Saturday, June 29, 2013

Not just a cottage garden oldie

There are some genera that are relegated to the depths of one's horticultural awareness until something happens. They are plants that have never really caught the attention even though you may know of their existence or even grown them in the past. Thalictrum came into that category for me. My mother used to grow a few clumps. She was a flower arranger and liked maidenhair fern but always managed to kill plants of that, so opted for the similar foliage of the easier to grow Thalictrum. A few years back a nurseryman friend gave me a Thalictrum as a thank-you for something - I forget what and I planted at it the back of my front garden where it's just reached about 6ft! I think its T. aquilegifolium but is rather tall for the description of this species. Anyway I still wasn't really taking much notice of this -  it was just a background plant. Small leaves and delicate flowers aren't my usual thing!

Thalictrum aquilegifolium in full bloom
My plant reaching for the eaves!

However a few weeks ago I was looking for some low growing plants to soften the gravel edge in my back garden and was considering an Epimedium, which I love, then saw this little diminutive Thalictrum ichangense and it was love at first sight. Lovely soft bronze foliage with diffuse white vein markings. Apparently it will flower continuously from spring till autumn. It originates from China and was first available in the nursery trade around 2004. I bought one and planted between a variegated Pittosporum and a new Bergenia at the base of my new greenhouse. Its just started flowering and is a little treasure! I'm converted!

Thalictrum ichagense at a flower show
My plant settling in nicely and flowering already
This little gem has revised my thinking of Thalictrums - not just old-fashioned cottage garden plants but nicely sophisticated ground cover!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fire Island

Sorry if you've got here by mistake and were wanting something geographic about the real Fire Island off Long Island, New York. Anyway to us horticulturalists, the plant is usually more interesting than the place it is named after and in this case its a Hosta! I'm not really a great Hosta lover, preferring to feed the slugs on other plants but whilst judging over the last couple of years, I have repeatedly come across Hosta 'Fire Island' and been taken with it's pure gold foliage and ruby red leaf stems. One of the frustrating aspects of judging is that one is rarely there when the show opens to the public, so unable to buy those plants that have tantalised!

Show plant of 'Fire Island'
I have searched the local garden centres for 'Fire Island' since last summer and never found it, so after once again being tormented by it at the BBC Gardener's World Show, I set about to find a supplier on line. Surprisingly I found several on ebay, one of which offered three plants for £9.99, with free postage. I almost didn't buy, as it seemed too good to be true but I clicked the purchase button with a shrug of my shoulders and crossed it off my 'To Do' list. Within 48 hours the plants arrived - three small but well clothed, chunky plants, probably knocked out of 9cm pots and wrapped in damp newspaper. A couple of weeks later, they are growing on perfectly! The supplier was Cottage Plants Direct and you can go to his ebay Shop by clicking the link - I heartedly recommend!

To give you an idea of the scale, these are now in 12.5cm (5in) pots

Friday, June 21, 2013

I'll show you mine.....

Way back in the chilly depths of February I posted some pictures of my little garden when I first arrived back from six months away and it was a depressing sight. By the time we had then been buried under snow for a couple of weeks, it was worse with quite a few casualties. However gaps are opportunities for gardeners and like most of us I have spent too much and bought far too many new plants for a tiny patch! With the current warm damp weather, it's finally all growing beautifully. I'll show you the back in a few weeks as much of that is seasonal and exotic planting, so still settling in but the front looks quite pleasing.

Picture taken a couple of weeks ago with neighbour's laburnum in full flower

Today's picture - amazing what two weeks of warmth and moisture can do!

The large border has a golden theme with some touches of ruby red and carmine pink and the smaller border has some warm orange tints. The laburnum is in the neighbour's garden but is close enough to influence the design and be a useful addition when in bloom. I like plants which perform, not necessarily rare or even unusual plants, although I will usually shun anything which might be seen in a supermarket car park! I do however admit to buying Alchemilla mollis recently as it was just the plant to sprawl over the edge of the blue slate in this area. I also have the cultivar 'Thriller' which is said to be more upright with larger leaves. Time will tell as to whether there is any difference or if this is just a nursery re-branding for sales purposes!

The smaller bed, orange, bronze, gold, purplish tints

I do like Bergenias for their big, bold glossy leaves. I don't know the name of this one in the front, although I recall it came from Beth Chatto many years ago. It's a shy bloomer but I love it for its foliage. I'm also not sure of the adjacent Euonymus which has been there with the Bergenia for nearly 15 years. Its habit of growth is spreading like the old  'Silver Queen' but the colouring more golden like 'Emerald 'n Gold' which to my memory should be more upright than this plant. Anyway the small golden leaves contrast perfectly with the big green elephant's ears!

A few more pictures of some of the combinations. There are yellow and pink lilies to follow and some deep violet opium poppies for later colour. The oriental poppy isn't quite the colour I wanted, which was a rich strawberry pink but it actually tones well.

Persicaria 'Golden Arrow' and Geranium pyrenaicum 'Bill Wallis' (thanks Chad for the name)

Impatiens omeiana - hardier than I expected!

Heuchera 'Creme Brulee', Astelia 'Westland' that came through the 2011 winter and Erysimum 'Apricot Twist'

Just fancied some Calendulas this year - such lovely colours now available and compact plants

Heuchera 'Key Lime Pie' with golden Phalaris and Lysimachia 'Firecracker' both of which have just popped up from previous plantings. Look OK though so leave them.

Hemerocallis 'Kwanso Variegated' a lovely old Victorian cultivar, much better than the modern 'Zebra'

Lupin 'Saffron' - actually a lemon yellow - deeper than the photo suggests with Sambucus 'Black Thundercloud' behind - can't wait for this to flower with rich pink elder blossom.
Planted the Fatsia 'Annelise' much to close to Acanthus 'Hollard's Gold' which was almost dead a few weeks ago but has now sprung into life. One or the other will have to be moved next winter.

Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpurea' looking great in front of Leycesteria 'Magic Lanterns' although it is a bit tall for this spot - maybe move later.

Oriental poppy 'Manhattan' not the colour I wanted but it works! the Persicaria behind is either virginia Filiformis or 'Compton's Form' both of which I bought at the same time and are similar.
And of course my new Sinocalycanthus 'Hartlage Wine'

Like all gardens its very personal, my space, my design and my choice of plants. It gives me a great deal of pleasure and I hope you like it too! More about the back in a few weeks time.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Does it have the WOW factor?

When I was judging Chelsea a few weeks ago, our judging team were in general agreement that  some exhibitors needed to move into the 21st century and display their plants and flowers in a much more creative way. You may recall that Warmenhoven with its ceiling of Amaryllis achieved the Best in Show. This nursery have been repeatedly creative.

Warmenhoven - probably Chelsea 2012

Now last week at the BBC Gardener's World, I was also judging in the Floral Marquee but in a different judging team and found my  negative comments on traditional staging were not shared by my fellow judges (to put it mildly!). Amongst our exhibits for judging, we had three stands of fuchsias and we had an experienced fuchsia grower amongst the panel of judges. All three stands of fuchsias were similar, tiered displays (woops corrected my Freudian slip of 'tired') against a backdrop, with a wall of fuchsias from waist height up to about 2.5m (8ft). The following picture is not from that show, nor do I know what nursery this is, but it shows the style of exhibit precisely.

I argued that it was not creative and did not show the character of any of the plants. One of the judges defended the display saying that there were some wonderful show standards at the top of the display. Well - if he'd have thought for moment, that point really emphasized my opinion, as the plants were so closely crushed together that it was impossible to see they were standards!

Fuchsias can be grown and trained in several ways - bush plants, standards on a leg, pyramids and even fans - such wonderful adaptable plants! And then their habit of growth varies from the upright types, to the rounded, spreading and trailing types, beautifully displayed in hanging baskets. Add to all this, (and yes I have rattled on) the obvious fact that the fuchsia is a graceful plant with delicate flowers that should be displayed to display these characteristics. None of this was visible in any of the displays as all were just stuffed with plants. The following picture from the Royal Cornwall Show in 2006 shows that fuchsias can be exhibited in a more innovative way.

Now the fuchsia growers aren't the only ones with their heads in the horticultural sand and the following few pictures will give you an idea of the typical traditional display that is often repeated by growers at each show. In some cases it is so similar that in looking at my pictures, I can't really see the difference! The counter argument, often proffered by the growers is that this is what the public want - well is it? Would you like to see more innovation and different ways of display? I've never done a poll before, but if you have an opinion on this, let me know by casting you vote in the poll at the top of the right margin next to this post. Before you do that, have a look at a few more traditional 'show-stoppers'.

And finally on a more positive and less controversial note, I did like Dibley's stand at the BBC Gardener's World Show. Although the presentation was fairly traditional, it was lifted by a cascade of pale blue Streptocarpus - possibly 'Falling Stars'. I like it!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bordering on fantastic!

On Monday I was up bright and early judging at the BBC Gardener's World Show at the NEC, Birmingham.  In true British flower show style, the morning was chilly and damp with enough light rain in the air to make us all start with waterproofs! This time I was judging the Birmingham borders, and as today's title suggests, most of these really were fantastic.

These are small plots but marked under similar exacting criteria to exhibition gardens at all the big flower shows and some were very much show standard - just smaller! Design and construction is mostly by  groups of students or small landscape companies and is an excellent and affordable entry to the show world. We awarded two Golds, four Silver Gilts, four Silvers and three Bronze. None of them were below these standards, so we didn't have to give any 'No Awards' as they are called.

The top award and a well deserved Gold Medal, went to 'Beating the Doldrums', a planting scheme based on sailing with wonderful waving grasses, sympathetic planting and some great seaside props. One could just imagine a sailing enthusiast constructing a garden like this in a small city centre plot to remind of happy weekends away sailing.

Beating the Doldrums

Beating the Doldrums

Beating the doldrums
'Smoke and Mirrors - through the Looking Glass' also achieved a well deserved Gold, portraying changes in the journey of life. The mirrors reflect our current feelings but shield from the future. The flowering smokebush hides our feelings and the river of lavender simulates life's journey. This was a complex but well executed garden. The planting on one side of the double mirrors being more colourful, suggesting happier times. Looking in detail you find the  golden Choisya 'Sundance' on one side and the more muted shades of Choiysa 'Aztec Pearl' on the other. Just one of several clever details.

Smoke and Mirrors - do you see the mirror amongst the climbers?

Smoke and Mirrors

Amongst the Silver Gilts, 'Light the Blue Touch Paper' is a brave attempt to portray fireworks over rooftops using plants. 'Opposites Detract' expresses the serious concern of many at funding cuts for local parks. Whilst the dereliction on one side is sharply contrasted with the clipped culture on the other, it is a pity that the positive had to be illustrated with such an awful example of summer bedding. 'Surrender' portrays' the decline of an abandoned garden as nature takes over. 'There's Sense in that' illustrates how the senses can incorporated into  a garden with colour, scent, movement and sound. Whilst generally well designed, this scheme was spoilt by three poor trees placed in a row along the plot.

Light the Blue Touch Paper

Opposites Detract - awful colour scheme!

Opposites Detract - great detail here


There's sense in that

'The Secret Gardener' was lovely idea (or maybe a true story) about a small beautifully maintained parterre discovered in the midst of a ruined and derelict garden. Sadly there wasn't enough contrast between cultivated and neglected, and insufficient colour.  Silver's were also awarded to the colourful 'Don't Worry - BEE Happy', 'Glass-Flower Stone' and 'No Ball Games'.

The Secret Gardener - so many possibilities

Don't Worry - BEE Happy - judges didn't like the symmetrical and spotty planting

Glass Flower Stone - the glass sculpture is out of the picture - horrible!

No balls games - nice prop but didn't really tell the story
A Bronze went to 'Peter Rabbit Runs Amok in Beatrice Potter's Garden' - a lovely idea but lacking in detail. Pity they didn't realise that the pots of geraniums overturned by Peter in the story are the actually Pelargoniums (usually iluustrated red) and not herbaceous Geraniums. 'Everything Stops for Tea' suggests the time-travelling idea that a garden becomes overgrown whilst the staff stop for tea - great fun. The final bronze went to 'Upsy Daisy' which claimed to celebrate the daisy but featured too many other flowers to be convincing. A child's deckchair  suggests appeal to children but why no traditional daisy chain?

Peter Rabbit - more colour needed

Everything stops for Tea - too much bare soil

Upsy Daisy - more daisies needed!

Whilst some of the beds could do with improvement and there were lost opportunities, the overall standard was impressive and there is lots for the visitor to see and some great ideas to take home!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sunday afternoon in The Park

This isn't a park but The Park and it's garden visiting not a park! Confused? The Park is a private  estate in Nottingham with some similarity to the gated communities which are so common in California and probably other parts of the USA. The Park was originally the hunting ground linked to the nearby Nottingham Castle. After many years of disuse, residential development started around 1827 and the estate features many grand Victorian houses built by the eminent local architects Thomas Hine and Watson Fothergill. The estate is now owned by a private company and managed by the residents. It has been designated a Conservation Area with over 100 listed buildings and hundreds of mature trees. It also remains one of very few, if not the only community still to have active gas street lamps.

This was the 21st Park Garden trail with  21 open gardens, plus various activities in the open spaces, music and art from Nottingham Trent University. I had a brief involvement with The Park a few years back and designed some planting schemes for some of the public areas. Some of the work has been completed but is still ongoing.

One of my planting schemes
Imposing entrance - can I come in?

Many of the properties are protected by high brick walls so it was great to be invited in to explore. Compared to the Palm Springs Garden tour, there was a lovely welcoming atmosphere and freedom to explore the gardens at our leisure between 13.00 and 18.00. There seemed to be refreshments everywhere! Like so many gardens in the UK this year, plant development is slow and late and there were some disappointments. Despite some very neat and tidy gardens, I didn't discover any that suggested a real plant lover was at work. Anyway - a few pictures from the various gardens.

A potting shed to die for!

I was looking forward to seeing the art from the local students but quite frankly appalled at much of what was on display. In general it was pointless and puerile. Having just been immersed for two days in the Patchings Art festival and seen the high standards there from both amateur and professional, I cannot perceive what is being taught at the Nottingham Trent University. I overheard one student say that he thought they had really developed through this project. If this is after improvement, I despair!

In all however, its a great event which is likely to raise in excess of £10,000 for charity. Well done to all the garden owners and organisers. just don't invite the 'artists' next year!