburnum x bodnantense is another shrub whose insistent perfume causes a pause for a moment’s joy when out walking and Dan Pearson recommends the cultivar ‘Deben’ or Viburnum farreri ‘Candidissimum’ which can be seen at Anglesey Abbey with its white scented flowers. Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) has lemon scented flowers which cover this rather untidy looking shrub for much of the winter. It doesn’t stand alone as a specimen plant, but works well combined with evergreen shrubs, waiting in the background whilst its perfume pervades the surrounding area. Daphnes also provide a beautiful winter scent, with Daphne odora and Daphne mezereum being the best choices for colder gardens. It’s worth noting that daphnes are highly poisonous, so not suitable for gardens with young children. Where scent is concerned, it only takes one fragrant shrub to add magic to a cold bare garden and if grown in a container, once the flowers have gone, the container can be moved to make way for spring bulbs.

 

 

Look out for winter jasmine this month and flowering quince and hazel flowers in late winter/early spring

Part 3

On Saturday, I’ll be looking at seed heads, containers and crops in the winter garden. Hopefully the weather will be kind over the weekend and enable a few forays out into the fresh air. 🙂

If you’d like to follow my blog, I’ll be adding Creating A Winter Garden (Part 3) at the weekend…

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 310 other followers

Creating A Winter Garden (Part 1)

The speckled flowers of Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’ and its creamy white counterpart ‘Jingle Bells’ have begun to festoon the bare apple espaliers with some intrepid stems nearly trailing along the ground. I planted the clematis by the post closest to the dining room window so that we could see it from the table and judging by the profusion of tight buds, we should be enjoying their swaying bells throughout the next few months. I’ve just been chatting to Nick Coffer on BBC Three Counties Radio this afternoon (our chat starts at 2:38:20 on the iplayer link) about the precious beauty of winter flowers and why every garden should have at least one dogwood to shine out in the darkest days (but I would say that!)

IMG_5143 (2).JPG

Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’

To my mind, one of the key aspects of a successful winter garden, especially on a smaller plot, is being able to see plants from indoors. Although I love nothing more than wrapping the family up like a troupe of miniature snowmen to venture out in frost or snow to explore magnificent winter gardens like those at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge University Botanic Garden and Hyde Hall, the average back garden doesn’t have the space for groves of silver birch or sweeping vistas of dogwoods and willows, and much winter viewing will be conducted from the warmth of the home. So it’s important to consider the overall winter structure of the garden first, to ensure that when viewed from the house there will be strong lines to create interest. Then other factors can be explored, such as adding scent and colour to the garden within the evergreen structure.

Structure

The key element of any garden is its underlying structure, created by the hard landscaping (patio, paths, etc…) and its use of evergreen plants, especially trees and shrubs. When other plants lose their foliage as winter approaches, these evergreen stalwarts take centre stage and the bare bones of the garden are revealed.

Nic Wilson - Front garden1

Front garden rosemary hedge from January to March

Traditionally low hedges and topiary are used to create this structure, often in box (Buxus sempervirens), yew (Taxus baccata) or holly (Ilex). In my front garden, we’ve adapted this principle by using edible evergreens – trisecting the space with a rosemary hedge (Rosmarinus officinalis) and defining the boundary with a low Chilean guava hedge (Ugni molinae). Alongside three box balls, the hedges give the garden a strong structure in winter and their low height allows my summer flowers to quickly overtop them, softening the garden and creating a less formal atmosphere.

 

Winter bare bones followed by summer profusion

We’ve also used this idea in the side garden, where the relatively slow growing balls of Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ create a stunning contrast to the golden gravel. These chocolate-purple shrubs with their sprinkling of light green new leaves are a good alternative to box balls if your garden suffers from box blight (a fungal disease) or box tree caterpillars (extra-voracious versions of The Very Hungry Caterpillar).

 

The evergreens going in and maturing

DSC_0071 (2)Summer brings a looser feel to the garden

If you don’t have space to add shrubs in the ground, any of these plants can be grown in containers and simply moved into position in beds and borders to act as winter focal points when the perennials die down. Using containers also has the advantage, in a small garden, of allowing winter stars to shine in their season and to be moved into a less obvious positions as the spring and summer plants get into their stride. For this reason, I have two witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ and ‘Diane’) in containers behind the shed, ready to place on the patio in full view of the windows as their flowers emerge in late winter and to return to the shelter of the shed later in the year.

 

‘Diane’ and ‘Jelena’ in flower

Flowers

As I write, sitting on the window seat in the December sunshine, I can see next door’s mahonia (very likely Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’) with its yellow racemes of flowers reaching into the blue. I used to dislike mahonia with its tough, spiny foliage and cold lemon flowers, but recently I’ve come to admire the colour it adds to the garden on darker days and its tolerance for partial shade and a wide variety of soil types, including our heavy alkaline clay. My volte-face was complete when I learnt that the fruits are edible – their common name is ‘Oregon Grape’ and they are often used for preserves in the US due to their tart, earthy flavour and large number of seeds.

IMG_20161213_141105.JPG

How could I have failed to relish the sheer winter joy that is mahonia?

Hellebores are also an important element in many winter gardens with their delicate down-turned flowers encouraging a close-up study best undertaken lying recumbent in the leaf litter. I’m excited to be growing hellebores for the first time this year, especially as I bought the plants from our community garden open day, so their exact colour is currently a mystery. It’s a plant I’ve wanted to grow for many years and I’m looking forward to getting to know this understated woodland beauty better.

Hellebore - Regent's Park.JPG

Winter sun washes the hellebores in Regent’s Park

Part 2

Next time I’ll be considering scent and stems/bark as ways to extend the season of interest in the garden. In the meantime, enjoy the unexpected sight of any winter flowers (although in my garden a couple of summer annuals seem not to have realised that it’s December) and celebrate evergreen structure wherever you find it. Happy December!

If you’d like to follow my blog, I’ll be adding Creating A Winter Garden (Part 2) later in the week…

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 310 other followers

DSC_0020.JPG

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ is living up to her name and resolutely refusing to admit that it’s December!

 

 

 

Snapdragons of Autumn Twilight

At Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled mirth;
But like of each thing that in season grows.
Love’s Labours Lost

Cerise snapdragon heads (Antirrhinum majus) nod gently each morning as I pass the garden at the top of Benslow Hill. The flowers are doubly surprising – out of season and out of time. This snapdragon has persisted well into November, whilst all around it leaves drifted or hung with marcescent tenacity on the low beech hedge behind the fence. Along with a couple of renegade scilla and bluebells, it is a survivor of an earlier garden, carefully tended by an elderly lady for the eleven years I walked the path and probably for many years before. The small front garden had a central circular depression in which her chaotic, life-affirming collection of spring bulbs and summer blooms, like a miniature amphitheatre, charmed me anew each year.

When the plot changed hands three years ago, the garden was excavated to make way for a new house. In its place appeared the mandatory paving, drive and hedge, but around the peripheries, echoes of the former garden remained. For a while, I felt wistful that the eclectic cottage planting was gone, that this once cherished space existed now only as garden in memory. Then I mentioned it to a friend and she remembered it too; she’d also felt the joy of the gardener in the exuberant planting and even now, like me, sees the old patterns beneath the new when she passes the garden. It pleases me to think of the collective nature of this recollection and I wonder how many more share these local memories and see this garden as a botanical palimpsest through which different layers of plants and memories can be unearthed.

The snapdragon itself possesses a collective past which exists in shared childhood memories. I remember the intensity of colour and texture when I made the hinged mouths yawn, the sudden transformation to mythic beast. The sugar-candy flowers never wore their colour as easily as the low mats of Mesembryanthemum, but their tactile heads drew me in – to squeeze, peer and dream. Now I grow tall red and white snapdragons: Antirrhinum majus ‘Royal Bride’ and ‘Crimson Velvet’. They don’t fit with the more naturalistic, largely compound flowers in the rest of the garden, but they’re comfortable companions, connecting my past with my children’s present as they pinch and wonder, much as I did. My plants also self-seeded this year – the resulting seedlings didn’t flower until late, but they persisted. Generally Antirrhinum majus (a short-lived tender perennial) is grown as an annual or biennial, but more recently it’s been surviving the milder winters in local gardens and now seems more able to spread by seed too.

It is, perhaps, apt that this Janus-headed flower spike simultaneously faces the past – our childhoods and the memory of landscape, whilst also looking towards the future – a plant which no longer needs the attentive gardener to raise it from seed or buy it as a bedding plug in milder areas of the UK. The snapdragon now fills a perennial niche in my local area and though its post-aestival blooms cheer the eye on a dank November morning, the fact that they owe their success to our warming climate makes their unseasonable flowering a bitter-sweet pleasure.

 

 

‘Crimson Velvet’ and ‘Royal Bride’

Thanks to all the gardeners who have contributed their tales of plants from the past and layers of history beneath their own gardens on the Blog, Facebook and Twitter.

I’ve also been receiving reports of snapdragons still in flower all over the country, some are now on their second flush – and overwintering during the past two to five years as far north as Aberdeenshire and the Isle of Skye. 

There are also plants still flowering in Edinburgh, Staffordshire, Derby, East Yorkshire, North Wales, Lincolnshire, Midlothian, Hartlepool, Worcestershire, Manchester, Cornwall, the Midlands and 500ft up on an exposed hilltop wall in South Yorkshire! Also reports of snapdragons blooming in Portugal and in the US in Portland, overwintering in NE Pennsylvania and in North Carolina they are winter flowers, put in during autumn as the summer weather is too hot for them. It’s been a fascinating insight into snapdragon growing around the world – thanks!

Remaking The Seasons

Charting the year’s progress through seasonal celebrations is comforting, but can it eclipse the wondrous yet understated transformations taking place each day outside our back doors?

Autumn is a big word, a catch-all for subtly shifting seasonal changes. On 2 September this year, a colleague remarked that it was nearly Christmas. Behind this provocatively jovial comment is a reductive modern mindset which I have a tendency to fall into if I spend too much time inside. Condensing the year into a parade of seasonal celebrations involves turning away from a reading of the year which delights in its rich, heterogenous and ever-changing beauty.

So autumn is gentle, hearty and comforting. It arrives almost imperceptibly; there’s a morning coolness, the slight weight of dew in the air, but I can still sit outside writing at 6.30am in my pyjamas, the crocs haven’t yet disappeared into the loft and the plastic croquet set and buckets still adorn the lawn. I can hear strident geese calling behind the murmur of tits and soft sub-song of a hidden robin in the birch tree. Elsewhere the geese are massing ready for wetland reunions, the knot are beginning their winter murmurations which we caught, enchanted, in Norfolk last week and the hirundines have already deserted our autumn shores.

My garden hasn’t shed its summer garments yet; the scented pelargoniums still line the paving, zinnia, dahlia and cosmos still blaze and the sweet peas are ready for cutting again. But there are shifts – I can see the blueberry foliage burnishing slowly in the fruit cage, the acer tips are reddening and the quinces swelling. The waning of one phase allows the waxing of the new and this is surely one of the joys of autumn. In spring, as the crisp, pale winter days reluctantly give way to warmth and life, I rarely feel the pull in both directions – I’m too impatient for dawn warbling, primroses by the writing bench and the first tentative sowings. But autumn gently mixes memories of long summer days with the incipient excitement of allotment soups, warm jars of quince and crab apple jelly, woollen jumpers and stout walking boots, chilli harvests, hazelnuts, falling leaves and bonfires on darkening evenings. Each week the temperature, the colours and the atmosphere in the garden and the countryside changes and to appreciate these shifts is to engage with the natural world in all its diversity and richness.

As a child, each yearly remaking of the seasons denoted by the behaviour of familiar plants and animals, formed the backbone to my temporal self: a secure calendar against which I measured time and my progress through it. Nowadays this is no longer always the case as climate change establishes new rhythms as yet unknown, but not unfelt. I find these changes deeply unsettling. Apple blossom in August, snowdrops in December or even, a couple of years ago, a small tortoiseshell butterfly drifting past the fairylights on Christmas Day might be thought seasonal treats, but in reality, they are troubling abberations, early signs of more significant changes to come.

Unless we understand the subtle progression of the seasons, unless we appreciate autumn as something more than the beginning of a new school year, Hallowe’en and Bonfire night amidst the falling leaves, we will lose track of our natural rhythms and the opportunity to be inspired by each season as it unfolds, and we will miss the profound changes taking place both naturally and unnaturally outside our backdoors. There’s a physical calender in the garden, through the fields and along the hedgerows. Seasons are changing slowly, miraculously, whether we notice them or not. They are there to be appreciated, to teach, warn and inspire, and we should celebrate that.