Anne Wareham, Fern Verrow, Jane Powers, Jonathan Hession, Lunar and Biodynamic Gardening, Mark Diacono, Matt Jackson, Outwitting Squirrels, Stockton Bury Gardens, The Irish Garden
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
I love that first image, reminds me of a spaceship.
The colours are amazing.
Stephen Studd Photography said:
I always have that problem when I haven’t blogged for a while. Never know how to start the blog after an absence. Great blog.
Especially at this time of year when so much is happening in the garden. It’s impossible to keep up. Thank you!
It’s that overwhelming time of year for gardeners isn’t it. You sound particularly planted up. I always heave a huge sigh of relief once everything’s been set free into the soil. I stuck lots out too early this year, too anxious to get it all off of the windowsill and to stop messing around with hardening off and watering tiny pots and things. Of course disaster has struck in several places. Lessons learned. CJ xx
Hi CJ. I’ve never had so many plants to look after. I’ve moved some plants out a bit too early too, just so I could free up some space. Not that it has saved me any time as I’ve spent the last week running around trying to protect them from frost. I hope not too much disaster has ensued. xx
Oh it sounds as if you are chasing your own tail Louise but May is a whirlwind for gardeners especially if you have a greenhouse. You’ll get there soon have no fear. We have also seen signs for Stockton Bury many a time as we’ve driven up and down the A49 but have never called in. You’ve whetted my appetite to get there further. We’re planning to remedy our serious omission next month. The book titles you mention are all on my radar. The problem at the moment is finding time to read. Hope that your toothy peg woes are well behind you.
Hi Anna, That is a little how it feels. 😉 Oh, you’ll love Stockton Bury. I know, trying to squeeze in reading is difficult at this time of year. I have got a mountain of ironing which has been sat on a chair calling my name for the last week or so. I’ll have run out of clothes to wear if it doesn’t get done soon. 😉 The toothy peg is much better thank you. Curse those wisdom teeth!
A most enjoyable post, along with wonderful pictures.
You’ve certainly been busy one way and another but it’s good to see that you found time to visit a nearby garden and do some reading.
I hope that you feel better soon as gum/tooth problems are miserable. xx
Thank you Flighty. I’m really missing keeping up with blogging and Twitter at the moment and seeing how everyone is getting on. Hopefully things will become a little less frantic by June. I wish the weather would settle down. It’s still quite cold and we had so much rain yesterday. I get a bit nervous we’ll have one of those miserable summers where nothing grows very well. I’m feeling much better, thank you. A course of antibiotics did the trick. Hope you have a lovely weekend. xx
We are all in the same boat Louise, plants everywhere and no place to sit down! I now have a copy of your book and am enjoying it very much. Good luck to Wellyman with his exams too.
My biennial seed order just arrived, so just as the window sills are clearing I’ll have more seed trays to fill them up. Thank you for buying the book and I’m so pleased you’re enjoying it. I’ll pass that on to Wellyman. It’s been a long slog of 6 years doing the degree part-time whilst working. I’m very proud of all the hard work he’s put in. I think it’s fair to say though we’ll both be glad when it’s finished. Just a few more weeks to go now. 🙂
May is such a busy time in the garden, so many jobs need to be done at once, but eventually it will all be done and we can breathe again! Enjoy your books, time away from the garden is never wasted! It’s good to hear from you again.
Hi Pauline, I think it’s the busiest of all gardening months. At most other points in the year you feel like you can put a job off for a while but it feels like nothing can be postponed in May. I’m missing keeping up with all the blogs and what everyone is up to.
I know the feeling as a garden can be quite overwhelming at times, especially in spring, but as you start working things will slowly fall into place and I’ve learned to be more relaxed. Thanks for the reviews and for introducing me to that gorgeous Tropaeolum which looks exactly like an exotic bird.
Hi Annette, I think it’s more the added pressure of work. The photo shoots take place in the garden so it has to look good, I’ve got a project on going at the allotment so that needs to look good too and then there are the additional projects – all in pots which need looking after. I hope I don’t sound like I’m complaining – I feel very lucky to be doing what I do. I’m just tired!! My husband works an on-call rota and was called out last night at 2am and has only just got to bed. I’m trying to type as quietly as possible. 😉 Isn’t the tropaeolum fabulous, such an interesting combination of colours. They had plants for sale but it needs protection over winter and I’m running out of indoors space so I’m trying to avoid more plants like this. Hope you’re well. Will you be at Chelsea this year?
No worries, I know exactly what you mean, Louise. Lots going on here at the moment so no Chelsea this year. Have fun!
That’s a pity. Hopefully we’ll get to meet up there one day.
Hope you are nearing the top of your overwhelming pile! The added tooothache must have been a real challenge but perhaps you were a bit rundown and it was a gentle lesson….? Must try and get to Stockton Bury as it looks lovely. And all those interesting gardening books to seek out as well… 🙂
I’m getting there. There’s always something else to come along and fill up the list again. I’m sure I was run down. OH works an oncall rota and works nights sometimes which means disturbed sleep patterns. Problem is when you try and prioritize but find everything is just as important. Oh well! I’ve had a couple of days break at Chelsea which was lovely. You’d love Stockton Bury – a real gem. 🙂
Biodynamics is intriguing, but I’m not sure about some of it, either. It seems to involve checking plants daily, which must be beneficial in itself. There is a biodynamic section at Ryton Organic Garden.
To be honest I’d struggle to even do that. Just been away for a few days and the plants had to fend for themselves. 😉
Thanks for a lovely post and your photos are, as always, beautiful. I love the first one, it reminds me of a parrot we get here in Tasmania called an Eastern Rosella.
I know how you feel about being tired, I recently got a new position on a board (Tasmanian Heritage Council) and on top of my other jobs, having little kiddies and my garden I am feeling frequently overwhelmed.
Last night I was outside until 10pm doing garden by head torch – despite it getting dark by 5pm now and the night temperatures getting down to 2 degrees or thereabouts, it was actually good to get some pruning and weeding done. I came inside at 10pm all invigorated and it was time to get ready for bed!
After your review of The Irish Garden I have put it on my wish list on the Book Depository, I haven’t read much on Irish gardens but recently bought a great book called Romantic Irish Homes (Robert O’Byrne) and recommend that if you’re into historic houses. I have a lot of Irish ancestry so I enjoy reading about Ireland.
I must also say thanks for your photo of the tulip Verona in your last post – it inspired me to go out and buy 20 Verona bulbs yesterday morning from Salamanca Market from my favourite local bulb seller Vogelvry.
Hoping you’re well! Are you going to Chelsea next week (it’s next week isn’t it?)? I keep telling my husband I MUST get to Chelsea even if I fly over by myself!
Hi Danielle. Thank you! Wellyman is loving his photography at the moment and got lots of practice yesterday at Chelsea. Wow, you sound busy too. I love the image of you with a head torch in the garden. It has been known for Wellyman to come up to the allotment to find me because it has got dark and he’s wondered what I’m doing. I think you’d love the Irish Garden particularly if you’re into Ireland anyway. I used to work as a museum curator quite a while ago so that book sounds right up my street.
I’m pleased to hear you picked up some Verona bulbs. Mine have just gone over. I think you’ll love them.
You really must try to come to Chelsea. It is an incredibly long way but you would LOVE it. I have to pinch myself every time I go I feel so lucky to have the opportunity. Just about to work on a blog post on yesterday.
nancy clarke said:
Thanks for your blog, I always enjoy reading them. I am at the Hay Festival next week, may try to get to Stockton Bury gardens while in the area, it looks lovely.
I also have your book, I love it, am trying to grow way too many flowers in my allotment (the veg are losing ground!).
Thank you Nancy, that’s very kind of you to say. I forgot it was Hay Festival next week. We went a few years ago to see Bill Bryson but haven’t been since. Stockton Bury would make a good planty detour and isn’t too far away.
I’m so pleased to hear you have my book and like it. I’m afraid the flowers thing is addictive. Maybe I should put a plant warning on the front. 😉 My veggies lost ground some time ago. 😉 Hope you have fun picking your flowers this summer.
Hi Louise, first let me thank you for your email, sorry to hear that you have been feeling poorly, that on top of being super-busy this time of year definitely excuses taking a bit longer with mails. Like you, I have been interested in the biodynamic gardening ideas since reading the Mark Diacono article, and others as well. This year I have sprayed the cow manure mix and shall do the silica one later. I already garden organically and don’t dig except when planting things that need a proper hole. I really would like to follow the moon planting guide, but find it very restricting. If one misses a certain planting day it could be a week or more till it turns up again, and if I’ve got lots of seedlings that need to go into the ground now, I plant them regardless of what the lunar calendar says. If it’s not too much trouble I do try to plant on the proper days.
As for your book, I really enjoyed reading it and find it very useful.
I’d be really interested to hear what you think of the biodynamic mixes and whether you think they make a difference. I’m just not organised enough to follow the lunar planting. I have friends who do it and they think it makes a difference though. For me it’s more about making the most of any dry weather. I would love to try it one day though. Thank you for your kind comments about the book. 🙂 Hope you have a lovely weekend.