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.