British Blooms – RHS Chelsea 2015

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

The sheer amount of plant loveliness on display at the Chelsea Flower Show can be quite overwhelming. It’s also difficult to do the whole showground in just one day, so it can be hard to know where to start. This year my plan was to go with a theme in mind in the hope that this would give me some focus, particularly in the Great Pavilion.

Regular readers will know I’m a bit obsessed by home-grown cut flowers, whether they’re from my own cut flower patch or purchased from the growing number of small-scale flower farmers here in the UK. I’m always looking for new blooms that would be fabulous in a vase, or colour combinations that I could tailor my seed sowing plans towards. So what better place to start when looking for inspiration to take away with me from this year’s show?

M&S stand Blooms of the British Isles - RHS Chelsea 2015

M&S stand Blooms of the British Isles – RHS Chelsea 2015 ©Ian Curley

It seems that the message about British cut flowers finally seems to be getting out there. Marks and Spencer chose to celebrate their suppliers of home-grown flowers with a ‘Blooms of the British Isles’ stand in the Great Pavilion. The exhibit was designed as a quadrant, divided into blocks of flowers grown in the UK to supply M&S. The centre featured a tiered stand filled with flowers which was designed to represent a huge bouquet and the different layers of blooms. Flowers included scented stocks, peonies, lady’s mantle, alliums and tulips, along with pots of moth orchids, roses and chrysanthemums. These container-grown flowers didn’t fill me with joy, they just seem to lack the movement, delicacy and impact of larger cut flowers. The element that really did appeal to me though was the boundary to the display. This was a series of blocks of individual varieties which incorporated details of where the flowers were grown – alliums in Lincolnshire, peonies in Hertfordshire and scented stocks in Norfolk. It also conveyed the sense of them being grown as a crop rather than for ornamental purposes. The leaflet which accompanied the stand included a ‘meet the growers’ section with fab photos of the flower growers and snippets of info such as how Steve Ward of Bury Lane Peonies has 23 acres devoted to growing 140,000 peonies to meet the growing demand for these stunning blooms.

Rebecca Louise Law floral installation - RHS Chelsea 2015

Rebecca Louise Law floral installation – RHS Chelsea 2015 ©Ian Curley

The flower installation by Rebecca Louise Law which hung above the heads of people as they used the walkway which links Main Avenue to the rest of the showground was such a clever idea, particularly for an area which might otherwise be neglected. She’d used a mixture of dried flowers and fresh, tied in bunches, which were then suspended from the roof. Unfortunately on Monday the walkway was like a huge wind tunnel which meant walking through it was like the tornado scene from the Wizard of Oz. Combine the wind with low light levels and it made it tricky to get a good photograph. I’m a huge fan of dried flowers, so I’ve come away with a few ideas for new ways to use them around my home.

Verbascum 'Merlin' - Matthew Wilson's Royal Bank of Canada Garden

Verbascum ‘Merlin’ – Matthew Wilson’s Royal Bank of Canada Garden ©Ian Curley

I’m always looking for new flowers and foliage which could find a way on to my cutting patch. Verbascums and geums were the two most popular flowers on the show gardens this year. I think Verbascum ‘Merlin’, used on both Matthew Wilson’s Royal Bank of Canada Garden and Chris Beardshaw’s Morgan Stanley Garden, was my favourite. It’s just such a pretty colour, subtle with a slightly faded quality about it that makes me think of antique fabric. I haven’t grown verbascums at home before; they need well-drained soil which might mean winter wet would see them off in my garden, but I’d certainly love to give them a go.

Geum 'Totally Tangerine' - RHS Chelsea 2015

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ – RHS Chelsea 2015 ©Ian Curley

Cow parsley has become a bit of a planting cliché at Chelsea in recent years. This part of London has done a passable impression of a spring hedgerow for a week every May for the last couple of years. It’s common for one plant to prove popular with designers year after year – plants which perform reliably each May regardless of the vagaries of the British weather are bound to be favoured by plant nurseries and designers. But even die-hard cow parsley lovers were starting to get a bit sick of seeing it. I’m one of those fans of naturalistic plants and delicate hedgerow frothiness, but I was pleased to see that there was much less of it around this year, although designers haven’t been able to let go of it completely. This time it was the turn of Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ to be totally everywhere. Launched in 2005 by Hardy’s Cottage Plants there’s talk of the shelves being cleared of it due to its Chelsea popularity this year. As a cut flower it apparently has a lot going for it – it’ll bloom throughout the summer and the long stems are perfect for the vase. I think it’s such a cheerful colour and I can see it working well with late-flowering tulips and wallflowers to make some gorgeous late spring/early summer arrangements and later on in the season with dahlias.

Antirrhinum 'Pretty in Pink' - RHS Chelsea 2015

Antirrhinum ‘Pretty in Pink’ – RHS Chelsea 2015 ©Ian Curley

The Great Pavilion is the place to look out for new introductions and I spotted this snapdragon on the Hardy’s stand. Antirrhinum ‘Pretty in Pink’ is the first truly perennial form, it blooms all summer long and has good resistance to the fungal disease rust to which snapdragons are so prone. It’s another which won’t like sitting in wet soils, so it would be worth providing extra drainage and giving it some protection in winter.

Fritillaria acmopetala - RHS Chelsea 2015

Fritillaria acmopetala – RHS Chelsea 2015 ©Ian Curley

I love green flowers. They’re so unusual and striking and work well in a vase as they can provide the focal point or be a foil for other more colourful blooms. So what about this Fritillaria acmopetala on the Avon Bulbs stand? I love the little turn up at the base of the bell-shaped flowers – it reminds me of a bob hair cut where the ends have been flicked outwards. The delicate veining, the hints of gold and flashes of maroon all make it a very intriguing flower. This wouldn’t be a plant to provide bunches of flowers but I can imagine just a couple of stems in a simple vase would make such a pretty display.

Adam Frost's Homebase Garden - RHS Chelsea 2015

Adam Frost’s Homebase Garden – RHS Chelsea 2015 ©Ian Curley

Orange was the colour of Chelsea 2015. Rust-coloured metalwork featured in several gardens from Chris Beardshaw’s with its sculpture and the rusty panels of Adam Frost’s Homebase Garden, to the rusted tin can sculptures on Sean Murray’s garden. Tones of rust were found in the planting too particularly on the Pure Land Foundation Fresh Garden with Iris germanica ‘Kent Pride’ and the newly-introduced Foxglove Illumination Series ‘Apricot’. Elsewhere there were the striking orange Californian poppies and Libertia peregrinans on Matthew Wilson’s garden. And the lighter, almost apricot colour of the Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ (it looks more apricot than tangerine to me) added a zing across the showground.

Lithodora and rusty metal - RHS Chelsea 2015

Lithodora and rusty metal – RHS Chelsea 2015 ©Ian Curley

As for how to use orange, well how about this combination which packs a punch, the blue flowers of lithodora against a rust-coloured container I spotted on one of the trade stands? It’s a mix of colours I hope I can replicate in a vase this summer using Salvia patens and a variety of orangey dahlias, strawflowers and pot marigolds.

Plummy planting - RHS Chelsea 2015

Plummy planting – RHS Chelsea 2015 ©Ian Curley

Dark purples and rich plums were in evidence too. Lupins seem to be making a comeback. I’ve come around to many ‘old-fashioned’ plants in recent years from gladioli to chrysanthemums but I’m still not convinced by these rocket-shaped blooms. I do love the colour combination of this planting on the Alitex greenhouse stand though. And the clashing of dark colours with bright on Chris Beardshaw’s garden with purple irises and salivas placed next to orange geums is truly sumptuous. Using colours like this can be tricky to pull off, whether it’s in the garden or in a floral arrangement. We’ve all seen bouquets of gaudily-coloured flowers shoved together which really don’t work. Taking ideas from the masters of planting like Chris Beardshaw and applying that to the flowers you grow and use for cutting is one way of dipping your foot into the water.

Scrummy planting on Chris Beardshaw's Morgan Stanley Garden - RHS Chelsea 2015

Scrummy planting on Chris Beardshaw’s Morgan Stanley Garden – RHS Chelsea 2015 ©Ian Curley

So that’s plenty of ideas and images to inspire me this winter as I come up with my cut flower plans for next summer.

Windswept and Interesting – RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Protea on Charles Albone's Time in Between Garden

Protea on Charles Albone’s Time in Between Garden © Ian Curley

I spent yesterday immersed in plants, from orchids and exotic proteas to classic English roses and native elm trees. There were gardens created by the best designers and plantspeople from Britain and beyond. One enormous marquee – the Great Pavilion – a temple to plant passion with nurseries from across the country. There were sculptures, greenhouses and all manner of garden-related bit and bobs. This was press day at RHS Chelsea Flower Show and it really doesn’t get much better than this for someone who loves plants.

On a cold, grey morning in south-west London someone had clearly forgotten to mention to the weather that it was meant to be spring and, as if on cue, the spots of rain started to fall just as we entered the showground at 8am. Press Day is the day when suits, summery frocks and fabulous hats abound. Exhibitors, designers and sponsors want to look their best for the press calls, photos and, later in the day, the Queen and other members of the Royal Family. I had huge admiration for those ladies who had looked out of the window that morning and had disregarded the weather forecasts and thought ‘I’m wearing those heels and floaty dress regardless’. Then there were the rest of us in waterproofs huddled under umbrellas trying desperately to stay warm. Later on that morning Anneka Rice would enter the Great Pavilion looking like it was a summer’s day outside despite the fact that a deluge of rain was pounding the roof. I’ve always been somewhat in awe of women who manage to look glamorous in situations when I look bedraggled and windswept. I’m sure Anneka must have had lots of those heat pads strategically stitched into her dress, as I was wishing I’d worn a second pair of socks and some thermals at that point. I think she must win the award for smile of the day – like the ray of sunshine we were hoping would come from the sky at some point.

Despite the weather the plants shone and looking back now through the photos you really can’t tell that it felt more like March than May. A testament to all the hard work that goes into creating these gardens and the nurturing of plants over the previous months and, of course, Wellyman’s lovely photos.

Dan Pearson's Chatsworth inspired garden

Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth inspired garden © Ian Curley

I was giddy with excitement at the prospect of seeing Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth inspired garden and Jo Thompson’s design with its natural swimming pool. Seriously, I’m like a child before Christmas in the period before Chelsea. These two gardens, in particular, had caught my eye because they looked so different from the more typical Chelsea show garden. I often find some of the show gardens to be a little too similar – very masculine, blocky and sometimes a bit too slick for me, very suited to their sponsors and potential clients in the City but no spaces I can warm to. The space alongside Main Avenue is divide up into rectangles which need to be viewed from two sides, both elements which create restrictions on the designer from the start. It could also be why some of the more successful and unusual gardens in recent years have been those off Main Avenue where they have a slightly different footprint.

Dan Pearson's Chatsworth Garden for Laurent Perrier

Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth Garden for Laurent Perrier © Ian Curley

Dan Pearson’s garden inhabits the triangular-shaped spot at the end of Main Avenue. Viewed from all sides, unlike the other gardens, this can prove tricky, but Dan had requested this spot specifically. Dan Pearson is one of the UK’s most successful designers, but it has been over a decade since he last designed a garden at the show. His return has been much-anticipated by fans of his naturalistic planting and take on garden design. His garden this year for Laurent Perrier has been based around the landscape and gardens of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. Enormous boulders chosen from the estate perched, some of them seemingly precariously, in the space. Around these stones the garden trod the boundary between wild and cultivated. Water meandered through the garden inspired by the trout stream at Chatsworth. The attention to detail was incredible. Honestly I’ve never seen anything like it. My eye was drawn initially to a patch of grasses with red campions and leaf litter mixed in amongst it. Initial thoughts were this had to have been there before the build started and that it was perhaps a piece of the ground poking through from the pre-Chelsea build; it looked just like a patch of woodland glade or hedgerow verge. But, as I took in the rest of the garden, it became clear this had been created. And it really was fabulous. It wasn’t a wow garden in an obvious luscious planting, stunning hard landscaping way. For me, both Jo Thompson’s and Matthew Wilson’s gardens wowed me straight away. Dan’s garden however was much more of a slow burner. I just wanted to keep looking at all of the details then I’d spot something else, another plant like a delightful white ragged robin, or the way the plants mingled together so naturally. This is what made it so different from so many other gardens. From what I have read about Dan and from interviews I have seen with him this very much seemed like a garden which reflected its designer; quiet, thoughtful, unshowy. The judges loved it too, awarding it a gold medal and Best in Show.

Lychnis flos-cuculi 'White Robin' on Dan Pearson's garden

Lychnis flos-cuculi ‘White Robin’ on Dan Pearson’s garden © Ian Curley

Jo Thompson’s Writer’s Retreat Garden for M&G Investments takes its inspiration from Vita Sackvile-West’s writing room at Sissinghurst in Kent. Jo and her all-female planting team have created a stunning, feminine garden with voluptuous plantings of roses and species I recognised from my cut flower patch, such as ammi, ridolfia and Gypsophila ‘Covent Garden’. These mingle around the base of an impressive multi-stemmed Betula nigra with fabulously textural, peeling bark – the pinky-apricot tones cleverly reflected in the spires of foxglove ‘Sutton’s Apricot’.

Betula nigra and Digitalis 'Sutton's Apricot' on Jo Thompson's M&G Retreat Garden

Betula nigra and Digitalis ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ on Jo Thompson’s M&G Retreat Garden © Ian Curley

A richly planted backdrop of trees and shrubs creates a lush boundary and the natural swimming pool looked inviting. I think Jo’s garden is a real stunner and feel slightly disappointed for her and her team that the garden received silver-gilt and not gold, particularly as other gardens which didn’t appeal to me so much won gold.

Jo Thompson's M&G Retreat Garden

Jo Thompson’s M&G Retreat Garden © Ian Curley

Matthew Wilson’s garden for the Royal Bank of Canada is inspired by Beth Chatto and his experience of previously managing the gardens at RHS Hyde Hall in Essex, where rainfall levels are similar to those in Beirut. Designed around the idea of a garden which uses water sustainably, the zero-irrigation ‘dry garden’ is packed with beautiful planting. Verbascum ‘Merlin’ was the first to catch my eye, followed by the shrubby Leptospermum scoparium ‘Red Damask’.

Verbascum 'Merlin' - Matthew Wilson's Royal Bank of Canada Garden

Verbascum ‘Merlin’ – Matthew Wilson’s Royal Bank of Canada Garden © Ian Curley

Clumps of striking Californian poppies contrasted with the purple flower spikes of Salvia nemorosa ‘Mainacht’ I started to hanker after my own gravel garden. The dramatic 150-year old macro-bonsai olive tree is spectacular and the steamed ash benches with their sinuous lines crafted by Cornish designer Tom Raffield must surely win the award for the most stunning seats at Chelsea. One of my top three gardens this year.

Matthew Wilson's Royal Bank of Canada Garden

Matthew Wilson’s Royal Bank of Canada Garden © Ian Curley

You have to be prepared for every eventuality when it comes to the British weather. Swirling winds, low light levels in the Great Pavilion and lashing rain in the morning made photography and note taking tricky particularly as I was often juggling a tripod, umbrella, and notepad. My propped up umbrella nearly took out a couple of plants on a few occasions. I had visions of me being escorted from the showground for taking out an exhibit. Pollen and the tiny barbed seed pods of London plane trees planted around the periphery of the showground whipped up by the wind left most of sneezing, coughing and scratching our eyes, rather ironically like a plant-based biological weapon had been unleashed on Chelsea. We both did passable impressions of a cat coughing up a fur ball on the journey home.

Despite all of this the plants came out on top and I’ve come home brimming with ideas. Mid-May can be a tricky time for gardeners frustrated by the weather and exhausted by the demands of a spring garden. Chelsea is just the fillip this gardener needed.

Where to start?

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Tropaeolum tricolorum (Bolivian nasturtium)

Tropaeolum tricolorum (Bolivian nasturtium) taken at Stockton Bury © Ian Curley

The problem with having a break from writing my blog is I never quite know where to start when I come to writing it again. Plants are probably the best place as it’s their fault I have so little time for blogging at the moment. I have plants everywhere. Every windowsill is being utilised, the cold frames are full to bursting, as is the greenhouse. It’s all one big juggling act of staggering sowings, moving plants about to harden them off and then moving them on to their final planting spots. I seem to spend quite a bit of time just staring at things and scratching my head wondering what the next move is going to be, like a horticultural version of chess.

Stockton Bury Gardens

Stockton Bury Gardens © Ian Curley

I have quite a few exciting projects on the go which require me to grow and nurture plants for photo shoots. This is on top of the plants for my own garden, the vegetable beds at the allotment and the cut flower patch hence my home being transformed into a forest of greenery. There are plenty of times when I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, but I’m trying not to dwell on that thought. Then there’s writing, all the usual stuff that goes into keeping day-to-day life ticking over and a husband in the final weeks of a degree. Who knew geologists were so interested in the bottom parts of fossilised creatures? Oh, and throw in a gum infection so one side of my face resembled a gerbil and the gnawing pain of toothache. It’s all very exciting (well, apart from the toothache, obviously). It’s just an overwhelming time of year when it feels like twice as much work has to be squeezed into the same amount of time.

Stockton Bury Gardens,Herefordshire

Stockton Bury Gardens, Herefordshire © Ian Curley

There was a chance on Saturday though to spend a few hours at a nearby garden to give Wellyman a break from his revision. Stockton Bury is a bit of a hidden gem, tucked away in Herefordshire. It’s a bucolic landscape, a sleepy county where the pace of life is still governed by the rural economy and the seasons. It’s a place I’ve been past many times. I have no explanation as to why we haven’t visited at some point, but as the saying goes ‘better late than never’. And what a stunning garden it is; a real plantsperson’s paradise. There was lots to see with plants I’ve never come across anywhere else. The garden covers four acres and is full of the most photogenic buildings you’ll ever see, from oast houses and a pigeon-house to fabulous ancient barns surrounded by cider apple orchards. The whole place reminded me of the nineties TV programme The Darling Buds of May. Despite its size it didn’t feel grand or ostentatious, and there were plenty of ideas and inspiration for the visitor. The plant highlight of the day had to be the fabulous tree peonies. I’ve never seen so many in one place. They had me drooling and wondering if I could shoehorn yet another plant into the back garden. We didn’t come home with one – I need to do some more research first, but pots of the German catchfly Lychnis visicaria and a hardy native orchid did come back with us.

Stockton Bury Gardens

Stockton Bury Gardens © Ian Curley

It’s not the ideal time of year to try to indulge in a spot of reading. My eyes don’t stay open for long on a night and my New Year’s resolution of reading in my lunch break has been postponed for now. A couple of books that have come my way recently which I’d love to mention are a bit of an eclectic bunch – Outwitting Squirrels by Anne Wareham, The Irish Garden by Jane Powers and Lunar and Biodynamic Gardening by Matt Jackson.

Outwitting Squirrels by Anne Wareham

Outwitting Squirrels by Anne Wareham

Outwitting Squirrels is actually the perfect book for this time of year – short chapters which can be read in bite-sized chunks. It’s a wittily written take on the gardening problems Anne has encountered over the years from pests and diseases to noise pollution and the weather. You’ll find yourself nodding in recognition, wryly smiling to yourself and laughing out loud. For example, “…midges are attracted to dark clothing, possibly HRT, gloomy, wet places and carbon dioxide. The cure, then, is to stop breathing and wear a white shroud.” Anne shares her tips in an honest and self-deprecating manner. It’s by no means a definitive guide to pests and diseases, but it never sets out to be. Perhaps a book to stash in your luggage for your summer holiday reading and a contender for the best gardening book cover?

The Irish Garden by Jane Powers

The Irish Garden by Jane Powers

The Irish Garden by Jane Powers, the gardening correspondent for The Sunday Times in Ireland, is an epic work and clearly a true labour of love. At 400 pages this isn’t one for the suitcase and I’d be lying if I’d said I’d read it all, but what I have read so far I’ve loved. The book covers over 50 gardens across Ireland, all captured with stunning photography by Jonathan Hession. Jane’s research and writing are fascinating. I knew little about Irish gardens which is a real pity a) because my grandparents were Irish and b) because there are some stunning gardens which deserve attention. I was happy to discover I had at least visited one of the best in Ireland, Powerscourt, on a visit to Dublin several years ago. Dipping in and out of the book I have been most drawn to the smaller gardens and the section on edible spaces. June Blake’s Garden in County Wicklow is stunning, as is The Bay Garden in County Wexford. I loved the chance to see the garden of the Ballymaloe Cookery School and to read the story behind the Dunmore County School and the garden created with Gallic flair by its French owners. A book that is surely essential reading for anyone with an interest in the evolution of Irish gardening, garden history and for those plant lovers planning a trip to the Emerald Isle.

Lunar and Biodynamic Gardens by Matt Jackson

Lunar and Biodynamic Gardens by Matt Jackson

Biodynamics and gardening in tune with the moon are topics which have intrigued me for a while now. That’s as far as it has got though, so I was fascinated to read Lunar and Biodynamic Gardening. I have heard great things about biodynamics and lunar gardening, from this article by Mark Diacono to the story of a market garden in the Welsh borders which supplies top London restaurants. The author of this book, Matt Jackson, practices what he preaches using the principles in his own growing space. With over 20 years of gardening experience for the National Trust Matt describes his epiphany moment when he visited Tablehurst Biodynamic Farm in East Sussex. There are elements, the potions and tonics for instance, which will possibly take a certain suspension of disbelief for 21st century sceptics, but the case studies and photos of abundant growth do a very good job of persuading the reader. Personally I’m not sure whether I’m sold on the idea or not. I certainly feel passionately about organic growing and about nurturing the soil which are fundamental tenets of biodynamic and lunar gardening. I also think that we’ve lost many connections with the natural world since the industrialization of agriculture and our move away from rural surroundings, and in our highly technological world it’s easy to dismiss ideas like this. For me I’d certainly love to visit somewhere that grows on these principles or, even better, try to follow the suggestions in the book to test it out for myself. Matt’s book is a good introduction to both ideas and perfect for a gardener who wants to dip their toes into this world.

Scent in the Garden

Tags

, , , , ,

Tulipa 'Verona'

Tulipa ‘Verona’

I remembered it was time for the latest instalment in the ‘Scent in the Garden’ meme on Saturday afternoon whilst I was crouched in a very uncomfortable position sawing at the base of my Viburnum x bodnantense. I’m not sure why it came to me then, I’ve somewhat lost track of the days in recent weeks; perhaps it was the scent of the narcissi which jogged my memory. I’m a bit late to the post but it’s that time of year where a couple of extra hours each day would be useful in order to fit everything in – like pruning shrubs and writing blog posts. Anyway better late than never. Blog posts like this are a useful exercise in getting me to stop and actually look at my garden rather than letting the spring garden pass by in a blur. Spring for a gardener is a bit like the spin cycle on a washing machine – lots of frantic activity – before things then slow down. In between my seed sowing, pricking out, potting on and watering (who’d have though April would be so bereft of the synonymous showers) it would be a pity to miss these scented spring delights.

Narcissus 'Geranium'

Narcissus ‘Geranium’

There are so many forms of narcissi it would be impossible to have one favourite, but for me Narcissus ‘Geranium’ is certainly in my top ten. It has tall stems but smaller, more refined flowers than many varieties, with a dainty, snub-nose trumpet in vibrant orange. Most of all though I love its potent perfume – a real ‘knock your socks off’ whiff. Unfortunately my resident slugs and snails seem to be attracted to all my narcissi, including ‘Geranium’. So much so, many of them have been chomped to a raggedy mess. After the briefest of rain showers one night last week I went out on the first mollusc patrol of the year. After weeks of dry weather they were out in force and it was a real heart-sinking experience. Buoyed by the glorious weather and spring bursting forth I have been feeling quite perky and full of the proverbial joys, but having to pick big fat slugs and snails off the trumpets of daffodil blooms rather burst the bubble. Why do they slither and slime their way past weeds and leaf litter, crawl all the way up the daffodil stem to eat the flower? It seems like they are taunting us gardeners, it’s almost like they know how to wound us the most. There’s that point in a spring garden where everything looks fresh and new, untouched by the weather and pests, and I just want to keep everything looking so pristine and beautiful that I wish I could press pause. Then there’s the tipping point where spring perfection morphs into doily-like hosta leaves, tattered narcissi flowers and frost-induced mushy, brown magnolias and I sigh with resignation. Perhaps the slugs and snails might have a penchant for Chanel No. 5 and I could spray weeds to distract them from the daffs … It would be an expensive means of control, not quite as expensive as nematoding my garden for the summer though!

Tulipa 'Verona'

Tulipa ‘Verona’

Tulips aren’t generally thought of as being scented. I didn’t think so until I was researching The Cut Flower Patch. I’m eagerly anticipating the opening of Tulipa ‘Ballerina’ with it’s orange jelly-scented blooms but it’s ‘Verona’ which has been the first tulip to flower in the garden. A fabulously voluptuous variety with ruffled peony-like flowers in a deliciously buttery-cream colour. It doesn’t have a powerful ‘fill the air’ type perfume but, if you get up close, it does have a delicate sweet aroma. It lasts for ages too – providing a good four weeks of flower power. If you’re going to grow one tulip I can highly recommend this one.

Crab apple blossom

Crab apple blossom

At last the crab apple has come into blossom; it’s later than it has been in past years. For the last week the tree has been studded with rose-pink buds. From the vantage point of the kitchen sink I thought something reddish-pink had become caught in the branches until I realised it was simply a huge cluster of flower buds. This weekend delicate white petals have started to unfurl, and with them a wonderful, underrated perfume. Underrated perhaps because it isn’t an overt aroma, the sort typically used in the perfume industry. For me, crab apple blossom perfectly captures spring in its scent – clean, crisp and fresh, like washing which has been dried outdoors in a gentle breeze. My crab apple in full bloom on a warm, sunny day fills the air with its scent, appreciated not just by me but also the bees which descend en masse to devour the nectar.

Syringa meyeri 'Josee'

Syringa meyeri ‘Josee’

My mission to add more scent to the garden was helped somewhat by a visit to the RHS Great London Plant Fair last week. It was a coincidence (honestly) that I happened to be in London that day anyway. It was my first visit to a London plant fair and I was impressed. I would have liked there to be more nurseries in the Lindley Hall but overall there was a good selection of plants and at reasonable prices. The big dilemma was how much I could safely carry and keep alive on the long journey home. Among my quarry were Syringa meyeri ‘Josee’  and Viola cornuta ‘Victoria’s Blush’. I adore lilacs. There are several ways I can get to my allotment but I deliberately walk the route which takes me past a huge unkempt lilac, just so I can have a quick smell of the intoxicating aroma. I’ve always wanted one of my own but I have been a bit put off by the size of many of the varieties. So the smaller, more compact variety Syringa meyeri ‘Josee’ took my eye. A height and spread of 1.5m will make it ideal for my already cramped garden. I’m a huge fan of violas, particularly the perennial varieties. These trouble-free plants have a long flowering season. A purple Viola cornuta lines my borders producing a low-growing carpet of foliage and for several months delicate scented flowers. Cut back hard in mid-summer it gives a second showing into autumn. It does self-sow in cracks and crevices but I don’t hold that against it. For such a little flower Viola cornuta produces a heady fragrance, best on a still balmy evening.

Viola cornuta 'Victoria's Blush'

Viola cornuta ‘Victoria’s Blush’

This little beauty was on the Victorian Violas stand. Its pale pink flowers caught my eye but it was the scent that won me over. I could have left with more if I’d had another pair of hands, luckily though it’ll self-sow once established. As ever, it would be fantastic if you would join in this meme – posting on your own blog (leave a link here) or leaving a comment about what its scented in your garden this month. I’m really loving discovering new scented plants and celebrating all that is fabulously fragrant.

Out with the old – learning to be ruthless

Tags

, , , , , ,

Blackberries

Blackberries

I’m not sure why I have persevered with certain plants but this is the year I devote my energies elsewhere. I’m currently reading the wittily written book Outwitting Squirrels by Anne Wareham (review to follow in the next few weeks). Two of Anne’s tips which I have taken to heart are ‘to be ruthless enough to throw out miserable plants’ and ‘to be brave enough to change course if something is turning into far too much trouble’. It seems simple advice but one many gardeners find hard to follow, including myself. For years I have admired the tightly rolled, spear-like leaves of hostas emerge in spring. For a short time their new leaves unfurl, pristine and beautiful, but this stage is fleeting. As spring merges into summer they become increasingly studded with holes, looking increasingly like lace doilies, devoured by the mouths of slugs and snails. My hostas have been grown in pots, hostas in the border would be like treating them as sacrificial lambs. I tried copper tape last year around the pots. It didn’t work. As it was sold specifically for that purpose perhaps I should have made a complaint under the Trade Descriptions Act. I noted with interest that Monty Don on last week’s Gardeners’ World suggested hostas which are attacked by slugs are stressed plants. There’s certainly something in a slug’s homing instinct for the runt of the litter and the weakest plant in the row, and perhaps my pot-grown hostas didn’t have enough food and water. I did look on with envy at his pristine, hole-free hostas just as I did when I visited Prince Charles’ garden at Highgrove and saw his immaculate hostas.

Hosta doilies

Hosta doilies

I have used organic slug pellets and they work to some degree, but I have seen slugs climbing onto hosta leaves from a nearby fence or from another plant, and it’s hard when my attention is on the more pressing needs of my young flower and vegetable plants to devote time to hand-picking slugs and snails off my hostas. So this year the hostas are going … well, they’ve already gone. No longer will I wince at doily-like leaves or feel the need to hide them when a garden photographer comes to the house. Oh the shame! The gooseberry has gone the same way. Not because it is beloved by pests but because it was the pest. I inherited it when I took on the plot along with at least four other gooseberry bushes. Doing the maths and coming to the conclusion there were only so many gooseberries the two of us could eat I decided to keep just one, and it was one too many. It’s the thorniest plant I’ve had the dubious pleasure of gardening around and this is someone who just removed a pyracantha from her parents’ garden. Every year I would curse as I tried to harvest the berries and weeding underneath it was impossible. There was such a heavy crop a few years ago coupled with a deluge of rain that the branches all sagged and the plant hugged the floor like an octopus spreading out its tentacles. Underneath it a carpet of wild strawberries had established itself which I could neither weed out nor eat because of the vicious thorns that were in the way. I could be tending another bed and bend down absent-mindedly forgetting what was behind me only to be spiked in the bum. I’d been mulling over getting rid of the damn thing for a year or so but after the latest encounter with a thorn in the finger its days were numbered. I made the most of a dry spell last week and out it came. It was odd though. As I made the first few cuts with the loppers I wondered if I’d done the right thing. Seems it’s hard for a gardener to kill a plant. Well, until it spiked me again…

Blackberry 'Waldo' waiting to be planted

Blackberry ‘Waldo’ waiting to be planted

Its neighbour the blackcurrant has gone too. There were two blackcurrant bushes but it’s too much for us. We don’t make jams and blackcurrants need so much sugar to make them palatable that they tend to languish in our freezer rather than being eaten. Instead a blackberry bush will fit nicely into the space now created by the absence of the gooseberry and blackcurrant. I prefer fruit I can eat without the need for extra sugar – anything that I can scatter on my porridge is ideal. The tayberry, blueberries and strawberries are perfect for this and I think a cultivated form of blackberry will make an excellent accompaniment. Why grow a blackberry when there tend to be plenty to pick from the hedgerows? Foraged blackberries are often quite small and their quality is very dependent on the weather we have. A dry summer tends to produce small fruits with very little juice and a wet summer often results in watery fruits with little flavour. The benefits of growing a cultivar are bigger, juicier fruits and a stronger blackberry flavour. Hedgerow brambles are incredibly vigorous plants, as anyone who has tried to get rid of a patch of them will know. Many of the cultivated versions though are much better-behaved, and some can be grown in a relatively small space, especially if they are trained up against a fence or wall. We’ve chosen the variety ‘Waldo’. Choosing a thornless variety was essential after the problem with the gooseberry and the online reviews all suggest this is a heavy yielding cultivar with great flavoured berries. It takes a certain leap of faith to buy a pot with one unpromising looking stick planted in it and it’ll be next year before we get any fruit as a blackberry fruits on two-year-old canes. We managed one tayberry fruit in the first year of planting. The excitement at this one fruit was enormous and it was halved for us to both try. Perhaps we’ll get a tantalising taste this year too, if not this impatient gardener will have to wait until next summer for the taste of home-grown blackberries. I’d love to know if there are any plants you’ve decided aren’t worth the trouble or you’ve persisted in growing even though you don’t really eat them.

Scent in the Garden

Tags

, , , , ,

DSC01879_small

It’s the vernal equinox this week. Not that it has felt especially spring-like, thanks to a chilly blast of weather from Scandinavia. There was a dusting of snow on the North Pennines and an icy wind coming in off the North Sea this weekend, so I was glad of the winter woollies I’d packed for the trip to visit family in the north-east. And it hasn’t felt much warmer now I’m back at home. Despite this the garden is taking on the appearance of spring, and the birds are singing and foraging for nest material. It’s worth not being too thorough in your spring tidy of the garden as dried leaves, grasses and small twigs will come in handy for garden birds building their spring homes. I watched a blackbird this morning gathering leaves from my path and flying off with them, which is much more preferable than the decimation of a Stipa tenuissima plant by house sparrows a few years ago. They pulled out the bleached blonde grass and flew off with their bounty in their beaks. I consoled myself with the knowledge that they would have a softly-furnished nest.

As for scent in my garden. Well, it’s that cross-over period between seasons, so the winter-flowering honeysuckle, sarcococca and viburnums are still flowering and filling the air with scent. In fact, March is perhaps the best time of the year to appreciate their perfume as those first warm days of spring mean their fragrance carries much further.

Narcissus 'Grand Soleil d'Or'

Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’

Daffodils have now taken centre stage as the snowdrops fade. Most narcissi have a fragrance but some are stronger than others. Several years ago whilst on a break in Cornwall we came across a field of daffodils. I hadn’t seen such a sight before, with so many planted en masse. The sight of golden fields was spectacular, but it was the scent which was so surprising. I’d never really given any thought to how the daffodil fields would smell. The aroma was so strong it drifted across the road to the car. I’d wound down the window to get a better glimpse of the field but it was the perfume that took my breath away.

Picking a bunch of daffodils and bringing them indoors is the best way to appreciate their scent, particularly if it’s a cold spring. Most people are understandably reluctant to pick flowers from their garden, not wanting to denude it of any beauty. Devoting an area especially to spring bulbs for cutting is a real treat and worth doing if you can free up some space. Plant small rows of at least six varieties of daffodils – choose ones which flower at different times and you’ll have a good spread of blooms for picking. I didn’t plan for this last autumn because I wasn’t sure whether I’d be keeping the allotment and now I’m really missing having some daffs to pick for the house.

However there is a good show in the garden. ‘February Gold’ should really be renamed ‘March Gold’ as now is the month when it seems to reliably reach its peak. I tend to prefer the smaller flowering varieties such as ‘Jack Snipe’ and ‘Tête-à-Tête’ in a garden setting rather than the bigger, bolder flowers commonly planted in large drifts by councils. ‘Ice Follies’ however has made its way into the garden via the allotment cut flower patch. It’s very pretty with its ivory petals and pale lemon trumpet and has a fabulous perfume.

Scented narcissi are the ones which really pack a punch with their perfume and these are my true favourites. They tend to produce flowers on quite tall stems so maybe aren’t everyone’s cup of tea for the garden but if you’re after spring scent they are hard to beat. The first to open in the garden is ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’.

Hyacinth 'L'Innocence'

Hyacinth ‘L’Innocence’

I have only ever grown hyacinths as forced bulbs for late winter/early spring flowers indoors. It’s taken me a while to learn to love their perfume. I found it too powerful when I was a child and used to avoid the room where my mum kept her hyacinth displays. As for outdoors, I’ve never really been convinced that the stubby form of hyacinths lends itself to the garden border. However last spring I shoved a few of the forced bulbs in the ground once they had finished flowering. Mainly this was because I was intrigued as to whether they would actually come back – it’s often suggested they won’t because of the special treatment they need for forcing. Well they have reappeared and I rather like the white flowers of ‘L’Innocence’ in the garden. Many years ago I visited Upton House in Oxfordshire and in a narrow alleyway on the way into the gardens was a large stone planter packed with hyacinths. The impact of the fragrance was quite incredible and something I’m now thinking I’d like to replicate next spring.

For more scented inspiration for spring take a look at my piece on sweet violets in The Guardian. A traditional cut flower, both here and in France, they’ve sadly fallen out of favour, but there are some fabulous varieties out there. I’m hoping a small patch of these will be another addition to my scented garden in the future.

It would be lovely if you would join in this meme and share the plants which are delighting your nose at the moment.

Wasabi – the real deal

Tags

, , , ,

Wasabi from The Wasabi Company

Wasabi from The Wasabi Company

In a world where the way we shop, cook and eat is changing a growing number of innovative farmers are looking at unusual crops which can be grown in our climate. The Wasabi Company, based in Dorset, is a fascinating example of this.

Wasabi has been grown and eaten in Japan for thousands of years but it has only really come to our attention in Britain as the popularity of sushi has grown. It’s a member of the Brassica family with a flavour similar to horseradish, although the two are not related. In fact, most people in Britain who think they have tried wasabi probably haven’t. Many of the ‘wasabi’ products for sale or those used in pre-prepared foods contain only a very tiny amount of wasabi and are actually made up of horseradish and mustard powder. I had never tasted wasabi, real or otherwise, in fact I’ve never even eaten horseradish, so when I was asked if I would like to try some from The Wasabi Company I thought, why not!

It’s the chunky rhizomes which the plant forms just above ground that are grated to make the wasabi paste. I’ll admit I was a little dubious. I had heard of its reputation to be quite potent and for someone who is a self-confessed chilli wimp I was a little trepidatious. Well, it turns out it’s not as hot as I thought it would be, which in my opinion is a good thing. I’ve never really understood why people love super hot chillies which overwhelm your taste buds and render the rest of a meal virtually tasteless. The heat of wasabi is much more akin to a mustard rather than a chilli and I really liked it.

Would it be actually be a useful product was my next question? I love to cook but I’m becoming a little weary of recipes which require a whole gamut of weird and wonderful ingredients. They are all generally  very tasty, but once opened they often have such a short shelf-life which means you need to eat the same ingredients every other night for a month to use them up, or gain an increasingly eclectic bunch of jars, bottles and tubs in the fridge which are never finished. I imagined it only working with sushi but it turns out it’s actually very versatile. We had it mixed into puréed peas with crème fraîche served with scallops which was delicious, but I was intrigued as to whether it could be used in more day-to-day food. I loved it added to mayonnaise which tasted fantastic with cray fish and it even worked in my humble egg mayo sandwiches. So rather than the rhizomes festering in the fridge they were actually a quick and easy way to add flavour. Apparently you can add it to mashed potato too.

Fresh wasabi needs to be finely grated into a paste to release the flavour (this is not the time to use the cheese grater). The Wasabi Company sell special wasabi graters, (although a microplane would be fine) and a little brush is used to remove the paste from the grater. The flavour lessens within 15 to 20 minutes so it’s best to prepare wasabi just before you want to eat it rather than in advance. It’ll look much paler in colour – a pale green – than any shop-bought wasabi which has colourings added to it.

My young wasabi plant

My young wasabi plant

As for growing my own. Well it’ll take some time to tell whether it’s a suitable plant for home-growing. It seems it can be a tricky plant to cultivate, particularly on a large-scale. In Japan it grows beside cool mountain streams where it is flushed with clear, nutrient-rich water, similar to watercress. This type of growing is known as sawa wasabi and is the most sought after. It’s taken several years of research and trials for The Wasabi Company to get the growing conditions right and as they have over 120 years of experience growing watercress they are certainly well-placed to make commercial cultivation a success. These aren’t conditions I can replicate at home, so I’ll have to make do with growing oka wasabi (soil-grown). It needs lots of shade, doesn’t like extremes in temperature and is hardy down to -5°C. The young wasabi plant came wrapped in hessian and was the size of a good-sized plug plant. Advice is to pot up into a 9cm pot initially so that it can establish a healthy root system. I’m in garden limbo at the moment so mine will have to live in a large pot for the foreseeable future but I’ll have to make sure it’s kept moist and given a regular feed.

An attractive plant in its own right with pretty heart-shaped leaves and delicate white flowers (apparently they’re scented) it could make an excellent addition to a forest garden where shade-loving crops are hard to find. Wasabi will grow to about 60cm tall and it’ll take a few years at least for the plant to form good-sized rhizomes which are ready to lift and eat, but the leaves and stems are also edible. Sounds like a fantastic crop for cooks and growers. Fingers crossed it’s happy growing in Wales.

Thank you to Sophie at Pam LLoyd PR.

For more information, recipes, how to buy the rhizomes and your own wasabi plants go to The Wasabi Company.

 

Are you bored with snowdrops yet?

Tags

, , , , ,

A sea of snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

A sea of snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

If the answer to the title of this post is yes then you probably won’t want to continue reading. I know, I know, you can’t get stirred for galanthomania at this time of year. But lets face it, flowery delights in February are a little thin on the ground, we’ve all had enough of winter and are a bit desperate to see some signs of life in the garden. That’s not to take anything away from the beauty of snowdrops but I do think they owe a certain degree of their popularity to the fact that they bloom so early in the year and there is little else to compete for our attention. For a period of about four weeks from mid-February to mid-March gardens with collections of snowdrops are at their peak and it’s hard to not be blown away by the spectacular sight of carpets of these nodding white flowers as far as the eye can see. In fact it can trick you at first glance into thinking it has snowed and that it’s not actually thousands of flowers. Colesbourne Park in the Cotswolds is our nearest snowdrop heaven. Our last visit, a few years ago, was marred by the discovery the camera battery had barely any charge left and, at the time, we didn’t have a spare. But I’m always happy for an excuse to return to a great garden.

Galanthus 'Rosemary Burnham'

Galanthus ‘Rosemary Burnham’

I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to have plant labels dotted about and it does make photography a little difficult.  At somewhere like Colesbourne, which is displaying a collection of different varieties, it’s incredibly useful. In fact I’m increasingly finding myself scrabbling around in gardens hoping there’s a label somewhere so I can find out what a particular plant is called. It’s even more important with a plant where the distinctions between some varieties are not that obvious at first glance and perhaps, in the case of snowdrops, even after a few glances. I did hear several ‘they all look the same to me’ comments whispered among visitors as they passed by. I was of this thinking a few years ago when I was just happy to see clumps of snowdrops, but recently I have been slightly bitten by the galanthus bug. When I say slightly I mean I can spot and appreciate the differences between a collection of snowdrops now, but I’m not yet prepared to spend £25 on a tiny pot with one flower and a few leaves in it, let alone the £1390 plus £4 postage paid yesterday for one bulb of Galanthus plicatus ‘Golden Fleece’. My new-found interest has been ignited partly from some of the blogs I read, and partly from Naomi Slade’s book The Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops and the recent talk she gave at the Botanic Gardens in Wales. It was fascinating to wander around Colesbourne on Saturday with my newly appreciative eyes spotting varieties I now recognized and tuning my eyes into the subtle and not so subtle differences between the various varieties.

Galanthus 'Jaquenetta'

Galanthus ‘Jaquenetta’

When you first enter Colesbourne the gentle slope and woodland area is a sea of white. These areas are planted with the common snowdrop Galanthus nivalis, the scented variety ‘S. Arnott’, ‘Hippolyta’, ‘Ophelia’ and ‘James Backhouse’. All have formed substantial clumps and are divided in the summer to increase their populations. The initial snowdrop collection was started by Henry John Elwes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but it was largely forgotten about until the current owners of Colesbourne, Sir Henry Elwes (the great-grandson of Henry John) and his wife Carolyn, started to uncover plants and build up the collection. We were lucky enough to have a quick chat with Sir Henry and glean a little bit of his expert knowledge. Apparently the best time to divide your snowdrops is in July. At this point in the year there is nothing to be seen of the snowdrops above ground as all the foliage has died back, so at Colesbourne they employ a basic system using coloured sticks. Yellow sticks are placed near the clumps as the leaves die back and white sticks are used to mark areas where there are, as yet, no snowdrops. Then in July they lift the clumps, divide them and replant. When I asked him what was the best method to introduce snowdrops into a garden he said it was with potted bulbs at this time of year.

A charming spring planter

A charming spring planter

Small groups of the rarer varieties are planted closer to the house, in borders, raised beds and planters. Displayed this way it’s easier to appreciate what makes them so special. My own favourites were the unusual ivory, green-tinged variety Galanthus ‘Rosemary Burnham’ and the green, frilly petticoated ‘Jaquenetta’ (see above photos). I loved the stone troughs that were dotted about with snowdrops planted alongside iris and cyclamen. Snowdrops can be tricky in containers but large ones like this trough would be worth trying.

Cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum

Snowdrops aren’t the only attraction to Colesbourne. They have incorporated other winter and early spring-flowering plants. I don’t think I’ve seen such large vibrant clusters of Cyclamen coum, the shocking pink flowers shouting out at you. There’s a growing collection of hellebores, gloriously scented winter honeysuckles and viburnum. It’s a magical spot. Apart from the gentle hum of visitors chatting, the valley in which the estate sits is incredibly peaceful and there’s a real feeling of modern life not intruding. This is an old estate with classic parkland, mossy stone balustrades and urns, and a tiny church. The lake, created to provide hydro-electric power for the house, is stunningly and ethereally blue. It’s believed the colour is due to the colloidal clay in the water.

Colesbourne lake

Colesbourne lake

There’s still time to kick off the garden visiting season with some fantastic displays across the country of snowdrops and early spring flowers. I’d love to hear about your favourite gardens to visit at this time of year.

Scent in the Garden

Tags

, , , , , ,

Scented narcissi

Scented narcissi

I didn’t inherit any fragrant plants when I took on my garden and I’ll admit scent hasn’t been given enough priority when I’ve been out plant buying. My tastes and ideas have changed from the fairly inexperienced gardener I was eight years ago and I’ve learnt a huge amount in that time, not just about plants but also my own tastes and the type of garden I want to create. Up until we moved here I had gardened mainly in pots to accommodate our frequent moves and the fact that we were renting. Container gardening was a brilliant way to assuage my need to grow, but it’s quite a different discipline to growing in soil and planting with a sense of permanence. Many of my ideas now are driven by my love of cutting plant material to bring indoors to fill vases, and scent is playing an increasing role in these choices. Along with Sue at Backlane Notebook I’m hoping that a ‘Scent in the Garden’ meme will encourage a focus on scented plants, will make me look at this extra dimension to my garden and will uncover some fantastically fragrant plants over the coming months.

For the February instalment of the ‘Scent in the Garden’ I have both Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and Viburnum tinus flowering, as they have been since the end of November. The freezing temperatures haven’t been enough to discourage the winter-flowering honeysuckle from blooming. It has a tendency in very cold weather to retreat and withhold new flowers until the weather warms up. A few stems have provided a lovely addition to some stunning Cornish scented narcissi, which are a far superior Valentine’s Day gift than any red rose.

February scent

February scent

As for new appearances, there’s sarcococca, or winter box, which smells fabulous. It was just coming into flower in mid-January, but now it is in full bloom. It’s planted by the path which leads from the gate to the front door, so wafts of scent fill the air as you pass by. It’s a relatively new addition to the garden at just two years old and it is still quite small, so at the moment the air needs to be still and relatively warm for the fragrance to come to the attention of your nostrils, otherwise you need to bend down. A garden in the village has two sarcococca plants about a metre high which I covet. They are currently pumping out their heady perfume which means you can smell them well before they come into sight. One day that will be the scene in my own front garden.

In terms of scent, one of the biggest revelations for me in recent years has been the discovery that certain varieties of snowdrops are deliciously fragrant. Most of the snowdrops in my garden are the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis. It’s a great variety – easy to come by, fairly inexpensive and it bulks up readily to form good-sized clumps, the one thing it lacks is scent. I had heard of snowdrops which smelt of honey, but it was only this year, when I attended a talk by the author and snowdrop connoisseur Naomi Slade, that I had the opportunity to sniff a selection of snowdrops. Naomi had brought with her a collection of snowdrops in pots to illustrate the different forms – those with short, strap-like leaves, flowers with layers of petals like a ballerina’s tutu and tall-stemmed blooms with large, nodding heads. As the pots were passed around I smelt each one and made a note of those with the surprisingly potent perfume. ‘S. Arnott’ was the variety which stood out and it immediately went to the top of my must-have plant list.

I probably shouldn’t be making plant purchases until we’re settled in a new garden and I was about to resist the temptation of the plant stand at a recent visit to Colesbourne (more of which in a later post) when Wellyman encouraged me to make a cheeky purchase. He can be quite a persuasive influence when it comes to plant nurseries, but, to be honest, it doesn’t take much to break down my resistance. So here is the latest addition to the scented garden. It’s an exquisite flower and hopefully one day, in the not too distant future, I’ll have enough of clumps of ‘S. Arnott’ so I can pick a few tiny nosegays of snowdrops to bring indoors.

Galanthus 'S. Arnott'

Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ (copyright Ian Curley)

If you’d like to join in with ‘Scent in the Garden’ just post about what’s perfuming the air in your garden/growing space and leave a comment here or at Sue’s blog Backlane Notebook with a link to your post.

Happy sniffing!

 

Reawakening

Tags

, , , ,

A shy hellebore

A shy hellebore

Slowly but surely the garden is emerging from its winter slumber. On gloomy, grey days the nodding heads of snowdrops glow; on gin-clear days they sparkle and glisten. Hellebores hang their flower heads as if they are too shy to display their beauty. The slender green shoots of crocus bulbs are appearing. One lone crocus is ahead of the pack, its buttermilk-coloured petals opening to the first hints of warm sunshine.

I, too, am experiencing a reawakening. I feel a bit like a bear poking its head out of its winter hibernation home, sniffing the air, rubbing its eyes and deciding whether it’s warm enough to emerge yet. Up until Sunday I would have said no. If I was a bear I’d have retreated inside, had a good scratch and eaten lots of marmalade. That’s what bears do, isn’t it? As I’m not, I put more logs on the fire, I read, I crocheted, I wrote and I ordered seeds. Too many seeds, as usual.

Then it was if that first tantalizing hint of spring arrived. Sunday was a stunner. Crystal clear skies and warm sunshine. Well, when I say warm it was 8⁰C, but that felt positively tropical now there was no north wind to add windchill to the freezing temperatures of the previous week. After weeks of wondering whether my garden mojo would return I was outside filling seed trays with compost and preparing for the first seed to be sown. The compost was cold. Cold enough to make my fingers numb. No seed would be encouraged into life in this, so the seed trays and modules have spent the last few days warming up on the heated propagator and near a radiator. It’s imparted an interesting smell to the kitchen, but hopefully it has created a much more welcoming place to sow my seeds this week.

There’s a lot written at this time of year about whether to sow or not. Most of us are so eager to start growing. The conditions aren’t ideal yet for many seeds and sowing too early can lead to problems later on with a backlog of plants too big to look after indoors but it’s not quite warm enough for them to be planted outdside. Some plants however do need an early start. They can be slow to germinate or just need a long growing season to do their thing. For me this includes flowers for my cutting patch such as ageratum, statice and antirrhinums. Any plants which say on the packet they will flower in their first year from an early start are worth sowing in the coming weeks. They’ll need a bit of warmth in order to germinate and as much daylight as you can give them. But, as we’re only six weeks away from the spring equinox and seven weeks from the clocks going forward, light levels are definitely improving. I also like to get sowing now as I know how frantic March can be. I have limited space so starting off some plants now is one way of staggering the seed sowing demands on the horizon.

Warming up the compost

Warming up the compost

Obviously a few sunny days in February doesn’t mean we can shake off winter just yet – as I’m writing this post, the gloom of winter has returned, with an impenetrable grey sky looming over head. But I’m going to embrace the last few weeks (hopefully) of winter and savour any time in front of the fire. My winter project – a crocheted granny square blanket – is nearly completed. It’s been an epic. All 208 squares are finished and I’m in the process of stitching them together. Then I just need to edge it with a border. The aim is to complete it for the start of March. I hate having unfinished projects lying around, so I know it needs to be completed before the garden grabs my attention.

Granny square blanket

Granny square blanket coming together

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to read in my lunch break. As work has been a bit crazy over the last few weeks (the pattern of freelance work is very much like the frequency of buses) my utopian idea of reading every day hasn’t come to fruition. But my resolution hasn’t been a complete right-off and I have managed to devote some time to this gem of a gardening book.

Michael Pollan - Second Nature

Michael Pollan – Second Nature

Second Nature by Michael Pollan is a fascinating and wittily written book by this American author. It’s worth reading simply for the hilarious description of his war with a woodchuck which sets up home in his garden – I laughed so much I snorted my tea. One of the benefits of working from home is that nobody saw that moment of inelegance. The book is full of deeper, thought-provoking ideas too – our love of roses, a gardener’s relationship with trees and man’s desire to tame nature – with each chapter following the creation of his own garden. I would heartily recommend reading it. Stop drinking your tea though when it comes to the woodchuck bit.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,906 other followers