Gardening Leave


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Mousehole and Mallow

Mousehole and Mallow

It wasn’t perhaps the best time for a bit of a break but the other week we popped down to Cornwall for a few days. Ideally I wouldn’t leave my plot, garden, greenhouse and ever-growing number of pots in late June, but it was Wellyman’s birthday and we both needed to see the sea.

The rigmarole of making sure everything survives whilst I’m away does sometimes make me wonder whether it’s worth it. I’m reluctant to ask neighbours and friends to look after the plants because I know that can be a bit of a pressure for some, especially if they don’t have ‘green fingers’ or it’s very dry and they have enough of their own plants to cosset. I did once leave lots of emerging seedlings in a friend’s greenhouse but slugs got to some of the plants. I felt bad for my friend who clearly had been worried about the whole thing. She’d rushed out to get organic slug pellets and I think had dreaded my return and having to break the news. Now that I need plants for photo shoots I’d rather leave it up to me, then at least I’ve only got myself to blame if they shrivel and die. It does of course mean trying to make sure everything will get enough water, and it’s surprising how quickly pots and plants on a sunny windowsill can dry out, even if you’re only away for 4 days.



The prolonged dry spell we’d had prompted us to hunt out the irrigation system gathering dust in a cupboard, which we bought 8 years ago but never got around to using. It’s a straightforward hose with sprinkler attachments and timer on the tap. The fiddly bit is getting the water to soak into the compost and not to spray everything else – greenhouse windows, paving, me. We spent a few days adjusting the settings and initially massively over-estimated how long we’d need to leave the timer on. Bearing in mind the water only trickles out we thought 10 minutes would be about right. It turns out this would have drowned them and 2 minutes was more than sufficient. Pots were gathered together in a shady spot and given a good soaking, windowsill seed trays were given a base of sodden kitchen roll, and the plot and garden were treated to a mammoth watering session.

Ironically by the time we set off it looked like we needn’t have bothered with all the watering. It seemed we’d time our get away with the glorious weather coming to an end as we headed into mist and gloom hanging over Devon and I shivered in my shorts and tshirt. Wellyman, always one to put a positive spin on life, said at least I wouldn’t have to worry about the plants drying out…….

Breaking up the journey we called in to see the lovely Becca and Maz at The Garden Gate Flower Company near Fowey. We met through Twitter and it was lovely to meet them in the flesh. I’m very jealous of their flower farm perched on a hill with the sea only minutes away surrounded by beautiful flowers, incredibly photogenic outbuildings and their polytunnel. After a few hours of wonderful flowery-chat we left them to tend their roses and continued on to the fantastically named Mousehole, pronounced by locals as ‘Mauzal’. It’s a classic Cornish fishing village with whitewashed cottages, tiny narrow lanes and a pretty harbour. And what’s more the sun came out. With all the technology at their finger tips the weather forecasters could have only got our four days in Cornwall more wrong if they had suggested it would snow. As it turned out the predicted four days of rain turned into glorious sunshine from start to finish.

A detour to Constantine Bay, near Padstow, on the way home.

A detour to Constantine Bay, near Padstow, on the way home.

We got to marvel at glistening turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, watched gannets plunge into the Atlantic and were delighted by the seal which popped up at Sennen Cove just as the sun was setting. The water was so clear at St Ives we watched as a seal swam torpedo-like under water to join a group of surfers. We chased it the length of the beach watching it come up with crabs in its mouth. It would disappear for a few minutes and we would scour the surface of the water waiting to see its head bob up again. I’ve seen seals in the past but generally they have been from boat trips to specific seal colonies. Great as these are there’s something much more special about these chance encounters we had.

I have never been to Land’s End, mainland Britain’s most westerly point. We have been close enough before but I’ve always been put off by the visitor attraction which has sprung up on this spot. I’d rather celebrate the dramatic beauty of this coastline by enjoying the peace and tranquility of the place rather than spend it at a petting zoo or being treated to tales of Arthurian legend. Something made me want to see the actual Land’s End though and I’m so glad we did because whether you want to pay to see a 4D movie or stare out to sea for free there’s the space for both types of visitor to co-exist.

Land's End

Land’s End

We took the coastal path out of Sennen and walked a well trodden path along the cliffs for a few miles. The view was spectacular with the Isles of Scilly just visible on the horizon and the Longships lighthouse a mile out to sea. Sea thrift was fading but wild carrot was putting on an impressive show and there were choughs soaring above us. A red beaked and legged member of the crow family this is a rare bird with, it’s estimated, only 250-350 breeding pairs in the UK . Colonies exist in North Wales and Scotland but it’s with Cornwall that this bird is synonymous, featuring as it does on the county’s coat of arms along with a tin miner and a fisherman. But for nearly 30 years, from the 1970s to the start of the new millennium, choughs were absent from Cornwall – the population whittled down over the centuries by trophy hunters and changes to their habitat until their were none. Then a pair, believed to be from Brittany, set up home in Cornwall in 2001 and successfully bred and choughs returned to Cornwall.

And, of course there were plants but I think I’ll save those for the next post.

Day Dreaming Gardens


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Wood carved tree spirit

Wood carved tree spirit

According to research published over the last few years daydreaming is good for us. Drifting off into space used to be frowned upon, think of the classic scenario of the child being shouted at by their teacher for staring out of the classroom window when he/she should be answering some question on algebra. And, just as night-time dreams allow our subconscious to filter the information our brains have been exposed to during the day, it appears that daydreaming can also play an important role in learning and creativity. But, opportunities for reverie are becoming harder to find now, every waking moment is filled with some electronic device making demands on our attention. Bus or train journeys in particular used to allow for a spot of daydreaming, staring out as the world passed by. Now look around on you on one of these trips and everyone has their heads bent, eyes glued to screens of varying sizes and fingers silently sweeping by the information at their tips. Does anyone daydream any more? Well I do, admittedly this has something to do with living in a rural IT black-spot. Forget 4G, 3G would be a start. Instead of tweeting whilst I’m on a bus or train I find myself lost in my own world. Inevitably these are thoughts about work and life in general – maybe that’s why we’re all so keen to distract ourselves with Twitter, it’s more appealing than having to think about those decisions we need to make once we’re grown-ups. But, and here’s the good bit, quite a lot of the time I daydream about gardening.

Pot storage

Pot storage

Stanton Court is a garden I would describe as a daydream garden. We visited it the other weekend where it was one of twenty private gardens in the Cotswold village of Stanton that had opened to raise money for charity through the NGS. Stanton is a quintessential English village but what was really remarkable was the lack of encroachment of modern life. Looking out over the High Street from the viewpoint of one of the gardens it was striking how uncluttered it all was – no signs, no road markings, no telephone or electricity cables.

Stanton village

Stanton village

Stanton Court

Stanton Court

I thought twenty gardens in just over three hours was a little on the ambitious side so was planning to select a few must-sees, Wellyman however saw it as a challenge. We did end up seeing all twenty and went back to one of them for a second viewing but there was a touch of garden fatigue by the end of the day. The garden we revisited was Stanton Court. For me it stood out as something special. It’s easy to think that would be no surprise as the house and gardens are currently for sale for the eye-watering price of £11 million. Money doesn’t always equal good taste though, you only have to see some of the items for sale at Chelsea to realise that. The garden could have been quite bling and ‘footballer’s wife’ for that sort of price tag but it was beautiful, and I could quite easily have spent all afternoon wandering around this place. The long driveway led past an imposing manor house, built in the 17th century, and tantalised us as to what was beyond. The planting outside the staff quarters was beautiful, there were the greenhouses packed with plants and an interesting collection of cacti and succulents. Is it just me who finds other people’s sheds and greenhouses so interesting? They seem to escape the tidying up frenzy that engulfs a garden which opens to the public and they give a fascinating insight into the gardener, the tools they use, whether they’re organic or not and the plant collections close to their heart.

Stanton village church and meadows

Stanton village church and meadow

A path from the greenhouses led us to a kitchen garden. Elements were newly planted but it was easy to see how enchanting this place will be when it’s in full production. Of course I loved the inclusion of cut flowers to this area and the blackberry trained up and over an arch over one of the paths. Then there was a glimpse through a wrought iron gate to the most idyllic of views – a meadow of ox-eye daisies with the village church in the background. The meadow opened on to an expanse of manicured lawn and a pond and another path led off into a rose garden. I’ve seen a few roses garden over the years and I tend to find they promise so much more than they ever deliver. I want blowsy flowers in profusion, heady scents lingering in the air, an overwhelming sense of rosiness. Generally it’s scrawny looking plants clinging on to life and flowers that don’t even smell. Why, why, why would you ever plant a rose that didn’t smell? This time though I wasn’t disappointed – Stanton Court’s rose garden was dreamy.

Classic English border

Classic English border

Chelsea gold-medal winner Rupert Golby has been instrumental in creating a garden at Stanton Court which I think sits happily in its surroundings and compliments the buildings. I’m sure it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, perhaps a bit twee or chocolate-boxy for those who would like something more challenging, more cutting edge. For me it was simply a garden where I wanted to spend more time. It had all the elements I daydream about when thinking of my perfect garden …. well, apart from a sea view. Of course I’m well aware of the reality of owning such a garden. A space this size, there are 62 acres which come with the house, would require a certain number of staff. For me it would defeat the object of having such an amazing garden if I had to work long hours doing something else to pay staff to do the gardening. And how much compost and manure would a garden this size need? The mind boggles.

Plantign outside the staff quarters

Planting outside the staff quarters

I loved this small gravel garden

I loved this small gravel garden

That’s the great thing about daydreaming. Much as I loved Stanton Court I’m not so sure I would actually want the responsibility of owning and maintaining somewhere so vast. Of course I wouldn’t say no if someone offered it to me but I was more than happy enough to spend an afternoon there just noseying about. And now I can add a gravel garden to my garden daydreaming.

British Flowers Week and a Competition


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Flowers from my cut flower patch

Flowers from my cut flower patch

Well I couldn’t let British Flowers Week pass by without a post. This is the second year of the celebration of British grown flowers, an idea devised by the New Covent Garden Flower Market, the main hub of flower trading in the UK. The idea is to raise awareness about the choice and availability of home-grown blooms and foliage in a market dominated by imports.

My own cut flower patch is burgeoning at the moment. There’s love-in-a-mist, linaria, alchemilla, achillea, candytuft, ammi and pinks. I picked so many sweet Williams the other night that I gave bunches of them away to passers-by on the way home from the allotment, and at home there aren’t many surfaces left which don’t have vases on them. Even so my scale of production, a few beds on my allotment, is tiny compared to the new breed of artisan flower farmers springing up across the country. Certainly there seems to be a renewed interest in locally grown flowers, particularly with couples planning their wedding but there’s still a lot to be done to change the attitudes of the flower buying public, florists and supermarkets if we’re to reduce the amount of flowers brought to these shores from abroad. My local supermarket has a selection of British flowers for sale at the moment but it’s still only a few buckets in amongst the ubiquitous roses, lilies and carnations. It’s such a pity when I know what they could offer.

So here are a few ways you too could support British Flowers Week:

Look for British Flowers at the supermarket, there should be stocks, sweet William and sweet peas for sale at the moment. If they don’t have any ask the customer services desk why not.

When buying from a florist ask them about where their flowers come from. It’s surprising how many don’t know as most are shipped across from the flower auctions in Holland. I asked a florist in April if they could source British flowers, she seemed a bit stumped and then said she couldn’t because the weather in Britain isn’t good enough to grow flowers at that time of year. But what about the tulips, daffodils, scented narcissi, ranunculus and irises which were all being grown in April by small-scale British flower growers? If more of us ask for British flowers it will encourage florists to source them.

Search for a local grower. There are two fantastic websites The British Flower Collective and Flowers from the Farm which list flower growers across the country from Scotland to Cornwall.

Encourage your local school to start growing flowers. There’s a renewed desire amongst parents and those involved in education to get children outdoors and to get them to connect with nature. Our Flower Patch is a fantastic education resource aimed at primary schools and youth groups. It combines growing cut flowers with teaching elements from the National Curriculum and gives schools the chance to earn some much-needed money too from the sales of any flowers.

If you’re going to a wedding this summer buy British grown flower confetti or make your own – it’s surprising simple.

Picked fresh this morning from my allotment

Picked fresh this morning from my allotment

And finally, try growing your own flowers for cutting. Incorporate them into your garden or devote a special patch to cut flowers. It’s a rewarding experience which is fantastic for wildlife – providing pollen and nectar for insects, and it will go some way to reducing your carbon footprint. You’ll have a much greater choice of flowers available to you rather than the limited selection at your local supermarket and they’ll be super fresh. Whilst it might be a bit late to start a cut flower patch from scratch for this year, now is the perfect time to start planning for next year by sowing biennials and perennials.

To celebrate British Flowers Week a copy of my book The Cut Flower Patch is up for grabs. I know Christmas is a long way off, I’m sorry I even mentioned the word, but here’s a chance to cross a present off your list, even before summer is out!!

You need to live in the UK or Ireland to enter. If you’d like to be in with a chance of wining a copy then leave a comment stating that you’d like to be included in the draw. The competition will close at midnight on Friday 20th June. Wellyman will draw a name from a hat (he has a bit of a hat addiction so he’s got plenty to choose from) on Saturday 21st June. Please make sure I have an email contact for you so I can let you know if you’re the lucky winner.  Good Luck!


A Show of Hands


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Show of Hands

Show of Hands – Chelsea Fringe

I have been meaning to take part in Veg Plotting’s brilliant project dedicated to the hardest working part of most gardeners – their hands –  for the last few weeks but I keep getting distracted, generally by gardening. It appears though that I have managed to sneak in my contribution just before the project ends. A ‘Show of Hands’ is part of the Chelsea Fringe, a festival entirely run by volunteers, which celebrates the quirkier, edgier side of horticulture. It runs during May into June and coincides with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The idea of the Fringe is to show that gardening and growing are open to anyone. Gardening does have a reputation for being the preserve of the older generation and the RHS Chelsea Flower Show creates a certain air of exclusivity. The Fringe wants to turn those thoughts on their head. The first Chelsea Fringe took place in 2012 and it’s proved hugely popular. This year there have been over 250 projects with events not just in London but in other UK cities and even further afield in Europe.

Michelle asked people to post up a photo of hands in the context of gardening. It didn’t have to be their own, they didn’t even have to be human. Anna, for instance, on her Green Tapestry blog, posted an image of a sculpture depicting hands which she came across in the gardens of Sudeley Castle. All manner of social media has been put to use with people participating using Twitter, Facebook and blogging. Once the Fringe for 2014 draws to a close, on 8th June, Michelle will create a map showing where all the images have originated.

So, for my contribution Wellyman took a photograph of me holding a bunch of flowers picked from the cut flower patch. It gets you thinking when you focus on something. I probably take my hands for granted. They are so fundamental in my gardening, and writing about gardening; I really should look after them more. I don’t moisturize enough, I’m normally so tired when I get into bed that I forget. But I do have a degree of vanity when it comes to their ‘maintenance’ – I do try to keep my nails looking nice.  I rarely garden with gloves. I should wear them more – it would certainly make cleaning them at the end of the day much easier but I find them cumbersome. It’s impossible to sow or take cuttings wearing them so I might start wearing them but inevitably once I have removed them for one task I forget where I’ve put them. My one concession is if I’m planting or weeding in the garden as I’d rather not put my hand in a pile of cat mess.

Increasingly I suffer from allergic reactions to plants. Borage brings me out in a nasty rash and last year during a spot of weeding I discovered echiums and I don’t seem to like each other. My hands were quite a sight, covered in weals and burning like I had never experienced before. It wouldn’t have been so much of a problem if I hadn’t had a photo shoot the next day where my hands would be captured for posterity. Thanks to the wonders of antihistamines my hands were restored to normal by the morning, which is just as well as I think there’s only so much you can do with Photoshop.

I chose this picture because it sums up how much my hands mean to me. They give me the chance to grow beautiful flowers which give pleasure to me, my family and friends. The hands which sow and grow so many plants allow me to also write about my passion for plants. When I think about it they really are fantastic.

Thanks to Michelle for such an inspired idea. If you’d like to join in there’s still time.

Frustration and Inspiration


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Lettuce 'Freckles'

Lettuce ‘Freckles’

My computer bit the dust the other day. It didn’t come as a great surprise, it hasn’t sounded healthy for a while now. The noise it was generating had become so loud I couldn’t concentrate, it was like I had an old diesel car under the desk. I had hoped it might limp on for a few more months and Wellyman had replaced a few parts. Then it took to shutting down without being asked to, but the final straw was the chequerboard screen of pinks and yellows which looked like a punk Harris Tweed – I knew then that the game was up.

I’m not a complete technophobe but getting a new computer is such a faff, why you would do it voluntarily I don’t know. We’d had this one for ten years and it’s incredible how much stuff ended up on it. All I can say is that thanks to Wellyman I’m up and running again but if it had been left to me, well I wouldn’t have known where to start. I’m embarrassed and frustrated by this. I’m generally a practical, can-do type of woman but when it comes to IT I can get by but if anything out of the ordinary happens, well I’m stuck. It’s rather worrying that so much of life is becoming ever dependent on technology that requires the brain and dexterity of a teenager to get through all the setting up stages and glitches that inevitably appear. And don’t get me started on the thought process behind the creation of Windows 8.1. It took 20 minutes and a phone call to Wellyman to find out what they’d done with spell check. Still at least the new computer is quiet – I barely know it’s on as it purrs gently like the most contented of cats. The Welly household must be a bit of a technology black spot at the moment as my ‘not so smart’ smartphone keeps having a hissy fits too. This particular problem has left even Wellyman, who spends his working days fixing IT problems, perplexed.

Green and red mizuna seedlings

Green and red mizuna seedlings

At times like this I crave a simpler life. The closest I’m going to get to getting away from it all, for the moment anyway, is escaping to the allotment. There can’t be many better antidotes to the frustrations of modern life than a few hours weeding, tying in sweet peas and picking flowers. There’s a simplicity to growing which is good for the spirit which might explain why I have got a bit carried away this year with my growing. When I took on the allotment the plan was to keep all the veg growing there. It’s funny though how there is no longer enough space there for my ambitions and veg crops are now creeping into the garden again. Part of this is can be attributed to the idea that we may not have a plot or garden at all next year if we move so I’m going all out this year for a bountiful summer.

Kitchen Garden Experts

Kitchen Garden Experts

Inspiration has also come in the form of a book I bought a few weeks ago called Kitchen Garden Experts. It’s the creation of Jason Ingram, who took the photographs for my own book, and his wife, garden writer and editor, Cinead McTernan. They travelled the length and breadth of the country last year photographing the kitchen gardens of some of our top restaurants and picking the brains of the chefs and the gardeners who provide them with top-notch produce. I’ve found it a fabulous read. A few years ago I was lucky enough to meet one of the growers included in the book, Jo Campbell, who at the time was growing fruit and vegetables for Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Talking to her about how they work with the chefs to decide what to grow, how they can make the most of the produce when it’s brought to the kitchen and how they’re always looking for new crops, whether that’s seeking out inspiration from other countries or rediscovering forgotten native foodstuffs, was fascinating. It’s this relationship between the chef and grower which is the basis for this book.

Vallum Farm - Kitchen Garden Experts

Vallum Farm – Kitchen Garden Experts

Kitchen Garden Experts cleverly combines two topics close to many of our hearts – food and growing. It’s a combination of restaurant guide and gardening and recipe book. You could easily use this book as the basis for a foodie pilgrimage to top eateries but it’s not short on horticultural information. Cinead has packed it full of tips and techniques gleaned from experienced growers. I liked, grower for The River Cafe, Simon Hewitt’s policy of growing tomatoes originating from northern Italy as they are more adapted to our own cooler growing conditions. Dan Cox of L’Enclume in Cumbria recommends placing your veg crops into a bucket of cold water as you harvest, it helps to preserve their freshness, especially on a hot day, and makes cleaning easier once you get them to the kitchen. I will certainly be consulting the book when I make future seed orders, seeking out the recommended varieties, and growing home-grown sea kale sounds an intriguing prospect. But for now it has inspired a few last-minute pots of colourful carrots – purples and yellows, some yellow heritage tomatoes, which I might just squeeze into the greenhouse, and a sowing of stripey beetroot ‘Chioggia’.

The Star Inn, Harome - Kitchen Garden Experts

The Star Inn at Harome – Kitchen Garden Experts

The recipes range from the simple but delicious sounding rocket pesto, squash soup and plum and almond flan to the dinner party type wet garlic barigoule and leeks vinaigrette. There are some recipes I probably wouldn’t attempt, but even these recipes provide inspiration in the form of flavour combinations and crops I’d like to try to grow in the future.

What I really loved about Kitchen Garden Experts is how it encapsulates how far British food has come in the last 10 to 15 years. Once derided by our European neighbours for our poor quality produce and indifferent restaurants we now have world-class eateries, chefs and artisan food. We’re learning to care about seasonality and appreciate the effort which goes into quality food production. Jason’s photographs are incredibly beautiful, not just capturing the stunning food but also a sense of place for each of the kitchen gardens. If his photographs don’t have you drooling your way to the kitchen, reaching for the seed catalogue or picking up the phone to book a table at one of the restaurants I don’t know what will.


Chelsea inspirations


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Rose-bud Gorilla by Pollyfields - Chelsea 2014   ©2014 Ian Curley

Rose-bud Gorilla by Pollyfields – Chelsea 2014 ©2014 Ian Curley

Chelsea Flower Show is packed with so much to see that it’s a bit hard to take it all in when you’re actually there. Scrolling through the photos once I got home and seeing the coverage on TV always makes me wish I could pop back for another visit to soak it all up in a slightly less frantic way.

Khora conservatory - Chelsea 2014 Rose-bud Gorilla by Pollyfields - Chelsea 2014  ©2014 Ian Curley

Khora conservatory – Chelsea 2014 ©2014 Ian Curley

Where else would you see an orang-utan, a rose-bud encrusted gorilla, a £200,000 conservatory, bump into Christopher Biggins and see World War One commemorated with plants? The person dressed up as an orang-utan wandering around the World Vision garden seemed a bit random. The attention to detail on the rose-bud gorilla was incredible – there was a lavender elephant too – but I did wonder how anyone would have the patience to create such sculptures and whilst they smelt amazing, I couldn’t work out who would buy one. That’s a thought which quite often creeps into your head at Chelsea. As spectacular as the Khora dome-roofed conservatory was it’s hard to imagine who would part with £200,000 for such a building. But those hospitality tents at Chelsea aren’t there just to feed and water the plant lovers who visit over the course of the week. As Ed Cumming’s wrote last year in The Telegraph, Chelsea has become a place for big businesses, politicians and dignitaries to network. Who knows, perhaps Khora’s order book will be full by the end of the week.

The House of Fraser Textile Garden - Chelsea 2014  ©2014 Ian Curley

The House of Fraser Textile Garden – Chelsea 2014 ©2014 Ian Curley

The Fresh Gardens are smaller spaces with a more contemporary feel. The’ In the Mind’s Eye’ Garden for the RNIB was fantastic. Designed as a sensory garden it had water, textural planting and vibrant colours. The colour combinations in some of the borders might not appeal to everyone as there was a lot going on but it was designed with those with visual impairments in mind where extra colours and contrast are important. I was so pleased this won ‘Best in Show’ in its category. The quirky House of Fraser Garden really caught my eye. I loved the colours on display and the idea that textile design can be inspired by nature.

Silene diocia 'Firefly' - Chelsea 2014  ©2014 Ian Curley

Silene diocia ‘Firefly’ – Chelsea 2014 ©2014 Ian Curley

In the Great Pavilion I came across this beauty, Silene diocia ‘Firefly’. I wonder if it would make a good cut flower?

Heucheraholis - Chelsea 2014 ©2014 Ian Curley

Heucheraholis – Chelsea 2014 ©2014 Ian Curley

I thought the Heucheraholics stand commemorating the First World War was outstanding.

The Hillier’s exhibit was something else. They take their displays at Chelsea to another level with trees as tall as the pavilion and so many plants packed into their space it was quite breathtaking.

Floral dresses - Chelsea 2014  ©2014 Ian Curley

Floral dresses – Chelsea 2014 ©2014 Ian Curley

The Chelsea Florist of the Year competition and the row of dresses decorated with flowers and plant material was really inspiring and I took an epic amount of photos of the incredible detail.

Chelsea 2014  ©2014 Ian Curley

Chelsea 2014 ©2014 Ian Curley

And who could resist a photo on this cutie? He was one of the dogs brought in to check the showground for explosives before the Queen arrived. Tail wagging, he was lead into the gardens sniffing for anything untoward. They’re obviously trained to not to eat anything they shouldn’t. Imagine if they got a rogue dog in one year who took a fancy to some violas or who cocked his leg on a box ball.

My favourite part of Chelsea has to be the Serpentine Walk in a leafy area where you’ll find the Artisan Gardens. In this quiet secluded spot it’s much easier to appreciate the gardens and plants. I wish the RHS would devote a separate space to the Fresh Gardens. In my opinion, the Fresh Gardens suffer from being just off Main Avenue in front of the Great Pavilion – there’s just so much competing for your attention. It’s often hard to know what’s a garden and what’s a trade stand. I thought the planting on Jo Thompson’s ‘Town Square’ Garden was so beautiful but it all got rather lost in amongst the giant potpourri animals and expensive barbecues. How different it would have been if Jo’s garden had been placed in a similar setting to the Artisan Gardens.

So that’s it for another year but there’s plenty for me to take away from Chelsea 2014. I’ll be seeking out plum and wine coloured flowers for my cutting patch next year. I’m hoping to take inspiration from the floral dresses for the book I’m working on and, thanks to Mr Kazuyuki, I want to learn more about Japanese gardens.

On Show


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© 2014 Ian Curely

© 2014 Ian Curley

Of all the RHS flower shows it is Chelsea where the gardens feature the most prominently. For some people they receive too much attention with reams of copy in the newspapers and the seemingly endless dissecting on TV. I have to admit that I do find certain elements of the coverage veers towards navel gazing and pretentiousness but I think this is inevitable when garden designers are discussing their contemporaries. It’s not just gardening which is guilty of this. Take a look at some of the food programmes on the TV at the moment and you’ll see the strange phenomenon whereby chefs are achieving a god-like status. And does anyone actually manage to sit through more than 10 minutes of any of those awards ceremonies without feeling nauseous? For me though, the gardens make Chelsea special.

The show gardens along Main Avenue are the starry element to the event. These are the haute couture of the gardening world. For most of us they are fantasy gardens but not for everybody. The Nancy Dell’Olio lookalike who stood next to me as we both looked towards The Telegraph Garden proceeded to tell the retinue around her that her own garden would look pretty much exactly like this by the end of the summer. It’s easy to dismiss these gardens as purely window dressing just as many do with catwalk fashion but just as the clothes we wear are influenced by the top fashion designers, their ideas filtering down to the high street, so do the trends, designs and plants used in the show gardens. I do shudder at the thought of how much money is spent on the large gardens but Chelsea has become a shop window for the best in British garden design.

I think the controversy that’s sparked every year when the medals are announced is fantastic. Why did so-and-so get a silver-gilt and not a gold, particularly when what’s-he-called got Best in Show? If the judges award more than 5 golds they’re being too generous, any less and they’re being too strict. I feel desperately for anyone who receives a silver or, even worse, a bronze. All that hard work and then you have to put on the brave face and say the medal doesn’t matter because the public love it. In reality we all know that if you go to all the trouble of putting yourself forward to design a garden you want silver-gilt at the very least. Or is that just my competitive streak talking?

Patrick Collins' 'A Garden for First Touch at St George's' - Chelsea 2014

Patrick Collins’ ‘A Garden for First Touch at St George’s’ – Chelsea 2014 © 2014 Ian Curley

I thought there was a lot to like about this year’s Chelsea gardens. Patrick Collins’ ‘A Garden for First Touch at St. George’s Hospital’ used the old rock bank and I loved the contrast his garden, built on a slope, provided to the relative flatness of the other show gardens. The planting was stunning, as was the use of the rusty steel, and it was one of the gardens which I felt offered realistic inspiration to your average gardener.

Matthew Childs’ Brewin Dolphin Garden received a silver-gilt but I really can’t see why he didn’t get a gold. Beautiful planting, stunning features and a joy to look at.

Cleve West's M&G Garden

Cleve West’s M&G Garden. I love it from this angle. © 2014 Ian Curley

I’m a huge fan of Cleve West and was hugely looking forward to seeing his Persian inspired garden for M&G. Strangely though the garden didn’t have the impact I thought it would. It was beautifully executed and had fabulous planting but the front part of the garden which represented the dry, arid areas of the Iranian landscape slightly jarred. The odd thing was when I got home and looked through Wellyman’s photos it all seemed to work. Wellyman and I both came to the conclusion that the garden worked as a whole when viewed from certain points but not others.

The Rich brothers and their 'A Night Sky Garden' - Chelsea 2014'

The Rich brothers and their ‘A Night Sky Garden’ – Chelsea 2014′ © 2014 Ian Curley

The Rich brothers designed a fantastic artisan garden last year so I was looking forward to seeing their first show garden and I wasn’t disappointed. They take their inspiration from the landscape around their home in the Brecon Beacons, a place I know well. I loved the natural planting, the lack of bling and the idea that the garden will be used after Chelsea at an autistic centre in Cardiff.

The Telegraph Garden - Chelsea 2014

The Telegraph Garden – Chelsea 2014 – I like the shot of colour here from Gladiolus byzantinus. © 2014 Ian Curley

The Telegraph Garden just didn’t do it for me, it was just too slick for my liking. Everyone seemed so taken with the pristine lawn but it just looked so green it could have been fake. Aren’t these types of lawns a little old-fashioned now anyway – a monoculture needing way too much attention, often of the chemical kind, and offering no real benefits to our native wildlife? Of all the gardens it felt the most corporate, the one which would appeal most to a city banker. It’s the type of garden I’d like to see less of at Chelsea. The geometric layout of Luciano Giubbilei’s Laurent Perrier Garden didn’t appeal but the planting was superb. A cool palette of creams, lemons and greens provided a nice contrast to the berry colours of reds and purples in evidence elsewhere.

Anchusa azurea 'Loddon Royalist' - Chelsea 2014 © 2014 Ian Curley

Anchusa azurea ‘Loddon Royalist’ – Chelsea 2014 © 2014 Ian Curley

And that takes me to a point that has slightly niggled me for the last few years. The similarity in planting really can’t be a coincidence. Last year you couldn’t get stirred for cow parsley. Now I love a bit of frothy planting but I wouldn’t expect to see it on every garden. This year it was the turn of irises, aquilegia and Lysimachia ‘Beaujolais’. I know it’s spring and there are certain plants which are at their best now but the fact that the same plants, in the same colours turn up on different gardens is just a bit odd. Perhaps not so odd when you see that the gardens which shared the similar planting were all supplied by the same plant nursery. In the past it has been dismissed as ‘great minds think alike’ but, at last, Joe Swift suggested last night on the TV that it might well have something to do with nurseries presenting the designers with plants that will be at their peak for Chelsea week. The plum and claret colours I saw this year were really inspirational and I’m already thinking about ways I can incorporate them into my cut flower patch but perhaps for the gardens to be truly distinctive the issue of plant suppliers needs to be addressed.



Hot, Hot, Hot – Chelsea 2014


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Aquilegia stellata 'Ruby Port'

Aquilegia stellata ‘Ruby Port’ (copyright Ian Curley)

Following on from the theme of my last post, May really wouldn’t be May without the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and that’s where I found myself yesterday.

Chelsea induces in me the levels of excitement you normally witness in children in the run up to Christmas. This plant extravaganza is, for me, the equivalent of a sea of presents under the Christmas tree. Perhaps this will explain my inability to get much sleep the night before. Strange sounds coming from the kitchen of the bed and breakfast didn’t help. To my sleep deprived brain it sounded like the frantic spoon-clearing of a yoghurt pot. There was a point when I lay there thinking, ‘I’m staying in some complete stranger’s house and how do I know they don’t have some odd midnight yoghurt eating craving’, until Wellyman pointed out it was just their dog lapping up water from its bowl!!!

Last year was my first visit to Chelsea. To say I was chuffed when I received a pass for Monday’s Press Day was an understatement. Unfortunately, the shine wore off rather quickly as I wandered around the show ground. There were mutterings and grumbles from the assembled crowd that the RHS was playing it safe with the designs it had picked and that the planting was lacklustre. The latter was no real surprise after last year’s very cold spring and it all left me thinking I hadn’t seen Chelsea at its best.

Sultry planting was a theme at Chelsea 2014

Sultry planting was a theme at Chelsea 2014 (copyright Ian Curley)

But what a difference a year can make – Chelsea 2014 felt like a different place. I’m sure this had a lot to do with the weather. Last year I was nithered (Geordie for bloody freezing). The grey, laden skies made everything look quite flat, and photography in the Great Pavilion was difficult because of the low light levels. Yesterday with blue skies and baking sunshine everything seemed to sparkle. It was almost as if the designers had an inkling it might be a scorcher with water features incorporated into several gardens and rich, sultry planting that seemed just perfect for the conditions.

It wasn’t just the weather though that had made the difference. Apart from a couple of well-known designers, the RHS had chosen to champion some younger horticultural talent and I really feel it needed this. There has been a tendency over the years for designers to create show gardens which I’m sure appeal to very wealthy potential clients but leave me feeling ambivalent. I rarely dislike them and I can see the skill involved in the creation but I just don’t connect with them. They feel very much like status symbol gardens and a tad formulaic with the pre-requisite finely cut hard landscaping, uncomfortable looking furniture and a building of some description that tends to dominate the whole space. There were inevitably still elements of that yesterday and I’m realistic enough to realise that Chelsea has become much more than a stage for plants but I felt there was a much better balance this time.

Help for Heroes 'Hope on the Horizon' garden - Chelsea 2014

Help for Heroes ‘Hope on the Horizon’ garden – Chelsea 2014 (copyright Ian Curley)

Just as it’s hard to cover the whole of the show in the 6 or so hours I spent there – I’ll watch the TV coverage when I get home and wonder how I managed to miss a particular exhibit or newly introduced plant – it’s impossible to cover the day in one post so there’ll be a few posts over the course of the week. But, for now, here are a few of my highlights from Chelsea 2014.

The sultry colours of Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’, Aquilegia vulgairs var. stellata ‘Black Barlow’ and ‘Ruby Port’, Sangiusorba menziesii and Rosa ‘Darcy Bussell’.

Brewin Dolphin Garden  - Chelsea 2014

Brewin Dolphin Garden – Chelsea 2014 (copyright Ian Curley)

Choosing a favourite show garden this year is difficult but I think it would have to be the Brewin Dolphin garden designed by Matthew Childs. The copper archways with the verdigris patina were stunning and gave the garden the wow factor without that element of bling that can so often be the focus of a show garden. The planting was a superb mix and included my favourite combination of Lysimachia ‘Beaujolais and Aquilegia ‘Ruby Port’. The Help for Heroes ‘Hope on the Horizon’ garden designed by 29 year old Matt Keightley came a close second. I loved the dappled light created by the hornbeam trees and the shade they cast worked incredibly well in the strong sunlight. Another favourite was the Royal Bank of Canada Waterscape Garden by Hugo Bugg who, at the age of 26, has become the youngest winner of a gold medal at Chelsea.

Royal Bank of Canada Waterscape Garden - Chelsea 2014

Royal Bank of Canada Waterscape Garden – Chelsea 2014 (copyright Ian Curley)

Can anyone have enough bun moss? Well not if you’re Kazuyuki Ishihara, designer of the Best in Show Artisan Garden. His ‘Paradise on Earth’ garden was truly stunning. The attention to detail is incredible and he always packs so much into his designs I could stand and look at them for hours marvelling at the intricacy.

A Paradise on Earth by Ishihara Kazuyuki

A Paradise on Earth by Ishihara Kazuyuki (copyright Ian Curley)

Away from the show gardens of Main Avenue the rustic feel and stunning planting of ‘The Topiarist’s Garden’ in the Artisan category is more what I would look for in a garden and I could quite happily have taken it home with me.

The hottest day of the year so far meant the scent in the Great Pavilion was AMAZING. You could smell the strawberries on the Ken Muir stand before you got to them. The masses of lilies, hyacinths and roses too filled the air with a heady fragrance. It really was WOW!

And, I know it’s a bit twee but I did have soft spot for the Hooksgreen Herbs stand which was inspired by Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. I really feel for the person dressed up as aforesaid bunny, who must have been cooking inside all that fur.

BoJo - a crocheted gorilla

BoJo – a crocheted gorilla (copyright Ian Curley)

I’m not sure why but gorillas kept cropping up. If you want to part with a substantial wad of cash you could buy a humongous statue of one for your garden … well, each to their own. If you fancied a gorilla with an extra dimension you could have one clad in shells or lavender flowers, but my favourite had to be BoJo, a crocheted sculpture of a gorilla named after Boris Johnson. I know it sounds odd but it was quite incredible. Maybe someone didn’t understand the concept of ‘guerilla gardening’?

So, to sum up Chelsea 2014 – hot weather, hot planting and some hot new design talent.


Whizzing by


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Alliums in May

Alliums in May

I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that May is whizzing by all too quickly. I’m trying desperately, in amongst the general panic of too much to do-ness, to find time to stop and appreciate what is one of my most favourite times of the year. So I’m taking a quick pit-stop to write a bit about what May means to me.

May means:

- late night, torch-light fleecing at the plot

- an emptying greenhouse

- overflowing cold frames

- a car boot full of plants ready to be planted out

- the joy of the first alliums opening

- despair at discovering the first of many holes in my hostas

- forgetting AGAIN to do the Chelsea chop

- and, thereby resigning myself to a summer of staking and floppy plants

- pickings of stock Matthiola incana, the most intoxicating of scents

- panic that I haven’t sown enough and I’ve missed the boat for another year

- panic that I have sown way too much and where is it all going to go

chive flowers on my allotment

- chive flowers in full bloom lining my fruit beds at the plot

- watering my plot at twilight to the sound of birds

- anticipation after spotting the first swelling fruits on my strawberries

-  too many weeds

- the first rose on ‘Gertrude Jekyll’

- the smell of my warm greenhouse

- the miraculous sprouting into life of the overwintered twigs in a pot otherwise known as lemon verbena

- and finally the exhaustion that accompanies all of this. Everything comes at once and it all feels a bit relentless, but then I see the burgeoning garden and I pick some salad leaves, and I know why I do it. This is what keeps me going – along with tea and chocolate of course. Oh!, and the distant glimmer of hope that I might be able to sit down at some point soon. I’d love to know what May means to you.

Have a fabulous weekend everyone!






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