Sunday, May 27, 2012

Californian colour!

After being starved of colour at a rather insipid Chelsea, I was delighted to find a burst of colour in a roadside garden on Friday. Sadly I didn't have my camera with me but was so taken with the explosion of hot hues that I returned Saturday to capture the colour before it faded. This was hardly a border, more of a roadside verge but it was alive with Californian poppies, Eschscholtzia (don't forget the double sch), a few Osteospermum and groups of flag iris. I have no idea whether the poppies were deliberately sown or had just self-seeded from last year but the effect was stunning!

Although I've never seen Californian poppies growing wild in California it nevertheless made me homesick for my winter home in Palm Springs and partner Philip who is sweltering in temperatures that will rise to 43C (110F) this week! Makes our heatwave look quite mild!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Not a footballer in sight!

Traveling up on the train to London last Sunday, I was surrounded by a rather rowdy group of young men talking animatedly about Chelsea. Now as a mature horticulturalist, Chelsea in the third week in May can only possibly mean THE flower show and my traveling companions (although they weren't very companionable) just did not seem the type for plants and gardens. Only later did I realise that 'Chelsea' had won the champions league - sorry but football just doesn't feature anywhere in my league of interest!

Lovely colours and shapes in the NFU stand

After visiting the Chelsea flower show for over 40 years (not quite as long as the Queen), it does take something different to catch my attention. There is a tradition that at the formal lunch, the President of the RHS always concludes his or her speech with a phrase something along the lines of 'the show this year is the best ever'. I think the President this year must have said this very much with her tongue in cheek and her fingers crossed behind her back. It is not a vintage year!

But let's be positive to start with! The two displays that particularly caught my eye were both small and had a similar theme. Plant Heritage (previously NCCPG) had created a small stand commemorating the life and achievements of Sir Harry Veitch the 19th-century nurseryman who sponsored so many plant hunting expeditions resulting in the introduction of hundreds of our well known garden plants. The history was all there, a replica Wardian case and and live plants of many of the Veitch introductions.

Veitch Chelsea Nursery

Then amongst the Artisan Gardens, the Scottish Agricultural College had created the Plant Explorer's Garden, complete with tiny greenhouse, outdoor office, microscope and many exotic plants. It was a fascinating creation that kept one's interest for ages.

And yes the greenhouse did have a lean rather than me or the camera!

Strong smelling Dranunculus vulgaris

The children from Knightsbridge school in London had designed a wonderful little urban oasis, complete with graffiti, an abandoned car yet  full of lush green plants demonstrating that everyone can change their environment.

The Great Pavilion was as always filled with plants and flowers -  tulips, orchids, the inevitable Hostas, and seried ranks of lupins, sweet peas and delphiniums. It is good to see, with the current emphasis on growing food, the return of a number of displays of vegetables.

Blom's tulips

Begonia 'Salsa' from Dibley's Nursery

Burncoose & Southdown some great plant associations
Digitalis 'Illumination Pink' - awarded the Plant of the Year Award
Just couldn't get the name of this hydrangea on the NFU stand but what a colour mix!
(I am told its 'Love you Kiss' - identified by Chad and I agree its an awful name- thanks!)

Paphiopedalum 'Miaohua Pulsar'

Jersey Farmer's Union

Moving on to the gardens, my first impressions were of some rather austere designs and a distinct lack of colour. Undoubtedly the exhibitors have had a battle, struggling with first an unseasonably warm March, followed by a very cold and dull April and May. Many of the plants used in the gardens and exhibits looked as if they needed just a few days more to bring them into flower. I think for once, those visitors that have tickets for the end of the week will see the show gardens at their peak.

Actually the Best in Show but it didn't inspire me - so little real colour, contrast or form.

The other trend which added to the somewhat lifeless and colourless planting is the fashion for 'eco-meadow-prairie-herbaceous-weedy' planting. Now don't get me wrong,  I have no objection to a well-established meadow instead of a mown lawn, (in the right situation) or a well designed prairie planting. However, these styles of planting seem to have degenerated into a somewhat amorphous mess comprised of what often appears to be agricultural grasses, buttercups and the inevitable cow parsley. Whatever the designers and television gurus may say, I find it boring. Why ignore the huge palette of wonderful garden plants that we can grow in the UK. I don't go to the Chelsea Flower Show for a walk in the countryside?

Telegraph garden - A 'damp meadow in May' has no more attraction than a visit to the dentist's!
But there was some great stonework and pretty woodland planting
You will have realised by now that I do have strong opinions and on occasions can be slightly critical, so you will not be surprised to hear that I did not rate Cleve West's Best in Show garden very highly. In fact I took very few pictures of it because I did not find it visually attractive. My own favourite entry was the M&G Garden, designed by Andy Sturgeon. The design was clear with some beautiful steel sculptures woven through the planting and into the central water feature, the circular pattern of which was mimicked by the texture of the stone walls and arches. The planting was muted but contained wonderful highlights of a lemon yellow peony contrasted with lavender coloured sweet rocket.

Diarmuid Gavin's attention seeking seven storey pyramid was once again nothing more than a gimmick. It is not surprising that he got no more than a Silver Gilt award. It is a pity Diarmuid does not stay closer to the ground, as what little planting could be seen was actually spectacular.

Some of the planting under the edge of the pyramid

Regular readers will know that I am a firm supporter of well-designed and grown bedding. However the Island of Jersey demonstrated admirably how appallingly this medium can be used. A huge heap of poorly grown, totally mismatched bedding plants lead up to a centrepiece depicting Her Majesty the Queen. Quite frankly one of the worst demonstrations of bedding that I have seen for several years. I am told that it was a last minute filler entry but maybe they should have stayed at home.

Let's hope they didn't walk the Queen past this!

Often in a show such as this, where there is so much to see, details can be missed.  Fortunately Bradstone's small Panache Garden caught my eye. And no its not the sculpture that drew my attention and I haven't been converted to the mish-mash meadow. However,  I loved the clever mix of green grass panels in the block wall at the back with its green foliage coping. Some lovely graceful curves and pleasing shapes. A beautiful garden boundary.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A delightfully English garden!

When I first fell in love with gardens and plants as a teenager, I started visiting gardens and at the time thought I would have to ration myself or I would run out of new gardens to visit. Of course that was a ridiculous thought and there are so many gardens that I would like to explore and many others that I'd love to revisit but will I live long enough? Gardens opened under the National Garden Scheme tend to be a bit of a mixed bag. Some may be large, and well tended but actually have very little of interest. By contrast there are many others that are modest or even small but absolutely crammed with fascinating plants. Last year I visited one called Dumbleside, just outside Nottingham, found it to be an absolute delight and so visited again last Sunday. With our cold late spring it was interesting to see a slightly different picture with some plants in bloom this year that had faded last year and others which I had previously admired, still to bloom. The pictures I have used are a  mixture from the current visit and last year's but will I think, give a good idea of this garden.

Mixed border - simple but effective
Same border last year with Alliums in bloom

Another view - this year again - no alliums!
It is unashamedly a plantsman's gardens (no apologies for the sexist terminology- the owner is male) and within two acres of undulating land there are thousands of different species of good garden plants. It's a very traditional English garden, with a terrace, mown lawns, mature trees and shrubs and a long herbaceous border. The style of maintenance is loose and when I say this I don't mean it's untidy. However plants have been allowed to gently spread, intermingle and seed themselves amongst other species. As you walk round the garden you have to be careful not to stand on a choice plant that has seeded itself in the edge of a footpath and so on. But it is this serendipity that gives the garden much of its character; so many of the plant associations are probably chance but the end result is superb and many of the combinations well worth repeating. There is a long mixed border planted with a curious mix of unusual plants interspersed with familiar species, self seeded forget-me-nots, honesty and Bowles' golden grass.
Millium effusum 'Aureum' & Myosotis
Lunaria annua and Doronicum

Lunaria annua 'Alba' - looks wonderful against the dark green yew
Arum italicum 'Marmoratum' with Bergenia

Brunnera 'Jack Frost' with the foliage of an Astilbe

Clematis 'Multi Blue (I think?)
Alpine phlox and damp ferns - an odd mix but behind the phlox is a drop into the bog garden
White honesty and the vivid yellow of Smyrnium perfoliatum (Thought it was a Euphorbia!)
Thermopsis rhombifolia

The highlight of the garden is a deep gully containing a small stream that bisects the garden. At the top of the stream there is a tree sized Cornus alternifolia Variegata, probably the biggest example of this I have ever seen. In the broad area underneath there is a colourful matrix of Iris, primulas ,Trollius and many ferns. A footpath crosses the stream (no bridge-just jump - who heard of health and safety!) and then follows the banks of the gulley. This walk is shaded by mature trees and here there are just so many fascinating woodland plants.

Looking down the dell last year with the Cornus alternifolia Variegata

Iris sibirica in full bloom last year

The bog garden last year

 Much of the woodland walk is just foliage but what leaves! Who could ever bore with such spectacular effects as these?

Tiarella of some sort and unfurling fern

Paris polyphylla

Ligularia 'Britt Marie Crawford' - a guess?

Asarum europaeum
Rodgersia 'Irish Bronze' maybe?

Halfway round this woodland walk I chanced upon a man digging up some offsets from the variegated lily of the valley. Fortunately I hesitated from making a citizen's arrest by identifying the man with a trowel as the owner! Once again an example of gardeners generosity as he dug up some requested plants. This is one of those gardens that you look round, then take a second look and more photos. You loiter taking in the beauty of the garden and then reluctantly leave........ till next time!

Monday, May 14, 2012

How can you not like tulips?

Yes - amazingly there are some people who don't like tulips! My partner for one and maybe he'll attempt to justify this strange aversion!  For some years I have worked with Nottingham in Bloom designing the displays for the public parks and traffic islands. The weather this spring has been so awful that I haven't been out exploring the parks and had quite forgotten that I had designed these schemes - perhaps I can be forgiven, they were designed 12 months ago! Anyway with the cool weather, the tulips have been slow to develop and now in mid May, the displays are still looking good!

The arboretum is a traditional Victorian Park with a bandstand, aviary, lake and geometric flower garden. This one is fun to design as one can absolutely revel in strong colours and bold patterns in the geometric beds.

The Arboretum Flower Garden

Tulip 'Atilla', Erysimum 'Apricot Twist' and Heuchera 'Plum Royale'

Tulip 'Dordogne' again with Erysimum 'Apricot Twist'

I was also delighted to find a flowering specimen of Davidia involucrata, the handkerchief tree, which I had never noticed before. Tricky to photograph as all the blooms were too high, which possibly explains my previous lack of observation!

Davidia involucrata
The flower garden at Wollaton Hall is more difficult. The beds have an obscure historic meaning but their odd shapes bear no relation to each other and the clipped golden yew shapes restrict the colour schemes. Its also exposed and cold, and if the deer from the adjacent grazing areas get in, its a major disaster!

Wollaton Hall Flower Garden
Tulip 'Blushing Lady' with Cheiranthus 'Sunset Purple'
Tulip 'Recreado'

Tulip 'Peach Blossom', Myosotis 'Rosylva' and a Euphorbia.

Just yesterday I also visited an open garden which had some simple associations of tulips - nothing spectacular, but who can fail to like them? Apologies but I don't know the names of these ones. The red and yellow in this next picture is rather splendid!

More about this spectacular garden in the next post!